In October 2013, Sony upped the ante in the compact system camera market with the announcement of the world’s first full-frame CSCs (Alpha 7 and 7R), and more recently announced the first full-frame CSC with 4K video (Alpha 7S). These releases marked the end of Sony’s NEX line of cameras, and the beginning of the a-series, designed to match the Alpha prefix on its DSLR models. The Alpha 6000 is part of this new generation of cameras, but effectively replaces the NEX-6 and NEX-7 as Sony’s most advanced CSC with an APS-C sensor. But it’s not just the new name that sets the Alpha 6000 apart from its predecessors; it comes with some significantly improved functionality, much of which is borrowed from the Sony Alpha 7 and 7R.
At the heart of the Alpha 6000 is an APS-C sized 24.3MP Exmor CMOS sensor, with a significantly higher resolution than the NEX-6. Sony has an impressive pedigree when it comes to sensor manufacture, supplying Nikon with the sensors for many of its DSLRs, and Apple for its iPhone. The sensor in the Alpha 6000 has the same gapless on-chip lens structure as the Alpha 7R, facilitating improved image quality and impressive low light performance. Also shared between the cameras is the BIONZ X processor, allowing fast, smooth camera operation, and enabling a wide range of other benefits including improved video, ISO, AF and burst performance.
On the back of the Alpha 6000 is a 3in 921-k dot LCD screen, exactly the same as the one found on the NEX-6. It comes with tilt functionality, so you can adjust the angle of the screen both up (90°) and down (45°) for high- and low-angle shooting. Sony has opted not to include a touchscreen function. As the Alpha 6000 has no mirror, its OLED viewfinder is electronic rather than optical. It has a 1440k-dot resolution with 100% coverage and a magnification of 0.7x (35mm equivalent). The image through the viewfinder is fairly sharp, the colours and contrast are accurate, there’s minimal lag, and the image is rarely jerky even during focusing. However, it has a significantly lower resolution than the 2359k-dot OLED EVF on the NEX-6, which feels a lot like a downgrade. The refresh rate isn’t fantastic either, meaning the image in the viewfinder appears to flicker and lack smoothness during panning. Even though the overall quality of the viewfinder is quite adequate, it is the Alpha 6000’s weak point.
Built into the Alpha 6000 is Full HD (1080p) video functionality at 25p, or 50p for smooth slow-mo. Sadly there’s no audio in or out, so videographers are unable to monitor audio or connect an external mic, except via the accessories shoe. The battery gives 60-90 minutes of shooting time and focus peaking is available for accurate manual focusing. There’s also a zebra function for both video and stills, which superimposes black & white striped lines onto the LCD or EVF over areas of the frame that are overexposed, though of course they don’t appear on the final shot.
Also built into the Alpha 6000 is Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity for transferring images wirelessly to smart phone, tablet or computer, or for controlling the camera remotely via the free Smart Remote App. For photographers wishing to get creative, the Alpha 6000 comes with 13 built-in picture effects including miniature village, monochrome and toy camera, though these won’t work in RAW shooting. Battery life is 360 shots using the LCD, or 310 using the EVF.
While the Alpha 6000 has a fairly basic body design that lacks the smooth sleek lines of some other CSCs, it does feel comfortable to hold and is fairly self-intuitive. At 344g the body is reassuringly heavy, with part magnesium-alloy construction for added durability.
There are plenty of external controls on the back of the camera, with a layout fairly similar to that of the NEX-6 and NEX-7. Bizarrely, Sony has moved the image review button to a rather awkward position right at the bottom of the camera. In our opinion such a frequently-used button should sit near the thumb grip.
The Alpha 6000 has one control dial on the top-plate and one on the rear, a manual EVF dioptre and a manual mode dial. There’s a pop-up flash (guide number 6) as well, and an accessories shoe for adding an external flashgun. It’s always good to see a dedicated ISO button on a camera, and all controls are clearly labelled, which is an improvement on previous models.
The camera has a Fn button which brings up a quick menu (or activates Wi-Fi when in image playback), and there are customisable C1 and C2 buttons. On the mode dial are the usual MASP modes, as well as movie, panorama, full auto and memory recall modes. There’s also a scene mode with pre-sets for different shooting situations such as Portrait, Landscape, Macro, and Sunset. The Alpha 6000’s internal menu is somewhat different to previous models, and now looks more like the menu on Sony’s DSLRs.
The Alpha 6000 is an e-mount camera, for which there are 15 APS-C Sony or Zeiss lenses available, ranging from 10mm-210mm. While this is nowhere near the number of lens options as there are for, say, a Canon or Nikon DSLR, it’s not bad for a CSC system. The Alpha 6000 is available body only, or in three different kit options: a 16-50mm, a 16-50mm & 55-210mm, or a 16-70mm. Unfortunately, Sony was unable to provide any of these lenses for testing, so we can’t comment on quality. Instead we used a Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 prime, which performed very well.
World’s fastest autofocus
The Alpha 6000 claims to have the world’s fastest AF system, locking onto a subject in just 0.06sec. This is marginally faster than the Fuji X-T1’s 0.08sec. The hybrid AF system has both phase and contrast detection, boasting a class-leading 179 phase detect points and 25 contrast detect. The points cover a whopping 92% of the frame area, so the camera is even able to track subjects at the very edge of the shot. While we weren’t able to measure focusing time as precisely as 1/100sec, we found it extremely fast, even in tricky lighting conditions such as direct sun.
ISO performance test results
The Alpha 6000’s ISO range of 100-25,600 gives it the same native range as the new Nikon D4S, though for what it’s worth there are no expanded settings. On our test charts, the Alpha 6000 performed very well, producing virtually noise-free images right up to ISO 1600. At ISO 3200 and ISO 6400, digital noise is not an issue, but it can clearly be seen on close inspection. The 12,800 setting is the top useable ISO, as both colour and luminance noise begin to become an issue, especially when viewed at 100%. At the maximum setting of 25,600, noise is fairly severe even when zoomed out, so this setting can only really be used at a small size, such as for Facebook. Overall, the Alpha 6000 offers impressive low light performance, though its not quite as good as more expensive CSCs.
11 frames per second shooting
For sports and wildlife photographers, a rapid shooting speed is essential for capturing a moment that could come and go in a split second. The Alpha 6000 has a lightning-fast frame burst of 11fps, exactly the same as Nikon’s new top-of-the-line sports camera, the D4S, and faster than any CSC on the market. This, coupled with the Alpha 6000’s AF system, which is the world’s fastest, makes the camera ideal for photographing moving subjects with pin-sharp accuracy. It should be noted that in testing the maximum number of consecutive images that can be shot at 11fps is 21 RAW files or 50 JPEGs. At this point, the buffer fills up and the shooting speed slows down.
The Alpha 6000 is one of the best value cameras released in recent years. In our opinion CSCs are generally overpriced, but this camera offers exceptional image quality, focusing, shooting speed and connectivity for a very modest price-tag. The camera is a little short on style, and perhaps doesn’t have such a premium feel as more advanced CSC models, but it delivers where it counts, with many features rivalling even the best DSLRs on the market. Our only real criticisms of the Alpha 6000 would be a downgraded electronic viewfinder, the lack of touchscreen functionality, and missing audio in and out sockets. Other niggles include an awkwardly positioned memory card slot and image review button. Overall though, this is one impressive piece of kit that we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to any enthusiast-level photographer. For the price it boasts an amazingly high spec, making it a very rare instance in today’s camera market of a genuine bargain.
- Kit price: £499 (As of June 2016)
- Effective resolution: 24.3MP
- Sensor type: 23.5x15.6mm APS-C Exmor CMOS
- AF: 179-point phase, 25-point contrast
- ISO: 100-25,600
- LCD: 3in 921k-dot tiltable
- EVF: 1440k-dot, 100% coverage
- Shooting speed: 11fps
- Video: Full HD (1080p) at 50fps
- Battery life: 360 shots (using LCD)
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC, PRO Duo, PRO-HG Duo, PRO-HG HX Duo
- Size (WxHxD): 120x67x45mm
- Weight: 344g
- Visit: www.sony.co.uk
This review was first published in the June 2014 issue of Practical Photography - download back issues here.