Sony’s new NEX-6 shares many of its features with the company’s flagship NEX-7, but is more affordable and offers Wi-Fi control. Read the Sony NEX-6 review...
Sony NEX-6 at a glance:
- 16.1-million-pixel, APS-C-sized, CMOS sensor
- ISO 100-25,600
- 2.359-million-dot EVF
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Hybrid autofocus
- Street price £699 body only or £820 with 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 lens
Sony NEX-6 review – Introduction
When you buy into a new camera system, the key selling point is, obviously, the camera. However, it needs to be backed up by a strong collection of lenses and accessories for its full potential to be realised. The serious photographer also needs to be assured that the company will continue to invest in the system.
Sony has certainly invested in its NEX range of compact system cameras, releasing a further six models in the two and a half years since the original NEX-3 and NEX-5 were launched. Some of these new models have had minor tweaks that have been designed to set up a coherent product line, while others have included industry-leading innovation.
This brings us to the Sony NEX-6, the start of the fourth new line, which the company describes as a ‘new concept’. It sits below the flagship NEX-7 and above the NEX-F3 and NEX-5R models, offering a tantalising mix of high-end and consumer-friendly features.
There is much to be enthusiastic about in the Sony NEX-6 – and I would expect nothing less from Sony – but what is more exciting is the new E-mount lenses the company has introduced. Until now, I would have described Sony as camera-focused, rather than lens-focused in its NEX range. The use of a large APS-C-sized sensor in the system requires a relatively large lens to go with it (apart from a pancake lens), leading to the NEX range being touted by some as a lens with a camera attached. Compact-sized cameras, yes; compact-sized system, no.
Along with the NEX-6, Sony also announced the launch of three new lenses in the form of the 35mm f/1.8, 10-18mm f/4 and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. The 16-50mm is the first power-zoom type lens in the range, and it collapses to a smaller size, which Sony states is just 29.9mm when fully retracted. A direct comparison of this with the previous 18-55mm kit lens shows that the new model is significantly smaller. So, a well-crafted and compact camera like the Sony NEX-6 now has the option of a compact E-mount zoom.
Sony NEX-6 review – Features
At a first glance, the NEX-6 is very similar to the NEX-7, and many of its features are identical, too. However, the single most important feature that separates the two cameras is the sensor. The NEX-6 uses a tried-and-tested 16.1-million-pixel unit, while the NEX-7 features a class-leading 24.3-million-pixel sensor.
With each generation of its NEX cameras, Sony has introduced its latest Bionz processor, which is faster and more powerful than the previous version. Sony does not sequentially name its processors, and all are called a Bionz processor. However, the NEX-6 uses the same high-end processor as the company’s full-frame Alpha 99, providing a range of ISO 100-25,600.
Unlike Sony’s Alpha cameras, the NEX-6 does not include on-sensor image stabilisation. Instead, stabilisation is provided through the lens. Most E-mount lenses have OIS, including the new power-zoom 16-50mm kit lens. Thankfully, there is a sensor-clean function, given that the camera does not have a mirror in front of its sensor so it is exposed when changing lenses.
The drive-mode menu contains a number of options. As well as timer, there is timer bracket, exposure bracketing, remote, continuous high and a speed-priority continuous mode that provides a 10fps burst. Speed-priority continuous gives up to a ten-frame raw & JPEG burst, or a 16-frame JPEG-only burst.
Wi-Fi connectivity has been all the rage in digital cameras this year, and the NEX-6 offers this function built in. Like Samsung, Sony has its own phone/tablet app in the Android store, called PlayMemories. Benefits of this connectivity include wireless control of the camera’s shutter, while images can be sent to a mobile device as well as loaded online directly from the camera. Also, extra apps can be imported to the NEX-6, with 90.5MB of in-camera memory available in which to store them. Apps can add to the picture effects and shooting modes on offer, and are accessed through the dedicated applications menu.
Sony NEX-6 review – Build and handling
All NEX cameras are compact in size, and I have been impressed by how many controls Sony squeezes onto its NEX bodies. This is especially the case with the NEX-6, which features a built-in flash, hotshoe and EVF, all on a body that weighs under 300g and measures approximately 120x67x43mm. In fact, the 43mm depth measurement is taken from the pronounced handgrip, which provides a comfortable hold, and the main body is nearer 30mm. Within the handgrip is the battery, which provides up to 360 shots and is charged via USB.
The NEX-6 is built to a high standard, being made partly of magnesium alloy like the NEX-7. The button layout of the two cameras is very similar, too. The main difference is that instead of the tri-navi set-up of the NEX-7, which comprises three unmarked dials, the NEX-6 has a dedicated shooting-mode dial with an extra dial underneath for exposure adjustments. The shooting-mode dial is clearly marked, so it is quicker to get to grips with this on the NEX-6 than it is on the NEX-7. However, two of the NEX-6’s key buttons on the rear (menu and Wi-Fi) are still unmarked, being displayed on the LCD screen instead.
The pop-up flash works on a crane mechanism, and photographers will need a good set of nails to get into the flash button to release it. With a compatible external flash unit attached, the camera can control other units remotely via the wireless flash mode. The hotshoe on the camera is the standard type, rather than the Konica Minolta design used by most other Sony cameras.
A function menu on the NEX-6 can hold up to six user-selected controls, and it is worth thinking long and hard about which controls are assigned here. For any controls that are accessed via the main menu, it can take a while to navigate the list of options, and once a control is adjusted the camera goes back to the shooting screen. To change another control, the user then has to go through the menu navigation again. Staying within the menu would make the process quicker. For those who shoot both videos and stills, the files are stored in separate playback menus, so to switch between the two a further menu must be negotiated.
Sony NEX-6 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power-zoom lens set to f/8. We show the section of the resolution chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution at the specified sensitivity setting.
We know that the variants of Sony’s widely used 16-million-pixel APS-C-sized sensor provide impressive image quality, and the NEX-6’s sensor is no different. Combined with the new Bionz processor and extensive ISO 100-25,600 range, sharp images can be achieved in both good-contrast and low-contrast light.
As we would expect, the camera reaches the 26 marker on our resolution charts at ISO 100, like so many other cameras with a similar resolution. However, the low-light performance has been slightly improved from the last-generation 16-million-pixel NEX cameras, with the NEX-6 reaching the 22 marker at ISO 12,800.
Unsurprisingly, this performance does not match that of the NEX-7. In low light, it is well worth shooting in raw format with the NEX-6, because the aggressive noise reduction applied to JPEG files at high ISO settings notably reduces tonal information and crispness of detail.
Image: Aggressive compression on JPEG images taken at high ISO ratings in low light reduces the crispness of detail and tonal information
Sony NEX-6 review – Metering
All Sony Alpha and NEX cameras use a 1,200-zone evaluative metering system, which, as we have noted before, is both predictable and reliable. Unfortunately, the spot-metering mode is fixed to the centre of the frame. I would like to see a flexible spot-metering mode that covers more of the frame, because fixed spot is less useful for off-centre subjects. For such subjects, the user needs to recompose the scene after the reading is taken through spot metering or auto-exposure lock. Otherwise, exposure compensation can be accessed directly via the control wheel on the camera’s rear.
Image: Using spot metering for the sunlit white wall of the house ensures highlight detail is maintained. The image can then be brightened post-capture and the highlight levels reduced to keep the information. Multi-pattern metering would otherwise lose this highlight detail
Sony NEX-6 review – Autofocus
Sony describes the NEX-6’s AF system as hybrid, which means it uses a combination of phase and contrast-detection AF. The 99-point phase-detection array is built onto the imaging sensor and can be constantly at work to keep subjects close to focus. A press of the shutter activates the 25-point contrast-detection AF to perform the final autofocus. All the AF points are grouped in the centre of the frame, and for quick focusing over a wide number of shooting situations it is best to keep the subject within the central 99-point array.
For tracking objects, the camera uses a fixed centre point. I found the AF to be snappy in good light, and although less responsive in poor light it is still respectable. Flexible spot AF covers a wider area of the frame, making it handy for off-centre subjects, with 187 areas individually selectable. The camera includes an AF illuminator, which helps no end in low-contrast light, but will obviously not work for distant subjects. Manual focus offers a very handy focus assist, which magnifies the display for clear viewing.
Sony NEX-6 review – Dynamic range
The NEX-6 is able to capture a wide range of tones in a single frame. The camera also offers auto DRO and HDR modes, with HDR available in JPEG only. HDR makes use of the camera’s high-speed shutter to record three consecutive frames and then blend them to extend the dynamic range. I found that in good light a tripod was not necessary for a crisp image. DRO auto gives a more subtle lift to tones, generally brightening shadow areas. All in all, for scenes within the camera’s range, I found it best to leave DRO off because shadow detail is brightened a little too much for my liking. However, for scenes of high contrast it is worth keeping the DRO auto function on.
Sony NEX-6 review – White balance and colour
Over a number of scenes, be it a sunny landscape or an overcast cityscape, the NEX-6’s colour rendition is faithful. The standard colour mode is punchy, while the vivid setting is even punchier still. Certainly, the vivid setting works well in overcast conditions.
There is the usual complement of white-balance settings, but AWB is reliable for most scenes. For tricky situations, such as tungsten or mixed lighting, or where a single colour dominates a scene, a custom reading is quick to take. This involves selecting the custom WB set option, placing the neutral subject in the centre of the frame and pressing the shutter.
Sony NEX-6 review – LCD, viewfinder and video
Whereas the LCD screen of the flagship NEX-7 is fixed, the NEX-6’s LCD screen can tilt up 90° and down 45°. It has a 921,600-dot resolution and a bright display, although it is not as bright as the company’s new 1.228-million-dot LCD found in the Cyber-shot DSC-RX100, DSC-RX1 and Alpha 99.
Also, the screen picks up smudges easily, which in bright light compromises clear viewing. Given its lower price point than the NEX-7, it is impressive that the NEX-6 uses the same excellent 2.359-million-dot XGA OLED EVF. It displays a 100% field of view and has 1.09x magnification. Other similar sized cameras do not usually fit a viewfinder, but in some cases it is available as an optional external unit. External EVF units add considerable cost, certainly no less than £250, with the Sony 2.359-million-dot external EVF unit costing around £300.
If a viewfinder is paramount to your checklist for a new camera, the relatively expensive NEX-6 may be great value. A dioptre control provides -4 to +1 adjustment, and with a 23mm eye point even spectacle wearers should get a clear view.
HD video recording in AVCHD format is possible at 1080 (50i, 50p or 25p) and at 1440 x 1080 pixels in MP4 format.
Sony NEX-6 review – Our verdict
The Sony NEX-6 mixes high-end build quality and control with a consumer-friendly feature set. The inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity opens up the NEX-6 for a number of in-camera editing controls and direct image sharing.
All in all, the Sony NEX-6 handles well and produces excellent images, but not quite to the same standard as the NEX-7.