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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Cameras

Sony Alpha NEX-6 fills prosumer camera niche

Combining the best of the NEX-7 and the NEX-5R, the NEX-6 looks to be an attractive sub-$1,000 ILC option.

The NEX-6 with the new 35mm f1.8 lens Lori Grunin/CNET

Sony's extending its interchangeable-lens camera line, bumping up from three to four product tiers with prices going up in steps of about $200. The newest segment arrives in the form of the Alpha NEX-6, which combines much of the best from the older NEX-7 and the new 5R. The company is targeting "dSLR intenders" with this model -- people who are thinking about getting a dSLR but are open to being lured away by the promise of a smaller package. Those are the people every manufacturer is hoping to attract with its EVF-equipped models, though.

On the plus side, the NEX-6 uses the same sensor as the 5R, which incorporates both phase-detection and contrast autofocus systems for (hopefully) improved AF performance. It also has the same Wi-Fi connectivity options as the 5R, including support for Sony's proprietary PlayMemories Camera apps, along with a similar touch-operated tilting LCD (though it doesn't have a similar self-portrait mode). Note that the hybrid-specific AF features will not work with all older lenses at launch and will require firmware updates.

Although I only got a brief chance to play with it, I like the design touches, with more direct-access controls and dials than the lower-end models in the series. They had me at a dedicated AE lock button and a physical mode dial. As on the RX1, the movie record button is oddly placed to the right side of the thumb rest, but I think I'll still prefer it over having it on the top. And the camera is compact with a good solid grip.

There are a couple of aspects I'm not thrilled about. For one, the NEX-6 can automatically switch between phase-detection and contrast AF during burst shooting, but only in its Speed Priority Continuous mode, which fixes exposure on the first frame. And the camera has incorporated a feature from camcorders called "Auto Slow Shutter" that reduces the shutter speed when shooting in low light -- but this feature usually drops so low that it gets special-effects slow. And the battery-life rating is just miserable.

Here's Sony's current NEX lineup:

  Sony Alpha NEX-F3 Sony Alpha NEX-5R Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sony Alpha NEX-7
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS 24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
12 bit
23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 200 - ISO 16000 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 16000
Continuous shooting 2.5 fps
6 raw/18 JPEG
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
3fps
6 raw/unlimited JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder None Optional OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 25-point contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec. x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec. x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec. x-sync
Metering 1,200 zones 1,200 zones 1,200 zones 1,200 zones
Metering range 0 - 20 EV n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Included optional Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video AVCHD
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo, mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
3-inch tilting
921,600 dots
Wireless connection None Wi-Fi Wi-Fi None
Battery life (CIPA rating) 470 shots 430 shots 270 shots 350 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.7
Body operating weight (ounces) 11.1 9.3 (est., without flash) 10.1 (est.) 12.4
Mfr. price n/a $649.99 (body only) $849.99 (body only) $1,199.99 (body only)
$549 (with 18-55mm lens) $749.99 (with 18-55mm lens) $999.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens) $1,349 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a n/a n/a n/a
Ship date June 2012 October 2012 October 2012 November 2011

While the NEX-6 encroaches on the NEX-7's territory a bit, that model is almost ready for replacement; I think there's sufficient differentiation in the line, as long as the only other camera Sony adds in the future is an interchangeable-lens version of the RX1. In fact, if it adds that, it may not even need one in the NEX-7's price range anymore.

Things are a bit odder when you compare the NEX-6 with similarly priced competitors: there really aren't any. Everything's either cheaper, but lags behind in features in some way, or more expensive, with better continuous-shooting performance, build quality, or an odd sensor. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2 is around the same price, but ripe for replacement.

  Fujifilm X-E1 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Samsung NX20 Sony Alpha NEX-6
Sensor (effective resolution) 16.3-megapixel X-Trans CMOS
16.1-megapixel Live MOS 20.3mp CMOS 16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS
23.6mm x 15.6mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5mm x 15.7mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.5x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (expanded)/200 - ISO 6400/25600 (expanded) ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 12800 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Continuous shooting 6fps
n/a
9fps
17 JPEG/11 raw
8fps
11 JPEG/8 raw
3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure)
Viewfinder EVF
0.5-inch
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
n/a
EVF
n/a-inch
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
1.15x/0.58x
OLED EVF
n/a-inch
480,000 dots
100% coverage
1.04x/0.69x
OLED EVF
0.5-inch
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 49-area
Contrast AF
35-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 60 min; 1/180 x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes; 1/250 sec. x-sync (flash-dependent) 30-1/8,000 sec.; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/180 x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec. x-sync
Metering 256 zones 324 areas 221 segments 1,200 zones
Metering range n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 18 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Included add-on Yes Yes
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Video 1080/24p H.264 1080/60i QuickTime MOV @ 20, 17Mbps 1080/30p; 1080 x 810/24p; 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28, 24Mbps, 1080/ 24p @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.8-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch-screen OLED
614,000 dots
3-inch articulated AMOLED
921,000 dots
3-inch tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless connection None None Wi-Fi Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 350 shots 360 shots 330 shots 270 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 5.1 x 2.9 x 1.5 4.8 x 3.5 x 1.7 4.6 x 2.5 x 1.4 4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1
Body operating weight (ounces) 12.4 (est.) 15.1 14 (est) 10.1 (est)
Mfr. price $999.95 (body only) $999.99 (body only) n/a $849.99 (body only)
$1,399.95 (with 18-55mm lens) $1,299.99 (with 12-50mm lens) $1,099.99 (with 18-55mm i-Function lens) $999.99 (with 15-60mm PZ lens)
n/a $1,099.99 (with 14-42mm lens) n/a n/a
Ship date November 2012 April 2012 May 2012 October 2012

Probably equally important, along with the camera Sony announced three new lenses. The 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom, which will be offered in a kit, operates similarly to Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds analog; it automatically collapses to provide a more compact profile for the camera, with a switch on the side for electronic zoom operation. But it seems better designed than Panasonic's, with a bigger switch and a manual focus ring. It will be priced at $350 when it's available for standalone sale in January.

A $450 35mm f1.8 fills the hole for a fast midangle prime, but I'm most looking forward to trying out the $850 10-18mm f4. Though I wish it were faster, I guess I'm just a wide-angle kinda gal.

Where to Buy

Sony Alpha NEX-6 (body only)

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