Sony Alpha NEX 6 review - Quality

Quality

Sony NEX-6 vs Panasonic Lumix G5

To compare real-life performance I shot this scene with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 and Panasonic Lumix G5, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings.

The NEX-6 was fitted with the E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens. To produce an equivalent field of view to the Lumix G X VarioPZ 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens on the G5 I zoomed the NEX-6 in to 19mm .

Image stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and all other settings were left on the defaults.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 results
1Sony NEX-6 Quality JPEG
2Sony NEX-6 Quality RAW
3Sony NEX-6 Noise JPEG
4Sony NEX-6 Noise RAW
5Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame NR
6Sony NEX-6 Sample images

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-6. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode with the aperture set to f5.6 and the sensitivity to 100 ISO. The camera metered an exposure of 1/500. The Lumix G5 metered an exposure of 1/400 at f5.6 at its base 160 ISO sensitivity.

The test scene on the day that I took these shots was particularly demanding with bright sunshine presenting a very contrasty scene with a wide brightness range. The NEX-6 has coped very well and produced a perfectly exposed image with a full histogram but no clipping of the highlights or shadows. The white balance is neutral and the colours are saturated and natural looking.

Generally, the NEX-6 crops are very good with levels of detail and sharpness on a par with what you’d expect from a budget to mid range DSLR with a kit lens. These results don’t look drastically different to those from the the NEX-5N which also has a 16 Megapixel sensor, though not the exact same type as the NEX-6. If you’re interested in comparing the two you can find the same scene shot with the NEX-5N in my NEX-7 review, but bear in mind the earlier test was shot in different light with a different lens – the 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 OSS, but even so, the comparison makes for interesting viewing.

Looking a the individual crops, it looks like Sony has stuck with the same, or at least a similar, processing approach as used on earlier NEX models, a good thing, as it strikes a nice balance with great image detail but a natural, unprocessed look. In the first crop the chapel and wall edges are crisp and you can make out some detail in the stonework. I wouldn’t worry too much that you can’t make out the finer detail in the windows, which is probably more to do with the harsh directional lighting than any sensor or lens shortcomings.

Despite the atmospheric conditions, the NEX-6 has managed to pick out the lighthouse quite cleanly. The detail in the foreground buildings is a little softer in this crop from closer to the frame edge, but edge detail is reasonably sharp and the finer detail in the roof tiles is well resolved.

It’s the third crop, though, from close to the frame edge which is the most interesting. First, there’s the complete lack of colour fringing where you’d normally expect to see some evidence of chromatic aberration, however slight. It’s of course great that the NEX-6 processing has removed it, but this crop looks more processed than those from the centre of the frame and the distortion correction and other processing has resulted in a slighty harsher look with softer edges and less fine detail.

There are none of those problems in the centre of the frame though and the final crop sees a return to crisper edges and cleanly resolved fine detail. So a good overall performance from the NEX-6, but with the caveat that, at the wider end of the 16-50mm focal length range, the in-camera processing designed to compensate for lens distortions and aberrations result in a slight deterioration in image quality.

Compared with the crops from the Panasonic Lumix G5, the NEX-6 crops look punchier and more detailed, but is there really any more detail being resolved than in the G5 crops? The G5 slightly over-exposed the scene which doesn’t help, but despite that, the gentler Panasonic processing produces less contrasty and slighter softer image detail. I’m not sure that there’s really more detail in the NEX-6 crops, if there is, it’s fairly marginal. Having said that, if you prefer the punchier look to the NEX-6 JPEGs, G5 owners might want to create a custom Photo Style setting with increased sharpness and/or contrast. Failing that, you of course also have the option of shooting RAW and doing your own processing.

Check out my Sony NEX-6 RAW quality results on the next page or see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Sony NEX-6 Noise results.

 

Sony NEX-6
Panasonic Lumix G5
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO

 


Sony Alpha NEX-6
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Sony NEX-6 vs Panasonic Lumix G5 RAW quality

To compare real-life RAW performance I shot this scene with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 and the Panasonic Lumix G5, within a few moments of each other using their RAW settings.

The NEX-6 was fitted with the E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens. To produce an equivalent field of view to the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens on the G5 I zoomed the NEX-6 in to 19mm.

Image stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and all other settings were left on the defaults.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 results
1Sony NEX-6 Quality JPEG
2Sony NEX-6 Quality RAW
3Sony NEX-6 Noise JPEG
4Sony NEX-6 Noise RAW
5Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame NR
6Sony NEX-6 Sample images

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-6. The camera was set to Aperture priority mode with the aperture set to f5.6 and the sensitivity to 100 ISO. The camera metered an exposure of 1/500. The Lumix G5 metered an exposure of 1/400 at f5.6 at its base 160 ISO sensitivity.

I processed both files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. To further reduce any distracting visual differences between the crops I also set custom white balance to 5500K and tint to 0. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes.

As always, these processed RAW files are very revealing in what they tell us about the NEX-6’s in-camera JPEG processing as well as how much detail the sensor and lens combination is recording. In terms of the detail, the first and last crops are the most instructive. Though this image has had a much higher degree of sharpening applied than you’d routinely use, it does reveal that the NEX-6 sensor is recording a greater level of detail than you can see in the JPEGs. You can see detail in the stonework of the chapel and its surrounding wall much more clearly here as you can in the rocks and grass in the foreground.

The same goes for the fourth and final crop, you can make out the individual bricks in the buidlings and the tiles on the roofs; this is very positive news for those who like to process their own RAW files as shows there’s more to be had from the NEX-6’s lens and kit lens than the in-camera JPEGs provide.

The middle two crops are interesting for different reasons which I hinted at in the previous JPEG result page. The third crop shows the fringing that was noticeably absent in the JPEG, but it’s also a lot darker and, if you compare it with the JPEG crop on the previous page, you’ll notice it shows a different area of the image, even though the crop is taken from exactly the same location. So as well as correction for chromatic aberration the NEX-6 is also correcting for quite severe vignetting and image distortion.

Now see how these models compare at higher sensitivities in my Sony NEX-6 Noise results.

 

Sony NEX-6
Panasonic Lumix G5
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO
f5.6, 100 ISO
f5.6, 160 ISO

 


Sony Alpha NEX-6
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Sony NEX-6 vs Panasonic Lumix G5 Noise JPEG

Sony Alpha NEX-6 results
1Sony NEX-6 Quality JPEG
2Sony NEX-6 Quality RAW
3Sony NEX-6 Noise JPEG
4Sony NEX-6 Noise RAW
5Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame NR
6Sony NEX-6 Sample images

To compare RAW noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 and the Panasonic Lumix G5, within a few moments of each other using their best quality settings and at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom on the NEX-6 was zoomed in to 19mm to produce an equivalent vertical field of view with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom on the Lumix G5 and an equivalent focal length of 28mm for both lenses.

Image stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and all other settings were left on the defaults.

 

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 with the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom.. The sensitivity was manually set to 100 ISO and the NEX-6 was set to Aperture priority exposure mode with the aperture set to f4. The metering selected an exposure that would have resulted in underexposure of the church interior, so to achive a better exposure more closely matched to the Lumix G5, I applied 1.3EV exposure compensation, resulting in a shutter speed of half a second.

I processed both sets of files in Adobe Camera RAW using identical settings: Sharpening at 70 / 0.5 / 36 / 10, Luminance and Colour Noise Reduction both set to zero, and the Process to 2012 with the Adobe Standard profile. To further reduce any distracting visual differences between the crops I also set custom white balance to 4500K and tint to 0. These settings were chosen to reveal the differences in sensor quality and isolate them from in-camera processing. The high degree of sharpening with a small radius enhances the finest details without causing undesirable artefacts, while the zero noise reduction unveils what’s really going on behind the scenes – as such the visible noise levels at higher ISOs will be much greater than you’re used to seeing in many of my comparisons, but again it’s an approach that’s designed to show the actual detail that’s being recorded before you start work on processing and cleaning it up if desired.

These RAW files are further confirmation of the excellent noise performance of the NEX-6’s sensor. As with the JPEGs on the previous page, the base 100 ISO crop shows very little evidence of noise but, in the absence of any noise reduction, straight away at 200 ISO there’s a quite significant difference, with noise texture across the entire crop. Likewise at 400 ISO, there’s another, broadly equivalent rise in noise levels. So, while the noise performance of the NEX sensor at these lower ISO sensitivity settings is very good indeed, the in-camera JPEGs are also getting help from the processing to keep things noise free.

At 800 ISO there appears to be a significant increase not just in overall noise levels, but the colour noise particuarly, and it’s that combination that proves difficult to manage for the noise reduction algorithms used for the JPEGs. Despite increasing noise, though, even at 3200 ISO the detail is still there and the text is still readable.

Interestingly, the comparison with crops from the Panasonic Lumix G5 shows less of a difference than the JPEGs on the previous page. Certainly up to 800 ISO it’s hard to say there’s a difference in the overal noise levels. The Lumix G5 crops actually look to be sharper with more detail than those from the NEX-6. It’s too close to call at 1600 ISO, but I think past that point the G5 crops look slightly noisier.

So, if you’re processing RAW files, there’s very little to recommend one over the other, but Hand-held Twilight mode and the option to add the Multi Frame Noise Reduction App put the NEX out in front when it comes to low-light performance. Speaking of which, check out my Sony NEX 6 Multi Frame Noise Reduction results, or if you’ve seen enough, head over to my Sony NEX-6 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my Verdict.

 

Sony NEX-6
Panasonic Lumix G5
100 ISO
160 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
12800 ISO
12800 ISO
25600 ISO
25600 ISO Not available


Sony Alpha NEX-6
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame Noise Reduction

Sony Alpha NEX-6 results
1Sony NEX-6 Quality JPEG
2Sony NEX-6 Quality RAW
3Sony NEX-6 Noise JPEG
4Sony NEX-6 Noise RAW
5Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame NR
6Sony NEX-6 Sample images

One of the eight apps currently available for the NEX-6 is Multi Frame Noise reduction. Multi Frame NR was introduced on the SLT-A33 and is also available on the RX100, but hasn’t previously been available on NEX models, so the option of adding it as an app for just a few dollars is a very worthwhile investment for those who frequently shoot in low light.

Multi Frame Noise Reduction, fires-off six frames in quick succession and stacks them into a single image in an attempt to lower noise levels. The big difference between MFNR and Hand-held Twilight mode is the former can be applied at any sensitivity up to and including the 25,600 ISO setting and in any of the PASM modes.

On this page I’ve put it to the test, comparing it against the normal single-frame ISO settings.

 

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 with the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom.. The sensitivity was manually set to 100 ISO and the NEX-6 set to Aperture priority exposure mode with the aperture set to f4. The metering selected an exposure that would have resulted in underexposure of the church interior, so to achieve a better result I applied 1.3EV exposure compensation, resulting in a shutter speed of one second. The Multi Frame NR shots were also shot in Aperture Priority mode at f4 with the same level of exposure compensation.

In practice, the Multi Frame Noise Reduction app works in much the same way as on models where it is a ‘core’ feature. The main difference is that on models like the RX100 it’s selected from the ISO sensitivity menu, on the NEX-6 you select it from the app menu and from thereon in any other settings, like exposure compensation are applied from menu selections within the app, rather than in the usual way. One exception to this is that you can still use the right button on the rear control wheel to change the ISO sensitivity.

Looking at the crops, the results from the app are very simlarly to what we’ve seen from Multi Frame noise reduction on other models. At the lower ISO levels there’s really no advantage and all that’s achieved is a slight softening of the detail, but from around 800 ISO up, there’s a marked reduction in noise levels in the MFNR crops compared to the single-frame crops.

The maximum impact is achieved at the 1600 to 6400 ISO settings, where the softening is preferable to the increased noise at those sensitivities, but MFNR continues to produce improvements right the way up to the maximum 25600 ISO setting. Now head over to my Sony NEX-6 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions, or head straight for my Verdict.

 

Sony NEX-6 single frames
Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame Noise Reduction
100 ISO
100 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
12800 ISO
12800 ISO
25600 ISO
25600 ISO


Sony Alpha NEX-6
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

Sony NEX-6 vs Panasonic Lumix G5 Noise JPEG

Sony Alpha NEX-6 results
1Sony NEX-6 Quality JPEG
2Sony NEX-6 Quality RAW
3Sony NEX-6 Noise JPEG
4Sony NEX-6 Noise RAW
5Sony NEX-6 Multi Frame NR
6Sony NEX-6 Sample images

To compare noise levels under real-life conditions, I shot this scene with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 and the Panasonic Lumix G5, within a few moments of each other using their best quality JPEG settings and at each of their ISO sensitivity settings.

The 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom on the NEX-6 was zoomed in to 19mm to produce an equivalent vertical field of view with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom on the Lumix G5 and an equivalent focal length of 28mm for both lenses.

Image stabilisation was disabled for this tripod-mounted test and all other settings were left on the defaults.

 

The image above was taken with the Sony Alpha NEX-6 with the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom. The sensitivity was manually set to 100 ISO and the NEX-6 was set to Aperture priority exposure mode with the aperture set to f4. The metering selected an exposure that would have resulted in underexposure of the church interior, so to achieve a better exposure more closely matched to the Lumix G5, I applied 1.3EV exposure compensation, resulting in a shutter speed of half a second.

The NEX-6’s 100 ISO crop looks clean crisp, and noise free, which is exactly what you’d expect. You could say the same thing about the 200 ISO crop and the 400 one as well, there’s actually very little difference between them. This will come as no surprise to owners of older NEX models with the 16 Megapixel sensor, the NEX-C3 and 5N, both of which provided virtually flawless results in the low to mid ISO sensitivity range. If you look very closely, particularly at the text, you can in fact see a slight increase in noise, but unless you’re pixel peeping, you’re unlikely to notice any quality difference between the base 100 ISO sensitivity and 400 ISO.

At 800 ISO the noise visibly increases so that the finer detail is a little fuzzier and there’s some texture beginning to appear in flat areas of colour, but you still need to be pixel peeping to notice it. It’s fair to say that you could could use any of the sensitivity settings up to 800 ISO on the NEX-6 without giving a second thought to the consequences for noise or image quality.

At 1600 ISO there’s quite a significant hike in the noise, bigger than the jump from 400 to 800 ISO. Now, the noise isn’t something even a casual observer would miss, but the overall image quality is still pretty good. Yes, the finer details are beginning to go and edges are softening up, but you can still read the text in the memorial panel and you might even get away with a full sized print from this.

At 3200 ISO the noise is now everywhere and meduim sized image detail is beginning to break up. This image still looks very good at smaller sizes though, the contrast, saturation and colour balance are all holding up well. And while the noise levels from 6400 to 25600 ISO look extreme in these 100 percent crops, on a laptop screen they actually look OK. Certainly good enough to try for those must-have low-light shots.

The Panasonic Lumix G5, compares very favourably with the NEX-6. The G5’s Four Thirds sensor is slightly smaller then the APS-C sized sensor in the NEX-6 but its 160 base ISO setting, compared here alongside the NEX-6’s 100 ISO crop, looks every bit as good. What’s more, the G5 manages the NEX-6’s trick of keeping the noise at bay as you progress up the sensitivity range. Except that it can’t quite keep up and by 800 ISO it’s looking just a bit noisier. Despite that, it doesn’t lose any more ground and remains close, if a little behind the NEX-6 right through to its maximum 12800 ISO setting. But in addition to a further 25,600 ISO setting, the NEX-6 can boast a Hand-held Twilight composite mode plus, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, the more versatile Multi Frame Noise Reducton app.

The final crop shows what the NEX-6 can do in its composite Hand-held Twilight composite scene mode in which it fires a short burst of images and creates a low-noise composite. Or rather, it shows one of the shortcomings of this mode, which is that you can’t select the sensitivity or control the exposure. Whilst the result may be less noisy than the single exposure at an equivalent sensitivity setting, it’s so dark it’s hard to tell. But if you’re willing to part with a few dollars, you can install the Multi Frame Noise Reduction App. See the Multi Frame Noise Reduction results to find out how it compares.

To find out how much of a role processing plays in keeping noise at bay in these crops take a look at my NEX-6 RAW noise results page to see just how much noise is present behind the scenes. Or head over to my NEX-6 sample images to see some more real-life shots in a variety of conditions.

 

Sony NEX-6
Panasonic Lumix G5
100 ISO
160 ISO
200 ISO
200 ISO
400 ISO
400 ISO
800 ISO
800 ISO
1600 ISO
1600 ISO
3200 ISO
3200 ISO
6400 ISO
6400 ISO
12800 ISO
12800 ISO
25600 ISO
25600 ISO Not available
Handheld Twilight 1000 ISO


Sony Alpha NEX-6
results : Quality / RAW quality / Noise / RAW Noise

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