A6000 Review - Mirrorless and focus tracking, no longer mutually exclusive!

Started Apr 29, 2014 | User reviews thread
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zackiedawg Forum Pro • Posts: 28,599
A6000 Review - Mirrorless and focus tracking, no longer mutually exclusive!

I’ve had my A6000 now for a bit less than a week, and had the chance to test it outdoors with some action sequences, and indoors for some low light tests – I still have a lot more to try out, including my manual lenses which I haven’t tried yet, but feel like I’ve got a handle on the camera’s settings, handling, and performance.

My specific comments will be from the viewpoint of both replacing my NEX-5N, and how the A6000 compares, and as a second body to my DSLR, which I also shoot with alongside the A6000. I’ve always been a two-camera person – I like having a larger, thicker body for my long-lens work and for the extended controls, battery life, and buffer it can afford, and a more compact body for when I want to travel lighter but not compromise on IQ or performance.

First off, I find I really like the feel and appearance of the A6000 – it’s sturdy, purposeful, squared appearance looks serious, and almost makes the camera look bigger than it is, but picking it up one finds it’s nice and light, the grip fits my hand nicely, and everything feels as solid and flex-free as can be. I like the additional controls on the body compared to the NEX-5N, and the modifications of a few controls, as well as the additional programmability which really makes the camera customizable to suit each individual’s own preferences. Key changes from the NEX-5N which I really like:

Allowing camera apps for future expandability, MFNR now built into the ISO settings, ability to disable pre-focusing, ability to disable the video button, a dedicated AEL button, of course PDAF tracking ability is key, the 3 banks of MR memory recall settings that can be stored, expanded EV bracketing, separation of the remote control from the drive modes, the additional C1 and C2 custom buttons and 4 other programmable buttons that can be customized, the ability to set a floor and ceiling in Auto ISO, and the addition of Auto ISO to M mode. And of course the menus themselves – adieu to those nasty, atrocious NEX tile menus of old! Much better, much more normal, much easier to find settings…and the settings are quite extensive.

I didn’t have to change much on the custom settings to get the camera working the way I wanted. I started off by disabling prefocus and video buttons, turning off image review, turning on Airplane mode, set the creative profile to ‘vivid’ mode, with saturation and sharpness at -1, set high-ISO NR to low, enabled shoot w/o lens, set ISO to the C1 button where it feels more natural for me, replacing ISO on the right click button with Lock-on AF, I set C2 to DRO/HDR, left EV on the bottom button and left AEL on its own button, set to toggle. I set up the 3 MR banks so I had one bank for still bird shooting, one bank for BIF shooting, and a 3 bank with a modified BIF/Sport setting using the lock-on AF mode. I also spent the first day doing the firmware updates for my 18-55mm and 55-210mm lenses, so they are up-to-spec with the PDAF system.

My review won’t include any information about video, as I do not use the video function. I also can’t offer any information about charging in camera or connections with USB, as I don’t use that – I still have my NEX-5N’s external charger and use that, and typically load my memory cards to a reader to offload photos.

Focus speed and accuracy – excellent so far. I never had focus accuracy issues with my NEX-5N – so maybe I’m an anomaly…many others routinely complained about missing focus or unreliable focus, but it was never an issue for me, and focus speed to my eye is darn-near instant for every camera I’ve had for the past 5 years. I honestly don’t relate with all the obsession over test measurements of ‘fastest focusing camera’ as it seems to come down to fractions of milliseconds separating the best and worst interchangeable cameras. So far, the A6000 has been every bit as fast, and accurate, as my other cameras…with the additional controls of the 3 different flex spot focus sizes, which can really help when wanting to grab focus on a very small target. I have not had the camera miss focus in any lighting condition so far, which is what I’ve come to expect from all my cameras.

Focus tracking, AF-C…this is where the A6000 stands out from the NEX-5N – and from my tests of the NEX6, is still leaps and bounds better than those earlier PDAF on sensor efforts. Put plainly, it appears so far in my tests to be every bit as accurate, and capable, and fast, in tracking focus with closing and drawing objects, as my DSLRs, and pretty much any entry DSLR. It grabs on immediately, and once it discovers its target, the focus system can track even fast-closing subjects for as long as the shooter can keep the focus points on the subject. When focusing in wide focus mode, with all focus points enabled, it tracks very well not only for closing speed and distance, but movement around the frame to other focus points. Most of my tests were done in 6fps continuous shooting mode, which is a good sweet spot for me on birds-in-flight shooting…11fps tends to just be overkill – far too many frames of the subject for me to want to fish through…and 3fps can miss too many wing positions and head positions.

I also played briefly with lock-on AF, which also seems to work well – this allows you to engage the lock-on AF on your target, either by half-pressing the shutter or with a dedicated button (there are two modes), then once the subject is ‘acquired’, a green, morphing focus box will surround the subject to let you know the camera has the right thing to focus on…that morphing box will change shape and size as the subject does – EG: a bird with its wings folded will have a small square surrounding his torso and head, and as he opens his wings, the box stretches to a long horizontal rectangle to surround the outstretched wings. The square can move around the frame as the subject does, for as much of the focus area you have engaged (wide, zone, center, spot). This could be very useful for shooting a kid at the home plate ready to swing a bat, or as I found for a sitting bird that looks ready to take off.

High ISO performance in my comparisons seems better overall than the NEX-5N, with a caveat. Initially it looked like it was roughly a draw – a 100% viewable crop of shots taken from each would seem to show roughly the same amount of detail…but considering a 100% crop of a 24MP photo is a fairly significantly smaller section of the shot than a 16MP, you’re essentially more ‘zoomed in’…once I resized the 24MP shots to 16MP to compare, noise went down and the comparative detail seemed to increase even down to ISO1600, but much more noticeably at ISO6400 and up. The NEX-5N I could push to ISO12800 with some noise reduction and a good exposure, and still get a usable result…even with HHT hand-held twilight stacking mode. With the A6000 and a good exposure, ISO12800 looks usable and recoverable even without MFNR mode, and with MFNR and a good exposure, I found even ISO25,600 was usable. It takes a little noise reduction, and resizing for use at 12-16MP – meaning you could still generate a pretty decent print at 20” long…I wouldn’t quite want to print 4 foot by 6 foot wall prints with ISO25,600 MFNR…but it’s certainly within small to medium print usable range…quite impressive.

life has been just slightly less so far than my NEX5N, which was CIPA rated at a decent 420 shots. The CIPA rating on the A6000 seems to vary in different reviews, but the additional functionality and more use of continuous focus likely played a part in my slightly lower overall shots. I can only compare for birding – but with my NEX-5N, I could push 900 shots on a battery, and with the A6000 I averaged 770 shots per battery through two batteries. I was extensively using AF-C focusing, and shooting exclusively with the EVF, I had airplane mode on, image review off, and prefocus off. I’d expect in regular, travel and mixed-use photography that the camera should return in the vicinity of 350 shots.

Variables: the strap doesn’t suck. That’s a rarity for Sony, as the last two cameras I bought from them had the most irritating, itchy, stiff, cheap feeling neck straps that made me instantly replace them. This one is still just a cheap stock strap that comes with the camera, but it is lightweight, doesn’t have sharp or frayed edges that dig into the neck, and has a leatherette-type lining where it touches the neck for a softer feel. It still will need a little ‘wearing in’ to get more flexible, but I can actually use this one. Manuals: as usual with Sony, they suck. They only give you the MOST basic possible manual with the camera, and a more extensive one usually becomes available online. Not a problem for most former E-mount users, as the camera is easy enough to get used to – but for a newbie, they need to provide something better. Fn button – I like it – big improvement over the 5N’s center button which could store 5 settings – with the Fn button you can store 12…fully customizable. Moreover, they can be accessed easily with the 4-way jog buttons, and each setting can be immediately changed once highlighted by just turning the jog wheel at the top to scroll through different settings…a half-press shutter puts you back to shoot-ready mode. You can also click on each Fn setting, entering the submenu, and using the arrow keys to change settings – I find the jog wheel much easier at least for certain changes. For example, I found a very easy way to switch between the different MR banks, of which there are 3, was to add Mode to the Fn menu. When in MR mode, selecting the Mode function in Fn allows you to switch between bank 1, 2, or 3 by just turning the jog wheel to the next detent…making for fast on the fly changes.

Complaints? None, really…love it, nice step up from the 5N, better in pretty much every way for my use. OK – one very small niggle complaint: I find the memory card slot to be not so good for using Memory stick cards. Strange actually, because it’s in the same place, and works the same way as on my 5N, but the 5N seemed to more easily find the smaller inner detents for guiding in a memorystick, which is smaller than the SD cards…with the 5N it was pretty much no effort at all…with the A6000 it was actually notably difficult getting the MS card lined up – it kept lodging sideways into the extra space for the SD cards, and it’s not easy for large male fingers and fat man fingers to tweeze the card back out if you get it in there wrong! I say this is a very small complaint mainly because I’m using an SD card with mine, and the SD card goes in easily and effortlessly, and is much easier to grab when pulling out.

That’s it! Get out there and enjoy shooting – there are some pretty excellent mirrorless cameras out there in the current generation from all manufacturers, and finally they seem to have closed the gap with DSLRs for focus tracking, a big hole for previous mirrorless systems. DSLRs are still part of my shooting regimen and will remain so, but mirrorless are a wonderful equal system for many different uses, and the A6000 is an excellent specimen of today’s mirrorless cameras.

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 zackiedawg's gear list:zackiedawg's gear list
Sony SLT-A68 Sony a6300 Sony E 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 OSS Sony E 16mm F2.8 Pancake Sony DT 18-250mm F3.5-6.3 +22 more
Sony Alpha a6000
24 megapixels • 3 screen • APS-C sensor
Announced: Feb 12, 2014
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Sony a6000 Sony Alpha NEX-5N Sony Alpha NEX-6
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