The A6500 joins an already bustling series across the wider A6000 range, with several cameras at different specifications available at different price points. But if you want the latest and greatest then you'll have to pay for the pleasure. A now three-year-old A6000 costs around £400, an 18-month-old A6300 is around £680, while the A6500 is around £1,150 (down from its £1,500 launch price).
You're probably wondering why the A6500 is so much more expensive than the A6300. Well, for the extra cash you will get in-body-image-stabilisation (thumbs up), touchscreen control (hallelujah), a faster processor (thank you) and a slightly deeper grip (hand over the long lens). That's a fair specification for the money - so is the A6500 worth it?
Sony A6500 review: New touchscreen
- 3-inch, 921k-dot, tilt-angle LCD touchscreen
- 0.39-inch, 2,359k-dot, 0.7x (equiv) electronic viewfinder
Review after review of Sony A-series cameras has asked the question: "why no touchscreen?" Well, the A6500 finally answers, featuring a tilt-angle LCD touchscreen for the first time.
So has it been worth the wait? Well, yes and no. It's not the largest, brightest, sharpest or most comprehensive touchscreen around. But it's a step forward.
In shooting mode, the touchscreen is used only to select the AF point (Touch Panel). You cannot fire the shutter or select menus and shooting settings using the touchscreen like you can with, say, an Olympus or Panasonic mirrorless camera. You can swipe a finger to navigate and double tap to zoom, a bit like using a smartphone. The touch focus works well, it's just not as in-depth as some other systems.
In addition to touch focus, the screen offers Touch Pad AF. This mode caters for those using the built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), as a means of selecting the AF point through the viewfinder display. That way, the touchscreen can still be used to select the AF point with EVF in use. There are three options for Touch Pad AF operation: the whole screen, right half and right quarter area. Limiting the Touch Pad AF area to the right-hand-side areas reduces the likelihood of accidentally moving the AF point. It's a fun idea, but doesn't work so well for left-eyed users.
Sony A6500 review: Durable build, solid performance
- Body weighs 453g
- 11fps burst mode
- 425-point phase-detection autofocus system
As one of the smaller mirrorless cameras on the market, the A6500 is a toughie. It's made from a weather-sealed and durable magnesium alloy and features a deep grip for a solid hold.
There's no thumbwheel on the front of the camera, however, which we feel would complement the one on the top of the camera and its control wheel to the rear. Making quick changes to aperture and exposure compensation is less fluid than they could be in our view.
It's a different story when it comes to speed of operation. The A6500 is ultra-fast across the board.
Although the maximum burst rate of 11 frames per second (11fps) remains at the same impressive level of its A6000 series cousins, the number of images that can be captured in a sequence is greater. In real-world use, the Alpha A6500 maxes out at 269 JPEGs, which is around 25 seconds of non-stop shooting. That's a whole lot of images - plus it's possible to carry on shooting or immediately go into a 100 per cent view in image playback without hesitation.
The high-speed performance is not just restricted to picture taking either. The A6500 has a fast start-up time and a claimed world's fastest 0.05 second auto-focus speed.
Sure, plenty of camera makers claim to have the fastest autofocus on the planet, but in this Sony it's believable. You would struggle to find a mirrorless camera at this level with quicker autofocus. And it's not just the initial focus in single-AF mode. The A6500's 425-point phase detection AF system is very capable of obtaining a sharp focus for fast-moving action, too.
Sony A6500 review: Battery life
- 350 shots per charge
- In-camera charging via USB
- Separate charger cradle sold separately
Sense a "but" coming to counter the greateness? Well, like most mirrorless cameras - including the Fujifilm X-T2 - battery life is a bit of a problem.
At 350 shots per charge, the A6500 provides around one third the shot-life that you'll get in a competitive DSLR. Therefore, we would typically factor in a couple of extra batteries to the cost of buying a camera like the A6500. Of course the pay-off is that the Alpha A6500 is significantly smaller and lighter than competitor DSLRs.
To compound the issues around battery life, a battery charger is not included with the A6500. Instead, the battery is charged through a USB connection to the camera, which renders the camera unusable while charging a battery. Such a connection also isn't as quick to charge as a wall-based solution either - fortunately you can buy one separately, which we suggest you do along with those extra batteries.
Sony A6500 review: In-body image stabilisation
- Built-in 5-axis image stabilisation
- Claims up to 5EV compensation
It's perhaps no surprise that battery life is limited with so many features on board though. The A6500 includes in-body image-stabilisation (IBIS), which is said to provide up to 5EV of stabilisation (that's quoted specifically when used in conjunction with Sony's 55mm lens).
In real-world terms, where you would typically be able to shoot sharp handheld images with said lens at 1/60sec, the 5EV stabilisation enables you use a shutter speed of 1/2sec and achieve the same sharpness. Or so the theory goes.
But here's a key point: the majority of Sony's compatible E-mount lenses feature Sony's in-lens stabilisation known as Optical Steady Shot (OSS), while a good 50 per cent of Sony's FE-mount lenses (full-frame) have this too. Many third party Sony E-mount lenses do not feature optical stabilisation. With a Sony OSS lens mounted to the A6500, thereofre, the camera passes on image stabilisation to the lens, so IBIS is only beneficial to those who use lenses lacking OSS.
We had the Zeiss 16-70mm f/4 OSS lens for this test of the A6500, so have been unable to test the camera's IBIS. Which leaves us with the question: will many users really get to enjoy the benefit of the A6500's IBIS? Especially considering it doesn't work in tandem with optical stabilisation, to provide even greater stabilisation. The class-leading Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II offers both in-body and lens-based stabilisation.
Interestingly the A6500 features both mechanical and electronic shutters. The mechanical shutter is limited to 1/4000sec and has a life expectancy up to 200,000 shots. The electronic shutter provides silent shooting with the same maximum 1/4000sec, so you can't get any higher shutter speed as per a Panasonic mirrorless camera.
Sony A6500 review: Image quality
- 24.2MP Exmor CMOS sensor
- APS-C format (1.5x crop)
- ISO 100-25,600 (51,200 extended)
A 24-million-pixel sensor is commonplace in today's APS-C cameras, including the A6500. It's the same sensor as found in the A6300, with native ISO 100-25,600 range which can be extended up to ISO 51,200.
And its results are rather good.
We've been shooting with automatic white balance most of the time, but a few of the in-camera Creative Style settings have been handy. The Neutral setting makes JPEG images that are spot on for skin tones; the Standard setting is ample enough for punchy landscapes, too, without the need to select Vivid.
Dynamic range in JPEG images is particularly impressive, with a wide retention of detail in shadow and highlight areas. Put your raw images through the editing suite to recover tonal detail and things get mighty impressive.
We've had many shooting situations that have tested the camera's capabilities - early morning sunrises, dark silhouettes and bright backgrounds, for example. In such raw files, shadows that appear black still hold much detail. Even brightening a frame by as much as +5EV reveals relatively clean detail, with only a little magenta chroma noise and relatively well controlled luminance noise.
Similar things can be said for treatment of highlights. What might appear to be blown-out white sky often holds detail. In this regard, it's well worth shooting in raw format - you could get exposures off by ±3EV and expect to recapture most of the missing tonal detail.
We would love to have the option of raw editing in-camera, especially with built-in Wi-Fi making editing and sharing your A6500 images while on the move possible. Maybe one day, eh?
Sony A6500 review: A videographer's dream
- 4K capture at 30/25/24p
- 1080p capture up to 120p
- 8bit 4:2:0 on SD card at 100Mbps; 4:2:2 available via clean HDMI out
- S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma
- 3.5mm microphone socket; no headphones socket
There's also heaps of video capability, with top-spec features that'll have videographers frothing at the mouth.
The A6500 can capture 4K UHD video at 30/25/24p. It's high quality too, with 8-bit 4:2:0 captured internally to SD card at up to 100Mbps, while direct HMDI outputs at 4:2:2 for external recorder capture. There's a broad range of picture profiles, too, including S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves.
With 25p and 24p 4k recording, information is taken from the full width of the sensor, without cropping. What you get is 1.56x oversampling in each dimension, resulting in very crisp video footage. All with continuous autofocus as you please too.
Slow and Quick (S&Q) video modes can be used when capturing Full HD 1080p to make creative videos like time-lapses and slow-motion. Frame-rates run down to 1p for time-lapse and up to 120p for slow-motion (at a 1.9x crop). Handily, these modes don't drain the battery particularly quickly.
For such a mean video-making machine, we did expect two SD card slots and a headphone jack for audio monitoring. But it's not to be: there's a 3.5mm microphone port, but that and the single SD card slot are all you get.
Another issue for video is that the LCD screen output dims when capturing 4K footage, presumably to avoid overheating and battery drain. The impact is significant enough to render the screen almost unviewable in bright daylight, however, which can make composition tricky. You might want to consider buying an accessory hood or similar.
The Sony A6500 might cost a fair whack more than its A6300 cousin, but it's a powerhouse of a camera that, for the right user, will be worth the cash.
Indeed, you'll struggle to find a mirrorless cameras with quicker autofocus. The A6500 is up there with the best-in-class in this regard, while its processor is hugely capable of backing up its 11fps burst mode figures - which is not something we have always been able to say about Sony Alpha cameras. Image quality is great, too, with dynamic range being especially standout.
But it's in the video capture department that the A6500 will find a whole other audience, given its impressive 4K capture and ultra-crisp results.
Yes it costs a fair chunk of change, but given its array of features, the A6500 is an outstanding all-rounder. Just make sure you buy a spare battery and charger if you're going to take the plunge.
The alternatives to consider
Panasonic Lumix G80
It's more DSLR-styled, but the more affordable G80 offers many of the Sony's features without the bulging price tag.
Read the full article: Panasonic Lumix G80 review
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
Quite a different kettle of fish, given the considerable expense of this Olympus. However, with best-in-class image stabilisation, it's well worthy of consideration. That plus all its other top-notch features make it the most formidable Olympus camera ever made.
Read the full article: Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkII