Sony Alpha NEX-6 review: A really, really nice camera

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The Good A fine shooting design, great photo and good video quality, and excellent performance number among the Sony Alpha NEX-6's strengths.

The Bad The camera lacks the option to save groups of custom settings, a real irritation, and we wish it had a neutral color preset. Plus Sony's wireless implementation is awkward, and the app system is annoying.

The Bottom Line The Sony Alpha NEX-6 delivers a great package of image quality, performance, and design.

8.2 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 8

Editors' note, July 2, 2014: After evaluating subsequent products in this class, I've replaced the NEX-6 as Editors' Choice for consumer mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras with its successor, the Alpha A6000.

Maybe I'm just getting easier to please as I get older, but Sony's been winning me over recently with its enthusiast-targeted models. The Sony Alpha NEX-6 delivers an arguably better design and speedier performance than its Editors' Choice Award-winning but more expensive sibling, the NEX-7, and equally excellent photo quality. Its only real weaknesses are the wireless implementation and annoying apps architecture. But as a camera for advanced photographers who want the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, it hits all the right notes. And as such, it replaced its older linemate as our Editors' Choice for this market segment at the time we originally reviewed it.

Image quality
The NEX-6 produces excellent photos. As I said, in photo quality it matches the NEX-7 and, despite using the same sensor, is better than the NEX-5R at midrange ISO sensitivities. Sony's image processing is extremely good, and images shot though ISO 400 look very clean; depending upon content they can be usable and printed large (13x19) as high as ISO 6400, and ISO 12800 when scaled down. While shooting raw still helps when you need to perform exposure corrections, above ISO 800 you're just exchanging one type of artifact for another.

The color and exposure are generally very good, although Sony tends to produce cooler white balance, which make the NEX-6 very good at correcting for tungsten lights, but not quite as good at automatic white balance under cloudy skies. The biggest annoyance is a lack of a neutral Creative Style, which Sony stubbornly refuses to offer in any camera under $1,000. However, the camera has sufficient, if less efficient, controls for you to be able to tweak color to your taste. Raw files also preserve a reasonable amount of detail from which to recover blown-out highlights and clipped shadows.

Click to view/download ISO 100

ISO 800
ISO 3200

Video also looks quite good. While there's a little more in the way of moiré and other types of crawling-edge artifacts than I like, overall it still looks smooth with excellent tonality in both bright light and dim.

The new 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 lens, which comes as part of a kit option for this model, performs about as well as you expect from a kit lens. At its widest, there's quite a bit of distortion and vignetting -- the camera defaults to automatically compensating for the angle-of-view distortion but doesn't seem to fix the problems at the edges and the corners remain visibly dark under some circumstances -- but otherwise it's a pretty sharp, bright lens. I also got to test the new 35mm f1.8 lens, which displays excellent edge-to-edge sharpness and low distortion, but also has some aberration/fringing problems at its widest apertures; that's not unusual, however.

Note: We recently updated our testing methodology to provide slightly more real-world performance, so the results aren't necessarily comparable with previous testing. Until we're finished refining our procedures we will not be posting comparative performance charts.

A noticeably fast camera -- probably one of the fastest ILCs I've tested thus far, though methodological differences in testing mean I can't say so definitively -- the NEX-6 only shows some signs of sluggishness after shooting raw+JPEG and in bringing up the user interface when powered on or waking up. It takes about 2 seconds to power up, focus, and shoot, partly because you have to wait for it to load the interface before it can register a shutter press. Time to focus, expose and shoot in good light runs roughly 0.2 second. It takes the same 0.2 second to shoot two sequential JPEGs or raws, rising to 1.8 seconds with flash enabled.

Continuous shooting varies with image format, mode, and how many shots. A standard JPEG burst of 20 shots never slowed and maintained a rate of 3.5fps; in Speed Priority mode, which fixes exposure on the first frame, it managed 10.2fps for 12 shots before slowing. You can burst raw for about 12 shots at 4.1fps before it slows, or about 10 shots at 10.4fps in Speed Priority. Those are sufficient burst runs for almost any nonprofesssional needs, and even after slowing the camera maintains a reasonable clip.

The autofocus generally operates quickly and accurately -- with the usual caveat that like all cameras it invariably picks the wrong subject when in multipoint AF mode. I'm also not a big fan of Sony's choice to expand the focus area to the entire scene in low light. When shooting video, the power zoom lens operates quickly and quietly and the autofocus behaves well, without pulsing on static subjects.

The LCD is large and bright and refreshes comfortably fast for both burst shooting and video. I do find the eye sensor on the EVF a little too sensitive, with the camera cutting off the LCD when shooting close to my body. Plus, if you're a heavy viewfinder user, the battery life is entirely too short; the perils of OLED.