Sony A6000 Field Test Part III

Completing the picture

by Eamon Hickey | Posted: 06/25/2014

Performance (other than AF). I spent a lot of time talking about autofocus performance in Part 2 of this report, but I wanted to add a few thoughts on the overall performance of the Sony A6000. The slow-ish wake-from-sleep time that I already mentioned has continued to annoy me a little, but it's something you can mostly learn to work around. In all my normal shooting with the camera, performance has otherwise been crisp -- controls respond immediately; there's practically no shot-to-shot delay; scrolling through menus or reviewing images is fast.

There is, however, one modest fly in the ointment: when the A6000's buffer fills up, it can take a long while to clear. And until it does, burst rate is greatly reduced and many of the camera's features are inaccessible. I ran into this a lot when shooting my long AF test bursts, especially when shooting in raw format. When I hit the buffer limit, I could still change certain settings like shutter speed and aperture, but I had to wait as long as a minute before I could access the menus. I was using a Class 10 SDHC card rated at only 15MB/s for writes, though. A faster one should reduce this time considerably, so buy the fastest card you can afford. (In the lab, maximum clearing time after a burst of 47 JPEGs was 22 seconds with a UHS-I SDHC card rated at 90MB/s for writes.)

EVF/LCD. Although I'm perfectly comfortable composing pictures with an LCD, I also really like having an eye-level viewfinder available to me (a big reason why I bought the NEX-7). I found both to work very well on the Sony A6000, and I used them both frequently. The LCD, of course, works great for any shot where it's useful to hold the camera low or at an odd angle, as I did for the picture below of a racecar in the lobby of Cooper Union (an engineering college). I also use the LCD anytime I'm shooting macro subjects. The A6000's LCD is sharp and about average for viewing in direct sunlight.

E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, 30mm eq., f/5.6, 1/15s, ISO 400
Framing options. Optical Steady Shot and the tilting LCD helped with a handheld, low angle shot in Cooper Union, NYC.

In bright sunlight, and for all my sports shots, I used the eye-level EVF. In practice, the A6000's EVF worked as well for me overall as the higher-resolution EVF that I'm used to in my NEX-7, and it's noticeably less grainy in very low light. As I said in my NEX-6 review last year, it's hard to overstate the benefits of having two high quality viewing options and kudos to Sony for shoehorning them both into such a small package. It's a big part of this camera's compelling value equation.

Lenses. The Sony E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens covers a nearly perfect focal length range for me, and its compact size made it a breeze to carry around on the dozen or so excursions I've made with it. As I noted last year, I'm not in love with its power zoom, which can be a little difficult to control precisely, and the lens is not outstanding optically. But there's no doubt that it's a very competent, versatile and portable kit lens.

Not as awkward as it looks. While the full-frame Sony FE 70-200mm f/4 lens dwarfs the camera, it's still quite comfortable to use on the A6000.

Because I did so much action photography, I also shot almost 3,000 pictures with the FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS. For a telephoto zoom with a moderately fast maximum aperture, it's actually reasonably light. In many hours of sports shooting, I found it easy to support on the fingertips of my left hand. As befits its US$1,500 price tag, the lens feels well built, with smooth zoom and focus actions. It autofocuses silently and very quickly, and, despite the widespread idea that big lenses are "unbalanced" on small cameras, I found it completely usable and comfortable on the A6000.

FE 70-200mm F4 G OSS, 205mm eq., f/4, 1/1600s, ISO 400
More with the 70-200mm f/4. This shot seems perfectly focused and shows the quality of my sample FE 70-200 lens at 137mm and f/4 . [The lower image is a 1:1 crop to show full detail and sharpness]

I don't yet have the benefit of a full lens test of the FE 70-200, so I don't want to make any firm statements about its optics. But looking over my real-world results with it, I'd say it meets any reasonable professional standard. In my shots of sprinters and runners that are correctly focused there are many good examples of its quality, with skin texture, tiny beads of sweat, and clothing details all clearly visible. The one caveat I would note is that I suspect a full lens test may show that the sharpness of the FE 70-200 drops somewhat out near its 200mm end, which is not uncommon for telephoto zooms.

E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, 31mm eq., f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400
E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, 24mm eq., f/7.1, 1/320s, ISO 100
Kit lens. A propeller from the ocean liner S.S. United States on the grounds of SUNY Maritime College shows low-ISO image quality with the 16-50mm. We also see nice dynamic range performance with this shot.

Video. To get a feel for the Sony Alpha 6000's video capabilities, I took it on a walk to Tompkins Square Park where I found a pickup basketball game. The camera lets you control a lot of options for movie recording, including exposure mode, focus mode, and focus area. You can even manually select shutter speed, aperture and ISO. I set the camera for aperture-priority and auto ISO, and recorded a series of short clips. The footage looks excellent given the overcast conditions, and I couldn't hear any noise from the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens, although there is a lot of ambient playground noise, which might have masked it. Later, I recorded a dozen or so clips of moving cars to see how the camera's continuous AF works in video mode. It's not that easy to judge the point of focus in video clips shot at wide-angle settings or relatively narrow apertures, but my impression is that the camera does an unusually good job of follow focusing in video mode. (Note that YouTube does a poor job compressing MTS files, so we've provided links to the original video files below.)

Sony A6000 Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, 60i, MTS
Download Original (33 MB)
Sony A6000 Sample Video
1,920 x 1,080, 60p, MTS
Download Original (72 MB)

I didn't encounter it at all while shooting the relatively brief video clips I recorded, but an IR reader wrote in, asking about overheating problems with the A6000 when recording longer videos. She reported that the camera timed-out with an overheat warning after as little as 22 minutes of recording in 60P AVCHD 28Mbps mode, at a room temperature of about 70°F. The guys back at IRHQ checked into this a little, and found that they could get a bit more recording time with similar room temperature and camera settings, but our sample would still shut down after a total of about 33-34 minutes of recording. Once it's overheated, it can take a while to cool fully; letting it rest for 10 minutes or more may only get you an additional 15 minutes of recording again, but not another half-hour. The problem is much less severe when recording at lower frame rates, bit rates or lower resolution settings; at 24p and 17Mbps, the IRHQ guys recorded for two+ hours essentially non-stop, without encountering any overheating problems. So your mileage may vary, depending on ambient temperature and the frame rate/bit rate you're recording at, but the maximum recording time may be limited by heat-dissipation issues in the 60p/28Mbps mode.

It should be noted that the A6000 isn't the only interchangeable-lens camera that can overheat during extended video recording; IRHQ has seen this behavior before, but this was the first time we've received a reader complaint about it interfering with routine use, and so the first time we've taken the time to measure and verify it ourselves. We'll keep an eye on this issue with other cameras going forward, but for now, take note that you may only be able to get 20-30 minutes of recording time out of the A6000 in 60p/28Mbps mode.

Wi-Fi & Apps. Later that same day, I spent some time in my office trying out the Sony Alpha 6000's Wi-Fi/smartphone connectivity features. As was true when I reviewed the NEX-6, Sony's printed and on-screen instructions for using these features remain frustratingly obtuse -- a real throwback to the bad old days of crudely translated manuals. It's below the standard anyone should expect from a brand of Sony's admirable pedigree and accomplishment.

That said, I did figure out how to connect the A6000 to my iPhone 5. I took some test pictures using the remote control feature, which turns your smartphone into the camera's viewfinder and lets you trigger it remotely but offers almost no other functionality. (The Android app may offer more functionality, especially since Sony sells Android phones.) I also transferred images from the camera to my smartphone; the function works but, at least with an iPhone, requires a multi-step connection routine every time you use it. If my guesses about what the manual is trying to say are correct, it's easier to connect with an Android phone. The camera can also do NFC (Near Field Communication) connections with compatible Android phones, and the manual seems to indicate that this is a much quicker and simpler way to facilitate the transfer of images from camera to phone.

E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS, 39mm eq., f/4.5, 1/60s, ISO 100
Panorama. Using the camera's automatic sweep panorama feature in Tompkins Square Park, NYC. (The tilt is photographer error.)

Like other Sony cameras, the Alpha a6000 uses PlayMemories apps. I downloaded and installed the free Sync to Smartphone app, which automatically transfers any new images you've taken to your phone whenever you turn the camera off. Here again, the connection to an iPhone requires multiple steps (and Android may not), but it worked fine within that limitation. I can see this being a good app for someone who does tons of social networking with their photos.

Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN, 45mm eq., f/4, 1/40s, ISO 400
Getting creative. Using a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN lens in the garden to show mid ISO image quality. Processed from raw using Sony Image Data Converter and "autumn leaves" creative style. Click here for original camera JPEG.

Summary. All in all, I think Sony has a real hit with the Alpha 6000. It offers a good, advanced user interface (with previous flaws now fixed), excellent versatility, very good overall performance, highly competitive autofocus for both stationary and moving subjects, excellent video capabilities and great images. What's more, it's all wrapped up in a very compact package at a terrific price, and that's a pretty compelling recipe.


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