The focus hold button has been the obvious choice for Eye AF in the past. But with the introduction of Sony's continuous Eye AF in 2019, it's become mostly irrelevant.
There was a short period of time when I enjoyed the interim before continuous Eye AF. Back in the days when one of the few actual lenses to have a focus hold button would become the home to the Eye AF feature. But once again, innovation has made certain physical architectures obsolete, or nearly so.
In early 2019 Sony introduced its continuous Eye AF feature via firmware upgrades to its third generation full frame cameras. After the upgrade, a Sony shooter would no longer have to press a programmable button to engage Eye AF. This essentially unlocked the focus hold button for some other feature.
But here's the problem I have now. There's no one obvious contender to program into the focus hold button. Eye AF had been such a big deal when it was introduced that not only did Sony shooters program it into the focus hold button, but we also programmed it to our favorite buttons on the camera body itself for those times when we were using lenses without focus hold buttons. In other words, many of us would have done anything to enact Eye AF. And now, the focus hold button is like a vacant lot in the middle of a run-down neighborhood: nobody knows what to do with it.
That's not to say there are a lack of feature choices. As of firmware version 3.10 for the Sony A7iii, for example, there are 87 choices to choose from. Problem is, none of them are necessarily worth the trouble of programming into the focus hold button, at least for me. I see two main reasons. One, any one of the programmable custom buttons on the camera body are more convenient as far as immediate access goes, regardless of what lens is on the camera body. Two, there are few features (if any) which require a button to be pushed down continuously in order to be usable. And perhaps a third reason might be, who the hell is going to remember what secondary, unessential feature they programmed into the focus hold button after a few weeks? I have trouble remembering what I programmed into the other custom buttons as it is because I've made use of Sony's customized menu pages and Fn menu for my essential settings. The big exception being the Live View Setting Effect which I've programmed into Custom Button 3 for use in the studio - something I'd never program into the focus hold button because I need that option for any lens I might be using in the studio.
The million dollar question: what feature is so essential, that one must program it into the focus hold button?
I guarantee one thing: there's no obvious answer anymore in Sony's post-Continuous Eye AF world. So what are the options that make sense?
This is where any Sony shooter with a focus hold button-rich lens will have to strike out on an adventure of discovery, I believe. The question becomes, what feature do I need with this lens based on what I use it for the most?
For me, I photograph a lot of people, whether out in the cities shooting street photography or shooting portraits. Continuous Eye AF is a feature I make use of almost every time I shoot. So I'm going to use as an example one of the Sony lenses I own that has the focus hold button: the Sony 85mm 1.8.
What do I use this lens for? Obviously, for portraits, in studio or on location. But like a true heathen I stray quite far from traditional purposes of the lens and use it in my street photography work, too. Practically speaking, I've got a great range of options to consider for the focus hold button. But it's not that easy.
Here are a list of contender features I'm considering, based on what I use the 85mm for:
1. APS-C 35 / Full Frm Sel.
2. Face Prty in Mlti Mtr
3. Metering Mode
To be perfectly frank, I struggled to come up with these three options out of all offerings. Additionally, I rarely use two of the features and never even tried one of them. Here are my thoughts.
APS-C 35 / Full Frm Sel.
There's potential here, at least for those times when I feel like shooting 85mm in my street photography. It's fair to note that I'd never use this setting for portraits because of the massive hit taken to resolution in Super 35 mode. But there are times when I wish I had some extra reach and a 127.5mm focal length would likely help bridge the gap between myself and my subject. But as a prime lens only shooter, I rarely touch this. I frame with my feet as a matter of practice. However unlikely, this is my best guess currently as to what I'd consider for my focus hold button.
Face Prty in Mlti Mtr
I had no idea what this meant though I suspected that it would be useful for portraits or perhaps for street photography. What it does is takes into account any face detected while you're in multi meter mode - which is my default setting. Though I've never even tried this feature I suspect I'll be testing it out soon to see if it even makes a difference or not when shooting subjects against back lit or low light conditions. I'll update this piece once I test it out.
To be honest, I threw this one into the mix just so I'd have three options mentioned. Truth is, I've never changed metering mode in the studio and rarely when I'm out shooting street photography. Why? Because shooting mirrorless makes this feature by and large irrelevant for me. This is a topic for another time, but I "meter" off my LCD screen with the help of my exposure indicator, which informs me by how many stops I'm over or under-exposed. Combined with post processing, I really couldn't care less about metering modes. I keep it in multi meter and leave it at that. Street photographers will agree that there's little time to fiddle with camera settings out in the field - shots will get missed. And I can definitely state without a doubt that I've never screwed up a shot because I was in the "wrong" metering mode. It's a non-issue, therefore, not a viable option for the focus hold button.
What feature could I see being used with the focus hold button?
I'm of the opinion now that the focus hold button is nearly obsolete, a throwback to another era in photography architecture. I doubt that there's any one feature that belongs solely on the focus hold button that shouldn't already be programmed into any of the customizable buttons on the Sony body.
Oddly enough, there are several features that weren't available to be programmed into the focus hold button. The one that would have been of interest to me was the Face Registration feature, currently found on the first menu tab on page 14/14. Why isn't this an option for focus hold, Sony?
The best I can come up with (for me!) is a zoom feature, which isn't available for programming into the focus hold button if you're shooting RAW. Why Zoom? Because when I think about it, being able to see a model's face in detail prior to firing off a few shots could potentially save time in post processing, for instance, if I spotted some rogue hairs which could have been otherwise swept out of his or her face if I could see them. And that's just the problem with several Sony features now - you can't use them if you're shooting in RAW, which is just ridiculous at this point considering how far they've come in their technological journey. Sony should be wiping the floor with not only other camera companies, but with the phone manufacturers as well.
So here's my dream list, not in any particular order. But any of these features would be best-served as programmable to any of Sony's custom buttons since a vast minority of lenses, including offerings by third parties, have focus hold buttons.
2. Send to Cloud (sends last shot taken to pre-determined Internet options, like cloud storage companies like 500px, Flickr, etc.)
3. Send to Phone (sends last shot taken to phone for editing/sharing/storage backup)
4. Send to Client (a mode that sends last shot taken to a specific client as email or other method)
I'm certainly not saying that there's no use for the focus hold button for photographers. People have different styles of shooting and oftentimes, very specific needs which could be handled by the focus hold button.
But what I am concluding with is that the focus button, if not effectively extinct in the post-Continuous Eye AF world, has lost its vitality as an important programmable option to fret over.
What do you use the focus hold button for? I'd love to know.