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Jul 22

Review: Sony a6000

Earlier this year, Sony abandoned the NEX nomenclature in its lineup of mirrorless cameras, bringing everything into the Alpha line.  The first enthusiast APS-C camera in this new lineup is the Sony Alpha a6000, which replaces the earlier NEX-6 in the Sony lineup, though it could also be argued that the a6000 takes the place of the NEX-7 as well.  The new camera is aggressively priced at $649 for the body only, while including a built-in EVF, a new 24 megapixel sensor, Wi-Fi, blazing fast hybrid autofocus and a somewhat insane burst shooting rate of 11 frames per second.  Fitting that many features into a camera at this price point is a daunting proposition.  Let’s see if Sony pulled it off.

The Sony Alpha a6000

The Sony Alpha a6000

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera.

Body and Ergonomics

The a6000 is a compact mirrorless camera that takes most of its design cues from its predecessor, the NEX-6.  The camera is very nearly the same size as the NEX-6, and has a similar button layout, though as I’ll discuss in a moment, those controls have been improved dramatically in my opinion.  The a6000 is a composite (read: plastic) bodied camera that is simultaneously a step up and a step down from the NEX-6.  It’s a step up in that they have created a more sculpted hand grip that is, in my opinion, notably more comfortable to hold than the one on the NEX-6 (or the NEX-7).  While I think the grip is still a bit too close to the lens mount, it is one of the more comfortable Sony mirrorless cameras I’ve used.

The Sony NEX-6 (left) and the new a6000 (right)

The Sony NEX-6 (left) and the new a6000 (right)

On the down side, I think Sony has taken a small step back when it comes to construction.  While the camera is tightly assembled for the most part, and doesn’t experience any flex or creakiness, the finish on the plastic isn’t nearly as robust as the finish on the NEX-6.  Sony has opted for a flat smooth painted finish with the a6000, and the result is a body that is going to be a bit more prone to scratches than the pebbled durable finish of the NEX-6.  The camera comes in both silver and black versions, and I have the silver version.  The silver camera (which is a bit warm, so bordering on champagne in color) is quite attractive, but I can already tell that over time the paint will likely wear off on the corners of the camera, revealing the black plastic beneath.  I can already see some paint wear on the supporting nubs on the bottom of the camera.  Additionally, the rear screen isn’t nearly as rigid as the one on the NEX-6.  When the a6000’s screen is retracted flat against the camera body, there is still a slight bit of play if you touch the corners of the screen.  It’s not loose or poorly attached, but it does wobble, and it becomes apparent that this is the area where some of the cost corners were cut.

However, those concerns aside, the a6000 handles quite well for a small camera.  The dials and buttons fall under your thumb easily, and the corner mounted viewfinder is comfortable to use.  The camera is exceedingly lightweight and  the nice grip allows both smaller and larger lenses to handle well.  The hand grip rubber starts at the front of the grip and wraps completely around the side of the camera to the rear thumb rest, which is comfortable and provides a secure grip on the camera.

Controls and Operation

The top controls of the a6000, with the Mode dial, the main dial, shutter button and C1 button

The top controls of the a6000, with the Mode dial, the main dial, shutter button and C1 button

With the a6000, Sony has started to get away from the soft button paradigm that was used in earlier models in favor of dedicated control buttons, and I for one am thankful.  The NEX-6 was a powerful camera, but there were several usability issues that personally bothered me immensely.  I am happy to say that the a6000 has remedied almost all of them.  The camera utilizes a single top function dial in conjunction with a rear dial to control the imaging parameters.  When in aperture or shutter priority mode, the main dial controls the priority function.  While the rear dial is turned off by default, a quick settings change enables direct access to exposure compensation on the rear dial.  This is a welcome change.  Many people have complained that the position of the mode dial and the main dial should have been switched, and I’ll admit that this probably would have been the way to go, but as I am rather accustomed to reaching to the upper right to adjust a dial on other cameras, this wasn’t something that bothered me at all.

In addition to the dials, the a6000 features a total of seven programmable buttons: the left, right and down buttons on the four-way dial, two dedicated Custom buttons (C1 and C2) as well as the center button and the AEL button.  I have chosen to have most of these buttons perform their default functions and I’ve assigned face detection toggle to the C2 button, and focus magnification to the C1 button, which is located right next to the shutter button.  In addition to the programmable buttons, the a6000 features the same customizable function menu as the A7 and A7r, which allows for up to twelve different functions to be available simply by pressing the Fn button.  For me, this means easy access to settings like flash exposure compensation and turning SteadyShot on and off.  The end result is a camera that can be customized to how you shoot.  As such, it’s not hard to set up the camera to be a responsive and agile companion for photography.

The rear of the a6000, with the host of programmable buttons, the rear dial and the tilting rear screen.

The rear of the a6000, with the host of programmable buttons, the rear dial and the tilting rear screen.

In addition to the removal of the ‘soft buttons’ that the previous NEX cameras had, the a6000 gains another big part of the Alpha lineup: actually decent menus.  The menu system of the NEX line was among the worst in the industry in my opinion, with page after page of settings in a single list format that boggled the mind.

The a6000's menu system is much improved over its predecessor

The a6000’s menu system is much improved over its predecessor

The NEX-6 has 66 items in the ‘setup menu,’ in a single list.  Sixty-six! Thankfully, with the a6000, these options are now blissfully broken down into a well-organized set of six tabs, with multiple screens per tab and six items per screen.  It helps tremendously with organization.  While there are still a tremendous of options available in the menus, the organization makes it significantly easier to navigate and find what you are looking for.  The much expanded Fn menu I spoke about earlier also lets you select the more important functions and put them front and center rather than digging through the menu system.

As a result of these changes, I have found the a6000 to be a very enjoyable camera to use.  The annoyances that kept me from really enjoying shooting with a Sony body in the past have been rectified, and as a result, the a6000 is one of the first Sony cameras I’ve truly enjoyed shooting with right from the start.

The a6000 also has a small pop-up flash located directly next to the hotshoe.  This tiny flash, like many nowadays, can be bent back to provide some rudimentary bounce capability, though the low power often makes this impractical.  Exposure on the flash was good at most distances, but tended to overexpose closer subjects.  The flash isn’t powerful enough to rely on for typical shooting situations, but can make for a decent fill flash in the right circumstances.

Continue: Viewfinder and Performance

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

28 comments

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  1. HF

    Very nice review.
    How do you rate this camera when compared to the X-E2 or X-T1?

    1. Jordan Steele

      It’s hard to say. The a6000 for the most part has feature parity with the X-T1, excepting the intervalometer..but you can pay for that…plus a higher burst rate and a wider PDAF area. In some cases it’s superior, in others it’s not. The X-T1’s viewfinder is notably better (though the a6000’s is a bit better than the one in the X-E2), and both Fuji cameras are built better…the X-T1 notably so. While I enjoy shooting the a6000, I do prefer the control scheme on the Fujis more. The X-T1 feels like a pro grade camera, and the a6000 feels like a mid range (but performs like a pro-grade).

      The a6000 is definitely the better bargain, but I still prefer my X-T1 overall, primarily because of the amazing EVF and especially the quality and direct controls, which I prefer to any camera I’ve ever owned. I’ve shot a lot with my a6000 over the past several weeks, though, and it’s a wonderful small camera with an amazing feature set.

      Image quality wise, the a6000 has more detail and when shooting landscapes with foliage at a distance, can resolve green detail better. At high ISO, the Fuji cameras are cleaner (even when accounting for ISO fudging), though the a6000 retains more detail at similar sensitivity (along with more noise). The Fuji files do hold up to punishment better, as the RAWs are completely uncompressed…shadow noise when pushing the shadows at low ISO is notably better as well. DR seems very similar between the two, and color and contrast rolloff is different, but it’s hard to say which is ‘better’. The Fuji produces images with more punch right out of the camera, but the Sony images produce more pleasing natural tones in many cases.

      If choosing between the two when starting a new system, I think the lenses hold more sway, and there, Fuji has the upper hand when it comes to enthusiast/pro level lenses….the Fuji glass is exceptional, and they have a very wide array of fast high end gear, while the Sony APS-C lineup is more consumer oriented. While there are some excellent Sony lenses (and the Sigma trinity is outstanding), overall, the Fuji lens lineup is better. Right now I use my Fuji kit as my main kit, and the a6000 + a few lenses as my ‘small’ kit. (The a6000+ the 3 Sigma Art primes is very tiny and VERY high quality.)

  2. aza

    thank you for your good review.
    How about focus speed when you use sigma 60 compare with sony lens?

    1. Jordan Steele

      The Sigma 60 focuses quite quickly. No major difference between it and my 18-105mm f/4, though there may be a slight edge to the Sony lens there. However, the Sigma 60 doesn’t appear to use PDAF for tracking, so in continuous AF it’s no question that the Sony lenses will do better there. My Sigma 60mm review will be coming in the next week. (Hint, it’s an incredible lens).

      1. aza

        Thank you for your information. and waiting for your review sigma 60mm

  3. Peter

    Thanks so much for this review. I have enjoyed all of your reviews. I have the NEX6 but mostly shoot the E-M1 because of the superb set of lenses I have for it. I have enjoyed the image quality of the Sigma 60 (90mm equiv) on the NEX and actually feel it is sharper than the Olympus 45mm (also 90mm equiv)… but wouldn’t stake my live on it just yet :-)

    Thanks for the review on the EVF on the 6000. My problem on the NEX6 is 1) the darks are blocked up and 2) with glasses I can’t see into the corners which is especially problematic because I always use the live histogram and the right side of the histogram is in the bottom right corner. Grrr.

    And finally, since I am always searching for good lenses for the NEX6, I have read your review of the 18-105. How does this lens stack up on the newer a6000? I can’t remember whether your review used the NEX7 or the lower pixel NEX6.

    THanks!

    1. Jordan Steele

      The 18-105 is about as good on the a6000 as it is on the NEX-6. You get a tiny bit more resolution out of it due to the higher sampling, but overall it’s, again, a competent lens, but not an outstanding lens. The NEX-6 was used for that review, but the conclusions are valid on a 24MP sensor as well.

  4. Mark

    I would like to know if you are an iPhone or Android user, as the experience with PlayMemories app is VERY different. Everything works very well on Android, on iphone, the experience can be very flakey. Some iOS versions work better than others. On Android, anything Android 2.3 on works without issues.

    Also it’s worth mentioning that you can connect the camera to your PC and download the apps from your browser, you don’t have to navigate the PlayMemories app store on the camera itself. This is my preferred way of doing things. it’s so much easier. It’s also worth mentioning that there are plenty of decent free apps there, and any apps you want to buy, if you don’t like using creditcards, you can buy pre-paid cards to use (both this and Playstation Network use the same “SEN” card, so a PSN-prepaid card will work just fine to buy camera apps.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I’m an iPhone user. The app as a whole works pretty well except for the odd ‘exit then go back in’ behavior much of the time, but that does it when it thinks too much.

  5. pbass wil

    Good review and even better sample shots!

    One thing I’d add to your “Cons” (Pros & Cons): Sony’s got a ways to go to catch up on the breadth of lenses — at least half-way attainable non-Zeiss ones.

    I’m currently on Olympus, and own every single focal length of lens I want, none costing over $1000 (most much less), and all are _excellent_ and of either quite fast or very fast aperture.

    They’re getting better for this APS-C E line, but I’d still like to see a more complete selection of native fast AF primes that don’t cost a kidney or a first born child.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I agree on the E-Mount line, though the line has expanded enough that there are good choices for the most part (though still a distinct lack of native fast glass), but this isn’t a system review, but a camera review.

  6. Dino

    I primarily shoot in manual mode. Do you find it easy to adjust the exposure triangle with the available buttons/dials? Or do you have to do a bit of menu digging to say adjust ISO in M mode.

    1. Jordan Steele

      No menu digging necessary. If the rear wheel is active all the time, you have aperture on the top and shutter speed on the rear wheel (you can switch these if you choose). ISO is accessed by pressing right on the 4-way then adjusting with the rear wheel. (or whatever button you set ISO to…it’s the right direction by default). It’s not as easy as with a camera with dedicated dials, but it’s not bad.

      1. Dino

        Thank you for the prompt response. That is great to know. It just might be my future purchase

  7. Aubrey

    I really enjoyed your review, but I would like to know if you believe the a6000 is worth upgrading from the NEX-6? I would also like to know what are the best lenses for the NEX or a6000 cameras.

  8. Tony

    Firstly, my congratulations on a truly excellent review of the A6000; certainly the best I have read.

    I am wanting to change from Nikon D700 + heavy lenses to a lighter system with improved resolution. I am torn between Fuji and Sony and your comparison between the XT-1 and the A6000 are most helpful. (If only I could combine the best from both…)

    As it is, neither camera/system ticks all the boxes, so the indecision continues.

    I am holding off my decision until the news is available re new cameras/updates from Photokina next month. I would dearly like Fuji to announce improvements to the XT-1, or an X-Pro2, to more closely match what the A6000 offers in critical areas.

    Again, my thanks.

    Tony

  9. phil

    hi Jordan,

    Great review with top-notched photos as usual. I am also on the fence when it comes to interchangeable mirrorless so your reviews offer a great deal of info for me to consider and therefore many thanks for that.

    I’ve got a question about Rokinon 12mm f2.0, your photos show amazing quality. What is your thought on it vs Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 or Fuji 14mm f/2.8?

    Thanks
    -Phil

  10. phil

    Also, Samyang 10mm F2.8 ED AS NCS CS was just introduced and that makes me even more excited although the price is ~double. Are you going to review that lens too :)? Thanks

  11. Jim Radford

    I’m weighing APS-C cameas … A6000 and the 7D2 … quite different, including price, thus a dilemma. Any thoughts? Choice?

  12. Richard

    Similar to HF’s question:

    I’m looking at the Olympus OM-D5-II and the Fuji X-T1, but the Sony 6000 is there in the background as a somewhat cheaper alternative. It looks more plasticky, and the focus got horribly confused in the shop (as the X-T1 but not the Olympus), but it does seem from what is said to be a really good and compact camera body. One of my requirements is “takes less room in the bag than my DSLR”.

    I tend to shoot in available light, so have ended up using fast primes to push the performance of my Nikon D90 to the level required. But a big problem I’ve had with the D90 is the whole “Focus, Compose, Shoot” process and I hope that any replacement camera can help here. Again the OM-D1 seems good as I’ve used it, the Sony good on paper, and all I’ve experienced of the Fuji is that it didn’t perform so well in the shop.

    I do like the ergonomics of the Fuji. I feel the Olympus will take some getting used to.

    So which one? There’ s a huge price difference between them with the a6000 kit now under £500, and the Olympus and Fuji exceeding £1000.

    If the Olympus or Fuji detect multiple faces, can I tell them which one to use? How useful is touch to focus in real life? I guess it means not composing through the viewfinder.

    Thanks
    – Richard

    1. Jordan Steele

      The face detection for Fuji and Olympus is pretty basic, though it works well for both. It’ll try and hit the close eye if possible, and with Olympus you can specify preference for features.

      If you want fast primes, the Fuji system is amazing with their fast glass. There are some really good fast lenses for m4/3 as well, though they won’t give you as shallow depth of field if you’re into that. Sony has some very good lenses, but nothing faster than f/1.8.

      The a6000 is a really nice camera, though I prefer my X-T1 to it for most things. It’s very subjective, though, and what works for me may not work for another shooter. Perhaps it may be worth renting your top few for a few days at a time with a nice lens and see how they fit you. Sure, it’s not a super cheap outlay to try three systems, but it will probably be worth it to get what works best for you, considering the potential future investment in glass.

  13. Chris Bubolz

    Love your reviews. Trying to decide between the A6000 and the GX7. Both can be had for reasonable prices. I’m looking to step up from a Canon G15. I like aspects of both cameras but am having a hard time deciding. I like taking landscape photos and pictures of my 2 1/2 yr old daughter as well as random photos around NYC. Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Jordan Steele

      It’s really hard to go wrong. The a6000 will have slightly better image quality, but the lens selection for m4/3 is significantly better. If you’re after action shots of your kids, the a6000 will track motion better than the GX7, though the GX7 will be faster in single shot focusing mode.

  14. Levi

    Which better one is better for landscape? A6000 or XT-10?

    1. Levi

      Which one*

  15. Fastguitars

    Apparently this Sony series has no real Macro option that is worth a discussion.
    Seem to be great for portraits and landscapes, but Macro shooters need not apply.

    1. Jordan Steele

      I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. There aren’t a lot of APS-C only lenses for this, but there are definitely some high quality options.

      Sony has three lenses that do 1:1 reproduction that are native E-Mount lenses. The decent (but not great) 30mm f/3.5 macro is the worst of the three. The FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro is brand new, reasonably priced and has excellent optics from what I’ve read (I plan on reviewing this lens fairly soon). And finally, the FE 90mm f/2.8 macro (my review here) is absolutely fantastic. Sure, it’ll be big on something like the a6000, but it’ll also give you great working distance and truly outstanding image quality.

      Finally, there’s the Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 Macro (which I reviewed here in Fuji X mount), which is a native e-mount lens as well, and made for APS-C. This lens is fantastic optically, though it costs a fair bit.

      And, if you’re OK with manual focus, you can adapt many wonderful manual focus macro lenses in a wide variety of mounts.

  16. Mike Ross

    Do you know the base ISO for the A6000? My RX-100 is 125 but I think for the A6000 it might be 200. Thanks

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