Viewfinder and Rear Screen
One of the more controversial aspects of the Sony a6000 is change to the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The NEX-6 featured a 2.3 million dot EVF with 0.73x magnification, while the a6000’s finder is slightly smaller at 0.7x, and loses resolution down to 1.4 million dots. There have been lamentations about Sony crippling the viewfinder and so forth. However, like many who have used both will tell you, the a6000’s EVF is actually the better finder. Sure, the first time you pick it up, you can see the pixels a little more than in the higher resolution EVFs, but after that, I never gave it a second thought. What is noticeable is that the a6000’s EVF is brighter, clearer, easier to see and has lower noise and generally lower lag than the one in the NEX-6, and overall, this makes it a better viewfinder. The size is still quite large, with a view roughly the same size as earlier full-frame DSLRs like the Canon 1Ds Mark II. The optics also provide better eye relief than the NEX-6’s EVF, especially for us eyeglass wearers. I always had issues seeing the entire viewfinder with the NEX-6, but the a6000 poses no such problem. While not up to the standards of the Fuji X-T1, Sony A7 or Olympus OM-D E-M1, it is nevertheless quite a nice EVF. It’s hard to complain given the camera’s low price.
The rear screen is a 921,000 dot 3″ model, though the continued use of a 16:9 aspect ratio means that the view you get will be smaller than on cameras that have a 3:2 aspect ratio 3″ screen. The screen is relatively clear and pleasing to view, though the dynamic range of the screen is not as good as either the EVF or the camera’s imaging capabilities. As a result, sometimes areas may look blown out on the rear screen when in reality they’re just fine. One benefit to the 16:9 aspect ratio is that the camera information is generally displayed in the black bars to the side, keeping a lot of data off your image, but I’d still rather have a 3:2 screen. Unfortunately, the a6000’s rear screen isn’t touch capable, which is something I’d like to see.
As I mentioned in the build quality portion, the rear screen mechanism is a bit flimsy, though in practice it works fine. However, if you have a tripod quick release plate on the camera that doesn’t account for the drop of the screen, you won’t be able to tilt the screen downward when that’s mounted due to the way the screen is hinged. Plates from Really Right Stuff account for this, but generic plates generally will not.
The a6000, like all recent Sony mirorrless cameras, includes focus peaking, which will aid in manual focus. The in focus areas are outlined in a color of your choosing (I use red for its visibility). The a6000’s focus peaking is essentially identical in practice to other Sony bodies. When it shows up, it’s quite visible, though I have always found Sony’s peaking to lack precision. On high contrast objects, the peaking is quite visible, but often will show up when the camera is just slightly out of focus, so the precision for fine focusing can’t be relied on with the focus peaking. I also found in lower light or finer detail, the peaking won’t show at all. It works fine for quick focusing, but for critical manual focus, zooming the finder is the way to go.
Autofocus and Performance
One of the biggest surprises about the a6000 given its mid-range price point is that it is a camera built for speed and performance. The camera features a continuous frame rate of 11 frames per second, which it can rattle off for up to 20 RAW images. The a6000 writes to the memory card relatively quickly, though one failing is that it will not allow image review while it’s writing to the card. Normally, that’s not an issue, but if you try to review images after a burst, you will get an error message until all images are written to the card. Still, the camera is impressively responsive, and not just when burst shooting. Shutter lag is also quite short and the camera generally boots up quickly as well. The only exception is when inserting an unformatted SD card or changing the battery. The camera does some sort of battery initialization that takes about 4 or 5 seconds whenever you switch batteries.
As far as autofocus is concerned, the a6000 is quite quick and generally accurate. Single shot AF with a fast lens is up there with the fastest cameras on the market. For the most part, the camera is very accurate with focusing as well. I did notice that when the focus point is set to its smallest size, the accuracy of the AF does go down a bit, but otherwise it’s spot on.
More impressive than the single shot autofocus and the 11 frame per second burst rate is the fact that the camera’s hybrid phase detect and contrast detect AF algorithm can perform continuous AF on a moving subject during an 11 frame per second burst. The new 24 megapixel sensor in the a6000 has 179 phase detect points spread across almost the entire sensor area, allowing for accurate continuous autofocus anywhere in the frame. Hammering the shutter when in high-speed burst mode sounds like a (quiet) machine gun, and even more impressive is that the camera does a darn good job of keeping things in focus while doing it. While it’s still not quite as good as a pro-grade DSLR in continuous AF accuracy, it is probably the best in the mirrorless world, and easily on par (or better than) lower end DSLRs. Check out the image to the left, which was taken in continuous AF while she was swinging. Swings are an incredibly challenging test for any camera, and while the hit rate in this scenario was only about 20%, I’ve frankly never gotten much above that with ANY camera. In more predictable moving scenarios, the a6000 has a much higher hit rate.
The a6000, like most mirrorless cameras, has a face detection mode that can focus on any face it finds, or only faces that you’ve taught the camera to recognize (allowing you to make sure you focus on your child’s face at the party, rather than their friend’s face). I found the face detection on the a6000 to be among the best of any camera I’ve used. The camera consistently placed focus directly on the eyes of my subject, and would favor the closer eye if there was a discrepancy. To that effect, there is also a button-assignable ‘Eye AF’ function, that will allow you to quickly toggle to lock on detected eyes of a subject. This too works fairly well.