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Sony a6000, a6300, a6500 Settings for Skydiving

Posted by Mark Kirschenbaum on

It's spring time, which means skydivers all around the Northern Hemisphere are gearing up for the new season. With this, many are getting rid of their old, heavy SLR, and moving to a mirrorless solution.

Kirby Chambliss and Kevin Coleman show off their other aerial sport.

We've bought into the Sony platform a few years ago and recently started shooting with the Sony a6000. The results have been amazing! Thus far Parachutist & Blue Skies Mag have published: 2 centerfolds, 1 full page, a calendar shot, and more than a dozen photos all shot by us with this tiny little camera! 


Trunk's Helmet Build Blog

I'm still learning the platform, but often get the question, "what are the best settings for skydiving?" Today, while testing out the Hypeye Alpha prototypes, I took a step back and wrote up this guide. It's the culmination of a lot of missed shots, other photographer's insights, my observations, and some research. Take this as a starting guideline and not necessary rules. Your conditions and settings may vary. Feel free to give us feedback and recommendations via email or Hypoxic's Facebook Page.  

My Settings

I currently use a Sigma 19mm/f2.8 Lens on the a6000. Sony 16-55mm & Sony 20mm are popular skydiving lenses too and will have fairly similar settings. Mind you I'm generally shooting "fun" jumps and formations. 

Setting Value Reason
Shooting Mode

What I use
Manual Mode
F4.5 - F6.3
1/1000-1/1600
ISO Auto

Others
Some prefer Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority. Test all three for your DZ's conditions and what you are shooting

Rick Winkler Suggests 
Shutter Priority (~1/800 on cloudy days, ~1/1250 on sunny days)

In Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes we would get inconsistent results. By manually setting our values, and letting the ISO automatically adjust, we get workable photos in most conditions no matter our orientation to the sun.

The faster shutter speed and the aperture backed off a bit, allows for bigger formations to be in focus and reduces blur due to flapping jumpsuits.

Back in my Canon days I would never go above 1/800, seems the Sony is so much more sensitive to light hence the 1/1000> speeds. I'm typically shooting F4.5 1/1250 in Arizona.

F6.3 and up you can get away with manual focus. Check out Depth of Field (DOF) calculators for your lens. Read up on it, it's important.

Shooting Mode

 Continued....

For sunset, sunrise, and overcast I'll take some practice shots on the wings during the ride to altitude. I the look at the histogram to ensure the setting spans the whole color line.
(Press DISP multiple times to access the histogram)

I set ISO to AUTO to allow for some "wiggle" room if the exposure is off a bit.

ISO

Auto

ISO on a CMOS sensor is a gain setting. The higher the ISO, the noisier an image becomes. A lower ISO will reduce noise but at the cost of losing some information in the shadows. I like AUTO since it prevents completely lost photos due to exposure issues from the settings. It's recommended to set this limit from 100 to 800 for skydiving. 

Exposure Compensation +0.3 to +0.6

We've had a recommendation to increase the exposure compensation 1 to 2 increments when ISO is set to Auto. This should brighten up the faces and jumpsuits that are often dark in front of a blue sky. To achieve this, press down on the menu wheel and selecting +0.3 to +0.6. (+0.5 increments is also an option in the settings) 
Thx Kaspars Sprogis for the suggestion. 

Update Super helpful on this platform!

Image Size / Quality Large / Fine / JPG only

In a 24 Megapixel JPEG there is a ton of color information. We've found there is no need for sunny outdoor shots to record in RAW. The resulting JPEGs have so much color information that post processing can still be done affectively especially. This is especially true if shot in a neutral mode.

Shooting in RAW also bogs down the write pipeline and will minimize the number of photos you can take during a jump. Even on high paying gigs, I find shooting in JPEG to be better as it allows me to capture multiple shots during a fast sequence hence getting the "perfect" shot.

A lot of people are against me with this process. I say try it out and see how much less space you require after a long boogie weekend, how quick your workflow becomes, and just how much you can get out of these JPEGs. With a neutral setting it's basically a compressed RAW file. 

Creative Style

Neutral if I will do post processing. 
Vibrant, Standard, or Portrait if sending out right away

Most customers like popping colors for their Instagram and Facebook pages. Might as well have the camera do the post processing if you aren't.
Drive Mode Continuous Shooting -LO

Super important!

Unless you are shooting in manual focus, the continuous shooting mode should be set to LO (2.5fps) for holding down burst shots to "refocus" inter-sequence correctly. When it's set to medium (6fps) or high (11fps), we often miss the exit shot! The camera will only "pick the object" at the start of each burst section. From then on, it will continuously focus correctly. However, if it fails to pick the object at the start, that burst sequence will be blurry. 

We will test a continuously focusing switch and let you know our results. 

Focus Mode Continuous Focus Automatic Focus will automatically determine the scene and switch between continuous and single shot focus mode. We might as well just set it to continuous for skydiving.
Focus Area Center or Wide

This prevents the plane from being in focus but not your subject. This also allows for bigger formations or the subject to be slightly off center to get into focus.

NOTE: Zone focus really slows down continuous shots.

Movie AF drive speed/ Track Duration Do not care We are not using for movies, this setting does not matter to us
Metering Mode Multi Seems to work well to get the subject and background metered properly. In my manual setting, metering mode just plays into the Auto ISO calculation.
White Balance Auto /
Cloudy

Camera's now days are fairly good at WB calculations. The auto setting seems to work fairly well for most conditions. Best part of leaving it to auto is I don't forget about it the next day after a night of party photos. With that said, we can always tweak the white balance in post if necessary. 

Multiple people have recommended setting the WB to cloudy to make the images seem warmer throughout the day. This will compensate for too much "blue" in the image. Just remember to change it back when the lighting changes. We'll give this a shot.

Update I'm sold on the "Cloudy" setting!

DRO / Auto HDR

DRO off
DRO Optimized - Auto

We need to test out this setting more on jumps as it may add noise to the blacks. However, DRO (Dynamic Range Optimized - Auto) will help bring out the shadows in often black jumpsuits.
Lock On AF

Off

This is a setting that only makes sense when using the camera hand held. 
Smile Detect

OFF!

Turn this setting off for better focus control.
Auto Review 

Off

Review getting annoying when the camera is offset on my helmet. Use your judgement here.

Pre-AF

Off

After reading forums, most suggest having this turned off. So I have. Haven't seen much difference either way.

AF w/ shutter

On 
MUST w/o Manual Focus!

This will focus when fired via a bite switch. This can be turned off if you are manually setting your focus. 

AEL w/ Shutter

Auto

This equates to the ISO calculation

e-front Curtain Shutter

On

Faster for the first photo
Pwr Save Start Time

5 Minutes

I don't turn my camera on until I hear a cut.
Remote Control

Off

This is for IR remote, might as well save the power
USB Connection

Mass Storage

Easier to retrieve photos and videos
Custom Buttons

C1 - Drive Mode
C2 - Manual / AF switch

This is personal preference 

Nifty Trick

Set Dial / Wheel lock to "Lock" then hold the 'Fn' button down (~5 seconds) to prevent the wheel dials from changing your settings. Say goodbye to gaffers tape. Thanks for the suggestion Daniel Harmens!

Other Notes

  • Be sure to get a 90 degree bite switch adapter! The Sony Multi Port is made up of 15 connections and is weak. One good hit of your riser or the door and we've seen the camera become worthless. Invest the money, get a 90 degree connector and baby this connection. 
  • For a really good reference, download Sony's Focus guide for the a6000. It's an  invaluable read.
  • Lock the wheels once your settings are set. See the above trick!
  • Take sometime, read up, and mess around with a DOF calculator such as this for you particular camera and lens.  

If you found this useful, please share and support HYPOXIC for your camera needs. Take a look at our Sony 90 degree Adapter and switches.

Thank you,
-Trunk


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