The new NEX-6 filled the gap between the NEX-5R and the NEX-7 cameras, having better ergonomics and more features than the NEX-5R, but with a lower resolution sensor and less controls than the NEX-7. With the introduction of the NEX-6, Sony now has four different NEX lines: NEX-F3 (entry level), NEX-5R (mid level), NEX-6 (advanced) and NEX-7 (professional). These models are separated by features, ergonomics and price. Both the NEX-F3 and the NEX-5R are available in different colors, while the higher-end NEX-6 and NEX-7 are only available in black. Let’s take a look at the specifications in detail and go over the features of the new camera.
1) Sony NEX-6 Specifications
- 16.1 MP Exmor™ APS HD CMOS image sensor
- Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF/contrast-detection AF)
- 99 AF points (phase-detection AF), 25 AF points (contrast-detection AF)
- Full HD movie shooting 60p/60i/24p
- Object Tracking AF via Touch LCD
- 11 Picture Effect modes
- Panorama Mode
- HDR Capability
- Battery life for up to 270 images (Viewfinder) and 360 images (LCD)
- Tiltable 3″ LCD with 921K dots
- XGA OLED viewfinder with 2.395K dots
- Intelligent Scene Recognition and Face Detection
- “SteadyShot” Image Stabilization Technology
- Electronic Front Curtain shutter
- Up to 10 fps continuous shooting at full 16.1 MP resolution
- Peaking AF display for precise manual focusing
- Wi-Fi Capability
- Dynamic Range Optimizer (DRO) technology
Detailed technical specifications for the Sony NEX-6 are available at Sony.com.
2) Sony 16.1 MP Exmor Sensor
One of the most important attributes in a digital camera is its sensor – the heart of the camera that is responsible for capturing images. The Sony NEX-6 features the same 16.1 MP Exmor sensor as the NEX-5R, which has a great balance of resolution and noise. This particular sensor has been quite famous in the photography world today – Sony uses a variation of the same sensor on three of its NEX cameras + other SLT cameras, and it sells the sensor to other manufacturers like Nikon and Pentax as well. For example, both the Nikon D7000 and the Pentax K5 use this sensor. In fact, pretty much any 16 MP APS-C camera (except for Canon) you find on the market today most likely uses it.
The biggest advantage of the Sony NEX-series mirrorless cameras compared to other mirrorless cameras on the market such as Micro 4/3 and Nikon 1, is the physical size of the sensor. The 23.5×15.6mm APS-C sensor is currently among the largest sensors used in mirrorless cameras. Large sensor size means larger pixel size, which translates to better low-light (high ISO) performance and better dynamic range. Sony picked the same 1.5x crop factor APS-C sensor size that is used in their “SLT” camera line, which is bigger than Canon’s APS-C sensors with a 1.6x crop factor and about the same as Nikon’s DX sensors. Here is a chart that summarizes sensor size differences (courtesy of Wikipedia):
Another big advantage of a larger sensor is smaller depth of field, which translates to better opportunities to isolate subjects from the background – an important factor for many photo enthusiasts and pros out there. Coupled with fast prime lenses like the Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS, one could capture creative photographs with beautiful bokeh – something that is hard to achieve on small sensor cameras.
At the same time, a larger sensor requires a bigger image circle from lenses, which negatively impacts the size requirements of both lenses and the lens mount (read more on this below).
3) Camera construction and handling
The Sony NEX-6 has a completely revamped design that makes it look different than both the NEX-5R and the NEX-7. It is the first NEX camera to have a real PASM dial on the top of the camera (the NEX-7 has two separate exposure dials, but no PASM) and it is also one of the first Sony cameras to have an ISO standard hot shoe. One of the things that felt “lacking” on all NEX cameras, was the absence of the PASM dial, even on the top-of-the-line NEX-7 camera. Sony’s initial design plan was to exclude the dial in compact NEX bodies completely and put it into the camera menu instead. While changing the camera mode through the menu can be done quickly, it is certainly inconvenient from the handling perspective, especially for someone that is used to a DSLR camera. And considering that the NEX-6 and NEX-7 cameras are aimed at enthusiasts and pros that most likely already have DSLRs (or switched to mirrorless), the new design will certainly be appreciated by many. A simply dial to change the exposure mode might not sound trivial for most people out there, but I personally look at it as a must-have for any serious camera. Even Nikon realized this with their high-end mirrorless camera V1 and added it on the new Nikon 1 V2, as shown in our Nikon 1 V1 vs V2 article. Here is how the top of the camera looks like:
As you can see, the fairly large PASM dial is on the right side of the camera, next to the pop-up flash and the power switch. In addition to the typical PASM modes, Sony made intelligent Auto, Scene and Panorama modes available as well. The PASM dial sits on top of another dial, which is used to change other relevant camera settings. For example, if you switch to Aperture Priority mode with the PASM dial, the bottom dial is used for changing the aperture. In Shutter Priority mode, it is used to change the shutter speed. And in manual mode, you can use this dial, along with the dial on the back of the camera to change both aperture and shutter speed. In comparison, the NEX-7 has a dual dial on the top of the camera for adjusting these. After using both the NEX-6 and the NEX-7 for over two months, I find the NEX-6 to be superior ergonomically, largely thanks to this PASM and secondary dials that are convenient to use.
I applaud Sony’s decision to do away from the proprietary flash socket and it is actually one of the main reasons why I recommend the NEX-6 over the NEX-7. Sony’s proprietary flash socket was one of my dislikes of the Sony cameras overall (including their SLT models) and it looks like Sony decided to abandon it, because the new Sony SLT-A99 also comes with an ISO standard hot shoe. While you can use an adapter to convert the Sony hot shoe to a standard one, I just look at it as a huge inconvenience when working in the field. Another accessory to carry that you could potentially lose. Going back to a standard hot shoe means that I could mount pretty much anything I want on the NEX-6, whether it is something like a flash trigger or an external microphone. I have Nikon speedlights that I use for both on and off-camera flash and I was happy that I could mount my Nikon SB-900 without any adapters and use it on the NEX-6, albeit in manual mode without TTL (which is what I use 99% of the time anyway). I was even able to trigger a set of off-camera flashes with a PocketWizard Plus III unit attached to the same hot shoe and it fired every time I hit the shutter release. Here is an example, showing a comparison between the Sony NEX-7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 that I shot with the NEX-6, with PocketWizard mounted on the camera triggering three Nikon speedlights:
The inclusion of a pop-up flash is nice, but I personally would only use it as fill-flash when photographing a subject against a bright background. It gives the same harsh/ugly direct flash look as pop-up flashes from other cameras and it has very limited flash power. Your best bet would be to use a proper speedlight or use a flash trigger for firing off-camera flashes. As on other NEX cameras, flash sync speed is limited to 1/160th of a second. I mounted a PocketWizard unit on the NEX-6 and tried 1/200 shutter speed – it worked perfectly fine (the above image was shot at 1/200). But as I moved it up to 1/250, it was pretty clear that it was too fast for it:
Another convenience factor with the NEX-6 is the programmable function button that is located right next to the shutter release (the same button is also present on the NEX-5R and the NEX-7, although it is not labeled as “Fn” on the NEX-7). You can change the behavior of the function button through the camera menu and there are many different options to pick from, which is nice.
The front of the camera looks very simplistic, just like all other NEX cameras. The hand grip is very convenient to use and makes the camera very comfortable to hand hold. Sony did an excellent job with the protruding grip – something I wish all other mirrorless camera manufacturers did as well.
The back of the camera looks very similar to the one on the NEX-7, except the AF/MF/AEL switch is replaced with a single AEL button. Due to the triple dial setup on the NEX-7 (dual dials on the top + additional rotary dial on the back), changing aperture, shutter speed and ISO is accomplished with the dials without pressing anything. The NEX-6 is similar to the NEX-5R for changing exposure – the top dial is the main function dial used for changing aperture or shutter speed (depending on what mode you are on), while ISO can be changed by pressing the right side of the rear dial. Personally, I do not mind pressing a button to change ISO, because it is not something I would change very frequently anyway. Here is the image of the NEX-6 back:
Neither the NEX-6, nor the NEX-7 are equipped with a touchscreen LCD. A wise decision by Sony, considering that their touch technology is nothing to be brag about. In comparison, the Canon EOS M has a much better touchscreen LCD that is a pleasure to use. The LCD on the NEX-6 can be tilted up and down, which is quite useful for photographing difficult angles.
Now let’s talk about the size and bulk. While the camera itself is thin and relatively lightweight, it has a rather large mount, which translates to bulky lenses. As I have already pointed out, a larger sensor requires larger lenses, which is a definite disadvantage for all Sony NEX-series cameras. Aside from the 16mm f/2.8 pancake and the new 16-50mm zoom (pictured above), all other regular lenses like the 24mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 18-55mm are big and heavy when compared to the Nikon 1 or Micro Four Thirds lenses. If Sony is to make more zoom lenses in the future, they should seriously consider lens design similar to the 16-50mm, which is pretty small in comparison to other lenses. Otherwise, large lenses defeat the purpose of a compact mirrorless system. Unless you have the pancake or the new 16-50mm lenses mounted, forget about storing the camera in your pockets – it just won’t fit.
Although the Sony NEX-6 is not weather-sealed and offers no dust protection like some of the advanced DSLR cameras, I used it in very cold temperatures below 10°F and it survived fine (winter has been cold in Colorado). The camera battery did not last very long in cold weather, but that’s expected, since any battery drains faster in cold temperatures.
4) Camera Menu System
Thanks to the great design of the camera, there is typically little reason to go into the camera menu – most of the settings can be adjusted easily through function buttons and the rotary dials. The camera menu is organized by large descriptive icons and you can navigate through them by rotating the dial on the back of the camera. The “Camera” menu contains many options, including Drive Mode (single, continuous, bracket, etc), AF/MF Select, Autofocus Area and Face Registration. The “Image Size” menu is for picking Image Size and Quality, Panorama Size and Direction, Movie Format, Aspect Ratio, etc. The “Brightness/Color” menu contains White Balance, Metering Mode, HDR, ISO, et (not sure why Sony decided to stick “ISO” into “Brightness/Color”, because it really should be under “Camera” menu instead). The “Playback” menu is for configuring image playback for viewing images on the LCD. A new addition to the menu system with the NEX-5R and NEX-6 cameras is “Application”, which allows adding and removing additional applications developed by Sony. Now you can add more functionality to the camera by installing more modules or “apps”. Lastly, “Setup” contains important camera setup options, such as Noise Reduction, Lens Compensation, in addition to “Peaking Level” and “Peaking Color” – two very useful functions for shooting with manual focus lenses. While using the camera menu can sometimes be slightly laggy, I found it quite easy to use overall.
5) Features and Responsiveness
The Sony NEX-6 has a rich set of in-camera features that can be useful for everyday photography. The “Lens Compensation” feature found in the “Setup” menu allows fixing len-specific issues like vignetting, chromatic aberration and distortion. Obviously, the amount of lens correction depends on each lens, so Sony included current lens profiles in its camera firmware. New lenses that come out in the future will also be supported via firmware upgrades.
Aside from a boatload of Photo Creativity Modes and Picture Effects, the Sony NEX-6 also has a neat “Sweep Panorama” mode, which is used for shooting panoramas. While I personally prefer to manually stitch my panoramas, since I can get a lot more resolution by doing that (see my panoramic photography howto), the built-in panorama feature is a great way to get a quick stitched panorama in JPEG mode. Here are a couple of examples of how the camera can shoot and stitch panoramas (taken with the NEX-5R, which has exactly the same Panorama mode as all other NEX series cameras):
I am not a big fan of this particular feature, because it creates a JPEG file and if the settings are not consistent, it can create ugly panoramas that look like this:
I prefer to shoot panoramas hand-held, one exposure at a time in RAW, then stitch it in Photoshop, as explained in my Panorama Tutorial.
One catch to the NEX-6 is that it does not come with a free built-in intervalometer. While you can buy one for $9.99 from the “App” store, I am disappointed that Sony is trying to make extra money off an app that should have been included with the camera. In fact, I was surprised to see commercial apps in the app store in first place. Why not give all this extra functionality for free with the camera? Sony does not allow third party developers to add and sell apps, so it has a monopoly over what can be sold at what price. Not a great way to promote apps for sure! Personally, I would not spend a dime on any commercial apps. If more people buy them, we might end up with “modular” cameras with stripped out functionality that can only be beefed up after spending hundreds of dollars on additional software. Thanks, but no thanks.
6) Sony E-mount Lenses
Sony has been making more and more E-mount lenses for the NEX cameras during the last couple of years, including some fast prime lenses. While the selection of lenses is nowhere close to what Micro Four Thirds has got to offer today, the available lenses do cover a broad range from wide angle to telephoto. Here is a list of all current lenses for the E-mount by Sony:
- Sony 10-18mm f/4 OSS
- Sony 16mm f/2.8
- Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
- Sony 24mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E
- Sony 30mm f/3.5 Macro
- Sony 35mm f/1.8 OSS
- Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS
- Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
- Sony 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS
- Sony 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS
With the sensor crop factor of 1.5x, you have to multiply the focal length of each lens by 1.5 to get an equivalent field of view of a full-frame camera. For example, the 55-210mm lens is equivalent to a 82.5-315mm lens, while the 16mm pancake is equivalent to a 24mm lens.
In general, the above Sony E-mount lenses have solid performance characteristics with good overall sharpness and colors. One thing you might have noticed from the above list is “OSS” (Optical Steady Shot) on the last 4 lenses, which means that the lenses are stabilized. This is a disadvantage of the NEX-series cameras – they do not have in-camera image stabilization like Micro 4/3 cameras. While it is understandable that in-camera IS might have resulted in a larger body and could have increased the cost of the camera, I still think Sony should have followed the same approach as in their SLT cameras, which is to use in-camera IS instead of lens-based IS. When working with short focal length lenses, in-camera IS is the way to go, especially when using LCD/EVF for framing shots – see my article on lens stabilization vs camera stabilization to understand the differences. Those shorter focal length lenses also would have greatly benefited from in-camera image stabilization in low-light situations.
As for manual focus, unlike the Nikon 1 lenses, the Sony E-mount lenses feature a manual focus ring for smoother and more precise MF operation. Once you put the camera into manual focus mode through the “Camera” menu, you can configure the camera to automatically zoom in when the focus ring is turned.
The cool thing about the Sony NEX mount, is that you can use many different lenses with it, as long as you have an appropriate adapter. You can use the A-mount Lens to NEX Adapter, which will let you autofocus A-mount lenses for both stills and video, or the basic LA-EA1 adapter, which only allows MF operation. There are many other adapters available for using Nikon, Canon, Pentax and even Leica lenses on the NEX cameras.
7) Autofocus / Manual Focus Performance and Metering
As I have pointed out in the beginning of this review, the Sony NEX-6 has a brand new “hybrid” autofocus system, similar to what the Nikon 1 system has. This hybrid AF system is a combination of phase and contrast detect AF, which allows for much quicker AF acquisition than only contrast detect. Thus, the AF performance of the NEX-6 has improved dramatically when compared to older NEX cameras, including the NEX-7! At first, I was a little skeptical about this. But as I played with the camera more and more, I realized that AF definitely did get a noticeable boost. I then compared AF speed between the NEX-7 and the NEX-6 to see how much faster the new AF system has gotten. In good light conditions, the NEX-6 acquires focus about twice faster, which is remarkable. It is still better in speed and accuracy in low light conditions, but not by much. While I found the NEX-6 to perform pretty close to the Nikon 1′s hybrid AF, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 still gets an upper hand with its AF in terms of AF speed and accuracy though (to be discussed in the upcoming review).
One thing that you absolutely must do after you buy the NEX-6, is update firmware on any new or existing lens. The hybrid AF system is new and some of the older lenses like the 18-55mm, 18-200mm and 24mm f/1.8 do not know how to work with it. Sony released firmware update 1.02 for the old lenses that are affected, so connect the NEX-6 to your computer and perform the update (make sure to set your USB connection to “Mass Storage” before running the update). Once you do this, the lenses will be able to take full advantage of the hybrid AF.
You might also notice odd behavior when using the camera in low light conditions in AF-C mode (this is true for all NEX cameras and many other mirrorless cameras). The camera will continuously try to acquire focus back and forth, and this repeats in a loop and never ends. This is normal behavior, because the camera switches to contrast detect only mode in low-light conditions and the only way to ensure that the camera continuously focuses is by “probing” for focus. Applying firmware 1.02 on the 18-55mm lens certainly helped – the back and forth motion is still there, but it is not as fast and erratic as it used to be before. The AF-C mode works relatively well in daylight conditions though. If you come across this behavior, the best thing to do is switch to AF-S mode. The Nikon 1 cameras do not have the same behavior in AF-C mode in low light conditions, so hopefully Sony will come up with a way to keep AF without having to constantly re-engage it.
The advertised 10 FPS speed can only be achieved when using a special “Speed Priority Continuous” mode, where the camera’s exposure and focus are locked. The camera buffer fills up quickly after about 10 images in JPEG mode, slowing down to approximately 2 frames per second. If you want to have continuous autofocus with exposure metering from frame to frame, then you will have to use the “Continuous Advance” mode, where the camera slows down to approximately 3 FPS.
The Sony NEX-6 is a very friendly camera for manual focus operation. If you choose to use third party lenses with an adapter, you will love the focus “peaking” feature (can be found in the camera “Setup” menu). I found focus peaking to be a very useful feature, because you do not have to guess anything when shooting in MF mode. The camera will automatically detect sharpness and paint it with a chosen color, making manual focus operation a breeze. In addition, the two zoom levels (4.8x or 9.6x) let you get much closer to the focus area and really nail focus. I used the 9.6x zoom and selected a desired area to focus on and got great results, both when shooting on a tripod and when hand-holding the camera. This MF implementation is the best I have seen so far on a mirrorless camera – the MF operation on the Nikon 1 cameras is much worse in comparison.
As for exposure and metering, I was rather pleased with the accuracy and of the camera exposure and metering system. In most cases it provided accurate results, minimizing the use of exposure compensation (I primarily shot in Aperture Priority mode).
8) Movie Recording
Every new camera that comes out seems to have impressive movie features and the Sony NEX-6 is no exception. It can record full 1080p HD movies at 60 fps (AVCHD 2.0) for smooth playback, which is very impressive. You can also pick lower resolution MPEG-4 format and slower rates (down to 24 fps) for smaller movie files. Another advantage of the movie mode is that you can fully control the exposure while recording movies – you can easily adjust aperture, shutter speed and ISO when shooting videos in Manual mode. If the scene you are recording is too bright or too dark and you are in one of the P/A/S modes, you can also use exposure compensation to adjust the brightness level. The camera LCD will reflect these changes and you will see exactly what you are capturing. Autofocus and subject tracking both work when recording videos, and the new hybrid AF system definitely helps. As for Sony’s Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, it works pretty well when recording videos, but you have to be careful when panning the camera with SteadyShot turned on, because it will occasionally bump the camera up or down. This is normal behavior and the same thing would happen if you were to pan while taking stills.
Sony was the first to release a WiFi-capable camera back in 2009, with its Sony Cybershot DSC-G3. The concept never really took off back then and Sony is now trying to bring WiFi back to its cameras. With social media, smart phones and tablet devices growing in popularity, it seems like everything will be transmitted wirelessly in the future. Thus, Sony’s idea to make WiFi attractive for the mass public is great – I really welcome their innovation. However, as good as WiFi sounds, it also depends on how well it is implemented. And that’s where Sony did not do well in my opinion. First of all, to take full advantage of the WiFi capability, you need special Applications such as “Direct Upload”, which are not included by default. To install these applications, you go inside the “Application” menu, then use the “PlayMemories Camera Apps” to download new apps. Once you choose an app you want to install, you must log into your Sony Network Entertainment Account. Why should I have to sign up for an account and log into it to download a free app? After signing up for an account online and logging into it via the NEX-6, I was finally able to download any free app I wanted. I downloaded “Smart Remote Control” for remotely managing the camera via my iPhone and “Direct Upload” for uploading images to Facebook.
The Smart Remote Control app is a great app once you get it going on your phone. I had to download the “PlayMemories Mobile” app for my iPhone and I was able to capture images from the camera wirelessly. The app even let me save the pictures on my iPhone’s camera roll:
The only catch to this, is that the app will not download full high-resolution images to your phone – the images come in much smaller 1616×1080 resolution. Good enough to show on a high definition device, but still too small to take advantage of the camera’s native resolution. Aside from taking a picture, doing exposure compensation and setting a timer, the app provides no other options:
Looks like Sony needs to continue working on this app to make it more user friendly and customizable. But overall, it is really cool to be able to remotely control a camera. I really hope we will start seeing this on all other cameras, including DSLRs sometime in the near future.
As for other apps, as I have already pointed out above, I am annoyed by the fact that Sony is pushing features that should be available in the camera for free to commercial “Apps”. For example, instead of providing a built-in intervalometer, Sony wants you to buy “Time-lapse” for $9.99. Not sure how popular these apps will be, but I hope Sony considers moving them into regular camera firmware in the future.
10) Dynamic Range / HDR / DRO
A big advantage of a larger sensor is its ability to produce images with more dynamic range. Compared to the Nikon 1′s much smaller sensor or the Olympus OM-D E-M5′s Micro Four Thirds sensor, the Sony NEX-6 1.5x crop factor sensor is capable of producing higher dynamic range, as can be seen from the below graph:
I have already talked about how good the Sony APS-C sensors are and you can see proof of that by looking at the above chart. Sony consistently scores the highest among different brands and it provides impressive dynamic range – something to be expected from such a superb sensor. As with all digital cameras, increasing camera ISO also decreases dynamic range, so shoot at base ISO of 100 if you want to preserve the most amount of information on your photographs.
A neat feature of the Sony NEX-6 is built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) capability, which allows capturing multiple images and then combining them into a single JPEG image. While I personally like to shoot HDR photographs in manual mode in RAW format and then process them to my liking using specialized HDR software tools, the built-in Auto HDR mode can produce rather good results. I am not a big fan of the HDR Painting feature (especially the “HIGH” setting), because it produces ugly/unrealistic tones that many photographers seem to be obsessed with today. There is also a B&W HDR capability, but I did not spend much time experimenting with it, since I do not like in-camera B&W conversation.
Like on all recent Sony cameras, the NEX-6 also has a feature called “Dynamic Range Optimizer” (DRO), which is similar to Nikon’s “Active D-Lighting”. DRO applies a tone curve to images and does a decent job at recovering shadow details. This is only truly useful for JPEG images though, because the tone curve is not applied to RAW images.
Let’s see how the camera does in ISO performance against other cameras. Choose the next page below.
11) ISO Performance at low ISOs (ISO 100-800)
Some Technical Info:
- White Balance: Auto, changed to “Custom”: 4500 Temp, +6 Tint in Lightroom
- EXIF information is preserved in the images
- Tested with Sony 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens
- Aperture: f/5.6
- Manual Focus
- DRO: Off
- Long exposure NR: Off
- High ISO HR: Off
- Image Format: RAW
- Imported images into Lightroom and cropped to 100% – no resizing was performed in Photoshop
- No exposure adjustments were performed in Lightroom (besides White Balance)
- Lightroom sharpening: 25, 1.0, 25, 0 (default)
- Lightroom export: sRGB JPEG Quality 80
Let’s take a look at how the Sony NEX-6 performs at low ISOs. Here are some 100% crops at ISO 100, 200, 400 and 800:
Both ISO 100 and 200 look very clean with no visible artifacts, even in the shadows.
ISO 400 adds a tiny amount of noise. At ISO 800 we see even more noise, but the image still looks very good with no loss of details anywhere in the image, including the shadows.
12) High ISO Performance (ISO 1600-25600)
Let’s see what happens when ISO is boosted to much higher levels:
ISO 1600 increases the amount of noise and the grain size now looks bigger and more noticeable, especially in the shadows. Increasing ISO to 3200 nearly doubles noise and now we are starting to see some artifacts in the shadows. Both ISO levels are very usable though and a single pass of noise reduction software will deal with it pretty well, since most details are preserved.
Further increasing ISO to 6400 adds a lot more noise and now we are at a point, where we are starting to lose details in the shadow area. And by ISO 12800, the image looks pretty much unusable to me, although down-sampling the image might produce acceptable results for the web. The last available ISO level is 25600, which is way beyond my comfort level:
I would never use such high ISO level on the NEX-6, because there is a heavy loss of detail and color throughout the image.
Overall, I am very impressed by the ISO performance of the Sony NEX-6, especially its high ISO performance. Let’s see how it fares against other cameras. Select the next page below.
13) Sony NEX-6 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 200-800)
Let’s take a look at how the Sony NEX-6 compares to the Olympus OM-D E-M5 with a Micro Four Thirds sensor. The base ISO of the Olympus sensor starts at ISO 200 and it can go all the way to ISO 25,600. Here is a comparison of both cameras at ISO 200 (Left: Sony NEX-6, Right: Olympus OM-D E-M5):
Both cameras look very clean at ISO 200, with no difference in noise characteristics.
The same is true for ISO 400.
As we increase ISO to 800, we start to see more noise on both cameras. But I can’t say that one is better than the other – despite a smaller sensor size, the OM-D has impressive image quality.
14) Sony NEX-6 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
At ISO 1600, there is still very little difference between the two.
Both cameras add plenty of noise at ISO 3200, but neither one has an upper hand. Again, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 shows impressive noise performance at high ISO, despite having a smaller sensor.
Pushing ISO to extreme (for APS-C) values obviously results in significant amount of noise – ISO 6400 is already above my comfort level. We again see a similar situation at ISO 6400 – both cameras perform very well, with perhaps a slight lead on behalf of NEX-6, which seems to retain details a tad better.
At ISO 12800, there is too much noise on both cameras. Hard to tell which one looks better – you be the judge.
And ISO 25600 is there for fun. Images are too grainy and ugly, with not enough detail and colors throughout the image.
15) Sony NEX-6 vs Olympus OM-D E-M5 Summary
As you can see from the above crops, the Sony NEX-6 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 have very similar noise characteristics. Despite the smaller sensor size, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 performed about the same throughout the ISO range. At low ISOs, both cameras produce practically noise-free images. At ISO 1600 and higher, there is about the same amount of noise added to the highlights and the shadows. The NEX-6 has slightly better image quality at ISO 6400 and above, but that difference is minimal. When looking at image crops, you might have noticed that images from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 look slightly darker. This is not due to a difference in exposure – if you look at EXIF data from all images, you will see that there were shot at exactly the same aperture, shutter speed and ISO. After testing a number of mirrorless cameras, I came to the conclusion that the OM-D has a tendency to slightly underexpose by about 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop (it was the only camera that did it). This means that ISO 200 is not really ISO 200, but something like ISO 160.
16) Sony NEX-6 vs Sony NEX-7 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Let’s take a look at how the NEX-6 compares to the higher resolution NEX-7. Here is a comparison of base ISO 100 on both cameras:
While both cameras produce impressive, noise-free images at ISO 100, the Sony NEX-7 produces slightly sharper images. This is due to downsampling – the NEX-7 has a lot more resolution to play with.
ISO 200 again looks impressive on both cameras.
We start seeing some noise at ISO 400, but there is no clear winner here – both cameras produce about the same amount of noise at the same resolution.
The same goes for ISO 800.
17) Sony NEX-6 vs Sony NEX-7 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-25600)
The NEX-6 shows a little bigger grain than the NEX-7 due to lower resolution.
Which we see again at ISO 3200. The NEX-7 seems to lose a little bit in the shadows.
Despite the bigger grain on the NEX-6, it seems to retain the shadow details and colors a little better than the NEX-7 at ISO 6400.
This is even more noticeable at ISO 12800 – the shadows on the NEX-7 added quite a bit of artificial red.
Both images look terrible, but the NEX-7 certainly has better details, despite the added red color all over the image.
18) Sony NEX-6 vs Sony NEX-7 Summary
When comparing images between sensors with different resolution, the only proper way to do it is to downsample images. Otherwise, sensors with bigger pixels (lower resolution) are always going to show better noise characteristics (assuming both are of similar generation/technology). In this case, the NEX-6 has a 16.1 MP sensor, while the NEX-7 has a very high resolution 24.3 MP sensor. An 8.2 MP difference can play a huge role when comparing sensors. The NEX-7 has the advantage of a high resolution sensor and its images retain excellent detail even at very high ISO values. It certainly does lose to the NEX-6 in the shadows at extremely high ISOs, resulting in visible artificial colors in the shadow areas, but the amount of detail is still higher. Overall, it would be wrong to say that one is better than the other, since both have their uses. For landscape photography, the NEX-7 would be the obvious choice, while for everything else, the NEX-6 also produces superb images at lower resolution (only considering the sensors). Now ask yourself this question – do you really need 24 MP for your photography?
19) Sony NEX-6 vs Canon EOS M (ISO 100-800)
The new Canon EOS M mirrorless camera has the same APS-C size sensor from the Canon EOS 650D DSLR. Physically, the sensor on the EOS M is a little smaller than the one on the NEX-6 (1.6x vs 1.5x crop factor), as shown on the first page of this review.
As usual, there is no difference in noise characteristics at such low ISO values. The Canon EOS M looks much sharper, because its 18-55mm lens is excellent, while the Sony 18-55mm resolves much less detail in comparison (to be discussed in the upcoming Canon 18-55mm review).
The same goes for ISO 200 – both cameras show no noise, even in the shadow area.
At ISO 400 we start to see some grain on both cameras.
ISO 800 looks equally good on both.
20) Sony NEX-6 vs Canon EOS M High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-12800)
Boosted to ISO 1600, the Canon EOS M seems to produce a little more noise in the shadows, but the difference is very small.
However, at ISO 3200, the shadow area on the EOS M certainly looks grainier in comparison.
At ISO 6400, the EOS M shows more noise, especially in the shadows. There is also a loss of detail and colors in the shadows.
And at the maximum ISO of 12800, the EOS M definitely shows worse performance, with more artificial colors throughout the image. Overall though, both are pretty close in performance, with perhaps 1/3 of a stop advantage on the NEX-6 at very high ISOs.
21) Sony NEX-6 vs Canon EOS M Summary
Despite the 2 MP resolution difference (the EOS M has an 18 MP sensor), the NEX-6 showed impressive performance, surpassing the EOS M at high ISOs. Both are very similar in performance at low ISOs, but the NEX-6 certainly performs better at ISO 3200 and above. I would not judge the performance of these cameras by just looking at images though – the NEX-6 has many more features not present on the EOS M (such as a built-in viewfinder, much better autofocus, better handling and controls, etc) and it represents a higher-level mirrorless segment. The EOS M is targeted at beginners, while the NEX-6 is for more serious photographers.
22) Sony NEX-6 vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 Low ISO Comparison (ISO 100-800)
Again, sensor size and resolution win big time here – the Nikon 1 looks noisy in comparison to the NEX-6 even at base ISO of 100.
No need to repeat the same words – the NEX-6 looks very clean and practically noise-free at ISO 200 and 400.
At ISO 800, there is a little bit of grain on the NEX-6, but it still looks very good in comparison to the J1/J2/V1.
23) Sony NEX-6 vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 High ISO Comparison (ISO 1600-6400)
Again, the much larger and higher resolution sensor of the Sony NEX-6 does make a difference here – it performs very well at high ISOs, even at ISO 6400 when downsampled.
24) Sony NEX-6 vs Nikon 1 J1/J2/V1 Summary
As I have numerously talked about before, the only proper way to look at sensor performance is by down-sampling. While the J1/J2/V1 looks great at pixel level, it certainly disappoints when its competition is down-sampled to the same resolution. The Sony NEX-6 looks exceptionally good when its images are at 10 MP – those extra 6 MP help reduce noise and bring out the sharpness of the image. At the same time, don’t forget that the sensor of the NEX-6 is also over 3 times larger than the one on the Nikon 1 system. A larger size sensor also means larger lenses – and that’s Sony’s biggest weakness. It has a very compact camera body, but much bigger camera lenses (with the exception of the 16mm pancake lens and the new 16-50mm). On the other hand, a large sensor also means two things: shallower depth of field and better dynamic range – two major factors that work in NEX-6′s favor. Sony has a few other advantages, such as excellent grip / handle, swivel LCD, in-camera editing, HDR, panorama and 3D modes.
Summary and Image Samples
When I first found out that Sony came up with yet another mirrorless camera segment with the introduction of the NEX-6, I asked myself if it was really necessary to have so many different cameras to offer. Without a doubt, the mirrorless camera market is growing very fast. However, with 4 different camera segments that share a lot of the same technology, isn’t Sony bombarding potential customers with confusing choices? Then I remembered the DSLR market and realized that it is also divided to similar segments, while the Olympus/Panasonic alliance has even more choices. So considering the price of the low-end NEX-F3 and the high-end NEX-7, creating a more affordable segment is actually a great idea in my opinion. A lot of people really liked the NEX-7 when it came out, but did not want to shell out $1,200 for a body-only version. The Sony NEX-6, on the other hand, is a different proposition at $850. That $350 difference is substantial for many photographers that are considering investing in a mirrorless system. With the NEX-5 series lacking the much needed viewfinder for serious use, the only choice for advanced photographers was to either buy a viewfinder separately, or buy the much more expensive NEX-7. Now there is a better choice with the NEX-6, which is specifically targeted at more serious photographers that are looking for a value proposition.
When evaluating the NEX series cameras, I spent quite a bit of time evaluating both the NEX-6 and the NEX-7. My goal was to thoroughly understand where each one excels or loses and which camera ultimately represents a better overall value, irrespective of its price. As I used both more and more, I started to realize that the NEX-7 just did not justify its high-end status. Towards the end, I found myself using the NEX-6 way more than the NEX-7. There were four main reasons for this. First, the NEX-6 has a much more robust hybrid autofocus system that worked better than the older contrast-detect AF system on the NEX-7. Second, I really liked how Sony implemented the PASM dial on the NEX-6 – it just felt like a small DSLR to me. Third, the ISO standard hot shoe meant that I could use the NEX-6 to trigger standard flash accessories, including my speedlights without having to attach any adapters. That alone was a huge deal for me, because I do quite a bit of studio work. And lastly, 16 megapixels just felt “right” for an APS-C sensor, with very low levels of noise, excellent colors and wide dynamic range. I asked myself a number of times – would I really need 24 MP on a mirrorless system? And my answer was “no” most of the time. If your work requires more pixels for gigantic prints, then the Nikon D800 or a medium format camera are the obvious choices. But I just don’t see much use for so many megapixels on an APS-C sensor, so 24 MP just sounds like an overkill to me for everyday photography. With an inferior autofocus system, proprietary hot shoe, higher price tag and no other notable advantages, I just do not see the point of getting the NEX-7 at this point. Perhaps later this year, if Sony replaces the NEX-7 with a newer model and updates it with the same or better AF system and standard hot shoe, it might then become a better choice. However, the price difference is still going to be there, so you will have to see if the new features will be worthy of the higher price tag…
Without a doubt, the Sony NEX-6 is currently the best mirrorless camera from Sony, period.