Text, images, videos & linked articles by Hergen Spalink
This setup guide is derived from field notes using the Sony ⍺1, A7SIII, A7IV and A7RV cameras in both still and video modes underwater in their respective Nauticam housings. This article is designed for those that want to use these cameras as truly hybrid systems, shooting both still and moving images, however, even those looking to use it for a dedicated purpose will hopefully find the recommended settings helpful. As with all settings related articles, if you ask ten different people you get ten different answers. I have used all of these systems extensively and so far this seems to be an effective setup. I would love to hear how others have chosen to set up their systems as I’m always looking for a better way.
The naming of the menu items and options is current as of 9/17/23. Future firmware updates may cause these to vary. I’ll do my best to update this as that happens. These cameras are not completely identical in their features & controls and I've done my best to address the differences.
Please treat this guide as a starting point to develop your own "Best Settings Guide" that match your shooting style.
You'll also find links to previous articles on the individual systems throughout this setup guide.
Basic Common Settings
Date & Time and File Naming
First things first, always set the date and time and make sure you adjust this when you get to a new location as it will help you find images chronologically later on. You'll also want to set up a custom naming system for the image and video files. I am constantly shooting different cameras, often by the same manufacturer (that's why I'm writing this article on all those Sony cameras as I've used all of them on trips) and you don't want to risk duplicate file names. This can be accomplished in:
'IMAGE Shooting' menu > 'File' > 'File/Folder Settings' for still images and 'File Settings' for video.
I also choose to disable the touchscreen functionality of the camera as it's not usable underwater and can lead to accidentally changing settings when installing or removing the camera from the housing. This will also train your brain to navigate the menu using the dials and buttons as you will have to do underwater. This can be done in:
'SETUP' tab > 'Touch Operation' > Touch Operation and turning this 'OFF'.
Underwater I also want to manually decide between using the EVF or the LCD (this is necessary as the eye sensor doesn't work underwater). To switch between the two underwater we need to disable the automatic switching and assign a custom key to toggle between the two. To do this, we need to navigate to:
'SETUP' > 'Finder/Monitor' and set this to 'Monitor (manual)'. NOTE: We choose 'Monitor' for now, otherwise you'll have to do the rest of this step while looking through the EVF.
Next, we'll assign the toggle control to the 'C3' Button which is easily accessible with your left hand on the rear of the housing. Navigate to:
'SETUP' > 'Operation Customize' > 'IMAGE Custom Key Settings' > and assign 'C3' to 'Finder/Monitor'.
In the 'Finder/Monitor' menu you can also set the brightness, color, quality and frame rate of the EVF. I prefer to maximize quality and frame rate and generally leave the color and brightness as is.
NOTE: we will be customizing several buttons and controls. In the Sony 'Custom Key Settings', you can set a button to have different functions in IMAGE, MOVIE or PLAYBACK roles. Make sure you are in the correct mode when assigning the button.
Especially in warm tropical waters (or very warm/hot topside environments), these cameras don't dissipate heat as well so it's important to adjust some other settings to prevent the camera from shutting down due to high operating temperatures. NOTE: this may cause very hot camera/card conditions and may affect the life of the camera/card.
In 'SETUP'>'Power Setting Option'>'Auto Monitor Off' I set this to 'OFF" as I prefer the monitor/EVF don't turn off as I don't want to miss any action as it starts up again. I've found the battery life to be quite good across the sony lineup and easily get two dives out of a battery.
The same goes for 'Power Save Start Time'. If you want to try and eke some more time out of your batteries you can activate these features. I prefer to just change batts more often. The critical setting is the 'Auto Power OFF Temp.' Which I prefer to set to 'High'. As mentioned above and in the camera manual this can make the camera and/or card very hot so be aware when removing the camera from the housing and let it breathe.
Since we are telling the camera to operate at high temperatures it is also a good idea to enable 'Auto Pixel Mapping' in:
'SETUP' > Setup Options> 'Auto Pixel Mapping'. This will perform pixel mapping occasionally when the camera is turned off to insure there aren't "bright pixels" in recorded footage, similar to Black Shading Calibration on cinema cameras.
To further save battery life, we need to place the camera into 'Airplane Mode' similar to a smartphone to disable bluetooth and Wi-Fi. If you plan to use the network functions of the camera, don't enable this mode. Under:
'NETWORK' tab > 'Network Option' > 'Airplane Mode' set this to 'ON". NOTE: Topside, the ability to use a smartphone or laptop to remotely control the camera is awesome so if you are using the camera out of the water, dig into this menu.
All the models feature what Sony calls "Registration Recall Modes" which we would all call "Custom Modes" which can be accessed directly by the 'Mode Dial' atop the camera. Most camera settings (see note below) accessed by the camera menu or dials can be registered to one of the 3 custom modes. Additional saved modes can be saved to a memory card as well, however, this is far less user friendly.
This is also one of using Sony cameras for video's biggest pain points. Sony does not allow registering a new custom white balance in a Custom Mode. This makes these custom modes unusable for underwater video where a custom white balance is desired. You could use one for macro video where the white balance is set to the video lights or left on auto. For video, you must use the Manual Mode setting.
Therefore, I would utilize the custom modes in the following configuration:
C1: Photos (Full Manual)
This setting will be used for both wide and macro still imaging using strobes. All exposure functions are controlled by the user.
C2: Photos (Auto ISO)
This setting will be used for natural light still imaging. The shutter speed and aperture will be set by the user while the camera will control the ISO, within a specified range to determine proper exposure without overexposing the highlights (which are less easily recovered in post). This mode is also excellent for dynamic situations such as dolphins, whales or other shallow moving subjects.
C3: Topside Photos (Aperture Priority)
When shooting the vast majority of topside scenes, I tend to use aperture priority and use the exposure compensation to dial in exposure. As this isn't a topside photography article, I won't go into depth on this setting. There are lots of resources out there for this kind of imaging.
In order to use the C1-C3 custom modes, you must first set the mode dial on the camera to 'M' when setting the camera up for still-image custom modes (C2-C3) and 'Photo' when setting
'Shooting' Menu > 'Shooting Mode' > 'Exposure Mode'. Set this to 'Manual Exposure'
PRO TIP: You actually get one extra easily accessible "custom mode" as you can use the 'M' dial position in Photo. Just remember that these settings cannot be 'reset' as they are in a Custom Mode when you turn the camera off and back on again, any changes you made will remain.
NOTE: Custom Controls are not included in the C1-C3 custom modes so, for example, you cannot have a button perform a different function in C1 vs. C2.
Once you have set everything and are ready to assign that to a Custom Mode, this can be done by going to:
'Shooting' Tab > 'Shooting Mode' > 'MR Camera Set. Memory' and choose C1-C3. Press the center of the control wheel to confirm the selection. Turn the mode dial to the assigned mode and double check the settings were assigned properly.
Note: M1-M4 are stored on the memory card and are less useful.
Another way to minimize endless menu scrolling and frustration is to register frequently used menu items, such as the 'FORMAT' media option to the 'My Menu' portion of the camera menu. These systems feature three 'My Menus'. Each 'MyMenu" can handle a large number of Menu Items.
Regardless of system, I recommend adding the following to the MyMenu. The settings for each of these menu items will be discussed in following sections, simply add these to your MyMenu for now:
- Drive Mode
- Image Quality > Movie File Format
- Image Quality > Movie Settings
- AF/MF > AF Tracking Sensitivity
- Media > Format
- White Balance > White Balance
- Peaking Display > Peaking Level
- Operation Customize > Custom Key Setting (Stills)
- Operation Customize > Custom Key Setting (Movie)
- Display Option > Gamma Display Assist
- Display Option > Auto Review
- Finder/Monitor > Select Finder/Monitor
Still Imaging Setup
'Shooting Tab' > 'Image Quality' Menu Items
Still Image File Format
Set to RAW, this will maximize image quality. You can also shoot JPEG/HEIF simultaneously but I find this invariably just leads to wasted memory card space and the possibility for lost images when JPEGS are copied over instead of the RAW file.
RAW File Type
Set this depending on your needs and memory card sizes, uncompressed is preferable and avoid Lossless Comp (M) and (S) as that will actually reduce image size.
Focus (Still Imaging)
I strongly advocate always using the 'Back Button' Focus method regardless of shooting situation. This method removes the autofocus function from the shutter button and only activates the chosen autofocus mode when the 'AF-ON' button is depressed.
This focus method gives the shooter the most control over the image's focus, especially when recomposing. While some people use this only for macro, I use it for both macro and wide. Foremost because I find it more accurate and also because that way you don't forget when switching that there's no focus on the shutter. Muscle memory is key in photography and having as much the same as possible is helpful.
To set this up on these cameras the process is the same:
Navigate to the 'AF/MF' tab > 'AF/MF' > 'AF w/ Shutter' and set to this to 'OFF'. This decouples autofocus from the shutter.
Next, navigate to
'Setup' tab > 'Operation Customize' > 'IMAGE Custom Key Setting' Menu.
Make sure it is not the MOVIE Custom Key Settings' as the Sony cameras allow for distinct custom button setting for IMAGE, MOVIE and PLAYBACK modes. Select the 'AF-ON' button and make sure it is set to 'AF-ON'.
The camera will now only engage the chosen autofocus mode when the 'AF-ON' button on the rear of the camera is depressed.
I prefer to work in 'AF-C' in which the camera will continue to focus as long as the button is pressed. Within this mode, you can enable tracking which will "follow" the selected subject and adjust focus continuously as long as the camera can detect the subject and the 'AF-ON' button is depressed.
NOTE: The A1 features an external dial to set the Focus Mode to 'AF-C' on the top of the housing beneath the 'Drive Mode' Dial. On the A7IV, A7SIII and A7RV this is done in the menu 'AF/MF Focus' tab > 'AF/MF' > 'Focus Mode'.
The autofocus capabilities of these cameras are nothing short of incredible. While this may have been a less reliable method on older cameras, I haver found it to be incredibly reliable on these systems. To setup tracking, navigate to:
'AF/MF Focus' tab > 'Focus Area' > 'Focus Area' > and set it to either 'Tracking: Spot S' or 'Tracking: Spot M'. This will then allow you to move the either small (Tracking: Spot S) out medium (Tracking: Spot M) focus box around the frame with the joystick pad on the rear of the housing.
Once you depress the 'AF-ON' lever the camera will then attempt to focus on the subject inside this box and as long as the lever continues to be depressed will track it as it moves within the frame, either through recomposition, camera movement or subject movement.
You can set the tracking sensitivity for still imaging under the 'AF/MF Focus' Tab > 'AF/MF' > 'AF Tracking Sensitivity'. I prefer to set this at '3' and find that works well for most macro and wide subjects.
This setup allows me to choose the subject by placing the focus box over the subject and depress the 'AF-ON' button to begin continuous autofocus. If I continue to hold the button and recompose, the camera will still maintain focus on the subject and I can watch the frame to insure it's correct. If I so choose, I can also just release the 'AF-ON' button and recompose with the focus now locked-in.
I prefer to choose my subject as opposed to having the camera choose it for me. The A series allows you to have the camera attempt to detect certain subject types within the frame such as animals, humans, birds, planes, etc. and give you the option to focus on that subject but this requires having AF-ON tied to the shutter release so I avoid it for STILL imaging underwater. I find these modes to be less accurate than just having it focus on the part of the image that I designate. Don't feel that you are missing the benefits of the camera's stellar autofocus by not using these auto-detect modes as you are still relying on the incredible processing capabilities by using the AF tracking function.
We also want to disable to the 'Focus Illuminator" which will not work underwater anyway and just uses battery life. This can be done in:
'AF/MF Focus' Tab > 'AF/MF' > 'AF Illuminator' menu. Set it to 'OFF;'.
NOTE: you definitely want this turned on if you use the camera for topside.
Electronic Viewfinder Setup
One of the biggest benefits of the mirrorless system is that you can view the scene in your viewfinder in two different ways, one in which the camera attempts to show you entire scene as it would appear in an optical viewfinder or as it would appear with the chosen camera settings (ISO, SS, and Aperture) applied.
For Wide-Angle still imaging I prefer the following setup which allows me to quickly switch between the two options (NOTE: this feature is not available when shooting video and would not be useful). The rationale for this differs for macro and wide-angle but the setup is the same, more on that shortly.
For wide-angle, the main limitation of an EVF becomes clear fairly quickly in that with a strong backlight (sunball, moderate backlighting) the camera is unable to clearly display both the foreground (ex. Reef) and background (ex. Blue water with fish) with the 'Settings Effect' OFF (simulating an optical viewfinder mode) as it lacks the dynamic range. This usually results in not being able to properly compose your background subject while it gives a clear representation of the foreground subject. Toggling the settings effect 'ON' will now show you what the image would look like with the chosen settings applied. The background now looks EXACTLY like it will in your final image, however, the foreground is now most likely dark as we rely on strobes to provide our foreground exposure and the camera can't simulate that. The good thing is we now know before we push that shutter how our water is going to look. The bad thing is we sometimes can't see our foreground well enough to compose. This is when it's time to quickly toggle back and forth. In many situations, leaving 'Settings Effect' ON is fine but being able to toggle back and forth, even just to check your background exposure when conditions change is incredibly helpful.
NOTE: Even with Settings Effect set to 'OFF", the camera chooses the overall brightness balance of the image (as well as how much to open up the shadows and darken the highlights) based on the metering setting of the camera. Choosing a more evaluative model such as 'Multi' can help. I find that 'Center' works best when shooting backlit reef scenes where the subject will be fairly centered in the frame.
NOTE: If you only use the electronic shutter, you can enable the setting 'Flash Effect dur. Sht' under 'Shooting' Tab > 'Shooting Display' > 'Live View Display Set'. With this enabled the camera will mimic a 'Flash Effect' to brighten the foreground. I find this to be unrealizable and not of much benefit which may be due to the flash triggers not be recognized as a Sony flash which disables the feature.
PRO TIP: assigning this to the 'MOVIE' button (the RECORD button atop the camera and accessed by the other right side thumb lever on Nauticam Sony housings) is also possible and is what I do, as I use the shutter release to begin video recording in video mode anyway. So for me, this extremely convenient thumb lever is going unused when shooting still images so I assign 'Live View Disp. Select' to it. However, if you want the 'MOVIE' button to retain its functionality, assign it to another button that is easy to access. More on using the shutter for video recording later in the video section.
For macro, the default setting for me is leaving the settings effect 'OFF'. As I'm generally running the shutter speed near it's X-Sync speed, I don't necessarily need to check my background exposure (unless I am including blue-water and using slower shutter speeds). It would also most likely just show me black frame as the only thing exposing my subject is my strobes which aren't firing yet. Macro is truly where the mirrorless camera's EVF shines. With the settings effect turned 'OFF', the camera will adjust the brightness of the on-screen image. This means, no more focus lights (in most situations where there is a normal amount of ambient light, night time and really dark conditions are obviously different). Not having to use a focus light for either composition or autofocus (the newer autofocus systems work well even in super macro) makes life much easier for both you and your subject. Less gear, less battery changes, and less stress for the animals.
NOTE: Sometimes the 'Settings Effect: ON' is useful when snooting and using the focus light of the strobe to position the snoot. With the Effect Off, the camera will sometimes overcompensate and overexpose the subject lit by the focus light, making the judging of critical focus difficult.
You can set which of the 'Display Modes' are available to you when you are shooting. You can cycle through these modes by pressing the 'DISP' button on the rear of the camera. This menu option is not easy to find if you're scrolling the menu.
'SETUP' tab > 'Operation Customize' > 'DISP (Screen Disp.) Set' > 'Monitor' or 'Finder' > then check the displays you want to see.
This can be independently set for the EVF or the LCD. I normally leave all active except 'Level' as I'm not concerned with this underwater.
Now that we can see our scene and we've set our autofocus, let's discuss switching between auto and manual focus for macro. This situation is yet another example of why mirrorless cameras are the undisputed leaders in macro imaging. While Sony does offer a "dynamic manual focus" or DMF mode, I find it's essentially unusable with the 'Back Button' focus method, unless you have another arm handy. DMF allows the user to manually focus the lens WHILE autofocus is active. In the case of back-button shooting this would mean pressing the AF-ON lever with your right hand while then using your left hand to work the manual focus gear and then also use that right hand to push the shutter at the right time. I have normal sized hands and find this to be a challenge. Instead, I choose to switch the camera briefly into manual focus 'MF' mode as that also has another amazing benefit, focus peaking. Again, it's time to assign custom key setting. Under 'IMAGE Custom key Setting' assign the 'AEL' key to 'Toggle AF/MF'. This means that pressing the 'AEL' button will switch the camera between AF and MF as opposed to simply momentarily activating AF as we did with the 'AF-ON' button.
NOTE: this can be confusing as when using the back-button focus mode, even though AF isn't active while we are not pushing the AF-ON button, the camera is still in AF mode. Focus peaking and manual focusing of the lens are only possible when the camera is in MF mode.
Now it's time to set up Focus Peaking. Focus Peaking is a false color overlay mode in which the camera overlays a certain part of the image in the viewfinder with a color of your choice to highlight a particular feature, in this case focus.
In the 'AF/MF' Menu tab, head to 'Peaking Display' > 'Peaking Display'. Here you can turn this feature 'ON'.
Head to to the next menu item 'Peaking Level'. Sony's help guide is fairly vague on what the difference is. I have found that 'Mid" works best for macro as it seems to set the threshold for what the camera feels is acceptably sharp. 'High' seems to highlight to large a region of the depth-of-field.
We now need to set the color that we want these sharp textures in our image to be highlighted with. This is in the next menu 'Peaking Color'. I like yellow, my eyes find it easy to distinguish but go your own way and try them all.
So now, when you switch the camera to 'MF' using the 'AEL' button, peaking is enabled and the optional manual focus gear (which you need to install on the lens and is not available for the Sony 50mm macro) becomes active. A handy focus distance guide is also displayed (which is sometimes annoyingly in the way) that tells you where in the focus range you lens is currently set (close or far). This is incredibly helpful when shooting super macro, which is usually when I would switch to manual focus anyway as it helps to insure you are at the maximum magnification (closest focus distance) of the lens. As you move the manual focus gear you will see this graphic change. You can now fine tune your focus on the subject by either using the manual focus gear (if installed) or by simply moving the camera toward or away for the subject in tiny increments until the critical focus area is sharp. Again, the focus peaking really helps, especially for those that have trouble judging critical focus anyway due to less than perfect eyesight. Focus peaking is one of the menu items I place in the 'MyMenu' as sometimes you may want to disable it if it becomes annoying.
You can take this to another level by using the 'Focus Magnifier' function in the same menu group. This allows you to zoom in the on-screen image in the EVF. I find this to be too much to manage and prefer to check the critical focus by magnifying the image in the review mode but we still need to address this menu.
Under 'AF/MF Focus' Manu > 'Focus Assistant' > 'Auto Magnifier in MF' you can turn this feature on or off.
I prefer 'OFF'. If set to 'ON', the camera will automatically zoom in your view of the on-screen image (NOT cropping the resulting image or somehow magically giving you more optical magnification in your resulting image) to the percentage set in one of the next menu items 'IMAGE Initial Focus Magnification'. You can then set the duration this magnification will be automatically displayed in the 'IMAGE/MOVIE Focus Magnify. Time' setting.
You can also choose to assign the magnification feature to a custom control. 'C3' is going to be assigned to a critical function later so don't use that if you choose to do this. The setting you would use is 'Auto Magnifier in MF'
The next great feature that always elicits a 'wow' from first time EVF users is the ability to have the camera automatically show you the image review in the EVF immediately after you take the shot which means no more maneuvering your head & camera to see the LCD after a shot. All super-macro subjects rejoice at no longer being accidentally crushed into the lens or strobe of someone reviewing their image on the LCD by moving the camera forward, not their head backward.
This auto-review feature can be enabled in 'SETUP' > 'Display Option' > 'IMAGE Auto Review' and can be set for 10s/5s/2s or disabled entirely with 'OFF'. I have this particular setting also in the 'My Menu' as I like to be able to disable it in certain situations and the image can always be displayed by pressing the 'PLAYBACK' button. In the review you can also zoom into the image by pressing the 'Zoom/+' button to check critical focus (also much easier on an EVF than on an LCD with glare). You can return to viewing the full image by pressing the 'PLAYBACK' button again or move the magnified portion around the frame with the joystick pad.
Pressing the 'DISP' button during review it will switch between the various review modes to display a Histogram or just the image with no information overlayed.
Setting Controls for Still Imaging
Setting up the Dials
You can change which functions that the front and rear command dials control. You can also reverse the direction of the dials to match what you are used to. I prefer to have aperture control (Av) on the rear main dial. This comes from when shooting topside where I often use Aperture Priority mode and find adjusting the back dial with my thumb frees up my forefinger for pressing the shutter release. This means shutter speed (Tv) will be on the front dial. You can reach this setting via:
'SETUP' tab > 'Dial Customize' > 'Av/Tv Assign in M' and the direction with the 'Av/Tv Rotate' in the same menu.
I leave the second rear control dial as 'ISO' or 'EV' (Exposure Compensation). EV for when using 'Auto ISO' or ISO when shooting all manual still images. This is set the same as assigning a custom button in the 'SETUP' Tab > Operation Customize > either Image or Movie 'Custom Key Setting' as it can be assigned different functions to each shooting mode.
NOTE: The A1 features a fixed 'EV' dial on the back as opposed to an assignable dial
Other Still Imaging Control Settings
For 'Custom Mode C2', full-manual shooting, the ISO is set by adjusting the custom dial we assigned above or by pressing the ISO button and dialing in the correct value on the A1. For 'Custom Mode C3', we need to set the camera to 'AUTO ISO'. This can be done the same way as choosing an ISO value, one end of the scale is simply 'AUTO'. When shooting in this mode, we need to tell the camera what values we find acceptable for the ISO by setting a maximum value. This is done in the 'Exposure/Color' Tab > 'ISO Range Limit'. The camera will then select the correct value based on the metering and exposure compensation you choose.
The metering mode can be set in 'Exposure/Color' Tab > 'Metering' > 'Metering Mode'.
Unless the camera is selecting an exposure value (such as Aperture Priority or Auto ISO) the meter is only effecting how the camera brightens/darkens the EVF when "settings Effect' is turned OFF. As mentioned previosuly, I keep the metering set to 'Multi' or 'Center' unless I'm shooting Auto ISO in which case I find that the 'Highlight' mode works best as it tries to prevent blowing out highlights in the entire image. As those are the hardest to repair (if not impossible) in post, it seems worth protecting them. You may find that the meter is giving either too bright or too dark results in a given situation. In that case, you need to adjust the exposure compensation, I tend to start with it at '-1 EV'. On the ⍺1, this is done with the dedicated EV dial. For the other models, assign the second rear control dial to be the 'Exposure Compensation' dial. It's always important to take some test shots to see if the correction is accurate.
This is really dependent on which flash trigger system you are using so follow the instructions that came with the trigger to ensure proper setup.
To set the white balance, simply access it via the 'My Menu' to which you assigned it. We'll discuss Custom White Balance in the video section.
The 'D-Range Optimizer' only affects JPEG or HEIF files so I turn it off as I don't shoot in those formats and it could skew the image review results. 'Creative Look' and 'Picture Profile' change how the image appears. I find that 'Standard' or 'Neutral' Creative Looks generate a result that allows for easy and accurate judging of the image when using playback in the camera.
For shooting stills, you want to set this to 'PP2' which is a "Stills Gamma". We will go more in depth with this for video as it becomes significantly more important.
I find this to be too distracting for still imaging and turn it off. If you choose to use it, you can set the brightness value at which you want it to display the zebra pattern overlay. This is useful for seeing if the highlights in your image are over a certain luminance (brightness) value
In this section we will cover how to setup the system for internal recording in addition to using an external monitor or an external monitor/recorder.
Video File Format
This setting applies to the compression level and type that the camera uses to record the video file to the camera's media card (HDMI Recorders will be discussed later on). The setting you choose will be determined by a combination of memory card type and your editing workstation setup.
XAVC uses the H.264 compression algorithm. XAVC S-I uses intra-frame recording which means each frame shot is recorded in its entirety and then compressed. XAVC-S uses Long GOP (Group of Frames) recording in which one complete frame is recorded in its entirety (compressed) and then the next few frames are only recorded as the elements in the image that differ from the reference image. Long GOP recording requires more work when viewing in editing software as additional work is necessary when viewing one of the non-reference frames. The file, however is significantly smaller. Intra-frame is preferable when editing is necessary while Long GOP will generate smaller files.
XAVC-HS uses H.265 compression which is more efficient than H.264 and results in smaller file sizes but requires a computer able to handle the additional work of the heavier decompression. This is also a Long GOP recording format, which adds to the workload.
The Bit Rate (amount of information megabits 'Mb' captured per second) for Intra-frame recording is higher and therefore a faster media card is necessary. For all the A7 systems listed, a V90 SDXC or CFExpress A is necessary for recording HD or higher in XAVC S-I.
Consult the online user manual for each camera to see the various available resolutions, frame rates & quality levels available for each setting.
I recommend recording in 4K 60p which allows for slowing down footage and will also increase individual frame sharpness when shooting with a 180º shutter angle of 1/125sec (a shutter speed of twice the frame rate). The highest quality is XAVC S-I 4K 60p on each camera that results in a very high 600M Bit Rate and 4:2:2 10-bit color sampling. The A1 is capable of recording 8K but only at a maximum of 30p in the XAVC HS compression profile.
I like to keep this menu option in the 'My Menu' section as occasionally it may be worthwhile filming in 8K or a more compressed format such as when attempting higher frame rates such as 4K at 120p on the A1. To accomplish this requires choosing the XAVC S recording profile which results in a 4:2:0 10-bit Long GOP recording. For a variety of fast moving subjects, this higher compression and lower color sampling may be worth the sacrifice for the ability to either slow down the action even more or simply use a higher shutter speed (1/250 for 180º) to maximize individual frame sharpness.
It's possible to shoot in the 'S&Q' mode which allows for setting separate Shooting and Recording Frame Rates. For example, if the 'Rec Frame Rate' is set to 60p and the 'Frame Rate' is set to 30p, there will be two seconds of footage for every 1 second shot as the camera will create clips that only contain 30 frames per second. This is an "automatic" way of slowing down the footage in-camera. Whether to use this setting or slow down the clips in post is really personal preference. The only real limitation for this type of recording (and not a deal breaker for underwater) is that audio cannot be recorded. If you frequently use the same camera to film both underwater and topside on a trip, this an easy way to trip yourself up and fail to record audio and should be avoided.
I also prefer to watch my clips at actual speed after import and then add a rate change if I feel it improves the clip in the edit instead of watching already slowed down footage (especially if shooting at 120fps).
I prefer, if they are necessary for your workflow, to generate them on import into your NLE. You can, however, have the camera simultaneously generate these for you. This will also either reduce your overall recording time as they take up space on the card or require using a second card.
Audio recording can be turned on or off in the 'Shooting' Tab > 'Audio Recording' > 'Audio Recording' section. I turn this off as nothing is worse than listening to bubbles or having to extract the audio from your clips in post.
The timecode settings can be important for the functionality of an external recorder. Consult the User Manual for the recorder to properly set these values. More on this topic later in the Recording Monitors Section.
The ⍺ series cameras feature incredible IBIS (In-body Stabilization) that works in conjunction with in-lens stabilization on many lenses. This greatly helps remove some of the inherent shake found in underwater video. You can enable Steady Shot (a lens must be attached to the camera when setting this) by going to 'Shooting' Tab > 'Image Stabilization' > 'Steady Shot' and turning it 'ON'.
NOTE: When using Nauticam Wet Optics such as the WACP or WWL or EMWL it is important to set the focal length manually as the camera uses the focal length of the attached lens to determine the corrections. You can do this by turning the 'Steady Shot Adjust' to 'Manual' and then heading to the next menu 'Focal Length' and choose one more appropriate to the lens such as '16mm'.
If you are planning to work in an aspect ratio other than that of the file format you choose such as '2.35:1', you can have the camera show you gridlines in the EVF or LCD demarcating this aspect ratio. This can be set in 'Shooting' > 'Marker Display' > 'Aspect Marker'. NOTE: This marker will not be output to external HDMI monitors. If using an external monitor, this must be setup on that device.
White Balance & 'AEL' Button Reassignment
Being able to quickly take a custom white balance is essential to successful underwater video. The first step is assigning the 'White Balance' function to a custom button, in this case 'AEL' button. To make sure we are not overriding what we assigned to the 'AEL' button for stills, we need to make sure that we navigate to 'Setup' Tab > 'Operation Customize' > 'MOVIE Custom Key Setting' and assign it to 'White Balance'. From there we need to press the button and select one of the 'Custom White Balance' banks. At this point, setting the custom white balance is fairly straightforward. Press the joystick 'right' onto the 'SET' option, aim the camera at the white balance target (make sure the camera is properly exposed on this target and that it is being lit by the primary light source, not in your shadow) and press the center button of the joystick to take the white balance and then again to accept the result. A quick half-press of the shutter will exit the menu.
PRO TIP: You can also assign this to the 'REC' button if you will only use the shutter release to start and stop recording video as described below.
REC on the Shutter
Also on the 'Operation Customize' menu is the 'MOVIE REC w/ Shutter' setting, make sure to turn this on. This will allow you to use the shutter button to begin and end recording vide in MOVIE mode in addition to the dedicated REC button on the rear of the camera.
PRO TIP: Again, I trust my muscle memory here. I push the same button to take a photo or record video. I also don't shoot stills and video on the same dive. I believe you will most likely end up with mediocre video AND mediocre stills. Focus on one and hopefully get excellent photos OR excellent videos. Just my two cents.
It's helpful to have an emphasized record display which places a red box around the frame when recording. This can be enabled in the 'Shooting' Tab > 'Shooting Display' > 'Emphasized REC Display'.
Autofocus for Video
With Sony cameras there is no way to do true 'Back Button Autofocus' in Movie mode as we do with still imaging. There is however an easy workaround and that is instead, having the 'AF ON' button toggle autofocus on and off. We still want to be in 'AF-C' (On the ⍺1, regardless of what the Focus Mode Dial is set on, in MOVIE mode or S&Q it the camera will switch to 'AF-C'). We then need to reassign the 'AF-ON' button to toggle AF/MF for MOVIE modes. 'Setup' Tab > 'Operation Customize' > 'MOVIE Custom Key Setting' and assign the 'AF-ON' to toggle AF/MF.
You can fine tune the speed at which the autofocus will react under the 'AF Transition Speed' setting in the 'AF/MF Focus' Tab > 'AF/MF' menu. I prefer a middle of the road value such as '4', the same goes for the 'AF Subj. Shift Sensitivity' which is under the same menu. This means that the camera will only shift focus to a new subject once it really feels the original subject has departed the scene and will slowly shift focus when it does.
I prefer to have the 'Focus Area' set to 'Spot: M' which allows me to move the box using the joystick to the subject I want to focus on, or simply place the subject in the center of the frame, achieve focus, and then toggle the focus mode to 'MF' and begin shooting. I prefer not to have autofocus running continuously while shooting as there is a chance that it loses focus during a scene. If the subject does get too close or distant for the chosen focus, I can re-engage the autofocus by pressing the 'AF-ON' button even while recording.
If you prefer to have the camera decide what to focus on and want to let it run continuously, you can select the 'Wide" Focus area. I tried this with bull sharks in Fiji on the A7S III and was pretty impressed with the results but it did still adjust focus at times that made a scene unusable. If you do choose this method, make sure to adjust the 'AF Transition Speed' and 'AF Subj. Shift Sensitivity' settings to see what works best for your subject type.
Picture Profile and Creative Look for Video
These two settings require some decisions on your part as to how much post processing you plan on doing. In general, you can choose to set the camera in such a way that "what you see is what you get" or "what you see is what you will get after post processing and also there's more wiggle room too".
There are basically two options, shooting in the ITU709 standard (suitable for standard dynamic range 'SDR' projects) or one of the various Log Profiles that maximize the dynamic range and color information captured baked into the file (suitable for both SDR and High Dynamic Range 'HDR" projects). Shooting in a Log profile does require some color management and grading/correction in post, however it also gives you more latitude to correct exposure or color issues that may be present in the footage.
If you choose to shoot in the ITU709 standard, set this in 'Exposure/Color' Tab > 'Color/Tone' > 'Picture Profile' to either 'PP1' which is the "Movie Gamma", 'PP3' which is the "Natural Color Tone ITU709 gamma" or 'PP4' which is the "Faithful color tone ITU709 gamma".
If shooting in a Log profile, there are several options to choose from. I have always used whichever is the latest Log version as they tend to improve the available dynamic range with each iteration. As of this writing that is S-Log3. S-Log3 is proprietary to Sony, hence the 'S'. Other manufactures have their own Log profiles (C-Log for cannon, etc.). I prefer 'PP9' which uses S-Log3 and the S-Gamut3 color mode. This maximizes color and dynamic range of the captured image.
Display Gamma Assist
If shooting in the ITU709, the 'Gamma Display Assist' function is not necessary, however when shooting in a Log profile, the image on the screen will appear flat and desaturated. We would like to see, however, an approximation of what a "normalized" version of the footage will look like so we can make the appropriate exposure decisions. To see this normalized version, we can employ the camera's 'Gamma Display Assist' feature found in 'Setup' Tab > 'Display Option' > 'Gamma Display Assist'. Turning this on will apply a LUT or "Look Up Table" that corresponds to the Picture Profile chosen to show a normalized version of the scene on the screen as opposed to the flat and desaturated Log version that is being recorded. In the following menu 'Gamma Disp. Assist Type' you can either have the camera automatically assign the profile or choose yourself. Auto is a solid choice here.
NOTE: if you are using an external monitor, most of them allow you to apply a custom LUT to the display. If you choose to do this, make sure to turn off 'Gamma Display Assist'.
Using External Monitors or Recorders
When using an external monitor, which is an excellent idea for video, some additional settings are required and can be found under the 'Setup Tab > 'External Output' menu. 'HDMI Resolution' can be set to auto whereby the camera will attempt to recognize what the connected display is capable of. I prefer to just manually set it for the max resolution of the connected device.
HDMI Info. Display
This setting basically mirrors the LCD screen of the camera onto the external monitor which is helpful if you wish you see shooting information such as settings. This is also useful for those using the external monitor for taking still images as it basically becomes a giant viewfinder.
HDMI Output Settings
The most important panel is the 'HDMI Output Settings'. Te first option is to 'Rec. Media dur. HDMI Output'. This says that the camera will record internally as well as output the signal over HDMI. This must be set to 'ON' when using a monitor only and is always a good idea when using a recording monitor as well for backup.
'4K Output Set' will allow you to set the frame rate for the output and color resolution (bit depth) of the signal.
'RAW Output' can only be used with a compatible recording monitor. When this is turned on, it will automatically assign the appropriate output resolution. The frame rate is set in the 'RAW Output Setting' section and the Color Gamut is set under 'Color Gamut for RAW Output'. Again, I like 'S-Log3/S-Gamut3'.
'REC Control', when used with a compatible recording monitor, will send a start/stop signal from the camera to the recorder. This can be turned on or off. For this to work on some devices, you will also have to adjust the Timecode settings of the camera and this function will not work at all if 'Timecode Output' is Off. Consult the manual that comes with the recorder as we will not cover that here as it is model specific.