Sony a6000 Review: Small But Mighty

 

My dog is obviously my main muse. This was one of the first shots I took with the a6000.

I don’t necessarily fancy myself a photographer. But recently it occurred to me that I should get a camera. I wanted to shoot portraits that I could use in drawings, and make my recipes look less unappetizing in pictures. Plus, cameras have come a long way since my last point-and-shoot that is now presumably covered in gum in an old purse.

Santorini and this camera got along very well.

Originally, I wanted the legitimacy of a digital SLR. But then I started reading about mirrorless cameras, which are just as powerful and customizable, but smaller. I decided a mirrorless camera was the perfect space between the heft of a digital SLR and the frisbee-like quality of an iPhone.

Picking which mirrorless camera to buy was painful. They all have names like “Zeussian T-450 DM RT X1 3.5 12-400 V. VIII.” Just googling the differences between them felt like typing something out in morse code. Even worse, the differences were things like, “MP 28, OSS ISO 8,000 vs. MP 12, NO OSS, ISO 20,000.”

I spent hours reading “camera term glossaries” and watching review videos on YouTube. I read camera buying guides in The Wirecutter, Consumer Reports and random recipe blogs. I sat on Amazon examining people’s pictures of wide-angle cats in the comments, trying to figure out whether I was more of a Fujifilm or Nikon kind of person. Then I had to do some soul searching. Did I want a 4-pound camera or a half-pound camera? Did I have $1600 or $600?

It makes the weeds in my yard look nice. (Taken with the Sigma portrait lens.)

Eventually, I emerged with a winner. The Sony a6000. It was popular. It was extremely well-rated. It was reasonably priced (currently on sale for $648), but came with the option of spending a pretty penny on lenses. It was light, attractive and available with 2-day shipping. I bought it before I could change my mind.

Now, I’ve had the camera for a little over a month and taken it to Las Vegas, Ely, Florida, Denver and the Greek Isles. I’ve bought and returned a couple lenses, and kept a couple. I’ve gone from having no idea what ISO meant to playing with long exposure night shots. It’s been a real trip, and I’ve learned a lot.

Here are my main impressions of the Sony a6000 so far.

(I’m filling this review with as many pictures as possible, because that’s what you care about, right?)

Multiple white balance modes mean I can lie and say the sunset was much more purple than it actually was!

Gotta love vibey wave pics.

Zoom lenses mean getting closer to the fair action.

1. The Kit Lens is a Powerhouse

In general, I’ve found the Sony a6000 separates lights from a velvety black sky much better than an iPhone.

At first, I assumed the kit lens must be far inferior to the many flashy lenses you can buy on Amazon. But at 16-50mm, it acts as both a wide-angle and zoom lens, which is incredibly versatile. Its largest aperture is 3.5, which isn’t terribly fast, but can get you a nice bokeh (blurred background) if you use it right. It’s small, compact and captures vivid colors, features optical image stabilization and focuses quickly.

It’s fantastic for taking landscape shots and zooming in on the action. Don’t take the kit lens for granted!

The kit lens took this epic vignetted picture of my niece Lily.

That blue sky though.

I feel kinda creepy taking pictures of strangers. How do you guys handle this in your street photography?

2. It’s Light and Portable

I’m so glad I didn’t wait till after Santorini to buy this camera.

Weighing in at just about .75 lb., the a6000 was easy to take everywhere on my vacation. It fit snugly in my purse, and was light when worn around my neck.

Plums (I think?) in a market in Corfu. Having a smaller mirrorless camera makes it easier to creep in on people’s booths to take pictures. (Taken with the Sigma lens.)

My beautiful niece Kaylee smizing with a mastery beyond her years.

3. It’s Great in Dim Light and Makes Food Look Awesome

Drinks at Baba au Rum in Athens.

I can’t explain how the camera pulls off such feats, but it does. The kit lens in particular takes nice low-light shots.

I spent a lot of time sitting on a beautiful porch in Santorini trying to capture how great our view was at night. Eventually I slowed the shutter enough that I was able to get the below image, which shows how the moonlight spreads out on the water.

Not pictured: Ed Sheeran jams bumping all night.

It also makes food look almost as appetizing as it is in person.

Loukoumades, Greek fried dough balls in Corfu.(Sigma lens.)

Karaage at Nolan in Athens.

Gnocchi at the amazing, amazing Venetian Well in Corfu.

The kit lens made this salmon dish at Christos in Minneapolis look just as tasty as it was.

Taking nice pictures of my own food has been a battle. I’ve basically realized you have to a) have very pristine dishes b) arrange ingredients all around our dish like you leave them all over while cooking c) have some kind of cutting board or cute rag to pose it on. But yeah I still don’t know what I’m doing in that regard. (Sigma lens.)

4. It’s a Legit Step Up from an iPhone

The iPhone doing a decent job of catching this kiddo rave.

And the Sony a6000 kicking its butt.

I first saw the dramatic difference when snapping photos of my sister’s kids playing with this disco ball. Check out the velvety blacks the Sony a6000 created, compared to the watery background on the iPhone.

I also noticed a major difference when taking pictures of these Ritual vitamins. (I’ll write a review of them some other time.) I didn’t realize I was taking photos of different orientations at the time, so that changes it a little, but the a6000 seemed to have a simpler time bringing light to the foreground and the background.

Not bad iPhone, but the vitamins look a little dim.

In the Sony a6000’s photo, they’re glowing with omega 3 goodness.

5. It Spurs Nostalgia in *Real* Photographers

Many people who I consider talented photographers said things like, “That was my first camera, and I loved it.” They often waxed poetic a bit and gave me advice about getting even more from it.

Neil’s parents’ collie, Maverick.

Getting that blurred background with my Sigma lens.

I shot this image out of a cab window going 50 mph in Denver and it turned out pretty nice, IMHO!

6. It is What You Make of It

Reading photography books (listed in post linked below) made it much easier for me to capture fireworks.

On that note, the a6000 is all about what you do with it. You can use the kit lens forever, keep it on Superior Auto mode and never look back if you want. Your photos may never look like the ones you see from photographers, but hey, that might not be your goal. You can also do the opposite, and shoot only in manual while trying different lenses. If you lean toward the latter, you’re going to have a more artistic experience.

Here are some tips on lenses and other accessories I recommend for this camera. I would definitely start by adding the Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens, which I used to take several pictures in this review. Thanks for the recommendation, Tony!

My nephew living that Sigma portrait life.

Final notes:

It takes beautiful videos. I almost never shoot videos, so I didn’t focus on that. Using a lens like the Sigma can up your video capture game even more if that’s what you’re into.

I have a lot more selfies to pick from now that I have a camera. This is me drinking green juice.

It’s also very easy to send photos from your camera to your phone. It has its own wifi signal, so I often sent over batches multiple times during the day on vacation. You can also just grab a $9 SD card reader card reader and mass-import your photos that way.

I didn’t cover criticism, because I didn’t have much. My only grievance, which just popped into my head, is that sometimes the screen doesn’t give me a preview when I’m holding the camera sideways, and I have to actually use the viewfinder. I often prefer to use the viewfinder anyway, so I almost forgot about that.

Flowers in Corfu shot with the Sigma 30mm.

Overall, for the price I paid for the camera, I’m amazed at the versatility and control I have in my pictures. It comes with me everywhere now, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. People at work joke that I’ve become the paparazzi, but I have to practice on someone!

Rebecca, my name twin at work, enjoys modeling for me.

If you’re looking for a mid-range, versatile camera, I couldn’t recommend the a6000 enough.