Since Sony ditched its NEX name handle it’s certainly not ditched the essence of what that interchangeable lens camera line was all about. But now it’s all about the Alpha name - and the Sony Alpha A6000 is, in a way, the NEX reincarnate; a merger of NEX-6 and NEX-7 in a new form. And from the time we’ve spent with it, we think it’s rather great.
The A6000 is all boxy lines and compact form, complete with E-mount for interchangeable lenses. It’s the company’s attempt to breathe new life into the compact system camera line, and although it’s not reinvented the wheel, it has successfully rebranded while keeping the good elements from earlier models. It's a company that's learning on the go, but also innovating.
In today’s super-fast tech world manufacturers are all pushing for the fastest possible autofocus. Sony claims the A6000 delivers the “world’s fastest” - something we’ve heard time and again from many camera makers. Whether it is or not, we don’t know, because our brains don’t work to the hundredth of a second. What we do know is that it certainly is bloomin’ quick.
We got to test out a pre-production A6000 inside the Globe Theatre, London, where the rainclouds overhead made for relatively dim conditions. Not a problem for the camera though - it was possible to lock focus with near immediacy.
When things get too dark for the camera to discern exactly where to focus the camera does tend to throw up a dotted line around the entirety of the scene to confirm focus. This lacks the precision we’d like and is a Sony feature that we’ve seen time and again, and this despite a new 179-point phase-detection autofocus system joining the contrast-detect on-sensor system. It’s quick, it just needs to be preened for precision when it comes to much lower light.
Under the hood the A6000 utilises a 24.3-megapixel sensor with gapless-on-chip design. This essentially means the on-sensor “pixels” don’t have a space between them and, therefore, can be larger for better light-gathering properties and, in turn, better images. It’s the same technology that Sony has employed in its Alpha A7 flagship model, albeit here on a sensor with a smaller surface area than its full-frame big brother. While we took some “practice shots” using the A6000, we didn’t have anything to take away with us so can’t pass judgement on final image quality at this stage.
READ: Sony Alpha A7 review
Our experience with the camera was much more about how it feels and responds. Just like the Alpha A7, the A6000 also includes the latest Bionz X processor to ensure top speeds are possible. We’ve already seen the fast autofocus in action, but it’s churning through repeat shots where the A6000 excels. The camera whipped through multiple frames like a magician flicking though a pack of cards thanks to its 11fps burst rate. No need to wait around here that's for sure.
Whether using the rear 3-inch, 921k-dot tilt-angle LCD or the built-in 1440k-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) - the latter is aligned to the top-left corner of the screen - the focus and burst speeds remain the same throughout. The LCD and EVF are not class leading resolutions or physical sizes at this moment in time - with models like the Fujifilm X-T1 hitting the shops there’s a lot of viewfinder innovation heading to the market - but they work very well. It doesn’t feel like a big step forward compared to the earlier NEX-6 model in this department though.
READ: Fujifilm X-T1 review
Using the Alpha A6000 is relatively easy as there’s a main mode dial sat to the side of a rear thumbwheel. Both look similar, but fall well to the thumb to access the majority of controls - it's taken the best of both worlds from the earlier NEX-6 and NEX-7 models here. Add to this considerable button customisation options and there’s a lot of user flexibility for advanced shooting. Or just pop it into auto, point and shoot.
Elsewhere the A6000 offers Wi-Fi and NFC compatibility, while the PlayMemories camera apps section continues to grow. We weren’t able to test these features directly at this moment in time.
Overall the Sony Alpha A6000 looks top notch on the specs front. Its aesthetic might not suit all, but then it’s small, light, fast and lands at a fair £550 body-only price point. Considering there’s a decent enough viewfinder built in that’s going to see the compact system camera market get even more competitive. In short: the A6000 is like the NEX-6 with an injection of Alpha goodness; given those foundations are already solid, it looks like the latest Alpha will be a cut above.