Sony A6000 Exposure
Sony A6000 Image Quality
Saturation & Hue Accuracy
Typical saturation levels and hue accuracy.
|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 the links for larger images.|
Saturation. The Sony A6000's overall default color saturation is oversaturated by 11% at base ISO, which is about average these days. Saturation remains consistent up to ISO 1600, but starts falling off at higher ISOs, ending up at 98.3% at ISO 25,600. Reds and dark blues are boosted the most, but not as much as we often see. Most other colors are pushed just a bit or pretty close to ideal, though yellow, light green and cyan are slightly undersaturated. Overall, saturation levels are pleasing to our eyes at low to moderate ISOs, and you can of course tweak them more to your liking. 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 A6000 does fairly well with Caucasian skin tones when using manual white balance in simulated daylight. Brighter flesh tones have a healthy pinkish tint, though darker areas are nudged toward orange. With auto white balance, results are still good, though slightly warmer. 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. Like many cameras, the Sony A6000 shifts cyan toward blue, red toward orange, orange toward yellow and yellow toward green, however shifts are minor to fairly moderate. (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.) With an average "delta-C" color error of 5.72 after correction for saturation at base ISO, overall hue accuracy is about average, with accuracy only moderately changing at higher ISOs. Hue is "what color" the color is.
The Sony A6000 has a total of seven saturation settings available, three above and three below the default saturation. This covers a pretty wide range of saturation levels. Saturation also has almost no effect on contrast, which is how it should work, but not always a given.
|Saturation Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows results with five of the seven saturation settings, including the default and the two extremes. Click on any thumbnail above, then click again to see the full-sized image.
|See full set of test images with explanations
See thumbnails of all test and gallery images
Exposure and White Balance
Indoors, incandescent lighting
Warm cast with Auto, good with Manual, but too cool with Kelvin white balance settings. Average exposure compensation required.
|Auto White Balance
|Incandescent White Balance
|Manual White Balance
Indoors, under normal incandescent lighting, color balance is a bit warm and orange with the Auto white balance setting, though results here are better than average. Results with the Incandescent setting are better but still a touch warm. The Manual setting is quite accurate, just slightly on the cool side. The 2,600 Kelvin setting which should roughly match the color temperature of our lights is too cool and bluish. The Sony A6000 required +0.3 EV positive exposure compensation here, 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.)
Very good results under harsh lighting, with good handling of contrast, color, and exposure.
|Manual White Balance,
|Auto White Balance,
Outdoors, the Sony A6000 performed very 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, only a few highlights were blown, even without the help of DRO (see below). Shadow detail is quite good except in very deep shadows were they exhibit noise and posterization, but that's to be expected and shouldn't be a problem unless trying to recover a severely underexposed image. Both Auto and Manual white balance produced decent skintones, but we preferred Manual for its slightly pinker response. Default exposure is quite good for our Far-field shot, just a touch underexposed but with almost no highlights blown (just specular highlights) or shadows lost, again with DRO disabled. The Far-field shot with Auto white balance has very good color, just a touch on the cool side. Overall, a very good performance in harsh lighting, especially considering DRO was off for these shots.
Very high resolution, ~2,800 to 2,900 lines of strong detail from both JPEGs and RAW files.
|Strong detail to
~2,900 lines horizontal
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines vertical
|Strong detail to
~2,900 lines horizontal
ACR converted RAW
|Strong detail to
~2,800 lines vertical
ACR converted RAW
In-camera JPEGs of our laboratory resolution chart reveal sharp, distinct line patterns down to about 2,900 lines per picture height in the horizontal direction, and about 2,800 lines in the vertical direction. Some may argue for higher numbers, but aliasing artifacts start to interfere at this resolution. Complete extinction of the pattern doesn't occur until about 3,500 to 3,600 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, and it generated stronger color moiré (different colors as well), so the Sony A6000 does a good job holding on to high contrast detail at base ISO in its JPEGs. 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.
Sharpness & Detail
Excellent default sharpness, with very minor sharpening artifacts. Mild to moderate noise suppression visible in the shadows and areas of low contrast.
|Very good definition of high-
contrast elements with low
|Subtle detail: Hair
Noise suppression tends to blur
detail in areas of subtle contrast.
Sharpness. The Sony A6000 captures very sharp, crisp images at lower ISOs, with few visible edge enhancement artifacts. We normally see some fairly bright sharpening halos around high-contrast elements such the lettering and lines in our bottle labels, but the A6000's sharpening algorithm is very good at making details pop without obvious 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. There's also very little noise, particular chroma noise which we often see in hair. Overall, pretty good results here especially for a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, though chroma noise reduction takes its toll on fine low-contrast detail. 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 A6000 produces in-camera JPEGs with lots of crisp 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:
In the table above, we compare an 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 8.3 using default noise reduction with some strong but tight unsharp masking applied in Photoshop (250%, radius of 0.3 pixels, and a threshold of 0).
Looking closely at the images, ACR extracts additional detail that isn't present in the JPEG from the camera, particularly in the red-leaf swatch where the thread pattern is likely treated as noise by the JPEG engine. The fine detail in the mosaic is also slightly improved, but as is often the case, more noise can be seen in the bottle crop. You can of course apply stronger noise reduction (default ACR NR used here) to arrive at your ideal noise versus detail tradeoff. That being said, the Sony A6000's in-camera JPEG processing (at least at low ISOs) is very good with generally excellent detail and very few sharpening artifacts, though default noise reduction is a touch heavy-handed particularly in the red channel here.
ISO & Noise Performance
Very good noise versus detail performance at low to moderately high ISOs, but high ISOs look noisy and overprocessed.
Default High ISO Noise Reduction
|ISO 100||ISO 200||ISO 400|
|ISO 800||ISO 1,600||ISO 3,200|
|ISO 6,400||ISO 12,800||ISO 25,600|
The Sony A6000's JPEG images are very clean up to ISO 400, though as mentioned, fine detail in the hair is already a little smudged at base ISO. There are minor demosaicing errors in the hair above the mannequin's forehead, though that's pretty common these days, especially with a sharp lens. We start to see some minor softening at ISO 400 where stronger noise reduction kicks in, but fine detail is very good and chroma noise very low. ISO 800 is a bit softer, but fine detail is still very good. ISO 1,600 is slightly softer and although fine detail is still good, flatter areas start to look a bit overprocessed with a somewhat painted look to them, and high contrast edges start to become a little rough or indistinct. ISO 3,200 shows even more of the processed look with almost an almost hammered look to flat areas, but the image still has some good detail left. Image quality falls off rapidly from there, though. ISO 6,400 shows a sudden increase in luminance noise long with significant blurring of fine detail, as well as some chroma noise in the form of purple and yellow tinted patches. Noise and the effects of noise processing are stronger still at ISO 12,800 as you'd expect, and ISO 25,600 is very noisy with lots of noise reduction and sharpening artifacts, as well as strong chroma blotching in shadows and midtones. Overall, though, these are pretty good results especially considering the A6000's price point and resolution, though advanced users will likely turn to RAW capture to avoid the overprocessed look at higher ISOs.
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 A6000's JPEGs compare to other cameras we've tested.
A note about focus for this shot: We shoot this image at f/4, usually using one of three very sharp reference lenses (70mm Sigma f/2.8 macro for most cameras, 60mm f/2.8 Nikkor macro for Nikon bodies without a drive motor, and Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/2.0 for Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds bodies). To insure that the hair detail we use for making critical judgements about camera noise processing and detail rendering is in sharp focus at the relatively wide aperture we're shooting at, the focus target at the center of the scene is on a movable stand. This lets us compensate for front- or back-focus by different camera bodies, even those that lack micro-focus adjustments. This does mean, though, that the focus target itself may appear soft or slightly out of focus for bodies that front- or back-focused with the reference lens. We know this; if you click to view the full-size image for one of these shots and notice that the focus target is fuzzy, you don't need to email and tell us. :-) The focus target position will have been adjusted to insure that the rest of the scene is focused properly.
Extremes: Sunlit, dynamic range and low light tests
Very high resolution with excellent highlight and shadow detail. Very good low-light performance, capable of capturing bright images in near darkness.
|0 EV||+0.3 EV||+0.7 EV|
Sunlight. The Sony A6000 handled the deliberately harsh lighting in the test above very well. We preferred the +0.3 EV exposure here as the face is bright while almost no highlights were clipped in the white shirt. The default exposure is 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.
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.)
We really like it when a camera gives us the ability to adjust contrast and saturation to our liking. It's even better when those adjustments cover a useful range, in steps small enough to allow for precise tweaks. Just as with its saturation adjustment, the Sony A6000's contrast setting meets both challenges.
|Contrast set to lowest,
|Contrast set to lowest,
At its lowest contrast setting, the A6000 does a really excellent job of toning down highlights and opening up shadows while maintaining natural-looking skin tones. Very good results here.
|Contrast Adjustment Examples|
The table above shows five of the seven contrast setting, including the default and two extremes. It's pretty hard to evaluate small differences in contrast on small thumbnails like these, so click on any thumbnail to go to the full-size image.
One very nice feature of Sony's contrast adjustment is that it has very little effect on color saturation. Contrast and saturation are actually fairly closely coupled, it's a good trick to be able to vary one with out the other changing as well. As usual, Sony did a good job here.
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 A6000. 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 Sony's IDC 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 associated histograms, DRO worked as expected, boosting shadows and mid-tones without blowing additional highlights, yielding more balance exposures. Auto DRO setting did a good job here, and the five manual levels give quite a bit of control over the effect.
Above, you can see the effect of DRO settings on our Far-field shot. The default Auto setting produced a nicely balanced exposure, despite the harsh lighting. A useful feature.
High Dynamic Range. The Sony A6000'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 we prefer the lower manual settings for this subject. 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.
Above, you can see the effect of HDR settings on our Far-field shot. Watch out for ghost images (or remnants from anti-ghost image processing) from subject movement during the capture sequence, though, as can be seen in some of the shots above. Still, Sony has one of the better in-camera HDR implementations we've seen.
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 A6000's dynamic range to its 16-megapixel predecessor, the NEX-6, and also to the 24-megapixel NEX-7 since it shares the same resolution (but not the same sensor). You can always compare other models on DxOMark.com.
As you can see from the above graph (click for a larger image), at low ISOs the Sony A6000's dynamic range is very similar to the NEX-6 (13.1 EV), however the NEX-7 performs very slightly better (13.4 EV). As sensitivity increases, though, the A6000 begins to pull ahead at ISO 400, however all three cameras perform similarly up to ISO 6,400. At ISOs 12,800 and 25,600, the A6000's dynamic range is about 3/4 EV higher than the NEX-6, and it performs a little better than the NEX-7 as well (which tops out at ISO 16,000). Overall, very good dynamic range performance from the Sony A6000. Click here to visit the DxOMark page for the Sony A6000 for more of their test results and additional comparisons.
Low Light. The Sony A6000 was able to capture bright images down to the lowest light level we test at (1/16 fc) at all ISO settings. Noise is well-controlled up to ISO 3,200, though as expected, at higher ISOs images look overprocessed except when noise reduction is turned down to a minimum (far right column), but both luminance and chrominance noise are high and start to become objectional at ISO 6,400 at the lowest NR setting.
Auto white balance did a very good job here, producing a fairly neutral, just slightly cool color balance across ISOs and light levels.
We didn't detect any significant banding (pattern noise), heat blooming or hot pixel issues, even at the highest ISOs.
The Sony A6000's autofocus system was able to focus on our test subject down to just below the 1/8 foot-candle light level unassisted with an f/2.8 lens, which is good. And the A6000 was able to focus in complete darkness with its built-in focus assist lamp enabled (with the subject in range).
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 A6000, its Hybrid AF system, compact system cameras like the Sony A6000 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.)
|Low Light (1 foot-candle) Multi-frame NR|
|Default NR, 1/125s, ISO 25,600||Multi-frame NR, 1/125s, ISO 25,600|
Multi-frame Noise Reduction. This feature is similar to Sony's Hand-held Twilight mode which shoots a burst of four images with a single press of the shutter button and combines all four images into one composite image with reduced noise. But unlike Hand-held Twilight, Multi-frame NR gives you control over the ISO, aperture and shutter speed used, so you may still need to use a tripod depending on the exposure parameters you select. (We frankly don't see the value to this mode when using a tripod, as selecting a lower ISO and longer shutter speed will produce a cleaner image as well.) As you can see, the image captured with Multi-frame Noise Reduction (right) is cleaner than the standard image (left) despite both being shot at ISO 25,600. An added bonus is that ISO 51,200 equivalent is available with MF NR. As with HDR mode, though, static subjects are recommended for obvious reasons.
Excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at ISO 100/200; a nice 16 x 20 at ISO 1600; and a good 5 x 7 at ISO 12,800.
ISO 400 prints are quite good at 24 x 36 inches, again showing nice detail with the exception of typical softening in our difficult red swatch. Wall display prints are possible here up to 36 x 48 inches.
ISO 800 images look good at 16 x 20 inches. 20 x 30s aren't bad, and are definitely usable for less critical applications, but are a bit on the soft side to merit our "good" print standard.
ISO 1600 yields a good 16 x 20 inch print as well. There is a hint of luminance noise in flatter areas, but it's not bad at all. This is a great size to achieve at ISO 1600.
ISO 3200 prints a similar 13 x 19 as the 16 x 20 at ISO 1600, with only minor noise in the shadows behind our test target.
ISO 6400 is where the A6000 starts to show strain from noise processing, requiring a reduction in print size to 8 x 10 for a good overall print.
ISO 12,800 makes a nice 5 x 7 inch print, which is still a capable feat at this ISO.
ISO 25,600 prints a nice 4 x 6, which good color reproduction for such a high ISO.
The Sony A6000 succeeds the popular NEX-6 but sports a sensor with 24-megapixel resolution more in line with the flagship NEX-7. This resolution bump allows for excellent 30 x 40 inch prints at the lowest ISOs, something not achievable with sensors in the 16MP range due to the actual pixels becoming apparent beyond 24 x 36 inch prints. It also slightly outperforms the NEX-6 at ISO 400, but after that the recommended max print sizes are the same from ISO 800 through the rest of the range to ISO 25,600, indicating not much in the way of improvement in high ISO shooting performance over the NEX-6. However, two thumbs up to Sony for the ability to yet again achieve a good print at the highest ISO setting, as this is something not all manufacturers can claim due to the over-marketing of a camera's high-ISO capabilities (but we're not complaining because this is one of the reasons you count on us!).
About our print-quality testing: Our "Reference Printer"
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-A6000 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-A6000 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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