Without a doubt, Sony has been flooding the camera market with camera and lens announcements in the past few years. It has not even been a year since the company announced the Sony A6300 back in February and we already have another iteration of the camera in the form of the Sony A6500. I am not sure what the deal is with skipping iterations, but Sony went from A6000 directly to A6300 (skipping both A6100 and A6200) and it looks like there won’t ever be a Sony A6400 either. So why did Sony announce the A6500 this early? Based on the camera specs, one might think that Sony rushed with the A6300 in the first place, but looking at the price and the list of features, it appears that the A6500 isn’t meant to be a replacement for the A6300, but rather an introduction to a higher-end mirrorless camera. If we had NEX-3, NEX-5 and NEX-7 series cameras before, with a clear difference in features and price, now the higher model number is the indication of a superior camera. At $1,400, the A6500 is priced $400 higher than the A6300, but what exactly does the camera gain in comparison? Let’s take a look at all the new features.
First of all, the Sony A6500 has one major feature the A6300 does not – in-body image stabilization (IBIS). This is quite a big difference, since the IBIS system Sony is utilizing on the A6500 is the same 5-axis stabilization used on higher-end mirrorless cameras like the Sony A7R II, which alone might be worth the price difference. Second, although the A6500 has the same 425 focus point phase detection autofocus system, the company claims that the camera has even faster autofocus operation due to use of a faster processor. Third, the camera gains a huge buffer compared to its predecessor, allowing to shoot up to 307 full-size JPEG images or up to 100 RAW + JPEG images – and that’s while shooting at impressive 11 frames per second (such speeds and buffers are usually not offered by DSLRs until you move up to very expensive cameras from Nikon and Canon, which cost upwards of $6K).
Fourth, the A6500 now has a touchscreen display, which you can use to focus on a particular area of the frame, similar to what we have seen on other cameras lately. When shooting 4K video, the touchscreen can be used to shift focus by dragging the LCD with a finger, while actively monitoring the scene – an interesting new feature that might be useful for focus adjustments in video without touching the lens. While the video features of the A6500 look as impressive as on the A6300, Sony again excluded a headphone socket, which might be a deal breaker for many videographers out there. This does not make much sense to me, as a headphone jack is a must-have to monitor sound quality while video recording takes place. Lastly, it looks like the A6500 now has a newer menu system, which is supposed to be easier to use and navigate. If a new menu system is on its way, that could be a very good thing, because Sony’s menu system is quite bad when compared to other cameras on the market. Sony’s cluttered menu system continuously gets low praises from the photography community and we have been criticizing Sony for lacking improvements in that area for quite sometime now.
The Sony A6500 will be available for $1,400 MSRP, with the planned release date of December 2016.
Official Press Release
Here is the official press release from Sony:
NEW YORK, Oct. 6, 2016 – Sony Electronics, a worldwide leader in digital imaging and the world’s largest image sensor manufacturer, has today introduced their new flagship APS-C sensor camera, the α6500 (model ILCE-6500).
As the latest addition to Sony’s lineup of award winning mirrorless cameras, the new α6500 shares the same unrivaled 4D FOCUS™ system as the α6300 camera, which can lock focus on a subject in as little as 0.05 seconds, the world’s fastest AF acquisition time. Also shared with the α6300, the new α6500 features 425 phase detection AF points that are densely positioned over nearly the entire image area – the world’s highest number of AF points on any interchangeable lens camera. The new model can shoot images at up to 11 frames per second with continuous autofocus and exposure tracking and up to 8 frames per second in a live-view shooting mode that makes it easy to track fast moving subjects, as it combines all of the benefits of an electronic viewfinder with the immediacy of an optical viewfinder.
The camera can shoot at these high speeds for up to 307 frames thanks to its expanded buffer, which, along with the fast response speeds described above, are all achieved with the support of a new front-end LSI chip that has been added to the camera. This new front-end LSI also serves to enhance both still and video image quality.
Additionally, the new α6500 features Sony’s acclaimed in-camera 5-axis optical image stabilization, making it the first Sony APS-C sensor camera to offer all of the benefits of advanced in-body stabilization, which include a shutter speed advantage of approximately 5 steps. It also offers touchscreen AF capabilities for focus point selection and adjustment.
“We are continuing to push the boundaries of modern innovation in digital imaging, in particular within the mirrorless space,” said Neal Manowitz, Vice President of Digital Imaging at Sony Electronics. “By equipping the α6500 with 5-axis image stabilization and touchscreen AF, we’re offering photographers and videographers more control than ever before and a seemingly endless amount of creative possibilities. As our flagship APS-C camera, it far exceeds the performance threshold of any camera in its class, and many above its class as well.”
Unmatched AF Capability
Sony’s new α6500 camera utilizes the same 4D FOCUS system as the α6300 – a Fast Hybrid AF system that combines high-speed phase detection AF with extremely accurate contrast AF and allows it to capture and lock on to moving subjects in as little as 0.05 seconds. It also features 425 phase detection AF points and High-density Tracking AF Technology, which significantly improves subject detection and tracking performance.
New for the α6500, thanks to faster internal processing capabilities enabled by the front-end LSI, the maximum buffer for high-speed continuous shooting is an impressive 307 frames, greatly increasing the chances to catch that decisive moment.
The camera’s 425 phase detection AF points, focusing tracking and accuracy are also available when using non-native A-mount lenses with Sony’s LA-EA3 mount adaptor. Additionally, it includes silent shooting, Eye AF in AF-C mode, AF in focus magnifier modes, Expand Flexible Spot AF and more.
5-axis Image Stabilization Provides 5 Steps Shutter Speed Advantage
One of the most exciting developments in the new α6500 is the implementation of 5-axis image stabilization for the first time in a Sony APS-C sensor camera. Additionally, through a total revision of the internal design of the camera, this newly developed stabilization system fits entirely within a body that is nearly the same size as the α6300 model. This innovative 5-axis system provides a shutter speed advantage of 5 steps, ensuring the full resolving power of the sensor can be realized, even in challenging lighting.
The shake compensation provided by the system works with a variety of lenses, including E-mount lenses without OSS (Optical SteadyShot) stabilization and A-mount lenses when used with a compatible mount adapter. When an E-mount lens with OSS is mounted, pitch and yaw are compensated in the lens and horizontal, vertical and roll axes are compensated in the camera body, resulting in optimal 5-axis stabilization.
Also, with a simple half press of the shutter button, the effect of the image stabilization can be monitored in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, allowing framing and focus to be accurately checked and continually monitored. This is available even when a lens is attached that does not have built-in shake compensation.
New Touch Screen Focusing
The new α6500 comes equipped with touch screen functionality, allowing users to lock focus on a subject simply by touching it on the screen. This is a powerful compliment to its advanced AF system and video shooting capabilities.
Additionally, in a first for Sony cameras, the α6500 features touchpad functionality. When utilizing the viewfinder for framing and shooting, the LCD screen can be used as a touch pad. Simply drag a finger across the screen to shift the focus point from one area to another.
Powerful 24.2 MP Exmor CMOS Sensor, BIONZ X® Processor and New Front-End LSI
The new α6500 features an APS-C sized 24.2 MP Exmor CMOS sensor that works together with a BIONZ X image processor and the newly developed front-end LSI to maximize processing power and achieve an impressive sensitivity range of ISO 100-51200.
The image sensor employs a thin wiring layer and large photodiode substrate that maximizes light collection efficiency, plus copper wiring in its structure for outstanding read-out speed. The BIONZ X image processor and newly developed front-end LSI ensure superior image and video quality with low noise even when using higher ISO settings, in particular those at high sensitivity values where other cameras typically struggle. The LSI is also responsible for the expanded buffer depth for continuous shooting.
Professional Video Capabilities
The new α6500 becomes the latest Sony interchangeable lens camera to offer internal 4K movie recording, as it can shoot 4K (3840x2160p) video in the popular Super 35mm format on the full width of the image sensor. When shooting in this format, the camera uses full pixel readout without pixel binning to collect 6K of information – approximately 2.4x (20 MP equivalent) as many pixels as 4K UHD and then oversamples the information to produce high quality 4K footage with exceptional detail and depth.
Additionally, the α6500 will focus exceptionally fast during movie shooting thanks to its Fast Hybrid AF system, offers touch focusing for professionally smooth focus shifts, while also offering adjustable AF transition speed and AF tracking sensitivity. The camera supports the XAVC S codec during video shooting, which records at a high bit rate of up to 100 Mbps during 4K recording and 50 Mbps during Full HD shooting, ensuring maximum detail and clarity in both video formats.
Other professional caliber video features include the ability to record Full HD at 120 fps at up to 100 Mbps, which allows footage to be reviewed and eventually edited into 4x or 5x slow motion video files in Full HD (24p) resolution with AF tracking.
New on the α6500 is the incorporation of a ‘Slow and Quick’ (S&Q) mode that supports both slow motion and quick motion. In this mode, frame rates from 1 fps to 120 fps can be selected in 8 steps for up to 60x quick motion and 5x slow motion recording. Footage shot in this mode can be previewed after shooting without the need for PC-based post processing.
The camera also offers S-Log gamma recording for wide dynamic range shooting – approximately 14-stop latitude in S-Log3 gamma setting – and supports S-Gamut for a wider color space. Both options allow for greater creativity for processing video post-production.
Shooters also now have the ability to select, extract and save still images from movie footage directly on the camera. Approximately 8 MP images and 2 MP images can be pulled from 4K modes and Full HD modes, respectively.
Enhanced Operability and Reliability
The new α6500 has a refined design, maintaining the mobility of the α6000 series while adapting much of the usability of Sony’s acclaimed α7 II series. The new model features the same high contrast, high-resolution 2.4 million dot XGA OLED Tru-Finder as the α6300 that offers exceptional corner-to-corner visibility.
New hardware features on the α6500 include a magnesium alloy body and a high-durability shutter with a tested life span of approximately 200,000 release cycles. It also has several design features that are borrowed from the α7 II series of full-frame cameras, which include a robust lens mount, a recessed grip to improve handling, a larger release button and ten total custom buttons including ‘C1’, ‘C2’ and ‘C3’. It also has an improved operation feel for its mode and control dials and rear face buttons, as well as a softer eyepiece cup for more comfortable usage.
On the software front, there is a new overall user interface, which allows for a much smoother process for searching and adjusting menu settings, as well two new metering modes – Highlight, where exposure metering is focused on the brightest area of the frame, and Entire Screen Avg, which maintains an average metering for the entire image.
The camera is Wi-Fi®, QR and NFC compatible and fully compatible with Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile™ applications available for Android™ and iOS platforms, as well as Sony’s growing range of PlayMemories Camera Apps™. The α6500 also offers location data acquisition via a Bluetooth connection to a compatible mobile device and an updated menu structure to deliver a smoother navigational experience.
Pricing and Availability
The Sony α6500 interchangeable lens camera will ship this November for about $1,400 US and $1,750 CA. It will be sold at a variety of Sony authorized dealers throughout North America.
There is also a new genuine leather body case (model LCS-EBG) that will ship in November and a new eyepiece cup (model FDA-EP17) that will be launched at a later date.