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.
Is there no ‘My Menu’ capability that lets you keep your most-used settings on one page, like Canon?
There is. It’s acccessed by the Fn button. But you can’t put just any menu item on it.
tex andrews says
Hi, Jim. Been following the blog , but as I won’t be buying an A7RII anytime soon (given how loaded I am with great gear right now…), I haven’t been commenting since I don’t have a dog in this fight. But this one piqued my interest.
Here’s my question: Why do you and others think this happens to menus?
I mean, it seems to me that some of this stuff is so obvious—but obviously not! Any insights?
The longer Sony sticks to its failed menu system, the harder it will be to make everybody happy with a good one: As you say, your muscle may remember the old-wrong-way…
But this could be once again an opportunity for Sony to make the difference:
Why don’t they provide, for the first time to my knowledge, a way to easily re-map ANY menu function (and, at the same time ANY button) to ANY function ?
While very heavy to do in the camera, they could just propose a software to do it on a PC/MAC.
Then, of course, you need to be able to save to the SD card (which is missing, anyway) and restore the config. And reset everything to factory default.
So anyone picking an A7RII could just plug his SD card in, set his favorite settings in 3 seconds and feel at home.
The funny thing is that they could probably be able to do that by just changing the firmware, on current models.
And, if they want to change the bad feeling the A7R users now have about Sony support to their 1-year-old camera, they could even do that for “older” models…
Well, one can dream…
Have a good day
Lynn Allan says
I recall the upgrade from the Canon 50d to the 5d2 was relatively painless as far as UI similarity. My understanding is that the 5d3 is very similar to the 5d2, except for the much more sophisticated AF.
However, I found it frustrating by how much different the 6d was from the 5d2.
With just the 5d2, I got familiar enough with the user interface to work in the dark, “by Braille”.
But the two cameras turn on/off differently. The LiveView works differently. The Mode PASM works differently. Many controls are relocated. Missing joy-stick was a biggie. Magnify for LiveView and Review is different. Re-assign buttons is different, etc. etc. etc.
I don’t think the 5D3 is as similar to the 5D2 as you suppose…they look the same, but the Canon interface has been evolving over time, starting with the 7D and 60D which moved the power switch and added the locking mode dial, respectively.
All the new Canon semipros have the top-left shoulder power switch (which is way better in any case since you should just leave it on) and locking mode dial. I think all have the new modal magnify/review system (which actually seems to be faster to operate). The 6D indeed is missing the joystick and has simplified top buttons but that’s shared with the 60D and 70D.
You’ll get used to it. I rented a 6D to try out after years of using my 60D and by the end of the 4 days it was just as natural to use as my old trusty 60D (except for the missing swivel screen!!!).
Joel Richards says
YES. I love the A7 cameras but the menu system is getting worse. It seems that Sony just tacks on new menu options without considering the entire presentation.
My BIGGER complaint is the division of functions between the “camera” and “gear” tabs. Not only is it NOT intuitive and poorly laid out but “gear” settings can’t be saved in memory (WHY?!). As a photographer who bounced between strobes and natural light this irks me to no end.
I like the idea of the one page tabs, and I accept that will always make certain functions a little deep, but that is no excuse for a nonsensical layout. Also memory function should (or at least should have the option) of saving ALL the camera’s settings.
I like Raoul’s idea of saving settings to SD cards. I believe Sony’s professional camcorders do this. Be great to trickle down that functionality.
ts common in electronics industry. just give the illusion of more features thru copious firmware updates, big menus.
no photographers were involved in approving the design of the menus,
eengineering section and marketing dept in usa, were. joe and jane six-pack, would accept, they thought. sadly, they were right. (.
his will please canikon no end, as it will restrict sony’s reach into the pro end, long a duopoly between canon and nikon.
their marketing depts, stopped advanced E,V.I.L cameradevelopments, for fear of cannibalizing dsltheir massive dslr sales