Sony Alpha NEX-6 review

7 Dec 2012

The first compromise-free compact system camera: it's a delight to use, and delivers first class image quality

Price when reviewed 
820
Buy it now for 
5

Not everyone wants to lug a bulky SLR around, but for a long time it was your only choice. These days, though, serious amateurs have a different option: high-end compact system cameras, a genre now topped by the Sony NEX-6.

This is a seriously impressive piece of kit, with a detailed electronic viewfinder, accessory shoe, three rotary controllers and premium price. It’s significantly smaller than most other CSCs at this price, dispensing with the SLR-style viewfinder hump for a more streamlined brick-like shape. There’s a reasonably substantial handgrip but not a huge amount of space for buttons and dials.

This limited space has been used well. There’s a mode dial on top – a first for a NEX camera – a command dial encircling it, and the navigation pad doubles as a wheel, too.

ISO speed, drive mode and exposure compensation are a single button click away, and five other settings can be assigned to the customisable Function menu. We’d have liked a physical manual focus switch and a dedicated white balance button, but we’re not sure where they would have fit.

Sony Alpha NEX-6

The new 16-50mm kit lens is tiny, collapsing right down when the camera is switched off. It has a motorised rather than mechanical zoom, and controlling this motor using the lens ring is surprisingly effective. The entire range can be traversed in a quarter of a second, but small, precise adjustments remain easy to make. It’s also a sharp lens, with none of the corner softness we’ve seen from the bulkier 18-55mm kit lens bundled with other NEX cameras.

Wi-Fi is the latest must-have feature for cameras, and the NEX-6 obliges with a comprehensive set of functions. It can upload photos to Facebook via a Wi-Fi network, or create its own hotspot for direct transfers to a smartphone or tablet. There’s a remote control app with a live feed and a shutter-release control, but it doesn’t give access to other settings. We had no problems running the iOS app on an iPad, but the Android app wouldn’t function properly on an HTC One V.

The NEX-6 can also download and install its own apps to expand the camera’s capabilities. There are currently a couple of freebies supplying creative filters and basic editing, plus two more priced at £3.99 for advanced bracketing and multiframe noise reduction.

Sony Alpha NEX-6 from rear

Elsewhere, the NEX-6 draws on the strengths of previous NEX cameras. Image quality is as high as we’ve seen from a CSC, with crisp details and extremely low noise. Automatic exposures were sometimes on the dark side, but the extra highlight headroom is welcome when processing raw files.

Otherwise, a bit of exposure compensation provides an easy fix. It’s a nippy performer, with a 10fps burst mode and responsive general operation. Autofocus is fast, thanks to dedicated autofocus sensors built into the main imaging sensor. Video quality is excellent, and with capture up to 1080p at 50fps and with manual exposure control, it’s perfect for more serious work.

Sony already dominated the CSC market for sensor quality, but with the NEX-6’s smaller and sharper kit lens, faster autofocus performance, better controls and integrated flash, it feels like the camera we’ve all been waiting for. It’s pricey but it’s hard to imagine a more accomplished compact camera.

Sony NEX-6 sample shots:

Sony Alpha NEX-6 sample images

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Sony Alpha NEX-6 sample images

Click this link for the full resolution version

Sony Alpha NEX-6 sample images

Click this link for the full resolution version

Sony Alpha NEX-6 sample images

Click this link for the full resolution version

Details

Price ex VAT £683
Price inc VAT £820
Overall rating 5
Performance 5
Features & Design 6
Image quality 6
Value for Money 5

Basic specifications

Camera megapixel rating 16.0mp
Camera screen size 3.0in
Camera optical zoom range 3x
Camera maximum resolution 4912 x 3264
Camera optical image stabilisation in kit lens

Weight and dimensions

Weight 470g
Dimensions 120 x 43 x 67mm (WDH)

Battery

Battery type included Lithium-ion
Battery life (CIPA standard) 360 shots
Charger included? yes

Other specifications

Built-in flash? yes
Aperture range f3.5 - f5.6
Camera minimum focus distance 25.00m
Shortest focal length (35mm equivalent) 24
Longest focal length (35mm equivalent) 75
Minimum (fastest) shutter speed 1/4,000
Maximum (slowest) shutter speed 30s
Bulb exposure mode? no
RAW recording mode? yes
Exposure compensation range +/- 3EV
ISO range 100 - 25600
Selectable white balance settings? yes
Manual/user preset white balane? yes
Progam auto mode? yes
Shutter priority mode? yes
Aperture priority mode? yes
Fully auto mode? yes
Burst frame rate 10.0fps
Exposure bracketing? yes
White-balance bracketing? no
Memory-card type SDXC, Memory Stick Pro Duo
Viewfinder coverage 100%
LCD resolution 922k
Secondary LCD display? no
Video/TV output? no
Body construction Magnesium Alloy
Tripod mounting thread? yes
Data connector type Proprietary USB

Manual, software and accessories

Full printed manual? yes
Software supplied Image Data Converter 4.2, PlayMemories Home 1.3
Accessories supplied USB cable

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