Interchangeable lens Sony cameras have been off my radar for a while. But this week I bought a couple of Sony odds and ends.

We've lately been inundated by news and reviews about the new, Sony a6300 interchangeable lens, APS-C camera --- for a couple of weeks now. It ends up getting re-re-reviewed in some way or another on the front page of DP Review almost daily, and everybody who does a fun web tv show about photography got invited by Sony to Miami Beach for a big, showy launch of that camera. So you see the cigar roller shots and the cabana girl shots everywhere. But.... This is NOT a review of the a6300. This is not a review at all.

This is a blog post about curiosity more than anything else. In the ramp up to the launch of the a6300 Sony trotted out a sales story. According to them the a6000 was the best selling, interchangeable lens, APS-C camera ever minted. Blew the doors off everything else. Outrageous sales! (Which makes one wonder why they didn't take advantage of that leverage to make a bunch of killer APS-C E lenses to go along with the momentum). After I read that, with the sense that I'd blinked and missed some important milestones in the camera industry, I went back and started reading old reviews and assessments and tried tracking down photographers of note who use/used the a6000. What I found is that a lot of people loved the camera ---- inspire of its faults.

Nearly every breathless review of the newer model, the a6300, starts out by comparing it to the a6000 and, if you read between the lines, the cameras have largely the same image quality (the new camera uses the copper wire sensor tech which makes overall processing faster, which leads to a bit more nuanced noise management in shadow areas --- anecdotal, not my first hand experience).  The reviews also mention

that the new camera focuses faster; but that's what manufacturers always trot out with every new model. Frankly, I've had very few focusing problems with any camera dating back to 2010 with the Olympus EP-2. In fact, the only issues I ever seem to have are with front or back focusing in connection with modern, traditional DSLR cameras....

The camera comparisons also note that the EVF on the new model is much improved. Faster refresh and higher resolution than the older model. Finally, the new camera got the XAVCs codec (replacing the reviled ACVHD codec of the a6000) along with UHD 4K. 

This is where it got interesting to me. The new camera didn't seem to have much to recommend it over the old one for good, old fashion, still images. But the newer video capabilities (and the addition of a microphone port) got me interested because I have had good success with the RX10 and RX10ii cameras as camcorders. The RX10 (classic) got upgraded firmware a while back that added the XAVCs codec so that now, both of the RX10s share a common 1080p look and feel. And I know from hands on experience that the new codec makes a visual difference in the video files. The new camera might have been of interest for that alone. The other lure of the a6300 was the inclusion of 4K (albeit UHD) video.

The 4K on that camera is starting to look like a marketing misstep rather than a feature though. On the RX10ii there is no issue with overheating with 4K but there is on the a6300. Reports are circulating indicating that, depending on the ambient temperatures, the 4K is good for anywhere from a few minutes to five or ten minutes, tops. It becomes a great argument for using the RX10ii into the future for video work.

Then, three days ago, the craziest thing happened. Those nutty people at Sony basically made a brand new camera out of the aging a6000 with the gift of a firmware upgrade that adds the 50mb/s, XAVCs codec to the camera. How fun! XAVCs across my Sony collection of cameras!

Having read all this I became quite interested in the older camera and the system in general. (disclaimer to the hordes from DPReview Sony forums: I am not a "late arrival" to the Sony system having owned both APS-C and full frame Alpha cameras, including the a900, a850, a99, a77, a58; and Nex cameras including: the Nex 6 and Nex 7, along with many of the lenses). 

The a6000 is now available at a price point that is roughly half that of the new camera. I bought one of the those for the times when I may want to shoot some b-roll video using a long, fast (older manual focusing Nikon) lens; in conjunction with the RX10 cameras. They all use the same batteries and, in 1080p, the same codecs, which should simplify a multi-camera editing process. The Achille's heel to the a6000 camera is the lack of a microphone jack but I may remedy that, across the line, by getting the Sony XLR attachment gadget that plugs into the multi-interface hot shoe.

In addition to the camera body, which I initialed tested with some of the Olympus Pen-F lenses, ala adapters, I also bought a Sony zoom lens. It's the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens with a servo power zoom. I told myself that I'd just be using the camera for video project but, because I can be capricious and curious, I used the combination to photograph a portrait, on location, on Wednesday morning. I lit the portrait with LED lights and large diffusers (a lighting creature of habit) and shot mostly at ISO 640, and wide open on the lens. The image from the 24 megapixel sensor looked good and the camera is promising, if a bit toy-like.

A deciding factor in my purchase was the desire to see just how good those ancient Pen F lenses could be with a more or less state-of-the-art sensor.  The answer? Damn good.

For most of you this will be old news. I see this as a "gateway" camera that may lead me down another expensive pathway. But that's old news too....

What do I like so far? The camera has a great APS-C sensor and the casual photographs I've taken with it are quite good. The face detection AF works well in video in conjunction with the C-AF. The focus peaking works well too.  But mostly the a6000 is no better or worse than any of the other cameras we routinely use. Just nice to have something new to play with.

On another note, I spent some time with the Fuji X-Pro2 again. I understand that Andrew Reid at EOSHD.com is a fan of that camera's file output. I'm sure it's quite good at generating wonderful images and much, much better video than previous generations of Fuji cameras ---and I hear the lenses are absolutely great --- but I didn't like the feel or handling of the body and I found the finder to be a weird engineering collage of unwieldy compromises. While I like the basic idea of the rangefinder-esque body I think they could have made the camera much better and less complicated if they had just sunk all of the finder associated development costs and manufacturing costs into a stunning EVF and foregone the optical view all together. It's really only usable up to about 50mm. Lenses longer than that will yield optical finder images that are too small to be useful while extreme wide angles will require additional optical finders. A great EVF in a minimalist configuration would have been just perfect. 

I may still be interested in the Fuji line but I'll wait a few months for a rumored Fuji "super camera" that's coming down the pike. I have a sneaking suspicion that the company has found religion where video is concerned and are currently putting the final touches on a real hybrid contender. Staying tuned.

Back to the a6000. Do any of the VSL readers shoot with one? What do you think of it? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Will you upgrade to the a6300? Why?


Michael Matthews said...

When you use a lens designed for a half-frame camera on a 24mp APS sensor in this situation, what does the sensor actually see? Is only a portion of the sensor covered by the image delivered by the lens? Same goes for M4/3 lenses adapted to this use. Is there a change upward in pixel count compared to putting the same lens on an M4/3 camera? If so, is it significant?

Carlo Santin said...

Lenses, lenses, lenses. That's been my only issue with Sony's Nex line. There is a nice selection of super expensive Zeiss glass-here in Canada all are well north of 1k each-and not much else. Sigma offers the excellent 19mm, 30mm and 60mm art series for Nex and they are terrific. But Sony seems to have put all its efforts into FF mirrorless, especially with lens development. Those e mount FF lenses will also work with Nex, but Sony really seems to treat the Nex line like the red-headed step-child in the family. Before the A6300 I really thought they were going to let Nex die a slow and quiet death, much the way Nikon will probably do with their 1 line. That 60mm Sigma art lens for Nex is a wonderful portrait lens though, truly a wonder, and extremely affordable. It gave me some stunning shots on my Nex 6.

Double-Naught Spy said...

Hi, Kirk.

I've been using the Micro Four-Third system since 2012, but I bought an a6000 and a few lenses (kit zoom, 50mm f/1.8 and 55-210 zoom) last year, mainly because of the rave reviews of the CAF system.

I loved the size and the sensor, but the EVF and LCD were not in the same league as my Olympus E-M5. I used the a6K quite a bit and did a lot of comparisons between the Sony and my Oly/Panny system. Ultimately, I determined that my M4/3 camera and lenses just made better pictures. Simple as that.

If Sony or a third party made APS-C lenses comparable to what Oly and Panny offer, they'd really have something. But, unfortunately, they don't. So I recently sold all my Sony gear and bought a new GX8 and 35-100mm f/2.8. And I couldn't be happier.

The GX8's focus tracking is much better than that of the E-M5 (but probably not as good as the a6K's), and the 35-100 is fantastic.

My message for Sony would be: It's the lenses, stupid. :)

Double-Naught Spy said...

Hi, Kirk.

I've been using the Micro Four-Third system since 2012, but I bought an a6000 and a few lenses (kit zoom, 50mm f/1.8 and 55-210 zoom) last year, mainly because of the rave reviews of the CAF system.

I loved the size and the sensor, but the EVF and LCD were not in the same league as my Olympus E-M5. I used the a6K quite a bit and did a lot of comparisons between the Sony and my Oly/Panny system. Ultimately, I determined that my M4/3 camera and lenses just made better pictures. Simple as that.

If Sony or a third party made APS-C lenses comparable to what Oly and Panny offer, they'd really have something. But, unfortunately, they don't. So I recently sold all my Sony gear and bought a new GX8 and 35-100mm f/2.8. And I couldn't be happier.

The GX8's focus tracking is much better than that of the E-M5 (but probably not as good as the a6K's), and the 35-100 is fantastic.

My message for Sony would be: It's the lenses, stupid. :)

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Michael, The lenses for the older Pen-F cover the APS-C sensor, most without any vignetting at all. So the camera sees the true focal length of the lens mounted on it. Since it's covering the full sensor and the sensor is bigger the angle of view is different than it would be on an m4:3 camera with the same lens. The crop factor is 2X on the m4:3 so, for example a 60mm lens on that cameras show an angle of view that roughly equals a 120mm on full frame while on the APS-C camera that 60mm gives angle of view that roughly equals a 90mm on a full frame camera.

David Maxwell said...

I have shot Canon Rebels since I used a Rebel 2000 in high school. I have had a Rebel XS, SL1, and now T5i. People look down on the Rebels, but for me, along with the cheap kit lenses, they get the job done for landscape photography. I appreciate the fact that the are light and small as well. The Rebels have never given me a reason to complain, but for some reason a few months ago I bought a used a6000, along with a 12mm 2.0 Rokinon lens. I have since purchased a number of cheaper, older Minolta MD and Canon FD lenses. I wanted to do more night landscape photography, and the Sony/Rokinon combo seemed fun for that. I also liked the idea of "legacy glass". Well, the bottom line is that I don't like the camera. The menus drive me nuts, and the RAW files look very strange to me. Should I spend more time getting to know it, probably, but I just don't feel the connection to it like I do my Rebels. I am thinking to sell it and take a trip with the T5i to let her know she is still my main love.

Dave said...

I recently purchased an A6000, because all of FE lens that I have for my Alpha A7 FF body fit the A6000 body.

The A6000 is small but delivers excellent images especially with the 70-200mm f4 lens. The fast AF and 11 fps has allowed me to take good photos of moving objects: birds; people; cars; etc. that the FF body just could not do.

The only APS-C E mount lens that I have is the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6, because I needed a wide angle focal length. I have been pleasantly surprised at how capable this cheap kit lens (cost less that $125) is as a walk around street photography lens.
The A6000 is a FUN camera, and at the current prices below $500 a bargain IMHO

Gordon Cahill said...

I have that exact combination (a6000 and 18-105). It's my walkaround with the kids camera and I think the range is great for the size. And the AF is fab.

I have to disagree about the XPro2 though. The OVF has a magnifier so with longer lenses you get a magnified view. It's fully automatic with a manual over ride. The camera you want is coming. The one with the big EVF only. That'll be the XT2 in Julyish.

I wrote my impressions on the XPro2 at the wedding forum at fredmiranda.com. It isn't perfect. But it is pretty good.


Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks Gordon, much appreciated! I look forward to auditioning the XT-2. Should be great.

Robert Hudyma said...

Any of the NEX cameras are excellent image makers: NEX-3, NEX-5 and NEX-7. There are lots of them in the used market: earlier this week I saw an NEX-5 with 18-55mm lens at the Pawnbrokers for US$110. Add the Sigma 19mm, 30mm and 60mm lenses and you are all set to make wonderful images and still have money your savings account.

texascbx said...

I had one and never got over the lack of lenses for it other than the overpriced 16-70 f/4 Zeiss. Sold it and got the A7RII and then went on a lens buying spree.

I may get a used body though now that I have the stabilized 16-35 f/4 and a couple of primes along with the 70-200 f/4.

Alan Fairley said...

Actually, Gordon, the Fuji Kirk is waiting for is the X-E3, which should be all the goodness of the XT-2 without the "pentaprism" hump. We fans of the X-2 are desperately hoping Fuji does not drop the X-Ex and actually makes a 3.

typingtalker said...

I started with an NEX-5. Traded up to an NEX-7 (can't remember why but was happy at the time). Both were used as keep-in-the-car and carry-around-when-trying-to-be-not-too-obvious cameras that made nice pictures but didn't focus as well as my DSLR. I used mostly the Sony/Zeiss 16-70 f/4.0 which is a very nice and versatile lens.

When the A6000 came out a Sony rep at a local "show" told me that the main difference between it and the NEX-7 was that it focused better. Much better. I bought one and it does. And it doesn't need quite as much light.

When the A6300 returns to stock (dealers all seem to be sold out) I'll buy one for its still better focusing and 4k video.

For serious work I'll still use a the DSLR. Probably.

Jeff Greer said...

From what I can tell trawling the web, the Sony XLR kits will not work with an a6000. They will, however, work with an a6300.

I have an a6000 and have been on the fence about how useful it will be. The lack of good native lenses is a problem. I also have a Fuji X camera and am annoyed at the limited choices for E-mount and the value of them relative to price (the Sony 24mm 1.8 is more expensive than the Fuji 23mm 1.4 but I would take the Fuji any day). Yes, there is a growing FE mount selection but those lenses are larger and negate the advantage of the a6000 body size.

Kirk Tuck said...

Just a note about upgrading firmware in the camera. I downloaded the Apple version of the firmware and followed the instructions to the letter. The program was not able to find the camera at first so I googled Sony firmware upgrades and, yes, they are serious when they say you have to use the USB to micro USB cable that comes with the camera. The first cable I tried was a generic. The cable that comes with the camera has the letter "B" on it. Apparently is has one additional pin that other cables don't. Once I switched cables the process went smoothly. The upgrade takes about 10-12 minutes and there isn't much happening. That's a good time to go in for a cup of coffee instead of getting antsy. Once I restarted the camera the new video codec was right there in the menu. No additional trauma or drama ensued.

Just thought you'd like to know.

Dan Montgomery said...


A like my a6000 a lot. I had a terrible time choosing among Sony, Olympus and Panasonic at the time, but I think I made the right call for my budget and needs. When I'm disappointed, it's almost always because of something I did wrong or forgot (Which I'm prone to do. You are much more practiced and methodical than I am.).

Perhaps a better-designed, more-intuitive camera wouldn't have so many possible ways for me to make a mistake, but part of it is just my job. I'm a staff writer/photographer/videographer/designer/whatever guy for a small social services agency. A typical job with the camera has me shooting interviewing and staking notes, shooting stills, both posed and candids, and video, both interviews and run-and-gun action, in a big hurry, while trying to stay out of everyone else's way -- with just the one camera body. So I sometimes catch myself shooting video with the 20mm f/2.8, for example, when I should be using the stabilized kit lens. Or I forget to redo the white balance when the scene changes. That sort of thing.

The lack of headphone and microphone jacks is a drag, indeed. I use the ECM-W1M wireless mic. That seemed like a big, unnecessary (as in, unfair) expense, but I do like the results.

This is my personal camera, and I love it for backpacking, travel, family, pets and just walking around. I have fun using old lenses with cheap adapters. My Nikon Series E 50mm is surprisingly sharp and pleasing on the a6000, by the way. I also have a not-so-cheap ($150), Lens Turbo II FD-NEX adapter, and I use a Vivitar Series 1 100-500 (I'm a bottom-feeder!) to shoot osprey and herons. Getting focus on the eye of even a slow-moving bird is tough. I can imagine what the hardcore guys with the full-frame cameras, giant AF lenses and gimbal-head tripods think of me, but I have some modest successes.

Everything everyone says about the Sigma 60mm on the a6000 is true, by the way.

I'm trying to decide how to get the most bang for the buck for my next purchase, but I could go in a few different directions: Better all-round lens? (I'm curious to read about your experience with the 18-105mm); a second a6000 so I can set up one for video and one for stills (and just in case of an emergency!); or an RX10 for video. I lust for an a6300, but we'll see what they cost used in a few years.

Sorry about the rambling answer to your question. Short version: I'm happy, but I don't have the esoteric needs so many people seem to have. I expect to stay in the Sony mirrorless APS-C universe for a long time.

Dan Montgomery said...

Oh, and a minor FYI:
Sony added XAVC-S in firmware version 2.0. The latest version is mostly about compatibility with new lenses, though it, of includes all the earlier upgrades.

Anonymous said...

You like electronic finders, I can't stand them. Won't buy a camera if that is the viewfinder.

Kirk Tuck said...

Thank God you are not choosing cameras for me. I'd probably do a bad job choosing one for you, too. Have you actually tried an EVF for more than a few minutes at a dim, noisy, chaotic camera store? Actual use might change your mind. If not, you still have a lot of traditional cameras to choose from.........for now.

Edward Richards said...

The a6000 with compact 16-50 has been my carry around camera for a couple of years. (I normally shoot with a D610 or 4x5 for serious work.) The 16-50 is good enough, and I want the wide more than the long. (I like to shoot architecture.) With the face recognition on it is great for family and kid pics. The 16-50 compact really fits the size of the camera. I also have the Sony 35 1.8, another nice compact lens. The 16-70 is tempting, but as you point out, costly. It would also transform the camera from a pocketable/small belt case to an unpocketable size.

Jeff Kott said...

My A6000 is great. I don't feel much of a need to upgrade to the 6300. As far as I can tell, the main improvement of the 6300 over the A6000 for me would be the ability to use Eye Detect AF in AF-C mode.

RayC said...

It is a few days late I know but... I started my Sony adventure with a NEX 6 - the right size camera that I could never get to do exactly what I wanted. I hesitantly made the jump to the 6000 when I found an real deal on a refurbished model. While superficially very similar to the NEX 6, it has answered most of my complaints and I'm pretty comfortable with it - though I wish there were a manual toggle for viewfinder vs camera back. While I could wish for more native lenses, in reality given that I know longer shoot professionally I'm not going to buy a complete set of primes. I have the two of the kit lenses, one of which is significantly better than the other and a sony 55-210 and tamron 18-200 zoom - the latter being better, but heavier. I've been contemplating buying the Sony 18-105 lens as my all round travel lens but...I really do love the 6000 with it's tiny kit lens for my always there travel option.

I looked at the 6300 and the only real thing that impressed me was the fact that they finally are talking about mild weather proofing. The other specs really weren't enough to make me jump.

Kirk Tuck said...

RayC, I think I would like the newer EVF. Nikon people can just ignore that I wrote that....