This review has taken over 6 months. Partly I underestimated the time required to do a review full justice, but mainly each time I have used the camera, my opinion has changed. Of course I am aware that the longer time that I have spent writing this, the less relevant it has become, butt hey,ho.
However the A6000 is still sold and therefore some relevance. Also some of the points below also apply to the A6300.
So here finally is my review.....
To say that I vacillated about getting a new camera would be a major understatement.
My present Sony A-37 camera is a bit like an old Labrador, it's been a faithful companion, but nowadays it sometimes struggles to go where I want it to go, and its weight means that I don't take it out as much as I should.
While I initially considered an upgrade to another DSLR such as the A77mkII, my experiments and fun with IR photography had convinced me my next camera would be of the mirrorless variety.
And as always there is the budget to consider. While I would of loved a A7RII (or even a A7SII), the body cost and more importantly the cost of the type of lenses that would do the camera justice meant that this was not an option.
I therefore considered a number of options, including cameras by Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic. The Fuji X-E2 was very tempting and I have seen people get great results, but Fuji's retro for retro sake styling I find off putting.
So finally in a moment of weakness, I pulled the trigger just before Christmas and got myself the A6000, which came with the standard kit lens
Of course as usually happens when I buy a camera, a month down the line and Sony announced the A6300. Fortunately however (in terms of temptation) it is about twice the price of the A6000, so I did not feel I lost out.
This does mean however that I am now reviewing 'old' technology. However since Sony seem to be determined to keep the A6000 around as the budget option, I feel this review is still valid.
My DSLR is not the largest in its canon(sic), but it still feels huge compared to the A6000. While The size and weight difference is small, I really noticed how much easier it was to carry around. Also unlike a DSLR, you do not feel like you stand out in a crowd and is more discreet at social occasions.
It also feels nice and solid, and that it could take a few bumps or scrapes. Despite its small size however, its feels secure in hand. However I can also see when mated to a large lens, it could feel unbalanced and unwieldy.
The battery and SD card are placed together on the left of the camera. The SD card is fiddly to get in and out, and could of been better placed. One bonus is that the battery is the same type as my other Sony camera, so allowing me to use my spare batteries and the same external charger. This is just as well, since no external charger is provided, although the camera can be charged via a USB socket.
However my usual routine is to to have one battery always on charge, so I find a external charger essential. This is even more essential for the A6000 due to its battery life.
My original plan was to have this camera in the car, enabling me to take all those great pictures that I have been missing on my way to work (both real and imagined ). However when I first tried this the battery was totally flat even though the camera had been off in the meantime. Other people have noticed this as well and it appears that the camera can consume battery charge even when in the off position.
This means that I now carry at least one spare battery at all times. More frustratingly the power drain appears to be unpredictable. Sometimes I have turned the camera on to see 90% charge left, then next turn it on to find the camera dead. My DSLR also has a EVF, but I find I with the kind of usage that means the DSLR battery will last a whole week, the A6000 will only last 2 day, so basically it uis a bit of a power hog.
The EVF is on the left hand side of the camera, rather than the center like my DSLR. There are plus and minuses here. As long as your right eye is OK, its a good location and I had no issues adapting to it. While it may not be the sharpest EVF out there, it is perfectly clear and provides all the information you need. I especially like the 'dancing dots' in continuous auto focus mode. I have had no chance to test what the lag is between the view in the EVF and the real world.
The LCD screen, while not fully articulated, can be pulled out for low and high shots and is certainly a lot clearer than my A-37(but then again so is a muddy pond)
However It does not have a touch screen functionality. Why Sony, makers of mobiles and tablets, seem to have such an aversion to touchscreens on their cameras is baffling. While I do not believe that touchscreens are the panacea to all user interface ills, there are still some situations where it makes a lot of sense. Not only that, but touch screen technology is mature and would add little cost to the camera
The instruction manual is typical Sony affair. You do not get a much more than a simple book in about 30 languages that tell you how to install the battery and memory card and little else. For a more complete manual you need to download a PDF and, if like me, you struggle to read electronic documents, you will need to print it off which will take a while.
The manual however provides little more than how to find and use the functionality, and you would be forgiven in thinking the authors were describing the controls for an air conditioning system rather than a camera. If you want to have a better understanding of the camera, i would recommend buying one of the books by Gary Friedman or Gary Fong. In fact I don't know why Sony bothers with the manuals at all. They should just provide a discount voucher for the books on Amazon or even better give the book away free with the camera.
The Kit and other lenses
The standard kit lens (16-50mm 3.5-5.6) has, let us say, mixed reviews. Some say its fine while others have complained about its poor optical quality.
I can see both points of view
Its size when the camera is off means that the cameras is very portable. However while it is fine for landscapes or portraits, I found the maximum zoom a little limiting.
While in good light it fine, it is not a particularly fast lens with a maximum aperture of f3.5. This is par for the course for kit lenses, but you feel that the camera is being held back by the lens, a bit like putting a tractor engine in a Ferrari.
The lens is also a power zoom, which means that zoom is controlled electronically rather than manually twisting the lens. The last time I had a power zoom was on my old Minolta film camera and personally I am not a great fan because it feels like you have lost that direct connection between you and the camera.
It also means that you have to use a electronic focus control in manual focus mode. This is equally fiddly and is slower and harder to control than a manual control. While power zoom is no doubt a boon for video photography, I don't feel the extra cost and complication of power zoom has any advantage for still photography and would of preferred manual controls.
So what about the quality of lens itself?
One should not expect too much from a kit lens, however when used in RAW mode, I don't think I have ever seen a lens with so much vignetting in the corner. While this can be corrected in RAW processing or in camera when taking JPEGs, it does not give you an lot of confidence in the lens.
One more thing about the lens. It has the smallest lens cap I have ever seen on a camera. It is so small that when I stick it in my pocket I often mistake it for a £2 coin. It is a lens cap begging to be lost and it is a pity that Sony could not have made it with a permanently attached lens cap.
After using the kit lens for a while you will be certain to want to add to your lens collection. After all this is one of the important advantages over a fixed lens camera.
My 1st new lens was the Sony 55-210mm zoom at the NEC photography show(word of advice, always leave your credit card at home for this reason). It is reasonable priced and is just about compliments the kit lens. However for a while i struggled with it. Again it is not the fastest lens, at a maximum aperture of F4.5 and is a bit short for wildlife work. Carrying it reduces the portability benefits of the camera. However I did find a niche where it worked very well and that was street photography where you wanted to take shots of your subject without disturbing them.
My only other lens is a 30mm sigma prime, which was a steal 2nd hand. This is relatively fast at F2.8 and at a equivalent APC-C focal length of 45mm is a good portrait lens. In truth however I would like a wider prime and may well get the equivalent 19mm if possible.
Unfortunately however this is where the issues begin. The choice of native lenses for the Sony E-Mount is not good. For example there is no obvious extra wide angle choice, macro lenses are rare. Even a well priced super-zoom is difficult to find. Yes you can get an adapter to fit A-Series glass, but this in no real substitute for native glass.
Yes there are some great lenses for E-Mount, but there are not many and will cost as much as the camera plus kit lens itself. Compare this to the huge range of Olympus and Fuji lenses and its not hard to feel a little inadequate and constrained
The ergonomics of a camera defines how easy it is to pick up and use. It is what you notice first when you pick a camera up, and can make a huge difference in your level of enjoyment.
The A6000 ergonomics can only be rated as adequate, and could of been so much better in a number of ways. Unfortunately this appears to be a common Sony trait with their cameras.
A lot of people complain about the Sony menu system. I have little to compare it with, but because they are very similar to my DSLR, I find them logically laid out and found my way around pretty quickly.
However 'logically' laid out is a bit of a back-handed compliment.Cameras should confirm to a photographers needs, not the system designer and I often wonder at what point Sony actually involves actual photographers in their design process.
90% of users will use only 10% of the functions, so these should be prioritized. However this would not be so bad if there was some way to customize the menus allowing the most useful functions to be placed on one page. However Sony designers don't seem to understand why you would want to do that,
The other problem with Sony user interface is that using it you are too often forced to break the control cycle. The control cycle consists of the actions people do when they are trying to do an operation. This consists of working out what how to achieve, doing it and then assessing the feedback to see if they have achieved it. Any break in that cycle is frustrating, and Sony unfortunately does that a lot
For example, if you take a bracketed shot, the camera will lock you out of changing the shot mode until it has finished processing the images. What would be better would be for the camera to accept the change in mode, but only allow you to retake images when the processing is complete. The way Sony have implemented it means you have to keep going back to the menu to see if you can change modes.
Also a lot of functionality found in other similar cameras is missing. For example you cannot set minimum exposure and maximum exposure for Auto ISO. The camera has a tendency to go to maximum (and noisy) ISO far too readily, when a reduction in shutter speed would be more appropriate.
One other issue that has often frustrated me is that there seems to be no option to only allow you to take a photo only when focus is locked. This is especially important when close to a subject, meaning you need to watch the green focus lines rather than relying on the camera to stop you taking blurry images.
Many of these faults could be fixed with relative minor software changes. However Sony don't seem to like to add new functionality into firmware releases, preferring to bundle new features into paid for apps. This compares poorly to other manufacturers such as Fuji, who seem far more willing to support legacy cameras by adding new and improved features.
The A6000 provides two types of physical controls for user input. There is the main control dial for mode selection, then a thumb wheel to select things like speed and aperture, depending what mode you are in. Additionally there is a 4 way switch/rotating dial to select other things such as ISO. The usage of this dial is customisable. Additionally there are two buttons that again can be customized.
Finding the thumb wheel tales a little getting used to. It is smooth and recessed. I would of preferred the dial to be on the front like DSLR. Additionally two such dials , one on either side of the camera would of made more sense and improved usability.
Also 2 customisable buttons does not feel enough. I would of liked to see at least 4(Focus type, Exposure, App Selection, EVF selection).
This lack of customization is not helped by the lack of any other types of control on the camera. Probably the most annoying is the lack of a dedicated manual focus button. To get manual focus you have to dig into the menu. In most situations you will want to switch between manual and auto focus when trying top lock onto difficult subjects and this makes it particularly difficult.
Compared to the controls on a Fuji or Olympus camera, the physical controls feel parsimonious. Add the lack of a touch screen and you will find yourself hunting via menus far more than you would like.
One of the things that attracted me to the A6000 was the ability to extend the camera via apps.
There a number available, some free and some for purchase. I downloaded Smooth reflection, Bracket Pro and multiple exposure. Of those I have used Smooth reflection and multiple exposure to various levels of success.
Smooth reflection takes multiple shots and merges them to smooth out running water, etc. This works well enough, but you need to be mounted on a tripod and as with the majority of apps only works in JPEG.
|Taken using smooth reflection|
Multiple exposure allows you to combine two shots in a number of ways. This is a mode I have missed on my other camera and being impressed by the work of artists like Christoffer Relander I was looking forward to trying it.
However it is poorly implemented. One problem is that the images must be taken in succession, so you cannot combine a present image with one taken earlier in the day and so restricts its usefulness. Another annoying omission is the ability to create horizontal reflections. It will also only merge with one image, and does not work in RAW made.
While the use of apps is useful in allowing the camera functionality to be extended like your mobile phone, some of the features should of really been provided by the manufacturer as standard rather than make you pay for it after. For example the focus bracketing mode of bracket pro.
However the biggest issue is the way apps have been implemented. They are stored in a separate menu section, meaning to use them you have to break your control flow. Just as bad is that once you have to remember to disable them via the same method. It would of been better the app extended the control or menus so they seamlessly added functionality.
In consequence while the theory of apps is good, Sony's implementation is lacking. The user interface is clunky and inconsistent. You lose a lot of control over the image such as ISO, etc and they only work in JPEG. Some of the features, such as double exposure are provided for free in other camera makes in a neater way.
The worse criticism however is that it shows how many things Sony could add with a simple firmware change, but refuse to do so, forcing users instead to pay for additional features.
At the end of the day, a camera stands and falls by the images it takes.
To be honest it has taken me a little while to get to grips with the camera. Even now it does not feel comfortable in my hands.
One of my hopes with the camera was that it would be more capable in low light than my DSLR.
It does, to certain extent, but perhaps not to the level I had hoped. While the noise with my DSLR starts becoming noticible at 400 ISO, the A6000 I can push to 800 before it gets too bad. Unfortunately the slowness of the kit lens mean that indoors I have to push it more than I would like. Again we are not helped by an over eager Auto ISO which will push the ISO all the way to 3600 rather than reduce the speed a bit.
One of the advertised features of the camera is the speed of the focus.
While it is undoubtedly fast, I did find that I could not always be confident of where it was focusing. This means you always need to be aware of the focus indications in the range finder. One really big annoyance is that it will take an images even when not in focus. This is particularly onerous when taking close ups. If you get too close and do not watch the focus indicator you will end up with a lot of blurred images. Also I found I could not always be confident of achieving focus lock of what I wanted, with a few blurred images from when the camera had focused on god knows what.
Certainly when it gets it right the images can be great, but this is a camera that you have to work harder than you should to ensure you get the best results.
One feature that is great however is the bracketing. It is easy to fire off 3 or 5 bracketed shots in the blink of an eye. This means that you can then generate HDR images post processing, even hand held in most situations.(The camera has a HDR function, but again that only works in JPEG mode)
The extra resolution of the sensor also means that I can crop far more than my DSLR and still retain some sharpness. That combined the the greater noise in-variance mans it can be more forgiving a camera in tough lighting such as indoors.
So what is my overall opinion of this camera?
Each time I come back to this blog post, my conclusion has changed based on how I have used the camera and come to terms with its strengths and weaknesses. Ask me tomorrow and I will probably give you another opinion. One I have noticed since I bought the camera is that generally it is my "goto" camera when I am go out, unless I am doing birding or require a large wide angle lens. Its size and weight make carrying it a breeze.
Let us also state that for this price point there is nothing really that will touch this camera. The equivalent Fuji is about the same price, but you only get the body. Sony new A6300 in contrast is over 50% more expensive. Others cameras at this price point come without key features such as a viewfinder.
So if you want a compact camera with interchangeable lenses and a viewfinder at a bargain price this is the only game in town. No surprise then that it is one of Sony's best sellers.
It also provides a great package in a small size. It is a camera that will, with a bit of effort, get you great images in most conditions. It is especially good in situations where a DSLR is just too bulky or obvious. For example I found it a great camera to take images at social events where a DSLR would just be too obvious.
If you are already a Sony DSLR owner. the case for it is even stronger with the ability to re-use A-series lenses (via an adapter).
But( and there is always a but)....
While this is a camera that deserves respect,it will probably never garner the same level of love and loyalty in the same way that Olympus and Fuji owners lover their cameras.
This is due, in part, to Sony being primarily a technology company. Unlike the aforementioned camera companies, Sony designers just don't seem to get the psychology of photographers. Cameras can be a very personal object, however Sony treats camera design like any other technology item such as a TV.
The most frustrating thing however is that this could of been, with a few additions and changes, a great camera rather than just very good.
So whats the difference between good and great devices?
All great designs allow you to interact with them in a natural way such that they almost becomes a extension of your body. The controls and menus of the A6000 just don't do that and get in the way at regular intervals. Still now I not felt really comfortable using the camera. Too often has the user interface got in the way of what I'm trying to do. These are little things but they add up and will consistently frustrate you.
That is not to say that I feel the retro feel of Sony and Olympus camera are the way to design cameras, but I feel Sony have pushed to far in the other direction by giving too few physical controls, poor menu layout and lack of customization.
Also the controls that do exist, are not always placed in the best position. Controls like the main control dial feels in the wrong place and too often I mistake it for the main mode wheel. This is also a camera that could do with a second dedicated control wheel
The control I really miss however is the manual focus switch. Having to go through 3 button presses to enable manual focus is ludicrous. I could program a button to do this, but with only two custom buttons to play with, I have quickly run out of options (the A6300 does sport a manual focus button meaning Sony does sometimes learn from its users)
Sony could also help themselves by allowing the customization of menus to allow users to pare down the menu system to the critical items.
Then there is the lack of touch screen.
Why Sony, maker of tablets and mobile phones, do not provide touch screen functionality is one of the enduring mysteries in camera design and are now probably the only major camera manufacturer who do not provide touch screens on at least some of there camera line up. .
One of the big selling points for me with this camera was the ability to add functionality via apps.
However the implementation by Sony is poor, making them clunky and less useful than they should be.
Also a lot of the functionality should of been by rights part of the standard camera. You get the impression that Sony have deliberately left some of these features out, so they can extract money from you later via paid applications.
For example, In Camera MultiExposure or ICM is one area that Sony cameras fall well behind equivalent Nikons. Apps could of narrowed the gap, but the fact it does not and in fact emphasizes the lack of functionality is a damning indictment of Sony's app system. All this at extra cost too!
This highlights another issue that Sony just don't support older cameras as well as other manufacturers. For example Fuji will update firmware to add and extend functionality. Sony only do it to add lens support and fix bugs.
All lens design is compromise. For example a fast lens, needs larger glass, which makes it heavier.
Therefore you should not expect too much from a kit lens, which was clearly designed by Sony to create a zoom lens with a small a footprint as possible. This makes the camera look more akin to a bridge camera than one which has interchangeable lens. However such design compromises has a effect on the lens quality.
In good light it will do a decent job, but it doesn't really do the camera justice. On the plus side it does make the camera portable, but I would be willing to sacrifice some of that portability for longer zoom and a wider aperture.
Sony have a bigger issue with there overall lens range. It is only after when you start looking for a something that will replace the kit lens with something with greater reach and/or a little faster that you realise the paucity of reasonable priced choices.
What I would really like is reasonable priced super zoom to replace the kit lens with something of longer range. However there is little choice in this type of lens. The SELP18105G is the closest you will get, but will cost as much as the camera.
In the DPReview review of the new A6300, the reviewer cited 2 major concerns of a otherwise fantastic camera which are the user interface and lens choice.
Unsurprisingly the Sony A6000 suffers from those as well. While lens choice is something that may get fixed in time, the user interface is totally under Sony control.
It is strange then, that Sony seem to be blind to the issues.
Sony really need to take a step back and reconsider how people interact with cameras. The lack of a touch screen these days is an amazing omission and makes the camera stand out like a sore thumb. Why Sony, makers of tablets and mobile phones, find it so hard to see this is frankly a symptom of the malaise in Sony's design process.
What was most disappointing was the apps. The way they are implemented means that rather than extending the camera functionality, they often inhibit it.
This is disappointing, because there is a lot to admire about this camera, but it could of been so much better.
Some example images taken with my A6000...