Initial Thoughts on the Sony a6000

Last week I posted what led me, a die-hard DSLR user, to purchase the Sony a6000 mirrorless camera.  I ended the post by mentioning that the a6000 was “a game changer. I can’t remember enjoying a camera this much since falling in love with my Hasselblad years ago. “

After almost a month with the camera I still feel the same. There are some issues I have had with the a6000, but it’s easy to develop workarounds. I don't expcet a camera to be perfect. What I do expect and demand is high quality results and an accessible, user-friendly interface.

The results from the Sony a6000 are fantastic. When I look at the files in Lightroom they easily match my Nikon D700, even surpassing the Nikon in resolution. I see very little difference in the APS-C Sony and the full frame Nikon for most photographs and the colors of the a6000 are fantastic.

Sunset from Brooklyn Rooftop, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Sunset from Brooklyn Rooftop, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Chloe on the Stoop, Sony a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 Lens

Chloe on the Stoop, Sony a6000 and Sigma 30mm f2.8 Lens

Lower Manhattan from Hoboken, NY, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Lower Manhattan from Hoboken, NY, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

The Sony controls are highly customizable.  There are two custom buttons and you can assign and switch important functions to several other buttons. It took me a few days to set mine up, but after that initial period controls are where I need them to be and accessing them is quick and easy. There is very little, if any, diving into the menu system for most functions.

 THE GOOD:

From my time with the Sony a6000, I’ve discovered that it’s a camera you want to use often. If I’m going for a walk or meeting Kate in the city, the camera almost always comes with me – usually just tossed into one of those freebie canvas shoulder bags. I don’t need a camera bag for it. If I’m walking by myself, I just carry it in my hand. The handgrip feels comfortable and reassuring. Even with a lens attached, it feels like nothing in your hand.

The results are every bit as good as my full frame Nikon. In fact, for most shooting I would give an edge to the Sony as it features more dynamic range and color depth. Shadows are even more recoverable in RAW files than on the D700.

Downtown Brooklyn, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

Downtown Brooklyn, Sony a6000 and SEL 35mm f1.8 OSS Lens

I absolutely love the focus peaking and magnification features for manual lenses. I had barely heard of focus peaking before and honestly didn’t realize what people were talking about when they used the term. Now I know. It’s fantastic for manual lenses. I’ve settled on red and medium settings, which works very well, especially if you stop the aperture down just a bit.

 Magnification is another nice feature for manual focusing. I’ve set up the custom button C1 to handle magnification. Push it once to bring up the box and then push it a second time to magnify. You can select 2 sec. magnification, 5 sec. magnification, or unlimited. I chose the latter. With this set up, manual focus is quick and easy. It really takes no longer than using back button focusing (which is another nice option for this camera – assigned to AEL button).

Focus peaking and magnification brings me to my favorite thing about this camera – using manual lenses. I have a few old Olympus OM-1 lenses (28mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4, and a 80-200mm f4 zoom) and a Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 lens. I purchased two adapters, an Olympus and a Minolta (both under $20 on Amazon).  Each fits tightly on the lenses and the a6000 body. I can even use my Nikon AF-D lenses with a Nikon adapter. It opens up a new world of fantastic old lenses.

Sony a6000 with Small Selection of Non-Native Lenses

Sony a6000 with Small Selection of Non-Native Lenses

And what about the Sony native lenses? Are there not enough lenses? This is probably the number one complaint I see most often online. Fortunately there are enough lenses out there for me. I purchased the excellent and low-priced Sigma 30mm f2.8 with the camera. The lens was tiny and balanced well on the camera, but it was a little slow for me. I traded it for the Sony 35mm f1.8 with OSS. This lens is perfect. It gives me a 50mm view that I’m used to and the OSS helps when filming video. Autofocus is quick and silent and it looks natural on the camera. By my count there are 13 other E lenses available for APS-C E-mount. That’s more than I’ll ever need. And you can use Sony or Sony/Zeiss FE lenses if you prefer.  There are already five of those and likely five more being announced at Photokina in the fall.

Leaves Wide Open on The High Line, Sony a6000 and Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 Lens with Adapter

Leaves Wide Open on The High Line, Sony a6000 and Minolta Rokkor 58mm f1.4 Lens with Adapter

One last thing that I’ll mention is the Memory settings. Since the a6000 is so customizable, I’ve set mine up in a way that works for me. However, if I hand it to someone else they would probably have a hard time figuring out how to use it. To combat this, I’ve created a memory setting that makes it easy to hand the camera over to someone else to use.  The camera will function as they expect.

 THE NOT SO GOOD:

The combination of Auto ISO and Aperture Priority is only usable if you are shooting stationary subjects.  When shooting in auto ISO, the camera tends to favor 1/60th of a second as a shutter speed. This in itself is not a huge issue, as the a6000 does very well at slow shutter speeds handheld, but it does cause motion blur if you are not aware that the camera has selected 1/60.

An example – I was shooting a storefront in Harlem a couple of weeks ago and was testing auto ISO. The storefront itself was not a problem, but as I was framing the shot an interesting group of people came into my viewfinder. I decided to include them in the photo. The storefront in the photo is crisp and clear, but the three figures walking past have motion blur – as you would expect at 1/60 dialed in for your shutter speed.

What I’ve found is that the a6000 is a reassuring camera. It feels trustworthy and has nice automated controls and ability. I found myself letting it make more decisions than I normally would on my DSLR. In this case, the camera let me down by choosing a setting I would never choose in real life (except in very low light). I’ve started taking control back from the camera. Normally choosing manual or aperture priority and not using auto ISO. This is not really a big deal, as I’ve never used auto ISO before on other cameras

I’ve occasionally received error messages on start up (probably 3 messages in the last month). Usually these involve the card storage. The error message guides me to retry, and after a few seconds the problem resolves. This has not been a big issue so far, but I’ve never received any kind of error message on Nikon cameras in years of ownership.

There is a slight grain-like noise at most ISO settings when you pixel peep. At normal viewing this isn’t noticeable, but the files seem a bit noisier than my D700. This is expected when you compare a cropped APS-C sensor to a full frame sensor. Honestly though, the noise I’m referring to is almost film-like. It’s not that blotchy, colorful noise you normally get, it’s more like grain structure. Maybe that’s why the files look so nice to me.

Before I purchased the camera I knew it only had one command dial (the rear one) on the top of the camera. This was not a deal breaker for me in any way, however I do sometimes miss that front command dial.

The bottom line for me is that the Sony a6000 is a reasonably priced and shockingly small camera that feels natural in your hands. It gives you results that match the top APS-C DSLRs and I’ve found it can even match older generation FF cameras. Using the several custom buttons, the Sony is flexible and with lens adapters you can use virtually any classic 35mm manual focus lens.