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 sec|
4.7 x 2.6 x 2.1 in.
(120 x 67 x 53 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A6500 specifications|
What a camera! The Sony A6500 takes the best of the excellent A6300 which launched just eight months earlier, and adds several very important new features. Sports shooters in particular will love its much more generous buffer depth, and its new hybrid image stabilization system and touch-screen display functionality will be of benefit to all. But can they justify its significantly higher pricetag, or would you be better off with the A6300? Find out now in our in-depth Sony A6500 review!Pros
Comfortable, premium body with good controls; Touch-screen for subject selection; Hybrid image stabilization system; Excellent image quality; Better high ISO JPEGs than the A6300; Extremely fast 11.1 fps burst capture; Very deep buffers for raw and JPEG alike; 4K video capture with no pixel binningCons
Pricey for an APS-C camera; JPEG colors aren't the most accurate; Very slow buffer clearing; Laggy touch-pad AF function; Poorly-placed movie button; No headphone jack; Mediocre battery lifePrice and availability
The Sony A6500 started shipping in November 2016 with a suggested retail price of around US$1,400. As of June 2017, it currently lists for US$1,300 and is officially sold body-only, though some retailers are bundling it with various lenses and accessories.Imaging Resource rating
5.0 out of 5.0
Sony A6500 Review
Preview posted: 10/06/2016
Last Updated: 06/07/2017
11/19/2016: Initial Gallery Images posted!
11/27/2016: Field Test Part I posted!
12/06/2016: First Shots posted!
12/20/2016: Performance page posted!
02/05/2017: Field Test Part II posted!
05/19/2017: Image Quality Comparison and Print Quality posted!
06/07/2017: Conclusion posted!
Sony's APS-C camera lineup has a new flagship model, the A6500. While it shares the same 4D Focus autofocus system as the earlier 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 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.
The 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 efficiently. Additionally, the sensor utilizes quick-transmission copper wiring that aids the A6500 in capturing ultra-high definition 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). Creative Styles such as Standard, Vivid and Sunset, all with contrast, saturation and sharpness adjustments are also 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 contributes 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.
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 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 or 60 frames per second NTSC frame rates (100 or 50 for the PAL standard) 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 was released last 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. The A6500's revamped menu system isn't perfect, but it's a definite improvement. The refined user interface has a new categorization scheme, which displays group names and colored tabs, however while menu items now appear to be grouped more logically, the colors don't seem to have any real meaning to them. And there can be a lot of pages -- literally dozens of them -- under each tab. 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 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. The A6500 also adds Bluetooth 4.1 and can geotag images with GPS location info from your smartphone.
Demo of 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). And impressively, the A6500 managed slightly higher numbers in the lab, with an impressive 88-frame improvement in RAW file buffer depth.
Demo of 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 eight-megapixel stills from 4K video and two-megapixel stills from Full HD video.
The 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 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 A6500 includes Wi-Fi and NFC compatibility as well as QR functionality.
With the A6300 released in March 2016, it might seem surprising that the A6500 was announced in early October of the same year, but the Sony 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 make the A6500 a much friendlier camera to use and all of these improvements address issues we had with the otherwise excellent A6300 camera.
Sony A6500 Field Test Part I
All the action from awesome Austin: The A6500 gets a real workout!
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.
Sony A6500 Field Test Part II
The A6500 takes on the night lights of Gatlinburg, Tennessee
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.)
Sony A6500 Image Quality Comparison
See how the A6500's IQ stacks up to other premium crop-sensor ILCs
NOTE: These images are from best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction and using the camera's actual base ISO (not extended ISO settings). All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses. Clicking any crop will take you to a carrier page where you can click once again to access the full resolution image as delivered straight from the camera. For those interested in working with the RAW files involved, click these links to visit each camera's respective sample image thumbnail page...
Sony A6500 Print Quality Analysis
Find out how it looks on paper
The 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.
Sony A6500 Conclusion
An already-great camera is turned into a really excellent one
When Sony first told us of the A6500 late last year, we must admit we felt a mixture of surprise and bewilderment. Following very closely in the footsteps of the A6300, the A6500 was in many respects extremely similar to that camera -- much more so than we'd have expected given that the duo launched just eight months apart. The A6500 is based around the same 24.2-megapixel, APS-C sized image sensor as previously featured in the A6300, and also retains its point-dense AF system, tilting LCD monitor, flash setup, storage, battery and wired / wireless connectivity options.
The A6500's much larger buffer makes sports shooting far more satisfying
But our confusion quickly evaporated once we learned that the A6500 wasn't a replacement for the A6300, and that both cameras would sit side-by-side together at retail for the foreseeable future. So what differentiates the pair? Well there are several significant difference, but for my money, the really big deal here is an extremely worthwhile increase in buffer capacity.
In the Box
The Sony A6500 retail kit package (as reviewed) contains the following items:
- Sony Alpha ILCE-6500 camera body
- NP-FW50 rechargeable Li-ion battery
- Shoulder strap
- Micro USB cable
- Accessory Shoe cap
- Body cap
- Eyepiece cup
- Large capacity SDHC/SDXC memory card. 32GB Class 10 should be a minimum; UHS Speed Class U3 designation is required for recording video bitrates of 100Mbps or more.
- Spare NP-FW50 battery pack (~US$50)
- BC-TRW Dedicated Battery Charger (~US$35)
- HVL-F60M External Flash/Video Light (~US$450)
Buy the Sony A6500
$849.33 (41% less)
32.5 MP (26% more)