We review the Sony A6000!
I've had a love/hate relationship with Sony digital cameras. I love what Sony is doing with digital image capture -- their take on the technology is second to none. But, I've always struggled to make sense of the physical and menu interface of Sony cameras, which feels little clunky and user-unfriendly to me. However, all of this has changed with the recent release of the Sony A6000.
In a nutshell, this is a terrific camera that fits all the features and functions of a 1.5x crop sensor (APS-C) camera into a lightweight body perfect for portability and travel. Supported by a solid array of E-mount lenses on offer, including a number of amazingly fast prime lenses from Sony, Zeiss and Sigma, the A6000 could well be the go-to camera for photography enthusiasts looking for everything a DSLR offers without the bulk and weight usually associated with DSLR cameras.
For those familiar with Sony’s NEX system, the A6000 replaces the NEX6 just as the A7 (and A7R and A7S) replaces Sony’s flagship NEX 7. The A6000 is Sony’s top level 1.5x crop frame camera (the A7 series is full frame) and boasts the full complement of functions and controls traditionally associated with enthusiast-level DSLRs such as the Canon 70D and the Nikon D7100. With its impressive set of autofocus points (and what it claims to be the fastest autofocus in the current market) and its ability to shoot 11 frames per second, it looks to trump its bigger and sturdier Canon and Nikon cousins.
The beauty of the A6000 comes down to its design. It comfortably fits into the palm of your hand, yet is packed with a user-friendly physical interface that combines a series of dials, wheels and buttons with an easily accessible quick menu (accessed via the Fn button, familiar to stalwart Sony users). Where the A6000 excels is in its customisable wheels and buttons – you can assign a range of functions, including aperture and shutter speed control, AEL, back-button focus, exposure metering and more, to these buttons and wheels.
In fact, the A6000 interface is so reminiscent of a DSLR that it does not take long before it feels comfortably familiar in your hands. It sports two wheels – one located at the top right of the camera and another at the back of it -- that allow users to control aperture and shutter speed when shooting in Manual Exposure. In programme AE, aperture and shutter priority, the back wheel adjusts exposure compensation, familiarly duplicating the function of the back wheel in higher end Canon DSLRs. I was able to quickly customise the buttons and wheels on the A6000 to my favourite configuration, including setting up back button focus on the AEL button.
The A6000 autofocus is rock solid. I’ve already mentioned the impressive number of AF points and its super quick autofocus even in lower light conditions, but what blew me away was the performance of the A6000’s continuous autofocus with subject tracking – it’s fast to focus and tracks like a charm. This is astounding given the size and price point of the camera! Coupled with a telephoto zoom, the A6000 makes for a fantastic camera for sports/wildlife photographers. I spent time shooting at the Esplanade Youth Plaza in Fremantle with the camera set to AF-C and focus tracking active to keep of skateboarders there and the AF rarely missed a beat.
The autofocus tracking on the A6000 is excellent!
The A6000’s 24.3MP sensor means that this camera can capture a lot of detail and that its RAW image files offer a lot of scope for post-production work. I was impressed with the sensor’s ability to resolve high ISO images – I had no compunction shooting at ISO1600 as visible noise (lumo and chroma) was pretty much non-existent. At a recent workshop, I shot low-key window-lit portraits with the 50mm f1.8 with fantastic results.
Portrait shooting with the A6000 and Sony SEL 50mm f1.8 lens
The A6000 does sport a few quirks that on face value seem unusual given the design improvements that Sony has made between the NEX series and the A6000. I’m quite baffled by the fact the A6000 comes without a battery charger; instead, you’re provided with a micro USB lead that lets you connect and charge the batter in-camera to a power point or computer. A charger can be purchased separately for a small outlay, but it still doesn’t make much sense as to why Sony would leave this out of the box. The A6000’s battery life is also rather average, which makes a battery charger even more critical so that spare batteries can be charged ready for use.
As with its NEX predecessor, the Sony A6000 doesn’t separate its auto exposure bracketing from its continuous shooting and self-timer modes, which makes it a bit of a pain if you’re planning on taking bracketed shots and using the self-timer to avoid camera shake when the picture is taken. A remote shutter release is thus a must if you intend to bracket your shots for HDR processing later. Having said that, the bracketing options are fantastic. The A6000 provides a bevy of options for EV ranges and number of frames per bracket – I could see why the likes of HDR evangelists such as Trey Retcliff sing praises to the Sony.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) images produced from three bracketed exposures on the Sony A6000.
The current range of lenses available for Sony E-mount cameras (including the A6000) is fairly extensive. You can opt for your standard wide-angle zooms and telephoto zooms for general walkaround/travel shooting. However, what impressed me most were the fast prime lenses courtesy of Sony, Sigma and Zeiss that are available in the E-mount and at prices that won’t break the bank account. I tested the A6000 with the Sony 50mm f1.8 and the Sigma 35mm f2.8 Art lens. Both impressed – particularly the 50mm f1.8, which was tack sharp even at f1.8. Zeiss has also released two impressive prime lenses – the 32mm f1.4 and the 14mm 2.8 – which make great additions to the kit.
The A6000 opens up the mirrorless camera market to photographers who are looking for the power and control they would expect from a DSLR in a smaller and definitely more portable body. Its price point puts it around $300 to $500 cheaper than enthusiast level DSLRs, yet it’s no less powerful or feature-packed and, in some respects, surpasses some of the functions on offer by mid-range DSLRs. Its size and weight make it the ideal travel and walkaround camera and its tilting LCD screen means that you don’t always have to have your camera level with your eyes in order to take a shot.
The Sony A6000 is perfect for the new photographer looking for a great start-up camera that comes with all bells and whistles, or the DSLR photographer looking for a smaller second camera to use at times when the DSLR would be too bulky, heavy or conspicuous. Sony has definitely created a winner here and photographers will be better for it.
24.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor
Bionz X image processor
Hybrid AF system with 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points
Built-in flash + Multi-Interface Shoe
11 fps continuous shooting with subject-tracking
3-inch tilting LCD with 921,600 dots
OLED electronic viewfinder with 1.44M dots
Diffraction correction, area-specific noise reduction, and detail reproduction technology
Full HD video recording at 1080/60p and 24p; clean HDMI output
Wi-Fi with NFC capability and downloadable apps
Image quality: 10/10
Value for money: 10/10
Feature rich: 9/10