Three Custom Settings I Always Use With Sony Cameras

Three Custom Settings I Always Use With Sony Cameras

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.

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19 Comments

Robert Tran's picture

Did not think of assigning ISO to the wheel. Thanks for the tip, Ryan. Setting out to shoot the California "superbloom," tomorrow and will give it a try.

Ryan Mense's picture

I'm beyond envious! Good luck out there

I've knocked ISO when it's been on the wheel now (I usually shoot auto ISO), which has led to a few ruined pics. So V5 has been a god send, now have it mapped to a costom key hold and the front dial.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

The problem I had setting the Conrol Wheel to the ISO was it's too easy to knock into a different setting so I just don't have it set to anything. I didn't want any surprises.

I have the ISO set at C1 so it's right by the shutter button. Focus Mode is at C2 because it's quicker for me to switch between AF-S and AF-C, and also right by the shutter button.

In general I hate how easy it is to change settings without meaning to on the Sonys. I ended up disabling most buttons and putting as many key controls in the "Fn" menu. This is not an issue I ever had with Canon and Nikon. Grrr.

Keith Meinhold's picture

Love the Fn menu - in many ways I wish Sony's entire menu system followed it.

Keith Meinhold's picture

I have the Eye-AF mapped to the AEL button on my a6000.

I tried to follow your suggestions and only succeeded in making my menu and playback screens go black. Can you please tell me how to go back to my original settings? Thanks!

Ryan Mense's picture

It sounds like you may have selected Viewfinder(Manual) rather than Monitor(Manual) under FINDER/MONITOR. The screen on the back of the camera may be black but if you look through the viewfinder you can access the FINDER/MONITOR menu setting and change it back to Auto.

Since I got your reply, I have been through the menus several times and can not find it. This is probably because I am older and not good with computers. Could you please tell me which picture menu (car, etc.) it is under and how many down or to the right? Thanks for your patience and your help!

Ryan Mense's picture

Which camera are you using? For the a7R III: First, you want to be under the purple tab with a camera icon and number 2 after it. Then in that tab, you want to move to page 6/9 which is titled "Display/ Auto Review1". On that page there should be an option for "FINDER/MONITOR". Go down and select that one and set it to Auto.

Luke Adams's picture

Having trouble setting up the tracking af/single point af on my a6400. Can you please tell me the exact names of the settings you are mapping to each button?

Luke Adams's picture

To clarify, it sounds like you have one button enabled with the wide focus area and real time Eye AF (the mode that that focuses on the subject, then their face, and finally their eye as able). And it sounds like you have the other button set up to just do a single adjustable focus point (flexible spot). I would love to set this up, but can't seem to find the right settings to map to each button.

Ryan Mense's picture

Hey Luke, what you're trying to do sounds similar but involves a slightly more in-depth process to set up. When configuring a function to assign a button (AEL for example), look for the "Recall Custom Hold" option. There, you can uncheck the boxes for things you don't want switched when the button is held, but do leave Focus Area and AF On checked, and of course change the focus area item to what you want (Wide). Now have your camera set to the other focus area, Single point Adjustable, and when you press AF-On that will control that one, and when you press AEL it will activate the Wide AF as configured with Recall Custom Hold. I should make a video for this as well since it's probably easier to explain visually.

Thank you Ryan! It was very kind of you to walk me through it. I am thrilled to discover you and fstoppers and I will visit the site every day.

Ryan Mense's picture

Whew! I was feeling bad that I had you mess up your camera for a while there. I'm glad it's back to normal. Thanks for reading!

Jonathan Posner's picture

Ryan, I scrolled down to read the ISO Control wheel recommendation – and then stopped reading the rest. I had my A7R3 set up this way (by my choice) until I virtually ruined my entire shoot. The wheel is WAY too sensitive for something as important as ISO; it can be nudged so easily with your right hand. End result? I was set to Auto ISO and a tiny inadvertent nudge rotated the wheel by just one parameter. Yup, that's right, I did the rest of the shoot at ISO 50 before I noticed. I can't think of a single other setting you could assign to the wheel with it having such a detrimental effect (because with most other settings you'd immediately "notice.") But for me, lesson learnt, I've now disabled the wheel for everything.

Ryan Mense's picture

Hey Jonathan, I responded to this in the other article but I'll copy and paste it below in case anyone else wants to weigh in while they are on this post.
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Thanks for adding in your experience with it, and I'd always encourage people adding in their own viewpoints if they are different than mine.

I really like having the control there, but you're right that it's not for everyone and maybe it's easier to accidentally change with certain hand sizes or grip styles. Personally I think the idea is sound, having all three exposure settings at the ready, and perhaps Sony should be making the control wheel a little tighter so accidents are less likely. I know my Canon wheel is much tighter than the Sony.

Again, appreciate the feedback.

Jonathan Posner's picture

Thanks for the response, Ryan, and sorry I caused you to duplicate a previous answer (I should follow you more closely.) Notwithstanding my original opinion (unchanged) you make an excellent point with regards the 'sensitivity' of the wheel. From my experience of the 5D2 Canon's wheel is much better in this regard.

Having got that out of my system, I was happy to look at your other suggestions!

I too had Eye AF where you have it but the odd thing is that ergonomically it sucks. Yes, it's in the right place but the feel of this little button is ghastly: there's so little 'give' in the button itself that I keep finding myself jabbing at it to make sure it's engaged. So I've moved it back down to the centre button where the feel (and size) is so much more satisfying and therefore much more in keeping with such an important function – the trade-off with position seems to me to be entirely worth it.