One thing that always surprises new owners of the Sony Alpha DSLR-A390/A290 is that the cameras have a total of 397 buttons, dials, switches, levers, latches, and knobs bristling from its surface. Okay, I lied. Actually, the real number is closer to two dozen controls and adjustments, but that's still a lot of components to master, especially when you consider that many of these controls serve double-duty to give you access to multiple functions.
Traditionally, there have been two ways of providing a roadmap to guide you through this maze of features. One approach uses two or three tiny 2-inch black-and-white line drawings or photos impaled with dozens of callouts labeled with cross-references to the actual pages in the book that tell you what these components do. You'll find this tactic used in the pocket-sized manual Sony provides with the Sony Alpha A390 and A290, and most of the other third-party guidebooks as well. Deciphering one of these miniature camera layouts is a lot like being presented with a world globe when what you really want to know is how to find the capital of Belgium.
I originated a more useful approach in my field guides, providing you, instead of a satellite view, a street-level map that includes close-up full-color photos of the camera from several angles (see Figure 2.1), with a smaller number of labels clearly pointing to each individual feature. And, I don't force you to flip back and forth among dozens of pages to find out what a particular component does. Each photo is accompanied by a brief description that summarizes the control, so you can begin using it right away. Only when a particular feature deserves a lengthy explanation do I direct you to a more detailed write-up later in the book.
So, if you're wondering what the Fn button does, I'll tell you the basics up front, rather than have you flip to page 1,581. This book is not a scavenger hunt. But after I explain how to use the ISO button to change the sensitivity of the Alpha, I will provide a cross-reference to a longer explanation later in the book that clarifies noise reduction, ISO, and its effects on exposure. I've had some readers write me and complain about even my minimized cross-reference approach; they'd like to open the book to one page and read everything there is to know about bracketing, for example. Unfortunately, it's impossible to understand some features without having a background in what related features do. So, I'll provide you with introductions in the introductory chapters, covering simple features completely, and relegating some of the really in-depth explanations to later chapters. I think this kind of organization works best for a camera as sophisticated as the Sony Alpha.
By the time you finish this chapter, you'll have a basic understanding of every control and what it does. I'm not going to delve into menu functions here—you'll find a discussion of your Recording, Setup, Playback, and Custom menu options in Chapter 3. Everything here is devoted to the button pusher and dial twirler in you.
The illustrations in this book show the Sony Alpha DSLR-A390 camera. If you own the A290 model, your camera looks and operates almost exactly the same. The chief differences are that you're missing the Live View/OVF (optical viewfinder) switch. The LCD on the back of your camera stubbornly refuses to tilt. But you still get the same, sharp, sparkling 14.2-megapixel images that the A390 does.
When we picture a given camera, we always imagine the front view. That's the view that your subjects see as you snap away, and the aspect that's shown in product publicity and on the box. The frontal angle is, essentially, the "face" of a camera like the Sony Alpha. But, not surprisingly, most of the "business" of operating the camera happens behind it, where the photographer resides. The front of the Alpha actually has very few controls and features to worry about. Five of them are most obvious in Figure 2.2:
■ Shutter release button. Angled on top of the hand grip is the shutter release button. Press this button down halfway to lock exposure and focus (in Single-shot mode and Continuous AF with non-moving subjects). The Alpha assumes that when you tap or depress the shutter release, you are ready to take a picture, so the release can be tapped to activate the exposure meter or to exit from menus.
■ Control dial. This dial is used to change shooting settings. When settings are available in pairs (such as shutter speed/aperture), this dial will be used to make one type of setting, such as shutter speed. The other setting, say, the aperture, is made using an alternate control, such as spinning the control dial while holding down an additional button like the Exposure Compensation button (which resides conveniently under the thumb next to the viewfinder window on the back of the camera).
■ Power switch. Turns the camera on and off.
■ Self-timer lamp. This LED flashes red while your camera counts down the 2-second or 10-second self-timer, flashing slowly at first, then switching to rapid blinking followed by a constant glow in the final moments of the countdown.
■ Hand grip. This provides a comfortable handhold, and also contains the Alpha's battery.
You'll find more controls on the other side of the Alpha, shown in Figure 2.3.
■ Pop-up flash. This is your Alpha's internal flash. It pops up automatically when needed while using Auto, Portrait, Close-Up, and Night Scene modes, and may be manually flipped up when you're using Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority, and Manual exposure modes. (It can be manually elevated when using other Scene modes as well, but will not fire.) Use a fingernail to grab the flash—Sony has deleted the flash pop-up button found on some earlier Alpha models.
■ Lens release button. Press and hold this button to unlock the lens so you can rotate the lens to remove it from the camera.
■ Lens mounting index. Match this raised, red-orange index button with a redorange indicator on the camera's lens mount to line the two up for attaching the lens to the Alpha.
■ Autofocus/Manual focus switch. There are two switches shown in the figure; one on the lens and one on the camera body. (Not all lenses will have an autofocus/man-ual focus switch.) Slide the switch to the AF position or set the Alpha for automatic focus; slide it to the MF position if you want to focus manually. If two switches are present, they must agree. If either is set to MF, then manual focus is used by default.
■ Neck strap mounting ring. Attach the strap that comes with your Alpha to this ring, or use a third-party strap of your choice.
Autofocus/ Lens Lens
Manual mounting release focus switch index button
Autofocus/ Lens Lens
The main feature on the side of the Sony Alpha is a sliding door (see Figure 2.4) that provides a modicum of protection for the ports and memory card slots underneath from dust and moisture. The connectors, shown in Figure 2.5, are as follows:
■ HDMI terminal. If you'd like to see the images from your camera on a television screen, you'll need to buy an HDMI cable (not included with the camera) to connect this port to an HDTV set or monitor. The Alpha no longer supports video output to an old-style TV to a yellow composite video jack. The good news is that if you own a TV that supports Sony's Bravia sync protocol, you can use your Bravia remote control to control image display, mark images for printing, switch to index view, or perform other functions.
■ SD card slot. Slide a Secure Digital card into this slot, with the label facing the front of the camera and the metal contact "fingers" inward. To remove the card, press inward, release, and it will pop out.
■ Memory Stick Pro Duo slot. You might own some of the less-common Memory Stick Pro Duo cards (because you own other Sony products that use them). You can put them to work in your Sony Alpha, too. Insert with the metal contacts facing inwards and towards the front of the camera; the label will face the back of the camera. Press and release to pop out your memory card.
■ USB port. Connect your camera to your computer using this port.
Memory card switch
Memory card switch
Memory Stick Pro Duo slot
SD card slot
Memory Stick Pro Duo slot
SD card slot
■ Memory card switch. Your Alpha needs to be told which memory card to use. If you have only one of the two types of cards installed and the switch is set incorrectly, the camera will report that no card is inserted. If you see the flashing orange No Card message at the bottom right of the LCD, slide this switch to the correct orientation.
■ Port cover. This sliding panel protects your slots and ports from dust and dirt when they're not in use. Keep it closed at other times.
The Sony Alpha's Business End
The back panel of the Sony Alpha bristles with more than a dozen different controls, buttons, and knobs. That might seem like a lot of controls to learn, but you'll find, as I noted earlier, that it's a lot easier to press a dedicated button and spin a dial than to jump to a menu every time you want to change a setting. The two models in this class, the A390 and A290 look identical, except that the A290's LCD does not tilt.
Most of the controls on the back panel of the Alpha are clustered on the right side of the body, with the exception of the MENU button perched on the back slope, just northeast of the LCD. The key components labeled in Figure 2.6 include
■ MENU button. Summons/exits the menu displayed on the rear LCD of the Alpha. When you're working with submenus, this button also serves to exit a submenu and return to the main menu.
■ Memory card access lamp. When lit or blinking, this lamp indicates that the memory card is being read from or written to.
■ DC power port (on side). Plug in an optional DC power supply to this port. The optional Sony AC-PW10AM includes a cable that can be plugged directly into the Alpha to provide power.
Memory LCD DC power card access port lamp
■ Viewfinder eyepiece. You can frame your composition by peering into the viewfinder. It's surrounded by a removable soft rubber frame that seals out extraneous light when pressing your eye tightly up to the viewfinder, and it also protects your eyeglass lenses (if worn) from scratching. It can be removed and replaced by the viewfinder cap attached when you use the camera on a tripod, to ensure that light coming from the back of the camera doesn't venture inside and possibly affect the exposure reading. (I just cover the viewfinder with my hand, most of the time.)
■ Eye-Start sensors. These sensors detect when your face or some other object approaches the viewfinder, and activates automatic focusing while turning off the LCD display. Some find this feature annoying, because it can be triggered by other objects (such as your body when carrying the camera, switched on, over your shoulder). In Chapter 3, I'll show you how to disable this function. You might also want to turn it off when using the optional FDA-M1AM magnifying eyepiece or FDA-A1AM right-angle finder, because your viewing position with these accessories attached may not allow the Eye-Start sensor to be activated.
■ Diopter correction wheel. Rotate this to adjust eyesight correction applied when looking through the Alpha's viewfinder.
■ LCD. This is the 2.7-inch display that shows your Live View preview (on the A390); image review after the picture is taken; recording information display before the photo is snapped; and all the menus used by the Sony Alpha.
The control cluster on the right side of the back of the camera includes these buttons, shown in Figure 2.7:
■ Zoom in/Exposure compensation button. This button has several functions, which differ depending on the camera's active mode.
In Shooting mode, with Program, Aperture priority, or Shutter priority modes, press this button to produce the Exposure Compensation display. Then, press the left/right controller keys to dial in more or less exposure. In Manual exposure mode, press this button while spinning the control dial to change the aperture. Release the button and spin the control dial to change the shutter speed.
In Playback mode, press this button to zoom in, and press again to return to full screen view. When zoomed in, rotate the control dial to change from 1.1X to 14X magnification, with 27 intermediate steps.
■ Fn (Function) button. In Shooting mode, pressing this button pops up a screen with options for selecting Autofocus mode, AF area, Metering mode, the Dynamic Range Optimizer (to improve highlight/shadow detail), White Balance (color bias) settings, or a Creative Style (such as Vivid, Portrait, or Sunset). (See Figure 2.8.)
Zoom in/Exposure compensation
Fn (Function) button
Zoom in/Exposure compensation
Fn (Function) button
Control/Enter/ Spot autofocus button
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