Sony A1 Underwater Settings
As Sony's flagship camera, the Sony A1 really shines in it's built-in workflow and menu system. It isn't really praise we see from Sony cameras, but the A1 might just be one of the most ergonomic and most customizeable cameras on the market. It's clear that Sony's engineering team took every bit of criticism they've ever heard, gave it some thought and made adjustments. At Bluewater Photo, we honestly think one of the top reasons to consider the A1 is all the photos and videos you'll save from Sony's updated ergonomics and menu system. If you already have or used a Sony A7S III, you'll notice quite a few similarities between the two cameras. Much of the A7S III's new menu system has carried over from the camera.
The Sony A1 has a new 50MP stacked CMOS sensor and can shoot burst 50 MP photos up to 30fps (elecctronic shutter mode), 8K/30p video, and 4K/120p video. It can record 10-bit 4:2:2 internally and theoretically has no recording limit (althought it could be possible for the camera to overheat at very high frame rates). It's important to note that the shutter features new tech - including a superfast shutter readout that reduces rolling shutter. This allows you to use some underwater strobes with the silent shutter that can shoot burst speeds up to 30fps. We'll explain more on how to use the silent shutter with strobes below. The A1 is the best hybrid photo/video camera that Sony has to offer, and many Sony A1 underwater housings are also compatible with the Sony A7S III. This provides underwater creatives the opportunity to use Sony's best photo and best video camera body in the same housing. As long as you read the guide below and contact us at Bluewater Photo with any questions, the Sony A1 should be able to take the underwater photo & video of your dreams.
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Sony A1 Buttons and Dpad
Sony A1 Dials, Buttons, and Joysticks
The Sony A1 has the best ergonomics when compared to other Sony cameras, and most full frame cameras, on the market. The menu system that debuted in the A7S III features a new vertical, colorful layout, sans the confusing text and rediculously deep menu system of past Sony cameras. The three dials (which includes a built-in back D-pad) can be used to control your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Because the back dial is a D-Pad, camera navigation is simple - especially when used in conjunction with the joystick on the back. The EV dial has a firm lock so you don't accidentally hit it and mess up your shot. The mode dial is well thought-out and places the Manual photo mode and video modes right next to each other. This makes it really easy to switch between photo and video underwater. I will there were more video settings on the mode dial, but that is for a future generation of camera. The important distinguishing feature from the A7S III is the drive and focus mode dial on the portside of the camera. The drive mode allows you to choose how fast your burst speed is and allows you to set timers & bracketing. The focus mode dial lets you choose between, single autofocus, continuous autofocus, manual focus, etc. It's very important to consider that some underwater housings do not have full compatibility for the focus mode dial. This means you will have to adjust your focus mode outside of the camera before you put it in the housing. Contact us at Bluewater Photo if you need help deciding whether you need this functionality and need help determining which housings have it.
Breaking Down the Mode Dial - The mode dial on the A1 is photo oriented with most options being made for photo modes. The M mode on the dial is your manual photo mode with S, A, and P being shutter priority, aperture priority, and program mode respectively. To choose your video mode, select the video icon on the mode dial. Then click the Fn button and select the video icon (exposure mode) again. You should be able to scroll through your video options from manual exposure, to shutter priority, aperture priority, and program mode. We recommend leaving the video mode on manual exposure and learning to shoot manual video in order to get the best results in your video. We'll leave some tips for shooting manual video below. The S&Q setting on the mode dial stands for slow and quick and allows you to capture slow motion video directly inside the camera with slow motion playback. However, if you intend to edit video, we recommend shooting at a higher frame rate in video mode and adding slow motion effects in post processing by slowing the video down. The "1, 2, and 3" settings are custom memory recall settings that can be set in the menu. To set your memory recall settings, click the "menu" button -> go to your "shooting" menu -> "shooting mode" -> "camera set memory" -> select 1, 2, or 3.
Sony A1 Drive and Focus Mode Dial (Not Found on the Sony A7S III)
Considerations for Underwater Housings
The Joystick and AF Point Selection
AF point selection with the A1 is easy with the joystick, but it gets a little tricky with housings that don't have joystick compatibility. Above water, both touch screen AF and the joystick can be used to move your AF point around. Unfortunately, no underwater housings currently have support for the touch screen and some don't have support for the joystick. So if you need an easy way to move AF points and are a photo oriented shooter, please contact us and we'll find you an underwater housing that has full joystick control. If you do decide to get a housing without joystick compatibility there are two workarounds to select your autofocus point:
1. In photo mode, we recommend using AF tracking. This allows you to press the AF-on button or half press the shutter button when your AF box is over the area of the image you want in focus. Then you can move the camera and the camera will track the subject. If you are shooting in single AF mode, then we recommend keeping your AF point in the center, locking onto your subject, and panning to recompose.
2. In video mode, sometimes we recommend using the "wide" AF area mode, but we found it was not it is not accurate at selecting an AF point in macro situations or situations with low light. For macro shooting, we recommend choosing a center AF area mode and allowing the camera to lock on to your subject with your subject in the middle. Then we recommend customizing the joystick button to toggle between autofocus mode and manual focus mode, as described below. When your subject is locked-in, you can select the joystick button and it will switch to manual focus mode. As long as you have focus peaking on, you can pan in and out with the camera and see when your focus in the right spot.
Customizing Your Settings:
Custom Settings Menu
The Sony A1 is one of the most customizeable cameras on the market. Although we recommend certain customizations, please remember that everyone's workflow is different. What works for us may not work for you. It's important to go through all the customization options in the camera - even if it takes an hour or two - before your first dives. You will be thankful you did and you'll have a much better understanding of your camera. The A1 even adds four custom buttons (c1-c4) dedicated to your favorite custom settings and we highly recommend using them. To customize your buttons, click the "menu" button, go to the "setup" menu, panel 3, and select "customize key settings." One option allows you to select settings in photo mode and one allows you to select customizable settings in video mode. If you wish to use the same custom setting in both modes, you can leave any button in the default "follow custom (*)" key. Every workflow and shooting situation will require different custom settings. Here are our top recommend custom settings:
Our custom buttons were set in photo mode. In video mode customization, we set our buttons to default to photo mode. This is a good starting point, but you can also set up different photo and video workflows - if you can remember all the different button combinations!
1. ISO - this will allows the back dial to adjust ISO which is useful for video. However, some housing will not be able to turn the back dial. In these cases, we recommend using the right DPad button to adjust ISO that is assigned as the default.
2. Eye AF - allows you to tell your camera to search for an eye (whether human or animal)
3. AF On
4. Movie shooting
5. Finder.Monitor Sel - this will allow you to switch between the EVF and LCD in your housing and is a very useful function.
6. APS-C S35/Full Frame - this will allow you to crop to super 35 mode with a push of the button if you are shooting at resolutions smaller than 4K
Bonus setting: Shutter Type - you could custom set any of your Rear1 buttons to select mechanical or electronic shutter.
1. AF/MF Selector Toggle - this will allow you to adjust between AF mode and MF so that you can lock on your subject with AF when shooting video and then switch to MF and fine tune by panning in and out.
2. Not Set - you want your center button to be able to select other functions
3. Focus Area
5. Focus Magnifier - this allows you to fine tune your focus by zooming in on the focus area of the subject
Bonus Setting - Focus standard - this allows you to set a button to return your focus box to the center when you press it
2. Shutter Speed
3. Focus Standard
4 Live View Display - this is an important setting. It applies your exposure settings to the LCD or viewfinder. Turn this off with strobes and on without strobes
1. Focus hold - in most cases you won't be able to use this in an underwater housing
The Fn (Function) Menu
The Fn button on the back of the camera is perhaps the most useful button on the system - it opens the Function menu. When you're in an intense shooting situation, the Fn menu allows you to pull up your most important settings and quickly change them. We highly recommend customizing your Fn menu so that you can access the most frequent settings you will be changing. To customize your Fn menu, click the "menu" button, go to the "setup" menu, panel 3, and select "Fn menu settings."
In Photo Mode
Here are our top settings for the Fn menu in photo mode:
1. Drive Mode - allows you to choose your burst shooting mode. This doesn't work in the A1 - you need to use the drive dial. But it can quickly tell you how fast you are shooting if you can't tell from inside the housing.
2. Flash mode - use fill flash with strobes
3. Shutter Type - this allows you to switch between mechanical and electronic shutter
4. Live View Display - turn it on for shooting ambient light photos and photos with video lights. Turn it off for shooting with strobes. If your screen is black when you are shooting with strobes, check your live view display settings.
5. Focus Area - Tracking: Expand Spot is our favorite setting as the AF tracking is very accurate.
6. White Balance - won't affect your image if you're shooting RAW
7. Face/Eye Subject - Setting the A7S III to animal eye AF tracking never worked on fish. If you want animal eye AF tracking, the Canon EOS R5 is much more capable.
8. Steady Shot - On
9. ISO - the A7S III is a great lowlight camera so you can push the ISO up quite high with this camera. You will still get useable underwater photos above 1000 ISO, but we recommend shooting at as low of an ISO setting as you can for the best quality.
10. Prioritize Recording Media - allows you to select your card slot
11. Metering Mode - set to spot metering if you're using strobes
12. Silent Mode - this is useful for topside shooting. It makes your camera silent.
In Video Mode
Here are our top settings for the video mode Fn menu:
1. Audio Rec Level - adjust your audio levels. It's a good setting for topside shooting
2. Peaking Display - allows you to turn on peaking display for finetuning manual focus. We recommend setting your peaking display color to red underwater.
3. ISO - Adjust your ISO for proper exposure
4. Live View Display - Turn it on for shooting ambient light photos and photos with video lights. Turn it off for shooting with strobes.
5. Focus Area - in AF-C we use wide for most situations or expand spot if your housing has compatibility with the joystick
6. White Balance - read on to learn how to set custom white balance
7. Picture Profile - allows you to select Log profiles including S-Log2, S-Log3, Cine profiles, HLG, and more.
8. Steady shot - Set to active if you're not using a tripod. This will introduce a crop, but you need as much stabilization as you can get underwater. Use standard if you have a tripod or a really calm shooting environment.
9. Prioritize Rec. Media - Pick your media card slot
10. Zebra Display - turns your Zebra stripes on and off. You can set your exposure levels for the zebra stripes in the menu.
11. Metering mode - we use spot standard with a video light and multi if the ambient lighting conditions are good.
12. Exposure mode - allows you to switch between manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and program mode in video
Function Menu Customization
Using the Electronic Shutter with Strobes
One of the coolest new features on the Sony A1 is the ability to shoot with strobes using the electronic (i.e., silent) shutter. This allows you to shoot at higher burst rates with strobes, like 30 fps. Some strobes, like the Sea & Sea YS-D3 and the Ikelite DS 161 are capable of keeping up with these insane speeds at lower power. For example, below 1/4 power, the YS-D3 has virtually no recycle time! This is a huge win for coldwater divers and divers who take photos in limited visibility conditions. However, you can't use the electronic shutter without a TTL converter as the A1 is doesn't not have electronic shutter compatibility with non-Sony flashes. TTL converters like the Ikelite Sony TTL converter can "trick" the camera into thinking the strobe is a Sony flash. However, we do not have confirmed compatibility with other TTL converter compatibility with the electronic shutter. It is best to contact Bluewater to determine if your TTL converter/strobe combination will work with the electronic shutter.
Selecting a High Strobe Sync Speed
The Sony A1's sync speed with strobes using the mechanical shutter is 1/400s. This is very useful for divers who are faced with scenes that have a lot of dynamic range - particularly sunbursts. You can now shoot straight into the sun in shallow water and capture as much detail as possible at 1/400s. It also allows you to freeze frames in ultra-highspeed situations. To get your camera to sync at high speeds with your strobes, increase your shutter speed between 1/200 and 1/400s. We noticed that the camera did not quite sync at 1/400 with all strobes. The YS-D2Js result in a slight band at 1/400s.
Important Video Settings
Selecting Your Resolution
The Sony A1 is a one of the best 4K and 8K video cameras currently available. For underwater video, we recommend shooting most A-roll in 4K and adjusting your framerate to suite how much motion is in your shot. If there is a lot of motion underwater, film at higher frame rates like 120 fps. If you want to take video of macro subjects that are difficult to get close to, you can film in 8K and crop in post processing. To select your resolution, go to the menu -> shooting menu -> Image Quality -> File Format. The resolution options provided are paired with a file format (aka codec).
Selecting Your 4K Codec
The file format, or codec, you choose will determine how much your video is compressed and the bit rates you are able to shoot at. An uncompressed codec will take up more space on your hard drive, but it will also be easier for your computer to process as it will have to do less work decoding. So the more compressed your video is, the more time you should plan on spending in post. Here are the three codecs available to you when shooting 4K.
1. XAVC HS 4K - This is the most compressed codec and we generally don't recommend using it unless you need to save a lot of space and want to spend more time in post processing. It uses an H.265 compression standard that some graphics cards may have trouble handling.
2. XAVC S 4K - This is Sony's standard file type, and the codec that will suit the widest range of needs. You will be able to shoot 120 fps with this file type and vary your bit rates quite a bit. We recommend this file type for most video shooters. It uses an H.264 compression standard that should be relatively easy to handle with standard editing software and graphics cards.
3. XAVC S-I 4K - Ths is the least compressed file type available. It will be easier to playback, but it will also create large file sizes. It features a bit rate of 600M 10bit 4:2:2 at 60fps - that's a lot of data!
Selecting Your Frame Rate and Recording Setting
Your frame rate determines how many frames the A1 captures in a second. A higher frame rate creates less motion blur in the shot and allows you to slow down your footage so that you can stabilize it. Higher frame rates also require more data and take up more space on your card. For underwater shooting, we highly recommend shooting at a high frame rate because the 3D environment that water introduces is exceptionally shaky. We recommend setting your frame rate to 60p or 120p if you want to shoot slow motion. In most cases 60p is fine and 120p takes up a lot of data. To set your frame rate go to menu -> shooting menu -> Image Quality -> Movie Settings -> Rec Frame Rate.
After selecting your frame rate, you'll want to choose your bit depth and bit rate. If you are shooting Log picture profiles like S-Log2 and S-Log3 then we recommend selecting 10-bit 4:2:2 for the most accurage color gamut. If you are shooting the standard picture profile then 8-bit 4:2:0 should be sufficient for the data that you need. To select your recording settings go to menu -> shooting menu -> Image Quality -> Movie Settings -> Record Settings.
Setting a Manual White Balance
To set a manual white balance on your camera, select the white balance setting in your Fn menu, scroll down to custom 1, click the right button on the dpad to highlight "set", click your center button, line up the square with a neutral area in the image or a white slate, and hit the center button to lock it in. You will need to do this every few feet of depth that you go up or down in the water column.
Selecting a Picture Profile
Picture Profiles are the reason to buy a Sony camera for video, specifically their logarithmic profiles. Log profiles preserve more data from the shadows and highlights of an image in order to provide better dynamic range and detail in a video after post production. Out of the box, Log video looks flat and ugly, but after working with your exposure levels and colors, you can get some amazingly detailed video. Of course, RAW video is ultimately the most workable video for post production and the A1 does offer ProRes raw recording with an external recorder, like the Ninja V. To select a picture profile, go to your Fn menu -> Picture Profile -> PP1 -> Gamma -> select your Log profile. We recommend setting recording settings to 10-bit 4:2:2 if you intend to shoot with a Log profile.
Recommended Picture Profiles
Standard (No Picture Profile) - We recommend the standard picture profile if you don't want to do much color grading or post processing. Sony's standard picture profile is quite nice, but you need to be accurate with your exposure and white balance when you shoot with the standard profile.
S-Log2 - S-Log2 offers the most detail out of the Log profiles with the least risk for introducing noise compared to other S-Log profiles. It is more difficult to edit than HLG or Cine profiles, but it can produce some of the best results. S-Log2 must be shot at a minimum of ISO 800. Try to use this profile in situations with a lot of light. We recommend overexposing your scene rather than underexposing.
S-Log3 - S-Log3 offers more detail in the shadows than S-Log2 but it can be more difficult to work with and introduce more noise as well. S-Log3 must be shot at a minimum of ISO 800. Try to use this profile in situations with a lot of light. We recommend overexposing your scene rather than underexposing.
HLG3 - HLG3 is our top recommended Log profile. It's easier to work with than S-Log2 and allows you to shoot at lower ISOs down to ISO 200.
Cine2 - Cine2 is a good hybrid between a Log profile and standard profile which makes it the easiest Log profile to work with in post. This is a good middle ground if you want to do some work in post but not a lot.
Quick Video Tips
1. Your shutter speed should be roughly twice your frame rate
2. Your aperture should be f/13 or higher for wide angle video. For macro, if you want background blur than use a lower f-stop, if you want most of it in focus, use a higher f-stop
3. After setting your aperture, adjust your ISO until the video is properly exposed. ISO in video can be moved higher than in photography. Shoot with auto ISO if you are in a dynamic lighting situation.
4. Set a manual white balance as described above if you are shooting wide angle video without video lights. With video light, match the color temperature of your video lights.
5. Use spot or center metering with video lights and matrix metering without video lights.
6. Shoot 4K@60 fps for normal underwater situations. For quick situations, shoot at 120 fps for slow motion video. If you want to crop a scene in post processing, shoot 8K @ 30fps.
Formatting Your Card
To format your memory card, go to the "shooting" menu -> Panel 2. "Media" -> Format.
Other Main Menu Settings
There are many, many additional settings available in the main menu. Instead of explaining each one individually (the manual does this already), we have selected the most important to you as an underwater shooter so that you can learn where they are found in the menu system.
1. Image Quality Menu
APS-C S35 Shooting
This allows the A1's sensor to crop into APS-C mode. This can give you a little more reach when shooting macro critters, or even when you are having difficulty getting close to wide angle subjects like sharks.
In the media menu you can format your memory card and prioritize which slot the camera will record data.
4. Shooting Mode
In the shooting mode you can adjust your memory recall settings as described in our mode dial breakdown towards the top of the article.
5. Drive Mode
You can set which drive modes shoot at what burst rates in the "Cont. shooting speed" panel.
You can choose to shoot with the silent, electronic shutter rather than the mechanical shutter. In some situations this may be compatible with an external strobe. It can introduce banding and rolling shutter in certain situations such as artificial light or with fast moving subjects.
9. Shooting Display
You can set your grid lines for your display in this menu. You can also turn your live view setting on and off.
In this menu you can limit your ISO range if you decide to use auto ISO when shooting video. This will allow you to lower the highest ISO setting so that you do not get too much noise in your video.
7. Zebra Display
The zebra display is used to determine what parts of your scene is overexposed and potentially clipping data. If you choose to use zebra levels, we recommend setting the zebra display level to about 95.
In this menu, you can set your AF transition speed. This will determine how quickly your camera will focus on one subject to the next.
2. Focus Area
This menu allows you to limit your focus area so that your camera only focuses on a certain location of the scene. This can be useful if you are shooting macro video on a tripod. You can also change the color of your focus box and set the focus box so that it wraps around the screen as you scroll. You can also set the size of the AF frame.
3. Face/Eye AF
In this menu, you can turn on face and eye detection and prioritize whether it detects humans or animals. We have found that animal eye AF is not very useful in the Sony A7S III. You can also set which eye the camera will prioritize.
5. Peaking Display
In this menu, you can turn on peaking display which will show you what parts of your image are in focus in manual focus mode. You can also set the peaking level and the color. We recommend red as it is easily visible when shooting underwater.
3. Operation Customize
In this menu, as we described earlier, you can customize your camera buttons in both photo and movie modes.
You can adjust the EVF and LCD brightness and color temperature.
My Menu Settings
You can put your favorite settings in the my menu settings for easy access but we recommend doing this in the Fn menu instead.
The Sony A1 is a camera of limitless possibilities. We think it is the top Sony camera and lives up to its "flagship" status - particularly because there are so many options for customization and workflow baked into the settings. If you still have questions after reading this settings guide, contact us and we'd be happy to answer any questions!
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