You Got A Sony Alpha for XMAS. Now What?

You got a Sony Alpha camera (A7, A7R, A7S, A9, A6xxx) as a Christmas present (probably to yourself, but I’m not going to judge you ;~). This is your first Sony mirrorless camera, so now you’re thinking: what do I do next?

  1. Learn your new camera. This is always going to be my first piece of advice, no matter what new gear you get. Carefully reading through the manual that came with the camera and stepping through all the menu options one by one will get you a long way. At least if you’re paying attention. The big problem is that Sony’s naming conventions and menu organization are going to cause some learning distractions for you if you’re coming from a competitor's system. It’s really important to your future enjoyment that you manage to get through this step and into Sony-think. 
  2. Set up your camera. Things like Copyright Information should be filled in, you’ll want to set the menu items on the Camera Tabs to your defaults, not Sony's (you may also have to do a few things in the Setup Tabs, too). So while in Step 1 you learned about all the things the camera could do, in this step you’ll be slowly navigating the full set of menus making sure that each and every menu item is as you want it normally set, with particular care in the Camera and Setup Tabs. With a Sony, also pay very careful attention to the configuration options (button definitions, etc.). That includes C1, C2, and C3, which can reset a bunch of things at once. You save yourself a lot of downstream headache by getting your most used settings all into the physical controls of the camera, where you can change them quickly without having to resort to menu surfing.
  3. Save your settings. This is on Setup Tab 7 (on the A7R m4; might be on a different tab on your camera). Once you've saved settings to a card, you’re going to want to move the file that’s created from the card to your computer (because the minute you format that card in the camera, it’ll remove your settings file!). 
  4. Accessorize. Here’s where you can start to go wrong. One thing I see a lot of Sony users do is over accessorize, which takes their svelte little Alpha into something more approaching a DSLR brick. For example, I see a lot of A7 users buying the vertical grip because their pinky finger “falls off” the bottom of the right hand grip of the camera itself. A better solution might be to buy an Arca-style camera plate that extends the grip properly (many don’t, so this gets to be a hunt-and-search game). I don’t tend to accessorize my Sony Alphas much, but I do have a few things in my gear closet that I use to complement the body, not massively overextend it.
  5. Check your lenses. At this point, I’m not at all a fan of using older rival mount lenses on adapters. A lot of people rush to do this because they think that they made an investment in lenses back when they were a DSLR user and that an adapter just keeps that investment liquid. No and no. Perhaps some manual focus lenses come back to life this way (just as happens with AI Nikkors on the Z-mount with the FTZ Adapter), but I’m kind of doubting you bought an Alpha because you wanted to manual focus lenses. I’m going to be a little controversial here and say: skip the adapters for your older autofocus lenses and just buy into the E mount. You’ve a ton of choice of modern, well-designed, appropriately sized lenses to choose from, so bite the bullet and get new lenses. Retire your old autofocus ones (and maybe the manual focus ones, too).
  6. Figure out your lens kit. Continuing the previous step, the right lens kit really makes an Alpha sing. A solid basic full frame zoom kit is the 12-24mm f/4, 24-105mm f/4, and one of the smaller telephoto lenses (e.g. 70-200mm f/4, but there are now other decent options). For A6xxx users, I’d suggest the two new lenses, the 16-50mm f/2.8 and the 70-350mm f/4.5-6.3, with the older 10-18mm f/4 for wide angle work. If you bought an A7R m4, well, I have two letters for you: GM. If you’re really trying to take advantage of those 61 megapixels, you need top lenses. Start putting the lower lens levels on the m4 and I’d suggest that you probably could have got by with the m3 and saved some money (is it to late for Christmas gift returns? ;~). 
  7. Master focus. This is a shorter step for some of you than with some of the competitors, because there’s a shortcut that most of the Sony users are taking: Flexible spot with tracking. Put the focus cursor on something, press the AF-ON button; follow and reframe as you wish. It just kind of works. It’s that “kind of” in the previous sentence that should have you eventually dropping down and learning how all the other focus options work and when you should use them. 

That’s it; there are no more steps, you’re done. You’re now an E/FE-mount user and probably very happy that you are. Yes, you might drop back to Step 4 and Step 6 from time to time as new goodies become available or you discover something you’re missing in your kit, but at this point in the process you should just be enjoying your camera and shooting with it regularly.

 Bonus Section!

If you’re employed at Sony and reading this, you have a different set of steps you need to perform now that so many actually bought your Alpha cameras over the holidays:

  1. Fix the UX. The A9 m2 and A7R m4 started doing that with the physical controls and grip, so now roll that to all the other A7 models. The A6xxx models need a lot more work on the physical side, though. The bigger piece of the puzzle is the menu system, however, which while extremely rich and deep, is still confusing and disorganized. So put some time into getting that worked out.
  2. Enhance the firmware. We were without time-lapse there for awhile, but we’re still without focus shift shooting. The sole raw compression option sucks, as does your file size optimization. Pixel shift feels like a partially developed feature, not a fleshed out one. These are just the big ticket items; plenty of smaller things need to be worked through, too. Email me for a fuller list ;~).
  3. More telephoto and prime options, please. You’ve done a great job with the basic lens set and extending it in most ways. E (APS-C) could still use a little more love, particularly in the primes, and FE really needs a lot more telephoto options than big zooms. We’ve got no tilt-shift lenses. So there’s plenty of work still to be done.

Just three simple (!) things on your list, Sony. Get those right and you’ll have more Alpha users than you thought you would. Get those wrong, and Canon/Nikon will benefit. 

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