Sony NEX 6 Review

by | June 4, 2013

© Darren HuskiIn 2012, I made the jump to full frame, leaving me with my older Canon 50D and Panasonic LX3 as my backup cameras. The 50D had been my primary digital camera and the LX3 had been my lightweight travel camera and a decent backup (see my small format landscape article on NSN). While I still liked both I found my wants and needs were evolving. I really wanted a smaller, lighter backup camera for those times when I did not want the 5D2 with me. There was little size advantage taking the 50D over the 5D2 and while the LX3 is small, I knew there were other options today for small cameras with bigger sensors.

I also wanted this camera to compliment the 5D2, not compete with it. Something that was much smaller, easier to carry, yet still with great image quality. Something I could easily take on those times when carrying a DSLR was impractical or impossible. I needed something for walking the dogs, riding the bike, business travel, and those times when I was not “really” photographing.

The changes in technology and the camera possibilities got me to thinking of upgrading and combining both the 50D and LX3 into a small body big sensor camera. After researching several options I came down to three contenders in the Canon G1X, Panasonic GX1 and Sony NEX 6. All offered similar body size and larger sensors. I decided to go with the NEX6 because it had the largest sensor, interchangeable lenses, and it had the Powerzoom kit lens.

Panasonic LX3, Sony NEX 6, and Canon 50D compared © Darren Huski

I have been using it in the field now for several weeks and have found it to be a great camera. Let’s start with the size and quality. Small will be a big word for this review. This is a small camera. It is only marginally bigger than my LX3, and significantly smaller than either the 50D or 5D2 (or a Rebel for that matter). The Powerzoom lens is a big part of that. One of the reasons why I did not consider the early mirrorless cameras is the lenses looked huge on the tiny bodies. That changed when Panasonic and Sony started offering the Powerzoom lenses that collapse like a point and shoot camera does. Now when the lens is not in use (like when being carried or packed away) it has a slim and small profile. That does mean it takes a second to extend when you power up. It also means if the camera fall asleep the lens collapses and shuts down. It is different with a normal lens on the camera but it something to be aware of with the 16-50 Powerzoom. That is a great compromise as it helps make the camera more portable with only a small impact on shooting.

The lens also has a great focal range of 24-75mm equivalent. Your typical kit lens has the boring old 28-80mm eq. I love having wider – way to go Sony! The lens has a multi-function lens ring and a Powerzoom slide. You can zoom with the Powerzoom slide just like a point and shoot. In Auto Focus mode you can also turn the lens ring (just like a regular lens) to zoom in and out. However, if you go into manual focus, the lens ring changes to focus! Using it is very normal and combined with live view and focus peaking makes manual focus very easy. Sony has made a small lens with a great focal length and very good controls.

Image quality from it is also pretty good. It is still a kit lens, but for me as a landscape photographer working at f/8 or f/11 it has good sharpness and contrast. Like many lenses it loses some sharpness in the corners, especially at the wide end. In the overlapping focal lengths it is as good as my Sigma 10-20 or my Canon 18-135. I am pleased with the images it produces.

Sunset photography © Darren Huski

Camera body is very small and solid. Small enough to be very compact but still has decent controls. The traditional dial is a must for me and the NEX 6 has it with your standard PASM modes. It has sweep panorama too, which is fun (although it is jpeg only). One of the downsides is there is no custom or C mode. They have 2 intelligent auto modes, which I think is a waste for the advanced user, especially since P could already be considered a second advanced auto mode. I would have rather had a custom setting I could lock in settings. As it is I have to go into the menus and change 3-4 things when I go from handheld to tripod mode. For me I want to change image stabilization, auto ISO, remote/timer, and AF/MF. To do so requires going into 4 menu items. Now three of these are fairly easy to get to do from different button options, however image stabilization can only be done in the menu and cannot be assigned to any key. Which is funny since it seems several meaningless features can be assigned to several different buttons. (Sony if you read this how about a firmware upgrade to convert i+ into a custom mode to solve that?)

Those set up items aside, I find I really like the body. It is small but easy to hold and very easy to carry. I find I can wear the camera around my neck very easily and it also fits in jacket chest pockets making it easy to tote around on a walk or bike ride.

Controls are easy to use and I find working with it easy. It is still different from working with a DSLR but easier and closer than any point and shoot model.

Auto Focus is acceptable but I do not consider it great. It works best when you have a large subject within 4-5 feet of the camera and not as well with distant or small objects. Since I still do most of my work on a tripod with manual focus and live view it is less of a concern to me.

The camera can shoot up to 10 frames per second. A feature I rarely take advantage of as rocks traditionally move very slow. However if you are hand holding and in bracketing mode it does make the images very quick.

Bluebonnet field sunrise © Darren Huski

The camera has an EVF and tilting screen and I have found both work quite well. I like some of the features of the EVF, such as you can do live view focusing with it, including getting the magnified image. Combine that with focus peaking (where it highlights in focus items in color) and it makes manual focus very easy. The EVF can also be used for image review. No worry about bright direct light making it hard to see. In fact you can keep your eye at the EVF when photographing and it displays the image there automatically – call it another sweet feature. Is it better than an optical viewfinder? I am not ready to say so. I am not about to give up my DSLR for it, but find it perfect on a small camera.

Sensor performance is outstanding. This is Sony’s highly regarded 16mp APS-C sensor and it delivers the goods. It has both great detail and dynamic range. I seem to be able to pull out better shadow detail and tame highlights better with it than my 50D. As the ISO goes up past 400 the differences show quickly there too. I find that ISO 1600 is very good on the Sony, not as good as the 5D2 but significantly better than the 50D. To me that proves full frame is still a cut above crop sensors, but that the advancing technology have seriously improved APS-C quality since 2008.

Both day and night images look good out of it and I am really impressed with images up to ISO1600. ISO 3200 can even work as they look far better than either the 50D or LX3 there.

Rushing waterfall © Darren Huski

Battery life is only so-so. Sony does not provide a separate battery charger for this camera. You charge via Micro-USB with the battery in the camera. I picked up a second battery and so far have not had any day where I ran out of power, however I have yet to try to keep everything charged on a week-long campout.

I already added in the Samyang fisheye lens to my kit. This is another tiny optic specific to the NEX mount, that is significantly smaller than the Samyang fisheye for DSLRs (itself a fairly compact optic). I have found both of my Samyang fisheyes to be incredibly sharp and fun to shoot (see my Fisheye Lens Landscapes article).

The camera kit is so small I actually got a small tripod to go with it. My Gitzo 1325 and Feisol 3401 both seemed like overkill for a camera this small. I looked at small and purchased a Sirui 025X. At 11.8” long when collapsed it easily fits in my computer bag or my biking pack. Set up it extends to about 36”. It has a center column that will take it up to 52” but I ditched it since center columns are the weak point of a tripod. (see the image of the Sony on the Sirui next to the 5D2 on the Gitzo for size comparisons). I find it a great companion to the small size of the camera. It is not a tripod I would want to use with my 5D2 but as a travel tripod for the NEX it is ideal.

Photographers with Sony NEX 6 on Sirui 025-X; Canon 5D2 on Gitzo 1325 © Darren Huski

I added an Opteka IR remote from Amazon as the Sony remote seemed too complex with way too many buttons (it looked like a TV remote). The Opteka is small and simple with just two buttons-take image and 2 second delay. Overall it works well but I still think I prefer a wired remote. The Sony IR sensor is on the front of the camera which makes it tricky to work from behind sometimes as you have to reach around to the front of the camera. IR also seems finicky and it can take 3 or 4 attempts to take the image.

I also picked up two small 40.5mm filters for the kit lens; a polarizer and an ND. The filter size is tiny on the 16-50 Powerzoom and both filters easily fit in one regular sized filter case.

My Sony NEX 6 travel kit is now very lightweight and easy to take with me anywhere. I can easily add the full kit of camera, fisheye lens, filters, remote, spare battery and tripod into my computer bag. I could also easily wear the camera around my neck and put the rest into various pockets. Having a small capable kit for work travel or when on my bike is just what I was looking for. The image quality is great and the camera is small. Having this highly capable sensor in a small camera fills a great niche, one that really compliments a full frame camera well.

Will this kit replace my 5D2? No. Full frame still wins on both a quality and capability front. I also still prefer working with a DSLR to the controls of this camera. However the NEX6 size advantage is awesome for travel and compliments the 5D2 very well.

Will this replace my 50D kit and LX3? Already has. The NEX6 combines the best of compact size and APS-C image quality. This is a perfect travel camera. It is a solidly put together camera with only a couple of flaws (mainly lack of a custom mode). Sony made the right compromises on the important things here to build a compact camera with excellent overall image quality.

If you are looking for a point and shoot, or small camera in general, or maybe even a backup to your DSLR I think this would be a great camera to consider. I take mine with me constantly and find the small size a big factor in that as it is so easy to take. The results it can produce are also fantastic with the capability of one of the best APS-C sized sensors out there.

Trinity river in the spring © Darren Huski

6 thoughts on “Sony NEX 6 Review

  1. I have a NEX6 and concur with your review. Just wondering if you considered the NEX-7? It was on my short list with the Olympus OMD E5 and Panasonic GX1. I opted for the NEX6 for the lower price point over the NEX7, the better sensor over the GX1 and OMD E5.

    • The NEX7 was one I briefly looked at, however it did not have a PASM dial, which was a bit of a must for me. I like simple analog controls whenever possible as they are easier to work. Add in the cheaper cost of the NEX6 and it was an easy choice.

      I am quite happy with the NEX6. All cameras are a compromise and I think Sony made the right ones on this camera to make a functional, small camera with a big sensor that delivers great results. I would like to see a “C” mode to make changing settings easier, but I can live with that for the small form factor.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Gerry, I have no direct examples of bokeh since I shoot wide and at f/11 most of the time. Being an APS-C sized sensor it should do as well as other similar cameras (like a 7D or D7000). Probably comes down to what lenses you use. Using manual focus lenses is pretty easy as the Focus Peeking feature makes it a snap to do it.

    I sampled the G1X that a buddy bought and liked everything about it other than the slow image taking speed. The NEX can be much faster and the inter-changeable lens was a big sell for me.

    Love the small size factor of the NEX and would be an ideal travel companion. Good luck and have a great trip.

  3. Thanks for the info, Darren. I’m considering a compact camera for a 4-day hike on the Milford Track in New Zealand in December, and this model looks like a better bet than the Canon G1X, which has gotten mixed reviews. Only question remaining is, does the Sony allow you to achieve decent bokeh at wide apertures?

    • I have the Nex-6 and several e-mount lenses. I can tell you that, not surprisingly, bokeh with this camera is a function of lens focal length, aperture, and as a smaller issue, sensor size. I have 3 f1.8 lenses for this camera and they all render very nice, creamy bokeh, when shit wide open. I shoot with the zeiss 24mm and 32mm – both f1.8. boheh is remarkable.

  4. The Metabones adapter works great too. Do not count on auto focus, but instead set your Canon lens on manual focus and use the NEX-6 focus peaking feature. A must have for Canon/NEX shooters. Were I to do it again, I’d get the speed booster version of the adapter, but the regular one gives you the normal 1.5x focal length multiplier.

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