Sony in part led the way for highly customizable cameras that are commonplace on the market today. While there are many different ways to set up a Sony, these are my top three custom settings that I share with you today.
Manual Viewfinder-Monitor Switching
If I could only make one customization to a Sony camera, this is it. Nothing is more frustrating than than having the camera accidentally auto-switch to the viewfinder while trying to use the rear LCD monitor. Nothing.
This customization is a two-parter, but it's simple enough to take care of quickly when you know what you're looking for. I'm going to be using the a7R III as an example, so keep in mind other Sony cameras might have menu pages a little bit different. First, get into the menu and under the Display/Auto Review1 tab find the FINDER/MONITOR item. Change this function from Auto to Monitor(Manual). Great, now you're stuck with only using the rear LCD and have to come here in the menu all the time to switch it around. Nope! Here's the trick: customize a button on the camera for quick (and purposeful) switching.
Head to the Custom Operation1 tab and go into the first Custom Key option with the mountains next to it. You can choose any button you want to customize here, but I always go with the trash button which is Custom Button 4 (or C4 as printed on the body) for the a7R III. Now, change the button's function to Finder/Monitor Sel. which is under Display/Auto Review1. And there we have it. Test it out for yourself and you'll notice that you can easily switch between viewfinder and monitor with a press of a button, and no annoying auto switching to ruin your fun.
As an extra bonus, if you have the viewfinder display active but your eye isn't up to the cup, all displays on the camera turn off. Theoretically this could save battery life, as the default auto switching will make sure either one or the other screen is always lit up whether you are actively shooting or not.
ISO Control Wheel
This one is applicable to only the full-frame Alpha cameras that already have two dials that adjust shutter speed and aperture, leaving the control wheel on the back unused by default.
I've never liked how cameras will tuck away such an important exposure setting behind an added step of a button press. It makes far more sense to me to have shutter speed, aperture, and ISO ready to change immediately at the scrub of a dial. The way Sony ships their cameras is to have ISO controlled by first pressing right on the control wheel, then rotating the wheel to make changes. Unfortunately, they go so far as to even hard label this on the camera body.
For this fix, I simply head to the Custom Operation1 in the menu and select Custom Key with the stills icon next to it. Here, I select Control Wheel and make its function change to ISO under the Exposure tab. Now that ISO has been mapped to the control wheel, Right Button in the Custom Key menu can be remapped from ISO to anything else I see fit as a better use.
AE-L to Eye AF (Or Real-time Tracking)
Almost all of the current-selling Sony mirrorless cameras can take advantage of this one except the a6000 because it lacks the right layout on the back of the camera. Mark III full-frame Alpha cameras have it best with two individual buttons for AF-On and and AE-L, whereas the rest will have to flip a switch to go from AF-MF to AE-L which is fine.
For this custom setting, I'm placing Eye AF in a much more user-friendly spot. The default mapping on the Mark IIIs is to have it function with the center button of the control wheel, but that requires some tough thumb gymnastics to constantly be using it. I find it much more ergonomic to set it to the never-used AE-L button instead.
In the menu go to Custom Operation1 and choose Custom Key for stills. Go right in the menu until you find AEL Button and change its function to Eye AF. Now, Center Button can also be remapped to anything else that I will find useful.
With Version 5.0 on Sony a9 cameras and the upcoming Version 3.0 for a7 III and a7R III cameras, Eye AF is getting built into the standard AF-C mode and is now called Real-time Eye AF. This deprecates having a button solely for Eye AF in my opinion (although it's still an option in the custom settings if you disagree) so instead I use AE-L for the new Real-time Tracking AF mode. This means my AF-On button can be for one focus area, single point for example, and then pressing the AE-L button will activate a wide-area Real-time Tracking AF without moving into the settings. I can switch between the two just depending on what button I use.
While I enjoy the ability to customize these Sony cameras, these three are always my go-to settings whenever one falls into my lap. Let us know in the comments below what your own custom settings are and how they compliment your style of shooting.