Using the Bracket Pro App with Sony’s Nex-6, 5R, and 5T

The original version of this post has been getting lots of attention, lately, so I decided to update it with the full information from my ebook (coauthored with Gary Friedman) about the Sony Nex-6/5R/5T.  The book is available at The Friedman Archives.  (If you’re not shooting one of these three cameras, then you’ll still find books about virtually every Sony Alpha and Nex camera produced in the last few years.)

This is actually quite an unusual camera application.  For years, we’ve had the capability to automatically bracket exposure in our cameras, and initially, this was designed (in the days of film) to help make sure we got a correct exposure since changes were much more difficult (impossible with color slides) to make after the fact.  Not like today’s digital files that give us much more latitude to make corrections.  Then, just a few years ago, HDR (high dynamic range) became popular and we began to demand that our cameras give us at least 3 bracketed images and up to +/- 3.0 EV between each image.
Now, with “Bracket Pro”, bracketing takes on a whole new meaning: the camera keeps the exposure for each image the same, but changes either shutter speed, aperture, focus distance, or flash on/off.  In the case of shutter, aperture, or focus, the camera shoots three images with different settings.  With flash bracketing, it shoots two images: one with flash off and one with flash on.

Let me reiterate … this is not an HDR function, and the camera saves all of the images for you, with no in-camera merging.

So, what’s the big deal?  Well, let’s take a look at each of these four functions and talk about what they can do for you.  But first, if you are not intimately familiar with shutter speed and aperture, and how they relate to each other, depth of field, and exposure, then please do a quick review.
These are all easy to invoke by selecting: Menu → Application → Bracket Pro → (and then either) BRK Tv, BRK Av, BRK FOCUS, or BRK (flash symbol).  Most likely, the first thing you will see is a warning.  For instance, if you are in Program Mode and select BRK Av (aperture bracketing), the camera screen will say “Unavailable in this shooting mode” and that it will automatically switch to Aperture Priority while in BRK Av.  So just select “OK” and keep going.  The display and controls for BRK Av and BRK Tv are very similar.
With Tv (shutter) or Av (aperture) bracketing, you can modify the size of the steps with the Control Wheel from 0.3 to 3.0 (Av) and 0.3 to 5.0 (Tv).  In these two bracketing modes, the Control Dial functions as it would in either Aperture or Shutter Priority by changing that setting.  In Flash Bracketing, the Control Dial and Wheel do nothing, and in Focus Bracketing, the Control Wheel selects between 3 distance settings from Narrow to Wide, while the Control Dial operates according to whatever camera Mode you are in.
Shutter Speed Bracketing
Sometimes, we want to freeze action … like in sports, when we try to catch athletes in action but still show them in sharp crisp detail, with no blur from their motion.  On the other hand, there are times that we prefer to blur the motion, like when shooting a busy street at night or the flowing water of a waterfall.  There, we typically go for a slow shutter speed to show the movement of the cars by blurring their lights into streaks.
Sometimes, we’re just not sure what might work best and may not have the luxury to stick around and take multiple shots.  So, set the Bracket Pro app to Shutter Bracketing.  The first thing to understand is that this app requires Shutter Priority, so you will set the primary shutter speed with the Control Dial and use the Control Wheel to select the range of f/stops between each shot.  Here, what you need to know is that the NEX-5R will automatically put the camera in Shutter Priority regardless of your set mode, BUT the NEX-6 will just tell you to switch to Shutter Priority (a function of having a physical mode dial as opposed to the “soft” mode dial on the 5R.)
I also recommend setting ISO to Auto unless you need a specific ISO for the planned photo.  The reason is that when you take the shot the camera will use the shutter speeds as set by you and then attempt to get correct exposures by varying the aperture and ISO, IF in Auto.  So this just allows you to use a wider range of shutter speeds and still get correct exposures.
So, once you’ve got Bracket Pro running and you’ve selected Tv, you are presented with a screen that can be confusing at first.  Refer now to the photo at the top, the first screen after selecting Tv. On the left you see the three shutter speeds, with #1 showing your primary shutter speed selected by the Control Dial.  On the right is the range, and in this case it is set to 2.0.  And there in the lower middle is “The Graph”.  Across the bottom (left to right), you’ll see the complete range of available shutter speeds and the left side represents apertures from wide open (bottom) to the smallest available (top).  The orange rectangle seems to reflect the available range of exposures.  As you adjust the primary (#1) shutter speed with the Control Dial, the orange square moves left and right accordingly.  The width of the orange square corresponds to the selected range.
Now, the important part.  To insure that all three exposures are correct, you must adjust the settings so that points #3 and #2 do not touch the top and bottom edges of the orange square.  If #3 goes to the top, then that image will be over-exposed, and if #2 touches the bottom, that image will be under-exposed.  This happens because you are asking the camera to exceed the available ranges of aperture and ISO.
So, you’re all set up.  All that’s left is to compose the shot and press the shutter button.  The camera will fire off three shots, varying the shutter speeds according to your settings, while “attempting” to correctly expose by also changing the aperture and ISO as necessary.
The downside with Shutter Bracketing is due to those changing apertures and ISO settings.  For instance, if you’re going for a shallow depth of field, it may not be there in all three shots.  Likewise, using Auto ISO you may end up with one or more images with unacceptable noise levels.  Those are just some of the tradeoffs to keep in mind when using this function.
Aperture Bracketing
This function operates almost identically to Shutter Speed Bracketing with one obvious difference – it brackets the aperture to give you different depths of field in each of three images.  It also attempts to maintain a proper exposure for all three images and is thus not suitable for HDR work.
Focus Bracketing
This is the part of this app that makes the least sense to me.  The available adjustments are very vague (Wide, Narrow, or something in between) and the results were consistently unpredictable, at least for me.
Generally, it takes one image at your selected focus point, another at some “other” focus point, and then an image that is completely defocused.  (Frankly, I get plenty of poorly focused images without this kind of help.☺)
I called Sony technical support about this one, and they weren’t much help either.  Although, that was where I found out about why one of the images was never in focus … by design!
Flash Bracketing

This very simply takes two images, one with flash and one without flash.  Once selected, you only have to be sure to either pop-up the flash (on the NEX-6) or attach an external flash and turn it on.
Advertisements

Setting Up the Olympus OM-D E-M1 – My Way

This is a rewrite of an earlier post I did months ago about setting up the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I’ve updated the section on the Arrow Pad settings to reflect how I’ve changed the Lever settings.

The menus of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 provide a deep, but fairly well organized hierarchy of almost all of the functions and settings that can be changed on this camera, and there are many. Some of you may feel that it is too complicated, but I think this complexity is what allows us the ability and freedom to customize this camera to our own personal taste, and that is where much of its power derives.  So while it may take a while to figure out exactly how to set it up to your liking, it’s worth the effort.

I won’t go into all of the available settings, but will cover mainly just the ones that affect the various, customizable buttons that make using the E-M1 a bit easier and faster.  So here are the buttons with my settings and reasoning for it.  It’s been said many times that “opinions are like noses” and everybody has one, so I’d be amazed if any of you set your camera exactly like I set mine … these are just a few of the possibilities.  (Speaking of which, how about one of you math whizzes telling us how many permutations/possibilities there are with six buttons and about 22 available settings for each one.  🙂  Okay, while we wait for the answer to my pop math quiz, let’s get started.

Fn1 Button = [—]HP.  I generally keep my focus set for single target AF since I prefer to choose what I want to focus on instead of letting the camera do it.  Of course, sometimes I need to move this AF point around and this setting gives me an easy way to get it back to center.  (Assuming that Custom Menu A -> [—] Set Home, is set to Single Target AF.)  If I mount an adapted lens that has only MF, then I repurpose this button to Peaking.

Fn2 Button = RAW.  Most of the time, I shoot in RAW.  However, there are some camera settings that require a JPG setting, like Monochrome for instance.  So with this button setting, I can quickly switch from RAW to RAW+JPG and back.

Movie Button = Myset 3.  Okay, this could be any of the Mysets, but #3 just happens to be my HDR preset.  A few of the other HDR settings this will bring up for me are Aperture priority, ISO 200,  RAW, and Continuous H.  I know, it’s so easy to get HDR settings from the front of the dial over the On/Off switch, but it doesn’t automatically change your shooting mode, quality, or ISO from whatever they may be set on.  One very nice thing that you E-M5 shooters will appreciate is that this is a toggle switch so you don’t have to hold it down while taking the shots.

AEL/AFL Button = AEL/AFL.  Imagine that … a button that actually does what it says it will do!  🙂  I like this because in an AF mode, it acts as an AEL button and locks the exposure.  If you’re in MF, pressing it will temporarily turn on S-AF and then revert right back to MF as soon as you release it.  This is commonly known as “Back Button Focus” and can be a very nice way to shoot, even better than S-AF+MF IMHO.

Front Buttons on the right side of the lens:
Top Button = Multi Function.  By pressing and holding this button while turning either the Rear Dial or the Front Dial, you can cycle through four different settings:  Highlight and Shadow Control, Color Creator, Magnify, and Image Aspect.  I like this setting for a couple of reasons.  First, the Highlight and Shadow Control can’t be found anywhere else.  Second, when I mount an adapted MF only lens, this gives me easy access to Magnify as a focusing aid.  The other two settings are nice but are also available on the Super Control Panel.

Bottom Button = Digital Tele-converter.  This setting gives you a 2X magnification of the actual image as long as you have JPG or RAW+JPG set.  With just RAW, you will see the magnification in the display, but the recorded file will be normal.  And while the tele-converter function works pretty well (almost as good as OnOne’s Perfect Resize), I actually prefer to use it as a MF assist function since it only gives 2X instead of the minimum of 5X with normal Focus Assist.

Arrow Pad = Direct Function.  I’ve set the “Arrow Pad” keys to Direct Function. The default setting for these arrow keys is to move the AF point around, but they are “hot” all the time and I kept inadvertently moving them with my thumb.  The Direct Function setting allows me to use the Right Arrow to bring up the Flash Settings menu for quick changes, and the Down Arrow to change the ISO, which I frequently use.  Also in Direct Function, the Left Arrow will activate the AF point selector so you can move the focus point around.  Lastly, the Up Arrow activates the ability to set Exposure Compensation using the arrow keys … but this is a waste for me since I always use the Front Dial for this.  There are only seven settings available for the Arrow Pad keys:  Drive, Flash, Touch Panel Lock, Electric Zoom (for lenses that support it), ISO, WB, and Exposure Compensation.


Update Feb. 19, 2014:  I forgot to talk about using the Arrow Key for ISO.  Yes, I know … this is normally easy to access by putting the Lever to Position 2 and turning the Front Dial.  However, I too often forgot to flip the Lever back up and ended up changing ISO and WB when I was wanting to change Aperture and/or Exp. Comp.  So, in Custom Menu B – Button/Dial/Lever, I’ve set Lever Function to Mode 5, which changes the focus setting between AF and MF as you flip the Lever up and down.

Oh, and one more thing … remember that all six of those buttons have the same settings available (not the Arrow Pad keys), so you can set them up any way you want to.  Lots of flexibility and choice.

There are so many settings on the E-M1 that I could expand this post to several hundred pages, but thankfully, I don’t have to.  Gary Friedman at the www.FriedmanArchives.com has put together a comprehensive manual about every feature and function on the E-M1 with lots of detailed explanations and pretty pictures, too.  If you’re interested, you’ll be able to order the book at his website.

A few photos for your viewing pleasure.  🙂