Sony Alpha 6000 review: a do-it-all mirrorless camera that's worth every penny

By now, you've probably had a chance to shoot with a compact interchangeable-lens camera, or you've at least caught a whiff of that never-ending mirrorless cam hype. Sure, we've run into a few duds, but the last few years have brought a slew of models that exceeded our already lofty expectations, with Sony often leading the pack. Still, $800 (or £669 in the UK) is a lot to spend on any gadget, and while you'd probably be safe making a purchase based on Sony's reputation in this space, we don't blame you for wanting a review.

We invite you to stick around even if you're not thinking about buying a camera today -- we're going to have some fun with this one. Sony's Alpha 6000 met its match with monkeys in Bali, delicious Hong Kong dim sum and the brilliant skyline of Singapore. Strap in and join us on a wild Southeast Asian adventure, powerful ILC in tow.

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Sony Alpha 6000 review

92
Sony

Alpha 6000

Pros

  • Incredibly fast autofocus
  • Excellent image quality
  • Beginner-friendly interface
  • Integrated WiFi and EVF
  • Solid battery life

Cons

  • No microphone input jack
Summary

There are more powerful mirrorless cameras on the market, but if you're looking to spend less than $1,000 including a lens, Sony's Alpha 6000 is a solid pick.

Hardware and user interface

The A6000 is one of Sony's beefiest-looking mirrorless cameras yet. The body is still quite compact, but a high-quality metal build means it should survive minor bumps and tumbles without suffering any dents and scratches. This model replaces Sony's NEX-6, retaining the OLED electronic viewfinder, full-size hot shoe, dedicated mode dial and pop-up flash. There's a 3-inch, 921k-dot, tilting LCD, as well as a 24.7-megapixel CMOS sensor, WiFi, 1080/60p video and a top sensitivity of ISO 51,200. It's clearly not lacking in the spec department.

The A6000 is hardly the most intimidating mirrorless camera, but it does have its fair share of buttons and dials. You can select your shooting mode using a dedicated wheel mounted up top, then make tweaks to aperture and shutter speed with the secondary dial to its right. The bundled 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 power zoom lens has a toggle on the side for adjusting focal length, or you can zoom in and out by turning the front lens wheel. There are plenty of dedicated and customizable buttons on the back, ranging from exposure compensation to ISO, along with a video record button positioned beside the thumb rest.

The camera's software interface is identical to what you'll find with recent NEX and Alpha cameras. While there's no touchscreen, individual tabs make it easy to click through to the setting you need. You can also make tweaks on the fly using the quick-function menu, and you can fire pics and videos off to a smartphone or computer over WiFi by pressing the clearly marked transfer button.

Performance and battery life

Sony claims that the A6000 sports the "world's fastest autofocus." That's difficult to verify without testing several recent models side by side, but the Alpha is certainly speedy. There are 179 autofocus points, making it easy to get a sharp shot quickly even with complex scenes and the 11 frames-per-second consecutive-shooting mode should serve sports shooters just fine. The only process that remains a bit time-consuming is transferring shots to a connected smartphone. After you pair the two devices, you'll still need to wait for your phone to connect to the camera's WiFi network before you can start moving photos over, either one by one or several at a time.

As for battery life, Sony's managed to make improvements over the years without replacing the 1,080mAh cell. The A6000 comes bundled with Sony's NP-FW50 battery back, which has been shipping with the company's mirrorless cameras since the NEX-3, a model that first hit stores just about four years ago. Officially, you can expect to get 360 shots with a full charge, though we got through a full day of shooting, including more than 500 stills and three minutes of HD video, with a nearly 50 percent charge remaining.

Image quality

The A6000 offers fantastic image quality, on par with recent Sony NEX and Alpha cameras. You won't necessarily notice a tremendous difference if stepping up from the NEX-6 or comparable models, but if you're moving over to this ILC system, you should be quite pleased with the results. Click through the gallery below for some examples, then scroll down as we evaluate a selection of images.

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Sony Alpha 6000 sample shots

The A6000's automatic mode captured this Balinese rice terrace beautifully, with accurate exposure and colors. You can see the sharpness of details in the 100 percent insets above, shot at f/9 with a 1/100-second shutter speed and a sensitivity of ISO 100.

The camera's speedy focus made it possible to snap this shot on a whim. The Balinese countryside looks vibrant and properly exposed. With more time to prepare, I would have adjusted the aperture from f/11 in order to bump up the shutter speed from 1/125 of a second to something that would have counteracted the movement of our car. Regardless, with a sensitivity of ISO 100, there's no noise in sight.

A sensitivity of ISO 1250 allowed for a 1/160-second shutter speed with an aperture of f/4.5 in this shady shot, enabling the camera to capture sharp details at Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest.

This midday scene at Bali's Ulun Danu temple is slightly overexposed, though colors are accurate and details are sharp in this 1/125-second, f/10 exposure at ISO 100.

Set at Ubud's Royal Kirana Spa, this tranquil scene was captured at 1/160 of a second and f/4, with a sensitivity of ISO 200. Details are incredibly sharp, with accurate color and exposure.

Singapore's skyline shines brightly from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Details are sharp, with relatively low noise at ISO 3200, with an exposure of 1/15 of a second at f/3.5.

I bumped the ISO up to 6400 to snap this sharp shot at Singapore's Flight Experience. Details are crisp and clear in this Boeing 737 simulator, with an exposure of f/3.5 and a 1/40-second shutter speed.

Video quality was also excellent, as you can see in the sample reel above. The camera exposed properly and adjusted quickly, with speedy focus as well. Zoom is also improved over previous models, thanks to the motorized lens and integrated toggle.

The competition

Competition is stiff in the mirrorless camera market, but you can't do much better than the Alpha 6000 kit for 800 bucks. If you're willing to spend a bit more, Sony's A7 full-frame model is a phenomenal option, but that'll run you $1,700 without a lens. In the 6000's price range, Samsung's NX30 is a solid choice -- it's available for $940 with an 18-55mm lens. Photographers also seem to love Panasonic's GH3, which ships for $1,000 without a lens, and the Olympus E-M1, available for $1,300 body only.

Wrap-up

Sony is continuing its winning streak with the Alpha 6000. This well-rounded camera should last you for several years of top-notch shooting, and at $800 (or £669) with the 16-50mm power zoom lens, your wallet will be in good shape, too. Advanced shooters will find dedicated controls, speedy performance and excellent image quality, while ILC newbies will benefit from accurate full-auto options and a straightforward interface, also making it a solid fit for beginners with the cash to spare. In other words, while the macaques at Bali's Sacred Monkey Forest will steal any camera, if they're serious about their photography, they'll want to opt for Sony's Alpha 6000.

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Sony Alpha 6000 review: a do-it-all mirrorless camera that's worth every penny