Sony a6500 Review

Introduction

The Sony a6500 marks the debut replacement to the previously released Sony a6300. It holds steadfast as Sony’s latest flagship APS-C mirrorless camera. Sony aims this camera as a competitor to the Canon 80D, Fujifilm X-T2, and Panasonic G85. Initially released fall 2017, it came as a surprise to current Sony users who weren’t expecting another successor only one year later. At first glance, it is almost indistinguishable to the predecessor. It inherits much of its features and specifications.

Namely, the identical 24.2-megapixel sensor and superb focusing system. However, Sony improved its specific weaknesses and added several incremental updates, to deliver a stronger camera. In all, the improvements are mostly software related, which may or may not be useful to you depending on your particular needs.

The most significant advantages are 5-axis image stabilization, touchscreen LCD, and better 4K capture.   Are these changes enough to justify an upgrade for current a6300 users? Are these improvements essential? Is this the camera the a6300 should have been initially, or do they stand apart? This camera is proving to be significantly faster than the predecessor with a promised improved feature set. Today we see how it holds up in 2019. 

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What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony a6500?

Pros:

Image Quality:

It inherits the same 24.2-megapixel sensor from the predecessor. While the sensor remains identical, both image quality and dynamic range are excellent. The camera can provide upwards of two stops of both shadow and highlight recovery in post-production, with only moderate amounts of noise in the shadows. 

Video Quality:

It shoots Ultra HD 4K at 30 fps and HD 1080p up to 120 fps with a bit rate up to 100 MBs/second.

Video quality is brilliant. The camera shoots at 6K resolution, which it then downsamples to 4K or 1080p accordingly. With that, sharpness is excellent, and this camera delivers on resolving fine details. Video quality is superb all round, even in low light. In many respects, the performance here even out-competes Sony’s professional-grade video cameras. 

It has built-in S-log profiles, both S-log 2 and S-log 3 are available for use. These cinema profiles give users more control over the camera’s colors as it provides a flat, low contrast, and low saturation image. This leaves users with more longitude for grading in post-production.

It has a clean HDMI output for use with an external recorder.

It has built-in gamma curves.

Low Light Performance:

Low light performance on this camera is excellent. Performance in both photos and videos is sufficient up to ISO 6,400. Unquestionably, this camera can deliver more than adequate results for most shooting situations. It has a native ISO from ISO 100 to ISO 25,600. And the performance across the entirety of its range is quite exceptional, considering its small form factor and size. However, this is expected in the a6000 series camera, as Sony has made legendary technological leaps to develop compact exceptional low light cameras. This camera continues that trend

Focusing Performance:

Focusing performance is a resounding strength of this camera. Focus is both fast and accurate, even in low light at high ISO and lens wide open. Impressive. The predecessor was renowned for excellent AF performance in both photos and videos. This camera surely continues this tradition. It has a 425 phase-detect AF system, with Eye AF and Continuous Eye AF. Both these eye-tracking features work incredibly well at critically tracking focus on the subject’s dominant eye. Subject, Face, and Eye AF deliver flawless performance when filming as well, even at wide-open apertures. Transitions between focus points are also incredibly smooth. In all, focus performance on this camera is just excellent. However, the focusing system does have a lot of options and is extensively customizable. With that, users will surely have to go through a period of trial and error to discover best practices in everyday shooting situations. This is truly a camera that gives users confidence knowing their subjects will be critically tracked and in focus. 

Display & Viewfinder:

It has a 3-inch OLED LCD, which is now a touchscreen. The screen supports touch focus, drag focus, swiping and pinch to zoom during playback. Interestingly enough, users can even use it as a touchpad when composing through the viewfinder to their eye. A helpful feature, with ample customization in this regard, that is useful when filming in this fashion. However, using this particular feature is laggy, and will take some adjustment for best use. 

The addition of a touch LCD is a welcomed improvement. It allows users to perform complex focus transitions with a simple touch of a finger. The touchscreen serves as AF selector, to assist users in focus point selection. For both photos and videos, the user can focus anywhere on the LCD by merely touching the LCD. When filming, we now can perform focus racking by touching and dragging as well. This addition is well served and makes performing focus pulls straightforward. This touch functionality works even when using external recorders or monitors, as well. Interesting. Anytime a mistake is made, you can easily hit the center button to reset the focus point selection. Changing points is incredibly seamless, all without ever having to dive into the menus. In all, it works great and saves time in critical moments. Outside of this, touch functionality works in playback. Users can swipe between images and pinch to zoom.  

User Interface:

Sony has taken a lot of flack over the years for its overly cumbersome and complicated menus. Finally, it’s nice to see that this iteration improves in this regard. The menus are better organized and color-coded, though a few inconsistencies remain. Overall, navigation is noticeably improved. But, not enough so to make a genuinely beginner-friendly camera. Beginners will undoubtedly have to spend considerable time in the camera manual to fully understand the complexity of the feature set and navigation structure — nonetheless, a much-needed improvement. 

Much like the predecessor, this camera also inherits the function menu, which is fully customizable. The options here are quite extensive and will require immense patience during the initial setup. However, it provides immediate access to nearly all imaginable shooting parameters, so worthwhile. 

Physical Interface & Ergonomics:

It has two custom shooting modes, M1 and M2, on the mode dial. Custom shooting modes allow users to set shooting parameters as presets, which are then immediately accessible via the mode dial. This camera also features two custom buttons, C1 and C2, further improving and assisting users in customizing the cameras button layout to their individual needs. 

The grip is re-designed and now deeper than the predecessor. In all, it is more comfortable to hold during prolonged use and finally prevents users from accidentally blocking the AF illuminator light.

This camera is incredibly light, weighing in at only 450 grams body only with the battery installed. Size is a notable strength of this camera, as it’s smaller than most pocketbooks. 

A consideration, the physical size, and dimensions of this camera limit its total number of controls. The buttons and dials that are present, however, are thoroughly thought out and well-executed. Nearly every button is customizable on the camera, as well. 

It delivers the same high-quality construction and build quality of the predecessor. 

Niche Features/Extras:

It has a microphone input port.

It has a built-in flash. 

It has zebras for overexposure alerts. 

It has manual focus peaking and focus magnification.

It has Sony’s Clear Image Zoom, which provides 2x digital magnification without any degradation or loss in resolution and detail. 

It has built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth. The combination of these features allows users to wirelessly transfer images from the camera to a paired smartphone using Sony’s Play Memories app. Not only that, it supports full remote shooting via the Sony Camera Remote app as well. 

It delivers clean HDMI out with support for external recorders that’s best in class. 

It supports USB charging, which extends shooting time from 60 minutes to upwards of 100 minutes. 

It has 5-axis in-body image stabilization. Sony calls this feature “Steady Shot.” The image stabilization in this camera works incredibly well, though not to the same level as Panasonic cameras. It provides upwards of 5 stops of stabilization, which means users can shoot handheld at a shutter speed of 1⁄2 second. Typically, 1/60 seconds is the recommended shutter speed when shooting handheld without image stabilization. Steady shot is a massive advantage in both photos and videos, especially when shooting longer focal length lenses. It removes nearly all micro jitters that occur from hand-holding during filming. 

This camera inherits the processor from Sony’s flagship a99. With that, it now has a continuous burst rate of 11 fps, a significant improvement over the predecessor. The buffer performance is also greatly improved. It can supply upwards of 100 RAW + JPEG images in a row without a hitch. It shoots up to 233 JPEGs and 107 RAW photos before buffering. Wow. This is nearly a 5x improvement over the predecessor. The a6300 struggled greatly from a weak buffer, so we’re glad to see this fixed. Users can finally shoot continuously with confidence. Not only that, but the buffer even supports playback of images also while writing images to the SD card. While a bit laggy, at least users can immediately review pictures after the burst instead of waiting until it fully clears.  

It has a feature called Slow & Quick Video (SNQ). This feature allows users to film in a variety of different frame rates from 1 second to 120 seconds, which creates a video akin to a timelapse. Thankfully, this feature also creates the movie in-camera, completely removing the need for external processing altogether. 

Sony is the only manufacturer to offer downloadable applications. While not the easiest to use, they offer particular and niche functionality to their cameras. They add both useful and exciting capabilities. Users can download applications directly through the camera or using your computer from the Play Memories Website.

Cons:

Video Quality:

The video bitrate is average. It only provides between 20-100 MBs/second,  which varies based on the frame rate selected.  

It only shoots 8-bit 422 colors. If video color is critical to your work, this smaller color space may be a deal-breaker for you. 

While the camera does offer S-log, enabling this feature results in excess noise, particularly in the shadows. An increase in noise is primarily the result of the fact that the minimum ISO when filming in this format is ISO 800. While this feature makes this a “pro” camera, the implementation here is still consumer-grade. 

It does have a video recording limit. Thankfully, this is surmountable with an application install called Open Memories Tweak. Installing this application is a simple process via USB transfer, and it unlocks the limited recording time completely. 

While it shoots 4K at 30 fps, 60 fps isn’t supported, nor does this camera shoot in the broader DCI Cinema standard. 

Focusing Performance:

While this camera has the potential to be the ideal action photography camera. The additional latency with touch focus will surely be a deal-breaker for sports and action if used for subject tracking. It’s just not fast enough for critical shooting situations, and will undoubtedly cause missed moments. Touch focus is best for AF point selection and not ideal for subject tracking. Use standard AF and lock-on AF instead. 

Battery Performance:

Battery performance here merely is just lacking. Understandably so considering the cameras robust feature set. The camera is rated at 300 shots per single charge, just shy of the industry-standard expected in mirrorless cameras. But, the addition of a touch LCD and IBIS severely drains the battery when filming, especially in 4K. Your best bet to extend the battery life is to put the camera in airplane mode when these connectivity features are not necessary. Airplane mode reduces the load that occurs with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. This mode should extend filming to upwards of an hour. 

Display & Viewfinder:

When shooting outdoors, the LCD auto dims to prevent overheating. The caveat is that it becomes so dark, regardless of the brightness settings, that it is virtually useless. When shooting outdoors during bright sunlight, you will be forced to compose solely with the viewfinder. 

User Interface:

The touchscreen has minimal capabilities compared to the competition and, overall, doesn’t provide nearly the value it otherwise could. Users cannot navigate any of the menus of the camera via touch, nor can they take advantage of lock-on AF expand. With that, we lose dedicated subject tracking around the frame. Sure, the touch focus works and is an excellent system if you want to change focus points or do focus pulling. Both of these features are even extensively customizable, as well. But for movement, the lack of lock-on AF is a real deal-breaker. Without this feature, you have to keep the focus point bang onto the subject, which is virtually impossible when simultaneously recomposing. Canon’s 80D is a far superior option when it comes to continuous subject tracking. This touch focus feature is excellent for casual use. But, for moving subjects or actions, it is not a professional tool. Not only that, it is a resistive touchscreen, not capacitive. Unfortunately, that means users will have to apply more pressure for the LCD to register inputs.  Overall, it’s quite laggy in comparison to today’s standards.

While the user interface and menus have improved, it’s still going to be overwhelming for the beginner. Sony has made leaps to organize the complexities of the menu more logically.  However, it doesn’t negate the fact that there are still a lot of pages scroll through to find the specific feature in question. 

Physical Interface & Ergonomics:

The placement of the video record button is quite awkward and is challenging to find quickly. The button is recessed, shallow, and small. In all, it makes both finding the button and promptly activating it both cumbersome and challenging.

It only has a single adjustment dial, which functions to control either Aperture or Shutter Speed, depending on the mode. 

While the LCD tilts, it doesn’t support full articulation. Sadly, considering the competition, this is just a massive limitation for users. 

Features Removed:

It lacks built-in interval modes. Users desiring this feature can use the SNQ mode, to a certain degree. Otherwise, they will have to download a dedicated application from Sony’s application library. Unfortunately, this is undoubtedly more cumbersome than necessary. 

It lacks a headphone input port.

It lacks an in-camera RAW to JPEG conversion or any in-camera image processing for that matter.

Is the Sony a6500 a good starting camera?

Yes. Even with a few shortcomings, this is still an excellent camera overall, especially at this price point. It has a robust feature set and extensive customization. While this camera lacks any crazy groundbreaking features and isn’t quite a trendsetter, it’s still arguably a great revolution and evolution amongst the a6000 lineup of cameras. The features implemented eliminate much of the weaknesses of the predecessor to deliver a camera that is far more refined and capable. While the improvements are rather small in number, they do make a difference and can inevitably be deciding factors depending on your specific needs. It’s an excellent all-round camera and one that provides reliable image quality with superior AF performance, all in a small package. While it does still have a few weaknesses and missing features, it remains a robust and versatile contender.

What are the best lenses for the Sony a6500?

General Photography: 

Sony E 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS
Sony E 55-210 mm f/4.5 – 6.3 OSS
Sony E PZ 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS

Specifically for Macro Photography:

Sony FE 90 mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

Specifically for Landscape Photography:

Sony E 16 mm f/2.8

Specifically for Portrait Photography:

FE 28-70 mm F3.5-5.6 OSS
E 50 mm F1.8 OSS

Best bundles for the Sony a6500

bundle with camera lens nad bag

Is the Sony a6500 a good camera for you?

Yes, potentially. Even two years later, this camera remains competitive amongst the competition. It’s a feature-rich, densely packed hybrid that delivers excellent stills with nearly professional-level video. Yes, the improvements made have been incremental, they add up to provide a far refined camera that feels that much better. Depending on your specific needs, these additions can be absolute game-changers as well. 

If you’re looking for a palm-sized camera that delivers, this may be the camera for you. Even considering the size, the performance achieved in image quality, dynamic range, and noise performance make it best in class among APS-C cameras. 

If you’re looking primarily for a main video camera, this camera is not ideal. It still lacks a headphone jack, which relegates it to a b-camera, unfortunately. This kind of missing feature is sure to turn off serious professionally, wanting to travel light. 

If you’re a sports and wildlife photographer who needs a camera to meet the demands of high-speed shooting, this is your camera. The burst rate and buffer performance deliver here are superior to the competition, no questions. 

If you’re primarily a still photographer, this is not the camera for you. Consider getting the a6300 instead. Getting this camera isn’t worthwhile investing as much of the improvements are aimed at video shooters. Sure, Steady Shot will help you greatly when shooting in low light. However, it may not be worth forking over the extra money for that feature alone. You decide. In photography specifically, this camera feels like only a slight upgrade over the a6300. We wouldn’t say it’s improved enough in this regard to be a full-fledged upgrade. Not only that but if you’re already using optically stabilized lenses, this would further reduce the need to purchase this as a stills camera. 

Sadly, this camera had incredible potential to be the end-all-be-all YouTube and VLOG camera. But, the lack of a flip screen killed that. The only alternative is using extra equipment in the form of external monitors. 

Current Sony users should upgrade for the following reasons: 

  1. You don’t currently shoot with lenses that have built-in Optical Image Stabilization.
  2. You want extra custom buttons for greater flexibility while shooting.
  3. You want a deeper grip for more comfortable use. 
  4. You want in-body image stabilization. 
  5. You want the improved 4K capture and more freedom before overheating.
  6.  You want to touch focus. 

These are the main reasons for upgrading. If these features are worthwhile for you, then surely upgrade to this camera. We think current sony shooters should switch if their work benefits from in-camera stabilization. If Steady Shot either helps you deliver high-quality results or reduces the gear you bring, both are excellent reasons to consider upgrading. 

Two years later, it undoubtedly remains competitive. If you can get past its current price, you’re sure to enjoy this feature-rich, densely packed hybrid camera. It’s a highly customizable camera that’s great for stills with nearly professional-level video, which invites comparison to more expensive cameras. It’s a camera primarily geared to multimedia shooters, and one that does so very well. In the end, it’s a new camera, but it’s still a lot of the same. There have been primarily peripheral changes, not the cold hard refresh we’ve come to expect from Sony. In all, the improvements, while necessary, leave us slightly disappointed. This is the camera the a6300 should have been.

Nonetheless, the Sony a6500 is a phenomenal camera and one to look at in 2019. It’s undoubtedly among the best APS-C cameras to date, and the best in Sony’s lineup to offer an excellent price to performance ratio. Users foreign to Sony looking to jump into the ecosystem should seriously consider this camera. 

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Overview
  • Image Quality
  • Video Quality
  • Focusing Performance
  • Low Light Performance
  • Dynamic Range
  • Battery Performance
  • Display & Viewfinder
  • User Interface
  • Physical Layout & Ergonomics
3.6

Summary

Even two years later, this camera remains undoubtedly competitive amongst the competition. It’s a feature-rich, densely packed hybrid that delivers excellent stills with nearly professional-level video. While it has a few shortcomings, its an excellent camera overall considering the price point. The features implemented eliminate much of the weaknesses of the predecessor to provide a camera that is far more refined and capable. While the improvements over the predecessor are rather small in number, they do make a difference. The Sony a6500 is a phenomenal camera and one to look at in 2019. It’s undoubtedly among the best APS-C cameras to date, and surely the best in Sony’s APS-C lineup to date.