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Sony NEX-6

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Sony NEX-6 Video Recording

High-definition video recording capabilities have become a fairly standard feature on the cameras being released nowadays and the Sony NEX-6 is no exception. In fact, similar to its bigger brother, the NEX-7, this CSC (Compact System Camera) offers a healthy array of HD video capabilities that both beginner and enthusiast shooters will find pleasing.

On the image side of things, the video specs are pretty nice, with full 1080p resolution at up to 60 frames per second. There is no 720p choice, however. It features much-welcomed full-time video autofocus, but it does offer manual focusing with the option for live focus peaking to indicate which area of the frame is in focus - a very nice feature not normally seen on cameras at this price point. Unlike more consumer-oriented cameras, the NEX-6 does give you full, adjustable exposure controls both before and during recording. Where the NEX-6 drops the ball, however, is in the audio department. You don't have any level adjustment for audio recording, nor is there a standard 3.5mm external microphone jack, although Sony does offer a hot-shoe-mounted stereo mic as an optional add-on. Other than these small caveats, the NEX-6 packs a great number of video features into a small, lightweight package.

Sony NEX-6 Basic Video Specs

Sony NEX-6 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

The Sony NEX-6 records at three different video resolutions, with a choice of three frame rates and a choice of quality levels at the higher resolutions. Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) movies are recorded in AVCHD format, while lower resolutions are recorded with MPEG-4 compression, but using the Main rather than High profile setting. The NEX-6 eschews the lower 720p HD video resolution in both AVCHD or MP4 formats. The 1,440 x 1,080 MP4 video resolution still comes out to be in 16:9 aspect ratio due to the use of rectangular pixels. This anamorphic HD format is a carryover from HDV camcorders days.

The table below shows the specs for various video recording options.

Sony NEX-6 Video Options
AVCHD Format (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 High Profile, .MTS files)
Resolution
Frame Rate
Average Bit Rate

 

1,920 x 1,080
(16:9 aspect ratio)

 

NTSC: 60 fps (progressive) - 60p
PAL: 50 fps (progressive) - 60p

28 Mbps

NTSC: 60 fps (interlaced) - 60i
PAL: 50 fps (interlaced) - 50i

24 Mbps
17 Mbps

NTSC: 24 fps (progressive) - 24p
PAL: 25 fps (progressive) - 25p

24 Mbps
17 Mbps
MP4 Format (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264 Main Profile, .MP4 files)
Resolution
Frame Rate
Average Bit Rate

1,440 x 1,080
(16:9 aspect ratio)

30 frames per second
(progressive)

12 Mbps

640 x 480
(4:3 aspect ratio)

3 Mbps

As stated above, the Sony NEX-6 offers the choice of three video recording formats, although the choice of encoding is made for you, depending on whether you're shooting at Full HD, or a lower resolution. The NEX-6's Full HD video is recorded using the newer AVCHD format, which is based upon MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 High Profile compression. At 1,440 x 1,080 pixels or below, the NEX-6 still uses MPEG-4 AVC / H.264 compression, but abiding by the Main Profile type. The High Profile compression scheme produces better video quality than Main Profile. Note that 1,440 x 1,080 mode uses rectangular pixels (1.33:1), so movies are 16:9 aspect ratio, despite the lower horizontal resolution in the file.

Compared to AVCHD, the regular MPEG-4 files are a bit less efficient in their use of memory card space for a given image quality level, but are more widely supported, and seem to be a bit easier for older computers to process. Continuous movie recording is limited to approximately 29 minutes regardless of file format, and maximum MP4 movie file size is 2GB. Sony recommends use of at least a Class 4 Secure Digital card, or a Memory Stick Pro Duo Mark 2 / Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo card to avoid issues with write speeds during video capture.

Here are some sample videos shot with the NEX-6:

Sony NEX-6: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, ISO 3200, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, ISO 6400, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, ISO 6400, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second, ISO 6400
Download Original

Sony NEX-6 Video: Image Quality

The video image quality from the NEX-6 was pretty good -- in good lighting. In our standard frisbee video, there was very little appearance of compression artifacts, and areas of lower contrast and fine detail remained sharp and detailed. There were significant amounts of moiré interference and aliasing effects seen on typical culprits like mesh window screens and roof shingles.

In our night time tests, video noise was quite apparent, particularly at ISO 6400, where there was a lot of noise in the shadow areas. The ISO 3200 video appeared much cleaner, although understandably more underexposed than at ISO 6400. Nevertheless, at both high ISO settings, a decent amount of detail could still be seen in the shots.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Focusing

Like the NEX-7 and many other video-capable stills cameras, the NEX-6 offers full-time autofocus capabilities during video recording. The NEX-6 also offers full manual focusing during video recording. Although professional and advanced videographers and cinematographers tend to utilize manual focusing (also called "pulling focus") while filming, many beginners and consumers will enjoy the addition of full-time autofocus. Manually focusing in video, particularly with moving subjects, is a difficult skill to master, and many consumers will welcome the ability to simply point the camera and take video without worrying if their videos are out of focus.

The NEX-6's two autofocus modes, AF-S (single-point AF) and AF-C (continuous AF) function identically in video mode, providing continuous autofocus during recording. The AF system seemed to do a nice job of quickly and silently racking focusing between near and far subjects, as well as keeping subjects in focus as the shooter moved around. You can keep the camera from refocusing by simply half-pressing and holding the shutter button, then recomposing or panning as desired.

The NEX-6 does feature an AF tracking option during video recording, called Object Tracking. This is enabled after video recording has begun by pressing the button next to the lower right of the LCD screen, then pressing the OK/center button after placing the center AF point on the subject you want to track, and the camera will lock on to that object. The camera will track that object for as long as it stays in the frame.

The NEX-6 did not seem to take into account the use of Spot AF. For instance, if using a focus point near the edge of the frame, the camera would still autofocus on subjects in the center of the frame during video recording. For more creative compositions, you would not want to use a Spot AF point to keep your off-center subject in focus. It would be better to use the focus-and-recompose method or manually focus.

Focus Peaking

Focus Peaking. With this enabled, parts of the image that are in focus will be highlighted with a color overlay. Note: manual focus mode only.

In manual focus mode, the NEX-6 automatically toggles into a magnification view (of either 4.8x or 9.6x zoom) to check your focus accuracy whenever you adjust the focus ring on your lens. This only works before video recording as begun. Another very helpful feature, and one that is usually reserved for more expensive cameras and camcorders, is focus peaking. This option, which can be turned on and off in the menu system, displays a colored overlay on the surfaces and edges of the part of your shot that is in focus. This feature makes it much easier to manually focus quickly and more accurately. Note that Sony's Direct Manual Focus (DMF) mode does not work during video recording.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Exposure Control

Shooting some stills and suddenly feel like recording some video? That's no problem on the NEX-6 thanks to its dedicated video record button and ability to record in any still-image exposure mode. The NEX-6 lets you shoot video in Program auto mode, Aperture- and Shutter-priority modes as well as full manual exposure mode. You are also given the ability to change all exposure settings, such as aperture, ISO and shutter speed, both before and during recording in all exposure modes except Program auto mode. In Program auto mode, the shutter speed and aperture are not adjustable during video recording, but you do have the option of changing the ISO sensitivity and exposure compensation.

There are few small caveats to video exposure settings. For one, the ISO range is limited to a maximum of ISO 6400 (which is a bump up from the ISO 3200 limit on the NEX-7), vs the 25,600 available in stills mode. Also, Auto ISO isn't available in Manual exposure mode, but as mentioned, you are still able to manually change the ISO sensitivity during recording.

The NEX-6 does throw out a curveball in terms of the slowest shutter speed available during video recording. In other cameras, typically, the slowest allowable shutter speed is limited by the video frame rate. For example, with video set to 30 frames per second, the camera will limit the shutter speed to 1/30th of a second, and similarly, 1/60th for 60 fps video. On the NEX-6 however, we found that you can shoot video with shutter speeds much slower than the frame rate, all the way down to 1/4th of a second. The upside to this is that in low-light scenes, it allows you to use a lower ISO and thus have less noise in your video. There is a big downside however. The extremely slow shutter speed will make any movement in the shot blurry. If you are handholding the camera, any camera shake will be noticeable and will blur the shot severely. Any moving objects, like cars or people walking by, will be blurred. It's interesting that Sony gave this camera this ability, but for non-moving scenes or perhaps for artistic effect, the use of a slow shutter speed in video could come in handy in special occasions.

Be warned that the small noises from rotating dials or pressing buttons may get picked up by the internal microphone, as well as any handling noise from changing hand positions to adjust various settings. However, the ability to change multiple exposure settings during video recording trumps the small noises that might be picked up in the audio. Just be mindful of this.

Lastly, white balance settings and the various tone and color adjustments from the NEX-6's multiple scene modes will carry over into video mode.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Image Stabilization

Some Sony cameras have sensor-based image stabilization technology, others have a lens-based stabilization system. The small size of the NEX bodies mean that the NEX-6 is one of the latter. The combination of small body and large sensor means there's no room for a sensor-based IS system. This means that rather than having image stabilization regardless of what lens you mount to the camera, you only get Sony's SteadyShot system if you're using an OIS-equipped lens. In Sony's lineup of E-mount lenses, all zoom lenses include Optical SteadyShot technology, as well as the 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/1.8 lenses. With that selection you can have image stabilization at focal lengths ranging from 10mm all the way to 210mm. In our tests with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens, the image stabilization was practically silent, and no noise could be heard on our sample videos.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Audio Recording

Sony NEX-6 with ECM-XYST1M external mic

The NEX-6 has very similar audio recording capabilities to the NEX-7, with one large exception: no standard external mic jack. The NEX-6 has an internal stereo microphone system comprised of two separate mics on the top front of the camera, on either side of the lens mount. In theory, this greater separation between the left and right channels of the audio should provide a better stereo effect, although we have no way of objectively testing this.

As mentioned, the main disadvantage of the NEX-6 versus the NEX-7 in the audio department is the lack of a standard 3.5mm external microphone jack. However, Sony does offer an external hot-shoe-mounted stereo mic (shown on the right - Sony ECM-XYST1M), which includes variable recording directions, a low-cut filter, fuzzy windscreen cover and a mic-out jack for connecting to cameras that don't have a multi-interface shoe.

Therefore, videographers wanting more professional-level audio quality have the option of going with the Sony external mic or must resort to external audio recorders and synchronize the audio in post production.

One big drawback to having only on-board microphones, like we mentioned earlier, is noises from handling, pressing buttons or twisting dials. There is also a big issue with zoom noise, particularly on the lens we tried, the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens. This lens features Power Zoom technology, allowing you to electronically zoom the lens in and out, like a camcorder. Of course, you can also manually zoom the lens just like you would on regular interchangeable zoom lenses, but rather than a purely mechanical zoom system, the zoom function on this lens is electronic. On some sample videos we shot, the zoom noise from this lens was picked up severely by the on-board microphones, and this comes as no surprise, given the fact that the microphones are place right next to the lens mount. The zoom noise was picked up by the mics while using both Power Zoom and manual zoom.

Recording screen

Detailed specifications on the audio recording capabilities of the NEX-6 are fairly limited, with Sony only stating that audio is recorded in Dolby Digital (AC-3) / MPEG-4 AAC-LC in two-channel stereo. In our sample videos, media player applications state that audio is recorded at a 48 KHz sample rate for both AVCHD and MPEG-4 clips. We also found that AVCHD clips had a bit rate of 256 kbps, but no information was discovered for bit rate for MPEG-4 clips.

Another limitation in terms of audio control is the lack of audio level adjustment. While this might not deter the target audience of the NEX-6, it's disappointing to find this feature omitted given the NEX-6's high level of adjustability and control in the image department. It is, however, possible to disable audio recording altogether as well as enable an optional Wind Noise Reduction audio filter.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Recording/Playback User Interface

As mentioned earlier, the NEX-6 allows you to start recording video immediately from any shooting mode. Simply press the red Movie Record button near the thumb hold area, and the camera will start recording video. As such, there really isn't a specific movie interface or menu system that we can show you. In fact, the only menu items exclusively related to video recording are the choice of file format (AVCHD or MP4), image size (1,920 x 1,080, 1,440 x 1,080, or 640 x 480 pixels), and frame rate / compression level (if recording at the higher resolution), as well as options to disable audio recording, and to enable the wind noise reduction filter.

A nice addition to the NEX-6 is the ability to use the electronic viewfinder during video recording. There is a sensor in the EVF that enables the EVF (and disables the LCD screen) for video recording giving you a similar experience to a camcorder. This can come in very handy in bright, sunny scenarios where the glare on the LCD can be pretty severe.

Image and video playback on the NEX-6 is a strange beast. We saw this setup in the NEX-7 as well. Simply put, you can't view images and video in sequential order; you can either view photos or video, but not both. So, for example, let's say you took a few photos, then a video, followed by a few more photos. Since a photo was the last file recorded, when you playback the images, you'll scroll through just still images. It will appear to have skipped right over the video file you just took. In order to see the video, press down on the 5-way controller while in Playback Mode to get an index display, then arrow over to the far left, then press the OK/center button and this will open the Still/Movie Select options to playback the appropriate media type. Even the video formats are in separate folders/categories that must be selected individually in order to review and playback.


Sony NEX-6 Video: Rolling Shutter Artifacts ("Jello Effect")


Sony NEX-6: Rolling Shutter Effect Samples
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 60 frames per second, (PS) mode
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
AVCHD, Progressive, 24 frames per second, (FX) mode
Download Original
1,440 x 1,080
MP4, Progressive, 30 frames per second
Download Original

Almost every video capable digital SLR and mirrorless interchangeable lens camera currently available experience some amount of motion-related distortion called rolling shutter artifacts, also known as the "Jello Effect." The cause of this distortion is the way the information is read from the cameras' sensors; data from the image sensor is read in rows rather than from the entire sensor all at once. With the NEX-6, for a given video frame rate, such as 24 fps or 60 fps, data from last row is being read from the sensor at 1/24th to 1/60th of a second after the top row, respectively. This causes the image, particularly vertical lines like edges of buildings or trees, to appear to bend left or right in a Jello-like manner if you pan or spin the camera quickly.

The NEX-6 does a decent job of handling rolling shutter artifacts, although they are definitely noticeable if you pan quickly or use a slower frame rate like 24p or 30p. This effect is simply a fact of life for this type of camera. Users just need to be aware of this effect and plan shots and camera movements accordingly.


Computer Requirements for Viewing HD Video

A typical computer these days has little trouble dealing with still images, but high-definition video can be another matter. Depending on the file format involved, it can take a pretty beefy computer to handle HD-resolution video playback without stuttering or dropping frames. The AVCHD image compression used by the Sony NEX-6 is one of the more compute-intensive formats, and its high maximum resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels resolution means there's a lot of data in each frame to deal with. The net result is that you'll need a reasonably recent computer to play the Sony NEX-6's Full HD video files smoothly, and will want a pretty powerful machine for Full HD video editing.

You can of course view your movies on a high definition TV via the Mini HDMI (Type C) output. If you're still on a standard-def TV, though, you're out of luck, as the NEX-6 doesn't offer any form of standard-def video output connectivity.