3 Tips for Creative Control with the Sony NEX

On Monday we posted our absolutely enormous review of the Sony NEX, and chatted a ton about how awesome it is for people wanting to shoot their travels and their lives! And that probably got you pretty excited! Either to get a NEX, or even just to take whatever little camera you have and get out and shoot.

So, today we’re going to give you three tips for having creative control over the Sony NEX.

Tip #1: Shoot In Manual Mode

One of the fastest ways to learn about light and the technical stuff of photography is to shoot in manual mode. It forces you to understand what is going on, and how to adjust for the scene in front of you. And it lets you make the creative decision about the exposure! Don’t let your camera do your thinking for you!

Even though manual mode is a bit scarier at first, you’ll pick it up quickly if you stick with it, and soon you won’t want to shoot in any other mode! Honest. You’ll get addicted to being in total control.

Happily, the NEX lets you adjust your settings in Manual mode quite easily. The first thing you need to get familiar with is the flywheel.


That little guy is what you’ll use to make your adjustments. The key is to toggle between shutter speed and aperture by pressing down on the bottom of the flywheel. Then just spin the wheel, and see the results in real-time on the LCD. Mega fast learning tool.

Also, make sure to install the firmware update (see links at bottom of post) and set the center button of the flywheel to switch to ISO. You’ll also control that with the flywheel.


IMAGE DATA: 16mm, 1/4000 SEC, f/4.5, ISO 200
This shot just wouldn’t be possible unless I was taking control of the camera. When the light is behind your subject like this it’s called backlighting, and it totally confuses cameras. The camera will think that you want to expose for the sun, and the result is that your photo is super dark! Shooting manual lets you expose for exactly what you want.

Tip #2: Adjust In The Right Order

Making your shutter speed, aperture and ISO adjustments in the right order will save you a lot of frustration, and help you get your perfect exposure super fast!

First, set your ISO. If you’re shooting outside ISO 200 or ISO 400 is a good bet. Those work for everything from bright sun to cloud. Keeping it low when you’re outside lets you have better image quality as well (less noise in the image). If you’re inside and it’s dark, you could be anywhere from ISO 800 to ISO 3200. If you want to shoot without a flash (which generally looks way better) you’ll need to bump up your ISO to let in more light.

Then, set your aperture. This is a creative decision—how much background blur do you want? If you want to blur as much as possible, set your aperture low (2.8 or 3.5 on the NEX, depending on which lens you’re using). If you want more of the scene in focus, set your aperture higher.

Finally, adjust your shutter speed. This is the last step, and you make the shutter speed adjustment to get the right exposure. The awesome thing about the NEX is that you can see in real-time the exposure you’re going to get before you take the photo. Just adjust until it’s perfect! Shutter speed is going to be the setting that you adjust the most, so get to know it!

Be careful here. If your shutter speed gets too low, you might end up with blurry photos. You probably don’t want to go below 1/60 SEC (the image below is at that speed, and I have a bit of motion blur in his hands as a result). If you are going below that, you’ll need to increase your ISO or lower your aperture to compensate. And practice standing really still to shoot at lower shutter speeds!


IMAGE DATA: 16mm, 1/60 SEC, f/2.8, ISO 800
There was very little light at this steakhouse we visited in Buenos Aires. I had to increase my ISO first because of how dark the room was.

Tip #3: Shoot RAW + Edit in Lightroom

The NEX shoots RAW, so take advantage of that. RAW is the highest quality format to capture your images in, and allows you to bring the best out of the image in post processing. 

See, when you shoot RAW you’ll be able to take full advantage of Lightroom, which is seriously the best program for photo editing. It is super fast and easy to make adjustments to exposure, contrast, brightness and saturation. You can create perfect black and whites, custom colour toning, crop your images, reduce noise and sharpen. And more. Seriously.

When photos come straight out of a digital camera they rarely look great. They need a little TLC. Get into the habit of using Lightroom to spruce up your photos and you’ll be amazed at how much better they look!

And hey, if you are looking to learn how to use Lightroom, we made a video tutorial that’s super easy to follow, and teaches you what you need to know, fast! Check it out now.


IMAGE DATA: 16mm, 1/1000 SEC, f/5.6, ISO 400
The bold lines and shapes in this image made for a killer black and white. I used Lightroom to edit the photo, and get the perfect tones I was looking for!

Is That All Too Much But You Still Want Creative Control?

If all that stuff seems a bit overwhelming, and you’re just not there yet, never fear. There are some other options on theass=”caps”>NEXto give you some control!

First, you can shoot in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode. These give you more control than just sticking it on Auto, but are less work than shooting in Manual.

You can choose from a variety of scene selections (portrait, landscape, sunset, etc.) to adjust the settings to the situation. I used the sunset mode once (when shooting a sunset), and it totally helped!

There’s a mode called Intelligent scene selection on the NEX that lets the camera take care of all the technical stuff. But you can still have some control! You can use the flywheel to control how blurred your background is (more crisp, or more defocused). Sony calls this feature “Background Defocus”, which is really just letting you control aperture without needing to know what the numbers mean.

Finally, the NEX has some Creative Settings to let you add some variety. You can shoot in black and white, or add a bit more pop to your colours.

If you’re just getting into photography, make sure to check out the Shooting Tips built in to the camera. They’ll give you guidance on how to get the shot you’re looking for!

Are you a NEX shooter? What’s your favourite way of shooting with this awesome little camera?

Rob Lim

Hi there, I’m Rob! I’m a photography ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I love all things photography: shooting, teaching and always learning more! If I’m not reading up on the latest photography news, or studying a technique, I’m probably reading a book or planning our next adventure!

Extremely Essential Camera Skills

Extremely Essential Camera Skills

A multi-media tutorial designed to help you get control over your camera, and get creative and confident with your photography.

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53 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. Great review and tips guys!

    The NEX is a truly wonderful little camera.

    Would love to see some test shots with some 3rd party lenses on the Nex as well!

    Keep up the good work!

    Greetings from Budapest :)


  2. Well wouldn't you know – I've been doing it wrong. Ha! Thanks for the tips team – I'm looking forward to doing things right tomorrow!

  3. *@Attila:* Thank you! If we manage to get our hands on some 3rd party lenses we'll definitely post about it!

    And that's so cool that you're from Budapest! We visited in 2005 and absolutely loved it!

    *@Steph:* You betcha! Hope it helps!

  4. Not nec. my "favorite" way to shoot, but flip out the screen, and hold the camera upside down and held over your head. Look up to frame your shot. It can be a bit tricky to hit the shutter button, but it's a good way to get a shot over the heads of a crowd, or anytime you want a high-angle on your subject.

  5. David, that is an AWESOME suggestion! I never thought of shooting like that, but it makes so much sense. Can't wait to try it! Thanks so much for sharing!!

  6. Matt Richards says

    Great article. I mostly use the NEX – 5 for HD video, but these things are good to know in that I'm sure it translates from stills to video to some extent.

    Thanks for the tips

  7. LOVE shooting with my nex. Thanks for the tips on shooting in manual. It's been a little tricky figuring out how to take control b/c in manual, so I've been shooting in Aperture Priority, which works great!! Every one of my friends who tries my camera wants to get one, even though they have the more popular Nikon/Canon cameras. There's no beating the crisp photos from the Nex.

  8. *@Matt:* Thanks for the comment! Glad the tips are helpful!

    *@Heidi:* It is such a fun camera, we find ourselves using it more and more! Aperture priority is a super useful mode too, whatever works best for you!

    And we have a bunch of friends who have gotten an NEX too. You're right, it's a seriously enjoyable camera with amazing results!

  9. Lovely Tips mate…
    I am using Nex5 and its really fun using it.
    Love the sound of Shutter.
    However, I am still learning to use this camera.
    I like to shoot in Manual Mode more often that not.
    There is an issue that i am facing (maybe i am missing something here) as I Increase the F value the Exposure reduces to -2.
    I am sure this a basic question, however i am not able to find an answer to this.
    Kindly help.

  10. Hi SJ!

    So glad you're enjoying the NEX! Now, in Manual Mode, when you increase the aperture (the F value), it reduces the amount of light coming in to the camera, which is why your image is getting darker. To compensate, you need to adjust the shutter speed and ISO. If you'd like to learn more about how to control your camera in Manual mode, check out our "Extremely Essential Camera Skills":http://www.photographyconcentrate.com/extremely-essential-camera-skills/ tutorial!

  11. Hi,

    Your post is very helpful, thanks! And great pics of BA by the way, love the Ateneo bookstore, it is an awesome place.


    “…Also, make sure to install the firmware update (see links at bottom of post) and set the center button of the flywheel to switch to ISO”

    How do I set the center of the wheel for ISO selection? I got the NEX F3.

  12. thanks for the useful tips, i’ve never used manual before but i can already see myself playing with it in the future :)

    • You are most welcome! Once you get comfortable in Manual you feel so much more in control of the camera. Hope you have fun with it!

  13. daniel patricio says


    • Hi Daniel! The NEX has a black and white creative setting (check your manual). You can also convert images into black and white using a program like Lightroom.

  14. Thank you so much, now I’m not afraid to shoot in Manual mode)

  15. My wife and I are taking a cruise to Norway in May and I have just bought the Nex 6 for this trip. I have never really used manual modes on my previous digital cameras like the Sony hlx-1. I’m trying to learn how with this camera and your tips have helped. My ultimate goal is to get a photo to blow up to 2 x 3 foot to put in our living room. Will this camera be able to do the job with a clear photo that is blown up. Can you give me any tips.

    Thanks Mark

  16. thanks so much for the helpful tips!! but, i couldn’t find the link to the firmware for changing the “center button of the flywheel to switch to ISO”. Can you please help me directing me the page?

  17. Hi, I have Sony Nex3 and I’m thinking to go into photography business, mainly portraits and wedding. Which lens should I buy for this purpose and is it a good camera at first place for the same?

  18. I was wondering if you might be able to help me. I have recently bought a Sony Nex 6 and was wondering if there was a way to shoot in black and white (as in seeing black and white on the LCD) but saving in RAW format. Nobody has been able to help me with this, so if you could I would be very grateful :)

  19. I’m glad I found your site. I’ve been looking for some good tips for the Nex cameras all over. You look like you have the articles I’ve been needing. Thanks

  20. Thanks for the tips. I just got an NEX 5 on sale and it is amazing. Genuinely great little camera. I would like to be able to customize the buttons though.

  21. thanks for the tips,i want to shoot my kids and all i can do is keep it at iAuto or anti motion blur to catch them.. ;)

  22. Nice article. I’ve owned the Nex – 7 since it came on the market last year. Great camera! Wish it had a cable release though. I always shoot manual and I shoot raw 95% of the time for the reaons you mentioned.

    The Sony 50mm, f1.8 is a a very sharp lens that produces great imagtes. All for just $300.00. In addition I use the Zeiss 24mm, f1.8. I’ve shot hundreds of images with the 18-55 kit lens. Not a bad lens. Just do some sharpening after wards.

    • Olav Alexander Mjelde says

      Hi, yes.. The SEL-50F18 is a great lens.
      I use the SEL-50F18, also I use the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN Art NEX and the Sigma 19mm f/2.8 DN Art NEX.

      I’ve for the moment stopped using the SEL-1855.

      Here they are attached to NEX-5R and I’ve stopped using the auto-modes.
      Mostly I use the Aperture (A), I set the ISO to a locked value and I adjust the aperture with the upper scrool wheel. Then I focus, but I have the focus set so I can manual override.

      The trick is to hold the shutter button halfway depressed, after it focuses, you start moving the focus ring on the lens. Then you get a closeup preview of the focus area and you can move the closeup around the subject, so you know you are indeed focusing on the right part. When this focus is set and you are happy with the depth of field (if not, adjust the aperture), simply shoot! The SEL-50F18 is great for making some artistic bokeh shots and for low light levels. The 1.5x crop factor means it’s “like a” 75mm (medium range). It might be hard for very close up shots, you may have to be around 5-10 metres away from your subjects.

      The 19 and 30mm sigmas mentioned above, are also good contenders for a low price. You can buy the older models for about half price. Some say it’s got the same glass, others say the ART series has better glass. I dont know which is true, but they are quite good, the ART series.

      Wakling around, the 19mm is good for scenery. The 30mm is good for closeups and macro, but you can use it for scenery too. The 50mm is best for medium range, or closeups where you are not right next to the subject. I imagine the SEL-F5018 is good for video recording, but I have yet to try it for such purpose.

  23. Very helpful post, I am a beginner, and I spent most of my free time reading or watching tips about photography, and it is really helpful to know the sequence in adjusting settings in Manual Mode (ISO, Aperture, then Shutter Speed)

  24. Isn’ t there a light meter when you adjust the aperture and shutter that tells you about having the right exposure before taking the pic? I noticed you didn’t mention that. Does Sony NEX have that light meter indicator? Thanks.

    • Hi Mike!

      Yup the NEX has a lightmeter built in. You couldn’t really adjust aperture, shutter speed or ISO and know how those adjustments had effected exposure without having a light meter indicator built in, which is why I hadn’t thought to mention that it was included.

      • nevermind…i asked the question last week cause i couldn’t see it intially on my 3N, but figured it out now…i had pushed the wrong button on the toggle dial..thanks.

      • It’s a stupid question, but I can’t seem to find the light meter on this camera!! I am wondering where it is when you are looking through the viewfinder, but also where it is when you are using the live view screens.

        Also, is there a way to make a light turn on or a beep when focus is achieved? My Canon does this.

  25. i went to sony website to see if i can upgrade the firmware on my nex 3n and it appears they don’t have any updates? my camera’s version is 1.0….can anyone confirm that it is the latest? Thank you.

  26. thank you so much for the tips. i am a beginner of SLR camera, just bought a Sony nex 5t. before read this article, i don’t even know what is aperture and ISO, and how it related to the picture come out, haha. thanks for teaching how to set those in manual mode, using other mode i feel like bought a SLR but use as a normal digital camera. just wish you can post more tips or samples for us to learn and understand.

  27. I have the latest 05 firmware on my NEX3, but cannot change the soft key settings to enable quick ISO change….any help appreciated
    Just says ” disabled ” in setup, as does the peaking function

    Great site by the way!

  28. I got a Sony RX100 and used it on intelligent mode only. Is possible to adjust settings in similar way that on a NEX camera?

  29. If I’m not planning to use an A mount lens is there any reason to upgrade the firmware? It sounds daunting, but you seemed to link it to having the flywheel set up to change the ISO. However I am able to do that with the L/R key settings. Am I missing something? Thanks.

  30. just bought Nex camera & found this really usefull website.. thanks heaps for sharing skill to the new beginner like me

  31. Just getting started can definitely be overwhelming, but I’m finding your tips and reviews of the Sony NEX so helpful! Thanks so much guys. I’ll definitely be reading more and following in the future.

  32. Marg Pannan says

    I have a NEX 7 and love it. I want to shot RAW in B&W however the only instructions I can find are in picture effects “High Mono Contrast” but won’t accept the RAW shooting mode. Can you give me instructions on how to set my camera to RAW in B&W Seems like a simple task, but damned if I can find it

  33. Hey that was the shortest and best tutorial I’ve had! Lol

    I am having problems to open the raw files in light room directly from the camera, any suggestions?

  34. Thanks…this article helped me get up to speed with the nex 6. I’ve got a bunch of high quality slr lenses that I can use on the nex…so I appreciate your info on using this camera in manual.
    I’m getting Lightroom to work on some pix I took at the Chihuly Exhibition in Denver recently…and some llama/camping pix from last weekend.
    Thanks again, jc

  35. Hi Rob

    Im planning on attempting nighttime photography with my Sony Nex 6 with a group of friends who use Nikon slr’s. any tips and advice would be much appreciated. Ive just switched to manual and love the control I have over my photos, but I’m still learning so not sure what settings would be best
    many thanks karen

  36. How to change micro option it’s fixed program

  37. Thank you for this great info! I want to learn how to take great pics of my kids and am enjoying learning how to use the manual mode! One question though, I can change the shutter speed and the ISO, but I have no clue how to change the aperture. I want a blurry background and can’t figure out which button changes the aperture, right now its stuck at 18 and my pictures are becoming blurry :/ I’m sure I screwed something up along way, I just want to get it back to regular settings! Any help??

  38. Hello

    I have a Sony nex 5 and I barely use it because 1, whenever I upload my pictures and open in Photoshop at the highest setting they are only 8 X 11, why?!?
    Also inside pictures with low lighting is awful

    • @Keli – your dpi settings are likely set too high in photoshop. I suggest getting familiar with the differences between image resolution (pixels) and dimensions (measurement in units, such as inches for example).

      I’ve had my Nex-5 for about 4 years now and I get stunning results when printing enlargements, even 24 inches and up.

      For indoor photos with low lighting, it’s hard to understand exactly what you mean by “awful”. If the photos are too grainy, experiment with lowering your ISO settings a bit. It will make your images darker, so you will need to compensate with lower aperture values and, if your subject is fairly still, see if you can use slower shutter speeds/longer exposure times.

      And of course, when ever possible, supplement your shot with some added light by being subtle and creative with whatever light sources are available to you. By subtle, I mean bouncing light from a lamp off of a wall or off of a white pillow to softly add light to your scene.
      Light is literally the definition of “photo”. Creating a beautiful photo from a low light scene takes skill, creativity, patience, and familiarity with your equipment.
      Setup a bowl of fruit or stuffed animals indoors with mild lighting, and experiment with the different settings (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed). Observe how the image changes as a result of changing the various settings.

      Be patient and play with your camera. :)

  39. I have been struggling a bit with my nex in manual. I feel like the photos always look great in the viewfinder but then not so much on the screen or computer. Tips?

  40. I will be very happy if one of you tell why are my photos black and white during A/P/S mode.
    I saw a lot of videos which all are colourful recorded by aperture mode.
    Please help me guys.

  41. My camera is a Sony NEX-5T. I’m using it to take jewellery images for a website – indoor shots using a table top light box. The jewellery images are clear but the overall photo looks very dull. I’m new to this and wondered if anyone could kindly suggest the perfect setting to take these sort of photos. Many thanks.

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