Friday, May 9, 2014

Sony a6000 First Impressions

I just received the Sony a6000 and the 35 f/1.8 OSS lens, and I had the chance to do a little bit of experimentation.  Here are my first impressions, with likes (+), dislkes (-) and neutral points (o).

5/9/14 correction: popup flash CANNOT be used as wireless commander
+ The grip feels great.  I can operate the camera one-handed as long as the lens isn't too heavy.
+ Lens is smaller than I expected.  The a6000 and 35 1.8 can fit - barely - into the small SnapR 35 bag/strap.
+ The EVF looks reasonably natural.
+ Standard ISO hotshoe
o It's plastic (NOT magnesium), but at least it seems to be a high quality plastic.
o The LCD's refresh rate is not so high, plus there is a very slight lag.  However, it is not distracting to me.
o USB chargeable but external charger is not included.
- With the 16:9 ratio, the LCD image is small by today's standards.
- Lack of touchscreen.  What was Sony thinking?
+ A7-style menu navigation (with tabs and selectable pages) is definitely better.  I like the menu navigation better than the navigation on any other camera I've tried.
+ The customizable buttons (7 of them) have many available functions.
+ Fn menu (the "quick" menu) is customizable.
+ Can specify whether exposure compensation affects flash compensation.
+ Can specify whether the display should show the actual exposure or a normal exposure (as when using flash).
- Menu navigation is better but some options are still cryptically-named.

SHOOTING - Exposure
+ In Manual exposure mode, can use Auto ISO with Exposure Compensation.  You choose the aperture and shutter speed and exposure comp.  Camera sets the ISO automatically.
+ Changing the aperture shows the DOF in real time, just like on the RX1.
+ Zebra highlights: the LCD can display blown highlights in real time with a zebra pattern.  The zebra makes it a lot easier to set the exposure, but...
o By default, the histogram disappears when applying exposure compensation.  However there is a custom setting called "Exposure Set. Guide" that can be turned off.  If it is turned off, the graphic scale that covers the histogram will disappear and you'll see the histogram in real time.
- Exposure keeps changing even for constant light conditions.  As if the camera can't decide what's the correct exposure.  When using the zebra highlights, the area with the zebra keeps changing.  I will be keeping AEL as one of my buttons.
- Zebra highlights are dependent on the picture style instead of showing actual blown highlights.  I suspect it is based on the JPEG preview rather than the raw data.

?  AF speed and accuracy.  Yes it is fast.  Is it faster than MFT or the Stylus 1?  Can it capture spontaneous action?  These are things I still need to test.
+ Manual focus does not reset.  If you set the camera on manual focus, the camera will not change the focal distance when you turn the camera off.  This is very helpful for street shooters, for example.
+ I can change the size of the AF points.  The smallest size is very small and it doesn't slow down the AF too much.
+ Focus peaking works very well.  It is reliable and is customizable for threshold as well as color.  I'm confident enough about it that I can turn off the MF assist (the automatic magnification).
+ AF point navigation.  You can move the AF point by pressing the middle button (no need to go through the Fn menu, contrary to what some say).  You can reset the AF point to the home position by pressing the delete button.  I couldn't do that with the RX1.
o The AF point cannot be moved to the edges of the frame.
o AF assist lamp is too bright, but it can be turned off and the AF is still usable even in very dark conditions.
- Eye AF is disappointing.  On one hand it is accurate, about as accurate as the Near Eye Detection on Olympus.  On the other hand, it only works in AF-S not AF-A or AF-C.  Worse still, the way it is activated is impractical.  Instead of being integrated with face detection like Olympus, Eye AF is a separate button.  You have to assign one of the function buttons to Eye AF.  Then you hold it down.  When the camera locks on, then you keep the button pressed while pressing the shutter.  Worse still, you can only assign it to either the C1 or C2 function buttons.  C1 is right beside the shutter so it's very hard to hold that down and then press the shutter. C2 is on the bottom right corner so it's not easy either.  The Eye AF function can either be assigned to C1, C2, AEL or middle button (but the latter will cause you to give up moving the AF point unless you go through the menus), but not the customizable directional buttons (left, right or down).

SHOOTING - Other observations
+ Shutter is not so loud when electronic first curtain is activated (it is active by default).  Even without EFC, it's not so loud (unlike the A7). 
+ Shows the battery life in percentage, not just a battery icon with 3 bars.
+ Sony has fixed many of the quirks, like the usage of the subject tracking ("Lock-on AF"), and the face priority.
- Short battery life.
- No built-in function to edit photos in-camera.  You need to download the Photo Retouch app (fortunately it is free, but it's a hassle to access it because it requires launching an app before being able to edit).

+ High ISO is quite good.  The noise cleans up very well I can get decent detail and color up to 12,800 ISO (skin pores on a portrait), but with loss of tonal depth in the shadow areas.  25,600 ISO is usable in emergencies, though it has the same issue with color as the RX1 - the colors in raw look like they have a magenta/purple tint in the shadows when the light color temperature is too yellow.
+ Electronic first curtain avoids shutter shock (which can blur an image).
+ Shallow DOF and Blur.  I admit it's good to have a little bit more control over DOF than I got with MFT.  The 35 1.8 OSS has nice bokeh.
o The sharpness of the 35 1.8 OSS lens is not good enough does not take full advantage of the sensor unless I stop down.  When used wide open, I only get about the same level of detail as the Olympus 25 1.8 on the E-M5 or E-P5, despite the higher resolution of the a6000.  ADDED: On the other hand, the 50 1.8 OSS is pretty sharp even wide open.
- Color is not so accurate.  About the same as my Nikons.  Struggles with deep reds, which look more vermilion.  Too bad, I was hoping it would be like the RX1, which does have accurate reds.  I will experiment with this some more.  I might get the Huelight camera profiles for the a6000 to mitigate this issue.  I got the Huelight camera profile and it does improve the accuracy of the reds, though with the Huelight profile, bright orange will be rendered as reddish, in which case I use Adobe Standard or Camera Standard.

5/12/14: I posted sample shots with the 35 1.8 OSS here.
+ Popup flash can be tilted up for bounce flash.
+ App store (PlayMemories Apps) can add functionality to camera.
o Wi Fi.  Setup is not difficult - only slightly harder than Olympus.  The remote live view has a low refresh rate, unlike the one on Olympus.  There is also a noticeable delay between the time you press the shutter on the phone and the time the shutter is released.
o HSS is possible only with a compatible external flash (this is the same as Nikon).  HSS works only when the flash is facing directly forward (as opposed to bounce mode).  I guess this is not a big deal given that HSS is usually for outdoors (with bright ambient).
- Popup flash can CANNOT be used as a flash commander.
- Some apps should have been part of the camera, not sold as extra features, e.g. multi-exposure.

I will be posting a preliminary review when I've had some more time with this camera.