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.
For the successor to its Editors' Choice-winning, 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.
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.
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.
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.
The video looks quite good, with solid control over artifacts, and the built-in stereo mic is surprisingly clear and warm.
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. 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.