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Has Sony Broken Eye AF with the Latest Firmware Update?

See my Sony mirrorless wishlist.

Update: see reader comments after original post further below. I’ll need to retest, paying attention to the new requirements for how to use it, which have changed. I have not confirmed what is found in this post on Sony Eye AF behavior by Brian Smith. There are several variables involved, a key one being the size of the AF spot, but also whether Eye AF is used with a custom button or via shutter press—crazy confusing and why Sony does not have a white paper explaining all this I dunno. I’ll have to explore and test this all.

This is what Sony has to say on Eye AF in the overview. It pretty much looks like one should use wide-AF area when using Eye AF. The instruction manual as I downloaded it today is terrible—I cannot even find anything on Eye AF in it (page 37 mentions focus area but no mention of Eye AF).

Reliable eye tracking, in all conditions

Catch the eye for superb portraiture. Eye AF uses Sony’s remarkable wide AF area and accurate eye detection to open up unimagined freedom of composition, so you can explore creative expression like never before(1).

Enhanced Real-time Eye AF(1)

A subject's eyes can be detected as soon as the shutter button is half-pressed, then tracked continuously in AF-C mode with outstanding accuracy.

Choose your subject's left eye or right eye(1)

Now you can choose Left Eye, Right Eye, or Auto from the menu in advance, leaving you free to pay more attention to composition. These selections can be assigned to custom buttons, allowing you to quickly toggle between choices while mid-shoot.

(1) Eye AF may not always work as intended, depending on the shooting scene and conditions. Function availability and detection performance may vary by models (software version). Tracking available only in AF-C mode.

There is a thread about Sony Eye AF at dpreview.com which raises some interesting questions.

Original post plus comments

I updated the firmware on my Sony A7R III a few days ago and then configured the camera for Face/Eye AF (it is disturbing that Eye AF is now lumped together with "face", the two being radically different when working at wider apertures or close range), and "human".

The next day I shot 14 portrait images with the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM at close range. Of those one (1) image had a sharp iris of the eye. The other 13 were all junk-focused—very blurry iris of the eye, with sharp eyelashes and eyebrows or similar. The subject had eyeglasses on, if that somehow matters.

Possibly I am doing something wrong, but how? If the camera is set for Eye AF and "human" what else am I supposed to do?

If it’s configured correctly, I now have to rate Sony Eye AF as total garbage.

Reader David B writes:

Its changed configuration in various ways.

If you have it set it to time face/eye and you are not using wide area, if will only work under the movable focus point you have chosen (unless you go with wide area) You don’t have to find the eye if you have it set this way; you just have to move the AF point over, roughly, the area where you want eyes found. By setting focus to wide area for these purposes it will find eyes everywhere. Using an AF override button may make sense if you want to use it this way.

It’s possible to set it so that it has the previous behaviour, working when you press a dedicated button only... previously, Eye AF was assigned to a button, and it only looked for eyes while the button was pressed. With the new firmware, by default - if it’s turned on - it scans for eyes continuously and will focus on them with a half press of the shutter. If you prefer the old behaviour (and I do for some purposes) it can be turned on.

DIGLLOYD: nice of Sony to do a terrible job explaining it. I will have to retest. It’s all well and good with a programmable button on GM lenses, but on others, switching between Eye AF on/off also means changing the size of the focus area—what a hassle. When I shot initially as per above, I used the smallest focus spot and put it near the eye, which might explain why only 1 of 14 images had a sharp eye—if the camera doesn’t look outside the spot it’s not going to find an eye.

Terence M writes:

I was planned on doing the firmware update next week on my Sony A7RIII but since your recent comments on the updated Eye AF, its on hold. Any plan to test the Eye AF with a portrait lens?

DIGLLOYD: yes, when I can corral a suitable 'victim'.

Reader Dr S writes:

Could you be clear about what settings you use when you do your Eye AF on the Sony? After reading your comment about issues w/FW 3.00 or .01 I tested my upgraded cam w/few lenses.

One could put the cam on a tripod, VR off, and eye'AF AF-S or AF-C. So far I have tested without a tripod but with solid technique (yeah right!) to minimize camera shake and a very steady model. I have found with hand-holding the hit rate w/Af-S is abysmal but high with AF-C. Again please either tell me or direct me to a link on your site that describes your "portraiture" technique.

Thanks and your daughter must be getting pretty tired being your model. My wife quit long ago.

I responded saying:

I have always use AF-S with Sony with high hit rate (until current firmware). Eye AF ought to lock on and a fraction of a second later the picture is taken, so AF-C should not be needed. But if you say it is so, perhaps it is. Sony has not updated their manual and I could not even find Eye AF in the one I downloaded 2 days ago.

1. Place the (fairly large) focusing spot on the subject face

2. Half press the button, watch the camera indicate it found the eye

3. expose.

There should be no special technique needed!

Dr S continues:

Yup.... prior to the FW upgrade I used AF-S with a high, almost uncanny hit rate. New FW sucks.

Got out my old A7r2 and it behaved quite well in AF-S. Sony's got to fix it! They had a winner and the workaround w/AF-C doesn't cut it. I wonder what will happen when the Z7 is upgraded. Film at 11!

DIGLLOYD: I guess I'll have to set it to AF-C and see what happens. But that's a disaster when doing mixed shooting; can't be consantly switching 3 or 4 settings to configure back/forth.


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