How I Set Up My A9 Bodies for Weddings
While Sony receives much criticism for its sprawling menu system, on a positive note, these cameras are very configurable.
The Mode dial (on the top, right) offers 3 numbered presets that the photographer can switch to and instantly recall an array of settings. I mainly use the 1 and 2 positions. Preset 1 is my "available light" mode, on aperture priority, with silent shutter and auto ISO enabled. Preset 2 is for flash, switching the camera to manual, mechanical shutter, and sets the ISO to 1600 (my starting point for bounce flash with fast primes). My preset 3 is an alternate available light setting that I use occasionally, discussed below in the Auto ISO section.
Once you recall a preset, you are not locked into those settings. For instance, while both of my presets use AWB, I'm free to set the WB to whatever I want, or change the ISO.
One important factor to keep in mind when initially creating your presets is that the current aperture is saved as part of the preset. What this means is that if you have an f2.8 lens attached (or a faster lens, but the aperture is set to f2.8) when you create your presets, even if you later have an f1.4 lens mounted when you recall the presets during use, the aperture will be set to f2.8 because that's what was originally stored in the preset. You can, of course, with the flick of the front dial change back down to f1.4, but that's an extra step that you'd have to remember to take every time you call up each preset (it's not a problem the other direction... a preset that was made with an f1.4 lens will, if a slower lens is used when that preset is recalled, simply set the camera to that lens's fastest aperture. So, if you usually like to shoot wide open and want to make that your starting point each time a preset is called up, be sure to have your fastest lens mounted and set to maximum aperture when you make your presets.
Another caveat, with regards to switching back and forth between silent and mechanical shutter is that the flash must be turned off when switching to mechanical, or it will not subsequently fire. In other words, if you're in silent shutter, and the flash is turned on, it won't fire because it requires mechanical shutter. But if you then simply switch the camera to mechanical shutter, the flash still will not fire. The flash needs to be power-cycled before it will begin firing (or needs to be left off until after the camera is switched to mechanical shutter). This might be an issue only with Godox flashes, as I have not tried Sony speedlights.
Most of the buttons on the body are configurable (with the video record button being the most notable exception). Here are a few highlights of how mine are set up:
- AF-ON and AEL: this is probably the most important button setting to make the A9's autofocus as effective as possible for weddings. The face and eye detection performs admirably and is quite useful, but there will be situations where it doesn't work as expected. For instance, I've discovered that when the area is bathed in blue light (spilled over onto the dance floor from the band or DJ), the A9 will not detect faces. And although it does a great job at picking out the face you want it to when there are multiple faces in the frame, it does sometimes lock onto the face of someone in the background instead. While you can shut off face/eye detection in the menus, that's the last thing you want to have to deal with in a fast-paced wedding. Instead, the solution is to set the AF-ON button to be a traditional focus button (with shutter half-press focus disabled, of course), and AEL to be face/eye detect AF. To do this, go to the AF2 page (pg. 6/14 in the first camera settings tab), "Face/Eye AF Set", and turn "Face/Eye Priority in AF" off. Don't worry, this does not disable face/eye AF completely, it just causes the camera to not use it when AF-ON (or half-press shutter) is used. Then, in the custom key settings, set the AEL button to "Eye AF". It's important to note that with this setup, AEL doesn't act as a toggle, switching face/eye detection off or on. Instead, pushing/holding AF-ON starts regular focus (including object tracking, which is still perfectly usable on people), while pushing/holding AEL focuses on faces and eyes. The two buttons are right next to each other, so you are always free to instantly switch back and forth between the two depending on the situation, with no fiddling needed.
- C1 (top of camera, near shutter button): Flash Exposure Compensation.
- C2 (top of camera, near shutter button): APS-C crop mode.
- C3 (back of camera, upper left): Shutter type (silent, mechanical, or auto). Unlike all of the other buttons, this one is not reachable with the right thumb or forefinger, so it's not as readily accessible while shooting, but it's not something that I typically have to change. In fact, I almost never use this button, since I incorporate changing the shutter type into my main presets as discussed above (presets 1 and 3 use silent shutter, for available light shooting, preset 2 uses mechanical shutter, for flash shooting). But even though the A9's silent shutter can cope with almost any lighting conditions without banding (as long as the shutter speed isn't too high), I like having quick access to switch to the mechanical shutter just in case I encounter a problem. I do not use the auto setting for shutter, as the factors the camera uses to determine which shutter type to use are more applicable to sports shooting.
- C4 (back of camera, lower right): Focus mode selection. I almost always keep this on Tracking Expand Flexible Spot, but occasionally have a need to change the focus point size or behavior. In particular, sometimes when shooting certain details shots, the tracking will get confused and jump around a bit. Changing to a movable (but non-tracking) focus point solves that problem.
- DISP (rear wheel up): I leave this at the default configuration of cycling through shooting display modes, but the A9 allows you to enable/disable the various pages (in other words, if there's a certain display page that you're never going to use, you can disable it so you don't have to cycle through it). Because I generally don't have a need to change the display while shooting, I instead disable all the other pages except for the one that turns the LCD off and one other. In effect, this turns the DISP button into a toggle that turns the LCD off and on, enabling me to leave it off most of the time while quickly being able to turn it on for those low-angle shots or above-the-head reception shots. Thankfully, in a recent firmware update Sony implemented a more DSLR-like behavior of the LCD... even if it is switched off for shooting, certain actions (such as pressing the menu button, changing ISO, WB, or other settings, viewing previously captured images, etc.) will cause the LCD to turn on temporarily (instead of just showing these items in the EVF, as was the previous behavior).
- ISO (rear wheel right): I leave this at the default of ISO selection as well.
- Rear Wheel Center Button: When shooting with flash with the camera in M and the camera's exposure settings would produce a dark image if flash were taken out of the equation, the A9 will artificially brighten up the display so you can see what you are shooting. Otherwise, if, for instance, you were shooting in a studio situation with powerful strobes, and the camera set to a low ISO and small aperture, the viewfinder display would be too dark to compose the shot. But when shooting in a situation that has you mixing ambient light and flash, sometimes you want to see only the ambient portion of the exposure, even if just for a moment. Turning the flash off will remove the artificial amplification for the EVF/LCD, but a far easier and quicker way to do this is to set one of your buttons to the somewhat confusingly named "Shot Result Preview". I have the button at the center of the rear wheel configured for this, so if, say, I'm shooting a couple at sunset, with flash illuminating them, holding the center button will momentarily show me just the ambient (in other words, what the shot would look like if captured with no flash), which is very useful in judging what the background will look like..
- FN: this is a very convenient button that lets you bring up a page of various parameters that you don't necessarily need constant access to (with the push of one of the custom buttons), but still want to be able to get to fairly quickly. I keep settings such as WB, auto-ISO min. shutter, zebra striping (which, although traditionally a video-oriented feature for indicating highlights, I like to use for stills when shooting available light), etc.
Auto ISO Min. Shutter Speed Workaround
One minor annoyance with the A9's implementation of auto ISO is that the minimum shutter speed (in other words, the shutter speed the camera will try to equal or exceed by increasing the ISO to the extent that it can) can only be set to full stop increments (as opposed to 1/3 stop). I sometimes find myself in a situation, typically during ceremony processionals, where 1/125 is just a little too slow to feel comfortable with, but I don't really need 1/250. In good light, there's no harm in just letting it be 1/250 (or faster) since the ISO will still be low, but in a relatively dark church or other venue, this means the camera needs to unnecessarily bump an already high ISO another 1/3-2/3 stop, which could be prevented if you could somehow set the minimum shutter speed to 1/160 or 1/200.
The workaround here is to set the camera to M, so that you manually set the aperture and shutter speed, with auto ISO managing the exposure. In other words, you can set it to f1.8 at 1/160, and the camera will still shift ISO around to get the correct exposure (so in this configuration, with auto ISO on, M is actually not fully manual).
This is what I use preset 3 on the mode dial for... manual mode, aperture wide open, shutter speed 1/160 (which I can change to 1/200 if I feel the need), and auto ISO.
The downside to this is that with the shutter speed manually set like this, auto ISO will likely not be able to drop low enough to, by itself, compensate if you move to much brighter lighting conditions (the traditional scenario that is often cited as a benefit of auto ISO, where you're shooting in a dark church and suddenly have to shoot outside in the sun). Of course, managing the settings of the camera is part of our job, but sometimes these things are forgotten in fast-paced action. The good news is that the blown-out display on the EVF will instantly make this condition readily apparent, alerting you that you need to adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture to bring the exposure back to an appropriate range (or just switch back to aperture priority).
Of course, you also have the option of disabling auto ISO and setting your exposure completely manually. When I have a consistent lighting environment, this is certainly the best option as it saves time in post-processing. But in many cases, especially church ceremonies, there will be significant variations in the levels of light from place to place. During the ceremony itself, the light on the altar is usually pretty consistent, but during the processional, down the aisle will be in much dimmer light, and there will also sometimes be brighter and darker sections. And a key shot that I like to capture is the groom's reaction to the bride coming down the aisle. In this scenario, the bride will be walking in comparatively dim light, while the groom will be on or near the altar, which is likely in much brighter light. With only a few moments to capture these shots in drastically different light, the last thing I want to do is fiddle with fully manual exposure.
One other option you have for Auto ISO Min. SS is to set it to adjust automatically depending on the the focal length you are shooting with. This option is somewhat hidden, appearing at the top of the scrolling list of shutter speeds, and is nicely customizable depending on your shooting requirements. On the STD setting, it uses the 1/[focal length] rule. For instance, with a 50mm prime, the shutter speed would be 1/50, and with a 70-200mm zoom at 200mm, the shutter speed would be 1/200. But it goes beyond that, letting you specify up to two levels of "faster" or "slower" for the calculated shutter speed.
Custom Menu Page
The "My Menu" page, like most cameras, allows you to gather frequently used menu items into one convenient and easily accessible location. The Sony A9 also allows you to make My Menu be the default page that comes up whenever you push the menu button. Everyone's needs and priorities will vary with regards to what is chosen for this page, but here's what I use it for:
- Auto Review: I mainly want this on when I'm shooting wedding receptions and formal group shots, so I incorporate a 5 second auto review into my preset 2 (my flash setting), and have it turned off when I select preset 1 (available light, which I usually use for ceremonies). But I do occasionally like to override these settings, so it's handy to have the setting accessible here.
- Monitor Brightness: I keep this here for times when I need to brighten the LCD for shooting outside. I find it easier to evaluate images using the EVF, since it's shielded from the sun, but of course I do have to use the LCD when showing images to the client.
- Cleaning Mode: I'm not convinced that the sensor-shaking self-cleaning operation actually does anything beneficial, but I still run it sometimes anyway.
- Date/Time Setup: for quick access to synchronize the clocks on multiple cameras.
- Format: I always format my cards before use, even if I've already cleared the card on the computer.
- Grid Line: I like to shoot with the Rule of 3rds Grid, but do occasionally want to turn this off.