Having entered the compact system market in 2010 with the (long discontinued) NEX-3 and NEX-5, Sony has spent the past couple of years refining its NEX range with a new model appearing roughly every six months. During the same period Sony has also ceased to manufacture traditional DSLRs in favour of its Single-Lens Translucent (SLT) range of fixed mirror interchangeable-lens cameras. More recently Sony has finally entered the advanced compact market with the launch of the RX100 – it’s certainly been an interesting couple of years for the company, with plenty of innovation on show.
The NEX-6 is the latest model to grace Sony’s compact system camera range and neatly slots in between the flagship NEX-7 and the more consumer focused NEX-5R. Taking elements from both models, the NEX-6 shares the high-resolution electronic viewfinder of its more expensive sibling and combines it with the Wi-Fi functionality of the NEX-5R to produce a mid-range compact system camera that looks to have plenty to offer.
That said, the compact system market is stronger than ever and the NEX-6 certainly has its work cut out if it wants to stand out from the crowd. With competing models such as the Olympus OM-D E-5, Panasonic Lumix G5, Nikon V2 and the much cheaper Samsung NX11 all vying for position within the same segment of the CSC market, can the NEX-6 rise above the competition? Let’s take a closer look and find out.
Whereas the NEX-7 employs a 24.3MP sensor, the NEX 6 houses the same 16.1MP APS-C CMOS sensor that is found in other current NEX models, including the NEX-5R/5N and NEX-F3. Still images can be captured in either JPEG or lossless Raw (.ARW) format with a maximum resolution of 4912 x 3264 pixels when used at full resolution in the default 3:2 aspect. You can, of course, lower the resolution if required (say, for example, when shooting non-critical photos destined solely for web use) and the NEX-6 also offers an alternative 16:9 aspect should you want to shoot widescreen images.
Working alongside the CMOS sensor is Sony’s latest generation of Bionz image processor that allows the NEX-6 to reach a maximum continuous shooting speed of 10fps as well as facilitating video recording at a maximum quality setting of 1080/50p Full HD. Sensitivity ranges between ISO 100-25,600 which is pretty standard for a camera of this type and price.
In keeping with other NEX models the NEX-6 eschews internal sensor-shift anti-blur technology in favour of the company’s proprietary SteadyShot stabilisation that’s built in to most of the E-mount lenses designed specifically for use with the NEX series. Thankfully, the new E-PZ 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS power zoom that’s supplied as a kit option with the NEX-6 benefits from the inclusion of SteadyShot technology too, which will help to ensure sharper pictures at slower shutter speeds and longer focal lengths. One useful practical feature of the new PZ (Power Zoom) lens we rather like is that users can opt to control the focal length manually via a zoom control ring on the end of the lens barrel. This ring actually serves two purposes, as it's also used to control focus when the camera is being used in MF mode.
Exposure options offered by the NEX-6 include Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and full Manual modes for the enthusiast, neatly complemented by an Intelligent Auto scene recognition mode and a Superior Auto mode that can automatically shoot and then blend multiple exposures to improve results in tricky lighting conditions. Rounding things off are a selection of individually selectable Scene modes and Sony’s excellent Sweep Panorama ultra-wideangle capture mode.
As with most high-end Sony cameras released in the past couple of years the NEX-6 features an extensive range of options for high definition video recording including the choice to record in either the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format or the more computer friendly MP4 format. Disappointingly though, the NEX-6 lacks an external microphone input, which means that the camera’s built-in stereo microphones remain the only way of recording audio – a potential problem when recording video in quiet settings where operation of the power zoom or of the camera’s physical controls could be inadvertently picked up.
In terms of connectivity the NEX-6 comes with USB and HDMI outputs, however a much bigger selling point is the camera’s built-in wireless functionality, which largely renders the need for cables unnecessary – at least should you be trying to connect to a smartphone or tablet. You will, however, need to install the PlayMemories Mobile app on your device first though.
The camera’s Wi-Fi functionality is further enhanced by access to Sony's recently launched PlayMemories ‘app’ service that allows you to download apps to the camera to further its abilities. At present there are only a handful of these apps on offer and they're not all free either, however Sony promises that to make more available in the coming months. One existing app that many may well find useful is the Direct Upload app that allows you to upload your images straight to Facebook or to Sony’s PlayMemories cloud servers. Again, Sony promises that more social networking options will be made available in the coming months.
Turning to the back of the camera, you’ll find a 3in, 921k-dot LCD screen and while this lacks the NEX-5R’s touchscreen functionality and vari-angle flexibility, it’s nonetheless pin-sharp and can at least be tilted up or down to assist with shooting from extreme angles. Should you prefer to hold the NEX-6 at eye level then the good news is that the 2.4million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder it ‘borrows’ from the NEX-7 is one of the best examples of its kind on any digital camera presently on the market.