How to Set Up Your Sony Camera for Flash
Sony may make great cameras, but sometimes their user manuals leave a little to be desired.
Case in point: combined settings. It's easy to understand the individual settings but nothing really tells you that you have to do A+B+C instead of just A.
When I started using Sony cameras, I had to work my way through many of these combinations in an attempt to get the best results. To save others the same trouble, I've put together some of my key learnings here.
This article will dig specifically into how to best set up your Sony camera for use with a flash. My hope is that it will help reduce the learning curve for fellow Sony users.
How to Set Up Your Sony Camera for Flash Photography
Before You Start: Create a Custom Mode for Flash
Sony cameras have the advantage of allowing you to create custom settings which you can save and switch back over to at any time.
This will make it easier in future to transition between shooting with flash or natural light (though do note that some of the settings we're about to change are global and not available to save in custom settings).
The above video from Mark Galer runs through how to set up custom modes or memory recalls. I recommend giving it a watch if you want to learn how to do this.
Regardless of whether you choose to save your flash settings for future use, these are the steps I've found to work best. So let's get started.
1. Switch Off Silent Shooting
Silent shooting (electronic shutter) and flash don't work together – at least not until global shutters get released. This is not a Sony constraint but a general sensor constraint.
An electronic shutter is great to stop the sound of the shutter annoying people at weddings, but it's terrible for flash.
To turn it off, go to Camera Setting 2 (the icon that has a camera with a 2 next to it) and then click across to the fourth page (page 4/9).
The first option in the list will be Silent Shooting. Switch this to Off.
2. Switch Off Electronic Front Curtain Shutter
The front curtain shutter causes banding when used with High Speed Synchronization (HSS). It's recommended that you switch this off and stick to the standard shutter when shooting flash.
e-Front Curtain Shutter is the setting directly under Silent Shooting.
Go back to Camera Setting 2 (the camera icon with the 2 next to it) and over to page 4/9, and switch your e-Front Curtain Shutter setting to Off.
3. Switch Off Wireless
The wireless option is for Sony’s wireless speedlight system. Since most of us are using third party systems like Godox or Profoto, we're going to turn this off.
Go to Camera Setting 1 (the camera with the 1 next to it), click over to page 11/14 (the one titled “Flash”) and scroll down to the option called Wireless Flash. Set this to Off.
I haven’t picked up any adverse reactions from having this turned on, but I have had speedlight issues – so unless you're using Sony’s wireless system, it's best to turn it off.
4. Separate Exposure Compensation for Flash and Ambient
Next, we're going to separate the exposure compensation for ambient and flash. By doing this, flash can be adjusted using the TTL settings on the flash or trigger and ambient can be adjusted with the exposure compensation dial.
Realistically most professional users would have the ISO set to manual, but I still prefer having them separated.
Go to Camera Setting 1 (the camera with the 1 next to it), go across to page 11/14 (“Flash”) and find the option called Exp.comp.set. Ensure this is set to Ambient Only.
5. Turn Off Anti-Flicker Mode
I realise this sounds strange and impractical for the topic, but there is a method to the madness with this one.
When you use the anti-flicker mode, it interferes with the ability of your camera to turn the Shot Result Preview display on.
The reasons why we need this display are covered in the next section in more detail. I highly recommend following this step as this part is fairly critical.
Go to Camera Setting 1, page 14/14 and set Anti-Flicker Shooting to Off.
6. Assign Shot Result Preview to a Button (If You Shoot Flash Regularly)
Shot Result Preview is the functionality in your Sony camera that allows you to see what the exposure looks like when the photo is taken.
If you’re shooting indoors at f/8, 1/250 and ISO100 with flash, the ambient is going to be dark so you won't be able to see what you’re shooting.
This is obviously a problem for studio portraits – try focusing on a model through a pitch-black viewfinder and you'll see what I mean!
The smart people at Sony thought of this, so Sony cameras are also smart – when they detect a flash or trigger attached they turn off the live preview.
Great – if that's the case then why am I even bothering to tell you about this? Sony's automatic approach is both a good and bad thing…
If you're shooting purely flash with no ambient, Sony's approach is fine. The problem is that with flash, this is almost never the case.
If you're shooting a model in a forest, you still want to see what the ambient areas look like that aren’t getting flash, and to do that you’re going to have to turn off the trigger the whole time. This can be frustrating.
Assigning Shot Result Preview to a button on the camera is a solution. When you hold down the button, it will show you what the ambient will look like. When you let go of the button, it will change back again.
As an added bonus, you won't have to worry about forgetting to turn your trigger back on.
Go to Camera Setting 2, click across to page 8/9 (“Custom Operation 1”) and select the first option, which is for photos. Assign Shot Result Preview to a button of your choice – I normally use C1 which is right near the shutter button.
7. Set ISO Manually and Understand Your Flash Power
The problem with most flash systems is that TTL doesn’t use the full power of the flash if Auto ISO is on. You can test this easily by leaving Auto ISO on and taking a photo with the flash bouncing off the ceiling.
Set the camera to f/8, 1/250 and Auto ISO and take a photo with TTL. In a largish dark room, you'll find the ISO rising to around 3200 or 6400.
Then set your camera to f/8 1/250 and ISO100 and take a photo with TTL. The photo will likely be exposed at the same level (unless its a really large room, a small flash or a high ceiling) and yet, you have a much lower ISO.
Now set the flash to manual and conduct the same exercise. If the flash photo is overexposed, it means the flash wasn’t using full power at ISO100. This shows that Auto ISO and flash are a bad combination.
So why wouldn't you just set it to ISO100? Firstly, because your flash may not be powerful enough for ISO100 all the time. Secondly, because using your flash at full power every couple of seconds causes the speedlight to eventually overheat and kills your battery.
If you’re not sure what ISO value to use, one option would be starting with an acceptable level of ISO as a maximum – ISO800 as an example – and letting the camera push the ISO up to this maximum level. This will allow you some degree of leeway without having to worry about the camera pushing the ISO up too high.
Final Words about Sony Flash Settings
Hopefully you've found this article useful for setting up your Sony camera for use with a flash. As mirrorless cameras have become more capable, the ability to customize their capability to meet professional demands adds more complexity.
I’ve tried to cover all of the settings I’m aware of in my use of flash, but if there's anything I missed in this article, please let us know in comments.
Navigating around the extensive menu system can be a bit daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it you'll find your way around fairly quickly.
As a final note, I haven’t covered the specifics relating to different speedlight or strobe brands like Godox, Profoto or Sony themselves as this would be too difficult to cover in a single article. The steps covered here relate to generic settings that apply to all brands of speedlights, triggers or strobes.
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post may contain affiliate links.