UPDATE: A6000 with Voigtlander 15/4.5 review <--Click
In the past I've never been a big fan of the Sony NEX cameras. The first time I picked one up it felt very very point and shoot-ish and cheap. Much like the early days of digital photography 15 years ago, the early small interchangeable lens cameras just didn't feel ready for prime time. Sure the cameras were smaller (and a bit cheaper) than buying an entry level DSLR but I just didn't understand why anyone would want a cheap feeling compact camera with interchangeable lenses. You had cameras like the Canon Powershot G Series which felt like the final "pre-DSLR" step (I used one for underwater photography) as I just couldn't afford 5D2 underwater accessories. The Olympus EP-1, the Nikon 1 and Sony's NEX.....I just couldn't be bothered. For me, at that time, you either had a small point and shoot, a entry-level DSLR or a pro-level DSLR. With the exception of course being the "upper level" point and shoot like the Canon G9. It shot RAW and gave full manual controls (vital for underwater photography) and was affordable. I'm sure there was some other competitor to the G series, I just can't remember what it was other than the EP-1/2.
Now we fast forward only 5 years...and let me be the first to say, I may not have seen it then, at all, but these interchangeable lens compacts have come an incredibly long way. Enough to where my pro-DSLRs have been sold off in favor of the Fuji x100s and the Sony A7r. Before you read too much into that last statement, let me be clear that the DSLR is far from dead. The world is still market driven and since the vast majority of people don't know better...as long as people still think that you have to have a DSLR to take great pictures, the demand will still be for DSLRs. And if you've ever read my blog before, you hopefully understand that a camera is nothing more than a tool and you should buy the right tool for the right job. But these previously mentioned compacts that I laughed at just a few years ago were just the first phase.
So this past weekend I got my hands on a pre-production copy of the new Sony A6000 to give it a quick spin. With it came a pre-production 55-210mm lens which I wanted over the kit lens as I really wanted to check out the auto-focus system and tracking system and with that I wanted a long focal length.
So first thing first...here is a link to Sony's page for the a6000
The camera is pretty solid and feels very A7-like in my hand. It's just over 100g lighter than my A7r (353g vs 464g) which thanks to the great grip still felt really good in my hands.
My excitement about this lens is Sony's claim to be able to shoot 11fps with auto-focus tracking. Regular old auto-focus on this camera is fast....and I mean damn fast. I hope to get my hands on a production model in the future to see if it gets even better. I must question though at which point does faster AF not matter? Can I really tell the difference between the Fuji X-T1's 0.08 second AF and the A6000's 0.06 second AF? Nope...not one bit. However, Sony stepped the game up with 179 phase detect AF points and 25 contrast detect. That's over 90% of the sensor (compared to ~50% of the NEX-6).
When shooting with tracking AF trying to shoot at 11fps, the A6000 cannot yet compare to the likes of Canon's flagship, the 1DX. I shot a lot with the 1DX in 2012 and while the A6000 isn't going to replacing it any day for professional sports shooters, it definitely did a good enough job for the occasional little league game. I wasn't able to compare to the X-T1's tracking AF as I only had a 10-24mm lens with the Fuji. But we're comparing to a camera designed for sports shooters that costs ten times the price of this little Sony.
The 55-210mm lens was a bit large, but light enough where it didn't seem to overpower the small camera. Flip the hood over and extend it and I will say it does look a bit silly....but with the image stabilization it was very easy to shoot at 210mm.
I gave the lens a try on a couple of the full frame lenses I have as well as the Voigtlander 21 Ultron and Voigtlander 15 and here is where I seriously gave some serious thought to buying one of these to throw in my bag.
I'm a huge fan of the CV15 and it just really seems to love this camera. It feels right at home. The color cast in the corners is gone, the soft corners are gone....the A6000 loves the CV15. One of the advantages of cropped sensors is you bypass the generally weak spot of lenses and that's the outer edge.
Sony developed a new 24.3-megapixel EXMOR APS HD CMOS sensor and matched it together with the BIONZ X image processor which was borrowed from the A7/A7R lineup. Unfortunately since this is a pre-production model I was asked not to post any sample images. I was very pleased with the images I got to shoot which is to be expected. Nothing you purchase in this day and age is going to give you bad images.
The controls, menu and flip screen feel very familiar to me since I've been shooting the A7r for the past 4 months. I actually went to the store to compare the A6000 to the current line-up of NEX cameras. The button layout is nearly identical to the NEX-6 and NEX-7. I did like the EVF better on the A6000. And as far as EVF's go....that's all I'm going to say. You either like them or you don't...if you've made it this far...you probably like them enough to stay engaged in a review of a camera that doesn't have an optical view finder.
I was comparing some weights of lenses and cameras and got a bit carried away and just started weighing everything camera related within arms reach so here are some weights for comparison.
Sony A7r - 475g (with cap)
Sony A6000 - 353g (with cap)
Fuji x100s - 455g (with cap)
Fuji wide angle adapter - 129g (without caps)
iphone 5 - 112g (no case)
Sony 55-210 - 355g (with caps and hood)
Sony/Zeiss 35mm/2.8 - 147g (with caps)
Sony/Zeiss 55mm/1.8 - 299g (with caps)
Sony FE 70-200/4 - 1042g (with caps and hood)
Canon 17mm TS-E - 1037 (with caps and Metabones 3 adapter for e-mount)
Voigtlander 21mm/1.8 - 489g (with caps)
Voigtlander 15mm - 225g (with caps)
So as you can see....the a6000 with the 55-210 is still nice and light and is well balanced in your hand (thanks to that grippy grip). Slap that CV15 and you have a 24MP, lightweight, wide angle monster. The a6000 is available for pre-order for $650 on Amazon. I might just pick one up and permanently affix the CV15 to it. Don't forget it has the same battery as the A7/A7r. Sure it's a bit of a waste to have arguably the best auto-focus system available for a mirror-less camera and slap a manual focus lens on it, but this is where I go into the "right tool for the right job" speech again. For the stuff I shoot....it's fine. For the stuff you shoot....maybe...maybe not.
Head over to your local store and check the a6000 out....there's a good chance you'll like it. The ergonomics are great, the AF is blazing fast (and accurate), the price is very reasonable for this powerhouse of a camera. I'm really looking forward to it's release and doing a review with photos with a regular production model.
I look back at the little interchangeable lens mirror-less compacts of 5 years ago that I couldn't see going anywhere in the future have become preferred cameras for many hobbiest like myself as well as some professional photographers. If you haven't looked at the small mirror-less offerings from Sony, Fuji, Olympus I suggest you go and play with them at your local camera store.
I still really hate these style battery doors where the SD card sits right against the door hinge. The Fuji X-E1 and X-E2 got the same complaint. This one is actually a little bit easier to get the card out compared to the Fuji's. We don't all have dainty little hands!!!