There are those who say that I’m prejudiced from my long usage of Nikon (and sometimes Canon) equipment, but I’ve been using alpha 7 cameras for most of my photography since they were first shipped, and I still find the menu system cumbersome, confusing, and awkward. The situation has not improved with the a7RII, and, indeed,, in one respect has gotten worse.
Let’s get the thing that’s gotten worse out of the way; In previous versions of the alpha 7 cameras, to format the memory card, you navigated across the top of the menu structure to Suitcase 5, the fifth set of menus under the Suitcase category. The Format entry was the top element in the list, so was automatically selected. All you had to do was press enter and answer an “are you sure” question and you were on your way. In the a7RII, the Format command is in the same menu group, but it’s no longer at the top. Instead, it’s the second entry down, and you must navigate to it to format your memory card.
This is wrong in two ways. First, Format should be the top item in whatever menu page it’s in, since it is used so often. The idea of Huffman coding applies to the design of a menus system, except, rather than minimizing the number of bits, you want to minimize the number of buttons the user has to press to do the most frequent operations. Thus, those operations should be at the top of their respective menu pages. Format no longer has this pride of place. It’s been replaced. And by what? What could be more often used than Format? The top item of the Suitcase 5 menu page on the a7RII is Copyright Info, something that will be set at most once in the life of most cameras.
The second way the placement of Format is wrong is that it’s different from all the other alpha 7 cameras. If you own several of the a7RII’s predecessor cameras, by now the keystrokes to format a memory card are embedded in your muscle memory, and they won’t work with the new cameras. In addition, once you’ve gotten used to formatting card in the a7RII, you will be slower with all the other cameras as you are jarred by the differences in the menu structure.
My other problems with the a7RII menu system are mostly carryovers from the previous a7x cameras.
Let me give a few examples.
I’ll start with the placement of functions that control the display of information and pictures in the EVF and the LCD panel. You turn Setting Effect on and off in Gear 3. Finder and Monitor switching is in Gear 4. Monitor brightness is in Suitcase 1. So is viewfinder brightness and finder color temperature.
There are focus-related items in Camera 3, Camera 4, Camera 7, Gear 1, Gear 3, Gear 4, Gear 5, and Gear 6.
There are video controls in Camera 2, Camera 8, Gear 1, Gear 2, Gear 7, Gear 8, Suitcase 2, and Suitcase 3.
You get the idea.
But my big problem with the Sony alpha 7 menus is that you have to use them a lot. Nikons and Canons have dedicated buttons for many commonly used functions: ISO changes, EV changes, shutter speed, f-stop, AF on/off/mode, etc. You press a button, turn the front or back wheel to make changes, and see what’s happening in the top passive LCD screen, which works well in bright light, and can be backlit in dim light. You can do this with the camera in your lap, or in any convenient position.
To access commonly-used functions in the Sony a7x cameras, you press the Fn key, navigate to the function you want to change, and change it in a similar way to the CaNikons. The difference is that access is more complicated, and that you need to be able to see the back LCD screen or use the EVF to see what you’re doing. The exception is the exposure compensation control, which, thankfully, has its own directly accessible dial.
I can go for days without using the Nikon menus; I go for minutes between accessing the Sony ones.