Sony NEX-6 £769

20th Nov 2012 | 15:35

Sony NEX-6

Another NEX with Wi-Fi and apps

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

Wi-Fi and apps; High image quality; Range of effects;

Dislike:

Screen doesn't twist around; No touchscreen;

Introduction

Sitting between the high-end Sony NEX-7 and beginner-to-enthusiast level Sony NEX-5R, the 16.1 million pixel Sony NEX-6 is compact system camera aimed at DSLR and DSLT customers who are looking for high image quality in a much smaller body.

A couple of key features distinguish the Sony NEX-6 from the Sony NEX-5R below it. First up there's a 2.359k dot OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) built in, offering an alternative to the 3-inch 921,600-dot LCD screen for composing and reviewing images.

The Sony NEX-6 also has a pop-up flash (GN 6 @ ISO 100) that can be used to provide a little extra illumination when needed, as well as a hotshoe that uses a more standard design so that it can accept third party flashguns. Extra contacts at the back of this shoe also make it useful for accepting other accessories.

Sony NEX-6 review

Like the Sony NEX-5R, the Sony NEX-6 has Wi-Fi technology built in to enable images to be shared direct from the camera via a computer, smartphone or tablet.

The camera is also compatible with apps that can be downloaded from Sony's PlayMemories camera apps service. This include apps such as Picture Effects, Remote Control and Direct Upload (to Facebook or PlayMemories Online). More apps will become available over time.

Being aimed at enthusiast photographers, the Sony NEX-6 has program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure modes, but there are also options to suit less experienced photographers, including a collection of scene modes.

Sony NEX-6 review

Images may be saved in raw and/or JPEG format, and sensitivity can be set in the range of ISO 100-25,600.

As usual now there's a collection of digital filter effects (Picture Effects) that can be applied to images as they are captured (with a preview in the EVF or LCD), but disappointingly they can only be used when shooting JPEG photos, not raw files.

Videos can be shot in any exposure mode, and it's possible to change aperture during filming, but you can expect to pick up the sound of settings changes being made, since there is no external mic port.

Sony NEX-6 review

A new 16-50mm power zoom lens has also been announced in conjunction with the Sony NEX-6. This is roughly half the size of the standard 18-55mm kit lens that has previously accompanied NEX cameras.

With a full price of around £769/AU$1,099/US$849.99 body-only or £899/AU$1,299/US$999.99 with the kit lens, the NEX-6 competes with cameras such as the Panasonic G5 and perhaps the Olympus OM-D.

Build quality and handling

Sony has employed its now familiar flat body and deep grip styling, making the Sony NEX-6 instantly recognisable as a Sony NEX camera.

There's also the high-quality feel that we have come to expect from this level of camera.

The textured covering of the grip and the back of the camera is very effective and it, plus the deep finger-hold, makes the Sony NEX-6 extremely comfortable to hold one-handed. In fact, we carried the camera by the grip for a few hours during one stage of this test, and had no use for the strap.

Sony NEX-6 review

Unlike the Sony NEX-5R, the Sony NEX-6 has a mode dial on its top-plate for selecting the exposure mode. This dial has a high quality feel, and although it doesn't have a lock, its action is stiff enough to prevent it from being knocked too easily between settings.

Beneath the mode dial is another dial for adjusting settings such as aperture and shutter speed. This falls conveniently within reach of your right thumb and has click-stops that make it clear when you have made a setting change, but some people may find that their thumb rubs on the mode dial when they are using it.

As well as the 3-inch 921,600-dot LCD display, there's a 2,359,000-dot electronic viewfinder. Although its colour and contrast doesn't always match the main screen's, it provides a pretty decent view in most situations, and is very useful in bright sunlight.

Sony NEX-6 review

That said, we found that the 3-inch screen provides a clear view, and when set to its brightest or to its Sunny Weather option, it is even possible to see images on it in direct sunlight (at least in UK October sunlight).

However, we struggled to see the active AF point on several occasions, since it doesn't stand out very well on the display in bright light.

It's worth noting that as well as brightening the screen, the Sunny Weather setting increases the LCD's local contrast, boosts its saturation and warms the image to the extent that we had to double check that there wasn't a Picture Effect selected.

Sony NEX-6 review

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Helpfully, there is a sensor that detects when the camera is held to the eye, and the EVF is turned on while the LCD is switched off. Sony says that it has worked on the speed of switching between the two, and we found it very quick.

Despite this, it doesn't switch to the EVF too easily, which is good when you want to shoot from the hip and the camera is close to the body.

There are three disappointments with the Sony NEX-6's LCD screen. Firstly, it's a tilting unit rather than a fully articulating device, so it's no help when shooting upright images from awkward angles.

Sony NEX-6 review

Also, it can't flip right up over the camera like the Sony NEX-5R's screen, so it doesn't enable you to compose self-portraits (although there is a remote viewfinder app available if you have a smartphone).

The final issue is that it's not touch-sensitive. This seems very odd given that the Sony NEX-5R's screen is touch-sensitive. It would be very useful for inputting Wi-Fi and Facebook passwords and so on, as well as for setting the focus point.

Sony's new 16-50mm powerzoom kit lens gives the Sony NEX-6 a nice, neat profile, and is perfectly sized for the camera. However, we found that we accidentally zoomed in on a few occasions because the zoom switch falls under the natural resting place for the thumb.

Sony NEX-6 review

There's also a lens ring that can be used for zooming in or out and adjusting manual focus. Perhaps it would have been better to have a push-pull arrangement with this ring to avoid the accidental focal length adjustments.

The menu is typical Sony NEX and pretty extensive, so it takes some getting to grips with, but it is generally logically arranged.

The metering, white balance, dynamic range optimisation, Creative Styles and Picture Effect settings (to name just a few), are all found in the Brightness and Color section.

Sony NEX-6 review

There's a separate Image Size area for aspect ratio and image quality, and controls over things like the focusing and drive mode are found in the Camera section.

Apps can be downloaded and accessed via the Application section of the menu.

If you want to change the brightness of the LCD screen or the information it displays, you need to look in the Set-up menu.

Sony NEX-6 review

A Function (Fn) button adjacent to the camera's shutter release button can be used to access up to six of the commonly used settings.

Since it's not possible to use the picture effects when shooting raw files, we assigned the Picture Effects and Image Quality options to the function menu so that we could quickly make the necessary changes. We also accessed the HDR and DRO options via this route.

Two buttons on the back of the Sony NEX-6 are also customisable, but we've found that the lower one defaults back to the AF point selection mode in some AF modes.

Sony NEX-6 review

Sony's PlayMemories camera app service is now up and running, and we found it easy to access and download apps. There aren't many available yet, but there should be more coming over time.

Direct Upload is useful for uploading images to Facebook direct from the camera, while the Remote Control app enables you to compose images on your smartphone screen and adjust exposure compensation remotely.

Performance

On the whole, images direct from the Sony NEX-6 impress. They are well exposed, vibrant and full of detail.

Noise is well controlled up to around ISO 3200, but we wouldn't recommended going above this value if you want to make A3 prints, unless you are prepared to process the raw files post capture.

Sony NEX-6 review

At ISO 6400, JPEGs look slightly soft at A3 size, and inspection at 100% on the screen confirms that the noise reduction system has smudged out some details. If the raw file is processed post-capture, it's possible to produce a sharper image, with a gritty texture that we think is preferable.

We found that the Sony NEX-6's hybrid autofocusing does a good job of locking onto the subject quickly, only struggling occasionally with particularly low contrast subjects.

Sony NEX-6 review

During this test we primarily used the 1200-zone evaluative metering in its multi-purpose evaluative mode, and found it very reliable. It's not overly fooled into under- or over-exposing, and manages to produce correctly exposed images even when there are quite large bright areas within the scene.

That's not to say that we didn't occasionally resort to using the exposure compensation control, but no more frequently than we would expect to.

Sony NEX-6 review

When the scene has very high contrast, the Dynamic Range Optimization (DRO) and High Dynamic Range (HDR) modes come in very handy. The DRO can be left to its own devices or you can specify the level, but even pushing it to the max (Level 5) results in natural-looking images.

It has the strongest impact on the shadows, brightening them quite dramatically. In some instances we saw no impact on the brighter parts of the image, or they got a little brighter still.

Sony NEX-6 review

Setting the HDR exposure difference to its maximum setting of 6EV produces a more classic HDR effect, but it's well done and is a hand-holdable option, despite the multiple image capture.

Colours are vibrant straight from the camera, and although they may be a little too saturated for some traditionalists, they suit the current vogue for punchy images.

Sony NEX-6 review

The automatic white balance system copes well with most conditions, but we found it best to use a custom white balance setting in indoor shaded conditions and in mixed light.

Fortunately this is very easy to achieve, you just need to select the correct setting and photograph a white target.

Sony NEX-6 review

Video from the Sony NEX-6 has high visual quality, but the sound is limited by the internal mic, which is prone to picking up camera and operator noises.

Sony NEX-6 review

Sony NEX-6 review

Sony NEX-6 review

Sony NEX-6 review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony NEX-6, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony NEX-6 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Sony NEX-6 review

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 6400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 25600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 100, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 6400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 12800, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Sony NEX-6 review

ISO 25600, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Sony NEX-6 with the Panasonic G5, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus E-P3.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Sony NEX-6 review

These results show that the Sony NEX-6's JPEG files have a similar signal to noise ratio to those from the Panasonic G5, Sony NEX-7 and Olympus E-P3 at lower to middling sensitivities, but they achieve significantly better results at ISO 1600 and above.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Sony NEX-6 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Sony NEX-6 are stronger than those from the other cameras at all sensitivities. The Sony NEX-7 was the next strongest performer, followed by the Olympus E-P3 and Panasonic G5.

JPEG dynamic range

Sony NEX-6 review

JPEG results for dynamic range less impressive than those for signal to noise ratio, with the Sony NEX-6 producing weaker images than the Sony NEX-7 at all sensitivity settings. It also falls below the Olympus E-P3 at lower ISOs, before overtaking it at ISO 800 and above. Its JPEGs show a greater dynamic range than the Panasonic G5's, except at ISO 200.

Raw dynamic range

Sony NEX-6 review

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Sony NEX-6 have a greater comparative dynamic range than the JPEG images did. The Sony NEX-6 beats all of the other cameras throughout the sensitivity range, except at ISO 200, where the Sony NEX-7 produces stronger results. The NEX-7 was the second strongest performer here, followed by the Panasonic G5, then the Olympus E-P3.

Sample images

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This close-to moving target proved a little tricky for the NEX-6's AF system and every now and again it focused on the background.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Using the High Contrast Black and White Picture Effect has enhanced this graphic image of a stack of chairs.

Sony NEX-6 review

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The Selective Colour Picture Effect can be fun and produces some interesting results.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The AF system got its target every time here and there's plenty of detail in the near swan's head.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

The tilting mount is great when you shoot horizontal format images, but it's no help when you shoot upright shots like this from a low angle. Fortunately the screen has a wide viewing angle so you can see the foreshortened image on it.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

We had to dial in -0.7EV exposure compensation to get the colour and brightness of these roses correct.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-6 review

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Shot using Green as the selected colour in Selected Colour Effect.

Sony NEX-6 review

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Taken without Dynamic Range Optimisation (DRO).

Sony NEX-6 review

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Using DRO at it's highest setting has boosted the shadows well, but with a hint of haloing around the statue.

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

At its highest setting the in-camera HDR mode produces a decent result. You can tell that its an HDR image, but its not too over the top.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Sony NEX-6 review

Full ISO 100 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Sony NEX-6 review

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ISO 100

Sony NEX-6 review

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ISO 200

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Raw

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 100

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 200

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 400

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 1600

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 3200

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 6400

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 12800

Sony NEX-6 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 25600

Verdict

Sony had lots of critical success with the NEX-7, while the cameras in its NEX-5 range have always proven quite popular. Here the company appears to be combining the high quality of the NEX-7 with the popularity of the NEX-5.

The Sony NEX-6 manages to extract a lot of information from its 16.1 megapixel sensor, and delivers images with lots of detail and attractive colours.

It's also an enjoyable camera to use, with the EVF providing an alternative means of composing images for those who prefer it or when the lighting conditions dictate it. And there are some fun Picture Effects.

However, the fact that the LCD screen isn't as versatile as the one on the Sony NEX-5R is odd. It's a shame that it's not a fully articulating device. Having a tilting screen encourages you to shoot from more interesting angles, but it only helps with landscape format images.

A touchscreen would also make it much easier to add login details and select AF points.

We liked

Being able to add functionality to the camera with apps and share images directly via the Wi-Fi connectivity makes the Sony NEX-6 seem very up to date, but it would be pointless if the images were of a low standard.

Fortunately the image quality is high, and there are picture effects that replicate the creative effects we see being used everywhere these days.

We disliked

The Sony NEX-6 is so close to being a fantastic camera, the only thing that is really holding it back from being bang-up to the minute is that the screen only flips up rather than twisting around, and it's not touch-sensitive.

Final verdict

Sony has produced a very likable, capable camera that is complemented well by the new powerzoom lens. Its controls can be customised to suit the photographer, it has helpful technology borrowed from a smartphone and it delivers images of impressively high quality.

For many photographers that is more than enough, but some like us may look at the likes of the Panasonic G5 and ask why the Sony NEX-6 can't have a similar screen. We want all the toys.

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