This is a guest Sony a6500 review by Colorado based wedding and portrait photographer Marc Bergreen.
Since my first camera purchase over fifteen year ago, I have been intrigued by how equipment has the potential to my job easier and more creative. With each new camera comes a new list of features. The trick is evaluating how they actually stack up and determining if it’s worth the upgrade.
My review of the Sony a6500 is based on using the camera for several weeks for both paid work and personal work. Mainly I wanted to see if it was a viable backup to my main camera, the Sony a7iii and if it would serve as a good option for casual family/travel/adventure photos.
I have been using Sony cameras for several years now, starting with the a6000 and a7ii and more recently the a7iii. With that said, I was also a Canon DSLR shooter for many years.
My main focus when choosing equipment is ensuring that it simplifies my process. While the gear lover in me appreciates bells and whistles, I don’t want to hear them.
Ideally, the equipment fades into the background allowing me to intuitively create stunning images.
Sony a6500 Review | Build Quality
The build quality on the Sony a6500 appears sturdy and resilient. This is coming from someone who believes in using equipment, not babying it. What’s the point of having the camera if you are afraid to take it out of your bag?
People often get concerned about the Sony mirrorless cameras not being tough enough but so far my experience is positive.
Sure, they might not be as burly as the high end DSLR but they are lightweight making a drop less impactful and ergonomics less vital. More on ergonomics in a minute. My other Sony bodies have handled several drops without consequence. Perhaps I should review camera straps next!
Instead of having a full metal body, the Sony a6500 is a combination of plastic and metal components. Nevertheless it retains a sturdiness that made me feel comfortable about tossing it in my backpack without fear of damaging it.
Generally it felt tougher than the Sony a6000 that I’ve had for a while. Maybe that is because it is new while the my a6000 has taken a beating over the years on skiing and climbing trips. Either way, I was very satisfied with the build quality.
Another thing I was happy with was the weather sealing. It performed well even in a heavy snow storm. I have always been skeptical of Sony’s weather sealing because I felt like there should be a rubber seal like I was familiar with on my old canon lenses.
However, I have taken all of my Sony cameras out in full on downpour rain and never had an issue. The a6500 appears equally weather resistant. It’s nice not to worry about hurting my camera when I need it to help me get the job done.
Build quality is an important factor as I don’t want to worry more about the camera than getting the shot. Sure, I could use a camera strap and a plastic bag but I’d rather have a camera that can handle the workload.
Sony a6500 | Ergonomics & Handling
Now on to ergonomics and handling. Photographers transitioning from Canon or Nikon are often hesitant about how the size of the camera impacts the ergonomics.
In my Shotkit article on switching camera systems, I offered the thought that perhaps a camera doesn’t need to have perfect ergonomics if it’s lightweight. It’s like not needing a hip-belt on a smaller backpack.
The main difference between the Sony a6500 and the a7 series is the size of the body. The a6500 is even smaller. Therefore, the controls were a bit more compact and not quite as quick to adjust. There are fewer dedicated custom buttons which is only a concern if you are using the camera at events and need to work very quickly.
Two things that I found myself wishing for were a front dial and a joystick button. I rely a lot on the front dial to quickly adjust shutter speed to fine tune my exposure and using the back dial was just not as effective.
The joystick would allow quick movement of the focus point allowing me to shoot with out focusing and re-composing which can sometime lead to missing focus.
The touch screen was an attempt to address this problem. It seemed effective but it just doesn’t fit with my style of shooting. I like to keep my eye on the subject and let my fingers work the controls while waiting for the moment. Pulling back from the viewfinder to use the touch screen was too much of a distraction to be useful for me.
Despite lacking these two things, I was able to customize the buttons and dials to make my main adjustments quickly even for a person with moderate to large hands. The buttons and knobs are small, but are a definite upgrade from the Sony a6000. Each of the dials felt tight and tactile making accurate adjustments easy.
One other issue I ran into was that the camera had a max shutter speed of 1/4000 of a second. At first this didn’t seem like a problem but then I realized that you can’t shoot wide open apertures in bright scenes. This is something to keep in mind especially for portrait photographers.
If you’re looking for a camera to shoot more personal work (i.e. family, travel, and adventures etc) the ergonomics and handling on the Sony a6500 are completely adequate.
If you shoot in other modes like aperture priority or shutter speed priority, this will be even less of a concern because you need to make fewer adjustments.
Sony a6500 | Viewfinder/Screen Quality
The EVF (electronic viewfinder) is one of the most important features on a mirrorless camera because you can see your exposure before pressing the shutter.
For the occasional overhead or very low shot, the flip out screen is very handy as well. I sometimes find myself using it to reach up or to the side to get a unique perspective that wouldn’t be possible without the tilt-able rear screen.
The electronic viewfinder on the Sony a6500 is crisp, vibrant, and bright. Even in low light, the viewfinder was accurate and helped me achieve proper exposure. I did find that it is a little dim to shoot in full sun, even with maximum brightness.
On a few occasions the illuminated screen caused me to underexpose a little but that works well with my style of shooting. I often find myself underexposing to preserve the brightest parts of the image. It is easier to recover shadows than highlights.
Both the EVF and the flip out screen are designed with usability in mind. They have the ability to make my job easier and quicker so I can focus on getting the shot.
Sony a6500 | Battery Life
Along with the small form factor, the Sony a6500 comes with a small battery. This became an issue for me mainly in cold weather. At more comfortable temps, the battery seemed adequate, however, I would definitely recommend keeping a few extras with you (get them here), if you plan on shooting a lot.
In future iterations, I hope that Sony will upgrade to the new Z series batteries which I rarely find myself needing more than 2 for a full (10+hr) day of shooting.
Smaller is not always better. It may be a benefit for certain things but battery life is not one of them.
Sony a6500 | Metering & Focus
The other big advantage on the Sony a6500 is Eye AF – combine this with tracking AF and you’ve got a powerful combo for tack sharp portraits.
Occasionally the camera would struggle to lock focus in very low light but overall I was impressed with the capability for such a compact body.
I didn’t test the metering because I strictly shoot in all-manual, but with the EVF, you can accurately assess your exposure prior to taking a photo.
Additionally, the wide dynamic range gives you a lot of lattitude in your file if you miss the exposure in camera.
Sony a6500 | High ISO Performance
I felt comfortable shooting at ISO 6400 and the files looked great in Lightroom (after a bit of noise reduction, and as long as you don’t try to push the exposure more than one stop).
This makes it a competitive camera especially since it is using a crop sensor.
[Related: Confused about what version of Lightroom to buy? Read this.]
Sony a6500 | Image Quality
I was very impressed with the images coming out of the Sony a6500. The dynamic range is awesome (13.7 stops) and the color seemed better than I expected (on par with the a7 series).
People have had issues with Sony color but I think they are finally resolving this.
It is incredible to get such high quality images out of a camera so small.
Sony a6500 | Value for Money
I think this camera hits a sweet spot in value – see the latest Sony a6500 price here.
It produces spectacular 24mp images with tons of dynamic range while retaining its compact and easy to manipulate body. Overall, I think it is a fantastic camera for everyday adventures and travel.
Its small size won’t make you question whether to bring it because it easily zips under a jacket or in a backpack lid.
Sony a6500 Lenses | My Recommendations
The Sony a6500 has a wide range of lens options. Though it seems like more recently Sony has focused on their full frame lens lineup (fully compatible with a6500), there are still a wide range of options specifically designed for crop sensors.
The main advantage of crop sensor lenses is their smaller/lighter build. For my style of shooting as a wedding and adventure photographer, my top 3 lenses for the Sony a6500 would be:
- This is a fantastic all around lens with an equivalent focal length of 24-105mm. It’s a sharp and sturdy feeling lens that covers a wide range of focal lengths. A great starting lens for someone just getting into photography or a pro that needs a backup that covers a large range.
- Because of my passion for shooting outdoors, this is an awesome lens for capturing the environment. It goes super wide with an equivalent focal length of 15-27mm while staying sharp and feeling like a high quality full frame lens. The extremely wide focal length makes it less ideal for portraits but you won’t have any trouble fitting the all the action into the frame!
- I think this an awesome lens for people to improve their photography with. Many old pros swear by the 35mm focal length (this is a 36mm equivalent). It will inspire you to “zoom with your feet” and fill your frame with your subject. I also really appreciate the fast 1.8 aperture when shooting in low light. This fast & sharp lens pairs well with the a6500.
If I were to choose an additional 3 lenses for the Sony a6500, my choices would be:
- Everyone needs a “nifty fifty” and this lens provides an awesome medium focal length with a fast aperture for shooting in low light. It is an inexpensive and popular prime lens. The only downside I experienced was a little softness around the edges of the frame so be sure to keep any important subjects out of the corners when framing up scenes with this lens. A great value to add to your kit.
- This awesome fast, wide angle, prime lens would be my go to for astrophotography with the a6500. At f/1.4, it has the speed to capture the night sky at an equivalent focal length of 24mm. This would also be great for capturing wide landscapes and action/adventure.
- This is the last lens in my 6 top choices because I think it is one of my lesser used focal lengths. However when I do need a beautiful portrait of a person with nice bokeh and draws sharp attention to the eyes, nothing does that like an 85mm equivalent! An excellent fast prime lens for portraits or weddings especially when shooting in low light.
It really depends on what you’re looking to accomplish with your camera but I would feel confident with the above kit. I could capture the majority of my images with a slight emphasis on wide angle action/adventure style imagery.
Sony a6500 vs a7ii | My Thoughts
One question people often ask is which should I choose, the Sony a7ii or the Sony a6500. I think this question comes up because they are similar in price. The difference lies in their feature set. They are intended for different purposes.
The main differentiator between the two is full frame vs crop sensor, an age old debate. I think the best way to compare the two is with a pros/cons list:
Sony a7ii pros:
- front exposure wheel (see ergonomics section for why this is so important)
- full frame sensor = better high iso image quality
- full frame sensor = better bokeh and accurate focal length representation (i.e. 50mm looks like 50mm)
- one more custom button
- fits larger hands better (more ergonomic)
Sony a7ii cons:
- larger body (not as small/compact as a6500)
- more expensive & larger/heavier lenses
- slower to focus & lower frame rate (5 fps vs 11 fps on the a6500)
- small image buffer (will slow down if shooting lots of images in sequence)
- skin tones not as good as a6500 (based on my experience)
Sony a6500 pros:
- ultra compact yet capable body
- smaller lens lineup
- eye autofocus
- silent shutter
- fast autofocus and frame rate (11 fps!!)
- touch screen (may or may not be useful)
Sony a6500 cons:
- high iso image quality not as good
- max shutter speed 1/4000
- no front dial for exposure control
- bokeh not as good though larger depth of field can be an advantage for landscape images
- not as ergonomic to use
With all the pros and cons, I think the main thing it comes down to is size/money. The Sony a6500 is an amazing camera in a pint sized package. It is the little brother of the full frame a7 lineup.
The Sony a7ii is a less expensive body but the lenses that go with it are more expensive.
[Related: Recommended Sony lenses]
You’ll be spending more on lenses but as time goes on, you can keep those while you upgrade your camera body. Lenses hold their value well and don’t need to be updated nearly as often.
Sony a6500 Review | Summary
The main advantage of the a6500 is its smaller form factor and thus smaller lenses. In addition to being smaller, the lenses are much more affordable.
[Related: recommended lenses for the Sony a6 series]
The size being the main advantage of the a6500 is also where it falls short for me. The short battery life and too compact controls are enough to make me hesitate to rely on it too much. The last thing I need is to miss a shot because I can’t change my settings fast enough or my battery died.
However, the Sony a6500 certainly works as a viable backup to keep in the bag in case your main body has a problem. Where it really shines is as a small/lightweight camera for traveling or having on you all the time to document the adventures of life.
I plan on keeping an a6500 around for documenting everyday adventures and taking with me everywhere.
If the best camera is the one you have with you, get a high-quality yet compact and lightweight setup that you will always have with you!
Disclaimer: All recommendations are impartial and based on user experience, with no bias to the products or the brand. The products in this post contain affiliate links which help support Shotkit.
Marc and Brenda Bergreen are wedding photographers based in the Rocky Mountains.