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Sony Alpha NEX 6 Ken McMahon, Jan 2013
 
   
 

Sony NEX 6 verdict

The Sony Alpha NEX-6 is the latest evolution in the NEX line of mirrorless compact system cameras. Though it sits below the flagship 24.3 Megapixel NEX-7, this 16.1 Megapixel model incorporates many of the more expensive model's features, including the industry-leading 2.3 million pixel OLED electronic viewfinder and 3 inch articulated 921k pixel LCD screen.

It features an advanced hybrid AF system that uses both phase and contrast detect technology, resulting in better continuous focus performance during movie recording and high speed continuous shooting, with a 10fps top speed with continuous AF. Other enhancements include a 'Multi interface shoe' - a standard hotshoe that also accepts Sony's proprietary accessories and a programmable function button.

For the first time the NEX series has a lens which perfectly complements its diminutive proportions. The E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS power zoom is small, lightweight and provides two zoom controls, the second of which also serves as a manual focus ring. With a 24mm super wide-angle extending to 75mm equivalent portrait length, it's an excellent stabilised 'standard' zoom that doesn't prevent you dropping the NEX-6 into your coat pocket.

But probably the biggest development is the addition of Wi-Fi connectivity coupled with downloadable apps that allow you to add to and extend the camera's features. This is a very exctiing development indeed, and one which means that the camera is no longer limited to the set of features it left the factory with. Currently there are eight apps available for the NEX-6, but I'd expect to see app availablity expand over the coming months and years as new NEX models also incorporate this feature. Those apps will hopefully extend the ability of the NEX range to communicate with a wider range of social networks and photo sharing sites as well as adding new creative photography features.

   
 

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix G5

     
 
 
     
     

The Panasonic Lumix G5 is one of the more affordable compact system cameras on the market and incorporates a number of key improvements over the earlier G3. Like the NEX-6 it has a 16 Megapixel sensor, though the G5's four Thirds sensor is physically a little smaller than the APS-C sized sensor in the NEX-6 and has 4:3 rather than 3:2 proportions. With their powered kit zooms attached, the G5 is actually a little bigger and heavier than the NEX-6, but the difference isn't as big as all that, the G5 can also fit in a coat pocket. But the G5 has more conventional SLR-like styling, with rounded corners, a 'prism' hump, centrally located EVF and a big hand grip, so might prove a better fit for those with bigger hands. As always, it's a good idea to get your hands on one before making a buying decision.

The NEX-6 inherits probably the best electronic viewfinder of any compact system camera, but the G5's EVF is also very good. At 1.4 millions dots it may lack the ultimate resolution of the NEX-6's 2.3 million pixel EVF but it is in fact a little brighter and with its 4:3 proportions also looks to be a little bigger when shooting images in their respective native formats. Both cameras have a sensor that automatically switches from the screen to the viewfinder when you put your eye to it, but the G5 also features a button so you can manually switch from one to the other. Both cameras have 3 inch LCD screens with similar resolutions, but whereas the NEX-6's is hinged at the bottom and can flip up and down, the G5's is side-hinged which means it can face forward as well as folding inwards for protection. More importantly, the G5's screen is touch-sensitive, not only can you use it to touch focus when using the LCD to compose for stills and movie shooting, but you can also touch the screen to focus when using the EVF to compose.

The G5's improved continuous shooting provides a 6fps full resolution top speed but that can't match the NEX-6 with 10fps. What's more, the NEX-6 can focus continuously at that rate where the G5's focus is fixed on the first frame. The G5 does provide a lower resolution 20fps burst mode though. Both cameras offer a 1080p50/60 best quality HD video mode, but the NEX-6 provides exposure control while shooting, As I've already mentioned, though, the G5's ability to touch focus may actually prove more useful in practice.

The NEX-6 powered kit zoom provides a more useful wide angle - 24mm equivalent compared with 28mm on the G5, but other than that there's little to choose between these two lenses, though some may prefer the switch and ring arrangement on the Sony lens to the twin rocker switches for focus and zoom on the Lumix lens. It's also worth noting that the G5 has a zoom rocker on the hand grip which is useful for single-handed operation.

While all these factors are significant, none of them on their own will likely swing you one way or the other, but the NEX-6's ability to connect via Wi-Fi makes it a very different proposition from the G5.To be able to control it remotely using a smartphone or tablet, and to connect to the Internet and share photos is an enticing prospect. But more than anything, the ability to extend it by downloading low cost apps gives it a major advantage over non-connected cameras like the G5.

Check out my Panasonic Lumix G5 review for more details.



Compared to Sony NEX 7

     
 
 
     
One question almost every potential NEX 6 owner will ask themselves is whether to go for it or the flagship NEX 7. Similarly, anyone considering the NEX 7 will also be eyeing its more affordable counterpart. And all for good reason as both models share a great deal in common. For starters, both share essentially the same body shape and most of the same controls, along with the same tilting screen and the same high resolution viewfinder. Beyond this though things start getting interesting as both sport some features that the other doesn't, so one doesn't naturally end up on top.

Here's what makes them different. The pricier NEX 7 sports a microphone input, three control dials, slightly tougher build and a higher resolution 24 Megapixel sensor. The cheaper NEX 6 sports a hybrid AF system, an ISO standard hotshoe, a normal mode dial and built-in Wifi which supports downloadable apps.

In theory all you need to do is work out which feature-set best-suits your needs, but let me help a little more as I had the benefit of shooting with both cameras side by side for some time. Regarding the build, Sony says the NEX 7 is tougher, but in your hands you'd be hard pushed to tell any difference. Now I didn't drop the cameras or get them soaked in a downpour, but in terms of normal handling, the NEX 6 feels as solid as the NEX 7. Regarding the resolution, 24 Megapixels may beat 16 in a battle of the numbers, but we're talking about APS-C sized sensors here, where 24 is arguably a push too far. There's only a small benefit in real-life detail to the NEX 7 over the NEX 6 at low ISOs, and with higher ISOs the NEX 6 enjoys a small advantage. Overall a draw then, so in my view, the higher resolution of the NEX 7 shouldn't sway your decision.

There's no denying the flexibility of the NEX 7's microphone input, but the NEX 6 does have additional connectors hidden in its hotshoe which might support a future external microphone accessory. It's still a win here for the NEX 7, but the 6 may enjoy a solution at a later date. As for the NEX 7's tri dials, it's undoubtedly neat to have one each for, say, aperture, shutter and ISO, but in use, I actually found the NEX 6 quicker and easier to control, thanks to a combination of the standard mode dial, hard ISO button and slightly refined UI.

So if you're anything like me, many of the NEX 7's perceived benefits may not make much difference in practice. But in contrast, the NEX 6's unique advantages really do make a difference. The hybrid AF system may not speed things up, but the addition of phase-detect sensors definitely makes the system more confident with less searching. This really makes a difference for continuous AF during movies, and also allows the NEX 6 to continuously AF when shooting at high speeds. The Wifi may sound like a novelty to some, but the downloadable apps can genuinely improve the functionality of the camera. The ability to add timelapse or superior noise reduction, along with using your smartphone as a free remote control for example already gives the NEX 6 benefits the 7 will never have.

Throw in the mode dial, standard hotshoe, and the ability to buy it with a collapsing power kit zoom at a cheaper price than the NEX 7 body alone and you've got a package which in my view is simply more compelling overall. Once again the 7 may end up being tougher in some conditions, and some will simply want its microphone input or covet the extra pixels, but for pretty much everyone else the NEX 6 represents a better buy.

See my Sony NEX 7 review for more details.

 

Sony Alpha NEX-6 final verdict

The Sony NEX-6 is a pretty remarkable camera. Though it isn't the flagship NEX model, I can quickly see it overtaking the NEX-7 in popularity at the top end of the NEX range. There are those for whom anything less than 24 Megapixels just won't do and who love the control that three-dial operation provides, but, beyond a tougher body, mic input and a few other refinements there's little else to justify the higher cost of the NEX-7. Give up those headline features and, for less money, you not only get the benefit of improvements including hybrid AF, a standard hotshoe that also accepts Sony accessories, a wider ISO range and improved handling, but the promise of future feature additions and enhancements via downloadable apps, not forgetting the other benefits of a networked camera like remote operation and picture sharing.

Of the currently available apps some, like Multi Frame Noise reduction, Timelapse and Cimematic photo truly extend the camera's capabilities. Others like Direct Upload and Smart Remote are little more than proof-of-concept apps, but the potential is there to provide much more. Having kicked things off with, effectively, the first app store for a serious camera, the question is can Sony keep ahead of the game as other manufacturers follow suit? For now at least, though, the Sony NEX-6 is the best connected compact system camera on the market and the only one with open-ended potential to develop and improve beyond what you initially paid for. That's a very attractive prospect and one which, in addition to Cameralabs' Highly Recommended award will, I'm certain, gain the NEX-6 a huge following.



Good points
Hybrid AF with phase and contrast detect.
2.3 million dot EVF.
10fps burst mode with continuous AF.
Wi-Fi enabled with picture sharing, remote control and downloadable apps.
Compact lightweight powered kit zoom.

Bad points
Lack of touch screen.
Poor AF performance in low light.
Movie button difficult to press and not programmable.




Scores

(relative to 2013 system cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

17 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
17 / 20

87%
   

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