How to get the most out of the Sony a7Rii for landscapes

I’ve added the Sony a7Rii mirrorless camera to my bag.  My initial impression as a long-time Nikon shooter is that this is a complex camera – not something I would call intuitive with 26 different screens of settings.  Many of the default options really aren’t setup for a fast-paced professional workflow, so you really need to dig into the options to get the most out of this camera.  However, Sony has done a very good job making the camera setup extremely customizable and flexible.  And once you set it up correctly, you have an absolutely incredible camera on your hands.  Now that I’ve spent a good deal of effort to optimize it, I thought I would share the settings I recommend to get the most out of the a7Rii for landscape photography.  Much of my general guidance here is the same as my recommendations with the D810, with the key differences being that there is no mirror to lockup and you are always using live view.

 

First, a little background on the philosophy behind my choices…  My primary emphasis is landscape shooting suitable for large prints, I also need the flexibility to quickly and easily capture people and fast moving action.  And if I have to make a choice, my philosophy is to setup the camera to give me the best possible final image, rather than trying to get the best possible image straight out of the camera – I’d rather spend time on the computer if that’s what I need to create a better image.  Note that for all the settings listed below, I reference things like “2.5 AF w/ Shutter”.  By this I mean that you can find this setting by going to the 2nd tab (the gear icon), and looking at the 5th section of that tab.  Also note that I’m only listing settings that I consider very important or where I’ve changed things from the default.  And if you’d like to see what lenses and accessories I’m using with it, please check out my gear page.

 

Dynamic Range / Noise
  • 1.1 Quality = RAW for best quality.
  • 1.2 Bracket Settings-0+ order, which I find makes it much easier to group brackets when post-processing.
  • 1.2 Bracket Settings2 sec self-timer when coupled with Drive Mode = Continuous Bracket.  Note that the delay only applies to the first image (which helps get rid of any motion you may cause by manually pressing the shutter button), but there are no options to delay the subsequent frames in the bracket for continuous bracketing.  In my quick and unscientific testing, I did not see loss of detail due to vibration from the rear shutter.  I personally would not hesitate at this point to use continuous bracketing.
    • However, if you want to eliminate all camera-induced vibration (especially when shooting long lenses), I recommend using 0 sec self-timer coupled with Drive Mode = Single Bracket and the Neweer shutter remote release.  2 second delay is still ok here; it just wastes time if you’re using a remote release.  Note that in reality, this is no more cumbersome than shooting high-quality brackets with the D810, which also requires a remote release and single shot (because mirror lockup mode is the only way to get electronic front curtain shutter on the D810; electronic front curtain is not used on the D810 when using exposure delay).
    • Note that certain drive modes (such as continuous) can disable the “bulb” timer option.  If you cannot see “bulb” next to 30s, be sure to check drive mode (and 2.5 silent shooting).
  • 1.6 Long Exposure Noise Reduction = Off.  30 second exposures are noisy, so I may use this occasionally, but I can rarely afford the double length exposures when shooting in quickly changing sunset/sunrise light.  Ideally I would program this into the custom functions menu, but that is not an option.
  • 1.8 Color Space = sRGB, to provide more accurate histogram/display in camera (but I convert my RAW images as Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB in Lightroom, which is not adversely affected by this setting).
  • 2.5 Silent Shooting = Off most of the time because this causes loss of 1 stop of dynamic range.
  • 1.5 DRO (dynamic range optimization) = Off  because I can do a better job when post-processing.
  • Additionally, I put several options that I tend to adjust into my custom function menu for quick access.  The items above almost never change for me.

For exposures longer than 30 seconds, you’ll need to use the bulb timer in manual mode.  There are many options on Amazon; I’ver personally ordered this intervalometer from Neweer that cost $21.  It plugs into the micro-USB multi-function port on the left side of the camera, and you can set it to take exposures of any specific duration (which is much easier than trying to time bulb exposures manually).  Unfortunately, the cover for this port also exposes the camera’s HDMI port, so you may wish to consider how you should protect that open slot if you are near rain, salt water spray, etc.  I plan to cut off the end of an HDMI cable and use that as a protective plug.

Detail / Focus
  • 2.5 AF w/ shutter = Off.  I don’t want the camera to refocus every time I take a picture.  This is a recipe for missed shots, and makes it harder to pre-focus.  Instead, I set the custom buttons below for “back buttton” focus.  This approach requires some patience as you learn to always focus with the back button (you will forget to focus some shots), but dramatically increases your speed and the number of properly focused shots once you get the hang of it.
  • 2.2 Peaking Color = Yellow.  This is easy for me to see, as I rarely focus on yellow objects (but red tones are more common in my landscapes).
  • 2.3 Pre-AF = Off.  This avoids AF adjustments that defeat the purpose of back-button focusing.
  • 2.4 Priority in AFS/C = AF (be in focus)
  • 2.5 e-Front Curtain Shutter = On.  This eliminates internal vibration caused by shutter movement to create sharper images and is one of the most significant enhancements in the a7Rii.  I strongly recommend leaving it on whenever possible.  However, shen shooting faster than 1/1000s (ie, large apertures in bright light), you may wish to turn this off to ensure even exposures.  You should also turn off when using 3rd party lenses.  Ideally, these exceptions would be automated by the camera or this setting could be put into the custom functions menu – just know that it’s here in case you need to turn it off because of uneven exposures across the frame.
  • Additionally, I put several options that I tend to adjust into my custom function menu for quick access.  The items above almost never change for me.
Sony a7Rii custom function menu

 

Custom Key Settings (1.7)

I use the custom buttons for things I would need to be able to change quickly, and the function menu as a holding area for all other settings.  My goal is to never dive into the camera menus again after setting up.

  • Center Button = Standard (this lets you click the center of the wheel to quickly made changes to the focus points).
  • AF/MF Button = AF On (as someone who has shot many weddings and small kids, there is no better way to ensure you always get the shot with moving subjects than to get comfortable with “back button” focusing).
  • AEL Button =AF On (I always want that back button to focus)
  • C1 = Focus Area.
  • C2 = Focus Mode.  AF-C works really well, and I tend to use it quite a bit.  AF-S is great for low light.  And I recommend manual when on a tripod and you have the luxury of zooming in to check critical focus.
  • C3Eye AF (I use this in the same way I use my programmed AF-ON button, but this is specifically designed to focus on people’s eyes or faces)
  • C4 = Deactivate Monitor (while this doesn’t actually turn off the monitor, it stops displaying the live display, which I find desirable when I’m shooting the same composition over and over on a tripod).
Function Menu Settings (1.7)

I set my function menu to let me quickly adjust focus, exposure, and video settings.  I’ve ordered them in groups of related items to keep things quick and simple to find.

Upper row:
  • White Balance = I personally use 5600K most of the time.  This gives me consistent daylight-balanced color which can easily be corrected in Lightroom, but I will sometimes use cloudy or tungsten white balance when appropriate.  I often shoot with a grey card to correct white balance in Lightroom.  However, if you want the most accurate histogram while shooting, then you should do your best to get good white balance in camera (as the histogram is built from an internal JPG and depends on white balance).   This can have a particularly large impact on the color channel histograms.
  • Steady Shot = On (when shooting handheld) or Off (on a tripod, where it softens the image, reduces battery life, and reportedly contributes to overheating with 4k video)
  • Smile / Face Detect = Off for landscapes.   I use C3 programmed to Eye Focus when I want critical focus on closeups, or instead of my AF-ON button when I’m taking one-off shots of people.  I turn Face Detect on if I’m shooting lots of people, such as at an event.
  • Center Lock-on AF
  • ISO Auto Minimum SS  = “Fast” for best sharpness in landscapes, “Slow” or “Slower” when using stabilization and am not worried about maximizing all 42 megapixels, or set to a specific value for shooting fast subjects.   Auto-ISO function can help give you the lowest possible ISO, while still ensuring the shutter is fast enough for a sharp image.
  • Peaking Level = Mid most of the time, but it is helpful to tweak the amount of focus peaking assistance for manual focusing.

Lower row:

  • Metering Mode = Multi most of the time, but I like Spot for portraits (especially when backlit, which I do often to keep the face in shade).
  • Zebra = 100+ This puts stripes on the LCD preview to show you any blown highlights, which I find to be extremely helpful, in conjunction with the histogram, to determine proper exposure.  However, I might turn this off for back-lit portraits (when I’m intentionally blowing out a good portion of the frame.
  • Silent Shooting = Off.  While I want this off to keep maximum image quality (and the shutter sound is ideal for shooting portraits), I do occasionally want to be more subtle.
  • Audio Rec Level to adjust for best sound when shooting videos (which should set peak sound just below clipping).
  • Audio Level Display = On most of the time.
  • Picture Profile = Off (to see stills in proper color on LCD, even though this does not impact the RAW file) or P7 (video for sLOG2 to capture more detail and color for post-processing)
Other
  • 1.1 Grid Lines = Rule of 3rds (I personally tend to compose using the golden ratio, but the 3rd lines are also a good reference for that as well).
  • 1.3 Flash Mode = Rear Curtain.  If I need to minimize the duration of a shot at night, I’ll typically switch to manual exposure mode, rather than turning off the slow sync.  If I’m shooting wireless, I’ll be using my PocketWizard Plus 3‘s.
  • 1.4 AF Illuminator = Off (chances are your lens hood blocks it, and the orange light is annoying – consider manual focus or a hand held light if focus is challenging)
  • 1.5 Display Rotation = Auto (see vertical images)
  • 2.2 DESP Button = histogram and level for both Finder and Monitor.  This lets me quickly check that I’m exposing properly and shooting with a level horizon.  I don’t see value in the other options (don’t need the clean version as the histogram doesn’t impact composition, and you can click the display button to show other camera settings if needed).
  • 2.4 Release w/o lens / card = Off to ensure I don’t forget to put in a memory card or accidentally touch the shutter while cleaning with the sensor exposed.
  • 2.7 Lens Comp: Shading Comp = Off, Do this with vignette adjustment in LightRoom, etc as this apparently gets baked into the RAW file.
  • 2.7 Lens Comp: Chro. Aber. Comp. = Off.  Do this with chromatic aberration compensation in LightRoom, etc as this apparently gets baked into the RAW file.
  • 3.1 Airplane Mode = On (save battery).  The only time I want to use WiFi is to send images to my phone for immediate sharing.
  • 6.1 Audio Signals = Off (don’t need all the distracting beeps, especially when I’m using the self timer for brackets.)
Video
  • 1.2 File Format = XAVC 4k for 4k resolution or XAVC HD for highest quality HD.  However, not all users will have the software required to play/edit these files and you’ll need to use a 64+ GB SDXC Class 10 memory card.  Final Cut Pro X users may need to update to be able to edit XAVC files.  AVCHD is a good (high def) option to work with many video players, though MP4 probably offers the most compatibility (while giving up a little more quality).  Ideally, I would put file format into the custom function menu, but that is not an option.
  • Setting Picture Profile to PP7 will record using “sLOG2” to capture maximum dynamic range to keep maximum detail in the highlights and shadows.  Shooting with overexposure (+2ev) and using a LUT (look-up table) in post-processing may help achieve best results when working with sLOG2.  See Alister Chapman’s excellent post on sLOG2 with the a7S for more detail on the key concepts.  And check out DaVinci Resolve (the free version is pretty powerful for color grading sLOG2 files).

If you’re looking for more information on these or other settings, here are links to Sony’s “how to use” help guide and the manual for the a7Rii.

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  • PaulTortora

    Greg, thank you for taking the time to explain your settings in such an articulate manner. Would love to see a detailed explanation of Sony’s focusing settings next.

  • Jose

    Thank you Greg!

  • You’re welcome!

  • Mark Liebenberg

    That’s awesome Greg… much appreciated, as I am looking at purchasing the same camera. Which shots have you taken with this camera already?

  • Hi Mark- Between travel, a huge backlog of editing work, and a recent focus on personal work, I really haven’t posted new work from the Sony yet. Suffice it to say that you wouldn’t see the difference online, nor in print, for most of my work. The end result is quite similar to my D810. The key differences are more in the workflow and/or ability to get the shot.

  • Thinkr

    Thank you very much, Mr. Benz. (Nice name, by the way)

    An incredibly comprehensive and valuable document! I regard this as the constitution of a7RII photography.

    I’m wondering about something you wrote with respect to 2.5 e-Front Curtain Shutter: ” You should also turn off when using 3rd party lenses.”

    I’m planning to use only Canon EF and Zeiss (EF-mount) lenses with the Metabones EF to Sony E (Mk IV) adapter. Reducing vibration is absolutely essential to me. What are my options and why should I turn off the EFCS?

    Thanks again!

  • Glad you enjoyed the post! The impact of electronic front curtain shutter is lens dependent, so I recommend you test yourself to see if the results look ok. I would test a range of apertures (especially smaller ones like f/16) and shutter speeds (especially faster shutter speeds like 1/1000) to see if you do or do not have a problem at various settings for your specific lens. I would shoot an evenly lit target and look for variability in exposure.

    The underlying cause (as I understand it) is that the iris (which closes to take a photo) and exposure may not be properly synced when using some 3rd party lenses (or old/worn lenses) with the electronic front curtain shutter – which can result in uneven exposure (and maybe variable depth of field?) from top to bottom in the image.

  • srmmedia

    I took my A7R2 out yesterday in the bright sunlight and the LCD display started blinking on and off on and off as if the bright sunlight was making the view finder sensor to trigger on and off. Has anyone else had this experience or is my camera a lemon?

  • Jason

    How do you lock the metering? when your camera is setup this way?

  • You can use the auto-exposure lock. Personally, I just set the camera to manual, which means that it only changes when I want it too (and I can still use the meter as a guide when in manual mode).

  • Pierluca Taranta

    Does the color space matter when you shoot raw?

  • No. Color balance can affect histogram (as histogram resents what a JPG would be, even though the RAW is completely flexible).

  • Stuarf

    Hi, great blog ,how do get raw in LR 6 ?

  • LightRoom supports RAW from the Sony a7rii same as pretty much any other supported camera. You can import the file as is, or have it converted to Adobe’s DNG format. Or perhaps I’m misreading your question?

  • Jacobmin

    Great article, only thing missing is a landscape lens recommendation. Any suggestions? I’m looking to pull off perfection for very large prints.

  • I’ve been very happy with the Sony 16-35 in particular. Definitely my “go to” lens on the a7Rii.

  • Thanks for these tips Greg!
    Took the a7Rii out for my first shoot last weekend. Did some shooting at a waterfall, and only some of the pictures came out in focus. I was using wide AF focus, and wondering how you approach focusing in that mode, or if you choose more of a spot approach, and then focus on something a few feet away, or….? Thanks

  • Rona Schwarz

    Really good information, Greg, Thanks! I am an owner of a Nikon D810 with a recently acquired SonyA7RII, and am having some difficulty with Focus Area for landscapes. I routinely set my focus point on my D810 toward the bottom (or ~ 1/3 in) for hyperfocal distance and this has always given me tack sharp images from foreground to background. For the Sony, (I use back button focusing)I have been trying Expanded Focal Point set again towards the bottom for hyperfocal distance, and while the foreground is tack sharp, the background is not always so. I have also tried Wide focus area and this often yields tack sharp backgrounds, but not necessarily tack sharp foregrounds. Note that for the moment, I have been using the FE 55 f/1.8 and I just recently acquired the FE 70-200 f/4 but have only used it once. I will eventually get the FE 16-35 f/4 but wanted to start slowly, especially since I already have all these lenses in more in my Nikon system. Any advice would be appreciated. I know the Sony is capable of tack sharp images and I am just not satisfied right now.

  • I recommend learning how to manual focus the a7Rii – even if you have no interest in using manual focus (which I recommend in dark light), it’s a hepful way to confirm your autofocus technique in the field. My guess is that you may be using large focus areas, which are including some background and pushing the focal distance back. You may wish to try using smaller focus squares, or aim at targets that have minimal interaction with a distant background.

  • Matt

    Hi Greg, I currently don’t have a AF lens and I am not sure if I ever will. I do own some Leica M lenses so I will be in manual focus mode all the time. If you were shooting this way 100% of the time, what settings will you change from recommended list above? Also how can you maximize battery life? I normally shoot using the view finder until camera is on a tripod or shooting at some odd angle the rear display will be used. Camera will rest on my chest most times between locations. So how can I adjust my settings to use EVF, preview 2 second display on monitor, and avoid losing battery life because camera thinks my eye is at EVF but is really resting against my chest? Thank you for the guide it has been a big help.

  • I use manual focus quite a bit, even with my autofocus lenses (especially helpful in low light). I use the zoomed display and turn off focus peaking. While I was extremely excited to get my first camera with focus peaking, I find it is not helpful for critical focus – there is too much “noise” in the display, especially zoomed. I can do a better job evaluating the zoomed pixels without the color overlay. (I do think focus peaking is helpful for video, it’s just that I use the camera almost exclusively for stills).

    Battery life isn’t great on the camera, but it’s not so bad since batteries are small. My strategy is to bring lots of batteries. The biggest downside isn’t carrying these batteries, but rather that charging still takes many hours for each battery. If you’re traveling, you might not have enough time to swap multiple batteries on a single charger nightly. To extend battery life, I would lock to the viewfinder, minimize playback and any function that uses the screen or meter – basically the things you are suggesting to do.

  • Gabriel

    “1.8 Color Space = Adobe RGB to use the larger color gamut.”
    Sorry man but this is wrong in MANY ways. Besides if you shoot RAW this does not even matter since it will be your RAW converter which will assign the color space as per your choices at that point.
    I leave mine set for sRGB because, 1. it looks better on the LCD and EVF, 2 the histogram is based on the JPEG settings including color space and by showing the narrower sRGB gamut and if I expose properly based on the histogram I know there will be even more latitude in post.

  • Totally valid points. Same goes for white balance.

  • Gabriel

    Oh but I do thank you for the recommendations though, wasnt trying to be a jerk. 🙂

  • Not at all, I appreciate feedback.

  • Jacob

    I’m considering the a7rii moving from Canon 6d. Long exposure noise is a big issue for me. Typical photography for me could be even more than 240 seconds exposure. I do not intend to pull the blacks exposure but i want a clean shot. Is the a7rii capable?

  • Sener

    Hello Greg, i just bought the A7rii with 16-35mm zeiss f4 lens and used it during my holiday last week. After i opened the .arw files on my pc, i am not too much satisfied with the results. I took most of the pics with handheld with f11, sh1/60,iso 100 and center point focus but the files are not tack sharp. I thought that my lifetime investment will bring me more than what i got from my previous nikon D90. Also, i cant get the difference between taking compressed 42mp or uncompressed 84mp photos. Can you advise me which one to take and why i would have some sharpness problem. I wish i will not regret in buying this expensive toy. Thanks for your comments.

  • I shoot compressed. The advantage is small. I wish they offered a lossless compressed file, that would be much better.

    As for the focus, I can say that I get excellent results and hear the same from others. So either you have a faulty version or have not yet mastered how to focus this new product. Hard for me to say which without trying it myself or at least seeing your image. You way want to try focusing on something a few feet away and then something far away to practice using the focus and test further.

  • Sener

    Thanks for your reply. Could i send you one file that you can examine? Please consider to make a short video tutorial about this camera for your followers.

  • Sure, go ahead and email it to me. Any particular aspects of the camera you’d like to see in a video?

  • Sener

    It would be great if you can make a tutorial on the field while taking brackets or long exposures with focusing tips. You are the boss. You have done once with D810.

  • Beelzebubba

    Thanks Greg, this was very useful, found a few things I needed to change based on your descriptions.

  • bstrom

    This only makes sense if you are doing no post and just sending pix straight OOC. JPEGs can be shot in RGB. sRGB is an output setting in many/most photo editors. You will get more color info with Adobe RGB. Process and output to sRGB for prints and web.

  • Manny Manuel

    do you recommend to ETTL or ETTR with the sony a7rii? some argue that I should ETTR to avoid noise in the shadows which sometimes I get when I take a picture of someone with a sunset behind and in LR I bring up their face. How do I avoid as much noise as possible besides having a low iso and using a tripod?

  • ETTR with all digital cameras. The trick is not to blow highlights, but other than making that mistake, brighter is always better. You can reduce the exposure in post processing without penalty, but increasing it will show noise (especially after about 2 stops of increased exposure). See this post for lots more information: https://gregbenzphotography.com/photography-tips/how-to-get-the-correct-exposure-in-camera
    To shoot someone at sunset and keep sky color, you have 3 good options: (1) Use a flash to balance the exposure on the face better with the sky. This gives you best control of color and quality of light (especially when using light diffusers like a soft box), and would usually allow better results – but is a lot of work.
    (2) ETTR to get an exposure that keeps sky detail and minimizes noise on the face. This is the best option without flash most of the time.
    (3) Blend multiple exposures. This is a good option when you aren’t sure of proper exposure, have extreme dynamic range, or need to shoot at higher ISO due to shutter speed considerations.


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