Sony A6500 Conclusion

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Sony surprised us with its quick double-whammy of the A6300 and A6500

When Sony first told us of the A6500 late last year, we must admit we felt a mixture of surprise and bewilderment. Following very closely in the footsteps of the A6300, the Sony A6500 was in many respects extremely similar to that camera -- much more so than we'd have expected given that the duo launched just eight months apart. The A6500 is based around the same 24.2-megapixel, APS-C sized image sensor as previously featured in the A6300, and also retains its point-dense AF system, tilting LCD monitor, flash setup, storage, battery and wired / wireless connectivity options.

The Sony A6500's much larger buffer makes sports shooting far more satisfying

But our confusion quickly evaporated once we learned that the A6500 wasn't a replacement for the A6300, and that both cameras would sit side-by-side together at retail for the foreseeable future. So what differentiates the pair? Well there are several significant difference, but for my money, the really big deal here is an extremely worthwhile increase in buffer capacity. This helps to alleviate one of our main complaints with the A6300, as its much more limited buffer meant that it was pretty easy to run out of shots and have to wait for the buffer to clear. (And buffer clearing is traditionally a weak spot of Sony's otherwise-excellent cameras.)

Sony RX100 V review -- Sample photo
127mm-equivalent, 1/4,000 sec. @ f/1.4, ISO 100

Even though the A6500 has the same limited write speed as does the A6300, since both conspicuously lack support for high-speed UHS-II SD cards, you notice it keeping you waiting much less often because it takes much longer to completely fill the buffer. And on those thankfully rarer occasions when you do run up against the buffer capacity, a new indication on the LCD at least gives you a sense of how much longer you'll have to wait for the buffer to clear.

Additional buffer memory might not be a sexy change, but it's unquestionably one which makes the Sony A6500 a more satisfying camera with which to shoot sports and other active subjects. And it comes accompanied by several other feature additions and refinements which are also very welcome.

Sony RX100 V review -- Sample photo
124mm-equivalent, 1/2,000 sec. @ f/4, ISO 250
The brand-new touch screen makes light work of subject selection

For one thing, the Sony A6500 finally sports a touch-screen overlay on its rear-panel, tilting LCD monitor, a feature we've been asking for at every opportunity. The new touch-screen makes AF point selection much more intuitive, for landscape-orientation shooting at least. (And although it can initially prove a little confusing for portrait shots, it works just great there too, once you realize Touch Pad Area function should be set to "whole screen" for best effect in this orientation.)

The A6500 can stabilize your old glass, and improve the stabilization of newer optics too!

And the Sony A6500 also debuts a brand new in-body image stabilization system, a first for a Sony APS-C camera. If the attached lens has its own built-in stabilization system, that's still used for for yaw and pitch correction, while the in-body system supplements the lens-based one for roll and horizontal / vertical translation correction. And if your lens lacks built-in stabilization at all, the new in-camera system does it all, giving the Sony A6500 another significant advantage over the A6300.

Sony RX100 V review -- Sample photo
127mm-equivalent, 1/200 sec. @ f/1.6, ISO 125
And plenty more worthwhile tweaks, as well!

Nor do the tweaks stop there. The Sony A6500 features a subtly restyled, more comfortable body with an extra customizable button, as well as a more comfortable viewfinder eyecup and a refined viewfinder. And Sony has also reworked the A6500's user interface, providing menus that, even if they're still a bit sprawling, are now rather easier to navigate menus

And on the image quality front, the Sony A6500 also brings a modest improvement in high ISO noise levels if you're a JPEG shooter. If you prefer raws, though, then the A6300 will keep up just fine as there's no noticeable difference there.

Sony RX100 V review -- Sample photo
162mm-equivalent, 1/200 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 6400

The Sony A6500 keeps all the best features of its much-loved sibling

In other respects, the Sony A6500 is very similar to its sibling, the A6300 -- and for the most part that's great news. Everything we loved about that camera, we get to keep on loving here. The A6500 sports the same solid build and premium feel, the same great image quality and generous lashings of performance. It also uses the same top-notch autofocus system as in the A6300, which is extremely point-dense and yet still works even at the Sony A6500's highest burst capture rate of 11 frames per second.

And of course, the A6500 isn't just for stills, either. You can shoot really great 4K footage in-camera or via uncompressed HDMI output to your external recorder of choice. The Sony A6500 can also shoot good-quality Full HD video, although HD content does look decidedly low-res after you've gotten used to ultra high-def. And Sony has provided a range of fun and useful options for high speed or low-frame rate video, allowing you to speed up or slow down the world as your artistic needs dictate.

Sony RX100 V review -- Sample photo
360mm-equivalent, 1/400 sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 20,000
A couple of concerns for videographers, but otherwise this is a very polished product

The occasional weak points are relatively few and far between. As mentioned previously, it still takes a while to get to grips with the sprawling menu system even if it's now much better organized. The movie button is poorly located and tends to induce camera shake when pressed, and videographers will also mourn the absence of a headphone jack for audio levels monitoring. Sony's native lens selection is also still not as broad as those of some competing systems, although many rivals' lenses can be adapted for use with Sony's camera.

These few shortcomings are all shared with A6300 though; really the only cons specific to the A6500 are its significantly higher pricetag and an approximate 10% reduction in battery life to CIPA testing standards.

In a nutshell, the Sony A6500 takes an already-great camera and turns it into a really excellent one. It comes highly recommended by us, and is a clear Dave's Pick to boot!

 

Pros & Cons

Image Quality

  • Excellent image quality
  • Crisp, detailed JPEG images with few sharpening artifacts at low sensitivities
  • JPEG image quality is slightly improved at high sensitivities compared to the A6300 (except in the red channel)
  • RAW image quality appears identical to the A6300, which is to say excellent for an APS-C camera
  • Above average exposure accuracy
  • JPEG colors could be better

Performance

  • Extremely point-dense, hybrid autofocus system gives very fast autofocus; boasts eye AF, lock-on AF and very good tracking capabilities
  • Very low shutter lag
  • Very swift burst modes, up to 11.1 fps in Hi+ mode
  • Easy to track subject in VF at up to 8 fps due to live view updates between frames in continuous modes
  • Extremely generous buffer depths, far more so than its predecessor
  • Very slow buffer clearing, with no UHS-II card support (but the huge buffer helps ensure you don't miss shots regardless)
  • Touch Pad AF selection is rather laggy while moving the focus point

Video

  • In-camera 4K video capture with full sensor-width readout and no pixel skipping / binning
  • Regular, high-speed or slow-motion Full HD video from one to 120 fps
  • Supports frame extraction from video clips (eight megapixel for 4K, two megapixel for Full HD)
  • Uncompressed HDMI output is available
  • No headphone jack with which to monitor audio levels

User Experience

  • Subtly-restyled body is comfortable in the hand, with most controls easily reached and great button feel
  • All-magnesium alloy construction is lightweight yet solid
  • Dust and moisture resistant
  • In-body, five-axis stabilization
  • Handy tilting LCD monitor handles glare quite well outdoors (but not quite as versatile as a tilt/swivel one)
  • Finally (!), a touch-screen with which to select your subjects quickly and intuitively
  • Revamped menu system is more logical, but still has a lot of pages that take time to learn
  • Useful multi-shot modes
  • Handy new countdown shows how many frames remain in the buffer waiting to be written to storage
  • Built-in wireless networking; Sony's Wi-Fi and NFC implementation is among the best
  • Tethered shooting possible from Windows / Mac OS, too
  • Extensible via PlayMemories camera apps (but many come with an additional, modest pricetag)
  • Top shutter speed still tops out at only 1/4000s
  • X-sync is still limited to just 1/160s
  • Movie button is poorly-placed, making it difficult to start and stop movie capture without inducing rotation around the vertical axis if you're hand-holding the camera
  • Touch Pad Area function is unintuitive in portrait-orientation shooting
  • Mediocre battery life compared to the A6300, down by some ~11-12%
  • No official portrait / battery grip option
  • No uncompressed raw file format
  • A bit pricey for an APS-C mirrorless camera

Optics

  • Electronic viewfinder is still great, and now has a softer eyepiece cup for better comfort
  • Limited selection of native crop-sensor lenses

Flash

  • Built-in flash means you always have it with you as a last resort
  • Hot shoe means you hopefully won't have to use the built-in one often ;)
  • Fairly weak internal flash with narrow coverage

 



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