Using the NEX-6

Anyone who has used an NEX model in the past should be able to pick up and use the NEX-6 with little difficulty. Its user interface isn't for everyone, though the improvements Sony has made over the years has made it a bit easier to use than the original NEXs. In previous NEX-series cameras, for example, you have to delve into the menu system to change exposure mode. While it may sound insignificant, the NEX-6's new physical mode dial makes operating the camera a lot less tedious, if you're the kind of person that switches between exposure modes.

Available screens in live view display shooting data in various formats, as well as an electronic level. Screens vary slightly when viewed on the EVF.

The black 'Quick Navi' screen (described below) is designed for use when shooting with the EVF.

Electronic Viewfinder and LCD

The NEX-6's EVF is one of the best on the market, with impressive resolution (around 30% higher resolution in both dimensions than most of the competition), accurate color, and none of the 'rainbow effect' that you'll find with some other EVFs. The EVF was generally bright enough for shooting outdoors (with the eyecup attached), and subjects were easily visible in low light situations, as well. Like all EVFs, some stair-stepping is visible along shallow diagonal lines, and occasionally we saw some moiré in high-frequency scene elements (some fabrics, distant roof tiles, etc.).

The most substantial physical difference between the NEX-6 and its 5-series predecessors is the inclusion in the former of an electronic viewfinder (EVF). And its a well-spec'd one that will be familiar to any NEX-7 user; a 2.3 million dot OLED panel (1024 x 768 pixels) with a 1.09x magnification that is absolutely gorgeous to look through.

The Fujifilm X-E1 has the same OLED display unit as the NEX-6 but offers a lower magnification view and greater eye relief distance. This has the effect of making the X-E1's EVF somewhat less 'immersive' than the NEX, but it ensures that you can comfortably see all four corners of the scene area without needing to move your eye too much. With the NEX-6 we've found that the live view image is a little too large to get a really clear view of the overall scene without scanning our eye around. This is more of a problem when wearing glasses, but removing the NEX-6's eyecup helps.

An eye sensor to the right of the display automatically switches between the EVF and rear LCD. The eyecup seals off light well enough to prevent the eye sensor from being tripped accidentally (unlike the XE-1, which can behave inconsistently in bright rear or side-light). You can also see here a diopter adjustment knob which has a range of -4m to +1m.

The NEX-6's 3-inch LCD display can tilt upwards by 90 degrees, and downwards by 45 degrees.

Articulating LCDs allow you to shoot over the heads of people in front of you, to name one advantage.

And as it does on the NEX-7, the placement of the NEX-6's viewfinder places limits on the movement of the rear LCD panel. You can tilt this 3 inch, 921K dot screen upwards by 90 degrees and down by roughly 45 degrees, but it will not flip up above the camera in a front facing orientation like the similarly spec'd unit on the NEX-5R. Outdoor visibility on the LCD is good, but not great. Since the NEX-6 lacks auto brightness adjustment, I often found myself turning up the brightness manually when shooting in bright sunlight. There's a super-bright, higher-saturation 'sunny weather' screen mode but we've found that this is a little too much, in all but the brightest light.

Something else about the rear LCD that may bother some people is its native 16:9 aspect ratio, which leaves a large black margin on the right side of images that you're composing. Still on the subject of the rear screen, we're disappointed that Sony has chosen to forgo the touchscreen capability of previous NEX models. In Sony's world you can have a built-in EVF (NEX-6 and NEX-7) or a touchscreen (NEX-5N and NEX-5R), but apparently not both.

Mode dial

In addition to the standard PASM modes, the mode dial on the NEX-6 offers both Superior and Intelligent Auto, Scene and Sweep Panorama modes. Directly beneath it is the larger diameter control dial.

In a first for the NEX line, the NEX-6 sports an external eight-position mode dial. As you can see in the image above, it sits directly on top of another dial - this is a control dial for adjusting exposure parameters. The NEX-6's exposure mode dial is only marginally smaller in diameter than the (much more crowded) mode dial found on the Sony SLT-A57 and is sufficiently stiff to prevent accidental operation while handling the camera.

Control dial

As well as the exposure mode dial, the NEX-6 also offers a top-mounted control dial, positioned around its base. This, and the rear control dial, are the primary means by which the NEX-6's key shooting parameters are adjusted. The function of the two dials is dependent on the shooting mode. It can also be used to navigate menu options or cycle through images in review mode. After pressing the exposure compensation button you can adjust the exposure by turning the dial, too. The functions of the two dials, top and rear, in each mode are listed below.

Mode
Top Dial Function
Rear Dial Function
Program Program Shift
Aperture Priority Aperture
Shutter Speed Priority Shutter Speed
Manual Aperture Shutter Speed
Panorama Panorama direction
Scene modes Cycles through scene modes Cycles through scene modes (after leaving live view)
Intelligent Auto
Superior Auto

Exactly as we saw with the NEX-5R, the problem here is that Sony hasn't really taken the opportunity to make the NEX-6 a 'proper' two dial camera. Looking at the table above, notice that in all modes except Manual the top dial simply takes over the function that was controlled by the rear dial in earlier models. And frustratingly, the rear dial just sits there unused. The dial functions cannot be customized, which is unfortunate. We can't help but feel that it would make far more sense for the rear dial to change exposure compensation directly in the PAS modes. Instead you're obliged to first press the 'down' key on the 4-way controller.

Function menu

The NEX-6 inherits the NEX-5R's dedicated function button. It is located on the top of the camera to the right of the shutter button.

Pressing the 'Fn' button gives you quick access to six shooting parameters which by default are AF/MF select, AF mode, AF Area Mode, White Balance, Metering mode and Picture Effect. However, the Function-menu is customizable and for each 'slot' you can choose among the 16 options shown in the table below. You'll notice that the last option allows you to reduce the number of icons displayed along the bottom of the screen. The dimensions of the dark gray border remain the same, regardless of the number of icons displayed.

Parameters that can be assigned to the Fn menu
 • AF/MF select
 • AF mode
 • AF area
 • Face Detection
 • Smile Shutter
 • Auto Portrait Framing
 • Soft Skin effect
 • Image quality
 • ISO
 • WB
 • Metering Mode
 • DRO/Auto HDR
 • Picture Effect
 • Creative Style
 • Flash Mode
 • Not set (no function selected)

Quick Navi menu

With the NEX-6, Sony has reintroduced the 'Quick Navi' display last seen on its pre-SLT DSLRs. Hidden away as a display option via the Camera menu, you can enable it as one of the info views that the DISP button cycles through. Once on screen, if you then press the 'Fn' button you can use either of the camera's two dials to navigate among options and make selections. This, along with the top-mounted exposure mode dial, should mean that you spend less time in the Camera menu - definitely a good thing.

Playback Mode

The NEX-6 has the same playback mode as other NEX models, which makes it fairly unremarkable. It has the basic features that you'd expect, like slide shows and image rotation, as well as Wi-Fi enabled features like View on Smartphone and Send to Computer (discussed later). If you want actual editing functions, you'll need to download the free 'Photo Retouch' and 'Picture Effect+' apps, though there aren't yet options to add the in-camera RAW or video editing that an increasing number of the Sony's rivals offer.

This image shows the three available 'pages' of information about a photo in playback mode, showing exposure data and an RGB histogram.

There are two playback mode annoyances that Sony has not addressed in the NEX series. Perhaps the most frustrating is that stills and videos cannot be viewed at the same time. You must manually switch between the two (three, actually, since AVCHD and MPEG4 videos are also separate) from either the thumbnail screen or the playback menu. It's not as if it's not technically possible, since other manufacturers, such as Panasonic, can play everything sequentially.

The other thing that might cause frustration is the inability to move from one photo to another while the frame is enlarged. This feature is helpful for verifying photos, or checking to see the effect of things like HDR or D-Range Optimizer. Again, this is fairly common in competitive cameras, and a real time-saver when reviewing multiple similar images.