Sony A6500, a review

Two months ago Sony launched its third A6000-something camera.  I received a review unit from Sony Middle East recently to review.  It had been a while since I sold my A6000 and I was quite excited to see what the what was new in Sony's flagship APS-C camera.

A6500 and A6000 (Right...which is --> That way)

So as you can see above, at first glance the A6000 of 2014 and the A6500 look VERY similar.  And an many ways they are very similar cameras.  My focus during the time I had this camera was whether or not it was worth the extra $1000USD over the cost of the A6000.
The A6X00 cameras now have a line-up of three cameras.  All come at approximately $500 increments.  The A6000, A6300 and a6500.  I had previously reviewed the A6000 which you can read here.  For ME, I would still take the A6000 over the A6500 (though technically the A6300 is a replacement to the A6000).  This is mainly due to the fact that I would use it as a secondary or behind the scenes camera to augment my A7R2.  The A6000 is still a very capable camera in most shooting situations.  So why buy (or not buy) Sony's flagship APS-C camera?  Well lets have a look...

Image stabilization (IBIS), Autofocus and touchscreen...

So yes, those are three things.  But while there have been some other advancements, these three are probably the most obvious, asked about and possibly most important.

First is the addition of IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization).  IBIS gets thrown around around, though I don't think you'll find it in any Sony literature.  Officially Sony calls this "SteadyShot" or "5-axis Image Stabilization".  For supported native E-Mount lenses with OSS (optical steadyshot) (and 8-pin Sony A-mount glass on LA-EA adapters), it provides 5-axis stabilization.  Pitch and yaw are handled by the lens and then horizontal, vertical and roll axes are compensated in the camera body.  Additionally, it allows for 3-axis stabilization for any other lens you attach to the camera.  Even that 30 year old Canon FD lens!!  You just manually need to tell the camera what the focal length of the attached lens is in the SteadyShot menu.  
Of course this isn't new or ground breaking technology as it's been available in every full frame e-mount lens since the A7II, but this is Sony's first offering in an APS-C body.  Sony advertises a 5-stop advantage.  Handheld photos gain the advantage of letting you shoot at a slower shutter speed (and bringing ISO down) and video shooters will see a big advantage.

Next comes the autofocus advancements.  Most notably is the jump in AF points.  The A6500 boasts a very impressive 425 Phase Detection + 169 Contrast Detection AF points (up from 179 + 25 on the A6000!).  This results in a stupid fast and accurate AF system.  Even in low light situations (I'm shooting at ISO 12,800 below) I was able to track moving subjects with ease.  It's damn impressive!  If I was shooting sports I would hands down choose the A6500 over the A6000.  However, if shooting sports professionally, I'd opt for the A99II just to have the robustness of that camera.  Much more in-line with the 1DXII and D5 when it comes to being a tough camera and having dual card slots.  For the amateur and even pro-sumer sports photographer, I think the A6500 will do you just fine.  And this extends out to anyone shooting moving anything.  Cars, motorsports, children, pets, aircraft ....The A6500 shoots 11 frames per second just like the other models but it does have a larger buffer and something called an LSI processor.  The noticeable thing with this is you can shoot 107 RAW files in a full burst and you can preview files quicker without the "cannot view file while writing file" error.  Sony does need to improve the customization of the AF system (specifically with continuous AF).

Next we have that love it or hate it feature.....the touch screen.  Oh man oh man.  Touchscreen's can easily become a Ford vs Chevy or Nikon vs Canon debate.  JPEG vs RAW, UV filter or no UV filter, Pepsi vs Coke, Shake Shack vs...ok...well that's not debatable.
Like it or not, touchscreens are here to stay.  Though they need some improvements, that's for sure, the responsiveness of Sony's screen isn't what you will expect from your smartphone....but I will admit...I'm starting to like them a little more.  Not as part of the shooting experience, but right now only as part of the reviewing experience.  Pinching in and out to zoom in and out, scrolling and moving around on your screen just like on your phone makes viewing anything on the back of the camera less clunky and frustrating.  One thing unique to the A6500 (does ANY other camera do this currently?) is when using the view finder you can use the screen on the back of the camera touchpad to move the AF point around.  Takes a little getting used to and isn't for every situation, but I did think that was pretty cool.  And not once did my nose accidentally move the point while shooting, but I mostly shoot with my right eye.  Check it out if you get your hands on an A6500, just keep in mind there are options in the menu on how the touchscreen works.  I can see that be more standard in the future.  Though I wonder how well the touchscreen will fair here in Dubai in 2 months when we start seeing 100+ degree days and nights.

What else is new?  What could stand some improvement?

  • The Custom1 button was moved and a Custom2 button like on the newer A7 cameras.  You have the ability to assign custom functions to C1, C2, C3 AF/MF, AEL, Center, Left, Right, and Down buttons just like with most all the Sony cameras.  
  • I've never been a huge fan of the single top control dial.  Pretty much every digital camera I've used in the past 10 years has had two or more.  
  • The A6300 and A6500 both have a better EVF than the A6000 with a 63% increase in resolution.  And it sounds pretty bad ass "XGA Tru-Finder 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF".  
  • While megapixels remain the same at 24 across all 3 cameras, there have been some sciencey improvements in the A6500 and A6300 which features a thin copper-wiring layer and large photodiode substrate designed for light collection efficiency.  Better high ISO performance is the only noticeable thing in the real world from what I could tell.  The addition of the LSI as mentioned above with the larger buffer does allow review of files with files are being written.
  • Removing the SD card still annoys me.  The positioning of it next to the door makes it difficult to get the card out sometimes with plump fingers.
  • Drops to 12 bit files from 14 bit files in various shooting modes like continuous or silent shutter.
  • There's some video stuff.  I know it shoots 4K, cause it says so on the box and body.  But that's pretty much where my video knowledge ends.  There are some good video reviews out there, but I will say that if your priority or even overwhelming minority is shooting video, you will prefer the A6500 over the A6000.  However, I strongly suggest checking out the Panasonic GH4 if you're in the market.  I sat down with Lee and Patrick from Fstoppers during Gulf Photo Plus while they were checking out the GH5 and it seems like they were quite impressed (and they do a lot of video).  Sure it's more expensive, but that thing is pretty damn serious.  Of course if you're already vested into the e-mount ecosystem then that might not be an option for you.  But I hear a lot of good about it so make sure to check it out if you're looking for something for video.
  • That stupid ass hotshoe design!  If you read thru my Why the Sony A7R2 is not for you article, you can see my beef with the Sony's multi-interface hotshoe.  
  • Still single SD slot.  Come on Sony....get with it!
  • Eye-AF and Continuous Eye-AF
  • It still handles like a Sony.  If you've used a few different cameras before, you know what I mean.  That being said...ergonomics are a personal thing and you need to hold it in your hand and go thru the menus and make the decision yourself.  I will say the slightly larger grip has helped things.
  • Since the touchscreen is a bit finicky and the not everyone is a fan, I'd really like to see Sony incorporate a joystick for easy maneuvering around all those AF focus points.
  • Weather sealing!  The A6500 finally has it.
  • 1/4000 max shutter speed (or minimum depending on how you look at it).  While this doesn't affect everyone and frankly a few years ago I wouldn't have cared.  Now I shoot a lot of outdoor portraits and while there are ways to work around it....having 1/8000th of a second would be nice.

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