We are in the process of reviewing the Sony A7R II mirrorless camera and we thought it would be a good idea to provide our recommended settings for this camera, since many of our readers have been asking for it. With a powerful 42 MP sensor and a pretty long list of features including native 4K video recording capability, the Sony A7R II is a high-end interchangeable lens mirrorless camera designed for serious enthusiasts and professionals. In this article, we will provide some information on what settings we use and shortly explain what some of the important ones do. The Sony A7-series cameras have a myriad of different settings and buttons, which can be confusing to understand, so the below information is provided as a guide for those who struggle with the cameras.
Before going into the camera menu, let’s first get started with the exterior controls. The Sony A7R II has a lot of menu options, but there are some things that you can only control with the external controls.
1) Camera Mode Dial, C1 and C2
Similar to the Sony A7 II, the Sony A7R II has a rather simple layout on the top plate. Aside from the hot shoe, there are only two dials and two function buttons you will be dealing with. The first dial close to the flash unit is the camera mode dial. This is where you set the main camera operating mode, whether it is Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual or one of the Auto or Scene modes. As explained in my understanding camera modes article, I usually shoot in Aperture Priority mode, since it gives me control over lens aperture and the camera does the rest of the exposure calculation work, which works really well in most cameras, including the Sony A7R II. There are other modes that are specifically used for things like panoramas and movies, but you will rarely ever use those. This leaves three modes that I find to be the most useful on the A7R II: Aperture Priority, Manual and Memory Recall. Although the Memory Recall (MR) mode is targeted at more advanced photographers that want to store settings for different situations, I would encourage every A7R II owner to explore this mode, since it can be very useful when changing from one shooting scenario to another. All you have to do is access the camera menu, as shown in the camera menu below, save your settings in one of the memory banks and you will be good to go. If you don’t want to go that route yet, I would encourage you to try using the Aperture Priority mode instead of the Program, Auto or Scene modes.
The second dial is the exposure compensation dial. This one is used in situations when the camera does not yield a proper exposure in modes like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Program and you want to adjust the exposure manually by dialing either a negative (darken) or a positive (brighten) value. You can go from -3 to +3 on the dial. Since this dial does not have a lock feature like the camera mode dial, you might sometimes end up with overexposed or underexposed shots, so don’t forget to take a look at the dial every once in a while, particularly when you take the camera out of your camera bag.
Similar to Nikon DSLRs, the Sony A7R II is equipped with two function dials on the front and the rear of the camera. While these two dials are primarily used for adjusting the exposure during shooting, their functionality can change depending on what you are doing. For example, when you are in either Manual modes, the rear dial will adjust the shutter speed, while the front dial will adjust the aperture (default behavior, which you can flip through the menu). In Aperture Priority mode, both dials will adjust the aperture, whereas in Shutter Priority mode the functionality of both will shift to adjusting the shutter speed. When playing back images, both dials can be used for moving between images – you get the idea.
I personally use the C1 and C2 function buttons on the top of the camera to control focus behavior. I keep my C2 to “Focus Mode”, which allows me to quickly change from one focus mode to another, say from Single-shot AF (AF-S) to Manual Focus (MF) and I set my C1 to “Focus Magnifier” (instead of the default “White Balance”), as I tend to zoom in and focus on my subjects quite a bit when shooting in manual focus mode. You can set these to anything you want from the menu system, as explained below.
The rear of the Sony A7R II is a lot more functional compared to other parts of the camera, thanks to a number of different navigation and function buttons. Just like other Sony mirrorless cameras, the A7R II is definitely “right-heavy” on the back, with almost all buttons located to the right of the camera LCD. The Menu button located to the left of the electronic viewfinder obviously opens up the camera menu – that’s where you make changes to the camera. Here is how the back of the camera looks:
At the top of the camera back, to the left of the rear dial, you will find the third custom function button C3. Just like the top C1 and C2 custom function buttons, this one is easily programmable through the menu system. I set mine to “Drive Mode”, so that I can quickly switch between the different drive modes like Single Shooting and Self-Timer (the two I use the most).
Lower down you will find the AF/MF and AEL switch, which has a button in the middle. I set mine to give me two functions – when the switch is at the “AEL” position, the button locks down my exposure (useful for capturing hand-held panoramas, etc), and when the switch is at the “AF/MF” position, the button is used for back-button focusing (useful when focusing and recomposing). Instructions on how to activate back-button focusing are provided further down below.
To the right of this switch, almost on the side of the camera, you will find the red video recording / movie button. I have mine engage only when the camera is in the movie mode, so that I do not accidentally start recording video.
The Fn (Function) button is a very useful button that you will be using to make quick changes to the most important camera settings such as ISO, White Balance, Drive and Focus modes, etc. Although you can modify and customize the function menu when the button is pressed, I rarely touch the default values. Let’s go through these real quick:
Drive Mode: I mostly keep it at “Single Shooting”, but sometimes switch to Self-Timer when photographing on a tripod to avoid camera vibrations.
ISO: The “Auto” setting usually works pretty well. You can not only set Auto ISO Minimum and Maximum, but also the minimum shutter speed in relation to focal length (“ISO AUTO Min. SS” setting). I usually leave Minimum ISO at 100, while setting Maximum ISO to 3200 – anything above ISO 3200 is too noisy for my taste. I keep “ISO AUTO Min. SS” at “Standard”, which works for my hand-holding. If your hands are shaky, try “Fast”, which should double the minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO mode.
Flash Mode: Fill Flash. Doesn’t matter for most people, since the A7R II does not come with a built-in flash.
Metering Mode: Multi, but sometimes I change to Spot metering when a situation calls for it (see my article on metering modes)
Flash Comp: 0.0
White Balance: AWB (Auto White Balance)
Focus Mode: AF-A, which is a combination of AF-S and AF-C modes, works pretty well for most situations on the A7R II. I also heavily use MF when focusing manually.
DRO / Auto HDR: Off
Focus Area: Flexible Spot: M. This mode works great for selective focusing. Once you press the center button on the dial (configured below), you can easily move the focus points.
Creative Style: Standard. Don’t bother with creative styles, as they are irrelevant when shooting in RAW.
Exposure Compensation: 0.0, I prefer to use the top dial for adjusting exposure compensation instead.
The multi-functional navigation dial on the back of the camera is very useful and can be used to navigate through the camera menu, make quick exposure changes, as well as access specific functions by pressing each of the four corners. “DISP” switches between different views on the camera LCD; “ISO” allows changing camera ISO; the left side is used to access camera drive mode, while the bottom side can be configured for accessing other functions.
There are two extra buttons beneath the multi-functional navigation dial – Playback and C4 / Trash. Playback is obviously to play back images on the LCD and the C4 / Trash button can be used to delete unwanted images during playback. When the camera is not in Playback mode, the C4 serves as another programmable function button. While I prefer to use the C4 button as a “Focus Magnifier” I ended up setting the C4 button to “Metering Mode” (to toggle between the different metering modes). Unfortunately, Sony currently has a bug in its firmware – if you set “Focus Magnifier” to other buttons, you can press the buttons several times for zooming in during MF operation – the C4 / Trash button does nothing when pressing it several times.
Unfortunately, Sony’s menu system is a big mess and it is far from being user-friendly or intuitive. Lots of menu options to go through, with different functions thrown under random menus. Even the menu system of Olympus cameras, which I find to be rather complex to navigate through, is more organized in comparison. Let’s go through each menu setting.
- Image Size: L:42M (grayed out in RAW-only mode)
- Aspect Ratio: 3:2
- Quality: RAW
- Panorama: Size -> Standard (only visible in Panorama mode)
- Panorama: Direction -> Right (from Left to Right, visible in Panorama mode)
- Movie File Format: AVCHD
- Movie Record Setting: 24p 17M (FH). I rarely ever shoot video, but when I do, I use the smaller frame rate and size to save space
- Dual Video REC: Off
- Drive Mode: Single Shooting
- Bracket Settings: Selftimer during Brkt: Off, Bracket order: 0 -> – -> +
- Flash Mode: Fill-flash
- Flash Comp: 0.0
- Red Eye Reduction: Off
- Focus Mode: Automatic AF (AF-A)
- Focus Area: Flexible Spot: M
- Focus Settings: N/A
- AF Illuminator: Auto
- AF Drive Speed: Normal
- AF Track Duration: Normal
- Exposure Comp: 0.0
- Exposure Step: 0.3EV
I found “Normal” for AF Drive Speed and Track Duration to be optimal for most situations.
- ISO: ISO AUTO
- ISO AUTO Min. SS: Standard
- Metering Mode: Multi
- White Balance: Auto
- DRO / Auto HDR: Off
- Creative Style: Standard
- Picture Effect: Off (grayed out in RAW mode)
- Picture Profile: Off
- Zoom: Grayed out in RAW
- Focus Magnifier: Used for zooming in while focusing manually. Grayed out in AF mode, must be in MF to work. I usually have this on the top C1 function button, as explained above.
- Long Exposure NR: On (recommended when shooting long exposures – will double the total exposure time)
- High ISO NR: Off (grayed out in RAW mode)
- Center Lock-on AF: Off, but can be a good option when something needs to be actively tracked
- Smile / Face Detect.: On – works pretty well for focusing and tracking faces
- Soft Skin Effect: Off (disabled in RAW)
- Auto Obj. Framing: Off (disabled in RAW)
- Auto Mode: N/A (only enabled in Auto Mode)
- Scene Selection: grayed out in PASM modes, but will show a bunch of scenes when in Scene mode
- Movie: Grayed out in PASM modes. When in movie mode, I usually pick Aperture Priority as well
- SteadyShot: On – keep this turned on for in-body image stabilization + lens stabilization. Always turn off when mounting on a tripod.
- SteadyShot Settings: Auto. Don’t mess with this one, unless you know what you are doing
- Color Space: Although color space does not matter for RAW files, I use AdobeRGB because it gives a slightly more accurate histogram to determine the correct exposure (since the camera shows histogram based on camera-rendered JPEG image, even if you shoot exclusively in RAW). If you shoot JPEG or RAW+JPEG, I would recommend to keep this at sRGB.
- Auto Slow Shut.: On
- Audio Recording: On
- Audio Rec Level: N/A (grayed out in PASM)
- Audio Out Timing: Live
- Wind Noise Reduct.: Off
- Memory recall: only available when when one of the two MR modes is selected on the top of the camera. Allows picking one of the saved presets.
- Memory: going here will save all the current settings in one of the selected presets. I usually toggle between two presets – for Landscapes and People. For landscapes, I set camera mode to Manual Mode, Manual Focus, ISO 100, turn Auto ISO off and turn off other irrelevant settings such as face recognition. For portraits, I set the camera to AF-A focus mode, ISO to Auto, turn on face recognition + eye focus.
3.10) Wheel 1
- Zebra: Off
- MF Assist: On – a great feature that automatically zooms in when you move the focus ring in manual focus mode.
- Focus Magnif. Time: No Limit
- Grid Line: Rule of 3rds Grid
- Marker Display: Off
- Marker Settings: All Off
3.11) Wheel 2
- Audio Level Display: On
- Auto Review: 2 Sec
- DISP Button:
Monitor: “No Disp Info”, “For viewfinder”, “Histogram” and “Level” checked. Display All Info is too cluttered and Graphic Display occupies too much of the screen.
Finder: “No Disp. Info”, “Histogram” and “Level” checked
- Peaking Level: Mid – focus peaking only works in MF mode.
- Peaking Color: Red
- Exposure Set. Guide: On
3.12) Wheel 3
- Live View Display: Setting Effect ON
- Disp. cont. AF area: On
- Phase Detect. Area: On
- Pre-AF: Off
- Zoom Setting: Optical zoom only (grayed out in RAW)
3.13) Wheel 4
- Eye-Start AF: Off
- FINDER/MONITOR: Auto – will automatically switch between viewfinder and LCD.
- Release w/o Lens: Disable – do not allow firing the camera without a properly attached lens.
- Release w/o Card: Disable – do not allow firing the camera without a memory card inserted.
- Priority Set in AF-S: Balanced Emphasis
- Priority Set in AF-C: Balanced Emphasis
3.14) Wheel 5
- AF w/ shutter: On
- AEL w/ shutter: Auto
- Silent Shooting: Off – a great new feature that can be used in some situations (like shooting a wedding ceremony silently in a church). However, you should keep it turned off, as silent shooting decreases dynamic range, drops bit depth and causes all kinds of issues with moving subjects (rolling shutter effect, etc).
- e-Front Curtain Shutter: On
- S. Auto Img. Extract.: grayed out in PASM. Only works in “Superior Auto” mode
3.15) Wheel 6
- Exp.comp.set: Ambient&flash
- Reset EV Comp.: Reset
- Face Registration: used for registering faces.
- APS-C/Super 35mm: Auto
- AF Micro Adj: Off, don’t do this unless you want to calibrate a lens
3.16) Wheel 7
- Lens Comp.:
Shading Comp.: Off
Chro. Aber. Comp.: Off
Distortion Comp.: Off
- AF System: N/A – grayed out on some lenses
- Video Light Mode: Power Link
- Function Menu Set.: Function Upper and Lower – leave these at default
- Custom Key Settings:
Control Wheel: Not Set
Custom Button 1: Focus Magnifier. Once you do this, you will be able to use the C2 button in MF mode to zoom in during manual focusing. Pressing the button several times will allow to zoom in up to 12.5x (pixel level). The button won’t do anything in AF mode.
Custom Button 2: Focus Mode
Custom Button 3: Drive Mode
Custom Button 4: Metering Mode
Center Button: Focus Settings. I like setting the center button to adjust focus settings, because it is more intuitive than pressing another button on the camera. Once you enable this, all you have to do is press the center button in the middle of the navigation dial and you can use the up/down/left/right buttons to move the focus point. Rotating the dial will change your focus Focus Area.
Left Button: Silent Shooting
Right Button: ISO
Down Button: SteadyShot
AEL Button: AEL hold
AF/MF Button: AF On
Focus Hold Button: Focus Hold (this button is only available on some lenses)
- Dial Setup: F/no., SS
3.17) Wheel 8
- Dial Ev Comp: Off – I use the top dial for exposure compensation
- Zoom Ring Rotate: N/A (only works on some lenses)
- MOVIE Button: Movie Mode Only – to prevent accidental recording of movies
- Dial / Wheel Lock: Unlock
3.18) Connection 1 and 2
I rarely ever use these, but sometimes it is useful to send pictures to my phone – this is where it is done. If you don’t do any of that, it is best to keep “Airplane Mode: On” to save battery life.
I don’t usually use any applications, but you can use things like Smart Remote to remotely control the camera.
3.20) Playback 1 and 2
- Display Rotation: Off – I don’t like it when the camera flips verticals, as it results in dead space. I would rather turn the camera sideways when viewing vertical images.
- Other settings are used for accessing specific playback functions
3.21) Setup 1
- Monitor Brightness: Manual
- Viewfinder Brightness: Auto works pretty well
- Finder Color Temp.: 0
- Volume Settings: 7
- Audio signals: Off – I always turn these off
3.21) Setup 2
- Tile Menu: Off – you don’t want extra icons to access the menu
- Mode Dial Guide: Off – won’t display the guide when changing camera modes
- Delete confirm: “Delete” first – don’t want to scroll when I need to delete something
- Display Quality: Standard
- Pwr Save Start Time: 1 Min usually works pretty well
- NTSC/PAL Selector: Don’t touch
3.22) Setup 3
- Cleaning Mode: used for cleaning the camera sensor
- Demo Mode: grayed out
- TC/UB Settings: Skip these
- Remote Ctrl: On (for remote control)
- HDMI Settings: Keep at default, only for video
- 4K Output Sel.: Keep at default, only for video
3.23) Setup 4
- USB Connection: Auto
- USB LUN Setting: Multi
- USB Power Supply: On
- Language: English
- Date/Time Setup: You might want to turn Daylight Savings On
- Area Setting: For setting the timezone
3.24) Setup 5
- Copyright Info: Set your copyright info and name here
- Format: for formatting the inserted SD card
- File Number: Series
- Select REC Folder: skip this
- New Folder: Skip this
- Folder Name: Standard Form
3.25) Setup 6
- Recover Image DB: Skip this
- Display Media Info.: Shows what’s on the card
- Version: Display firmware version
- Setting reset: will reset the camera settings or reinitialize the camera
If you would like to activate back-button focusing for the focus and recompose technique, there are two settings you will have to check. First, you want to pick one of the buttons to do the focusing. On my A7R II, I picked the AF/MF / AEL button for that, but you can use any other programmable button. Once you set your button of choice to “AF-On” in the “Custom Key Settings” sub-menu (found in Wheel 7), the next step is to remove focusing from the shutter release half-press. Open up the camera menu, navigate to Wheel 5, then set “AF w/ shutter” to “Off”. Once you do that, you will no longer be able to focus by half-pressing the shutter release – focus will only be possible to activate through your chosen custom function button. In my case, I would have to press and hold the AF/MF / AEL button when the switch is set to AF/MF.
I hope you found this article useful. Please note that the above settings work for me and they might not necessarily suit your needs. It is best that you explore your camera and learn about each setting as much as you can in order to take advantage of all the available features and customizations!