A-6000 Review

I said I wouldn't...

I said, "It's an incremental upgrade to the NEX6 and since I have a NEX7, I don't need one."

I asked myself, "how fast can that autofocus really be?" and "It will have the same ISO performance since it has the same(ish) sensor."

"I don't need Wi-Fi or apps on a camera", I said with total conviction.

Things aren't always what they seem. At first glance an item may seem to be of only moderate interest but upon closer examination, it has hidden value overlooked during the brief initial evaluation.

What that little foray into philosophy and self-delusion really means is that I gave in and bought an A6000. To be sure, I didn't just wake up one day and say, "Screw it, I'm buying a new camera!" I actually spent quite a bit of time online reading and watching reviews from competent sources, including several who aren't known as Sony fans. The consensus seemed to be that it is a competent camera that performs well above its price range.

Following are my impressions of my new travel companion.  

The A-6000

Look and Feel/Menus and Customization:

While it lacks the brick-like, all-metal build of the NEX-7, it feels solid and the fit and finish is excellent. the controls are enough different from the 7's to cause me a little fumbling at first but after a day or two, I wish the 7's controls could be updated. The custom function buttons are very useful and the Alpha-style menu is a huge improvement (NEX-7 firmware update please, Sony!)

The lower resolution viewfinder is listed as a negative on most of the review sites but I have to strain to see a difference and it handles dim light a bit better than the 7 with less color static. The rear LCD is the same as the 7 but here the new menu system is a vast improvement with a Fn button that allows direct interaction with the status indicators on the LCD sort of like the A700 DSLR. Very, very easy to access settings.


The pop-up flash features the same articulated setup as its predecessors that allows for bouncing within it power limits. My only gripe is that Sony abandoned the excellent Minolta hotshoe for the newer "multi-interface" shoe. I will probably pick up one of the $30 adapters and a new small to medium flash that fits it directly but honestly, I seldom use flash while travelling and I am keeping my A77 (or its successor) for events and studio stuff. Come to think of it, my Alien Bees radio flash commander will fit the new hotshoe without an adapter! Ok...a small plus for the new shoe.

 

The only NEX-7 feature I miss is the dual rear dials while shooting in manual. Not a big deal since I use A-mode most of the time and I won't miss the inadvertent exposure adjustment caused by the outer dial when not in manual mode. Since we're back to controls for a moment, I have to praise the design genius that located a custom button right next to the shutter button. I have programmed it to control focus assist magnification and it has made using manual focus and fine adjustments much easier.



179(!) Point Hybrid Autofocus:

Wow. The NEX-7 is no slouch but was never noted for its blazing autofocus. The A6000 is noted for its blazing autofocus and rightly so. I shoot with the NEX cameras a lot more than the A77 these days and am always shocked when I pick up the DSLR and focus on something. Pop! it's in focus! Well, all I can say is that any new mid-range DSLRs had better have crazy-fast autofocus and huge burst buffers or mirrorless hybrid-focus cameras are going to start eroding their market share even more than they are now. Lightning fast with more focus area options than I care to write about. The three-zone multi-point focus like on the A77 has become my favorite but I will be exploring more during the months leading up to our next cruise. It does hunt a bit in really low light but no worse than most and better than some DSLRs at and above its price range that I've played with. The autofocusing with the 16-50 PZ is pretty amazing and if it is any better with a lens like the 70-200 f/4 FE lens, it may lead to a lot of soul-searching before I spend any money on a new DSLR.


Burst Shooting:

Burst shooting? You betcha! I am used to really fast burst shooting from the A77 and wasn't disappointed. The A6000 is only 1 fps slower than the A77's 12 fps speed-priority mode and will maintain autofocus and metering for each frame. The A77 has to "slow down" to 8 fps to match that. The buffer is a lot larger than the NEX-7 and even larger than the A77. Unlike the A77, it needs 15-20 seconds to clear after a long burst (up to 49 JPEG/22 RAW) which may be an issue if you shoot a lot of action. If you only shoot heavy action occasionally or limit yourself to short bursts to catch the peak moment, the burst speed and its ability to track focus performs far above entry-level DSLRs and most-mid-range models.


Image Quality:

The NEX-7 was a incremental step up from the A77 in my opinion, probably due to not having the mirror stealing some of the light. The A6000 is at least one full stop better in low light and in my opinion, shoots acceptable (your mileage may vary) images up to ISO 12,800. At low ISO in good light, all three produce spectacular detail with excellent color. the A6000's AWB with CFL or incandescent lighting is hit and miss but that is true for almost any camera these days with 1000 different temperatures available in residential lighting. Fortunately, setting a custom white balance is ridiculously easy and the results are spot-on.

Bottom line? If you are coming from a NEX-7, you will be pleasantly surprised. if you are coming from a "Sweet-Sixteen" camera by Sony, Nikon, Pentax or any other that uses the Sony 16.1MP APS-C sensor, you're in for a bigger surprise. The detail captured with a good lens and normal care in how you shoot is pretty amazing.


Why I Now Need WiFi on a Camera:

'Cause this one has APPS! (See below.) Other than that, it is of marginal use at this time since I use a Windows phone. While I prefer the performance, desktop integration, awesome camera and intuitive interface, it's a bit of a pain to be last on the dev list for things like camera controls and smart home stuff. I will likely dig out my old RAZR Maxx and set it up as a camera remote control just to say I did. In practical use, I seldom (if ever) need a remote in a way the wireless Sony RMTDSLR2 can't provide.


Why I Now Need Apps on a Camera:

You know that convenient, inexpensive wireless intervalometer you use on your older NEX camera for time-lapse and astrophotography? Yeah...that one. The one that doesn't exist. Well, now there's an app for that. There are several apps available with many of them being free. Some of the paid apps have the same functions as those already on the A6000 and seem to be available as upgrades for the web-enabled models that don't have the option built-in. The Time Lapse app is really pretty cool. In addition to all of the interval settings, it can be set to create a movie automatically at the end of the sequence. There are also Motion Shot and Star Trail apps that look like they have some potential. The Time Lapse intervalometer app was only $10 (cheaper than the wired Chinese knock-off controllers) and has me smiling for now.


The Return of Tethering:

Absent from Sony/Minolta cameras I've owned since my Konica-Minolta A2, tethering has returned!

It's pretty limited but I'm hopeful that it will evolve. Hey, it's a step forward!


The New 16-50 Power Zoom:

My original SELP1650 that came with my NEX3 was a good walkabout lens with reasonably good image quality and was amazingly compact (for what it is) when powered down and retracted. I bought the A6000 with another 16-50 and a kit because of the sad little reminder sitting on the desk in front of me as I write this. During a recent trip to Disneyland, I snapped a picture in the courtyard between the two parks upon arrival then proceeded immediately into the park. Immediately. Quicker than the time-out setting on my camera. The time-out that would have retracted the lens and kept it from wedging between my hip bone and the turnstile as I went through. BlackRapid is still my favorite strap but I learned a valuable lesson involving strap length, clearance and the fragility of kit lenses. So how much better does the younger sibling of the permanently extended, slightly angled corpse sitting on my desk perform? Can't tell. My old copy was pretty good and this one seems to be at least as good. Focusing speed seem about the same so I would guess that any improvements were minor refinements. Not as sharp as my Sigma primes but as a travel lens with jacket pocket portability, it is hard to beat.

FYI, I ordered the new 12mm f/2.0 Rokinon at the same time and preliminary playtime shows it to be a real winner. Very sharp even at f/2.0 and distortion seems pretty minimal from what I've seen so far. I've always wanted to do Milky Way shots out away from the home town light pollution and I now have a camera/lens combo that should work just fine. I'll do an article on the process when I get around to getting out there to try it out.


The Only Camera I'll Ever need?

No. That camera doesn't exist yet. I will not be selling my A77 or NEX7 anytime soon. The 7 is still a workhorse and while it lacks some of the next-generation improvements, it is still the great camera that lured me into buying it a couple of years ago. It will also be a better second body than my trusty little NEX3N. The A77 is still superior in handling long lenses and its battery life with the battery grip is good for any day of shooting. I may replace it if Sony comes out with an A-mount version of the A7 family with Canikon-killer features but for now it still has a home.

That wraps it up for now. Having come from an A77 and a NEX-7, I am not "blown away" by the A6000 but I am very pleased with its performance and not at all regretful of the (reasonable) expense for what now appears to be a decent upgrade of several vital performance points.



Happy shooting!

Sample Images

1/20s - f/5.6 - ISO 3200
1/8s - f/3.5 - ISO 3200
1/40s - f/5.6 - ISO 12800
1/50s - f/4.5 - ISO 3200
1/50s - f/4.5 - ISO 3200
1/60s - f/5.6 - ISO 250
Rokinon 12mm - 1/4000s - f/2.0 - ISO100
Rokinon 12mm - 100% Center Crop
Rokinon 12mm - 1/2500s - f/5.6 - ISO100
Rokinon 12mm - 100% Center Crop
Rokinon 12mm - 100% Corner Crop
Rokinon 12mm - 10s - f/2 - ISO 6400