Sony A6500 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A6500|
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 25,600|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 51,200|
|Shutter:||1/4000 - 30 seconds|
4.7 x 2.6 x 2.1 in.
(120 x 67 x 53 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A6500 specifications|
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Sony A6500 Review -- Now Shooting!
by Mike Tomkins and Jeremy Gray
Preview posted: 10/06/2016
Sony's APS-C lineup has a new flagship camera, the Sony A6500. While it shares the same 4D Focus autofocus system as the A6300, the A6500 features vastly improved continuous shooting capabilities thanks to an expanded buffer and a new front-end LSI chip. The sensor inside may offer the same 24.2-megapixels of resolving power, but it is now accompanied by in-body 5-axis image stabilization, a first for a Sony APS-C camera.
Other updates in the Sony A6500 include a touch-screen display that allows for intuitive subject selection even when shooting through the viewfinder, a subtly restyled body for better handling, a revamped and more logical menu system and better high-sensitivity noise performance when shooting in JPEG mode.
For those looking for a full overview of the Sony A6500's features and specs, please click here.
Sony A6500 Field Test Part II
Sundown, fun town: The Sony A6500 takes on the night lights of Gatlinburg, Tennessee
By Mike Tomkins | Posted: 02/05/2017
Late last year, I started my review of the Sony A6500 mirrorless camera with my first Field Test, packed with great action shots from a press experiential in Austin, Texas. The second part of my report has been a little while coming thanks to the holiday season, flu bugs, tradeshows and more, but the good news is that it's here now!
In this Field Test, I'll be looking at two main areas for which I didn't have enough content from the press experiential: Low-light shooting, and video capture. First of all, a quick recap of my earlier Field Test would probably be helpful for those of you who've not already read it, or who read it at the time but don't remember all of the details. (If you've not read it yet, though, I highly recommend going back and starting from the start.)
In my first real-world shoot with the Sony A6500 back in Austin, I came away pretty impressed by this camera and its capabilities. In terms of handling I had few complaints. I found the A6500's body to be pretty comfortable in-hand, even with my larger-than-average hands. Really, about all I'd change on the ergonomic front is the poorly-positioned movie button (something that we'll come back to in a bit), and the lack of a front control dial.
Although the Sony A6500's burst performance hasn't improved since the already-swift A6300, I found the newer model's much greater buffer depth allowed me to take better advantage of its impressive speed. Flash card write speed was still something of a weak spot, but this concern too was alleviated by the larger buffer, as well as a new on-screen indication showing how many shots remain to be written to the flash card.
I also came away fairly satisfied with the updated menu system, which while still quite sprawling is now rather more logically organized. And I loved the new touch-screen overlay on the LCD monitor, which makes focus point selection in particular rather easier. (Although for shots with portrait orientation, it can initially be a bit confusing until you know how the feature works.) I did find myself wishing for the function to be a bit less laggy, though.
Autofocus performance, too, was good. I found that the A6500 handled the action subjects in the Austin shoot very well, although it did occasionally have a tendency to jump from one subject to another while tracking. And at the lower sensitivities which I largely shot on the Austin trip, image quality was excellent, with plenty of detail, good exposure and great color.
Time for some low-light shooting with the Sony A6500
As I've said, I predominantly shot at lower sensitivities with the Sony A6500 on my trip to Austin because most of the subjects arranged for the press experiential were at least fairly well lit. Hence I didn't really get the chance to explore the area above ISO 1600 much at all, and the bulk of my shots were at fairly near base ISO.
Clearly, I needed to correct the imbalance, so I headed up to nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee for some shots around sunset, through twilight and into full darkness. Of course, the town itself was still reasonably well-lit, but nevertheless I found plenty of subjects which let me roam ll the way up to the Sony A6500's upper limit of ISO 51,200-equivalent.
Through all of this, I still found autofocus performance to be good, with the A6500 rarely hunting or failing to lock focus on the first try, and getting the shot in focus the overwhelming majority of the time. Like some cameras, it did occasionally yield a shutter speed that was a little slower than I could comfortably hand-hold, but I think that probably comes down to two factors.
One was that I was shooting with the FE 24-240mm F3.5-6.3 OSS (SEL24240) lens, and frequently shooting at the longer focal lengths it offered. This is a really fun lens to shoot with, incidentally. It's beautifully made and offers a good range of focal lengths to cover most situations you're likely to encounter for typical travel-zoom subjects. It also feels pretty nicely balanced when shooting two-handed with the Sony A6500 body, even when the lens is extended to its maximum length at the telephoto position. It's perhaps a bit on the heavy side for single-handed shooting, though, although it's possible in a pinch.
The other thing that likely came into play is that, as I typically do for review work, I was shooting sets of three bracketed exposures for each subject I selected. In almost every case, the blurred exposure was the one with the slowest shutter speed of the trio. Most of the time, I'd still get a sharp exposure for all three frames, but just now and then that longest shutter speed would be a little more than I could handhold.
As I mentioned earlier I already discussed image quality for lower-sensitivity images in my first Field Test. (Click here if you want to take a look at that.) Image quality remains very good with low noise levels all the way up to ISO 3200-equivalent. Of course, viewed 1:1 some grain is noticeable in the shadows, but it's very fine and strikes me as quite film-like.
As you continue up the scale to ISO 6400-equivalent, the grain starts to get a bit coarser and more visible, but it's still only really noticeable when viewed 1:1 onscreen. By the time you reach ISO 12,800-equivalent, colors start to feel just slightly muted, and the noise (as well as the effects of noise reduction on finer details) continue to become more prominent, but images still remain very usable.
In regular use, I felt that the upper limit on image quality for my own tastes was at somewhere around ISO 16,000 to ISO 20,000-equivalent. Viewed 1:1, you're definitely losing many of the finer details by this point, and the effects of noise reduction are becoming quite visible. Beyond this point, ISO 32,000 to ISO 51,200-equivalent are usable in a pinch for smaller print sizes or viewing on-screen at reduced resolution, but look rather rough if viewed 1:1, and colors are definitely pretty muted.
All things considered, I'd say that the Sony A6500 turns in a very good performance on the image quality front! (Want to see more for yourself? Look in my Sony A6500 gallery for loads more shots across the whole sensitivity range.)
Video shot at the Sony A6500's maximum 4K resolution is absolutely jam-packed with detail, a fact I confirmed by viewing the output on my 55-inch Sony 4K TV. The image looks extremely lifelike, and just as for still imaging, exposure and color are also pretty darned good, which helps give subjects a feeling of realism.
There are only really two main downsides to shooting at this resolution: 4K filesizes are almost double those of Full HD clips at the same frame-rate, and your choice of frame-rate options are much more limited. Ultra high-def capture tops out at just 30 frames per second, so there are no significant opportunities for slow-motion videos in 4K, and more active subjects can look a bit choppy. (But both priority and fully manual exposure control are available for video capture, so you can switch to a slower shutter speed to blur motion, giving a more natural, less choppy-looking aesthetic.)
Once you're used to 4K, switching back to Full HD resolution can feel a bit jarring, reinforcing just how much more detail there is in that 4K image. If you can afford the storage space and don't need higher frame-rates than are available for 4K footage, there's no question that it's worth shooting ultra-high def today, even if you don't yet have an ultra high-def display.
Still, it's not really fair to compare Full HD to 4K. Compared to Full HD output from other cameras, I'd say the Sony A6500 does a pretty good job. There's still a good amount of fine detail, and as for 4K, movie exposure and color are generally pretty good. It's really nice to have the higher frame-rate 60 fps and even 120 fps capture in Full HD, too, both to help reduce the choppiness of moving subjects and for the slow-motion possibilities it provides.
And speaking of slow motion, the Sony A6500 also sports a raft of Quick and Slow Motion modes. You have a choice of recording at one, two, four, eight, 15, 30, 60 or 120 fps, and then outputting at 24, 30 or 60 frames per second. The result is anywhere from a 5x slow-motion effect with 120fps capture and 24fps output, to 60 fps fast-motion with 1fps capture and 60fps output. Note that it isn't possible to record with 120fps capture and 60fps output, however.
One other thing to bear in mind is that the faster your capture frame rate, the less rolling shutter or jello effect that may be visible in resulting videos, depending upon your subject. Shooting 120fps Full HD video, I noticed that there was far less tendency for moving subjects like cars to look tilted than there was at the slowest 24 or 30fps capture rates.
Full-time autofocus is available during movie capture, and so is Sony's SteadyShot image stabilization system. The Sony A6500 reacts fairly quickly to changes in subject distance, and includes the ability to track subjects as they move around the frame during movie capture. Focus shifts while recording a video clip are intentionally slower than those in still imaging, so as to give a smoother focus shift that's not so jarring.
And thanks to its in-body image stabilization, the Sony A6500 also provides a way to steady your movies even if the attached lens lacks built-in stabilization. The in-body image stabilization of the Sony A6500 isn't quite strong enough to stabilize the motion from walking, although it comes fairly close with wider lenses. It's certainly more than up to the task of filling in for a tripod when hand-holding your video clips, though.
All things considered, I think the Sony A6500's movie mode offers quite a bit of bang for your buck. And if you need an added measure of control, it even allows for uncompressed HDMI output to an external recorder. There are only really two things which jump to mind that I'd like to see changed.
For one thing, I'm still not a big fan of the movie button placement, which is something I've mentioned in past reviews, as the design is similar to that shared by other recent Sony cameras. Since it's mounted in the outside of the thumb grip at the top right corner of the rear panel and the button itself is very small with relatively little button feel, it's hard to press properly without shaking the camera from side to side. I'd like to see a more traditional location used in future models, whether on the top deck or inside the thumbgrip.
I'd also like to see a headphone jack added to allow for in-camera audio levels monitoring. There's a microphone jack to complement the built-in stereo mic on this model, but a headphone jack sadly didn't make the cut.
Final thoughts on my time with the Sony A6500
As I reach the end of my time with the Sony A6500, it's time for my closing thoughts. Having shot with it quite extensively over the last couple of months, I find myself coming away very impressed indeed by this camera! It's relatively compact and quite comfortable to shoot with, yet offers a great degree of configurability and versatility, along with an extremely generous feature set.
Perhaps best of all, it shoots really great images and videos, with loads of detail and realistic color. It's a whole lot of fun to use, and while there are still some improvements I'd like to see made here and there, I'd say it has be be hands-down my favorite sub-frame mirrorless camera to date!
Sony A6500 Overview
By Jeremy Gray | Posted: 10/06/2016
The Sony A6500 features a 24.2-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor. The sensor, like the one found in the A6300, includes a variety of interesting technologies to help provide superior performance. The sensor combines a large photodiode substrate and a particularly thin wiring layer (compared to previous sensors from Sony) which allows the sensor to collect light more efficiency. Additionally, the sensor utilizes quick-transmission copper wiring that aids the A6500 in capturing 4K and high-speed Full HD video.
The 3:2 ratio sensor records 6,000 x 4,000 pixel images in JPEG and RAW file formats, with the latter format being 14-bit RAW (although not uncompressed). Files can be recorded in sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces and the camera includes 13 types of Picture Effects (including Posterization, Pop Color, High Contrast Monochrome and more) and Creative Styles such as Standard, Vivid and Sunset, all with contrast, saturation and sharpness adjustments available.
Not everything is the same as it was in the A6300, however, as Sony has made advancements to its BIONZ X image processing engine. A newly-developed front-end large scale integration (LSI) chip and an optimized image processing algorithm is stated to contribute to improved texture reproduction and image quality. In addition to better image quality, the A6500 is said to offer less noise, particularly in the mid-to-high ISO sensitivity range. The A6500's native ISO range is 100-25,600, but it can be expanded to up to ISO 51,200.
Sony A6500 adds in-body 5-axis image stabilization and more
The A6500 can compensate for five types of camera shake with its new in-body 5-axis image stabilization system, which is a first for an APS-C camera from Sony. The camera uses a "high-accuracy gyro sensor" to provide stabilization equivalent to five stops according to CIPA testing standards. By pressing the shutter release halfway, you can monitor the image stabilization effect through the viewfinder or on the rear LCD, which allows you to ensure accurate framing and focus. When using an E-mount lens that has built-in optical image stabilization, the camera body handles horizontal, vertical and roll axis compensation while the lens compensates for pitch and yaw.
Despite this addition, thanks to reorganizing the camera's internal components, Sony was able to keep the A6500 body roughly the same size as the A6300. With a battery and Memory Stick Pro Duo card included, the A6500 weighs approximately a pound (453 grams) and has 4.75 x 2.75 x 2.13-inch dimensions (120 x 66.9 x 53.3 millimeters). That's only 1.7 ounces (49g) heavier and 0.18 inches (4.5mm) thicker than the A6300; the other dimensions are identical.
Constructed from magnesium alloy, the body is designed to be durable and reliable. It isn't just the body that's been crafted for durability, however, as the shutter mechanism has also been tested up to 200,000 release cycles. Speaking of the shutter, Sony has added braking mechanisms and elastic material that are said to reduce vibration during shutter release. Unfortunately, top shutter speed is still 1/4000s, even with the electronic shutter.
To help you shoot in adverse conditions, the A6500 also includes dust and moisture resistance, including sealing around buttons and dials and a double-layered structure that creates tight locks between various components and panels. Borrowing from the A7 II series, the A6500 also includes a more robust lens mount.
Two of the Sony A6500's most notable body features relate to its displays. The 3-inch TFT LCD monitor on the rear of the camera now has a touch panel overlay. Sony shooters have been clamoring for better touchscreen integration in Sony's diverse camera lineup and the A6500 answers the call. The tilting display can angle up approximately 90 degrees and down roughly 45. When shooting through the camera's new electronic viewfinder (more on that in a moment), you can use the rear display to select a focus point using touch. The Touch Pad function allows the user to swipe a finger across the display and change the focus point.
Speaking of the electronic viewfinder, the A6500 includes an XGA OLED Tru-Finder. The high-contrast, high-resolution XGA OLED viewfinder is said to better reproduce darkness, color and fine details. It can be used with either 120 (100 in PAL region) or 60 (50) frames per second frame rates and has approximately 2.36-million dots. The 0.39"-type electronic viewfinder offers a 35mm equivalent magnification of 0.70x and 100% field coverage.
Besides the new internal features, addition of touchscreen functionality and an improved electronic viewfinder, you couldn't be faulted for not seeing much difference between the A6300 and A6500 bodies. On the back of the camera, the button layout is identical, save for a button becoming a C3 button instead of a C2 button. This change is due to Sony adding an additional C button on the top deck of the camera (which is otherwise unchanged in layout and functionality from the A6300). While the camera looks basically the same, the feel of it is stated to have been improved. The front grip is further recessed for improved comfort and the release button is larger. The feel of the mode and control dials and the rear face buttons has been enhanced and the viewfinder's eyepiece cup is now softer.
The A6500 still includes a built-in pop-up flash which has a guide number of 6 meters at ISO 100 (19.7 feet) and offers a claimed flash coverage of 16mm. Up to +/-3 EVs of flash compensation is available and you can utilize flash bracketing. The flash recycles in approximately 4 seconds. The camera has the same 1/160s x-sync as its predecessor, which is somewhat disappointing.
When the A6300 released this spring, we found its new 4D Focus autofocus system to be one of its strongest features, offering up a massive array of both phase detect and contrast detect autofocus points and great speed. The A6500 uses this same system which has 425 phase detection points and 169 contrast detect AF points. The hybrid AF system can acquire focus in as little as 0.05 second and has a sensitivity range of -1 to 20 EV.
To assist with continuous autofocus, the high-density focus system includes sophisticated tracking technology (which worked very well in the A6300). Additional focus features include Eye AF (which is compatible with AF-C), Lock-on AF (in which the camera automatically tracks a selected subject through the frame) and autofocus capabilities when using Focus Magnifier.
Here at Imaging Resource, we have consistently remarked when reviewing Sony cameras that the menu system needed work. With the A6500 and its new menu interface, we hope that Sony has addressed our previous concerns. The refined user interface has a new categorization scheme, which displays group names and colored tabs. Without yet getting our hands on the camera, we cannot say for sure whether or not the menus are user friendly, but any improvement is welcomed. Also, regarding file naming, the A6500 allows for customized file names so you don't have to use the standard DSC prefix.
The A6500 utilizes a 1200-zone evaluative metering system and Exmor CMOS metering sensor. Its sensitivity is -2 to 20 EV and it offers evaluative, center-weighted and spot metering. You can link the metering spot location to the focus area when using flexible spot or expand flexible spot autofocus areas. There are two new metering modes: "highlight" and "entire screen average." The former meters exposure while focused on the brightest part of the frame and the latter maintains an average for the entire image.
Your standard assortment of shooting modes are all present (program, aperture priority, shutter speed priority and manual), but the A6500 also includes creative modes, such as sweep panorama and scene selection. The A6500 also has a silent shooting mode which allows for shooting at up to 3fps with full AF/AE tracking without the noise of faster continuous shooting modes, ideal for situations where silence is a necessity.
Remote control shooting has been improved as well. The Sony A6500 includes both Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity, so it is fully compatible with Sony's suite of PlayMemories Camera Apps, including Smart Remote Control, but you can also control the A6500 via a connected computer. You can control the camera's settings from the computer and even record images to both the camera and computer.
Demo of Sony A6500 JPEG buffer performance in 11fps Hi+ mode
A6500 can shoot up to 307 consecutive frames at high speeds
The same improved LSI chip that contributes to improved high ISO image performance is also responsible for the A6500's vastly-expanded buffer depth. Naturally, how big the buffer depth is in the A6500 depends on image quality, but when you are shooting in the Hi Continuous drive mode and recording "fine" JPEG images, Sony claims that the A6500 can record up to 307 images over a duration of 35 seconds. The camera can shoot even faster than that, however, when recording in the Hi+ continuous shooting mode which provides 11fps shooting versus the 8fps shooting available in Hi. When shooting at 11fps, JPEG buffer depth decreases to 200 frames, which still eclipses the 47 Fine (44 Extra Fine) JPEG frames that the A6300 could consecutively capture. When recording RAW images, the A6500 is rated by Sony to capture up to 107 frames (100 when recording RAW + JPEG) when shooting in the Hi+ drive mode (11fps). We will have to test the camera's speeds for ourselves in the lab, but if the A6500 meets spec, this RAW buffer represents an over 80-frame improvement.
Demo of Sony A6500 RAW buffer performance in 11fps Hi+ mode
Like the A6300, the A6500 offers internal 4K recording. Shooting 3840 x 2160 resolution video in Super 35mm format -- which utilizes the image sensor's entire width -- the A6500 has full pixel readout capabilities and doesn't bin pixels. This results in the camera collecting 6K of information, thus oversampling it to produce 4K footage. 4K footage can be recorded up to 30 frames per second and 4K video is recorded at a 100 Mbps bit rate in the XAV S codec. Full HD video can be recorded at up to 120fps.
When recording 4K or Full HD video, users can select S-Log gamma recording which offers approximately 14 stops of exposure latitude in the S-Log3 setting. This is ideal for users who will be doing extensive post-production on video files as it provides expanded flexibility. The A6500's gamma display assist allows you to view video recording in S-Log gamma settings with more natural-looking contrast and exposure.
The new Slow and Quick mode supports both slow motion and quick motion. It does this by allowing selection of eight different frame rates ranging from 1 to 120fps. The end result is up to 60x quick motion and 5x slow motion video recording. The captured footage can be previewed right on your camera without the need to view it on a computer.
If you want to take full advantage of the camera's 4K video recording for still images, you can do that now too. The A6500 allows you to extract 8-megapixel stills from 4K video and 2-megapixel stills from Full HD video.
The Sony A6500 uses the same rechargeable NP-FW50 lithium-ion battery pack as the A6300, which allows for up to 310 shots when using the electronic viewfinder and 350 shots when using the LCD monitor according to CIPA battery life figures. Unsurprisingly given the A6500's higher performance and built-in image stabilization, that's down from 350 and 400 shots per charge respectively for the A6300. Like the A6300, the Sony A6500 supports internal battery charging via USB.
Wired connectivity includes a Multi Micro USB 2.0 terminal, a Micro HDMI (Type-D) connector, Multi Interface hot shoe and a 3.5mm external mic jack (the A6500 includes a built-in stereo microphone). The Multi USB terminal also supports an optional RM-VPR1 wired remote control and tethered remote shooting from a Windows or Mac computer running Sony's Remote Camera Control utility. The A6500 doesn't include a headphone jack nor a vertical grip connector.
Also like the A6300, the A6500 records to Memory Stick Duo and SD memory cards and supports UHS-I, but not UHS-II, which is a bit surprising given the A6500's emphasis on continuous shooting performance. As mentioned above, the Sony A6500 includes Wi-Fi and NFC compatibility as well as QR functionality.
With the A6300 just released this past March, it might seem surprising that the A6500 has been announced in early October, but Sony says the A6300 will continue to be sold alongside the new model. While the two APS-C cameras look similar, there's no mistaking the A6500's place as the new flagship camera in Sony's mirrorless APS-C lineup. The sensor and autofocus systems are shared, but the vast increase in continuous shooting buffer makes the A6500 much more suited for high-speed shooting situations. Not only that, but the touchscreen functionality, enhanced electronic viewfinder, in-body image stabilization and redesigned menu system should make the A6500 a much friendlier camera to use and all of these improvements address issues we had with the otherwise excellent A6300 camera.
Initial thoughts on the Sony A6500
Speed and usability are the two main focuses of the A6500. The camera's new processing capabilities and touchscreen functionality are a testament to that. Add in all of the features it shares with the A6300 and you have a recipe for an excellent all-around APS-C mirrorless camera. The proof is in the pudding, however, so we will need to put the A6500 through its paces.
The Sony A6500 will be available in November 2016 with a suggested retail price of around US$1,400, and will be sold body-only. Additionally, a new leather body case will ship in November and a new eyepiece cup will be released at a later date.
Sony A6500 Field Test Part I
All the action from awesome Austin: The A6500 gets a real workout!
Earlier this year, my colleague Jeremy Gray published his review of the Sony A6300, a followup to 2014's amazingly popular A6000. Now in double-quick time that camera, too, has a successor in the form of the Sony A6500. Recently, I was fortunate to shoot with the A6500 on a press experiential in Austin, Texas.
In all, I had three cameras on hand to shoot with during the week: The aforementioned A6500, the Translucent Mirror-based Sony A99 II and the pocket-friendly Sony RX100 V compact. With the A99 II in short supply, though, and the RX100 V perhaps not the most ideally-suited to the subjects on hand thanks to a relatively short lens, it was the A6500 with which I did the most shooting.
As is typical on a press experiential, Sony had plenty of great shooting subjects lined up to give all three cameras a good workout. After my first week with the A6500, I have to say that it acquitted itself might well, turning out a whole bunch of shots that I'm absolutely thrilled with!
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