Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sony a6000 - Recommended Settings; Autofocus Settings

Here are the current settings I'm using for the a6000, and my rationale.  (For options I've omitted it means I don't have a particular preference, or it's situational.)  Also discussed are:
- 3 ways to implement AF-On in the a6000
- Autofocus settings for different scenarios

Shooting Menu (camera tab):
Image Size: Small.  This makes it easier to send images to your phone.  For serious editing, that's what raw is for.
Quality: Raw + JPEG.  However, when shooting bursts, I might switch to JPEG only.
File Format: AVCHD.  This allows more options for video quality (60i, 60p, 24p, with choice of bitrate).  With MP4, you only have 2 options: 1440x1080 or VGA.
AF Illuminator: off.  It's very distracting and doesn't improve focusing speed much.
Long exposure NR: On.
High ISO NR: off.  The default noise reduction is too strong.  Besides, when you shrink the image to small size, it reduces the visible noise.
Soft skin effect: Mid.  This is to make sure that if I send images to my smartphone directly from the camera, that my subjects' skin will look ok.  After all, social media people are more likely to criticize skin problems than they are to notice overly-processed images.
Color Space: Adobe RGB for maximum color gamut.  I now use sRGB, simply because most of my images are shown only on the web, where most browsers cannot display Adobe RGB correctly (it looks washed out).  In practical terms, the washed out effect from viewing Adobe RGB on most browsers has a greater impact on me than losing some of the extra colors that Adobe RGB has over sRGB.

Settings Menu (gear tab):
Zebra: 100+.  This alerts me to blown highlights.  I specified 100+ because the zebra is too conservative (it's based on the JPEG preview rather than the raw image, which has more highlight headroom).
MF Assist: off.  I rely on focus peaking.
Grid line: Rule of 3rds.
Auto Review: off.
Disp Button - Monitor. Activate: display all, histogram, for viewfinder
Disp Button - Finder.  Activate: No Disp. Info. and Histogram.
Peaking Level: Mid.  If it's low, then the standard for being in-focus is too strict.  If it's high, it's not strict enough.
Peaking Color: Yellow.
Exposure Set. Guide: Off.  This turns off the graphic display of aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation when you adjust them.  That graphic display covers the histogram.
Live View Display: Setting Effect ON unless you're deleting the ambient and using flash, in which case you set it to OFF.
Disp. cont. AF area: ON.
Pre-AF: off.
Finder/Monitor: Auto
Release w/o Lens: enable if you plan to use manual lenses or adapters.
AF w/ Shutter: on unless you plan to use AF-On (but there are other options for that).
AEL w/ Shutter: off. I want the camera to set the exposure based on the final composition.  I control exposure using exposure comp and the zebra highlights.
e-Front Curtain Shutter: on.  Improves image sharpness.
Exp. comp. set.: ambient only.  When balancing flash with ambient, it's easier for me to think of ambient and flash exposure separately.

Function Menu Set.
Upper 1: Image Size.  Drive mode is useful but I leave it on the key pad.
Upper 2: flash mode
Upper 3: flash comp.
Upper 4: focus mode
Upper 5: Lock-on AF.  I usually leave this on (Start with Shutter).  I turn off Lock-on AF for fast-moving subjects.  I moved Focus Area to the custom keys.
Upper 6: Smile/Face Detect. Switching to smile detection is a way of activating the shutter remotely as in this shot.  Otherwise, I leave it on face detection.  Note: registering the faces of your family members can help the camera focus on your family members' faces (as opposed to faces of strangers).
Lower 1: ISO
Lower 2: metering mode
Lower 3: Steady Shot is useful for turning it off when shooting with a tripod.  I move DRO to Lower 3 instead of Lower 4.
Lower 4: DRO/Auto HDR.  I don't need white balance because I shoot in raw.  Auto White Balance is good enough for images that I send to my smartphone.  .
Lower 5: Creative Style.  Useful to visualize black and white.
Lower 6: Quality. So I can switch to JPEG only if needed.

Custom Key Settings
AEL button: Eye AF.  To control my exposure, instead of AEL, I can rely on the zebra highlights and exposure compensation.
C1: AF/MF Ctrl Toggle.  If I need to change AF mode, I can use the Fn menu.  Besides using C1 to switch between AF and MF, using the C1 for this function also serves two other purposes: 1) switching to MF has the effect of an AF-Lock; and 2) if focus peaking is enabled and Live View Display is set to ON, then switching to MF is a way of getting a DOF preview.  The focus peaking highlights will show the areas that are within the DOF for your current aperture.
C2: Monitor brightness.  So I can quickly switch to Sunny Weather mode if I'm outside.
Center: standard.
Left: drive mode.
Right: Focus Area.  I usually use Auto ISO, so I don't change ISO much.
Down: exposure comp.  Even though I use the wheel for exposure compensation as well, having this button assigned to exposure compensation allows me to use exposure comp in Manual exposure mode (with Auto ISO also activated, it becomes an Aperture + Shutter Priority).

Dial/Wheel Setup: Wheel is SS, Dial is F/no.
Dial/Wheel Ev Comp: Wheel
Dial/Wheel lock: Lock.  This does not mean they're always locked.  Rather if this option is enabled, you can toggle between having the dials locked or unlocked by holding down the Fn button.

Audio signals: off.  To be more discreet.
Mode dial guide: off.

There are several ways to implement AF-On in the A6000.
1. Traditional way.
AF-On can be assigned to a customizable button, and AF can be separated from the shutter (Settings - p.3)
2. AF/MF Toggle or Hold
One of the options for customizable options is AF/MF Toggle, or the similar AF/MF Hold.  When pressed, this will deactivate autofocus and switch to manual focus.  If you have focus peaking activated, the focus peaking will show what is in focus.  With this option, you can autofocus on your desired target, press this button to switch to manual (thus locking the focus unless you adjust it further), and you can recompose without changing the focus.
3. Center button in Wide or Center AF mode.
One of the options for AF Areas is a single AF point in the middle of the screen (Center AF).  This is for people who like to use the focus and recompose method. In the Center AF mode, half-pressing the shutter works just the same way as regular AF-C.  However, in Center AF or in Wide AF mode (where the camera selects the AF point anywhere), you can press the middle button of the directional pad, which will cause the camera to focus on the target under the AF point and lock.  As long as you hold the center AF point, the camera will not change focus even though you are in AF-C.  Therefore it is like being able to instantly use either AF-C or AF-S any time.


Continuous AF (AF-C) means the camera will keep autofocusing on whatever is under the AF point. So if you have the AF point over a runner who is running toward you, AF-C is supposed to allow the camera to maintain focus.

AF tracking (Lock-on AF) means the camera's AF point(s) will try to identify your target (based on color and other characteristics) and will try to follow it as the target moves not just to and fro but also left, right, up or down around the frame.

For slow to moderate subjects, I prefer using Flexible Spot (S) for maximum precision, then I use AF-C and Lock-on AF.  With these settings, I move the AF point to one of the intersections of the Rule of 3rds, where I usually have the subject.  Then I half-press the shutter to lock on the subject.  The AF will start following the subject.

If the subject is stationary, I will do as above except that after focusing on the subject, I will press the C1 button (AF/MF toggle) then recompose.  Because focus is locked, it won't matter if other things suddenly cross in front of the camera.

After focusing on the flower, I pressed the C1 button to lock the focus.  The waiters and customers walking in front of the camera did not change the focus.  Then when there was a moment where no one was blocking the scene, I pressed the shutter.
For fast subjects, what has worked best for me so far is to turn off lock-on AF, and depending on how unpredictable your subject is, use Wide AF or Zone AF. The question is, without lock-on AF, how will the camera follow the subject? The answer is that it will focus on the closest object. If there's nothing closer to the camera than the subject, then it should work. That's the setting I used in these test shots:

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