Monday, August 25, 2014

Sony a6000 or Sony a5100? A Sony a6000 user's perspective

This is just a quick post to give my opinion on the recently announced Sony a5100, from the point of view of a Sony a6000 user who takes candid family photos.

EDIT: added a description of the a5100 exposure controls.

Sony a6000 + Sony 35 1.8 OSS

I have been using the a6000 since early May and I have been happy with it.  When the a5100 was announced, I thought the specs and features looked pretty good - it was like an a6000 that was aimed at casual users. Here are what I consider the main differences between the a5100 and a6000, then I'll discuss my impression of their significance:

- fewer command dials
- 6fps instead of 11fps
- no EVF
- no hotshoe
- weaker popup flash
+ flip up LCD vs 90-degree LCD
+ touch screen
+ can record simultaneously on smaller video mode
+ price

- [just added this] The a5100 has fewer command dials.  It doesn't have an exposure mode selector or the rear command dial of the a6000.  I don't know the full impact of this, given that it has a touch screen, which may mitigate the absence of dials.   To change exposure modes (e.g. program, aperture priority, etc.), you need to press the middle button.  This will bring up an on-screen "dial" which you select by turning the rear command dial, and pressing the middle button again to enter your selection.  In the chosen mode, you rotate the rear command dial to change the exposure variable (e.g. aperture in aperture priority), and use the down button to switch between variables (e.g. in aperture priority, you switch between aperture and exposure compensation).  It appears you cannot use the touchscreen to change the exposure variables.

- 6fps instead of 11fps: 6fps is reasonable. Not a big deal unless your shooting style uses lots of continuous bursts. I myself prefer to time my shot. I do use bursts for sports, though I think 6fps is adequate.

- No EVF: the a6000 has an excellent EVF which I do use often. That said, the LCD has a sunny mode which allows a reasonable view in bright sunlight.

- No hotshoe: if you had asked me a few months ago whether I would consider a camera without a hotshoe, I would have laughed. But even though I have two Sony external flashes (the compact F20m and the large F60m), I have yet to use them for real shots. First, even without flash, the image quality is pretty good for majority of typical lighting conditions. Second, one of the key advantages of the a6000 is its compact size, which is negated somewhat when I have to bring an external flash (though the F20M is quite compact).

- Weaker popup flash (GN of 4m vs 6m): the a5100 popup flash is about half the power of the a6000 flash. In my opinion this is more significant than it may seem. Many experienced users dont use the popup flash on their cameras. However, the a5100 and a6000 both have a tiltable popup flash that can be used to bounce. The usefulness of that bounce capability is reduced because of the lower power of the a5100's flash. The a5100 doesnt have an external flash to make up for any weakness in the popup flash. If you really need to use a flash and the a5100 popup is inadequate, a possible alternative may be to use the popup flash to trigger a slave optically (many inexpensive flashes now include a digital slave sensor that can ignore TTL preflashes).

+ Flip up LCD for selfies: I know many photographers despise selfies but the fact is that many casual users take them. If you take them, the flip up LCD is very useful.

+ Touchscreen: one of the few weaknesses of the a6000 is the absence of a touchscreen. Some people are also confused by the a6000's controls for selecting the AF point. Both issues are addressed by the a5100's touchscreen. I havent tried the a5100's touch screen but on cameras I have that do have a touchscreen, I find it very useful.

+ simultaneous video recording in smaller format: this facilitates spontaneous sharing of video while retaining a higher quality version for home editing. If you share videos on social media, this feature is very handy.

+ price: The a5100 is $100 cheaper. That's nice although not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I would suggest deciding based on the other factors.

Whether the a5100 is better for you than the a6000 depends on your shooting style. If you use an external flash often, or you like shooting with continuous bursts, or if you frequently adjust your exposure controls, a6000 is better. For many casual users, those probably aren't dealbreakers. On the other hand, for those same users, the flip screen and touchscreen could be very useful, especially if they are avid users of social media.