If you cannot afford Sony's flagship a7 or a7R, the new Sony a6000 might just be the perfect mirrorless camera for you. It sits just behind these two top-range cameras.
While the a6000 lacks the full-frame image sensor of the a7, it has a competent 24.3-megapixel APS-C image sensor.
In fact, this has an advanced fast hybrid autofocusing (AF) system that neither flagship model has. It utilises a 179-point focal plane phase-detection AF sensor with high-precision contrast-detection AF.
Helped by its latest-generation Bionz X image processor, Sony claims that the a6000 has the world's fastest AF system. I cannot confirm that, but the AF performance is really stunning.
With the SELP 16-50mm powered zoom lens, the a6000 locks on to a focus almost instantaneously in bright light. You can point anywhere or zoom the lens quickly and it will still lock on instantly.
In dim conditions, it can secure a focus in around 1sec, with the aid of the AF assist light, most of the time.
During video recording, the AF is also swift. It automatically locks on to a focus in less than 2sec when you pan to a new scene or zoom in on an object.
Light and compact
Operation is only very slightly better than normal mirrorless cameras. The a6000 takes 1.6sec for it to start up before it is ready to shoot. Shutting down takes 1.8sec.
Using an SD card with a writing speed rated at 45MB a second, the a6000 is able to take 23 RAW images in 1.9sec before the buffer runs out. If you are shooting JPEGs, it can fire off 51 JPEGs in 5.2sec before calling it a day. So, it is as fast as advertised.
Design-wise, the a6000 takes after the a7 cameras with its flat top and angular shape. Although it is not made of magnesium-alloy, its metallic composite structure feels sturdy.
The rubberised grip might look small, but it is able to accommodate all my fingers. Plus, with the ergonomic rear thumb rest, holding this camera is really comfortable.
As the powered zoom lens retracts when the camera shuts down, it keeps the overall size of the camera tidy. It can easily be slotted into most backpacks and handbags. The a6000 weighs only 395g with the kit lens, so your shoulders will never feel burdened.
On the extreme top left of the camera's back, there is a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF). It is not as sharp and clear as the excellent EVF of the Olympus OM-D E-M1. I was also disappointed that the EVF is not tiltable, unlike on the Panasonic GX7.
The 3-inch display can be flipped down by 45 degrees and flipped up by 90 degrees - not very convenient for selfies. It is not a touchscreen, which might irk some people.
This device may not have the image quality of the full-frame a7 cameras, but ita is superb for its class. Pictures are sharp and vivid with an incredible amount of details, even in the darker areas.
Noise performance is excellent as well. Very few noise artefacts are visible, even at ISO 3,200. Only at ISO 6,400 are they evident, but there is little detail loss and only slight blurring.
At ISO 12,800, detail loss is clearly visible and shots are good probably only for Web use. I would not recommend anything above ISO 12,800.
Video quality is crisp and picks up little ambient audio, although the sound of zooming and the AF of the lens can be readily heard.
Battery life is slightly above average. On a full charge, it can take around 400 pictures, about 50 more than the competition.
The Sony a6000 represents superb value for money with its fast operation, speedy autofocusing, intuitive handling and great image quality.