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Sony Alpha 6000 (ILCE-6000) review: Sony Alpha 6000 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera almost has it all

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Editors' note, July 2, 2014: After evaluating subsequent products in this class, I've retroactively granted the Alpha 6000 an Editors' Choice for consumer mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras, replacing the older Alpha NEX-6. While it's not perfect, it's the best all-around option in its class.

sony-alpha-ilce-6000-product-photos01.jpg
8.4

Sony Alpha 6000 (ILCE-6000)

The Good

The Sony Alpha 6000 has seriously fast continuous shooting for the money, and its design improves upon its predecessor's already excellent one. Plus it's got an extensive feature set.

The Bad

The movie record button remains annoying, and while it delivers excellent photo quality, it's not best-in-class in low light. It's also slow on startup.

The Bottom Line

Despite small annoyances, the Sony Alpha 6000 is a great overall camera for more advanced photographers who want something smaller than a dSLR, especially if they need the continuous- shooting speed.

For the successor to its Editors' Choice-winning Alpha NEX-6 , Sony improves the autofocus system, image quality, and design, and delivers a great burst rate for the money.

Coupled with the compact -- compared to a dSLR -- design and excellent feature set, there's a lot to like about the Alpha 6000.

While the whole package makes a great impression, though, it's not best in its price class in all criteria.

Image quality

The Alpha 6000's JPEG images generally look excellent, though in low light they don't remain as sharp as photos from some competitors. The new 24MP sensor incorporates the latest gapless microlens technology that most modern sensors now use, coupled with Sony's latest Bionz X image processor.

Sony Alpha 6000 full-resolution photo samples

See all photos

At low ISO sensitivities JPEGs are sharp, with a relatively broad tonal range and good color in the default settings. The neutral setting does render more accurate colors, since it doesn't push the saturation and contrast as much, but the default Creative Style doesn't shift hues. Once you hit about ISO 800, all but the most in-focus edges in JPEG images get soft and smeary. That said, I did get printable images as high as ISO 12800, and Sony manages to keep color noise under control quite well. If you shoot raw there's a reasonable amount of recoverable shadow and highlight detail, at least at low to medium ISO sensitivities.

A6000 noise sample
Low ISO sensitivity JPEG comparison. (Note: if your browser window isn't maximized to at least 1500 pixels wide, these samples will be scaled and nonrepresentative.) Lori Grunin/CNET
A6000 high ISO sensitivity samples
High ISO sensitivity JPEG comparison. Lori Grunin/CNET

It's hard to make direct comparisons with the NEX-6 because the additional resolution adds a level of visible detail. However, I think the cheaper Nikon D3300 outperforms it starting at around ISO 800, as does the slightly more expensive D5300; the Nikon's OLPF-free sensor simply preserves sharpness a lot better as noise and processing increases.

Sony A6000 vs the Nikon D3300
ISO 1600. Lori Grunin/CNET

The video looks quite good, with solid control over artifacts, and the built-in stereo mic is surprisingly clear and warm.

Performance

The big improvement in the Alpha 6000 over its predecessor is the ability to shoot continuously at 11fps with autofocus and autoexposure, for at least 50 JPEGs or 22 raw (at 23 it slows a lot, though). That's one the best I've seen in this price class, including similarly priced dSLR kits like the Canon EOS Rebel T5i . Yes, Nikon zips past it, but that's with a far-lower-resolution, 1-inch sensor.

The updated system provides phase-detection sensors covering more of the image area -- 92 percent, according to Sony -- which does help with focusing on off-center subjects and subjects moving across the frame. That's a big win. The lock-on autofocus -- Sony's version of tracking AF -- works well when it locks onto the correct subject. However, it seems like the lock-on AF uses the contrast autofocus, but the phase-detection autofocus doesn't always seem to "hand off" the focus area to the lock-on AF correctly. In other words, for example, while the phase detection is locked on the correct subject, when the lock-on AF kicks in it doesn't always lock on the same subject. I spent a bit of time mentally stamping my foot and yelling, "No! Don't focus on the bush!" Overall, as long as the subject isn't moving erratically, like a dog running around the yard, you should get a reasonable number of hits vs. misses. And really, it's still quite better than many other cameras in its price range.

Even with a fast card there's a long wait after you've shot for the camera to finish writing to the card. However, it doesn't seem to impact the ability to keep shooting, just reviewing, which is really nice. It took me a while to find the light that indicates the camera's writing to the card, though; turns out, it's on the bottom of the camera. Normally, it's on the back -- you know, where you're always looking.

In lab testing, the rest of the camera's performance didn't measure quite so well, though it's still fast enough that it's sufficiently responsive and shouldn't have you missing any shots. The exception is the start up time, which remains as slow as the NEX-6: 2.1 seconds. (And lest you think startup time unimportant, my colleague Josh Goldman sold his NEX-6 and got a dSLR in part because he kept missing photos of his kids as a result of slow startup.)

In other respects, performance is fine, just not outstanding. Time to focus and shoot in good light is nearly identical to the NEX-6, it's just that the NEX-6's time rounds down to 0.2 second from 0.24, while the Alpha 6000's rounds up from 0.25 to 0.3 second. (Fun with math!) In dim conditions the Alpha 6000 focuses a little more quickly than its predecessor, shaving about 0.9 second off for a 0.4 second time to focus and shoot. There seems to be a substantial increase in shot-to-shot time for the Alpha 6000, though really 0.5 second isn't too bad; it might be a result of having to process larger amounts of data from the increase to 23 megapixels from 16. Flash recycle time improves as well, dropping flash shot-to-shot time to 1.3 seconds, which is pretty average.

Design and features

Sony fixed some -- though not all -- of the things I disliked about the design of the NEX-6, making the Alpha 6000 an even more enjoyable camera to use. Improvements include a memory recall entry on the mode dial that brings up 3 slots for settings; separation of the mode dial from the adjustment dial; the addition of a second programmable button; and integration of the newest, more traditional menu system rather than the great NEX experiment.

Its grip is delightfully large compared with the typical ILC and really comfortable to use. The body in general is a really good size: not so big and clunky as a dSLR, but not so small that klutzes like me get fumbly. On the top of the camera sits a standard mode dial with the the usual manual, semimanual and automatic modes, a manual movie mode, and sweep panorama. The mode dial is next to a context-sensitive control dial; next to the shutter is a function button that calls up user-programmable quick-access settings. There's also a nice pop-up flash that can be tilted back for bouncing the light, along with the hot shoe. There's a huge eyecup on the viewfinder that you still have to remove when you use the shoe.

On the back is the standard control wheel with programmable buttons that default to ISO sensitivity; drive mode; display settings; and a mode-dependent exposure compensation, in auto, access to tone, color and background defocus (aperture shift) settings. There are also a reprogrammable autoexposure lock, menu and quick menu/send-to-phone buttons. The movie record button on the side remains poorly located and hard to press, and the shutter seems oddly loud.

The power zoom kit lens is similarly well-designed, with a big zoom switch that's easy to feel and operate in both portrait and landscape orientations. Plus, there's a ring for manual focus or zoom operation, though it's a little too twitchy for zooming.

Nikon 1 V2 Olympus OM-D E-M10 Sony Alpha 6000 (ILCE-6000) Sony Alpha NEX-6
Sensor (effective resolution) 14.2MP CMOS
12 bits
16.1MP Live MOS
12 bits
24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
n/a
16.1MP Exmor HD CMOS
n/a
Sensor size 13.2mm x 8.8mm 17.3mm x 13mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal- length multiplier 2.7x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF No Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 160 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 (exp)/ 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600
Burst shooting 5fps (single AF, mechanical shutter); 60fps (electronic shutter)
n/a
3.5fps
unlimited JPEG/20 raw
(8fps with fixed focus and exposure)
11fps
n/a

3fps
11 raw/15 JPEG
(10fps with fixed exposure and focus)
Viewfinder EVF
0.47 in/12 mm
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
n/a
EVF
n/a
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
1.01x - 1.15x/ 0.5 - 0.58x
OLED EVF
0.4 in/10 mm
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
1.07x/0.71x
OLED EVF
0.5 in/12.7 mm
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.09x/0.73x
Autofocus 73-point
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
81-area contrast AF 179-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF 99-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity range n/a n/a 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 30 - 1/4,000 sec (1/16,000 sec electronic).; 1/250 sec x-sync 60 - 1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (max) 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync 30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 sec x-sync
Metering n/a 324 area 1,200 zones 1,200 zones
Metering range n/a -2 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV
Flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes Yes Yes No
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical
Best video 1080/30p; 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV 1080/30p H.264 QuickTime MOV
(22 mins)
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24Mbps
Audio Stereo; mic input Stereo Stereo; mic (via accessory shoe) Stereo; mic input
LCD size 3 in/7.5 cm
fixed
920,000 dots
3 in/7.6 cm
tilting touch-screen
1.04 million dots
3 in/7.5 cm
tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
3 in/7.5 cm
tilting touch screen
921,600 dots
Wireless Optional
(via WU-1b Wireless Mobile Adapter)
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi
Battery life (CIPA rating) 310 shots 320 shots 420 shots 270 shots
(VF); 360 shots (LCD)
Dimensions (WHD) 4.2 x 3.2 x 1.8 in
107.8 x 81.6 x 45.9 mm
4.7 x 3.2 x 1.8 in
119.1 x 82.3 x 45.9 mm
4.8 x 2.9 x 1.8 in
120 x 66.9 x 45.1 mm
4.8 x 2.8 x 1.1 in
119.9 x 66.9 x 42.6 mm
Body operating weight 11 oz (est)
338 g (est)
14.3 oz
405 g
11.6 oz
330 g
12.3 oz
348.7 g
Mfr. price
(body only)
$800 USD
n/a
$700 USD
£530
$800 AUD
$650 USD
£550
n/a
$650 USD
£450
n/a
Primary kit $900 USD
£800
n/a
(with 10-30mm lens)
$800 USD
£700
$999 AUD
(with 14-42mm lens)
$800 USD
£670
$1,099 AUD
(with 15-60mm PZ lens)
$800 USD
n/a
n/a
(with 15-60mm PZ lens)
Alternative kit $1,050 USD
£970
n/a
(with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses)
n/a n/a
£880
n/a
(with 16-50mm and 55-210mm lenses)
n/a
Ship date November 2012 March 2014 April 2014 October 2012

Sony brings the feature set up to date by adding NFC for quick wireless pairing, clean HDMI output and Zebra (tone-clipping indicator). There's really nothing missing for this class of camera, except perhaps a touchscreen.

The Wi-Fi connectivity works fine, and it has a full-featured remote-shooting app. But I really hate that in order to update to the full Smart Remote app from the extremely limited built-in one or to add the Send to Smartphone app -- capabilities that most competitors simply build in -- you have to set up a Sony Entertainment Network account. And it's a real pain entering text on a phone without a touchscreen, encouraging the use of the shortest, most insecure password possible. That's just to download an app that offers more than a shutter button and exposure control. Plus, lots of the non-free apps cost $5 and $10. Downloading PlayMemories Camera Apps really makes look really appealing to me as a camera OS over Sony's proprietary platform.

For a complete accounting of its features and operation, download the Alpha 6000's manual.

Conclusion

Aside from continuous shooting, the Alpha 6000's performance is solid but not class-leading, and while the image quality is excellent, it's not quite the sharpest in low light; however, with a great feature set, especially if you're willing to fork over extra bucks and personal information for task-specific apps, the overall package of the Sony Alpha 6000 ranks as one of the best cameras available in its price class.

Shooting time (in seconds)

Nikon D3300 0.4 0.6 0.2 0.2 0.5Sony Alpha 6000 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.5 2.1Sony Alpha NEX-6 0.2 0.5 0.2 0.2 2.0Olympus OM-D E-M10 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.4 1.3
  • Shutter lag (typical)
  • Shutter lag (dim light)
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • Raw shot-to-shot time
  • Time to first shot
Notes: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)

Olympus OM-D E-M10 3.3Sony Alpha NEX-6 3.5Nikon D3300 5.1Sony Alpha 6000 11.0
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance
sony-alpha-ilce-6000-product-photos01.jpg
8.4

Sony Alpha 6000 (ILCE-6000)

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 9Performance 8Image quality 8