Sony A6500 Review
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The Sony A6500 replaces the 8-month-old A6300 as Sony’s premium APS-C Alpha offering. The A6500 retains a similar outward appearance to its predecessor, featuring full weather sealing against dust and moisture ingress, but now has in-body 5-axis stabilization, a touch-enabled LCD screen, a bigger buffer for continuous shooting, new C2 | C1 custom buttons on the top plate, a high-durability shutter mechanism (up to 200,000 frames) and a redesigned menu interface. The A6500 can capture 4K 3840 x 2160 video at 30fps, along with Full HD 1080p content at 120fps, and the 24.2MP sensor features a cutting edge design that enables the A6500 to record at ISO 51200. The camera features no fewer than 425 phase detection AF points that cover almost the entire image frame, which helps ensure accurate subject tracking, and with the aid of Sony’s powerful Bionz X image processor, gives the A6500 a claimed focussing speed of just 0.05 seconds. The Sony A6500 also offers extensive control customisation, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth, a 2.36-million dot viewfinder, a tiltable 922k-dot LCD screen, and 11 fps continuous shooting with full autofocus and autoexposure. The Sony A6500 costs £1499 / $1399 / €1700 body-only.
Ease of Use
Externally the Sony A6500 closely resembles the previous A6300, but this is no bad thing as the design and control layout are very intuitive and ergonomic. The A6500 now has a deeper hand grip that is more comfortable to hold on to. Combine it with the sizable rear thumb rest and the A6500 feels totally secure when shooting one-handed. Useful, as at 453g with battery and memory card, the new camera is 50g heavier than its predecessor. The A6500 is also 4.5mm thicker at 53.3mm, though length and width remain the same at 120 x 66.9mm. The A6500 has a tough magnesium alloy body shell that incorporates full weather sealing. Other minor external improvements include a softer eyecup, a slightly larger shutter release button and an extra custom button.
The A6500 has the same 2.36 million dot OLED electronic viewfinder as the A6300, which also features a 120fps high frame rate setting to help track moving subjects more smoothly with virtually no lag. It all adds up to an exceptionally natural viewing experience with outstanding colour accuracy, detail and contrast. The same is true of the 3-inch widescreen LCD monitor, though disappointingly this retains the same 922k resolution as the A6300. It also uses an identical tilting bracket, giving 90 degrees of upward rotation and 45 degrees downward tilt. It’s a real help when shooting from a high or low angle, but a flip-out screen would be even more versatile. Sony have finally added touch sensitivity to the screen, which makes functions like focus point selection easier and more intuitive, and it even works while looking through the electronic viewfinder, although in practice we found it frustratingly laggy and slow to use.
The A6500 is Sony's latest camera with optical 5-axis image stabilization. Most image stabilization systems compensate for camera shake by correcting yaw and pitch. Sony claim that camera shake is actually caused by five different kinds of motion, and their image stabilization mechanism additionally corrects for horizontal shift, vertical shift and rotary motion (rolling) for both still images and movies. The A6500 offers 5-stops of compensation, with the in-body system ensuring that the A7S II can stabilize all kinds of lenses, not just those with the FE designation, including E-mount lenses without Optical SteadyShot (OSS) and A-mount lenses as well, although third party lenses without any electronic contacts only benefit from three axes of compensation, and you need to input which focal length you’re using.
|Front of the Sony A6500|
The Sony A6500’s controls are almost identical to those on the A6300 and include the same dual wheel layout with a primary control dial on the top panel and a secondary rear-panel wheel that doubles as the 4-way navigation buttons. It’s a reasonably ergonomic setup, though we’d still prefer an additional control dial positioned near to the shutter release, enabling simultaneous thumb and forefinger settings adjustment. The auto exposure lock button, located directly alongside the thumb rest, is sited within a lever switch that gives the button two functions. Set the switch to AEL and you can meter light and lock exposure independently of the shutter release. But with the switch set to AF/MF, the exposure lock button instead activates manual focus during autofocussing, or switches the focus mode to auto when in manual mode. The A6500 has two new metering modes. as well two new metering modes - Highlight, where exposure metering is focused on the brightest area of the frame, and Entire Screen Avg, which maintains an average metering for the entire image. Another useful focussing feature is Eye-Start AF. By activating this via the main menu, the A6500 uses the viewfinder’s eye detection sensor to not only activate the EVF when it senses your eye, but also autofocus the camera.
But it’s Sony’s enhanced phase-detection AF system that really steals the limelight. The A6500 has a whopping 425 points, and they’re spread over almost the entirety of the sensor area. Sony claims that this is more PDAF points than any other compact system camera , and it helps the camera achieve a quoted focussing time of just 0.05 seconds. We couldn’t quite match Sony’s figures during our testing with a 16-70mm ZA OSS lens fitted, but we did record a nonetheless impressive 0.15-second lock-on speed, which when combined with instantaneous shutter response makes for extremely quick shooting speed.
The other advantage of having 425 PDAF points is AF tracking accuracy. Rather than utilise every AF point during subject tracking, the camera uses a low density array of AF points over the entire frame and only throws the maximum focus point density at the area covering your subject. This way you get precise focus tracking while also conserving processing and battery power.
|Rear of the Sony A6500|
It’s not just continuous focussing that gets a boost though, as continuous shooting is also enhanced. On paper the A6500 is no faster than the A6300, with both cameras capable of shooting at 11fps. However, most compact system cameras can’t shoot this fast without the LCD or EVF display lagging behind or even blacking out until the burst is over. Sony hasn’t been able to completely combat the issue with the A6500, but it has come up with a compromise. In Continuous Hi+ mode the camera shoots at the maximum 11fps with the usual screen lag, but switch to Continuous Hi mode and you’ll get a 8fps with almost no perceptible lag. Additionally, the maximum buffer for high-speed continuous shooting is now an impressive 307 frames (Fine JPEGs).
Back to the A6500’s controls and we find Sony has continued the A6300’s extensive amount of customisable controls. The rear Fn function button displays a quick-access menu of frequently used shooting settings, and you can choose which items appear on this menu. But if that’s too much trouble, there are always the two Custom buttons on top of the camera and another on the rear which can all be assigned a frequently used function for direct access. What’s more, even the AF/MF/AEL button can be customised, along with the left, right, down and centre rear panel navigation buttons, as well as the Fn function button’s role in playback mode.
By default, the Fn button activates the Sony A6500’s Send to Smartphone Wi-Fi function when in playback mode. This works in conjunction with Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app and lets you transfer a full resolution JPEG image in a nippy three seconds. Of course, you’ll have to connect your smart device first, but NFC pairing makes this a painless process. Even if you don’t have an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet, Sony lets you scan a QR code displayed on the A6500’s monitor and this automatically enters the SSID password so you don’t need to type it manually. The camera can also be remotely controlled by your smart device, although you’ll need to first enter the A6500’s Application tab on the main menu to activate the Smart Remote Embedded feature. Fortunately this isn’t too inconvenient as the newly revised menu system is clearer and easier to navigate than on the previous A6300 model. The A6500 also offers location data acquisition via a Bluetooth connection to a compatible mobile device.
|Top of the Sony A6500|
Move to the top panel and the A6500’s customisable control extends to the mode dial, where there are two Memory modes. These allow you to store two frequently used shooting set-ups for quick access, and within each Memory mode is a further four customisable sub-mode pre-sets which can be saved to your memory card. Aside from these modes, the A6500’s mode dial is fairly standard, containing the usual auto, semi auto and manual modes, plus a Scene Selection position, Sweep Panorama mode, and finally a Movie mode that works in conjunction with the video record button located on the right edge of the thumb grip.
Sony has gone to great lengths to enhance the A6500’s video abilities, as not only can it record at Ultra HD 3840 x 2160 resolution at 30fps, but the power of the Bionz X processor can also be harnessed to record slow motion, high frame rate Full HD 1920 x 1080 sequences at 120fps. The movie-making potential is further enhanced by 100Mb/s high-bit-rate XAVC S data encoding, as well as clean video output over HDMI. The A6500 features Sony’s S-Log 2 and 3 gamma curves which enable it to record greater dynamic range, providing you’re prepared to colour grade the recording in post-production. A new setting called Auto Pwr OFF Temp. offers two options, Standard and High, with the latter extending the recording time even if the camera gets warm to the touch.
New to the A6500 is the the incorporation of a ‘Slow and Quick’ (S&Q) mode that supports both slow motion and quick motion. Frame rates from 1 fps to 100fps can be selected in 8 steps for up to 50x quick motion and 4x slow motion recording, and the footage that's shot in this mode can be previewed after shooting without the need for a computer. The A6500 also now offers the ability to select, extract and save still images from movie footage directly on the camera, approximately 8 megapixel images from the 4K video and 2 megapixels from Full HD.
|The Sony A6500 In-hand|
When it comes to simply snapping a still, the Sony A6500 will capture an image within two seconds of power-up. It’ll keep on shooting for a rated 350 shots per charge, which is a decrease from the A6000’s 400-shot battery life. This drops to 310 shots when using the EVF. The increased power demands of a mirrorless design means the A6500 still trails similarly priced DSLRs in terms of battery life, with cameras like the Canon EOS 80D and Nikon D7200 managing 960 and 1110 shots-per-charge respectively. At least the A6500 can be powered and charged via a USB connection, which is useful if you’re without your charger but can access a computer.
Finally there’s the battery compartment which, like the A6300, also incorporates the memory card slot. It’s not a major bugbear, as opening the compartment to access the card won’t cause the battery to drop out, and the tripod mount is far enough away to avoid a mounting plate blocking the door. It’s just a pity the card slot’s location nestles right next to the door’s hinge, making it fiddly to insert and eject a memory card.