Sony A6000 Review
The Sony A6000 is a new compact system camera featuring a 24.3-megapixel Exmor APS HD CMOS sensor, BIONZ X processor, a sensitivity range of ISO 100-25600, Fast Hybrid AF for optimal fast and precise autofocus as quick as 0.06sec with 25 contrast-detect and 179 phase-detect points covering 92% of the image, 11fps burst shooting with autofocus tracking, OLED Tru-Finder, Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, downloadable PlayMemories Camera Apps, a built-in flash and Multi Interface Shoe. Other highlights include a shooting mode dial, two control wheels, a dual-axis electronic level gauge, Sweep Panorama mode and 1080p video recording at 60/50/24fps. Available in black or titanium, the Sony A6000 is available for £550 / $650 body only and £670 / $800 with the 16-50mm OSS Power Zoom lens. In the UK, it's also sold in a double-zoom kit with the 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses, priced from £800, and with the 16-70mm Carl Zeiss lens for £1400.
Ease of Use
The new Sony A6000 slots into Sony's range of mirrorless cameras between the consumer-focused A5000 and the range-topping but older NEX-7, and adds a number of features and functions that you cannot find in either of those models. Outwardly it looks a lot like the previous NEX-6 model, at least at first glance. The front of the camera is dominated by the relatively large, rubberised hand-grip, which enables users to hold the camera comfortably, and also conceals the shared battery / memory card compartment at its base.
Curiously our A6000 review unit came with the FE 35mm f/2.8 lens, which you can't actually buy in a kit with the A6000, but which is a good test of the camera's image quality. Most people will probably purchase the A6000 with the Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS power zoom, which is currently the smallest E-mount zoom lens When not in use, this lens retracts into its housing, much like a compact camera lens, contributing a lot to the low profile of the Sony A6000 and making the combination compact enough to fit in a large coat pocket. The downside of using a collapsible power zoom is that it causes start-up (and wake-up) times to be longer than usual. Those who aren't keen on the idea of shooting with a power zoom can of course buy the camera in a body-only configuration.
On the forward-sloping edge at the top of the hand-grip we find the shutter release encircled by a nicely rigid on/off switch. In use, we have found that the A6000's shutter release was less sensitive to a half-press than that of most other cameras – essentially it required more like a “three-quarters-press” to do anything. Some photographers will like this, whereas to others the relative insensitivity of this button may give the false impression that the camera is less responsive than it actually is. As to the shutter itself, it's louder and clunkier in action than most other compact system cameras; somewhat reminiscent of the mirror return of an SLR. To most users this won't be an issue but if you need to work absolutely discreetly and quietly, you might want to take a look at some of the A6000's mirrorless competitors.
Press the shutter release button down halfway and, after a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of focus/exposure adjustment, the AF point/s highlight in green accompanied by a beep of affirmation to indicate that the user is good to continue on and take the shot. Do so, and in single shot mode a full resolution JPEG is written to memory in about 2 seconds. Note that it's quite a long-winded process to change the AF point on the A6000 - by default, you have to access the Focus Area menu via the Fn button, choose Flexible Spot (Small, Medium or Large settings), then use the navigation pad on the rear to choose the AF point, somewhat slower than other cameras including Sony's own A7/7R models. There is the option to also shoot Raw files, or even more usefully for those who wish to hedge their bets Raw and JPEG images in tandem. You also get Fine or Normal compression levels offered for JPEGs. The Sony A6000 also offers a very impressive burst shooting rate of 11fps, impressively both at full 24 megapixel resolution and with autofocus tracking, something that its main rivals can't compete with.
Alongside the shutter release is a useful, customisable C1 button which by default provides access to the Focus Mode settings. You can change the function assigned to this button from within the Setup menu. Viewed from the rear and starting from the left, on the A6000's top plate there's an ISO standard hot-shoe that accepts generic centre-contact flash units, which is great news for strobists and anyone using standard hotshoe-mounted accessores. Dedicated Sony/Minolta system flashes that have a non-standard foot can be mounted with the help of a separately sold hot-shoe adapter. Sheltered underneath the housing at the front of the hot-shoe we find a number of connector pins that allow users to mount a range of proprietary Sony accessories, which is why the company calls this accessory port a 'Multi Interface Shoe' rather than just a flash hotshoe.
Next to this accessory shoe is the A6000's built-in pop-up flash. To pop up this flash you need to press a dedicated button at the top of the rear plate – in use we have found this recessed button to be a little fiddly, requiring a rather strong press to do its job. A clever hinged design allows the flash to be raised high above the lens to avoid red-eye issues The flash settings can be modified from within the Camera menu, while the AE Lock button can be reprogrammed to provide easy access to flash exposure compensation. This is seldom needed though – as long as your subject is within range, the flash provides consistently good exposures,. Our only gripes with this flash are the low guide number (GN 6 in metres at ISO 100/21°) and the fact that it cannot act as a commander for wirelessly slaved system flashes – even though the camera itself has the capability, you still need a compatible hotshoe-mounted external unit to use that feature.
On the right-hand side of the top plate – still viewed from the rear – we find a shooting mode dial. Aside from standard shooting modes like Programmed Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual, this dial has separate markings for Intelligent Auto, Superior Auto, Scene Modes and even Sweep Panoramas. The chief difference between Intelligent Auto and Superior Auto is that in the latter mode the camera might decide to shoot a quick series of images for automatic HDR exposure blending if it determines that the luminosity range of the scene is wider than the dynamic range of the sensor. The mode dial itself is quite stiff, but lesss so than the NEX-6, so your chances of inadvertently switching to another shooting modes are pretty low. Completing the A6000's top plate is a thumb-controlled command dial for changing the aperture/shutter speed.
Even in Intelligent Auto mode users still have the ability to get hands on to a degree thanks to the Photo Creativity mode. This provides easy-to-understand control over a number of key parameters via a series of interactive on-screen sliders, with the real-time preview on the LCD providing instant feedback to the beginner target audience. In addition to controlling the background defocus, with a half moon shaped indicator appealing on-screen to the side of the scroll wheel, defocus at the bottom of the arc, 'crisp' at the top, you can also change the vividness, brightness and colour of the image, plus add a Picture Effect or the Soft Skin Effect, and set the self-timer and burst shooting options. You can even apply more than one option at a time and go back and individually change them if you wish.
|Front||Tilting LCD Screen|
The rear plate of the Sony A6000 looks remarkably similar to that of the NEX-6, the majority of it taken up by the large articulated LCD that stretches from the base to the top plate. The Sony A6000 offers switchable framing lines and a live histogram in both the LCD screen and the viewfinder. The A6000 also has a clever eye level sensor that switches off the rear screen's info display as you bring your eye close to the excellent viewfinder, although be aware that this might cause a slight inconvenience when shooting from the hip if your body blocks the eye proximity sensor.
One of the most useful ways to set up the EVF and LCD is to compose your shots with the former and use the latter as an interactive status screen. In this view, you can check all of the camera's important shooting settings at a glance, and even modify 12 of them by first pressing the Function button and then moving about the screen using the navigation pad. By using the rear screen as an interactive status display you can mostly save yourself from having to delve into the menu. The LCD is hinged but only flips up and down – you cannot fold it out as on some competing models. Also missing is any sort of touchscreen functionality – while many of you will never miss this, we think it's a pity that you cannot set the active focus point by touch, again something offered by rival models. Also, given that the Sony A6000 offers built-in Wi-Fi it would have been nice to be able to enter passwords and other text via an onscreen virtual keyboard in the same way that you do on most smartphones.
Above this display is a high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder. Offering a resolution of 1,440,000 dots, 100% scene coverage, a bright, high contrast image and a high magnification, the A6000's EVF is very similar in specification to the Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 bridge camera and good enough that we used it for the majority of our shooting in both good light and bad. The placement of the finder in the upper left corner of the backplate is another plus point as it allows you to look into the EVF without pressing your nose against the rear screen – unless you're left-eyed, of course. Still on the topic of the EVF/LCD, the Sony A6000 has an excellent focus peaking feature available when you are using the camera in manual focus mode. This function enhances the outline of in-focus ranges with a specific colour (red, yellow or white depending on user preference) in the viewfinder or on the rear screen. The peaking level can be fine-tuned via the Setup menu.
Press the Menu button on the rear and six icons appear on screen - Camera Settings, Custom Settings, Wireless, Applications, Playback and Setup. Choosing one of these opens a text-based menu system with with white text on a black background aiding visibility. The six Camera Settings folders allow users to select image size, ratio and quality and - if JPEG (RAW and RAW+JPEG also available) - compression rates too, plus features like long exposure and high ISO noise reduction - all in fact activated as a default, and also contains the video quality and audio options, while the four Custom Settings folders allow you to tweak the A6000 to your way of working.
In addition to the Flash and Menu buttons, the Sony A6000 has a very useful AEL button, which also doubles up in Playback mode to quickly zoom to 1:1 pixel view to check for critical sharpness. As previously mentioned, the Function button underneath usefully accesses 12 of the camera's important shooting settings, which you can customise, and when playing back an image it accesses one of the wi-fi settings. Underneath is an unmarked button encircled by a scroll wheel that you can use to set the shutter speed or navigate menus. The top, right, bottom and left parts of this wheel can also be used as navigation buttons, much like a classic four-way pad. In Record mode, four different functions are mapped unto this navigation pad including Display, ISO, Exposure Compensation and Self-timer / Drive Mode. The last two controls on the rear of the Sony A6000 are the self-explanatory Playback button and another customisable C2 button, which by default accesses the Help menu and also doubles-up as the image delete button. The A6000 actually offers 7 customisable buttons and 43 (fixed) assignable functions, letting you fine-tune the camera to suit your shooting preferences.
The Sony A6000 offers both built-in Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity. This gives you a number of options. With the free Play Memories Mobile app, you can control the camera remotely from your smartphone via Wi-Fi, although in our experience the control options are quite limited for the time being. You can see the camera's live view feed on your phone's screen, set exposure compensation and take a picture remotely but that's it basically – and communication between camera and phone can be quite slow too. It's also possible to hook the camera up to an existing Wi-Fi network – though as noted earlier, the lack of touchscreen functionality means entering passwords isn't fun – and access Sony's Play Memories service if it's available in your country. This in turn allows you to download Play Memories camera apps to the A6000. Some of these camera apps are free and potentially useful, such as Direct Upload which enables you to send selected photos from your camera directly to Facebook via Wi-Fi. Not all apps are free though, which is all the more surprising given that the selection of available apps is still rather limited. The A6000 also features NFC (Near Field Communication) technology (the same technology that's used for mobile payments), which allows you to connect it to a compatible internet enabled device or another NFC-enabled camera by simply tapping them together.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
Apart from taking still photos, the Sony A6000 is also capable of shooting videos in either AVCHD or MP4 format with clean HDMI output. The HDTV-friendly AVCHD videos can be either interlaced or progressive, and offer a variety of frame rates (60p/50p/60i/50i/25p/24p). They can also be burnt to Blu-ray disks or DVDs using the supplied Play Memories Home software. By contrast, MP4 videos are easier to edit and share on a PC – if not with the Play Memories Home program – but are only recorded as 1440x1080 pixel or VGA video files at a frame rate of approximately 30fps. The Sony A6000 has built-in stereo microphones but lacks a standard microphone jack, meaning you cannot use a third-party external mic to record audio with your movie clips. Video recording can be initiated at any time by pressing the dedicated, camcorder-style video record butto on the rear thumbgrip, which is quite difficult to reach and certainly not comfortable to operate, but at least prevents accidental operation.
By entering Playback mode via its dedicated button, you can review your photos and videos – though curiously, not both at the same time. You have to go into the menu to select whether you want to play back your photos, MP4 clips or AVCHD videos. This can be surprising at first and mildly annoying in the long run. Do note that if you have the 16-50mm power zoom attached to the camera, it will retract into its housing if you spend too much time in Playback. This also means that when you go back to Record mode you'll have to wait until it extends again, meaning you might miss a fleeting moment. Not only that, but when the lens does extend it will invariably default to the 16mm position, even if you'd had it set to a different focal length before it retracted.
At the base of the A6000 we find a metal screw thread for a tripod directly beneath the lens mount, and a compartment storing the rechargeable lithium-ion battery which offers a resonable 310-shot lifespan. A short mains cable is also provided along with a small adapter/transformer, but if you plan on buying a spare battery it's advisable to also invest in an external charger, otherwise you won't be able to use one battery in the camera while the other is charging. The memory card slot is located on the left-hand side of the camera when viewed from the rear, here Sony reaching out to a wider audience by offering SD/SDHC/SDXC compatibility alongside its own Memory Stick. The left hand flank is also where users will find a covered port for HDMI connectivity and Sony's Multi port. Only the USB cable was provided with our review sample; there's no standard definition AV output. There's also a small built-in speaker for reviewing audio in the field on the bottom and protruding metal strap eyelets on either side of the camera.