The Sony NEX-6 features an excellent viewfinder, articulated LCD and wireless technology. What's not to like? What Digital Camera takes a closer look in the Sony NEX-6 review
Second only to the flagship Sony NEX-7 in the range, its feature set draws heavily from its stablemate. With the benefit of a high-resolution electronic viewfinder, an articulated LCD, a new compact kit lens and even Wi-fi functionality, on paper it appears to strike an agreeable compromise between portability and dexterity. But is this actually the case?
Sony NEX-6 Review – Features
As with all other current NEX cameras save for the Sony NEX-7, the Sony NEX-6 features a 16.1MP APS-C sensor; this works across a broad sensitivity range of ISO 100-25,600. The sensor is not stabilised to help prevent image blur, although the new E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS which comes as a kit option with the camera does incorporate Sony’s Optical Steadyshot system for this reason.
This PZ moniker denotes the lens can have its focal range adjusted with the Power Zoom control on its barrel, which simply requires a nudge to move the lens, although those wanting to zoom in a more conventional manner can do so with the lens ring.
Full HD video is recorded at 50p, while Raw images are output in the same .ARW format as on Sony’s Alpha range of SLT cameras. Although images and videos can be output via the usual USB and HDMI means, the camera’s wireless functionality renders cables unnecessary when connecting to internet-enabled devices such as smartphones and tablets.
The Sony NEX 6’s 3in LCD screen lacks the Sony NEX-5R‘s touchscreen functionality, and it cannot be adjusted around the same 180° angle, although it can be tilted to face upwards and still sports the 921k-dot resolution we expect on cameras of the level. That this is twinned with an electronic viewfinder is good in itself, but the fact that it’s a 2.4million-dot OLED panel underlines the quite literal attention to detail.
Other features of interest include a 10fps continuous burst mode, a hotshoe for the mounting of external flashguns and other devices – and of course, the Sweep Panorama capture mode which has inspired a range of similar functions in other manufacturers’ cameras.
Sony NEX-6 Review – Design
The Sony NEX-6’s display effortlessly pulls away from the camera’s body and falls back into place just as easily, while the menu pad dial on the rear and command dial on the top plate each move with a pleasing fluidity.
The well-rubbered grip is large enough to please those used to the hold of a DSLR, although on such a small body this does have the consequence of leaving little over a centimetre between itself and the lens mount, which some may consider too small.
Indeed, while the 16-50mm lens’s dimensions makes the Sony NEX-6 pocketable (at least in the average coat pocket), the proximity of the zoom/focus ring at the front to the user’s right hand when the camera is held conventionally makes it difficult to operate comfortably.
Those who take to the Power Zoom control won’t find this to be an issue, as this control only needs to be gently nudged by the thumb, without any hand repositioning.
Also annoying is the design of some of the NEX-6’s buttons, which sit flush against the body, and the memory card slot which is positioned right next to the door to its compartment, making card removal more difficult than it needs to be, but there’s little to fault with the rest of the camera’s design.
Although much of the NEX-6’s body and many of the controls are plastic, there appears to be little reason to doubt its solidity.
Sony NEX-6 Review – Performance
The Sony NEX-6’s 2.4million-dot OLED display here impresses for a number of reasons. It’s larger than expected, yet not so large that the entirety of its feed cannot be comfortably taken from one position (which includes all exposure information around it). It’s bright and contrasty, and presents details with unprecedented clarity – only when looking through it for extended periods do you notice a touch of noise and artefacts dancing around details.
One issue which does occasionally rear its head is the sensitivity of the viewfinder sensor, which deactivates the rear display when a hand or finger passes its area of sensitivity. This is not normally too great an issue with many cameras, although the LCD screen’s tiltable nature means hands are more likely to get in the way.
Testing showed the Sony NEX-6 to maintain its 10fps burst mode for up to nine Raw+JPEG frames when it’s used in conjunction with a formatted UHS-1 SDHC card, with these images flushed away in 10 to 12 seconds. This is impressive, and it’s welcome to see that the camera returns to being operational during the latter seconds of writing.
The NEX-6 also does very well with shot-to-shot times, quickly processing and writing images to the memory card to ensure no slowdown when shooting subsequent images, making it ideal for situations where you may need to capture a number of images in quick succession, not necessaarily in a continuous burst.
With the 16-50mm kit lens, the camera’s focusing system bounces back and forth a little each time it’s asked to focus, which makes it a touch slower than those on competing models, but it’s still brisk enough for most types of shooting. Pleasingly there appears to be no shutter lag, with images captured immediately.
The smooth and steady travel of the E PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens is appreciated when recording videos, and although some noise can be heard as the lens is zooming this is only noticeable in recordings captured in quieter environments.
Tone and Exposure
The Sony NEX-6’s metering system is as reliable as expected, with only scenes containing many brighter areas requiring manual intervention to lift up shadow details. The DRO feature has a noticeable effect on such images – the branches of a tree against a sky, for example.
White Balance and Colour
The NEX-6’s AWB system behaves well in natural light, although performance is mixed when capturing under artificial sources, with images not always retaining the true character of the lighting source.
Sharpness and Detail
The kit lens needs to be stopped down for it to achieve maximum sharpness, as results at wider apertures are soft. Once stopped down, and when correct technique is applied, details are plentiful.
Chroma noise appears in images as low as around ISO 400, although this tends to be confined to areas of little detail. Shooting at higher sensitivities at night-time, the camera effectively processes out noise from shadow areas, and images still retain a fine integrity in terms of their colour and white balance.
Kit Lens Performance
At wider focal lengths the NEX-6 struggles to maintain sharpness in its corners, with a kind of stretching known as volume anamorphosis visible. This is the case with a number of lenses. Distortion at the 16mm end of the 16-50mm Power Zoom kit lens is pronounced, but the in-camera processing manages to rectify this to a reasonable degree, leaving just a slight unevenness when capturing linear subjects. Some chromatic aberration is also visible in both Raw and JPEGs.
Raw vs. JPEG
JPEGs are processed effectively enough to elevate them over the standard of Raw files, although not so harshly that artefacts appear. Typically they receive a slight contrast boost over Raw files, and noise is also effectively removed, but the combination of noise reduction and sharpening can leave images with a watercolour-like effect.
Sony NEX-6 Review – Verdict
The Sony NEX-6 fills an admittedly small gap between the Sony NEX-5R and the Sony NEX-7, with the large and bright viewfinder giving it a significant advantage over its viewfinder-less rivals. At a slightly lower price NEX-7, but with a similar feature set, it’s also good value for money if you envisage using the viewfinder and/or the flip-out LCD – otherwise, there are slightly cheaper comparable options.
Its only significant issue with handling concerns the small space between the generously-proportioned grip and the lens mount.
Image quality can be excellent at times, although minor auto white balance inconsistencies, poor corner sharpness with a number of lenses and occasionally lacklustre performance with the 16-50mm power zoom lens all make themselves known.
Still, with prompt write and shot-to-shot times, as well as a competent AF system, it’s an excellent choice for situations in which rapid response is required.
Sample Image Gallery
These are just a small selection of Sony NEX-6 sample images. For a full range if images head on over to the Sony NEX-6 review sample image gallery.