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The Custom Mode Dial: The Most Important Underutilized Camera Mode

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Using the Custom Mode Dial with Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras

I shoot a lot of landscapes.  My camera settings usually hang out in Aperture Priority or Manual mode, manual focus, ISO100 at f/11, spot metering, and single-shot drive.

Then I’ll be driving home and a beautiful eagle will be looking for fish.  Or a bear is staring at me from the side of the road.  Or an aerial firefighting tanker comes out of nowhere to drop retardant on a nearby fire.  Sometimes some really super-special interesting person will catch my eye.  Anyways, you get the picture.  The next minute could go something like this:

Get the camera out of the bag on the back seat!  Okay, got it.  Swap out the lens.  Set the ISO to AUTO to ensure a fast shutter speed.  Ok, Auto White Balance is set, center-weighted average metering mode, burst shooting on low speed.  Alright, got it, let’s photograph that bear!  Shit, still on manual focus and he’s on the move now.  Ok, set focus mode to Continuous Auto…now which focus area do I want…how about Center.  Wait, where’d he go…uh, where are you Mr. Bear?

Wouldn’t it be way better if I could just flip a switch and have all of those settings recalled for those fleeting shots?

Well, there is.  It’s called the Custom Mode Dial, and I’m willing to bet most photographers don’t use it, let alone know it’s there.  My a7II and a6300 have custom modes 1 and 2 on the dial; there are four more modes (M1-M4) available for recall as well, for six total.

Be warned: M1-M4 presets are stored on the memory card, not the camera.  So you’ll lose these when you swap cards or format them.

sonymodedial

As mentioned earlier, I usually shoot in Aperture Priority or Manual.  I can shoot landscapes, quickly set the dial to 1 or 2 for a special shot, then go back to A or M and my prior settings are returned.

You can also adjust the settings in these custom modes if you need to tweak something for that shot, and it won’t affect how it’s saved to memory.

Programming Custom Modes in Sony alpha mirrorless cameras

One of my favorite modern camera features is the ability to customize buttons, like back-button focus.

Programming the custom mode dial isn’t very difficult, so long as you do everything in the correct order.

  1. Move the mode dial to the shooting mode you want to be in (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Video, etc)
  2. Set the aperture and shutter speed if desired
  3. Go through the Camera Settings menu from the first page to the last, methodically setting each item as you want them to be recalled
  4. Go to the Camera Settings menu last page (page 9 on the a7II and a6300)
  5. Select Memorycamerasettings
  6. Scroll through the settings to make sure everything is how you want them
  7. Highlight the memory assignment you wish to use with these settings (1, 2, M1, M2, M3, M4) and press the center wheel buttonmemorysetting

You review what is stored in each memory bank in the Memory Recall submenu.

Ideas for custom memory modes

Here are some ideas for shooting you can save to memory, based on what you usually shoot.

  • Astrophotography – turn off SteadyShot, crank up the ISO, open up the aperture, and turn on long exposure noise reduction.
  • Longer exposure landscapes like dusk/dawn or waterscapes – when you’re always on a tripod turn off SteadyShot and set a 2-second delay.
  • Environmental portraits – set f/5.6, an initial ISO of 400, burst drive, center-weighted metering, and face recognition.
  • Shallow depth of field videography – set video to aperture mode, f/4.0, continuous autofocus, and AUTO ISO.
  • Exposure bracketing – set the drive mode to single bracket, 1.0EV & 5 images.

You get the idea…the possibilities are endless.  Figure out what you shoot, what catches you off guard, and set them into memory so that they’re literally always at your fingertips!

What kinds of custom modes do you set?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Chris

Wednesday 4th of November 2020

How do you deal with the fact that also the white balance setting is saved to the memories? Also that you can’t set a custom white balance in memory modes? For me this a dealbreaker, because I don’t want to switch the whitebalance each time I change mode. Ok with Auto white balance is works but this is not very professional...resaving each mode with the right white balance setting on location is also no way because is takes much too long... don’t understand Sony with this modes...

JW

Saturday 6th of July 2019

Hi, I’m using the Sony

JW

Saturday 6th of July 2019

Sorry, I accidentally pressed the enter button before I was done. I’m using the Sony A7r, and I have set up my Memory modes. However, I changed my iso and resaved that into my modes, but whenever I start shooting, the iso automatically changes to the iso that i set in my first Memory mode. This also applies when I shoot in other modes (Manual, Aperture, and Shutter priority). Please help.

Sami Palta

Sunday 10th of March 2019

I have an A7RIII and I have problem with saving/storings settings I made to custom shooting modes 1-2-3.

Let's say I want to store settings for portraits to custom mode dial 1. Where the mode wheel (M-A-S-1-2-3) should be? I bring it on custom mode 1 and make my wished settings. When I change the wheel to another mode and back again to custom mode 1 all settings are gone.

Or should I make all my settings at the P or M mode and then push the memory button?

Could you please explain it step by step.

Thank you

DAVID KING

Sunday 21st of April 2019

it sounds like you are not saving the preset. just changing settings on 1 will not save it. you need to go into the settings and tell it to save those settings to 1,2 or 3 then it will be assigned to that number on the dial and save

John Peltier

Monday 11th of March 2019

I’ve already provided a step-by-step instruction in this post that worked for all early Sony mirrorless cameras and should answer this question. I don’t shoot Sony anymore, but I imagine the a7Riii is more or less the same - put the dial in the shooting mode you want to be in (A, S, M...) and save the settings to memory. You shouldn’t put the dial in 1, 2, or 3 while you’re setting the program.

Jeff Nielsen

Wednesday 6th of March 2019

Exactly what I was looking for. I want to set up a mode for night/astro shooting.

John Peltier

Thursday 7th of March 2019

Great, I hope it works out well for you!

LocalYocal

Wednesday 19th of September 2018

This just helped a bunch with my A7iii. I'm about to set up C1 for shooting sports. BBF, disable shutter button af engage, etc.. but wanted to leave the "easy" modes for when my wife or kids want to shoot.

John Peltier

Sunday 23rd of September 2018

Sounds like a pretty good plan, it'll make things so much easier!