Sony NEX-6 Review
Being a enthusiast camera, it should come as no surprise that the NEX-6 is generally quite responsive. Shooting performance is quite good, though the camera's startup time with the 16-50mm power zoom is a little on the long side, and some of the apps are rather slow in operation (see the following pages for more on that).
With its 16-50 mm power zoom kit lens attached, the NEX-6 acts more like a compact camera than a mirrorless ILC. After flipping the power switch, it'll first need to extend the lens before you can start shooting. That takes about 1.9 seconds. If you're using a prime or more conventional zoom lens though, the camera will be ready to take photos in around 1.1 seconds.
If there's any shutter lag on the NEX-6, it's certainly not noticeable in real world use. Shot-to-shot delays are in the 1.0 - 1.5 second range (for JPEG and RAW+JPEG, respectively). Adding the built-in flash into the mix doesn't increase those times.
AF System & Performance
The NEX-6 features the same a 'Fast Hybrid AF' system we first saw in the NEX-5R. Following the approach of its rivals, Sony has adapted its imaging sensor to collect phase-difference information, from which the camera can ascertain not only the direction to move the lens to achieve focus, but also how far. This has a number of advantages over the contrast detection focus method traditionally used by compact and mirrorless cameras, which requires the lens to scan through its focus positions while the camera checks whether it is becoming more in or out of focus.
The ability to collect this depth information not only means that focus can be performed faster (because the camera can push the lens straight to the right place, rather than having to scan through its whole range), but also brings advantages for continuous focus and for focusing during movies. In movies, for instance, because the camera has a good understanding of depth, it should reduce the risk of the camera suddenly losing a moving subject and scanning off to infinity and back looking for it (and ruining your movie by doing so).
|Sony's Hybrid AF system on the NEX-6 uses an array of 99 phase-detection points spread out across the center of the sensor. It covers a taller, slightly wider area than the system used by Canon in the EOS-M.|
As with the system Canon has implemented in the EOS M, the on-sensor phase detection isn't used as a standalone system (it's unlikely to have the fidelity that the dedicated sensors used in DSLRs have), so it's used in combination with conventional contrast detection. As such the phase detection information is used to drive the lens near to the in-focus position, then contrast detection is used to scan for the optimal focus point, to fine-tune the focus.
We weren't overly impressed with Canon's implementation of this feature on the EOS M (the overall focus performance of which is simply slow), but Sony has done a much better job on the NEX-6. The camera focuses nearly instantly in high contrast situations, and takes less than a second in low light or other difficult scenes.
Outdoors, the NEX-6 was able to track moving subjects surprisingly well - even when shooting at 10 frames/second. We shot ten burst sequences of an approaching bicycle (with a rather busy background behind him), and the NEX was able to track the subject about 70% of the time. We'd expect a better hit-rate from true phase-detection AF systems, but from a camera of this type, we're impressed.
|Frame 1||Frame 8|
|Frame 2||Frame 7|
|Frame 3||Frame 6|
|Frame 4||Frame 5|
Subject tracking works similarly well in movie mode, which is impressive, considering that Hybrid AF is only available for still shooting (a fact which is buried in a footnote in the manual). The hardest part is making sure that your subject is in the square at the center of the frame, at which point you press the lower soft button to lock onto them. In low light, the camera struggled a lot more at subject tracking. Trying to keep rapidly moving children in focus proved to be an exercise in futility. This is not unusual.
The NEX-6 can, of course, focus manually, using a 'focus-by-wire' system like other mirrorless cameras. The frame is digitally enlarged, and you can move this area around using the four-way controller. Focusing is smooth and precise with the kit lens, and the image on the LCD and EVF is sharp enough to roughly discern what is in-focus.
|The NEX-6's focus peaking function allows you to manually focus with a good degree of accuracy. Here, the red outline indicates that the plane of focus is around the middle of the striped cat.|
Another manual focus-related feature found on the NEX-6 (and several of its peers) is focus peaking. This puts a an outline around the areas in the frame that are in focus. You can adjust both how strong the peaking effect is, and the color of the outline.
The NEX-6 offers two different continuous shooting modes: standard (3 fps) and speed priority (10 fps). As its name suggests, speed priority mode shoots faster than regular continuous, but for a much shorter duration.
Thanks to the NEX's hybrid AF system, the camera will attempt to keep your subject in focus, even when shooting in speed priority mode. However, should your subject wander out of the Phase Detect area, you'll lose that benefit, and the NEX-6 reverts to contrast-detection.
As mentioned above, in our testing the NEX-6 was able to track a moving subject while shooting continuously with impressive - but not 100% - consistency.
|Quality Setting||Continuous||Speed Priority|
|RAW + JPEG||10 shots @ 3.0 fps||9 shots @ 10.1 fps|
|RAW||12 shots @ 3.4 fps||10 shots @ 10.3 fps|
|Fine JPEG||40 shots @ 3.3 fps||12 shots @ 10.1 fps|
|Tested using a SanDisk Class 10 UHS-I SDHC card|
The NEX-6 performs as advertised, with competitive burst rates and buffer capacities. When the buffer does fill up, the camera doesn't stop shooting - it just slows down considerably. In normal Continuous mode, you get a live view of your subject, so you'll be able to pan with moving subjects relatively easily. In the faster Speed Priority mode, you'll be seeing a replay of the previous shot, so accurate panning is extremely difficult. Sometimes less speed is better, even when shooting moving subjects.
The NEX-6 is powered by Sony's NP-FW50 InfoLithium battery, which is used by many other Alpha and NEX models. The NP-FW50 has 7.7Wh of energy, promises 360 shots per charge using the CIPA standard, which puts it top amongst mirrorless ILCs. In real world usage we found that the battery easily lasted through a day of shooting, but that's without using Wi-Fi. Once that's switched on, the battery drains much quicker. Thankfully, the camera only turns on Wi-Fi when it is needed, which helps mitigate the damage.
The NEX-6's battery is charged internally, using an AC-to-USB adapter. Charging takes a lengthy 280 minutes. For faster charging - and the ability to always have a spare battery at hand - consider picking up the BC-VW1 external charger ($60), which fills up the NP-FW50 in 90 minutes.
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