Sony has a penchant for releasing new cameras. We could postulate that they are trying to keep up with Nikon and Canon but it’s likely more pressure from both Panasonic and Fuji mirrorless offerings and a desire to dominate the camera market.
My A6300 arrived from B&H on March 15, 2016 and just eight short months later I was at the camera store and asked them if they had an A6500 in stock. The associate checked the computer, smiled and came back a few moments later with a box. It was kind of an impulse purchase, but I had gear lust and wanted to test a new camera. I also figured I could sell my battle-scarred 6300 on eBay and keep the 6500 as my primary APS-C body.
I ripped into the box, dropped in the memory card and fresh battery and quickly entered the date, time and region information. Initially I was impressed with the new menus, then realized they were mostly the same hierarchy, just in fancier colors. I was somewhat disappointed that the new touch screen didn’t allow me to mash my choices and I still had to use the d-pad to navigate them. I wish a camera manufacturer would put iOS or Android in a camera or take some notes from phone app developers on their touch integration.
The first shots were random snaps out of the window of my truck and nothing spectacular. I hit the touch screen to focus on my steering wheel, then again to focus on the car in front of me. Cool, touch to focus finally found it way to a Sony body and it works. While the touch screen serves it’s intended purpose it’s not as instant or precise as my smartphone.
The size, shape and button layout is essentially unchanged with some nuances. The A6500 has a new chunkier grip which is nice. However the larger grip doesn’t fit into my Ikelite water Housing, so we’re keeping the A6300 for underwater shots. There is an additional custom function button on the top plate so I can set all of my custom buttons similar to the A7Sii or A7Rii for consistency. The buttons also seem a little bit nicer in their clickability over the A6300. It’s hard to explain, but they’re tacitly nicer buttons. The rear click wheel is stiffer as well.
Is the AF faster? Yes, but the A6300 is no slouch. I don’t typically notice differences in AF speed or handling when switching back and forth between the two cameras. The hit rate for in focus shots seems to be about the same as well. Both cameras share the same hybrid autofocus system with 425 phase detection points and 169 contrast detection points. The High-Density Tracking AF automatically concentrates as many AF points as needed on the subject when tracking.
The biggest difference and selling point over the A6300 is the upgraded processor and the way the buffer works. This new processor allows up to 107 RAW files to be buffered before writing to the card. The 6300 fills it’s smaller buffer at 21 RAW files. While I am not a spray and pray kind of photographer I do appreciate the ability to fire a few continuous high shots at 11 FPS in RAW, hit the review button and change some settings while the buffer clears out. The A6300 was essentially worthless for anything other than more photos while it’s buffer was clearing. The A6300 gives you the dreaded “Writing to memory card unable to operate” message after a few successive shots where the A6500’s faster processor is still responsive to commands.
It should be noted that at the fastest speed of 11 FPS, you see the last image captured instead of a live view of the scene. Slowing down to 8 FPS, on the other hand, gives you an uninterrupted live view which makes it easier to track fast-moving subjects.
The A6500 features a new high-durability shutter mechanism with tested to around 200,000 release cycles, so let those Continuous High bursts rip. The shutter is reportedly quieter than the A6300, and produces less shutter shock though I never noticed this previously.
When you mount an OSS lens, 3 axis are used on the sensor: roll, up-down, left-right these are combined with the two axis of the optical stabilization: pitch and yaw. With E-mount lenses or adapted lenses that have electronic contacts but don’t have lens stabilization, the camera uses all 5 axis on the sensor. With adapted lenses that lack any electronic contacts only 3 axis are used on the sensor. The camera can’t use all 5 because some vital information from the lens such as the focal length and focus distance are missing. Now we could easily conclude that the A6500 gives you superior image stabilization. However a more interesting question is: how good is the 5-axis sensor shift and how different is it to using OSS lenses on the A6300?
Well, if we are talking about non-stabilized lenses, the advantage is pretty obvious, you go from no stabilization at all on the a6300 to 5-axis stabilization on the a6500. For example, with the FE 50mm f/1.8, I can shoot as slow as 1/5 with 5-axis IBIS. However, on the a6300, the safest usable shutter speed is around 1/40s. This equates to around 3 stops better, hand-held, with sensor stabilization for stills.
So, is the A6500 better than the A6300 for Video Production? There’s no real difference between the two cameras when it comes to 4K video. Both record with full pixel readout without pixel binning or cropping the sensor so the field of view of lenses is maintained. Both shoot with 20MP of the sensor a 6K pixel equivalent and then downscale and record the image at 4K.
The IBIS helps alleviate the handheld rolling shutter issue on non stabilized lenses but the sensor readout speed is the same relatively slow speed because it’s the same sensor. Don’t try any whip pans or shoot perpendicular to a moving vehicle with either body or your vertical lines will skew. Another thing still missing for video shooters is the headphone jack. I had hoped that the $400 price premium would add this but like the new iPhone we get no headphone jack or way to monitor audio. For most of my shooting I use the internal audio as a scratch track to sync an external source so this is a minor niggle.
They both use the same tiny battery that all the Alpha cameras use. Bonus points for consistency. The A6500 drains batteries a little faster than the A6300 likely due to the IBIS and more robust processor. There’s no way around it, always pack extra batteries.
Is the A6500 worth the $400 price bump over the A6300? Well, it depends on who you are and what you shoot. I use the A6500 for handheld shots in AF while the 6300 sits on a tripod to get better coverage. It’s always nice to have a second camera that color grades exactly the same.
If you’ve currently got no camera and can swing the premium price and still afford a quiver of lenses I say go for the A6500, its incremental upgrades are totally worth it.