(Landscape with Sony A7iii and Sony 16-35 f 2.8 GM)
In my last post I showed how a series of expensive accidents had led to a change in attitude and a change from Canon to Sony. Here I will explain the technical reasons for the change. Modern photography sets a very high bar, and to create the sort of images which I find satisfying involves a continuous learning process. Some people go on courses. I teach myself, but I also get help from similar blogs and websites, so I hope this will help other photographers to find their way through the mountains of horribly dense tech-speak churned out by the global photography business.
The first thing to note is that Canon have historically prioritised the viewfinder for taking pictures and the screen for viewing them. A different set of functions is available depending on whether you are using the viewfinder or the screen. If, like me, you need reading glasses, this means, unless you use the screen only, a constant fumbling with glasses to view your pictures.
With Sony the controls are the same whichever you are using, and that even applies to viewing the pictures you have just taken. The downside to this is that on my two Sony cameras the viewfinder has lower resolution than the screen. However, one button press will magnify the images so you can easily see if they are sharp.
The second big difference is in what is called “burst rate” – the number of pictures you can take per second in continuous shooting modes. Only the big heavy 1D Canon cameras have speeds of 20 or more. For Sony this is the norm.
Thirdly, Sony offer far more auto-focus points. In theory this means that you capture more shots of fast moving subjects. I’m still to be convinced, but I find their auto-focus controls much easier to manage.
Lastly Sony offer far more variables which can be controlled by using a series of buttons. This can be very confusing and takes a while to learn, but it has now become for me the most important advantage for Sony. Let’s look first at my new camera, the popular full-frame mirrorless A7iii.
Notice first the Custom buttons, C1 etc. These are the key to getting the best out of the camera. Like most serious photographers I use “back button focusing”, which means I use the AF-ON button (next picture) with my thumb to operate the autofocus and disable that function on the shutter button’s half-press. Pressing the shutter button half way activates the image stabiliser but not the autofocus. (This does not apply to the green Auto setting on the mode dial which I very rarely use.) The C buttons and the left, right and down presses on the control wheel can all be set to control most of the parameters you will need for a perfect shot. After a lot of experimenting and adaptation from the Canon equivalents, I have settled on the following functions, most of which are the same on both my cameras – see below – which makes it much easier to change from one to the ot her without forgetting where everything is!
C2 I have set to toggle from viewfinder to screen. This is to save battery when I am walking with the camera and big lens slung to my side. C1 operates one of Sony’s star features – focus magnify. This will instantly blow up a selected zone in the viewfinder or the screen so that you can check focus. This is designed for tricky static subjects and is not available when in one of the continuous shooting modes. Because you can stabilise a focussed view with the shutter half-press this means I can use my camera with the big lens at 400 to obtain a magnification of x 96! (a 400mm lens magnifies by about 8, and the magnify button can magnify that image up to 12 times)
Moving to the back view, I have the AEL (Auto Exposure Lock) button set to another of Sony’s star features: “Recall custom hold 1” As long as I hold this button a whole set of shooting parameters which I have saved – shutter speed, aperture, focus mode, focus area, metering mode etc. – will come into play and can be used instantly. I use this for a high shutter speed setting for fast moving targets. I don’t need the AEL button to lock exposure because back-button focusing does this for me.
The Fn button shows a quick menu of selected functions, and I use this to change ISO from auto (my usual setting) to a fixed value.
As with most modern cameras, the large control wheel tilts up, down, left and right. Up is fixed for the display of icons in the viewfinder and screen. I have set right to change the focus area, left for drive mode and down metering mode. Press any of these 3 once to select the function and then use the up and down to change it.
To my shame I have only recently realised how easily an all-purpose metering mode such as “multi” can ruin a shot if there is very high contrast. Sony has, among others, a very useful setting here called “highlight” which meters selectively to tone down the bright light and enhance the under-lit areas.
Related to this is the setting for the C4 button. This enables me to customise the metering on the fly. If, for example my focus and metering zone are on a very bright area, having set focus with AF-ON I then move to a dark area and press the C4 button. The camera will then lighten the dark area. A second press turns the selection off.
Lastly I have set the C3 button to control the focus mode, which I normally have set to Auto so that if the subject is static it operates as Single-shot AF, but if the subject moves it changes to Continuous. There is a Manual focus setting, and, a peculiarity of Sony, a Direct Manual Focus setting. This is one of the areas where Canon has the edge. When trying to focus on a difficult subject with a shallow depth of field, it’s useful to be able to tweak the focus using the manual focus ring. With Canon, depending on the lens, you don’t have to change anything to do this. With Sony you have to change to DMF which is a single-shot setting.
As far as possible I have set up the RX10 iv with the same controls
The C2 and C1 functions are the same.
However, there are less buttons on this camera. The AEL button has to serve for back-button focussing, and Recall Custom hold 1 moves to a button on the left hand side of the body. You have to use your right index finger to operate this.
C3 is the same as C4 on the smaller camera, and the Right, Left and Down presses on the control wheel have the same settings.
There are two physical controls which seem odd to me. When in manual, Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority modes you can only change the aperture by using the physical aperture ring shown in the first picture. However, in Auto and Programmed Auto modes the aperture is controlled by the software. No doubt Sony had good reason to have this physical control, but I can’t see the point of it.
The other difficult-to-use physical control is a turn-button on the left side of the camera which sets the focus mode (set with C3 on the A7iii).
Trying to describe such complicated technical issues simply is difficult, so I hope you have been able to follow. As always, comments welcome. In my next post I will list the relevant contents of my gear cupboard.