Action-packed: Sony a6500 review
- Class-leading detail retention and noise reduction in JPEG
- Impressive buffer depth with buffer countdown
- In-body image stabilization averages 2.5 stops of added stability
- One of the best APS-C cameras at high ISO
- Flexible Raw files with plenty of dynamic range
- Impressive autofocus performance and frame coverage
- Superb video quality
- Extensive video support features
- Solid construction
- Good degree of customization
- USB charging is convenient
- 14-bit Raw in most shooting modes
- 3rd party lens support for phase-detect AF
- New menus are less cluttered than previous generations'
- New highlight-weighted metering mode
- Eye sensor intelligently disengages when the screen is pulled out, disabling EVF
- Redesigned eyecup slides on and locks in place, no longer prone to falling off
- Touchscreen operation is laggy, feels unrefined
- Still no "My Menu" option for clustering most-used menu options
- Only one top plate control dial
- Rolling shutter can be distracting in 4K/24p video
- No Lock-on AF area modes when shooting video
- Lock-on AF can be unreliable, and no AF behavior customizations exist for stills
- 'Live View' in 8 fps mode shows only static image between captures
- Cool greens and green yellows can yield displeasing JPEG colors, especially skintones
- No in-camera Raw conversion option
- Lack of headphone socket for audio monitoring
- Drops to 12-bit mode in various modes inc. continuous shooting and silent shutter
- Risk of overheating limits use for extended recording periods
- Screen automatically dims when shooting 4K video
- Lack of included charger makes it hard to keep a spare battery charged
- Lossy compression of Raw risks occasional artifacts
|ISO 1250, 1/2000 sec at F4. Edited to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Photo by Dan Bracaglia|
The a6500 is Sony's premium APS-C mirrorless camera sitting above the mid-level Sony a6300. The two share very similar body designs and many of the same specifications, but the a6500 is a more versatile and usable camera, both for video and stills, thanks to an additional front-end LSI (processor), a touchscreen and a stabilized sensor.
The a6500's premium price tag puts in a class against some stiff competitors including the similarly spec'd Fujifilm XT-2 which offers a more traditional camera form factor with front and back top plate control dials (the a6500 has one top plate control dial). The Canon 80D, while it does not offer 4K video capture also comes to mind as a similarly-priced competitor. The Sony is a higher spec'd camera, but the 80D offers a more user-friendly shooting experience, plus better battery life. Of course if you are willing to shell out a little more cash, the Nikon D500 is better in literally every respect for sports/action stills shooting.
Still, the a6500 packs an incredible amount of technology and features into a very small camera. And while Sony has put out some of the most impressively spec'd cameras on the market in recent years, usability has never been the company's strong suit. With the a6500, we see a menu refresh and some improvements to overall user experience, like an additional custom button and the ability to use the touchscreen to select an AF point.
Simply put, if you are looking for a compact interchangeable lens camera that is well-suited for both stills and video, the a6500 is a very good place to start your search.
Body and handling
It features a new grip design, similar to that offered by the a7 II series. Like the a6300 (and a6000 before it), the a6500 has one top plate control dial and one control dial on the back of the body. When shooting with one hand, the back dial can be difficult to access without compromising one's grip.
The a6500 lacks the control points of many similarly-priced bodies, however it can still be configured in such a way as to make most-needed option easy to access. The camera gains an additional custom key on the top of the body over the mid-level a6300 and retains a customizable function menu.
The touchscreen can be used to move one's AF point, both when framing with the LCD as well as when shooting with the EVF to one's eye (as a touchpad). In operation, it's nowhere near as responsive as we'd hoped or expected, and using the touchscreen as a touchpad with your eye to the finder is an exercise in frustration, with a frankly industry-trailing implementation that requires you do a lot of swiping just to get the AF point where you want it. The touchscreen can be used to zoom in on images in playback (though assigning a button to 100% magnification at the AF point is a far quicker way of doing so). Nonsensically, you can't use it in menus or even to select options in the Fn. menu. In summary, the touchscreen does not feel up to the same technological standards as the rest of the camera.
The a6500 receives an update color-coded menu and many options are now more logically located and easier to find. However there is still no 'My Menu' option for placing most used items in one place, something most other manufacturers offer. The Memory Recall modes aren't nearly as comprehensive as most peers' Custom modes, only remembering a limited set of camera settings. Buttons still aren't customizable per stills and video modes, despite the two often requiring access to very different set of features. And, generally, there are still aspects of the camera's operation that are downright frustrating. For instance, the camera has a tendency to display an 'Invalid operation' from time to time, with little or confusing indications as to what settings might need to be changed.
Autofocus & Performance
|ISO 3200 1/2 sec at F4.5. Shot using the 24mm F1.8 Zeiss lens. JPEG edited to taste in Adobe Lightroom. Photo by Dan Bracaglia|
Overall, we were impressed with the a6500's autofocus. With native lenses and modes where the camera gets to choose a subject, the camera can follow a subject and refocus on it better than many DSLRs, even at 11 fps. Subject tracking becomes less reliable when you specify the target, with both acquisition speed and dependability dropping, but continuous focus with a single point is as good as it gets. Performance in low light can be lens-dependent.
Although the overall performance is good, the user experience is less positive. Multiple modes and functions appear to be layered on top of one another. And the touchscreen adds yet another layer of complexity as to which AF mode overrides which; stills and movie mode work completely differently and it's oddly difficult to get the camera to track the subject you tap on, which we'd expect to be the default behavior in AF-C. Frankly, Sony needs a complete rethink of their AF modes in stills and video at this point.
The addition of image stabilization is a nice feature, especially for those shooting adapted glass. We found it gave an average of 2.5 stops of additional stability at all focal lengths tested (24mm, 85mm and 200mm equiv.), and found it more suitable for stills over video shooting. We tested the in-body IS both paired with Sony stabilized lenses as well as with non-stabilized lenses, with similar results.
|AF performance is solid. ISO 640, 1/3200 sec at F4. Edited to taste in Adobe Camera Raw.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia
One of the most impressive capabilities of the a6500 is its incredibly deep buffer, aided by a new processor (front end LSI). We were able to shoot 105 consecutive Raw+JPEG images at 8 fps before the camera slowed down. More importantly: the camera remains responsive even after you've shot a burst. You can immediately pop into playback and see the image most recently written to the card or check focus on it at 100%, and get an idea of how long until the buffer clears, thanks to a handy countdown. You can also access some menu options via the Fn. Menu as the buffer clears. This makes the camera eminently more usable - particularly when shooting action - than the a6300 and Sony's previous attempts.
|Out-of-camera JEPG with the Creative Style set to Black & White. ISO 100, 1/320 sec at F9.
Photo by Dan Bracaglia
Raw Image quality from the a6500 is the same as that offered by the a6300, which is to say, excellent and on par or better than what we've seen from other APS-C cameras. Raw files are still subject to Sony's lossy compression system and the camera will still drop to 12-bit mode in anything but Single Drive or if you engage full electronic shutter, limiting dynamic range.
JPEG files offer class-leading sharpening and noise reduction, improved from the a6300 thanks to the increased processing power brought by the front-end LSI. Color rendition still suffers relative to peers though, with greenish yellows and skintones, and cool greens. Unfortunately there is still no in-camera Raw processing option, particularly a shame given just how good Sony's JPEG engine is at retaining detail, particularly in low light.
We've noted this before in our a6300 review, but its interesting to see the vastly different approaches to video offered by Sony compared to Canon with the EOS 80D. While the Canon offers a simplified touchscreen-centric video mode and only HD capture, the Sony borrows a lot of high-end features from the company's professional video cameras, and couples that with stunning 4K video quality.
In terms of ease-of-use and dependability and decisiveness of video autofocus, the Canon is the better option, but if you don't mind a slight learning curve and want serious film making tools like log gamma, zebras and peaking, the Sony is hands down the better option. In fact only Panasonic offers cameras near this price point with an equal degree of video features and tools. And while the Panasonics shoot lovely 4K video, the a6500 uses a larger sensor and can shoot in more extreme lighting while keeping noise levels low.
The a6500 is not without its issues on the video front though. Rolling shutter when panning in 4K is a serious issue (you can see that in the video above), even to a degree in 30p mode. The camera also automatically dims the LCD when shooting 4K, as a measure to help prevent overheating (an issue carried over from the a6300). Unfortunately this makes the camera almost impossible to use in bright sunlight when shooting with the LCD. Not everyone shoots 4K, but with this camera you'll want to: 1080 HD video quality is extremely soft, falling far behind Sony's own RX100 cameras and many competitors.
The Final Word
|There are several aspects of the Sony a6500 that are quite exciting, including its impressive buffer. ISO 200, 1/3200 sec at F4. Edited to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Photo by Dan Bracaglia|
The Sony a6500 is not a perfect camera (few are) and it also does not offer a ton of new bells and whistles over the mid-level Sony a6300. But the release of the a6500 is a clear indication that Sony, as a camera maker, is addressing its greatest achilles heel: the overall usability of its cameras. By improving the menus, increasing the buffer and adding a touchscreen, they have successful made this camera much more usable than its lower-priced sibling. But Sony still has a long way to go. Even with a proper touchscreen (which this does not have), the lack of a second top plate control dial on a $1400 MSRP camera is hard to stomach. And Sony's confusing AF modes and AF area settings are just not acceptable in a camera this high-end.
Still this is the most powerful and usable Sony APS-C camera to date. It can keep up on the sidelines and in the gymnasium with its DSLR competitors thanks to its excellent AF system and impressive buffer. Its stabilization is by no means class leading, but it works, which is great news for anyone attempting third party lenses (because let's be real, the E-mount lineup isn't comprehensive, yet).
For the money, you get a light-weight, weather-sealed body with excellent still image quality, excellent 4K video quality, a degree of in-body stabilization and the ability to photograph high speed action with ease. And if you take the time to fully customize the camera, you can really make it sing. Simply put, as an all-arounder, its pretty hard to beat what the a6500 offers, but as an engaging artistic tool, the a6500 may still leave some wanting more.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
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 Sony a6500 is an outstanding all-around camera. Image quality and 4K video quality are both exceptional and the camera's autofocus system also impresses. Well-suited for sports and action photography, the a6500 offers a deep buffer and burst speeds of both 8 and 11 fps with continuous autofocus. Just be aware that it can take some work to wrap one's head around its long list of capabilities, to get the most out of the camera.
Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.
Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.
Sony a6500 Sample Images
|Antares cloud complex in Scorpius by jeffbottman|
from Best Photo of the Week...
|26415640516_0644cfa2fc_o by Frederic Kelder|
|Straumur-Aurora by arnie1|
from Tripod needed
|last flight by drnikon850|
from Specialized and Specialty Aircraft
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