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Sony Alpha a6000 Review, Part 2

Sony Alpha a6000I’ve been using the Sony Alpha a6000 for some time now, and I’m liking it a lot. Part 1 of my review was mainly a tour of the camera body. In this follow-up, I’ll share more about the use and handling of the camera. This post is very much my personal take on why the a600 works for me.

The short story is that the Sony Alpha a6000 is really nice. It handles and performs like a larger DSLR camera, but it is relatively compact so that you can easily bring it around. This is something particularly important to me, to always have a camera with me so that I can use it anytime. After all, what good is camera that isn’t around to shoot photos when you need it?

I abandoned smartphone cameras a couple of years ago, choosing instead to go with a proper digital camera. That was the Sony RX100. It was a really great camera, so awesome it was that it earned a place in TIME’s 50 best inventions of 2012. I had been, even before the RX100, eyeing some of the Sony NEX line of cameras, but my needs at that time were different. The Sony Alpha a6000, technically, succeeds the NEX-6 and NEX-7. Today, the a6000 fits better what I need.

The Sony Alpha a6000 is far less pocketable than the RX100. It is, after all, an interchangeable lens APS-C camera. It’s true that a5100’s body is comparatively much smaller than that of the a6000, but once the lens is factored in, they are both mammoth compared with the RX100. I had to readjust my expectations on compactness. If I wanted APS-C, and interchangeable lens, it will have to be much bigger than the RX100. I had actually considered Micro Four-Thirds, but I eventually decided that I wouldn’t go that way.

The physical size isn’t everything. Compact is good, but one also has to consider other characteristics, such as handling, performance, and various other features. The Sony Alpha a5100 is newer, more compact, and it could do a few tricks that the a6000 couldn’t. So what makes, for me, the a6000 the better camera?

The Sony Alpha a6000 has more physical controls. The a5000 doesn’t even have a physical mode dial! The a6000, on the other hand, has a mode dial and a control dial on the top plate. There is also a C1 custom button next to the shutter button. On the back, there is a main control wheel, and apart from that, buttons for menu, AE lock, function, playback, and a C2 custom button. The main control wheel, or directional controller, can rotate, and can also be clicked in the centre, up, left, right and down positions.

There’s plenty of buttons for direct access to controls that you might need. The two C1 and C2 buttons can be assigned to various commands. On top of that, the AE lock button, the control wheel’s centre, left, right and bottom buttons can also be reassigned to other functions. There are a total of 7  buttons that can be assigned custom functions. The Function button itself brings up a menu of command shortcuts that are also customisable.

Sony Alpha a6000

There’s also a dedicated button to pop-up the built-in flash. Oh yes, there are Sony cameras out there that require you to get into the menu to activate the flash.

Basically, this camera has plenty of physical controls, and plenty of customisation available for these controls. For a photographer who wants to change settings frequently, it is important that there are hardware buttons that can help get to the settings as directly as possible. You don’t want to fumble around navigating a menu system.

There is no touch screen on the Sony Alpha a6000. I don’t miss it too much. A touch screen means taking your eyes off the EVF, or having your LCD live view interrupted by the menu. The only usefulness I see for a touch screen is to set auto-focus point. I would rather have more buttons than a touch screen. Obviously, having both would be great too.

The generous hard buttons aside, I do also want to note that the menus and controls are very responsive. There are cameras out there with menus that lag. Sometimes the lag is bad enough to make the controls very difficult to use, like the RX100’s control ring. Most of the times, it’s just a nuisance that you have to put up with. This is not the case with the Sony Alpha a6000. The controls and menus are snappy. You shouldn’t have to wait for your camera, it should be ready whenever you are.

Apart from the generous buttons and customisations possible, the Sony Alpha a6000 also gives you plenty of control in other ways. In Auto ISO mode for example, you get to set both the minimum and maximum ISO values that Auto ISO will use.

One of the most spectacular feature of the Sony Alpha a6000, one that Sony touts so much about, is its auto-focus speed. It focuses in 0.06 seconds. Now, I don’t have the equipment or setup to verify this claim, but I can tell you that, from using the camera, that focus is awfully fast. It’s so fast that I don’t worry about it anymore. It has 25 contrast detect focus points and 179 phase detect focus points, the combination of which gives you really awesome auto-focus speed and auto-focus tracking.

The next thing about speed is the camera’s cycle time. How soon after taking a shot can the camera take another shot? I know, there’s continuous drive mode, but I’ll come to that part later. For the a6000, the shot-to-shot cycle time is measured to be around 0.4 seconds. It’s pretty good. This means if you didn’t get your shot at the right time the first time, you can quickly shoot again.

In continuous drive mode, the Sony Alpha a6000 does 11 frames per second. This is without focus lock, i.e., the camera continues to focus between each shot. In RAW capture mode, the buffer is filled after 22 frames are shot, and it takes 14 seconds to clear the buffer. Continuous drive is really impressive. My only complaint here is that buffer clearing locks up the camera somewhat. You cannot resume taking shots until the buffer is completely cleared. For example, you’d think that after a couple of seconds has elapsed, surely there is sufficient free buffer space for a new shot, but the a6000 won’t let you shoot anyway.

Image quality on the Sony Alpha a6000 is really excellent. The included kit lens, unfortunately, doesn’t do justice to the camera’s capabilities. This is an interchangeable lens camera, after all, and I do suggest that you upgrade the lens at some point, sooner than later. I don’t have the test setup to demonstrate image quality at this time, but I’m sure you can find plenty of other resources on the Internet, including the excellent review on DPReview. The quick summary is that the a6000’s body is good, the SELP1650 kit lens included isn’t great.

There are several things missing in the Sony Alpha a6000. I cannot understand why Sony has left out the electronic level gauge, which has become pretty much standard in many of their other cameras. Sony also does not provide a cap for the hot shoe. Yes, a cheap piece of plastic that cost less than $1 to manufacture. Fortunately, you can buy a hot shoe cap with a bubble level gauge built into it, and get the two things Sony scrimped on for about US$6.

I’m not too upset about not having a touch screen, but no doubt it would be something nice to have considering that the lower end, and cheaper, a5100 has one.

While on the topic of that screen, the a6000’s display won’t articulate to 180°, you know, so you can take selfies. It’s not a big deal, except that the a5100 can do it. Of course, the a5100 can only go up 180° and not down at all is worse off, in my opinion, than the a600 which can go 90° up and 45° down.

Again, if I may quibble about the screen again, it isn’t possible to tilt the display downward while the camera is mounted on a tripod. Right, you probably tilt the screen upward rather than downward when using a tripod, so this is probably not an issue. But surely there must be a way to design the tilt mechanism so that the tripod mount wouldn’t interfere with the screen regardless of how it is tilted.

The Sony Alpha a6000 is no high-end camera. It is missing a couple of features. But it does get the right things right. It gives you control over the photography process, with easy access to controls that you want. It’s fast, delivers great images, is reasonably compact, and handles well. I think, these are the important things, and that makes the a6000 a really excellent camera overall.

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