Since the Sony Alpha a7R II was released, people have been going on and on about the headline features, including 4K video, a 399-point AF system, and its 42.4MP BSI full-frame sensor but, unfortunately, some of the smaller additions and settings have ended up hidden, unused, and in the worst case, unexplained. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend the past few months with the camera and, after delving deep into the manual and menus, I have found more than a few minor tweaks or features that streamlined performance and improved the shooting experience. Hopefully, this list of tips includes at least one or two items that will help you better understand and use your camera.
1. Save Battery by Turning off the Display and/or EVF
Worried about saving battery power while you’re out on a long shoot? Here is a trick to get the display to shut off completely when you are actively using the EVF, and how to keep both dark when neither is in use. This requires delving into the Custom Key Settings located near the end of the Gear menus. In there, you can change nearly any of your buttons to handle another task, and is well worth the time to explore and program. The setting we are going to use is Finder/Monitor Sel.—NOT the Deactivate Monitor setting, as this keeps the screen lit, though it removes all images from the display. Next, you should go to the FINDER/MONITOR selection earlier in the Gear menus. Here, all you have to do is select either Monitor (Manual) or Viewfinder (Manual) and you are all set. This does prevent automatic switching, but I prefer it—when I have the camera by my side and set to EVF, ready to go, the EVF and screen are both off and the EVF will only be activated when I raise the camera to my eye. This will save a substantial amount of power.
2. Uncompressed Raw
Maybe not the most hidden of features, uncompressed raw will require a firmware update to v1.2, if you don’t already have it. This setting was added to the camera after numerous customer reports of compression errors when shooting areas of high contrast, such as star trails, or lights at night. It doubles your overall file size, but it will allow you to get as much information as possible from the a7R II’s incredible back-illuminated sensor. This will increase file size to about 80MB each, so you may want to only use this when you deem it necessary, as this can fill up your computer’s storage very quickly. It will result in better color, smoother gradations, and a general improvement in quality, but the difference will likely not be night and day unless you have encountered past issues with compression.
3. Eye AF
Not only did Sony manage to squeeze 399 phase-detect AF points into the a7R II, it also added some sweet new features to take advantage of them. This system works in concert with the superb face-detection AF function to then lock on to the subject’s eye, guaranteeing the sharpest focus exactly where you need it—instead of on the nose or ears, as many older systems tended to do. This option must be programmed to a button (simplest is the center button of the dial) that you will hold while you half-press the shutter. When focusing on a person, the camera will recognize their face; then all you do is hold the Eye AF button and the camera will find the eye and focus on it. This mode works hand-in-hand with continuous focusing, ensuring that you get a tack-sharp portrait even if your subject shifts position.
4. Upgrade the Display Quality
Hidden away in the menus, back in the toolbox section, you may stumble upon a setting for Display Quality. This does one of two things: saves energy or enhances the live view image during shooting. Personally, I recommend moving this to High to get the most out of the a7R II’s fantastic EVF. You will also notice an increase in overall quality, especially when zooming into the image. However, if battery life is a large concern, feel free to bump it back down to conserve as much energy as possible.
5. Set a Minimum Shutter Speed for Auto ISO
With incredible low-light performance, I feel very comfortable leaving the ISO setting up to the camera now, meaning I only have to keep an eye on my shutter speed and aperture. But, for those who want to make things even easier by only worrying about the aperture, it is possible to put restrictions on shutter speed to guarantee a sharp photo. Labeled as ISO AUTO Min. SS in one of the camera menus, this is available in two options: a simplified Slow, Standard, Fast, etc., or with the selection of your exact minimum shutter speed. I prefer a minimum of 1/125-second, as long as I am not shooting with a telephoto lens, though I will bump it up to 1/500-second for those instances. This keeps camera shake out of the equation entirely, though in some cases, relying on the in-body stabilization is still necessary.
6. Charge your Battery during Shooting
One quietly added feature to the a7R II is the ability to charge via the USB port while the camera is in use. This will need to be turned on in the menus, but it will allow you to keep the camera charged up by using a simple USB Power Pack, or when you have it tethered to a computer. It is also great for long shoots where you can’t necessarily change out the battery, such as a long video take or time lapses. Speaking of…
7. Add Features such as Timelapse through PlayMemories Apps
You may have noticed one particularly sparse menu setting with Application List in it. This is where Sony’s PlayMemories Camera Apps live. This allows you to purchase apps such as Timelapse to add to your camera as you need, as well as download some free features, such as the Smart Remote Control that will allow you to connect and control your camera more easily via a smartphone or tablet using Sony’s mobile app. It is worth exploring here, since Sony updates certain apps with new features and has new ones coming out that can potentially make your life easier.