two custom buttons atop the camera, bringing
the total number of external controls that can
be customized to 10.
The camera is slightly heavier than its
predecessor thanks to improved dust and
moisture resistance but it still weighs in
lighter than Fuji’s X-T2.
There’s a 2.9-inch display that can be tilted
up 90 degrees or down 45 degrees. The new
touchscreen supports touch focusing and
touch shutter release. It can also help you
select AF points when composing through
the EVF—you simply drag your finger across
the display to highlight your desired AF
point. It’s a nice touch (if you will), though
not as smooth as a joystick or other tactile
control. The menu design has been enhanced
slightly too, with color coded tabs and a new,
more logical structure to help segregate the
camera’s multitude of features and settings.
You can also compose your scene through
a .39-inch OLED EVF with a resolution of
2.4-million dots. Its speedy refresh rate of 120
fps ensures a very crisp, life-like view. There’s
a mic input but, sadly, no headphone jack.
Despite the $500 price differential, you can
expect roughly the same image quality from
the a6500 as you can from the a6300. That’s
not a bad thing—both models do an excellent
job with color reproduction. While the
a6500 lacks the impressive dynamic range
of Sony’s 42-megapixel full-frame sensor,
we were still able to recover a fair amount
of highlight and shadow details from the
RAW file. (Note that the a6500 only offers a
compressed RAW file option.)
Where we did note a slight difference
from the a6300 was in ISO performance, with
the a6500 faring modestly better. In JPEGs,
noise pops in a little at 1600 and more at 3200.
Nonetheless, the noise is very well contained
and even at ISO 12,800, images look decent.
We compared some of our a6500 images at ISO
51,200 to similar shots taken with the a6300
and found more aggressive noise reduction in
the former. We think the a6500’s performance
at high ISO is slightly better than Canon’s 80D,
is roughly identical to Olympus’ E-M1 Mark II
but is not superior to Nikon’s D500.
Video is recorded at 3840 x 2160 at up to
30p and full HD at 120p. In 4K video you’ll
experience a 1.2x crop of the sensor when
shooting at 30p (but not at 24p). As with
stills, the a6500’s video performance is
essentially identical to the a6300, with
excellent color rendition and numerous
picture profile options to get you a very
color-gradable file. You’ll have a nice
selection of exposure aids, including
a focus magnifier, zebra stripes and
The a6500 has an immense array of AF
points and can deliver an extremely consistent
continuous autofocusing experience for stills.
This is an excellent choice for shooting sports or
any fast-paced action. There are a bewildering
array of AF options that Sony packs into the
camera’s menu, so you’ll have to do a bit of
fine-tuning to get the AF behavior you desire.
The a6500 did struggle in areas of strong
backlighting (which isn’t surprising) so it’s not
infallible. One thing that also slipped us up is
that if you select a focus point on the touch
screen, you’ll over-ride your given AF setting.
Continuous AF in video was not as consistently
fluid as we’ve found in Canon DSLRs with Dual
Pixel CMOS AF, but still very good.
The addition of in-body stabilization
is definitely a plus, even if it’s not quite as
impressive as the implementation of Olympus
OMD-EM 1 Mark II (or even that of Sony’s
full-frame series). We were comfortable shooting
handheld at 1/30 sec. shutter speeds, though
handheld video shooting was quite steady.
There had been user complaints about the
a6300 over-heating during video recording.
Even though we had the a6500 during an
unseasonably warm stretch of February,
we didn’t have a chance to get into very hot
conditions. After 30 minutes of recording
indoors, the camera was slightly warm to the
touch (particularly the top plate) but only
mildly so. The camera automatically ends
recording at 30 minutes and after a second
round of roughly 20 minutes the camera
wasn’t significantly much warmer. Your
mileage in warmer climes may vary, though.
Battery life clocks in at an underwhelming
310 shots or a little over one hour of video
recording. This is actually a shorter battery
life than the a6300 (likely the result of in-body
stabilization) and an ongoing liability of
mirrorless cameras generally.
Sony’s a6500 is an incredibly versatile,
impeccably designed camera. Price-wise, it sits
in a kind of gray zone. It’s cheaper than flagship
cameras like Fuji’s X-T2, the Panasonic GH5 and
Olympus’ E-M1 Mark II while offering a very
competitive feature set. Compared to APS-C
DSLRs, opting for the a6500 means you’ll
take a big hit on battery life—Canon’s 80D
and Nikon’s D500 deliver almost four times
as much battery life. But its smaller, more
compact build means there will be plenty of
room for spare batteries in your gear bag.
If you’re looking at the a6300, you’ll have
to decide whether improved stabilization,
a touch screen and huge buffer memory are
worth the extra $500. The a6500 isn’t a fully
formed pro APS-C camera—it lacks dual
memory card slots, a headphone jack and
additional controls like a front scroll wheel—
but it’s still a solid camera.
GEAR & TECHNIQUES PRODUCT REVIEWS
PROS: Fast and accurate AF system; 5-axis
image stabilizer; improved build quality;
highly customizable; excellent continuous
shooting; great still and video quality.
CONS: Poor battery life; missing
headphone jack; single memory card slot.
ABOVE: Sony pushed its a6000 series
forward with in-body image stabilization
and a bountiful buffer in the a6500.
BELOW: There’s no analogue nostalgia in the design
of the a6500. It’s supremely functional.