In general, the feature set on the NEX-6 will be pretty familiar to anyone who's used a Sony interchangeable lens camera in recent years. Naturally, the camera has a full suite of manual controls, including white balance fine-tuning, bracketing (but only for exposure), and RAW support. A dual-axis electronic level helps keep your horizons lined up properly.
The two totally new features are Wi-Fi and Hybrid AF, both of which were discussed in detail on preceding pages. On the following two pages, we'll take a quick gallop through other notable aspects of the NEX-6's feature set.
D-Range Optimizer (DRO) is the NEX's automatic contrast system. By default it's set to 'Auto', though you can adjust its effect in five steps (1-5, plus Auto) or just turn it off. The feature works by assessing each part of the scene and adjusting the brightness for each of them separately, to balance the tones in scenes with a wide tonal range like the one below. The main effect of DRO is to lift shadows, which you'll see in the following example.
|DRO Off||DRO Lv 1||DRO Lv 2||DRO Lv 3||DRO Lv 4||DRO Lv 5||DRO Auto
In this example, the DRO Auto option has delivered a very similar result to manually setting level 4, which represents a nice middle ground - brightening the dark half of the ship without an unnaturally 'HDR' effect. In other lighting situations, the DRO Auto option may choose something higher, or have little-to-no effect.
The NEX-6's HDR (high dynamic range) feature also aims to pull a wide tonal range into a single image, but it does so in a very different way to D-Range Optimizer. In HDR mode, the camera takes three images in a row, each with a different exposure, and then layers them together. The promise is less highlight clipping and more accurate shadow regions.
The NEX-6 has an Auto HDR mode, and it also lets you select the exposure interval manually, with a range of +/– 1 to +/– 6EV. The wider the interval, the more pronounced the effect will be. The camera will auto align the three photos and captures them fast enough (under half a second) that a tripod is generally not needed. Note that you cannot shoot RAW images using the HDR feature.
|DRO/HDR Off||HDR 1.0 EV||HDR 2.0 EV||HDR 3.0 EV||HDR 4.0 EV||HDR 5.0 EV||HDR 6.0 EV||Auto HDR (default)|
Above is a very contrasty scene, taken with DRO and HDR turned off, and then at every HDR setting including Auto. The garage entrance at left and the wall on right are quite dark, while the tiles on the building in the distance are starting to clip. The HDR Auto mode certainly brightens up the shadows, though some of the highlights are still close to clipping. Thus, in this case, selecting the HDR 6.0 EV option might have been a better choice, as it brings back just a bit more highlight detail.
In addition to auto-aligning images. the Sony implementation of HDR also attempts to identify changes between the three images and will work to avoid duplicating subjects that have moved during the three exposures. This allows its use beyond static subjects - an unusual and useful aspect.
Intelligent Auto / Superior Auto modes
While most potential NEX-6 buyers are camera enthusiasts, Sony has not forgotten about the beginner. The NEX offers two Auto modes: Intelligent and Superior. Both offer automatic scene selection, with Superior Auto adding automatic multi-shot recording (HDR or multi-shot noise reduction).
|The gold flower icon at the top-left shows that the NEX-6 has correctly selected macro mode in Intelligent Auto mode.
Here you can also see how the NEX-6 can display the Phase Detect AF area.
The Auto modes work well in real world shooting, and during our time with the NEX-6 we found that they can be relied upon to sensibly select modes like portrait, macro, landscape, and backlight HDR depending on the shooting situation.
Sony pioneered the Sweep Panorama feature back in 2009 with the Cyber-shot DSC-HX1 ultra zoom. Now, that feature can be found not only on all Sony cameras, but also on those from most of their competitors, as well.
It works simply enough: choose your start point, hold down the shutter release button, and then pan the camera in the direction of the arrow. You can go in any direction (as long as you tell the camera ahead of time), and you can choose from standard (8192 x 1856) or wide (12416 x 1856) resolutions. Unlike the NEX-7, the NEX-6 cannot capture 3D panoramas.
|Sweep Panorama, ISO 100, 1/250 sec, F11|
The results obtained by using Sweep Panorama are impressive. Seams are rarely visible, and the camera handles changes in exposure very well. We've long been impressed by Sony's Sweep Panorama function, and despite being widely imitated, the original is still one of the best features of its type around.