FIRST LOOK: Sony NEX-6

    The NEX-6, which is announced today, is the first of Sony’s new 6 Series E-mount cameras designed for photo enthusiasts. A step up from the NEX-5R, which was unveiled last month, it features the same 16MP sensor and  Wi-Fi connectivity  but includes a conventional mode dial and XGA-OLED Tru-Finder electronic viewfinder as well as a built-in flash.
     

    Angled front and rear views of the NEX-6 fitted with the new 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens. (Source: Sony.)

    The NEX-6 is due to go on sale from 6 November and will be offered as body-only or in a single-lens kit. The new 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens will be available around the same time.

    Build and Ergonomics
    While retaining similar styling to other NEXies, the general design of the NEX-6 is much better attuned to the needs of a serious photographer. The front panel is comparatively Spartan but the grip is generous and has a non-slip cladding.

    Top view of the NEX-6 with the SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens.

    The shutter button and much smaller Function (Fn) button are positioned on the grip, where they are easily reached with the right index finger. As on the NEX-5R, the on/off power switch is a lever surrounding the shutter button.

    The mode dial carries settings for  Superior Auto and Intelligent Auto modes (JPEGs only) as well as the desirable P, A, S and M settings plus Sweep Panorama and Scene Selection. The Superior Auto mode includes Scene Recognition and applies multi-frame capture (overlay shooting) to compensate for backlighting and reduce noise in shots taken under dim lighting. (Most, if not all of the pre-sets in the Scene Selection mode are automatically identified in the Superior Auto mode and shooting parameters are adjusted accordingly.)

    Underneath the mode dial is a secondary dial, which is made from metal and semi-recessed into the top panel. It's easily identified by touch. This dial can be used to adjust aperture and shutter speed settings, depending on the selected shooting mode. In the M mode, it sets the lens aperture, while the dial surrounding the arrow pad adjusts shutter speeds.

    Inset into the top panel is a retractable pop-up flash (GN 6 m/ISO 100), which is raised by pressing a button just below it on the rear panel. Between the flash and the built-in EVF is a hot-shoe with accessory pins for Sony's HVLF20S flashgun and ECMSST1 stereo microphone.  It also accepts flashguns from other manufacturers. A slide-out cover is provided to protect the electronic contacts.

    The electronic viewfinder is the same XGA OLED Tru-Finder as in the NEX-7. It has a resolution of  2,359,296 dots and provides 100% frame coverage.  Dioptre adjustment is provided via a roller on its right hand side.
     

    Back view of the NEX-6 showing the menu screen.

    The monitor, which is also the same as the NEX-7's, covers most of the rear panel. It's a 3-inch TFT Xtra-Fine LCD with TruBlack technology and a resolution of 921,600 dots.  It pulls out and tilts up through approximately 80 degrees and down through about 45 degrees, but can't be reversed onto the camera body. The screen comes with automatic brightness control plus five-step manual override and a Sunny Weather mode for bright outdoor lighting.

    Above the monitor are the flash and playback buttons, while to its right is an arrow pad with directional buttons that access (clockwise from top) the Display, ISO,  metering and exposure compensation and drive settings. An AEL button sits above it to the right of the playback button. Below it is the Menu button, which lies flush with the camera body.

    A similar button for accessing the camera's WiFi functions is located below it, near the lower edge of the rear panel. As in the NEX-5R, Wi-Fi support allows images and movie clips from the camera to be transferred to smart phones for easy sharing. The NEX-6 is also compatible with new PlayMemories Camera Apps.
     

    The Applications sub-menu in the NEX-6.

    The rechargeable battery and memory card slot (SD/MS Pro Duo compatible) are located in the base of the camera, within the grip. The battery is charged in the camera either via the supplied AC adaptor and or directly from a computer via the USB cable using the same system as the NEX-F3. A tiny LED inset into the camera body above the terminals compartment shines while charging is taking place.

    The memory card slot is located very close to the hinge that holds the cover to this compartment. It's a tight fit that can make the card difficult to remove, particularly when you're in a hurry.

    The metal-lined tripod socket is located on the base plate in line with the optical axis of the lens. Three tiny speaker holes lie between it and the battery/card compartment.

    AF System
    The NEX-6 uses a hybrid AF system that includes 99 phase-detection AF points in the centre of the frame to achieve approximate sharpness, moving focus in relatively large jumps. It then fine-tunes focus in small increments using contrast-based autofocusing. Currently, only four E-mount lenses come with the firmware to utilise the new system: the 18-55mm and 55-200mm kit zooms, the new 18-200mm extended-range zoom and the 24mm f/1.8  Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* lens.

    The hybrid system defaults to phase detection when the AF-C (Continuous AF) mode is selected for continuous recording to deliver highly responsive, DSLR-like AF tracking for shooting at up to 10 fps.  For other situations, contrast-based autofocusing take priority.

    Wi-Fi
    Going on our experiences with the Wi-Fi system, it takes a while to get the camera configured to work with a particular hot-spot and/or receiving device or storage service and you may need to open an unsecure (Public) network. But once everything is configured the camera can send your images wirelessly to your computer, post them on the selected sharing site or upload them to cloud storage with only a button press. 

    Setting up an access point for wireless transmission.

     If the camera can't pick up an access point, the screen above will be displayed.
     
     

    The camera's GUI  includes a QWERTY keyboard for inputting user names and passwords to improve security.
     
     

    Selecting the PlayMemories Camera Apps button takes you to a dedicated website where new apps can be accessed.

    The camera ships with an app that communicates with a Sony-supplied Android or iOS app on a smart-phone or tablet. We only saw a demonstration of uploading images to a camera-phone. But the process was smooth and fast enough to satisfy potential users.

    Sony has other apps in the pipeline, including additional picture effects, a 'smart' remote control that enables users to control the camera  from a smart-phone, some photo retouching tools, a time-lapse controller, an HDR app, a multi-shot noise reduction function, a bracketing app that extends the camera's capabilities and a photo movies creation app for producing slideshows that display as movies. According to a Sony representative, most apps will cost less than $5. Up to 100 apps can be loaded in the camera and this will provide a pathway for Sony to supply firmware updates that can be installed easily.

    The time taken to transfer files to a laptop computer depended on the size of the files themselves and was strongly influenced by network traffic.  We found it to be faster with small amounts of image data and very slow once large files were involved.

    For example, it took almost two minutes to transfer 10 large/fine JPEGs from the camera to a computer on a home network. In comparison, the same files could be moved into the computer in less than 30 seconds using a memory card reader.

    Sensor and Image Processing
     The 23.5 x 15.6 mm EXMOR CMOS sensor is the same as in the NEX-5R, as is the BIONZ image processor. Like the NEX-5R, the new camera supports a wide sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 25600 and can record images as JPEG or ARW.RAW files, the latter being compressed losslessly and now providing 14-bit depth. Two compression levels are provided for JPEGs, while raw files can be captured with or without a large JPEG file.

    Two aspect ratios are selectable via the menu system: the normal 3:2 or widescreen 16:9. Typical image sizes for the still capture modes are shown in the table below.

    Image size

    Pixels

    Aspect ratio

    Approx. File size

    Fine

    Standard

    Raw

    4912 x 3264

    3:2

    18.96MB

    n.a.

    RAW+JPEG

    4912 x 3264

    25.6MB

    n.a.

    L: 16M

    4912 x 3264

    6.92MB

    4.97MB

    M: 8.4M

    3568 x 2368

    4.70MB

    3.53MB

    S: 4M

    2448 x 1624

    2.06MB

    1.54MB

    L: 14M

    4912 x 2760

    16:9

    6.17MB

    4.49MB

    M: 7.1M

    3568 x 2000

    4.23MB

    3.26MB

    S: 3.4M

    2448 x 1376

    1.76MB

    1.31MB

    Panorama (Standard mode, Horizontal)

    8192 x 1856

    4.4:1 (approx.)

    6.24MB

    Panorama (Standard mode, Vertical)

    3872 x 2160

    1.8:1 (approx.)

    4.34MB

    Panorama (Wide mode, Horizontal)

    12,416 x 1856

     6.7:1 (approx.)

    8.98MB

    Panorama (Wide mode, Vertical)

    5536 x 2160

    2.56:1 (approx.)

    5.33MB

    Video capabilities are similar to the NEX-7, with Full HD (1920 x 1080-pixel) recording and the ability to capture 50 interlaced frames off the sensor for PAL system TV viewing (60 frames for NTSC). Full HD recordings are made using AVCHD Version 2.0 compression, with Dolby Digital (AC-3) audio recording.

    The new camera adds an HD (1280 x 720 pixels) resolution to the options provided for shooting movies in MP4 format (with H.264 compression). But the frame rate is 30 fps, which means slow-motion movies can't be recorded. Movie settings are outlined in the table below.   

    Video format

    Movie
     Quality

    Resolution

    Bit rate

    Recording capacity 8GB card

    AVCHD

    50i

    24M (FX)

    1920 x 1080

    24 Mbps.

     40 minutes

    17M (FH)

    17 Mbps.

     one hour

    50p

    28M (PS)

    28 Mbps

    30 minutes

    25p

    24M (FX)

    24 Mbps.

     40 minutes

    17M (FH)

    17 Mbps

     one hour

    MP4 at 30 fps

    720

    1280 x 720

    not specified

    12M

    1440 x 1080

    12 Mbps.

    one hour 20 minutes

    3M

    640 x 480

    3 Mbps.

    4 hours 55 minutes

    Variable Bit Rate (VBR) recording technology automatically adjusts image quality depending on the scene. Recording times are reduced for fast-moving subjects because more memory is required to maintain image sharpness. (The above recording times represent rough averages.)

    Movie clips are restricted to approximately 29 minutes in both recording formats, with the maximum size for an MP4 movie limited to roughly 2GB. As with the NEX-5N, movies can be recorded in the P, A, S or M shooting modes. Tracking AF is available for keeping focus on moving subjects and you can use the touch screen to zoom slowly in and out while recording.

    All the Creative Style settings can be applied to movie clips and some Picture Effect modes are available. Manual focusing is also possible but focus-assist magnification isn’t available. No stereo microphone jack is provided and there are no audio level displays for monitoring audio recordings.

    Playback and Software
    Aside from the Wi-Fi display facilities (view on smart-phone, send to computer, view on TV and PlayMemories Camera Apps), nothing has changed since the NEX-F3. No details were available on the contents of the software CD-ROM but we suspect it will contain Sony's Image Data Converter and PlayMemories Home applications as well as copies of the Wi-Fi programs and a  user manual in PDF format.

    In Summary
    Although we've had a camera to experiment with for approximately two weeks, it is a pre-production unit and can't be used for our technical tests. We will update this review with full tests when a production unit is available.

    On the basis of initial usage, it seems the NEX-6 will perform as well as other NEXies we've tested. The colour  reproduction in JPEGs from the camera appeared to be similar to the NEX-7 and we observed some improvements in auto white balance performance, where the camera was better able to eliminate the orange cast of incandescent lighting and produced very close to neutral colours under fluorescent lights.

    We carried out some timing tests with a 16GB Panasonic SDHC U1 card, which was formatted in the camera and is the fastest we own. Response times appeared to be very similar to those we estimated for the NEX-5N, although continuous shooting in the NEX-6 was marginally faster and the buffer memory slightly more capacious.

    The camera took roughly a second to power-up ready for shooting. Shot-to-shot times averaged one second, while capture lag was constant at 0.2 seconds but eliminated by pre-focusing.

    Because no indicator light is provided, we were unable to measure image processing times accurately.  However, we estimate it took roughly 2.3 seconds to process each JPEG file, 2.6 seconds for each ARW.RAW file and 2.9 seconds for a RAW+JPEG pair.

    With the normal continuous shooting mode, the review camera captured 10 Fine JPEGs in 2.7 seconds. The buffer memory was able to accommodate eight raw files but only six RAW+JPEG pairs. In both cases, the frame rate was approximately three frames/second. It took five seconds to process the burst of raw files and 5.3 seconds for the RAW+JPEG pairs.

    When we switched to the Speed Priority Continuous mode, 12 JPEGs were captured in 1.1 seconds, while bursts of 10 raw files were recorded in just under 1.0 seconds and took 6.3 seconds to process. Only eight RAW+JPEG pairs could be recorded before capture paused after 0.8 seconds. It took seven seconds to process this burst.

    SPECS
    Image sensor: 23.5 x 15.6 mm 'Exmor' APS HD CMOS sensor with 16.7 million photosites (16.1 megapixels effective)
    Image processor: BIONZ
    A/D processing: 12-bit
    Lens mount: Sony E-mount
    Focal length crop factor: 1.5x
    Image formats: Stills – ARW.RAW (v.2.2), JPEG (Exif 2.3), RAW+JPEG; Movies – AVCHD, MP4
    Image Sizes: Stills – 3:2 aspect ratio: 4912 x 3264, 3568 x 2368, 2448 x 1624; 16:9 aspect ratio: 4912 x 2760,  3568 x 2000, 2448 x 1376; Movies: 1920 x 1080 (50p/28Mbps/PS, 50i/24Mbps/FX, 50i/17Mbps/FH, 25p/24Mbps/FX, 25p/17Mbps/FH); 1440 x 1080 (25fps/12Mbps), 640 x 480 (25fps/3Mbps)
    Image Stabilisation: Lens based
    Dust removal: Charge protection coating on optical filter plus ultrasonic vibration mechanism
    Shutter speed range: 1/4000 to 30 seconds plus Bulb
    Exposure Compensation: +/- 3EV in 1/3EV steps
    Exposure bracketing: 3 continuous exposures, in 0.3 or 0.7EV steps
    Self-timer: 10 seconds delay plus Continuous with 10 sec delay, 3/5 exposures selectable
    Focus system: Hybrid AF (Contrast-detection  plus phase-detection) with 25-point Multi, Centre and Flexible spot selectable
    Focusmodes: AF-S (Single-shot AF), AF-C (Continuous AF), Manual Focus selectable; Tracking Focus, Predictive control, Face Detection (up to 8 faces)
    Exposure metering: 1200-zone evaluative metering with Multi, Centre and Spot modes
    Shooting modes: Superior Auto, Intelligent Auto, Programmed AE, Aperture priority (A), Shutter-speed priority (S), Manual (M), Sweep Panorama, Scene Selection (Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Sports Action, Sunset, Night Portrait, Night Scene, Hand-held Twilight, Anti Motion Blur)
    Picture Style/Control settings: Standard, Vivid, Portrait, Landscape, Sunset, B/W (Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness adjustable in +/-3 steps)
    Special effects: Posterisation (Colour, B/W), Pop Colour, Retro Photo, Partial Colour (Red, Yellow, Blue, Green), High Contrast Monochrome, Toy Camera, Soft High-key, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-tone Mono, Miniature
    Colour space options: sRGB, Adobe RGB
    ISO range: Auto (ISO100-6400), ISO 100 to 25600 selectable in 1EV steps with extension to ISO 50  and ISO 102400
    White balance: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Incandescent, Fluorescent, Flash, C. Temp 2500 to 9900k, C. Filter (G7 to M7 15-step, A7 to B7 15-step), Custom, WB fine adjustment
    Flash: Built-in flash (GN 6 metres/ISO100); coverage to 18mm; Pre-flash TTL control;  Flash off, Autoflash, Fill-flash, Slow Sync., Rear Sync., Wireless, Flash-off modes; Red-eye Reduction available
    Flash exposure adjustment: +/- 3EV in 1/3 EV steps 
    Sequence shooting: Max. 3 frames/second in Continuous mode or 10 fps in Speed-priority mode for up to 10 Large/Fine JPEGs, 6 ARW.RAW or 4 RAW+JPEG
    Storage Media: Single slot for Memory Stick PRO Duo / Memory Stick PRO-HG Duo or SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards
    Viewfinder: XGA-OLED Tru-Finder with VGA resolution
    LCD monitor: Pull out and tilt Xtra Fine LCD monitor with TruBlack technology and 921,600 dots
    Other features: Wi-Fi enabled with file transfer to smartphones plus new PlayMemories Camera Apps; D-Range Optimiser (Auto, Level adjustment)
    Playback functions: Single-frame, Index (6 or 12 frames), Enlarge (to 14x), Slideshow, Picture rotation (auto mode available), Histogram (independent luminance/RGB available), Shooting information
    Interface terminals: USO 2.0, HDMI (Type C Mini) ; BRAVIA Sync (link menu), PhotoTV HD
    Power supply: NP-FW50 rechargeable lithium-ion battery; CIPA rated for approx. 270 shots/charge with viewfinder or approx. 360 shots/charge with live view
    Dimensions (wxhxd): Approx. 119.9 x 66.9 x 42.6 mm (body only)
    Weight: Approx. 287 grams (body only)

    RRP: AU$799 (body only), AU$999 (single-lens kit)

    SAMPLES

     Auto white balance with incandescent lighting.

     Auto white balance with fluorescent lighting.

     
    30-second exposure at ISO 160, 16mm focal length, f/4.

    13-second exposure at ISO 800, 16mm focal length, f/5.6.
     

    6-second exposure at ISO 6400, 16mm focal length, f/11.
     
     

    4-second exposure at ISO 12800, 16mm focal length, f/13.
     
     

    Flash exposure at ISO 160, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    Flash exposure at ISO 800, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    Flash exposure at ISO 6400, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    Flash exposure at ISO 12800, 42mm focal length, 1/60 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens at 16mm; ISO 250, 1/125 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens at 16mm; ISO 250, 1/100 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens at 46mm; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/10.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 55mm; ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/10.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 18mm; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/11.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 18mm; ISO 800, 1/20 second at f/8.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 55mm; ISO 3200, 1/50 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 32mm; ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/4.5.
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 47mm; ISO 6400, 1/200 second at f/8.
     
     

    SEL1855 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens at 18mm; ISO 25600, 1/640 second at f/8.
     
     

    16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens at 37mm; ISO 3200, 1/40 second at f/4.5.
     
     

    Stabilisation test; 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ OSS lens at 45mm; ISO 3200, 1/15 second at f/5.6.
     
     

    BUY

      No