5 hacks for the Sony a7 series to make your shooting easier

This is just a short selection of tricks which make it easier to use your Sony a7 series camera.

1. Use DRO to see into the shadows

final image/ uprocessed raw
To save the highlights I had to underexpose this image a lot. Thanks to the DRO function I could focus none the less.

This trick only works if you shoot raw.

The problem: If you have a high contrast scene and expose it for the highlights you often have to use a negative exposure compensation and end up with a very dark preview image. This is no problem because you can brighten your image a lot in post but it makes focusing and composition hard. Another situation where this problem arises is when you are using flash to light a foreground subject, but there’s bright natural light in the background. While you are focussing, the foreground subject will be likely too dark to focus.

The solution: The DRO function is meant to lift the shadows in your jpg images which is just what you need: Use DRO +5 and the shadows of your preview image will be pushed by about 3 stops so you can see into the shadows now. Your raw file won’t be affected by the setting. Don’t forget to turn it off though or it is easy to unintentionally underexpose your images.

2. Use the zebra function for perfect exposure

This trick only works if you shoot raw.

The Problem: If you have a high contrast scene you want to expose it so that the highlights are close to clipping but not actually clipped. Without any aids it is hard to get your exposure exact and you get increased shadow noise or clipped highlights because of that.
The Solution: Your Alpha has a zebra function which is meant to get exposure right for video but it can help you to get perfect exposure in your raw files. Zebra even in its most sensitive setting is based on the jpg and shows overexposure much too early but there is a workaround. Lock exposure, ISO 100 and set zebra to 100+. Now change your exposure until the zebra shows an overexposed area. Then decrease exposure until zebra stops to show but no further. Then increase exposure by 1 and 2/3 stops. Bang! Perfect exposure.

3. “Focus peaking” that actually works

This trick works best if you shoot raw. This trick does not work for the a7s/a7sii.

The Problem: If you have experimented with focus peaking you will know that it highlights areas which are not really sharp. FP will only give you a kinda in focus image but you will get significantly sharper results if you use focus magnification. Focus peaking can also make composition impossible if you have lots of small detail in your image because the whole screen will turn red or whichever color you use for peaking.
The Solution: Don’t use focus peaking. Instead watch for moire-patterns in the EVF. Moire is a byproduct of the sub-sampling which the camera does to generate the life-view image and it only happens with fine, detailed areas of the images. To learn this technique change your Creative Style to Sharpness +3 and focus on some fabric. You should now see that the sharp parts of the image show some shimmering. Then start to experiment with other subjects. It helps if you have a sharp lens but even my Minolta MC 1.2/58 at f/1.2 shows moire.
I use this technique all the time and you can easily focus on a persons eyelashes with it without having to magnify. So it is more precise than focus peaking, less distracting and faster than focus magnification.

Credit for this hack goes to sebboh from whom I learned about this trick.

4. Use the memory slots for faster operation

The Problem: Your Alpha has two memory slots on the mode dial but many people don’t know how much time these can save them and therefore don’t bother to set them up and waste precious time in the field.
The Solution: Use them ;). It is quite easy actually. First think about which is the setup you use the most and then go to whichever mode that is and dial in your most used setting. My personal settings for Mode 1 are:

  • A-mode
  • f/2
  • Steady Shot off
  • Steady Shot Focal Length: 50mm
  • Creative Style: Standard, Sharpening +3
  • Focus Mode: AF-S
  • Focus Area: Flexible Spot: M
  • White Balance: Daylight
  • Quality: Raw
  • D-R: OFF
  • ISO: 100

When you have setup your camera go to: Camera/9/Memory and select 1. Now every time you turn your mode dial to 1 you will have these settings. This makes setup fast but it also reduces the risk that you shoot jpg only at ISO 1600 for half an hour because you accidentally hit the wrong button.

Since I discovered how useful these memory slots are I hardly use any of the other mode settings. I do 90% of my shootings on the settings above but if I have too little light I change to mode 2 where my settings are the same but:

  • Mode: S
  • Shutter Speed: 1/100
  • ISO: Auto
  • Focus
  • SteadyShot: On

5. Fix the damned EVF sensor

The Problem: Sony has used a too sensitive EVF sensor since they introduced the Nex-6 5 years ago. If you sue the monitor and get too close to the EVF with your jacket or hand it will automatically switch to the EVF which is really annoying.
The Solution: Cover parts of the EVF sensor with black tape. Now your EVF sensor works as it should have right from the beginning! Credit goes to cputeq for this hack so I will leave it to him to explain it in a bit more detail.

If you have any hacks or tricks for the a7 series please let us know!

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I like to be outside with my camera and I am also a gear head with a love for manual lenses.

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23 thoughts on “5 hacks for the Sony a7 series to make your shooting easier”

  1. Found it! I shouldn’t jump in before trying everything first ;o) (Please delete my last two posts!)
    DRO +5 (in RAW) really DOES do what I’ve searched for, a way of lightening the monitor in very dark conditions. I thought Sony had missed a trick, after trying a Nikon D5300 a couple of years ago and finding its low light viewing feature so useful in this respect. This “hack” appears to do just the same.
    Thank you SO much Philip!

    1. You are welcome 🙂

      David had the same issue yesterday and since Bastian didn’t knock about the trick as well this inspired me to write the post since I have used this technique for a long time. I think hack is the right term here because it means to me that functions are use in a way not intended by the developer.

  2. Rather than use tape, I turn off the the display altogether and use only the viewfinder. Really saves precious battery power on the A7Rii

  3. Hey Phillip,
    i still don´t get how Tip 3 works. I see the moire if i focus on some fabric but when i want to focus something smaller, like an eye of a model i still have to magnifier. Can you make some pictures to explain this technique a bit more detailed?

  4. Hi Phillip I absolutely love this site it’s been a real font of knowledge! I’m just about to jump into FF from having a cropped Nikon DSLR and really can’t decide between the A7 or A7ii.

    Are you still in the A7 camp or have you moved over? The IBIS on the A7ii seems like a winner to be as I’m rarely going to be carrying a tripod but does it really make that much difference?

    1. More often than not I do not need SS. And if I set it to on by default there is a risk that the wrong focal length is selected which will result in blurry images. When I actually need the stabilizer it is quickly activated with the correct focal length.

  5. Hey Phillip!

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now! Really good reviews 🙂

    I’ve an ASII and I’m pretty sure the moire trick doesn’t work with this LCD, i’ve tried all possible combination of settings without any luck (and I have the “Live View Effects” set to ON), have you tried it on the asii? Any tips you would like to share?

    Thanks!
    Ze

    1. Hi Ze,
      just checked back with Bastian an his a7s and he sees much less moire with it as well, to the deree that the trick doesn’t work. I would speculate that this is because the S-series does full sensor readout for the preview image and moire is an artifact caused by line skipping.

      I have modified the post to include this information 🙂

      Cheers,
      Phillip

  6. Thanks for your reply Phillip,
    i can see it in the eyebrowns but just with magnification :D.
    Maybe its because im using an alpha 6000.

    Regards,
    Jonathan

  7. 3. “Focus peaking” that actually works
    This trick works best if you shoot raw. This trick does not work for the a7s/a7ii.

    Why it would not work with A7 II? When adding Sharpness +3 I see shimmering also in A7II viewfinder

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