Sony Alpha A6500

The Alpha A6500 is Sony's flagship APS-C mirrorless camera, and boy does it pack a lot of tech. 

Sony left it just six months before updating the Alpha A6300 with the A6500, but while this might sound like a premature update, the Alpha 6500 gains a number of key features, including in-body image stabilization to further blur the line between Sony’s APS-C lineup and its Alpha 7 full-frame range of mirrorless cameras.

Sony has also equipped its new camera with a greatly enhanced buffer to make it a tempting proposition for shooting action, while there's also the welcome addition of a touchscreen interface. The inclusion of these new features makes the A6500 one of the most fully featured crop-sensor cameras on the market right now.

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.2MP
  • 3.0-inch, vari-angle touchscreen, 921,000 dots
  • 4K video capture

While the Sony A6500 sticks with the Alpha 6300’s 24.2MP APS-C sensor and 4D focus system (with 425 phase detect AF points), there are welcome improvements elsewhere.

It’s notably the first Sony APS-C camera to come with 5-axis in-body image stabilization, just as we've seen with Sony's second-generation Alpha 7 series of cameras like the Alpha A7R II. And the great news is that this not only works with Sony's non-stabilized optics, but can be used in conjunction with Sony's OSS stabilized lenses.

Sony has also overhauled the buffer of the A6500, delivering a considerable boost in performance that sees the camera capable of capturing 307 full-size JPEG files or 107 raws, all at a quick 11fps burst rate – quite an improvement from the A6300's 44 JPEG and 22 raw limit.

That's still a far cry from the Nikon D500's bottomless 200-raw buffer, but it beats out most cameras – including absolutely crushing the Canon EOS 7D Mark II's buffer capacity of 31 raw files.

A faster large-scale integration (LSI) chip and image processing algorithm improve texture reproduction while reducing noise. With this new chipset and code, the A6500 specifically produces less noise in the mid-to-high portions of the camera’s ISO100-25,600 (expandable up to ISO51,200) sensitivity range.

The Alpha 6500 also gains a touchscreen (though resolution remains at the same 921k-dots), allowing you to change your focus point on the fly, which can be really useful when shooting video. 

Likewise, there's the same XGA OLED Tru-Finder, with a 2.36-million dots resolution and 120hz maximum refresh rate, as on the A6300, although the eye cup is a little softer.

While the Sony Alpha A6500 gains no additional video capabilities over its predecessor, it basically comes with everything the videographer could want. 

You have 4K (3840 x 2160) at 25p and 30p recording in a Super 35mm format. In this mode, the camera uses its entire sensor to capture 6K source to avoid cropping. The oversampled video data is then crunched down to a final 4K output with enhanced depth and detail. 

Full HD recording is also available if you want to deal with smaller files, and the option to go up to 120p means you can capture slow motion video. 

Video professionals will also be glad to hear that the Sony A6500 samples 4K footage at 4.2.0 internally and 4.2.2 externally over HDMI. Plus it has all the flat picture profiles you would want for grading footage later.

Despite the wealth of video features, we're disappointed to see that, as on the A6300, there's no headphone jack on this camera. In order to monitor your audio you'll need to keep a close eye on levels on-screen, or plug in an external monitor with an audio-out.

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Build and handling

  • Magnesium alloy construction
  • Practically identical to the Sony A6300
  • Weighs 453g (1lb)

Outwardly, the Sony A6500 is largely identical to its predecessor. It’s still a half-metal, half-plastic construction built around a magnesium frame, while components such as the power switch, battery hatch and controls are plastic. 

The A6500 is a smidge thicker than the A6300, at 53mm compared with 49mm, to accommodate the in-body image stabilization system; both cameras are 120mm wide and 67mm tall. The extra components also add 49 grams to the weight, bringing the A6500 in at 453g (1lb).

A deeper grip is one notable change that we actually appreciate, as it allows us to get a better hold of the camera. Where the A6300 had a single custom function button to the right of the shutter button, the A6500 has two, both located between the shutter button and the mode dial.

Because of relatively clean design on the top of the camera, the A6500 is able to offer both a built-in flash and a multi-interface shoe in addition to the electronic viewfinder, together with two large dials – a command dial and another for changing the shooting mode.

As we've seen with the A6300, the back of the A6500 follows a tried-and-tested formula, with a handful of well-marked controls and the loosely moving control wheel enabling you to navigate menus and scrutinize images with ease.

The 3.0-inch display pulls away easily from the back of the camera, while it's stiff enough to remain in the position to which it's adjusted. That limited versatility of the touchscreen control is disappointing though – it’s only useful for changing the focus point while taking photos and video, although you can also use it as a touchpad to change your focusing point while looking through the viewfinder – a feature we’ve seen on the Fujifilm X-T20 and Olympus Pen-F. If you're wanting to swipe through photos, pinch to zoom and have more interaction with on-screen controls, forget it.

The menu system is comprehensive, with 35 separate screens, but thankfully this time Sony's decided to color-code them – something missing from the A6300, making it a bit easier to find what you need. 

Autofocus

  • 425 phase-detect AF points
  • 169 contrast-detect AF points
  • 0.05 sec AF speed

The Sony Alpha A6500 inherits one of the densest AF system going, coming equipped with the same 4D Focus system we loved so much on the A6300. 425 phase-detect AF points combined with 169 additional contrast-detect points enable the camera to find focus incredibly quickly.

We tested the AF on a variety of subjects, from ice hockey to fast and erratic moving drones, and the A6500's AF system did a spectacular job of finding focus and staying locked on. It's an impressive system that you can really rely on. 

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Performance

  • 11fps burst shooting
  • 107 shot raw file buffer
  • 350-shot battery life

As we’ve mentioned, the Sony A6500 is a veritable speed demon, thanks to processing speeds being comprehensively boosted over the A6300.

The A6500 has been treated to the Alpha A99 II’s potent processing engine. This gives the A6500 a burst shooting buffer of up to 307 JPEGs when shooting at 8fps, giving you 35 seconds of firepower. Alternatively, at 11fps the camera can capture 200 JPEGs in a single bout or 107 raws.

The A6500's multi-zone metering system didn't get thrown by tricky lighting either, metering perfectly on the dot without any overexposure or underexposure. 

Battery life on the Sony A6500 is average at best

As with most Sony cameras we've tested recently, the A6500's auto white balance can be a little sticky and doesn't change instantaneously, although it does adapt faster than previous models. There are about a dozen white balance modes, including three custom settings which you can meticulously tweak to the right color temperature and tint.

Battery life on the Sony A6500 is average at best. Although it's rated for 350 shots, we only got through about half an evening of shooting images and a few minutes of 4K footage. You'll need to pick up a few spare batteries, especially if you plan to shoot Ultra HD movies, which drains the camera at a rate of 1% per minute of video.

Image quality

  • ISO100-25,600, expandable to 51,200
  • Good quality JPEGs straight from camera
  • 6,000 x 4,000 image size

Sony’s 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor delivers outstanding performance in the A6300, so it’s no surprise that it’s been carried over to the A6500. In terms of image quality, the Sony A6500 is an amazing camera for stills. 

The quality of JPEGs straight out of the camera is very good, with images displaying good levels of sharpness and contrast, while the A6500's DRO system does well to slightly bring up shadow areas, to make images more suitable for immediate use.

As we've seen with the A6300, image noise is generally very well controlled across the sensitivity range when shooting JPEGs, and images are perfectly usable even at higher settings such as ISO6400. We suggest though using the A6500's Low noise reduction setting as the camera's Normal noise reduction setting appears somewhat heavy handed in its approach to high-ISO images.

We used the A6500 with Sony's excellent Sony E 16-70mm f/4 Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* ZA OSS zoom lens and found the level of detail in raw files to be very impressive, while the camera's dynamic range doesn't disappoint either. It's possible to brighten the image a good amount to recover shadow detail without unwanted noise ruining the shot. 

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Verdict

We might be able to count the Sony A6500's five new features on one hand, but they add up to a much faster and robust camera than was the A6300. Of course, it would've been nice if these features had debuted in the A6300; however, if you’ve been waiting for an APS-C Sony with nearly the same capabilities as the company’s full-frame A7 Mark II, this is it.

Despite our reservations about the fiddly controls and dense menu system, no other camera does as much as the Sony A6500 does, and while being more affordable to boot. It keeps up surprisingly well with many higher-end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for sports – and if you’re looking to get serious with video, you won’t find a much better option.

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