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Sony Alpha A6500 (ILCE-6500): the full review 2020

Less than a year after the launch of the A6300 (read our review), Sony is marketing its successor, the A6500. A step up in the range, this A6500 is a technological update from its young ancestor, which brings two things: a stabilized sensor and a processor with impressive performance. Enough to make this hybrid a champion? Not so sure.

The speed with which the A6500 hit the market almost sounds like a disavowal of the A6300, a camera that had been the subject of much criticism, particularly overheating when filming in 4K video. Sony also recognized this problem quite explicitly during the presentation conference of the A6500 last October, stating that it “heats much less than the A6300”. What is true.

The Alpha A6500 is almost identical to the very “NEX 7” look and handling of the A6300. The real change is interior since Sony engineers have greatly simplified its insides in order to integrate a mechanical stabilization system of the sensor. A device that requires space (you have to physically move the sensor) and that forced the development teams to achieve a technological tour de force. From this point of view, the work is impressive.

The ergonomics do not change an iota compared to the A6300 and we always end up with a case that holds well in hand with the light optics but proves to be insufficiently comfortable and heavy for the most voluminous models.

The positioning and ergonomics of the controls are still not optimal, with buttons and knobs always a bit small and plastic. And still no wheel under the right index finger. If it is a cut above the NEX regarding the perception of solidity, we are far from what the competition can offer in terms of resistance – we are thinking here of the Fujifilm X-T2, direct competitor – since it is absolutely not tropicalized. Yes, it costs € 1,800 and if it is well designed in a magnesium alloy, Sony neither certifies it against humidity nor against dust. Grrr.

Electronics from another world

Sony is an outstanding electronics engineer. In addition to its portfolio of finished products found in stores – cameras, televisions, consoles, etc. – the Japanese brand is also a semiconductor giant and even turns out to be the king of sensors dedicated to the image industry. With these cards in hand, it was logical for Sony to reserve a model with little onions. In addition to ultra-optimized circuitry, Sony has integrated RAM directly on the back of the 24 Mpix APS-C sensor. A unique design that allows the A6500 to ingest bursts that are out of all proportion to what was done until now.

To manage this flow of data, Sony designed the Bionz X, a processor swollen with hormones, a raw compute capable of processing and recording images, at the same time as managing the autofocus continuously on a burst at 11 frames per second. A monster of power at the service of the photo, like video.

Photo: high-performance sensor, lack of optics

The photos produced by this A6500 are of very good quality. High sensitivities hold up to ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 remains acceptable with a little work in RAW. The color rendering is always a bit cold in certain conditions – end of the day in particular – and we find the very video side of the interpretation of tones (Sony is still the leader in this segment).

(DOWNLOAD OUR TEST PHOTOS ON OUR FLICKR ALBUM)

Files very rich in details that we would be well advised to use for low light shoots, images tending to display a high rate of purple – easily correctable in Lightroom.

The A6500 is therefore a photo champion? Not quite: like all NEX / Alpha APS-C, the A6500 suffers from a lack of quality native optics. The argument of the availability of full format E optics is invalid for us because these optics are large and heavy compared to the small size of the A6300 – in addition to having their focal length changed. As for the adapter rings, all systems can receive them. What matters to us are the native optics. And there are only 16 in E APS-C mount, a range which includes only one professional focal length (Sonnar 24 mm F 1.8 ZA SEL24F18Z equivalent to 35 mm) and no zoom f /2.8 able to take full advantage of this exceptional sensor.

This lack of quality APS-C optics is not new: in 2011, the title of our NEX-7 review, the hybrid that inaugurated the definition of 24 Mpix, was as follows “NEX-7: the king hybrid cameras await its optics. ” Since then, not much has changed … What a pity!

4K 6K sauce

In video, the A6500 has four strengths. First of all, its newly acquired mechanical stabilization allows it to produce sequences devoid of the traditional clashes when one turns at arm’s length. Secondly, the options are very rich, whether it is the available ratios, the zebras, the encoding, etc. Thirdly, the image quality is quite simply one of the best on the market with an acquisition in 4K subsampled in 4K which allows to obtain a level of details never reached in this price range. And finally, Sony does not have to crop many competitors since the Japanese company, world leader in video, has the know-how to capture and use all the information on the surface of the sensor.

This quality of image processing is marred by a lack of connectivity and poor ergonomics – the video trigger button is both too small and badly placed, the device is badly held in the hand when clad with equipment, etc. . A good quality camera represents an alchemy between quality, ergonomics and functionalities. Not sure if this will cause the A6500 to overshadow the future Panasonic GH5.

AF slower than expected

The AF on the A6500 is double-edged: its tracking is indeed very good, but the first burst trigger takes longer than what Sony promises. Does this mean that the AF of the A6500 is slow? Certainly not, but the results of “real life” are far from the instantaneousness promised. An instantaneousness that only the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, with the smaller sensor, can really offer.

Facing the Fujifilm X-T2

The Fujifilm X-T2 is the natural competitor of the A6500: it too has a 24 Mpix APS-C sensor and is displayed at the same price. If Fujifilm has made up for some of its video delay with the arrival of a 4K cinema and UHD quality mode, the A6500 clearly dominates the subject with better quality compression, downsampling which reinforces the sharpness of the image. much richer image and filming options.

But we are talking about cameras here, not camcorders. And in this area, Fujifilm gives a good lesson to Sony: the handling of the X-T2 is better, the ergonomics (double dedicated memory card slot, sockets, etc.) itou, color rendering (Velvia, Astia , Acros) incomparably superior to Sony colors, the burst is perhaps less impactful but it lasts more over time, the AF is at least as precise, the autonomy much greater especially with the grip, etc.

And when it is difficult to find good optics in the Sony park, it is difficult to find bad optics in the Fujifilm park as it is good! When you buy a camera with interchangeable optics you don’t choose a product, but a system. And that of Fujifilm is much better than that of Sony in APS-C (the full format fleet is starting to be interesting).

Electronics is not everything

Without mastering the power is nothing “: This adage of pneumatic philosophy (thank you Mr. Pirelli) sums up what the A6500 is. Namely a dream electronics integrated in an approximate box which costs 1800 €. When we see the care taken by the brand to its Alpha A7s, the crazy innovations represented by the RX10 and RX100, the A6500 and its ecosystem of APS-C optics disappoint. Cruelly.

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