Thursday, August 28, 2014

Hands-On With the Sony a6000

I recently took the opportunity to put the new Sony Alpha a6000 mirrorless camera through its paces. It’s a remarkably small, light, fast-acting camera potentially capable of producing really good images.

Small and light is what I was looking for. I’m a hiker, and I also like to do some street photography. I want something with me that won’t add weight when I’m climbing a long, steep trail and that can be inconspicuous when walking city streets. I also want a camera that’s always ready and responds quickly.

Montane Botanic Garden. ISO 100. 
I worked with the a6000 for a full week, taking it on a hike in the San Bernardino Mountains, on a ramble through downtown Los Angeles, to the Huntington Gardens and the Getty Center, and on another hike around Lake Hollywood.

Sony’s strength lies in its sensors. The broadcast industry has relied on them for many years. The a6000 is equipped with a 24 megapixel crop-frame APS-C sensor that delivers a 6000 x 4000 pixel image in RAW. That’s an image you can enlarge easily to at least 30” x 45”. What I believe hurts the image is the kit lens that came with my camera, an inexpensive 16-50mm zoom (equivalent to 24-75mm full-frame). It exhibited a lot of barrel distortion (correctable in Lightroom) and noticeable softness, especially at the edges.

Los Angeles Union Station, ISO 6400
Low-light performance was impressive. Although noise was evident even at lower ISO settings, it was easily controlled up to ISO 6400. The camera certainly was responsive, with a minuscule 0.02 second shutter lag. Its 11 frame-per-second continuous capture speed was amazing. Battery life had to be watched; on one long hike where I clicked off over 200 frames, it was getting worrisome as I got back to the trailhead.

Controls can be confusing. One main, marked control wheel on top sets the program mode, while most other settings are changed through menus. I often found myself switching between continuous shooting, single frame and bracket modes, which required a couple of thumb-presses each. It was easy to miss the correct setting, especially in bright light while trying to read the LCD screen. A second top-deck unmarked control dial can be set to different functions; I had mine set to aperture. However, your thumb can easily change the setting as you handle the camera and operate the shutter; it’s something I had to learn to keep checking.

Some of those issues, I suppose, are associated with the small size of the camera and therefore unavoidable. I’d like to go back and test the Sony a6000 with a better lens, preferably one of the Zeiss Touit prime lenses (they offer 12mm, 32mm and 50mm, equivalent to 18, 48 and 75 respectively). We’ll follow up when we have a chance to do that.

The Sony a6000 is a great little camera with the ability to produce large images and capture the moment. Its promise may be fulfilled with higher-quality lenses.

NOTE: The camera used for this review was paid for by the reviewer and obtained through No compensation was received for this review.

Wounded deer, grazing on the brush near Lake Hollywood. ISO 400.