10.06.2016

Sony slams out new products. Seemingly laughing in the face of an industry slowdown.


We all know that everything is changing quickly in the camera biz. But even knowing that the pace at which Sony is launching product is a bit breathtaking. It seems like the a6300 just came out in late Spring and here, just a few months later, is the launch of the new Sony a6500. Same basic body style, same sensor, same rear display, same EVF but with a brand new price. What does $500 more dollars really buy you?

There are two main features that will either drive you to embrace this updated model or leave you smugly satisfied with the a6300 you already have in your hands. The first one is legitimate, it's the five axis image stabilization that they coerced out of Olympus. The advertising propaganda states that it will give us up to five stops slower, handholdable shutter speeds. Okay, as a photographer who likes using lots of non-stabilized, non-Sony lenses on my a6300 I can see this as a big plus. The second headline feature is the inclusion of......a touch screen with which to move and adjust focusing points.

For me touch screens fall into the category of features that may be mandatory for other people but seem like some much fluff to me. Into that category falls GPS, Panoramic modes, wi-fi, and "sports mode!!!!"  Maybe wonderful stuff for fiddly amateurs but extra stuff to be mis-set or go wrong for fast working professionals. But maybe working stiffs are not the target market for this camera. Heck maybe we are no longer a big enough market for camera makers to give a rat's ass about anyway.

I guess I'm a Luddite about some of this stuff but I'm trying hard to evolve an embrace "progress."

I read an analysis of the camera industry this week and it showed an overall decline (rapid, huge) in sales of interchangeable lens cameras. A lot of the bleeding came from Nikon. Things were flat or down for other lines. Some don't sell enough cameras world wide to be anything more than a speed bump. But I think it points to massive changes in what people look for in a camera. Changes in what constitutes a good, standalone, image making machine. If you can look past the form factor of Sony's a6x000 series you'll find cameras that are head-to-head competitive with the APS-C cameras being offered by Nikon and Canon. In all cases the Sony's are better 4K video machines. In most cases the newer two Sony's are as fast to auto focus as their competitors and, at least in the case of the cameras from Nikon, the sensors are as close as identical. What this all boils down to is whether or not you want to transition from a "traditional" design implementation of "classic" DSLR to a much smaller sized body which also features an EVF.

As you can tell, I've made my choices and most of them were at least somewhat driven by the inclusion of EVFs in the feature set.

The a6500 was just announced today and the indicated price for the USA market is $1,400, with is actually only $200 more than the a6300 was at its launch. Given Sony's recent inventory practices it seems like the a6500 is not a replacement for the a6300 but a new product tier with added features. Just as the a6000 is still in the line up I think the a6300 will also be regarded as current product for quite some time. This is actually nice. A consumer can choose the level of features as well as the build quality that serves their needs and/or their points of pricing pain.

Bottom level (a6000) delivers good performance, a similar (but not identical) 24 megapixel sensor. Lower video specs, a mostly plastic body and a slower frame rate. It's still a very serviceable image maker.

The middle level (a6300) gives you 4K video, a 24 megapixel, BSI sensor with copper tech, a faster imaging processor, a mostly metal body, the addition of picture profiles and S-Log for video. It lacks a touch screen and Image Stabilization.

The top tier (a6500) gives you some new (slow motion) video features, shares the sensor tech, shares the fast phase detect AF with 400+ sensors, increases the buffer dramatically, adds in a touch screen and state of the art Image Stabilization in much the same body.

I was interested in the a6500 when I first read of the announcement. I thought the improved video specs and the improved (faster) image process would be great for video but then I did some more research on the Sony website. The one feature that would have driven me toward a serious consideration of the camera would have been a headphone jack. It's absent on the two lower models and, sadly, also missing from the newest camera.

Given that the imaging pipeline is nearly identical to the a6300 the only real feature the a6500 would buy me would be the image stabilization. Since the whole a6X000 is a secondary system for me I'm not in a hurry to toss down more cash to acquire one. In time I'll probably sell off the a6000 and, if I'm using the system often enough, I'll consider replacing it with the new camera.

If I were starting fresh I think I would definitely go with the newer camera. If all the basic functions operate the same way the a6300 does I think it would be worth the extra cash to have a faster buffer and the I.S.

It's interesting to watch. Bigger cameras were always equated with better image quality in the film days. It's a prejudice that's driven the digital camera market along for quite some time now. But between the amazing Olympus products in micro four thirds and the some product line we're seeing equivalent image quality in each sensor size category, when comparing output (and handling) with bigger, more traditional cameras.

It seems as though Sony and others are driving us to reconsider what a good camera looks and feels like going forward. There might always be an argument for a bigger camera when used with bigger and faster lenses but maybe we'll just change the ergonomics of how we handle the lenses and cameras as unified package. Certainly, smaller cameras with fewer moving parts will be more reliable and portable. Now, if the haptics are friendly enough we'll probably see a tidal shift in the design of the actual packages.

It's fun to watch Sony's evolution on this line of cameras from the Nex models (loved the Nex-7 body, hated the menu) to the a6000 all the way to the a6500. These cameras must be resonating with the marketplace as Sony earlier this year bragged that the a6000 was the best selling, interchangeable lens camera in mirrorless digital. The market speaks.

I'm including an Amazon link for the a6300. It's here now and is a great intro to the Sony ILC systems. It's how I got roped in in the first place...


14 comments:

Unknown said...

Not hard to imagine anyone who just purchased an A6300 isn't a happy camper right now.

Dave said...

$1,400 and no headphone jack? I'll stick with the RX10.2 for video at about half that price on the used market.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hmm. There is a price difference and the actual image quality if probable identical. As is focusing speed. All of us basically "just" purchased the a6300 as it's been out for less than half a year at this point. That's what happens with faster product cycles... I find myself unfazed.

Rollin Banderob said...

Believe the a6300 is not BSI. Only Sony a7R II & Samsung NX1 in cameras with sensor bigger than a 1". Would love BSI in my Sony's APC-C.

Hugh said...

Interesting problem...

One A6500 body, or three A6000 bodies for the same money.

Put 20mm, 32mm and 50mm primes on those three A6000 bodies and never take them off.
You've got something pretty close to an old style Leica M setup people like Jim Marshall used.

Michael Matthews said...

Do let us know when you've purchased the a6500, and have put a few miles on it, how the Sony version of 5-axis IBIS measures up to the Olympus. My newly acquired OMD EM5.2 is proving to make a world of difference in offsetting my own peculiar curse of camera shake. I know the 16 MP sensor is all I really need -- but it would be encouraging to see a path foward to a 24MP APS sensor in a couple of years when the price has eased. And, although video is not my main interest, having Sony's clear advantage in that department would be a bonus.

Michael Matthews said...

Do let us know when you've purchased the a6500, and have put a few miles on it, how the Sony version of 5-axis IBIS measures up to the Olympus. My newly acquired OMD EM5.2 is proving to make a world of difference in offsetting my own peculiar curse of camera shake. I know the 16 MP sensor is all I really need -- but it would be encouraging to see a path foward to a 24MP APS sensor in a couple of years when the price has eased. And, although video is not my main interest, having Sony's clear advantage in that department would be a bonus.

Wally said...

I have a Panny GX 7 for a carry around camera. On Panny the touchscreen is fast easy to customize and i use it to rapidly set focus point and change settings. Does Sony match or exceed Panny's??? if so it would be a good edition.

Gato said...

My guess is Sony is scrambling to build and lock in market share in the declining market -- working to grab the biggest share they can before Nikon and/or Canon move full on into the mirrorless market. Or the market collapses further.

Craig Yuill said...

The Sony mirrorless APS-C cameras suddenly look more interesting to me, thanks to the introduction of 5-axis IBIS. I won't be abandoning my Nikon 1 gear though. (I rather like this system, in spite of its quirks.) I purchased most of my gear on sale or second hand. For less than the price of a new a6500 body I was able to purchase 2 V1 camera bodies, 4 lenses, 1 F-mount adapter, and 1 flash unit. The a6500 is more likely to replace my Nikon D7000 DSLR, which I also rather like, but which sucks at video.

bpr said...

Sony has needed to iterate fast. They had a great deal to do with e-mount to answer the many issues with bad menus, poor handling, light leaks, short battery life and not including chargers...

I'm not anti-Sony by the way - I had a Nex-6 which I liked and am currently rolling with an A7r Mk 1. But compared to Canon or Nikon you do give up a degree of 'sortedness' with the UI of the A7 series. Which, hopefully the newer iterations solve.

Art in LA said...

In my "technology management" class in business school, we learned that companies that can iterate and launch products faster than others generally win. Maybe Sony learned a horrible lesson from their flatscreen TV business. Who even considers a Sony TV nowadays? They didn't transition from their tube TVs fast enough.

Yes, the A6x00 needs a 3.5mm headphone/microphone jack! Maybe Apple can give the ones not used on the iPhone 7 to Sony!

When my son had his TV production class in high school a couple of years ago, we ended up using my old Sony A55 SLT instead of my NEX-6 because we couldn't figure out how to hook up a lavalier mic.

I should get an A6300 or A6500 now though, faster AF for better sports shooting ... Xmas gift for myself? What slowdown?

amolitor said...

As a consumer electronics company, Sony has long been in the business of iterating products fast, and churning out incredible numbers of similar thingies.

I've written a lot about the costs of even a small and simple iteration of a thing. Many of these costs can be squashed downwards and generally contained if you make it your business to do so, as Sony has (at least in other product areas).

Andrew said...

I respectfully but firmly disagree that a touchscreen is a fluff feature like GPS, panorama mode, wi-fi or any of the other garbage menu-fillers that frequent modern cameras.

I put it in the crucial ergonomics side of the spectrum, right up there with dedicated command dials and well ahead of the multitude of customizable function buttons that people clamor over.

A touchscreen is simply the fastest, most efficient, and most intuitive way of selecting your focus point. When I don't have a touchscreen and I'm using an autofocus camera, it limits my vision. It slows me down to such an extent that I would rather centerpoint focus and recompose (with all the limitations of focal plane shifting and possible subject movement that entails) than fiddle slowly with 4-way buttons or even a joystick (which is basically the Blackberry to a touchscreen's iPhone).

For commercial photography where the subject is usually front and center, the use case for a touchscreen is much smaller. But for a walkaround camera where you're photographing what you see and trying to create interesting compositions of the world, I consider it essential. Not having direct control of my focus point is as obnoxious to me as not having control of my aperture...