Review: Sony Alpha NEX-6

Introduction

Sony had introduced the Alpha NEX-6 in November 2012, which came with a price tag fit in between the flagship NEX-7 and the mid-range NEX-5R. The NEX-6 has the great XGA OLED viewfinder which found on the NEX-7, and the fast hybrid focus system and wireless feature which found on the NEX-5R. So does it worth the extra SGD 250 than the NEX-5R which without the 180 degree flip-able LCD touchscreen on the NEX-5R? Or to pay SGD 500 more to go for the more convenience Tri-Navi design, solid metal body build, and the higher (24 mp) resolution on NEX-7?

Pros & Cons

  • + 16.1 MP APS-C CMOS sensor
  • + Great XGA OLED viewfinder
  • + Solid body build, comfortable hand grip design
  • + Lightweight (approx. 345g include battery and memory card, without lens attached)
  • + Wireless accessible
  • + Tilt-able 3 inches LCD screen (upwards 90 degrees and downwards 45 degrees)
  • + Hybrid focus system(phase detection & contrast detection) for faster and more accurate AF
  • + Convenience control dial design (not as good as the Sony NEX-7 tri-navi design, but still great)
  • + Quick graphical navigation menu display
  • – Low battery life (approx 340~380 images fully with LCD screen, reduce to 230~ 280 if mix with EVF and some camera settings tweaking)
  • – No way to turn off the wireless
  • – Not 180 degrees tilt-able
  • – Need the Sony Entertainment network account to install the free-apps
  • – No memorable self settings function available
  • – The text based menu design is not so intuitive, it is not that bad but could be better

Look & Feels

Although the Sony NEX-6 body is not built by metal as the Sony NEX-7, but you would not feel it cheap. When I first looked at it, I was thinking that will it sounds like a cheap plastic body when I knocked at it? But at the time I tried it, wow! It is solid build, lightweight, and would not feel cheap at all (maybe some of you do). The improved design of hand grip make it comfortable to hold in hand for a whole day trip.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Front View - without lens attached
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Front View without lens attached
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Front View - with SELP1650 kit lens attached
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Front View with SELP1650 kit lens attached

Body and Design

EVF

The Sony NEX-6 has a EVF which same as the one on NEX-7. This is a 2.3 million dot resolution XGA OLED viewfinder, which provides a vivid color, and good contrast of view. It has 3 different brightness settings for the EVF, the dimmest, medium, and the brightest. Manually set the brightness to the medium would be sufficient for most of the outdoor shooting while the dimmest has a tough time for me to shoot in a sunny day. The EVF and the LCD are switched automatically by default but we can manually choose to use either the EVF or the LCD under Setup –> FINDER/LCD Setting.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 EVF without rubber eye cup
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – EVF without rubber eye cup
Sony Alpha NEX-6 EVF with rubber eye cup
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – EVF with rubber eye cup

A diopter correction dial is sit on the right side of the EVF. It is a bit hard to use it when the rubber eye cup is attached. However, the rubber eye cup makes the EVF easier and more comfortable to be used.

Tilt-able 3″ LCD

The tilt-able 3 inches non-touchscreen LCD screen provides a 921 k dots of view. The image on the screen is so clear and sharp and the color is vivid. It can be tilted upwards to approx 90 degrees and tilted downwards to approximately 45 degrees but not 180 degrees flip-able for a self-portrait shooting like the NEX-5R offer.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 LCD screen approximately 45 degrees tilt downward
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – LCD screen approximately 45 degrees tilt downward
Sony Alpha NEX-6 LCD screen approximately 75 degrees tilt upward when the screen fully pulled out
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – LCD screen approximately 75 degrees tilt upward when the screen fully pulled out
Sony Alpha NEX-6 LCD screen approximately 90 degrees tilt upward
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – LCD screen approximately 90 degrees tilt upward

The EVF on the top might be the reason to restrict the LCD to flip 180 degrees upwards, but why do not make it to be able to flip over 180 degrees from the left hand side or even from the bottom? Most of us will be happier and appreciate if this function is applied to the NEX-6. Despite of this, the non 180 degrees flip-able LCD screen would not significantly affect the greatness of this camera.  If you shoot more self-portrait than other kinds of photo shooting, then you might consider the Sony NEX-5R as a better choice but with a cost of without the great EVF.

Control Dials/Wheel

There is one Mode dial and one control dial on the top-right of the NEX-6. The Mode dial provides a quick and convenient way to switch between P/A/S/M, Panorama, Scene, and the Sony Superior Auto and Intelligent Auto Mode. The larger control dial which beneath the Mode dial is used to control the aperture/shutter when shooting in A/S mode according. When shooting in M mode, this control dial controls the aperture while the rear control wheel controls the shutter speed.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Mode Dial and Control Dial
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Mode Dial and Control Dial

The rear control wheel provides the accessibility to the Display mode, ISO, Exposure, and the Drive mode. In the Display mode we can choose to show Graphical, All info, Big font, No info, Histogram, Level, and For viewfinder. For the ISO and Exposure quick access, we can use the control wheel to adjust the value and have a live view of the effect. However, the ISO and Exposure adjustment do not offer a quick view of the after all exposure value which mean we have to confirm the selected value and exit to the main view then to examine the value. The Drive mode provides access to single shoot, remote shutter, bracket shooting, speed priority continuous shoot, continuous shoot, and self-timer.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Rear control wheel
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Rear Control Wheel

Both the control dial and the control wheel are smooth to rotate by a single thumb while the Mode dial is a bit stiff which needs a second finger to aid to rotate it. They offer great accessibility and controls than other NEXs but not as great and convenience as the Tri-Navi on the NEX-7.

Flash

The NEX-6 provides a built-in flash (GN6) which is missing from the NEX-5R. We have to press the button on the back to trigger the flash before we can use it. The spring of the flash provides a powerful bouncing and somewhat make me worry about if the flash will be bounced off from the camera every time I triggered it. The NEX-6 provides few flash modes such as Auto Fill, Slow Sync, Rear-Sync, Fill Flash, and Flash Off.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Built-in flash front view
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Built-in flash front view
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Built-in flash back view
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Built-in flash back view

The flash is ’tilt-able’ which mean we can use our finger to tilt it upwards instead of straight fire the lighting to our object. However, the flash will cause some shadow when using the super-zoom lens like the SEL18200, and the flash extender is needed. The flash recycle time is approximately 4 sec.

Multi-Interface Hot-shoe

The NEX-6 comes with a Multi-Interface Hot-shoe which is compatible with the standard ISO hot shoe interface. This is good news that we are not limited to Sony accessories anymore. This extends the flexibility to use all the third-parties accessories which use a standard ISO port. Nice!

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Multi-interface hot shoe with cover
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Multi-interface hot shoe with cover
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Multi-interface hot shoe without cover
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Multi-interface hot shoe without cover

 

Interface

The NEX-6 has a mini HDMI port and a micro USB which located on the left of the NEX-6 body. When the micro USB port is connected, the camera auto switch to charging mode which means you cannot use it for shooting. The mini HDMI converter is not included so you have to purchase it yourself if you want to connect your NEX-6 to a monitor/TV.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Left side view - Micro USB charging port and mini HDMI port
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Left side view Micro USB charging port and mini HDMI port

 

Customize-able Buttons

Another good news is the NEX-6 comes with 3 programmable buttons which allow us to set the most frequent used functions for quick access (but not all the functions are available for quick access). First of all is the Fn button which locates besides the On/Off/Shutter button. It allows a maximum of 6 different functions to be set for quick access. The available options for the custom Fn button are shown as below:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Fn button
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Fn button
  1. AF/MF Select
  2. Autofocus Mode
  3. Autofocus Area
  4. Face Detection
  5. Smile Shutter
  6. Auto Port. Framing
  7. Soft Skin Effect
  8. Quality
  9. ISO
  10. White Balance
  11. Metering Mode
  12. DRO/Auto HDR
  13. Picture Effect
  14. Creative Style
  15. Flash Mode
  16. Not set

The second customize-able button is the AEL button, which allows the same functions available in the Fn button with the additional functions such as

  1. AEL hold
  2. AEL toggle
  3. Shoot. Tips
  4. Object Tracking
  5. Zoom
  6. Flash Comp
  7. MF Assist
  8. View on Smartphone
  9. Download Application
  10. Application List
Sony Alpha NEX-6 AEL button (at above) and Soft Key B (at the bottom)
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – AEL button (at above) and Soft Key B (at the bottom)

The last customize-able button is the soft-key B which locates at the bottom of the back of NEX-6. It also offers the same functions as the AEL button except the AEL hold and AEL toggle. Unlike the Fn button, both of these two customize-able buttons only allow one function to be set.

Movie Button

The Movie button is allocated at the right side of the camera. The location of the movie button is awkward as it is difficult to be triggered by thumb when the hand is gripping the camera. In the opposite, it will not be triggered accidentally when we do our still photo shooting.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Movie Button
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Movie Button

The movie can be recorded in two format: AVCHD (1920 x 1080), and MP4 (1440 x 1080 or 640 x 480)

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Movie File Format
Sony Alpha NEX-6 Movie File Format

When the AVCHD format is selected, the following formats can be chosen:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Available AVCHD file formats
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Available AVCHD file formats

When the MP4 is selected, the following formats can be chosen:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Available MP4 file formats
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Available MP4 file formats

 

Menu

The menu on the NEX-6 still…. needs more polish and refinement. Honestly it is really not that bad but it really lacks of intuitive and consistency here and there. For example, there are only as few as 8 options in the Brightness/Color while there are more than 60 options in the Setup. In the other hands, the LCD/viewfinder brightness and the color space settings which are more reasonable to be in the Brightness/Color but they appear in the Setup menu instead. It is so confused and annoying even after few times of used.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Menu System
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Menu System
Brightness settings found in Setup instead of in Brightness/Color?
Brightness settings found in Setup instead of in Brightness/Color?

However, proper setup with the 3 customize-able buttons will greatly reduce the chance to access the annoyed menu system.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Customize Functions
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Customize Functions of Fn button

Besides, Sony introduces a Quick Navi menu system which disable the live view on the LCD but provides a glance of preset settings in graphical mode for fast and easy setting adjustment. Press the Fn button to start accessing the menu. You can find it under the Display Mode –> For Viewfinder.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 For Viewfinder display (Quick Navi Menu)
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Quick Navi Menu

 

Features

Superior/Intelligent Auto and Scene Mode

Rotate the Mode dial to the i camera icon (with or without the +) will switch the NEX-6 into Superior/Intelligent Auto Mode. The Superior/Intelligent Auto on the NEX-6 performs excellent. It auto selects the preset scene mode based on the shooting situation and environment. The images produced by these two auto modes are hassle free and beautiful.

If you would like to select the preset scene mode by yourself, simply rotate the Mode dial to the SCN. Once in the Scene Mode, the control dial is used for fast changing of the scenes.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Superior Auto Mode
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Superior Auto Mode

In Anti Motion Blur and the Handheld Twilight Modes, the camera will capture a total of 6 images at a fraction of second and then merge them to create a cleaner and clearer image. The images shot in Anti Motion Blur mode and Handheld Twilight mode will only be saved as JPEG format even the camera is set to shoot at RAW format. Using of these two modes on the NEX camera might not as pleasant as other Sony compact camera due to the louder continuous shutter noise hence to draws more attention and might even shock others. Another thing to be aware is the ISO value is easily go up to ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 when using the scene modes to shoot at night or dark scene, the images have noticeable noise but still highly usable for small size printing.

Auto Portrait Framing

In order to use the Auto Portrait Framing feature, simply switch to Superior Auto Mode and turn on the face detection and Auto Portrait Framing feature. This feature does not work if RAW or RAW + JPEG is selected. The camera will first detect the face in the frame, once the face is in focus (the focus frame turn green), the Auto Portrait Framing will be activated as well (the icon at the bottom left will turn green as shown below).

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Auto Portrait Framing
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Auto Portrait Framing

The camera will crop the photo you are framing and place the person in a more attractive position. The result is fairly good but not optimize for the all the scenes. Both original and cropped files will be saved.

DRO and HDR

Most of us are familiar with the HDR (High Dynamic Range) photo by taking 3 different exposure photos (by bracket shooting) and combine (usually done in computer post-processing) to get an amazing color range of photo.

The Sony NEX-6 does provide a wonderful HDR function (under DRO option) which takes 3 different exposure photos and combine them within the camera itself! No computer is needed to produce a HDR photo, it saves us a lot of time! When select the HDR shooting mode, one original image without any DRO effect and one HDR final image will be saved. The photos below show the result from different HDR level:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - HDR effect comparison
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – HDR effect comparison

From the comparison above, the results are pretty good except the color of HDR 5.0EV and HDR 6.0EV which are significantly wash out than other HDR images. However the HDR function is only available when shooting in JPEG mode. How about the RAW shooter? No worry, NEX-6 provides the DRO (D-Range Optimizer) which similar to the HDR function but it only takes one photo instead of three. The sample photos of DRO:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - DRO effect comparison
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – DRO effect comparison

The shots with DRO effect look good even the color of DRO lv 5 look better than the HDR 5.0 EV and HDR 6.0 EV. The DRO provides 5 different level options while the HDR provides 6 different EV level options. Both the DRO and HDR level are set to auto by default, we can either choose one of these effects or completely switch it off.

Sweep Panorama

We can easily switch to the Sweep Panorama shooting mode as it can be found on the Mode Dial of NEX-6. I shoot it by handheld in RAW mode (Yes, it works in RAW mode)  and the control dial can be used to change the sweeping direction from left to right, from right to left, from top to bottom, and from bottom to top.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Sweep Panorama Mode
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Sweep Panorama Mode

The photo is seamless and the result is pretty good

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Panorama Effect
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Panorama Effect

 

Infrared Remote Control

There is a infrared remote control from Sony (RMT-DSLR2) which can be used to remotely release the shutter of the NEX-6. This feature is useful especially shoot in Bulb mode as it prevents any shaking from holding the shutter on the camera body hence to produce a blur-free image. To enable this feature, go to the Drive Mode and change it to Remote Cdr.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Remote Control Mode
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Remote Control Mode

However, the remote control is sold separately at a price of SGD 39. Alternatively, if you have the Sony Entertainment Account then you can install the free Smart Remote Control in the NEX-6 and then install the PlayMemories Mobile in your mobile device to remote release the camera shutter.

Wifi and Apps

The NEX-6 is a Wifi capable camera and it has a 90MB of local memory storage to install some Sony camera apps. There is no on/off option for the Wifi, so if you did configure the Wi-fi and it might constantly search for the wireless signal which means the battery will drain faster (it might still on even it is not configured).

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Play Memories Camera App
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Play Memories Camera App

In the Menu, there is one tab named Application. There some useful applications which are available in either free or pay version. Before install the available app, you must enter your Sony Entertainment Account in order to download the app (even the free app). Enter the account details on NEX-6 is a painful experience as you have to use the rear control wheel to scroll through the virtual keyboard letter by letter.

However, not all the countries and regions are able to install the camera Apps which is a letdown for those camera Apps fans (I’m a bit disappointed too but I can live without it).

Picture Effect

Sony provides some creative picture effects to its cameras as well as the NEX-6. Change the camera mode into Superior Auto, press the rear control wheel at the position of Exposure adjustment (the exposure adjustment is disabled in Superior Auto and it will trigger the picture effects instead)

Sony Alpha NEX-6 Picture Effects
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Picture Effects

There are five different adjustments which are the Background Defocus, Brightness, Color, Vividness, and the Picture Effects. The Background Defocus is used to create some DOF feel, the Brightness, Color and Vividness do what they should do, and the Picture Effects provides some creative filter effects. Adjusting the effect is easy and pleasant, simply select the effect and then adjust it by scrolling the rear control wheel as shown as the photo above.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Picture Effects
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Picture Effects

 

Performance

Focus System and Continuous Shooting

The NEX-6 provides three focus modes, Auto Focus, Manual Focus, and the Direct Manual Focus. For the AF system, the NEX-6 implements the Sony latest Hybrid Auto Focus System (99 points Phase Detection and 25 points Contrast Detection) which can be found on the NEX-5R as well.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - 99 Points Phase-Detection Area
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – 99 Points Phase-Detection Area

At the time I got my NEX-6, all the E-mount lenses do support this Hybrid Focus by upgrading the lens firmware. Although the auto focus speed is still not able to match with a DSLR, but it is fast enough for most of the non-critical speed shooting situation. It is switchable between single AF and continuous AF when the AF mode is selected (it is disable when DMF or MF is selected). A built-in AF illuminator is used to assist for fast focusing but it is so annoying and attracts so much attention when shooting peoples thus I usually switch it off.

The NEX-6 is capable to continuous shoot at approximately 3 fps in standard continuous shooting mode and approximately 10 fps in speed priority shooting mode. The continuous shooting speed will be slightly different which depend on the image quality (RAW, RAW + JPEG, JPEG) and the writing speed of the memory card.

Let’s see how the Hybrid AF system performs. I set my NEX-6 attached with the Sony SEL35F18 35mm lens on a tripod, select the Aperture mode at F5.6, continuous AF and standard continuous shooting mode to shoot the people who were playing the roller coaster. 100% crops from the original images are posted as well.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Continuous AF shots comparasion
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Continuous AF shots comparasion
Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Continuous AF 100% crops comparasion
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Continuous AF 100% crops comparasion

From the results as shown above, the peoples in the roller coaster (top 3 images and bottom left) of  are well focused while the peoples in roller coaster (at the bottom center and bottom right) is slightly miss focused but the images are still highly usable.

Sony Alpha NEX 6 does support for the Direct Manual Focus fumction. The DMF is a great combination of AF and MF, which uses AF to focus the object by half press the shutter button, keep half pressing the shutter button and then rotate the focus ring to fine focus on the object. However, use the real control wheel to change the view of the focus area in DMF is a bit tedious as the finger of half pressing the shutter often released accidentally when we use the thumb to control the real control wheel.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - Peaking Function
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – Peaking Function
Sony Alpha NEX-6 - MF Assist
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – MF Assist

The Peaking Function and MF Assist Function help a lot when manual focusing. The Peaking Function provides high/mid/low/off peaking area and white/yellow/red to highlight the in-focus area (as shown above). The MF Assist Function is able to enlarge the focusing area to 4.8 x or even 9.6 x larger for fine tuning (In DMF and MF only).

ISO Comparison

The NEX-6 has a wide range of ISO which from ISO 100 up to ISO 25600. The 100% crops from the RAW for each ISO are shown as below:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 - 100% crop ISO comparison
Sony Alpha NEX-6 – 100% crop ISO comparison

From the comparison, we can find out that the noise becomes noticeable from ISO 3200 and becomes more significant at ISO 12800. Details is retained at an acceptable level even shot at ISO 25600 but I guess none of us would like to use the ISO higher than ISO 6400.

Battery Life

NP-FW50 battery is used for the NEX-6 as other NEXs. The Sony official specification sheet states that one full charge could last for approx 370 shoots with fully use of LCD screen. It is lesser than its elder brother NEX-7 which can last for 430 shoots but more than the NEX-5R which can last for 330 shoots. In the real life shooting, I mostly use the EVF (at medium brightness) for shooting with a mix of the LCD (at 2nd lowest brightness) for playback and adjust some settings, one full charge of battery usually last me for at least 230 shoots and at most up to 280 shots. If only use the LCD screen for shooting and some settings adjustment/playback then one full charge of battery can last for 350 shoots to 390 shoots at the best. This is good among the mirrorless camera but it still far away from the DSLR 700 to 1000 shots per charge. So do remember to bring an extra battery or two when going for a whole day shooting event.

Bottom Line

I own the Sony NEX-6 for two months. I’m happy with it as it is compact, lightweight, and fit all my needs. The 16.1 MP APS-C sensor is less lens demanding than the NEX-7 24 MP APS-C sensor, and it perform better in the high ISO shooting due to lesser pixels in the same size of image sensor. In comparison to the NEX-5R, although the NEX-6 does not have the 180 degrees flip-able LCD screen (also a touch screen), but the upwards 90 degrees and downwards 45 degrees tilt-able LCD screen is more than enough to suit my shooting style as I seldom take a self-portrait. In additional, the NEX-6 provides an approximately 100 % coverage of XGA EVF which is so useful for outdoor shooting (a bright and clear view) or some arena (an EVF will not be so disturbing as the bright LCD screen). Although the NEX-6 does not feel as solid as the NEX-7, but it does not mean it is bad. It has a high quality body build and I’m able to hold the NEX-6 for a whole day of shooting without any uncomfortable and tired feel.

If you own a NEX and want to upgrade your NEX, stay claim and wait for the rumor full-frame NEX (probably in September 2013 where the source come from Sony Alpha Rumor). For those are considering to start using the NEX as your first mirrorless camera, find the one which functionality fit you the most as well as the pricing. You can ignore the quality of photo taken by all of the 3 NEXs mentioned above as you can’t really tell the different (unless you intend to use it to print a 20 inches large poster) and all of them are capable to produce incredible shots. So how do think about your NEX camera?

Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy your shooting journey.

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