a3 March 2014

Sony NEX-6 Review

Warm light
Image quality is one of the biggest strengths of Sony NEX-6. It beats my backup DSLR (Canon 50D) in this category.


I promised it, and here it is - my complete review of Sony NEX-6 mirrorless camera. After using it for a few weeks now I can say a lot about it. Do I like it? Is it good replacement for DSLR? Find out by reading this review.

Sony NEX-6
Please note that today I won't talk much about the lenses. I hope to review them separately. Especially the Sony E f/4 10-18 lens which is pretty fantastic. And one of the best ultra wide angle zoom lenses I worked with.

Introduction & Parameters

You can get Sony NEX-6 in a few packages:
  • As a body alone for around $750.00,
  • With a 16-50 mm kit lens for $900.00, or
  • With 16-50 mm and 55-210 mm lenses for $995.00.
I went with the last option. Additionally I got Sony E f/4 10-18 mm lens which I mentioned at the very beginning of this review. So I currently own 3 Sony E-mount lenses - they cover almost all focal lengths that are interesting for me.

Before going any further take a look at some of the most important parameters of this camera:

VendorSony
Released on2012-09-12
Weight345 g (including battery and memory card)
Dimensions119.9 × 66.9 × 42.6 mm
Megapixel count16
Sensor typeASP-C
Supported file formatsPhotos: RAW, JPEG, RAW + JPEG
Videos: AVCHD 2.0 (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264), MP4
ISO range100 - 25.600
Shutter speed range1/4000 - 30 s, bulb mode
Video resolutionFull-HD
Burst mode FPS10
Built-in flashYes
Wi-FiYes
GPSNo
OtherSwivel LCD screen,
Electronic viewfinder

The biggest advantage of Sony NEX-6 for me is its size and weight. It's really small and light. It looks and feels like a typical compact camera (it's even smaller than some of them!). Together with a lens it weighs less than Canon DSLR body alone. It's so light that when I had it in my backpack I needed to check it's really there or whether I forgot to take it from home. It's really light. Dimensions make it look less professional what is also an advantage because in some places of the world professional photo equipment is now not allowed.

With its small size, comes one issue though. If you have large fingers or try controlling this camera wearing thick gloves, you might have some problems as the buttons are rather small and in such circumstances I ended accidentally pressing wrong buttons.

I also really loved electronic viewfinder - it's the best one I have seen so far. It offers full coverage of the scene and very nice colours and resolution. What's more it can also show virtual horizon or real-time histogram - both features are very useful and can help you take better shots.

Image quality

Image quality, which is one of the most important factors when choosing camera, is surprisingly good - better than on my Canon 50D (which I use as a backup DSLR) - thanks to large ASP-C sensor. Of course image quality is worse than on the full-frame cameras but it's still excellent. The colours are very natural and the images are sharp. Also noise is very low.

The only problem I found is that when using automatic white balance the images had some kind of slight green cast on them (most of the time it wasn't very noticeable though). And it's not only me - Lightroom thinks the same as when I use automatic white balance in it, it almost always moves tint towards magenta.

I was also positively surprised by low light performance of this camera. Both ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 are perfectly usable (although the latter is a little bit noisy). Noise levels are acceptable and can be removed easily in any noise reduction software (like Lightroom or Topaz Denoise). I wouldn't recommend using higher ISOs though (that is 12800 and 25600) because they look much worse. Noise is much bigger on them. However, in some cases they might be useful (it's better to take noisy shot than not to take it at all).
Sony NEX-6 back

Focusing

Regarding auto-focus - it might be better than in most of the compact cameras I tried (and that's true) but it's still far worse than in modern DSLRs. Unfortunately I'm used to the fantastic AF of Canon 5D MK III. Sony NEX-6's one is much much worse. In fact it's hard to compare the two. Object tracking in NEX-6 is virtually useless. If object was moving I lost the majority of shots. In case of 5D - I usually end up with most of the images being in focus in such a case.

Fortunately for me, as I'm landscape photographer, I use manual focus most of the time. And there are a few focus assisting features in Sony NEX-6 that I really liked. They are:
  • Focus peaking - which shows which parts of the image are in focus using bright colour (red, green or yellow) visual cue,
  • Focus assistant - automatically zooms in when you're focusing so you can set your focus precisely. This feature also works also in an electronic viewfinder - which is another advantage of it compared to optical viewfinder.

Issues

As I already mentioned here, my Sony NEX-6 stopped working when I was in Mexico (on the 2nd day of my 14 days stay!). It just got back from repair so I know the cause now. Apparently it got a little bit of water and this broke viewfinder sensor... Luckily it was easy to fix (and not too expensive). Now, the good thing is that water didn't got deeper inside. The bad thing, however, is that I don't recall any water. Ok, there was some moisture in the air (it was Mexico after all which has rather tropical climate) there were some occasional drops of water from the sea but it wasn't much. Either I had some very bad luck and some droplet hit my Sony NEX in its sensitive spot or weather sealing is really really poor.

Another issue is how fast the battery drains. It should suffice for around 250 - 300 photos (sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't for me) which is rather low number. So most of the time I was dragging 3 batteries with me. Another issue is that there is no separate charger. You charge battery by connecting your camera to the electrical outlet - like a smartphone or tablet. It's not very convenient because this way you cannot charge your battery while shooting. What I often do with my DSLRs is to take a few batteries with me for a shoot. At the same time a few others are recharging back at home. When I'm back from photo shoot I have a few more fully charged batteries at my disposal (in case I want to leave to take some photos in a few hours what I often do when travelling). With NEX - I can't do that.

And finally a few problems for HDR photographers:
  • You can only capture 3 exposures in auto-bracketing mode, at 3 EV spacing maximum. It alone wouldn't be a big problem as it's sufficient in many cases (and many other cameras have similar limits), but there is something even worse...
  • Auto-bracketing CANNOT be started with neither 2s delay nor with remote controller. Basically it means that in order to capture photos in auto-bracketing mode you need to hold shutter release button while all 3 exposures are taken. It's not a big deal when you're shooting in bright light with fast shutter speed, but when you're shooting sunset for instance or long exposure - it becomes a serious issue. Holding shutter release in such a case will introduce a lot of camera shake and thus will significantly affect images sharpness. What I do to overcome this is to shoot in Manual mode and quickly change exposure between the shots - this way I can at least use remote controller. Photos might be a little misaligned (and there might be some ghosting) but it's still better than blurry images.
Let it burn

Summary

Time for a short summary. This is an excellent camera in terms of performance and image quality. However, I'm really disappointed by lack of weather and water sealing. If you're, like me, serious about landscape or travel photography, you will probably use it in difficult conditions sometimes. Almost complete lack of weather sealing might be a great obstacle here. Next time I will go shooting seascapes with it I'll probably take some kind of housing to protect it from moisture.

Another problem for me as a HDR photographer are very limited auto-bracketing capabilities. They are so limited that I prefer to shoot in Manual mode and change the exposure between the shots manually.

Other than that this camera is really great. As I mentioned image quality is really fantastic and that's the most important thing for me. It's also great choice if you would like to travel light or would like to look like a regular tourist (but still taking professional looking photos).

Pros:
- fantastic image quality
- excellent electronic viewfinder
- small dimensions and weight
- good low light performance
- super fast burst mode (10 frames per second)
- a lot of useful features, like focus peaking, Wi-Fi support etc.
- standard hot shoe

Cons:
- poor weather sealing (almost none...)
- still rather poor AF compared to DSLR
- automatic white balance often moves colour balance toward greens
- very poor automatic bracketing features
- low capacity of battery

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