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Sony Alpha A6500 review

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30 second Sony A6500 review…

Inside the Sony A6500 is an APS-C format CMOS sensor with 24.2 million effective pixels. This is coupled with a front-end LSI and a BIONZ X processing engine that enable a maximum continuous shooting rate of 11fps with continuous autofocusing. In addition there’s a fast autofocusing system that is able to keep up with moving subjects so it’s possible to shoot sport and action.
The A6500 has a built-in electronic viewfinder which is capable of displaying a lot of detail but sometimes makes scenes look a bit duller than they are in reality and than the captured images. There’s also a tilting touch-screen that gives a clear view and can be used for setting AF point or zoom in to check image sharpness.
There’s a tendency to overexposure bright scenes but generally the A6500 produces high quality images that have plenty of detail and noise that’s controlled well up to around ISO 25,600. Video quality is also high and can be recorded at up to 4K (3840x2160p) resolution in Super 35mm format.

Key features

Camera Name Sony A6500
Camera type CSC
Date announced 6th Oct 2016
Price at launch £1,499/$1,398 (body only)
Sensor size APS-C (23.5 x 15.6mm)
Effective pixel count 24.2 million
Processor Bionz X
Lens/Mount E
Viewfinder 0.39-inch OLED with 2,359,296 dots
Sensitivity range ISO 100-25,600 expandable to 51,200
Reflex AF system N/A
Live View AF system 594-point Hybrid (425 phase detection points, 169 contrast detection points)
Monitor Tilting 3-inch LCD with 921,600 dots
Max shooting rate 11fps with C-AF for up to 233 Extra fine Quality jpegs or 107 raw files
Max video resolution 4K (3840 x 2160)
Storage SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I) and Memory Stick variants
Dimensions 120.0 x 66.9 x 53.3mm
Weight 453g with battery & memory card

Like the Sony RX100 V, Sony has used the same sensor and processing technology in the A6500 as is in the Sony A99 Mark II. That means that the 24.2Mp APS-C format Exmor CMOS sensor has a stacked design with a separate circuitry layer and it’s accompanied by a front-end LSI chip to boost processing power. There’s also a BIONZ X image processor and the whole combo enables a sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200.

Sony has also given the new camera the same 4D Focus system as the Sony A6300, which means it has a response time of just 0.05 seconds and 425 phase detection AF points. That’s the joint highest number in any interchangeable lens camera.

Further good news is that the A6500 can shoot at up to 11fps (frames per second) with continuous autofocusing and active metering. What’s more, the buffer is large enough to allow up to 233 Extra fine Quality jpegs or 107 raw files. That’s a significantly deeper burst depth than the A6300 which can record up to 44 Extra fine jpegs or 21 raw files when shooting at 11fps.

Sony A6500

Another feature that will make the A6500 attractive to its target market of experienced photographers is the 5-axis stabilisation which is claimed to extend the safe hand-holdable shutter speed by up to 5EV. As this is in-body stabilisation it can be employed whatever lens is mounted on the camera – even if an adapter is used.
I am also pleased that the A6500 has a touch-screen, but I am disappointed that it can only be used for setting autofocus point and zooming-in to help with manual focusing or check the sharpness of captured images. It can’t be used to navigate the menu or select settings.
Video can be recorded at up to 4K (3840x2160p) resolution in Super 35mm format using the full width of the image sensor with full pixel readout and no pixel binning. As a result, the camera collects 6K of information, approximately 2.4x the number of pixels required for 4K video. This is then oversampled to produce smoother video with greater tonal range.

It’s also possible to shoot in ‘Slow and Quick’ (S&Q) mode and this enables slow motion and quick motion recording with frame rates from 1 fps to 100fps, selectable in 8 steps. Hence it’s possible to produce up to 50x quick motion or 4x slow motion recording.

In addition, Sony has given the A6500 S-Log gamma recording to enable videographers to shoot flat-looking footage with wide dynamic range and S-Gamut for a wider colour space. These options produce footage that’s ideally suited to post-capture grading.

Sony A6500

Sony Alpha a6500 Build and Handling

The Sony A6500 has the rectangular design of previous Sony Alpha mirrorless cameras like the A6300 and A6000 to name just two. The grip is short but effective and the button layout is familiar, although there’s an extra customisable button on the top-plate.

Sony has used a magnesium alloy shell and given the A6500 seals to keep out dust and moisture. In addition, the shutter has been tested to 200,000 cycles. That sounds a lot, but I make it about 5 hours at 11fps.

Like the A6300, the A6500 has a 2.4-million-dot OLED viewfinder. This provides a nice clear view and the short blackout time makes it possible to follow even very fast moving subjects. However, there’s a tendency for the image to look a little duller than the scene or the captured image and sometimes you have to have a little faith.

Sony A6500

As they have grown in length over recent years Sony’s menu systems have become rather jumbled but the A6500’s has a revised layout with more of the related options being grouped together. There’s also some colour coding to make it easier to spot the option that you want, however it could still benefit from more streamlining and better grouping of set-up items. It’s also disappointing that there isn’t a customisable menu page.

The Function menu, however, is customisable with 12 slots available to give access to an extensive array of features. The default options work well and speed up camera control and it’s worth working with them for a while and then experimenting with alternative arrangements until you find the optimum for your. Those who switch between stills and video shooting on a regular basis would probably appreciate two Function menus, one for each discipline.

Sony a6500 real wedding shoot

Just like the Function menu, it’s worth using the A6500’s controls in their default arrangement and then experimenting with different set-ups. It didn’t take me long before I switched the exposure compensation control away from it’s default two-step process to direct access via a dial. Videographers may also want to alter the button used to start and stop recording because it’s almost impossible to not wobble the camera when you press the default corner-located button.

Record button Sony A6500

The titling screen on the back of the camera can be set to select the AF point with a touch. It’s possible to utilise the whole screen, or just half or a quarter of it (the right side is the active area if you narrow-down the field). If you wish, you can also set the Touchpad AF system to deactivate when you’re shooting in portrait format.

It takes a little while to get used to the fact that the AF point is shifted by dragging a finger on the screen rather than tapping, but generally it’s responsive to touch and a very convenient way of shooting.

The screen also has a clear image with plenty of detail and in bright sunshine the Sunny Weather setting boosts its brightness sufficiently for the image to be visible. The tilting bracket is nice when you’re shooting low or high-level landscape format images but a fully articulating joint would be even better.

Sony A6500

Sony Alpha a6500 Performance

Sony has a good reputation for sensor manufacture and supplies many of the sensors in other company’s cameras. It’s therefore fairly predictable that the A6500 is capable of capturing plenty of detail with noise that’s controlled well. However, I’d try to avoid using the top setting of ISO 51,200 if possible and aim to keep to ISO 25,600 or lower.

When the Standard Creative Style and Automatic white balance settings are selected the A6500 can usually be relied upon to produce attractive, vibrant images. However, I found that in bright light most images benefited from the exposure being reduced by 0.3 or 0.7EV below the Multi Metering mode’s recommended value.

Sony a6500 real wedding shoot

Naturally I was very keen to test the Sony A6500’s autofocus system and I was lucky enough to be invited to an event at Mercedes World in Weybridge, UK to shoot cars speeding and skidding on a track. The weather was bad even for February with thick cloud keeping light and contrast levels down while drizzle frequently covered the front element of the lens. Nevertheless the A6500 coped well, managing to keep pace with the cars as they moved. I was also able to use the Sony A99 II and although the full-frame camera had a slower lens, it was clear that its focusing system is faster.

A few weeks later I was able to take the A6500 and A99 II to a rugby match to put them through their paces. I was shooting with the Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS on the A6500, which isn’t an ideal sports optic in terms of focal length, but nevertheless it delivered many sharp images.

Lock-on AF: Expand Flexible Spot mode can be useful for tracking a subject around the frame, but it has a habit of latching onto other objects in the frame mid-sequence as you shoot. This is a particular issue with team sports like rugby where there are likely to be several objects of similar size, colour and contrast in the frame. Similarly Face Recognition can be very helpful until there are other faces in the frame that aren’t your main subject.

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I found Expand Flexible Spot the best autofocus point selection mode to use in many situations. This allows you to select a single starting point for focusing but uses the surrounding points if the subject should stray from the chosen area. It means that you have a slightly bigger margin for error when you’re trying to keep the active AF point over the subject.
While the A6500’s autofocus system isn’t quite up to the standard of the A99 II (after all that camera has dual AF sensors), it’s certainly capable of keeping pace with fast subjects.

The 5-axis image stabilisation in the the A6500 is one of the few distinguishing features between it and the A6300. Sony claims that it extends the safe hand-holding shutter speed by up to 5EV. When I was shooting with the Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS at the 70mm end (105mm equivalent) I found that I could consistently take images that look sharp at 100% on a computer screen when using a shutter speed of 1/15sec. Many taken at 1/10sec were also sharp, but I didn’t hit the 5EV extension reliably.

Video quality follows the pattern of the stills, with high quality, vibrant footage.

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Sony Alpha a6500 Verdict

The Sony A6500 has quite a lot in common with the A6300 introduced in February this year and Sony A6300 owners are likely to be frustrated that the newer camera has Sony’s stabilisation system while their’s does not.

While having a touch-screen really speeds up setting AF point, I’m disappointed that Sony hasn’t got fully on-board with the technology and allowed it to be used to make menu selections. It would also be nice to have a vari-angle screen rather than just a tilting one.

Sony has done some work on the A6500’s menu, but it’s still not especially intuitive to use and in the early days you’re likely to find yourself hunting around for features. However, there are plenty of customisation options so it’s possible to make the camera suit your preferred style of shooting.

Despite a few gripes, the Sony A6500 is a high quality camera that’s capable of shooting wide range of subjects including sport. You need to keep an eye on exposure, especially in bright situations (that’s easy enough when you’re using the electronic viewfinder to compose images) but you’ll be rewarded with detail-rich images with attractive colours.

Sony A6500 Sample Images (direct from camera)

Follow this link to view and download a selection of Sony A6500 images. All of the images are direct from the camera and have not been edited in any way.

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Sony A6500
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