Sony A6500 Image Quality


Color

Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Lower-than-average default saturation levels, with slightly below average hue accuracy.

ISO Sensitivity
100
200
400
800
12800
In the diagram above, the squares show the original color, and the circles show the color that the camera captured. More saturated colors are located toward the periphery of the graph. Hue changes as you travel around the center. Thus, hue-accurate, highly saturated colors appear as lines radiating from the center. Mouse over the links to compare ISOs and click on links for larger images.

Saturation. The Sony A6500's mean default color saturation is oversaturated by 7.5% at base ISO, which is a bit lower than average these days but also more realistic. Mean saturation is stable as sensitivity rises up to ISO 6400, then falls off as sensitivity is increased further to a minimum of only 90.4% (undersaturated by 9.6%) at ISO 51,200 which looks quite drab. At low to moderately high ISOs reds are boosted quite a bit and dark blues and dark greens are boosted moderately. Most other colors are pushed just a bit or pretty close to accurate, though yellow and light greens are undersaturated at base ISO, and become quite muted at ISO 12,800 and above. Most consumer digital cameras produce color that's more highly saturated (more intense) than found in the original subjects. This is simply because most people like their color a bit brighter than life.

Skin tones. The Sony A6500 does fairly well with Caucasian skin tones when using either Auto or Manual white balance in simulated daylight. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy pinkish tint and darker areas are nudged toward orange, though overall skin tones are perhaps a bit exaggerated. Where oversaturation is most problematic is on Caucasian skin tones, as it's very easy for these "memory colors" to be seen as too bright, too pink, too yellow, etc.

Hue. The Sony A6500 shifts cyan toward blue and red toward orange moderately, but shifts in orange toward yellow and yellow to toward green are more pronounced than most cameras. (The cyan to blue shift is very common among the digital cameras we test; we think it's a deliberate choice by camera engineers to produce better-looking sky colors.) The yellow to green shift is unfortunate, as it is also desaturated, which leads to dingy-looking yellows. With an average "delta-C" color error of 6.35 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is slightly below average, and remains below average across the ISO range. Hue is "what color" the color is.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sensor

Exposure and White Balance

Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm, reddish cast with Auto, but good color with Incandescent and Manual white balance. No exposure compensation required.

Auto White Balance
0 EV
Incandescent White Balance
0 EV
Manual White Balance
0 EV

Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance was too warm and reddish with the Auto white balance setting. Results with the Incandescent setting were better, though a bit yellow. The Manual setting was quite accurate, just slightly on the cool side. The Sony A6500 required no exposure compensation here, while +0.3 EV is about average for this shot. (Our test lighting for this shot is a mixture of 60 and 100 watt household incandescent bulbs, a pretty yellow light source, but a very common one in typical home settings here in the U.S.)

Outdoors, daylight
Excellent results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast and above average exposure accuracy.

Auto White Balance,
+0.3 EV
Auto White Balance,
0 EV

Outdoors, the Sony A6500 performed well. +0.3 EV exposure compensation was required to keep the mannequin's face bright in our "Sunlit" Portrait shot, which is better than average among the cameras we've tested. (Most cameras require about +0.7 EV here.) Contrast is a little high as you might expect under such harsh lighting, but despite the bright appearance, very few highlights were blown, even without the help of Dynamic Range Optimization DRO -- see below. Both Auto and Manual white balance produced decent though a bit too reddish skin tones under simulated daylight, and some of the yellow flowers look a bit green. Default exposure for our Far-field shot (above right) looks a touch underexposed, but as a result virtually no highlights were blown (just a few specular highlights) and no shadows were lost, again with DRO disabled. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has good color balance, though colors are on the cool side, and not as pumped as most cameras. Still, excellent overall performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Resolution
~2,750 to ~2,800 lines of strong detail from both JPEGs and RAW files.

Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
Camera JPEG
Strong detail to
~2,800 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
Strong detail to
~2,750 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW

In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns up to about 2,800 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and to about 2,750 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but lines begin to merge at these resolutions, and aliasing artifacts actually start to appear as low as about 2,500 lines. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,600 to 3,700 lines. Some color moiré is evident in JPEGs, though that's not uncommon. Adobe Camera Raw wasn't really able to extract more lines of resolution here from a matching RAW file, but it generated much stronger color moiré (different colors as well). Use these numbers to compare with other cameras of similar resolution, or use them to see just what higher resolution can mean in terms of potential detail.

See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images

Sharpness & Detail
Excellent default sharpness, with minimal sharpening artifacts. Mild to moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.

Excellent definition of high-
contrast elements with low
sharpening artifacts.
Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.

Sharpness. The Sony A6500 captures sharp, crisp images at lower ISOs, with few visible edge enhancement artifacts. We often see some fairly bright and/or thick sharpening halos around high-contrast elements such as the lettering and lines in our bottle labels (above left), but the A6500's sharpening algorithm is adept at making details pop without introducing strong sharpening artifacts. Excellent results here, at least at low ISOs. Edge enhancement creates the illusion of sharpness by enhancing colors and tones right at the edge of a rapid transition in color or tone.

Detail. The crop above right shows mild to moderate noise suppression in the darker areas of the mannequin's hair. A number of low-contrast strands are smudged together, though higher contrast strands are still distinct. Overall, though, very good results here for a 24-megapixel APS-C camera. Noise-suppression systems in digital cameras tend to flatten-out detail in areas of subtle contrast. The effects can often be seen in shots of human hair, where the individual strands are lost and an almost "watercolor" look appears.

RAW vs In-Camera JPEGs
As noted above, the Sony A6500 produces sharp in-camera JPEGs with very good detail and few sharpening artifacts, at least at low ISOs. Additional detail can often be obtained from carefully processing RAW files with a good converter, though. Let's see how base ISO compares here:

Base ISO (100)
Camera JPEG, defaults
RAW via Adobe Camera Raw

In the table above, we compare a best quality in-camera JPEG taken at base ISO using default noise reduction and sharpening (on the left) to the matching RAW file converted with Adobe Camera Raw 9.1 via DNG Converter 9.10 using default noise reduction with some moderate but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (250%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).

Looking closely at the images, we can see that ACR extracts additional detail that isn't present in the JPEG from the camera, particularly in the troublesome red-leaf swatch where the fine thread pattern is likely treated as noise by the JPEG engine. Fine detail in the mosaic is also a bit better and more refined looking, but as is often the case, more luminance noise can be seen, though the in-camera JPEG shows more chroma noise in the shadows. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default ACR NR used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff. Also notice that the ACR conversion does not show the yellow-to-green shift in the olive oil bottle that the in-camera JPEG does, and colors are generally more accurate and pleasing.

Apart from some issues with color, the Sony A6500's in-camera JPEG processing is very good (at least at low ISOs) with generally excellent detail and very few sharpening artifacts.

ISO & Noise Performance
Very good high ISO performance for an APS-C camera.

Default High ISO Noise Reduction
ISO 100 ISO 200 ISO 400
ISO 800 ISO 1600 ISO 3200
ISO 6400 ISO 12,800 ISO 25,600
ISO 51,200

The detail versus noise tradeoff is excellent at ISOs 100 through 800, with a nice, gradual drop in image quality as sensitivity rises. ISO 1600 is noticeably noisier, but fine detail is still very good for this sensitivity and sensor size and chroma noise is well controlled. At ISO 3200, image quality takes a larger hit due to stronger noise reduction, but a lot of fine detail is still intact, however flatter areas start to take on a slightly hammered look. Fine detail is still pretty good at ISO 6400 with a fairly tight noise "grain" and low chroma noise, but image quality rapidly deteriorates at higher ISOs, with lower saturation, progressively stronger noise "grain", more conspicuous noise reduction artifacts, and some blotchy yellow or purple chroma noise at the highest ISOs.

Overall, high ISO performance in JPEGs is similar to the A6300 though Sony seems to have dialed back default noise reduction a bit at higher ISOs leaving behind a bit more noise but retaining more fine detail as well. As always, see the Print Quality section below for maximum recommended print sizes at each ISO, as printed performance often doesn't correlate well to what's seen on-screen at 100%, and check out our Comparometer to see how the Sony A6500's JPEGs compare to other cameras we've tested.

Note that we now shoot this series at f/8 instead of f/4, for increased depth of field (at f/4, it was very difficult to focus for maximum sharpness in the crop area while maintaining consistent focus between models).

Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Excellent highlight and shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of focusing and capturing bright images in near darkness.

0 EV +0.3 EV +0.7 EV

Sunlight. The Sony A6500 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the +0.3 EV exposure here as the mannequin's face is bright while very few highlights were clipped in the white shirt. The default (0 EV) exposure is just a tad dim in the face, while the +0.7 EV exposure is definitely too bright. As mentioned previously, contrast is a little high, but both highlight and shadow detail is very good at +0.3 EV. Overall, very good results here.

For best results, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown above; it's better to shoot in the shade when possible. See below for results with Dynamic Range Optimization and High Dynamic Range features enabled.

Because digital cameras are more like slide film than negative film (in that they tend to have a more limited tonal range), we test them in the harshest situations to see how they handle scenes with bright highlights and dark shadows, as well as what kind of sensitivity they have in low light. The shot above is designed to mimic the very harsh, contrasty effect of direct noonday sunlight, a very tough challenge for most digital cameras. (You can read details of this test here. In actual shooting conditions, be sure to use fill flash in situations like the one shown here; it's better to shoot in open shade whenever possible.)

Outdoor Portrait DRO Comparison (0 EV)
DRO
Setting:


Auto
(Default)


Off

Level 1

Level 2

Level 3

Level 4

Level 5

Dynamic Range Optimization is Sony's name for their dynamic range enhancement technology. DRO divides the image into small areas, analyzes the range of brightness of each area, and adjusts the camera's tone curve and other processing parameters accordingly to make the best use of the available dynamic range. DRO does not boost ISO for the entire image like some systems, so increased noise is less of an issue, though existing noise may be more visible in raised shadows. Auto DRO is enabled by default on the Sony A6500. You can also set the level manually, from 1 ("weak") to 5 ("strong"), or turn it off. As one would expect, DRO is only applied to JPEG files however RAW files are tagged for similar processing by compatible software.

The above thumbnails and histograms show the effects of the available levels of DRO on our "Sunlit" Portrait shot with no exposure compensation. Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image. As you can see from the thumbnails and histograms, DRO worked as expected, boosting shadows and mid-tones without blowing additional highlights, yielding more balance exposures. The Auto DRO setting did a decent job here, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.

Far-field DRO Comparison (0 EV)
Off

Above, you can see the effects of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. The default Auto setting produced a nicely balanced exposure, despite the harsh lighting. A useful feature.


Outdoor Portrait HDR Comparison (0 EV)
HDR
Setting:


Off
(Default)


Auto

1 EV

2 EV

3 EV

4 EV

5 EV

6 EV

High Dynamic Range. The Sony A6500's HDR mode takes three images in rapid succession, one nominally exposed , one underexposed, and one overexposed, then combines them into one high dynamic range JPEG automatically (RAW images are not supported). Lighter areas from the underexposed image are combined with darker areas from the overexposed image to produce an image with compressed tonal range. The camera then saves a single composite image, as well as the nominally exposed image. The overlaid images are micro-aligned by the camera, but it can only correct for so much movement. If it can't micro-align successfully, an icon indicating HDR capture failed will appear. For best results, the subject should not move or blink, so it's not really intended for portraits. There is also a manual mode where you can select 1 EV ("weak") to 6 EV ("strong") difference in exposures.

Mouse over the links to load the associated thumbnail and histogram, and click on the links to visit the full resolution image. As you can see, the Auto setting did a decent job boosting shadows and mid-tones while reigning back highlights, however the overall exposure is a bit dim. The higher the manual setting, the more highlights are toned-down and shadows opened up, but higher settings can produce flat and unnatural results with this scene. Still, it's nice that Sony provides six manual levels, giving quite a bit of control over the effect.

Far-field HDR Comparison (0 EV)

Above, you can see the effects of HDR settings on our Far-field shot. Watch out for ghost and double images caused by movement within the scene during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in the flag and leaves of some of the shots above.

Sony has one of the more flexible in-camera HDR implementations we've seen making it a useful feature for those that don't want to bracket and combine images in post.

Dynamic Range Analysis (RAW mode)
While we once performed our own dynamic range measurements based on in-camera JPEGs as well as converted RAW images (when the camera was supported by Adobe Camera Raw), we've switched to using DxO Labs' results from their DxOMark website. As technology advanced, the dynamic range of modern high-end cameras in some cases exceeded the range of the Stouffer T4110 density scale that we used for our own measurements. DxO's approach based on RAW data before demosaicing is also more revealing, because it measures the fundamental dynamic range of the sensor, irrespective of whatever processing is applied to JPEGs, or to RAW data by off-the-shelf conversion software.

In the following, we use DxO's "Print" dynamic range results, which are scaled based on camera resolution. As the name suggests, this scaling corresponds to the situation in which you print at a given size, regardless of how many megapixels the camera might have. (In other words, if you've decided to make a 13x19 inch print, that's the size you're printing, whether the camera's resolution is 16 or 300 megapixels.) For the technically-minded, you can find a discussion of the reasoning behind this here on the DxOMark website. Also note that DxO Labs uses a signal-to-noise (SNR) threshold of 1 when defining the lower boundary of acceptable luminance noise in their dynamic range measurements, which corresponds to the "Low Quality" threshold of the Imatest software we used to use for this measurement.

Here, we decided to compare the Sony A6500's dynamic range to its predecessor, the A6300, and also to the best performing APS-C camera to date in terms of dynamic range, the Nikon D7200. You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.

As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger version), the Sony A6500's dynamic range (shown in orange) is very similar to the A6300's (yellow) at most ISOs, with nearly identical peaks of about 13.7 at base ISO. The A6500 scored a littler higher at ISO 400 and 800 and just a touch lower at the highest ISOs, but we doubt these minor differences can be discernible in real-world shots.

The Sony A6500's dynamic range still lags behind the class-leading Nikon D7200 (in red) at lower ISOs, with the D7200 managing a very impressive 14.6 EV at base ISO. But the A6500 catches up between ISO 400 and 800 and actually bests the D7200 significantly at ISOs above 6400, with over a 1.1 EV lead at the highest common ISO of 25,600.

Overall, very good dynamic range especially at higher ISOs, though some competitors from companies like Nikon and Pentax perform significantly better at low ISOs. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A6500 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.


  1 fc
11 lux
1/16 fc
0.67 lux
1/16 fc
No NR
ISO
100
Click to see A6500LL001003.JPG
2s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL001007.JPG
30s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL001007XNR.JPG
30s, f2.8
ISO
3200
Click to see A6500LL032003.JPG
1/15s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL032007.JPG
1s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL032007XNR.JPG
1s, f2.8
ISO
25600
Click to see A6500LL256003.JPG
1/125s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL256007.JPG
1/8s, f2.8
Click to see A6500LL256007XNR.JPG
1/8s, f2.8

Low Light. The Sony A6500 was able to capture bright images down to the lowest light level we take lab shots at (1/16 foot-candle or -2.0 EV) even at base ISO. Noise is very low at base ISO and well-controlled at ISO 3200, though as expected noise and noise reduction artifacts are quite high and objectional at the highest non-expanded ISO setting of 25,600.

Auto white balance did a good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance across tested ISOs and light levels.

We didn't detect any significant issues with hot pixels, banding (fixed-pattern noise), or heat blooming.

LL AF: The Sony A6500's autofocus system was able to focus on our low-contrast AF target down to -1.7 EV unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is pretty good, and it was able to focus on our newer high-contrast AF target down to a very dim -4.8 EV, which is excellent. The A6500 is also equipped with an AF assist lamp, which allows it to focus in complete darkness as long as the subject is within range and has sufficient contrast.

How bright is this? The one foot-candle light level that this test begins at roughly corresponds to the brightness of typical city street-lighting at night. Cameras performing well at that level should be able to snap good-looking photos of street-lit scenes.

NOTE: This low light test is conducted with a stationary subject, and the camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. Most digital cameras will fail miserably when faced with a moving subject in dim lighting. (For example, a child's ballet recital or a holiday pageant in a gymnasium.) Thanks to their larger pixels and in the case of the A6500, its Hybrid AF system, compact system cameras like the Sony A6500 tend to do much better than point & shoots, but you still shouldn't expect a quick autofocus lock with moving subjects. (A useful trick is to just prop the camera on a convenient surface, and use its self-timer to release the shutter. This avoids any jiggling from your finger pressing the shutter button, and can work quite well when you don't have a tripod handy.)

Output Quality

Print Quality
Terrific 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200/400; a nice 16 x 20 at ISO 1600; a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageISO 100/200 prints look terrific at 30 x 40 inches and higher. There is sharp detail in the finely detailed areas of our Still Life target such as the fabric swatches, and the colors are rich throughout. Feel free to print as large as you'd like at these ISOs until you run out of resolution at your intended viewing distance.

ISO 400 images are also quite good at 30 x 40 inches, with virtually no signs at this large print size that the ISO gain has been increased. A good level of fine detail and rich colors still abound at this lofty size, and artifacts are kept to a minimum.

ISO 800 delivers a very good 20 x 30 inch print, with excellent fine detail and nice colors throughout the image. Only minor traces of visible noise and noise reduction artifacts are visible in some flatter areas of our test target, along with a mild hint of softness encroaching in the red channel, but otherwise a good print here at a fairly large size for this ISO.

ISO 1600 yields a 16 x 20 inch print that certainly passes our "good" seal of approval for a print. There is a bit more noise apparent in flatter areas of our test target, as well as some contrast detail now lost in our tricky red-leaf swatch, which is fairly typical by this ISO for most enthusiast camera models. For ultra-critical printing purposes at this ISO we recommend 13 x 19 inches and smaller to be safe.

ISO 3200 shots are just passable at 13 x 19 inches. Noise levels in the shadowy areas behind the bottles in our test target are now approaching the tolerance overload, and most all contrast detail is now lost in our target red swatch of fabric, but we can still call the print "good" at this size. For your most critical prints we suggest a reduction in size to 11 x 14 inches.

ISO 6400 prints from the A6500 begin to display noticeable signs of ISO strain, and a reduction to 8 x 10 inches is warranted here for passing our good seal. Full colors are still present, although there is beginning to be a mildly scorched look to the print overall. For your most important work we therefore suggest remaining at ISO 3200 and lower when possible with this camera.

ISO 12,800 delivers a 5 x 7 inch print similar to the 8 x 10 at ISO 6400. The image is certainly passable for casual printing purposes but is a bit on the muted side overall.

ISO 25,600 yields a 4 x 6 that passes our good seal, so if that's all you need for print size then that lofty ISO can deliver for general purpose printing.

ISO 51,200 images are a bit too muted and scorched-looking to pass our good seal, and this ISO is best avoided.

The Sony A6500 turns in a solid print quality performance as we'd expect from this line. As the imaging pipeline has only been tweaked compared to the one found in the predecessor A6300, with most advancements coming in the performance arena, we didn't expect a noticeable increase in overall print sizes. Similar to most modern APS-C cameras, our recommendation is to shoot at ISO 3200 and below with this camera for your most critical printing purposes.

About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"

Canon PRO-1000 Printer ImageTesting hundreds of digital cameras, we've found that you can only tell so much about a camera's image quality by viewing its images on-screen. Ultimately, there's no substitute for printing a lot of images and examining them closely. For this reason, we routinely print sample images from the cameras we test on our Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 printer, which we named our "Printer of the Year" in our 2015 COTY awards.

The Canon PRO-1000 has a lot of characteristics that make it a natural to use for our "reference printer." When it comes to judging how well a camera's photos print, resolution and precise rendering are paramount. The PRO-1000's more than 18,000 individual nozzles combine with an air feeding system that provides exceptional droplet-placement accuracy. Its 11-color LUCIA PRO ink system delivers a wide color gamut and dense blacks, giving us a true sense of the cameras' image quality. To best see fine details, we've always printed on glossy paper, so the PRO-1000's "Chroma Optimizer" overcoat that minimizes "bronzing" or gloss differential is important to us. (Prior to the PRO-1000, we've always used dye-based printers, in part to avoid the bronzing problems with pigment-based inks.) Finally, we just don't have time to deal with clogged inkjet heads, and the PRO-1000 does better in that respect than any printer we've ever used. If you don't run them every day or two, inkjet printers tend to clog. Canon's thermal-inkjet technology is inherently less clog-prone than other approaches, but the PRO-1000 takes this a step further, with sensors that monitor every inkjet nozzle. If one clogs, it will assign another to take over its duties. In exchange for a tiny amount of print speed, this lets you defer cleaning cycles, which translates into significant ink savings. In our normal workflow, we'll often crank out a hundred or more letter-size prints in a session, but then leave the printer to sit for anywhere from days to weeks before the next camera comes along. In over a year of use, we've never had to run a nozzle-cleaning cycle on our PRO-1000.

See our Canon PRO-1000 review for a full overview of the printer from the viewpoint of a fine-art photographer.

*Disclosure: Canon provided us with the PRO-1000 and a supply of ink to use in our testing, and we receive advertising consideration for including this mention when we talk about camera print quality. Our decision to use the PRO-1000 was driven by the printer itself, though, prior to any discussion with Canon on the topic. (We'd actually been using an old Pixma PRO 9500II dye-based printer for years previously, and paying for our own ink, until we decided that the PRO-1000 was the next-generation printer we'd been waiting for.)

 

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Sony Alpha ILCE-A6500 Photo Gallery .

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Sony Alpha ILCE-A6500 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!



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