When the Sony a7R II was announced it sounded nearly perfect. A cutting edge BSI sensor with great PDAF coverage, IBIS, large EVF all in a small, relatively lightweight body. Sony got all the hard bits, using the latest technologies, exactly right!
Unfortunately, when it came to the relatively easy bit of the user interface to access these incredible new features, they managed to completely bollocks it up.
Fortunately, many of these issues could be fixed in the firmware with no hardware changes required. This is my list of changes I think Sony should make to the a7R II to make it freaking awesome.
Summary of Changes
- Menus: allow us to have custom menus with any menu setting.
- Faux-DSLR EVF Mode: EVF for shooting, monitor for playback and menus.
- Focusing: direct controls to set focus point, back-button focus to support manual focus, live DOF scale and MF Assist should offer picture in picture.
- Raw: Should be able to always enforce 14 bit raw with no baking in lens compensation.
- Automatic Electronic Front Curtain: Should automatically be disabled at fast shutter speeds.
- Aspect Ratios & Custom Overlays: make more available.
- Intervalometer: A simple intervalometer as alternative to the Time Lapse application.
- Video: allow memory modes to remember the Super 35mm setting.
- Controls: Controls should have different functions depending if in playback or menu mode with a much quicker way to check critical focus in review.
Details of Changes
MenusI’m going to ignore the current unintuitive layout for this (which could be another article by itself) and instead say how to effectively nullify legitimate complaints on how terrible they are.
Firstly, have a custom user menu that allows users to place things they commonly access but don’t need near instant access to. For me, this would be things like Format SD-Card, WiFi, Aspect Ratio, display settings effect etc.
Now, Sony comes close to this with their function menu. But Sony won’t let you put every available option on there. Some important options are missing such as APS-C/Super 35mm mode, e-Front Curtain Shutter, Live View Display etc.
“Inexplicably, some desirable functions can not be set to some menus…. I was told with a nod and a wink that the camera designers liked to impose their own taste in these areas. Sorry Sony, not a good answer. I’m the one using the camera, not its designer.” - Michael Reichmann
Faux-DSLR EVF Mode
One way to save battery life on the a7R II is to manually select the EVF over the monitor. So, the EVF would activate when an eye is close, but both screens would power down when not. Sounds great, right? It is until you want to show someone else the photo you just took, or use the menus without holding the camera up to your eye and fiddling with the buttons.
Currently, the options available are EVF, Monitor, or Auto. I think they should add one more, Faux-DSLR (there’s probably a better name for this). In this mode, looking at the EVF will automatically take you into shooting mode. However, if you hit the menu or playback buttons while your eye is away from the EVF it will come up on the monitor. In other words, the camera could work just like using a DSLR.
Focusing: Dedicated Autofocus Point Selection Control
Probably the biggest thing I miss about my Nikon D800E and Olympus EM-1 are the dedicated controls to set the focus point. It is almost critical to have this when shooting fast paced events. I want to be able to use the control wheel buttons exclusively to set the focus point. This could be done by just allowing custom buttons to be assigned to Focus Point Up, Right, Down, and Left.
“Moving the focusing point requires at least one extra button press and the box moves in small increments instead of jumping a whole box-width.” - Ming Thien
As an extra, why not have an option for the camera to remember different focus points depending if you’re shooting in landscape or portrait mode. Flagship models from other manufactures support this.
Focusing: Back-button Focus and Eye-AF
Like some others, I quickly set up the AF/MF selector switch between AF-On and Eye-AF, so I could have back-button focus set up and with a only a quick flick of the switch I can have it activate Eye-AF. What’s missing is easy access to manual focus if you want Eye-AF to be one of two options for this toggle.
Instead, manual focus should be available when not activating AF via the back-button. If the Shutter AF is set to Off, turning a focus ring on a lens should manually adjust your focus regardless of if in AF-S, AF-C, etc.
Focusing: Hot shoe AF-Assist Light
Sony mirrorless cameras don’t currently send a signal to flashes to trigger their AF-Assist lights. This is reportedly due to them offering no assistance to CDAF systems. However, according to DP Review:
“I really don't get it - one of our own audience members has shown that the red grid emitted by a SB-910 helps the a7R II PDAF system acquire focus faster (or at all) in low light. It'd be such a boon to event photography.” - Rishi Sanyal
I haven’t tested this myself but if it’s true, this seems a pretty small change to make. If you’re using PDAF and have a hot-shoe flash attached, send the AF light assist function to the flash!
Focusing: DOF Guide
Currently, a Zeiss Batis lens can show you, when looking at the lens, your focal distance and DOF figures, even when using AF. Why should I have to look at the lens for this? Show it on the EVF as an optional display please – even if just for supported lenses (hopefully all native E-Mount glass).
Focusing: MF Assist Picture in Picture
|The Panasonic GM5 has a more user friendly MF Assist|
Why you can only use Eye-AF by holding down a button? Shouldn’t face detect AF mode use Eye-AF as well? It’s possible it already does, but if so, this isn’t clear.
A raw should be uncooked!
No, not the old lossy compression raw saga again. My issue is that chromatic aberration appears to be baked into the raw no matter what you select in the options, and that shading compensation will bake itself into the raw if chosen.
No Sony, no! Using these features should impact the JPG only. Let me use Adobe/Capture One/etc to do the raw conversion as I see fit and can later take advantage of future improvements to their algorithms.
Use of silent shooting, long exposure NR, Bulb (over 30 seconds) or continuous shooting (including bracketing) results in a 12-bit file with about a 1-stop reduction in dynamic range.
Particularly in the case of continuous shooting with bracketing (where presumably you want the most possible DR), this is ridiculous. Possibly continuous shooting will be slower with 14-bit files, but I’d still like an option to enforce 14-bit raw even if it’s at the expense of performance.
Automatic Electronic Front Curtain
Sony’s own guide recommends not to use electronic front curtain for high shutter speeds. Ignoring for a fact you can’t set e-Front Curtain Shutter via the function menu (thanks Sony), why don’t they also have an auto-setting for this? On, Off and Auto – which will automatically disable it for speeds faster than, say, 1/1000 of a second?
One of the big advantages of mirrorless cameras and EVFs is what you see is what you get. So, why cripple the camera to have just 3 aspect ratios selectable? Currently, you can only select 3:2 (native), 1:1 and 16:9. Is there a good reason not to offer 4:3 and 5:4 as well? Sony, if you’re feeling generous you can even give everyone 7:5 and a golden rectangle with a probable two extra lines of code.
Let’s say the aspect ratio above isn’t on the agenda. Then, how about custom overlays? Put a directory on the SD card (if there’s no ability to store in cameras own flash memory) that users can store transparent PNG or SVG files. These can then be selected as overlays to display on the EVF while shooting.
Whether you have a specific place for a logo to go, you’re taking passport photos with specific dimensions and head placement, you want to use a 1.5 armature or a golden spiral, or you have some weirdly specific aspect ratio required, you can have a specific guide available. This would provide another advantage of mirrorless over DSLR.
Let’s say you’re dual wielding a pair of Sony a7R IIs, wouldn’t it be great to be able to easily sync their times for when reviewing the images later? Sony could add an option to the Play Memories Application on your phone to auto-sync the time on your camera with your phone. Then, quickly connect each camera to your phone via NFC, and all 3 are in sync.
I recently needed an intervalometer on my a7R II and had to pay for and install the Sony Time Lapse application. The installation process was quite finicky.
Worst is the first time I tried to use it I got nothing but garbage as it ignored all my in camera settings such as ISO, RAW vs JPG, aperture, etc. It takes a long time for the application to even start, and every time I have to set up all the settings as I had them already set in camera.
This is very cumbersome compared to the Nikon D800E. There I just enter a menu and hit go, and my existing ISO, shutter speed, aperture will be used.
Sony, leave your paid application there for people who want the advanced features or a video automatically created, but give everyone else a quick way to use an intervalometer without needing to enter a secondary application or use a secondary device!
Others’ investigations have shown you’ll get the best quality video from an a7R II when using Super-35mm mode with 4K recording. As primarily a stills shooter, I’d like to be able to quickly flick my camera over to ‘video’ mode – which would include the shutter speed, picture profile, default aperture, ISO and if the camera is in Super-35mm mode or not! Using the memory modes can do all this except store the sensor crop mode. Sony, add this in too please!
Alternatively, in the APS-C/Super-35mm menu option, add an additional mode of Super 35mm – which will default to Super-35mm for video and lens default for stills.
Video: NTSC/PAL Mode
When doing video, my preference is for 24fps which requires my camera to be in NTSC mode. No problem, except now every time I start up, I get a warning pop up that I’m in NTSC mode.
Either give me the option to select any frame rate I want for video recording (or at least 24fps if in PAL mode), or else an option to remove the NTSC warning.
Controls: Help buttons
When I was looking at setting up my custom function buttons on my Sony, I found that if I wanted to be able to access help when looking at the menu, I needed to assign a button to the in camera help guide. Really, Sony? Just make one button bring up the help when you're in the menu regardless to whatever else it is programmed to. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice a button that could be used for a function in shooting mode just to be able to access help in the menus.
Controls: Playback Zoom
Using the control wheel to scan through photos is great – until you want to check focus on your photos. You have to hit the zoom in button and then, after you confirm focus, have to then find a separate button to zoom back out. Trying to use the control wheel while zoomed mode will just move the zoomed in point around.
Instead of all that, the centre button of the control wheel should automatically zoom you into the focal point of the image. Pressing again should zoom back out. And, while I’m zoomed in, the control wheel should skip through images while maintaining zoom so I can quickly check critical focus on a number of images.
To best of my knowledge, Sony could theoretically implement all these features via a new firmware revision, and massively improve this camera’s usability. I love the Sony a7R II, and it’s almost completely replaced my Nikon D800E and Olympus EM-1 combination. However, if the developers from Sony miraculously came across this page and implemented all these features, the Sony a7R II could be so much more.
Note: These suggestions are all my own. Although these are based on my needs, I think some of these could be taken advantage of by the majority of users. None of the people quoted or linked to in this article have endorsed it.