Conclusion - Pros
- Very good image quality and high ISO performance
- High resolution OLED electronic viewfinder
- Articulating 920k dot LCD display
- Built-in Wi-Fi allows for photo sharing to smartphones, computers, Facebook, and more; camera can be remotely controlled via smartphone app
- PlayMemories App Store lets you add additional features to your camera
- Finally a 'real' hot shoe and mode dial
- Snappy focusing and shot-to-shot speeds
- Hybrid AF system tracks subjects better than just contrast detection alone (at least in good light)
- Lots of useful features, such as Auto HDR, focus peaking, Sweep Panorama, and Hand-held Twilight / Anti Motion Blur
- Full HD video recording at 1080/60p with full exposure control (even while filming) and continuous AF
- Fast continuous shooting performance, with ability to focus between each shot
- Customizable function menu and soft buttons
- Above average battery life
- USB charging can be convenient
Conclusion - Cons
- Best image quality obtained from RAW images (due to fairly strong noise reduction)
- Many controls still accessed through clunky menu-driven interface
- Movie recording button has gone from too-accessible (NEX-7) to inaccessible
- Some apps (such as Multi-Frame NR and Time-Lapse) are free on previous Sony cameras or competitors; no e-mail app included
- Apps take several seconds to load and can be laggy
- In-camera raw conversion would add flexibility
- Playback confusingly separated into stills, MP4 and AVCHD sections
- 16:9 aspect ratio on LCD leaves margin when composing stills
- Touchscreen LCD would've made camera easier to use, especially when typing on virtual keyboard
- USB charging is slow and makes it awkward to use a spare battery
- No 3.5mm external mic input (only proprietary Sony hot shoe mics are supported)
While it doesn't break a lot of new ground, the Sony Alpha NEX-6 provides two features that E-mount enthusiasts have been asking for: a physical mode dial, and an ISO standard hot shoe. Add the beautiful OLED electronic viewfinder from the NEX-7 and new Hybrid AF and Wi-Fi features from the NEX-5R to Sony's already impressive offerings, and you've got a pretty compelling product.
The NEX-6 offers solid build quality and generally easy handling. The camera has a good-sized grip for your right hand, with most of the controls in easy reach of your fingers. The one exception is the movie record button: starting and stopping recording has gone from too easy on the NEX-7 to too difficult on the NEX-6. While the 920k dot articulating LCD is pretty standard these days, the 2.4 million dot EVF is not, and it's among the best you'll find. However, the aspect ratios of the LCD and EVF - 16:9 and 4:3, respectively - mean that you'll always have margins surrounding the photo you're composing (this is especially noticeable on the LCD). The camera is very responsive, save for slightly sluggish startup times with the 16-50mm power zoom kit lens, and battery life is well above average. Despite the new mode dial, the NEX-6 remains largely menu-driven, and said menus can be very frustrating to navigate.
Feature-wise, the NEX-6 has all of the bells and whistles found on other Sony cameras -- such as Auto HDR, Hand-held Twilight, and Sweep Panorama -- plus a competent set of manual controls and customizable options. The NEX's new Hybrid AF system did a better job at tracking moving subjects in good light than on the NEX-3N (which is contrast detect only), though it doesn't improve overall autofocus speeds. The camera can shoot at 3 or 10 fps with continuous autofocus, which is something that most competitors can't match. Movie enthusiasts will be impressed with the camera's 1080/60p quality setting and the ability to adjust exposure, ISO, and focus while recording. They may, however, bemoan the lack of an external mic input.
Another big feature on the NEX-6 is its built-in Wi-Fi system, which is accompanied by a new PlayMemories App Store. Wi-Fi can be used to transmit photos to your smartphone, computer, or Facebook, and your phone can also be used to control the camera remotely. There are currently eight apps in Sony's store, ranging in price from free to $9.99. Many of the apps are for retouching images (though not RAW files), while others add features like time-lapse and Multi-Frame noise reduction that arguably could have been included in the first place. One rather glaring omission in the app store is something to e-mail your photos.
A few other issues are worth a mention. Sony has apparently decided that you can have an EVF or a touchscreen LCD, but not both. We think that the NEX-6 would be easier to use with a touchscreen display, and you'll probably agree when you're trying to type using the on-screen keyboard. Like the other NEX family members, the NEX-6 does not let you view stills and movies sequentially, for no real reason. Finally, some users may be frustrated by the in-camera battery charging, which is quite slow, and makes keeping a spare battery handy a bit difficult.
Like the other NEX models that share versions of its 16 Megapixel CMOS sensor, the NEX-6 produces very good quality images. Exposure is accurate, with the D-Range Optimizer providing just the right amount of contrast. Colors are vibrant and will be pleasing to the NEX-6's target audience. Photos don't display a lot of 'grainy' luminance noise, though that's at the expense of fine detail, such as hair or grass (even at low ISOs). For best results, you'll want to shoot RAW, which not only brings back some of that detail, but it also gives you access to shadows and highlights that were otherwise lost. The NEX-6 automatically reduces various lens issues, such as chromatic aberrations, distortion, and vignetting.
As far as its key systems are concerned, the NEX-6 chose the proper exposure in nearly all of our real-world samples, so we didn't need to reach for exposure compensation or bracketing mode very often. The camera's Auto DRO system, which is on by default, does an impressive job of brightening shadows and producing a nice, balanced image. If you want to bring back highlight detail, you can do so using the NEX's easy-to-use HDR function, or shoot RAW.
The Final Word
The NEX-6 is an very competent and fun-to-use mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. It performs as well or better than other mirrorless cameras on the market, and offers some unique features that are genuinely useful. With the addition of Wi-Fi, the NEX's feature set is arguably the best in its class. The new mode dial and hot shoe have made it a bit more 'traditional' than its predecessors, though the clunky, menu-driven interface remains largely untouched. If you're comfortable with how the NEX-6 operates, then you won't be disappointed by its performance, photo and video quality, or features. The NEX-6 earns a very solid silver award and only just misses out on a gold. While some of our complaints could be resolved with a firmware update (such as app speed or movie/still separation in playback mode), others, such as the lack of direct controls and location of the movie mode button, will have to wait for the revision of the NEX-6.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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Sony Alpha NEX-6
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The NEX-6 offers a highly attractive combination of excellent image quality, enthusiast-friendly ergonomics (including a mode dial--a first for the NEX-series), a 'real' hot shoe, an OLED electronic viewfinder, and useful features like Sweep Panorama and Auto HDR. That said, the NEX's user interface isn't for everyone. Having to download (and sometimes pay for) apps can be frustrating, and for best results you'll need to shoot raw.
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