This post ist part of a series:
My current camera is a Sony a7, I think it is the best camera for my style of photography because of several reasons:
- it is great for manual focusing
- it has a sensor with a large dynamic range
- it has good high Iso performance
- nearly all lenses can be adopted to it
- it is smaller than all other cameras with similar image quality.
At the moment I only own manual lenses (I tried the SEL2470z but was quite disappointed by it), for my kind of photography I don’t need the speed of an AF-lens but I like the better control over the point of focus, manual lenses provides. And I enjoy the process much more.
this image was taken with one of my favourite lenses, a 30€ Minolta MD 3.5/35-70 which can’t be used on any othe full-frame camera
Display and EVF
I often have the 3×3 grid enabled (not so much because of the rule of thirds, but mostly to avoid oblique angles).
As I shoot raw only I can use the image styles to optimize what the EVF displays, I have for example set sharpness to +3 which makes it a bit easier to judge sharpness with the EVF (more about that in this article).
In very contrasty situations I also use DRO to anticipate how much I can lift the shadows when I post process the image, if my shadows are totally black despite having used DRO 5, I will have a hard time to recover them in Lightroom. This does not affect the raw, I just use it to see better.
I have focus magnification placed on the AF/MF button which I find much easier to reach than the C1 button and magnification time is set to “No Limit”.
The best focusing technique for me depends on the setting, whether I photograph non moving objects or moving ones.
There are three different focusing techniques I commonly use:
- for landscapes and other non-moving motifs I usually use focus magnification, because it is absolutely reliable, but it is also rather slow.
- for slowly moving objects I look for flickering in the EVF, flickering will only occur in really sharp areas. It is more sensitive than the focus peaking and much less distracting.With this technique I usually get critically sharp images without using magnified focus
- focus peaking is most useful when one is working with small DOF or faster moving objects. It is in my eyes totally useless when the DOF is bigger, because it will often highlight parts of the image which aren’t sharp but have high local contrast. I find it much more useful in combination with the magnified view, but too distracting in unmagnified view, so usually I don’t use it. I wished Sony would give us the possibility to use it in magnified view only.
For a more detailed discussion of these techniques please read my manual lenses beginners guide.
I usually try to expose the image so that I have details in even the brightest highlights and often end up with rather underexposed looking raw files. Because the a7 has such a great dynamic range I can push the shadows in LR up to 4 stops I end up with a gentle highlight roll off and good shadow detail.
This technique works because the A7 has much more headroom in the shadows, than in the highlights, if highlights are blown, they are blown and nothing can be recovered.
If the shadows of the image appear black, one can in fact push them 3 or even 4 stops before most detail is lost to noise.
To make sure that the highlights are correctly exposed I use the a7’s zebra function (Settings/Submenu 1/Zebra), which in my eyes is a great tool which is too often overlooked.
I have set it to 100+, at this setting white stripes will appear in those areas where at least one color channel has clipped. Because Zebra is based on the jpg you have a little more headroom than the camera thinks.
Im my eyes the Zebra function is superior to the live-histogram because the histogram doesn’t show individual color channels and you won’t nice if only one color channel is clipping while the other two are not.
The a7’s dynamic range is largest at ISO 100.
ISO 50 is pulled from ISO 100 so you have a little less noise in the shadows and a much less gentler highlight roll off.
We loose dynamic range as we move away form ISO 100, therefore I try to avoid using anything but ISO 100 for scenes with a lot of contrast and carry a tripod with me so I can shoot my landscapes at ISO 100 and f/11 even in the fading light.
Most of the time my camera is set to A-mode and ISO 100, in this mode I can change the aperture or my composition and the camera can choose the best exposure time.
I leave A-mode if I am working handheld and it gets darker so that the shutter speed chosen by the camera drops below 1/(2*focal length). So if I am working with a 50mm lens and the camera would use a shutter speed of 1/80s, I switch to S-mode and Auto ISO and set the shutter speed to 1/100s .
I use M-Mode either for panoramas were I compose many images into a single one or when the camera’s logic is failing which sadly is rather often the case.
For example I have been using the ZA 1.8/135 ZA quite a bit an whenever I use this lens in S-Mode the camera wants to stop it down to f/4. To use it wide open (why else would I want to carry such a heavy lens?) I switch to M-Mode, dial in my desired aperture and shutter speed and let the camera choose ISO-value accordingly.
The a7 has two programmable modes on the dial, you can set them by setting up the camera to the desired settings, then go to Menu/Camera/Submenu 7/Memory and select either register 1 or 2 by pressing the middle button. Form now you can access these settings by turning the mode dial to 1 or 2.
Because I use the two settings describe above 95% of the time I have set 1 to S-Mode Auto ISO and 2 to A-Mode ISO 100.
One thing I really like about the A7 is the tiltable display, it gives me more freedom for compositions. I normally couldn’t have done.
I use the display about as much as the EVF.
I prefer the EVF for longer lenses because I can hold the lens more stable with the EVF which leads to easier focusing.
In general prefer the display for wider lenses and for tripod use, but I also use it with longer lenses, if I am working close to the ground or above eye level.
When I took this picture I was close to the water and leaning down, I couldn’t have composed it trough the EVF.
Hand holding technique
A good technique is important to keep the camera steady, bad technique will result it blurred images.
In general it is to have as many contact points with the body as possible.
When I am using the display I support the camera or lens with my left hand and operate it with the right one. Both my arms are rested on my hips to minimize shake.
When I am using the EVF I rest my elbows on my chest, again to minimize camera shake.
A less better stabilized image will make focusing easier as well, especially with longer lenses.
Thanks for reading, if you have any question, just leave a comment!
for this picture I used the display to get as close as possible
If you liked this part you might enjoy the other parts as well:
If you want to learn more about manual lenses then this article will be useful: Manual Lenses on the Sony a7 – a beginners guide
Latest posts by Phillip Reeve (see all)
- The manual photographers series part 4: sebboh - January 4, 2017
- Short Review: Olympus OM Zuiko MC 100mm 1:2.8 - December 23, 2016
- Making of series part 1: “The Path” with Olympus OM 3.5/28 - November 11, 2016