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Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500

Sony announces Alpha 6500

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 1

Sony has announced the a6500, its top of the line APS-C E-mount mirrorless camera. It may look a lot like the a6300 but it’s a higher spec (and more expensive) sister model.

It’s based around the same copper-wired 24MP CMOS sensor as the a6300 but it adds several key features: most notably in-body image stabilization and touchscreen control.

An even faster Alpha

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 2

The a6500 still features the same 425 on-sensor phase detection elements as the a6300 and still shoots at at same 11 frames per second maximum burst rate, but a deeper buffer and additional processor allow it to shoot over 300 JPEG frames in a burst (or 100 frames when shooting Raw + JPEG).

The buffer and additional processing power also allow faster image review after having shot a burst, the company promises, which should avoid the frustrating ‘camera busy’ warnings that previous Sonys have been prone to give.

The camera’s shutter mechanism has been updated and has now been tested to (though not necessarily guaranteed to) 200,000 cycles. Maximum shutter speed remains 1/4000th of a second.

5-axis in-body image stabilization

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 3

The a6500 manages to squeeze a five-axis image stabilization system into a camera that’s just 5mm deeper than the a6300. The system is rated as offering 5 stops of improvement when tested to CIPA standards using a 55mm lens.

This system recognizes the presence of Sony lenses with OSS stabilization and passes responsibility for correcting pitch and yaw to the lens. Sony does not claim any additional effectiveness for this approach but we’d expect it to help maintain the 5-stop figure when using long lenses, since lens correction is able to correct for a greater degree of movement than sensor shift stabilization can.

Touchscreen focus

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 4

One of the biggest additions to the a6500 over existing models is touchscreen control. Previously reserved for the company’s more point-and-shoot orientated models, the touchscreen makes it quicker to specify the AF point position (a significant frustration with the a6300).

The touchscreen is solely used to set the AF point with no option to control settings or navigate the menus.

This touch-to-focus ability extends to video mode and video focus speed can be adjusted to provide slow, smooth autofocus pulls. However, the camera won’t touch-and-track in video mode: only the older ‘Center Lock-On AF’ system that locks onto the subject at the center of the frame is available.

Touchpad AF

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 5

Like Panasonic cameras and the recent Canon EOS M5, the a6500’s touchscreen can still be used as a touchpad to specify the autofocus point when shooting through the camera’s electronic viewfinder. The control of the AF point is always relative, rather than absolute, so you swipe to move the AF point from its current position, rather than touching exactly where you want it to be.

The camera lets you select whether both the touchscreen and touchpad modes are available, letting you disengage the touch sensitivity if you only want to use it with the camera to your eye or only want it active when using the rear LCD.

There’s also the option to disable either the right or left-hand side of the touchscreen, to avoid accidental nose focus, depending on whether you shoot left or right eyed. The touchpad can again be set to disable when you turn the camera into the portrait orientation.

Revised menus

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 6

In addition to the touchscreen, Sony has made several other adjustments to the camera’s operation and control.

The menus have been rearranged to cluster related features together and are now color-coded to make it easier to recognize and remember where a setting lives.

In addition the camera gains a second custom button on the top plate, taking the total number of customizable function buttons to 10.

4K Video

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 7

The a6500 offers the same UHD 4K capabilities as the a6300. It can shoot 4K/25p and 24p from the full width of its sensor, meaning 1.56x oversampling in each dimension. This gives very highly detailed footage, compared to taking a ‘native’ crop from the sensor. 30p 4K is taken from a smaller crop.

Sony has said nothing about changes in thermal management, so it’s likely the camera won’t be able to shoot for the full 29 minutes in warm conditions or similarly long clips back-to-back. However, with the latest firmware, we haven’t encountered overheating as a problem if you’re shooting clips to edit together, so it’s only extended shooting that’s likely to be a problem.

We’re more concerned about any interaction between the camera’s fairly high levels of rolling shutter and the movement of its 5-axis image stabilization system. Stabilized 4K video could be a hugely valuable capability of the camera but we’ll wait to see the footage before getting too excited.

Video capabilities

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 8

Like the a6300, the a6500 has a built-in mic socket but no headphone port for audio monitoring.

It also continues to offer the in-depth ‘Picture Profile’ video response modes including ITU 709 and both S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves. The camera records internally at up to 100Mbps for 4K recording and requires you us a U3-rated UHS-I card. It’s happy to record to either SDXC or SDHC cards.

Internal recording is 8-bit 4:2:0 while HDMI out is 8-bit 4:2:2.

In summary

Hands-on and in-depth with the Sony a6500 9

The a6500 is a very well specced camera: 5-axis stabilization, 11 fps shooting with AF, 4K UHD video capture with S-Log options, a comprehensive AF tracking system, weather-sealed body…

There are still a few things missing, though. Although the camera includes two command dials (one on the shoulder, one on the rear face of the camera), it has the same drawbacks as the a6300: both need to be controlled with the thumb. Worse still, it’s likely that you’ll have to shift your grip on the camera to reach from one to the other.

Still, the addition of a touchscreen and an even greater level of customization over the controls should give quick access to most of the features you need to change in-the-moment.

There’s a price to be paid for these additional capabilities, though. The a6500 will sell for around $1400 or €1700 in Europe. As always, bear in mind the European price is likely to include VAT whereas the US price is usually quoted without sales tax. This makes it 40% more expensive than the a6300’s list price and over twice the launch price of the more modest a6000.

So, while the technologies and capabilities of these three models are very different, the visual similarities risk causing customer confusion.

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