Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Sony a6500 - First thoughts

My long suffering NEX 6 has been showing signs of age, in particular there were times when the camera would start clicking through the menu options. This I have been able to fix by switching off and rotating the control dials, so it is probably caused by dirt on the contacts. It's a very intermittent fault, and most of the time the camera is just fine, despite having taken a humengous number (39433) of shots.

So it came to pass that I decided to add an a6500 to this year's tax allowance.

First impressions, it's a bit heavier than the NEX and the grip is more ergonomically shaped and protrudes more. I'm not too keen on the extra mass, but the grip is better.

The electronic viewfinder is very good indeed, I had thought that it might be the same as that used in the NEX 6, but, combined with the extra pixels on the sensor, this does appear to be an improvement. I am finding that, with contrast detect set at minimum, I can now accurately focus using that aid and with the lower 5.9 x viewfinder  magnification. I was never fully confident of contrast detect on the NEX6, but this camera appears to have raised its game in that respect.

However the apparent increased sensitivity of the contrast detect function sometimes means that, even at the minimum setting, the focused image is a mass of colour, making composition more difficult. It would be useful if contrast detect could be switched off when not using a magnified view. I have programmed a button (C3) to allow me to quickly change the contrast detect mode, but I'm not sure if I will be making much use of it!

Then there are the menus, an overwhelming array of choices, but, for heritage lens users, the camera now appears to default to release without lens. whereas previously you would need to set that parameter.

I like the fact that you can program a button (C1 in my case) to select the focal length in use, in body stabilisation is a real boon for users of old lenses. It's early days as yet, but IS brings a real improvement to the use of heritage lenses on this camera. I've not carried out any rigorous testing, but I've used my 75-150 Pentax zoom (112-225 mm FF equivalent)  at 1/100th and obtained crisp results. It's not a panacea, if you bounce on the shutter release you will get blurred shots!

It also seems that you need to remember to change the focal length to be used with the IS system. I've inadvertently left it set at 150 mm and taken shots using a 12mm lens resulting in some motion blurred images. Of course this only applies to manual focus lenses, auto lenses automatically inform the camera of the focal length.

A further improvement is the ability to set the minimum shutter speed to be used with auto ISO, again I have programmed a button (C2) to set this. I need to do some rethinking about what those minimum values should be, now that I have IS in camera, but for static subjects, and shorter focal lengths, the previously available (NEX 6) 1/60th minimum is far too pessimistic.

Actually my needs are few, I normally shoot raw using auto ISO, and aperture priority, with the occasional descent into shutter speed priority and manual operation, so I don't need all those menus etc.

One slight negative, possibly due to my ignorance of the camera's capabilities, is the need to restore full frame magnification before shooting, whereas my NEX would jump back into shooting mode at a half press of the shutter. The manual states that this should happen with the a6500 too, but for some reason mine does not. It's probably user incompetence!

Update - a helpful chap on the DPreview forum pointed out that AF in Focus Mag. = OFF will enable the shutter release to cancel the magnification mode and jump back into shooting. I don't know if there are any drawbacks as yet, but my autofocus lenses seems to work fine with this setting.

My old lenses appear to be coping well with the increased pixel density, although the edge definition provided by my Pentax 28mm f2.8 is not great on distant views. It's fine close up, so I wonder if this is a field curvature problem?

I've now published the results of a quick test comparing the NEX 6 and a6500 at ISO1600

Revised 12-8-17