Color and Dynamic Range
The Sony a6000 features a brand new 24 megapixel APS-C sized sensor, and as you’d expect from a current high-resolution sensor, the image quality from the camera is on a very high level. The dynamic range captured by the a6000 is outstanding. Even in harsh lighting, it is usually quite easy to recover all the highlight and shadow detail you’d need for quality images. The tonal rolloff is quite nice as well, and when presented with a vibrant scene, it’s possible to extract simply gorgeous tones out of the RAW files.
Color is somewhat muted in the RAW files right out of camera, especially the greens and blues, but these can be adjusted to taste very easily. The final result of the excellent dynamic range and very nice color response is a camera that can produce very rich images.
One downside is that Sony appears to utilize some compression even in the RAW files. As a result, if you push the files hard by making large exposure adjustments, pushing shadows or strongly enhancing local contrast, the images start to fall apart a little earlier than some other recent cameras I’ve shot with. Artifacts and even a little banding at base ISO can be induced if you really punish the files, which is somewhat surprising. Still, for the vast majority of shooting, this won’t be an issue, but it is something to be careful of if you tend to really push the files to their limit in the digital darkroom.
Detail and Noise
The first thing you’ll notice about the a6000 if you are using high quality lenses is that the camera is capable of resolving an incredible amount of detail. The sensor has an anti-aliasing filter, but it appears to be quite weak. Per-pixel sharpness is excellent, and the camera holds detail at base ISO through about ISO 1600. Beyond that, detail suffers a little, but the camera still holds on to good levels of detail even at most of the higher ISOs, though noise does obscure the finest details at the upper end of the sensitivity range.
Speaking of noise, the a6000 delivers very clean files at base ISO, though once you go above that, a very fine noise is visible in blocks of solid color if you zoom to 100%. However, this fine noise will be ultimately invisible in a print or web shared image up to around ISO 1600. Images at ISO 1600 are quite usable and the extra resolution means that final output will still be very good at this ISO. ISO 3200 starts to show quite a bit of noise at 100% and it’ll seep into prints a bit too, though I still view ISO 3200 as a perfectly usable setting. Noise starts to dramatically increase beyond 3200. ISO 6400 and even 12,800 can be used for web use and small prints due to the relatively high detail , but ISO 25,600 pushes this just too far, with all fine detail obliterated. It’s worth noting that at the higher ISOs, nailing exposure is critical, as the shadow noise can increase dramatically at the high-end of the ISO range.
While the pixel level noise on the a6000 is nothing special in today’s market, the combination of high detail with good noise performance means the a6000 is very capable in low light for an APS-C camera. While I don’t think it’s the current top of the heap in that department, I have little reservations of shooting with the a6000 in lower light.
While I shoot almost exclusively in RAW, I have sampled the JPEG production of the a6000 over the course of the last few weeks, and I am happy to report that Sony has made great strides in the past few months in the quality of the JPEG output. When I reviewed the Sony A7 in December of 2013, I lauded the amazing RAW image quality, but was sorely disappointed by absolutely terrible JPEGs. The a6000, thankfully, doesn’t share the A7’s awful JPEG engine. JPEGs out of camera have good color and contrast and the automatic dynamic range optimizer does a good job of packing in some nice dynamic range. The biggest improvement is at higher ISOs, where the a6000 produces rather pleasing high ISO JPEGs. While I still find the noise reduction to be a bit heavy-handed, the images ultimately come out in a manner that will allow for decent prints.
As I mentioned in my opening disclaimer, I am not a videographer, and I don’t feel qualified to provide detailed analysis on the video quality of a camera, though I will certainly give my impressions. The a6000 has all the video features the average shooter will want, with 1080p production at both 24 and 30 fps. You can shoot in manual, aperture priority, shutter priority or program mode, and auto ISO will work in conjunction with exposure compensation, giving you some extra exposure power. I typically shoot in aperture priority, which is quite powerful for most shooting. The camera will automatically choose a shutter speed that is double the frame rate, as you’d desire, while allowing you to choose (and change on the fly) the aperture. Setting ISO to Auto allows you to keep the desired shutter speed, while maintaining aperture and still adjust exposure by means of on-the-fly ISO adjustment. That’s pretty nice. Focus is limited to continuous or manual in video mode, and I’m not quite sure why, but focusing works well while recording videos.
Quality seemed very good to my eye, with low compression and nice fluid motion, though as I said, I am not the one you want to speak to about critical video quality analysis.