A couple of years ago, when I was getting to grips with my Canon 6D, I read Alex Nail’s blog about using his custom modes to set up a camera with the commonly used parameters. On the first read I have to say I, like many perhaps, didn’t see the point. However I tried it, and after a few trips out with the camera, I found it one of the most useful things I’ve done with a camera. I thought I’d do a bit of a re-run of Alex’s idea, but based on the Sony system, with a bit of a walk through, as setting up the menus is a little different. This article relies on the fact that you either shoot in Av or preferably full manual.
Obviously this is what it was designed for, but possibly one of the most ignored features in a DSLR or Mirrorless camera. The older A7R only had 2 memory mode dials, and for landscaping, not a big issue, but occasionally I wanted one or two more. The beauty with the A7R Mark II is that is has extended custom modes. The dial still only features 2 quick-select memories, but using the camera control buttons, you can set and use 4 further extended M1, M2, M3 and M4 modes.
As I am sure most people know, most landscape photographs are taken within a narrow range of settings. Obviously there are more extreme variations depending on the depth of field required, making say a narrow aperture more desirable, or a high ISO, when windy, to keep the shutter speed fast enough to prevent movement blur. For the average wide-angle to semi-telephoto image, we use a similar setup, where the combination of lens sharpness, depth of field, dynamic range and lens alterations are optimal.
Aperture – f/11
Generally landscape photographers don’t use a lens wide open. For one the lens generally (unless is a very fast lens and usually very expensive) performs badly across the field, soft corners, vignetting and chromatic alterations, especially in the periphery. The ideal aperture for the majority of landscape photography, sits in the middle of the extremes. Most wide-angled lenses for example have a range of apertures of f/2.8 or f/4 to f/22. Thus a nice middle ground would be in the region of f/8 to f/11, where f/8 would probably be sharpest (and if a slightly shallower depth of field is not a problem) but f/11 giving the best combination of sharpness and greatest depth of field, with minimal refraction of the aperture blades decreasing sharpness. Thus f/11 is a good place to start when shooting a scene where you want everything in as much focus as possible and as sharp as possible.
ISO – 100
Now most cameras have an optimal ISO setting where the maximum dynamic range is maximal and the sensor has best signal to noise ratio. Generally this is around ISO 100. Some cameras like the Nikon D810 have an optimal ISO of 64 (base ISO), and some older or budget cameras have ISO 200 as theirs. For most, ISO 100 is the best setting to use if you can. A tripod or lens/body based image stabilisation allows you to use lower ISOs when shooting in low light. For the A7RII the best signal to noise ratio and dynamic range is 100. Obviously to gather more light (such as astro photography) the ISO can be raised, if the shutter speed cannot be extended, but the ratio of signal to noise will decrease, as will the dynamic range (although the A7RII is relatively ISOless with regards to noise levels over ISO 340, although the dynamic range plummets).
Shutter Speed – 1/4s
The variable in landscape photography, is the shutter speed. Most of the time we are shooting static objects. Unless we are shooting in low light, where camera shake, moving trees in the wind, grasses or other objects maybe undesirable, we choose the shutter speed to gain the correct exposure rather than select a different aperture or ISO. Of course this is not set in stone, but setting this to say 1/4s is a good starting point, if you frequently shoot sunsets and sunrises. On most cameras, the shutter speed in manual, is probably the easiest and quickest thing to adjust out in the field. Set this to what ever exposure you start capturing the most – if you are uncertain look at the EXIF data in your shots.
As Alex correctly said we all make mistakes when we are in a rush and mostly because our minds on other things. I for one have been shooting the day before with different settings like auto ISO, APS-C mode, IBIS on or say a narrower aperture. I get back home and could kick myself.
The best thing is you can select these modes, quickly change all of you setting to ones you use the most, and start shooting with perhaps only the need to adjust the shutter speed.
These are the settings I use. Of course you can decide what is best for you and how many of the memories you use.
Memory Recall 1 (1) for bracketing
- steadyshot settings (IBIS) is set to off
- select Memory in the camera setting menu 9, press the central dial select button to select mode 1 and the settings are saved.
- most of the following settings can be found using the fn button
- put your camera in Manual or Av using the top dial – I prefer Manual
- ISO to 100 and the aperture to f11 or do your desired setting and set the shutter speed to 1/4s or desired setting as above
- select you bracketing type and order as you wish (I use 0.3 e.v. steps and set my bracket to 3 and +/- 2 e.v.)
- bracket delay 2 seconds (this is in the bracket setting in the Camera menu 2) unless you use a remote
- RAW or RAW+jpeg which ever you prefer
- set the metering mode (I use evaluate)
- set the power save start time to at least 2 minutes to prevent it resetting to the Memory default if you have altered it for the current conditions
Pictorial Run Through
Memory 2 (2) for a single shot
- same settings as above but select single shot mode and then add a 2 second delay (using the fn button)
- select memory in the camera setting menu 9, scroll to highlight and press the central dial select button to select mode 2 and the settings are saved.
Extended Memory 1 (M1) for fast shooting mode
- set top dial to Av
- set your ISO to auto
- set your aperture to the widest of your lenses (it will default to the widest of your current lens)
- set burst mode
- select Memory in the camera setting menu 9, scroll to highlight and press the central dial select button to select mode M1 and the settings are saved.
- Edit: These extended memories are recorded onto the SD card and lost when formatted. However different memories can be saved to different cards.
I think setting up your camera can be quite complex, and if you are like me, doing it in adverse conditions (wearing gloves, windy, low light) isn’t always easy. Why spend time doing this when the majority of your settings are similar. You can spend the time composing your image and running for the right light, correct your focus (focus peaking on the A7 series is fantastic) and then press the button, giving your camera 2 or more seconds to steady itself. You also have more time to look around and absorb the world around you too!