Using the Sony a6000


It was getting clearer by the week. I needed a personal camera to document my work. Begging and borrowing cameras from friends and classmates wasn’t going to cut it. Point and shoot cameras were as good as my mobile phone, which was already quite capable of taking great images. But as good as my phone is, it simply isn’t good enough for documentation purposes. The obvious option would be to get a entry-level dSLR, and be done with the matter.

But you see, I am not happy with the way dSLR’s are made nowadays. I’ve borrowed and used many a dSLR, and getting it to produce great, usable images isn’t an easy. Operating it is a complex task, and it’s quite difficult to carry around. I’ve never used a dSLR that can take great images in fully automatic mode, without stopping down to a un-hand-holdable shutter speed, or by deploying the flash which is annoying.

Then I learnt of these new series of cameras called mirrorless dSLRs. Actually that’s wrong. It’s not really an SLR at all, as it doesn’t have the ‘Single Lens Reflex’ mechanism. Imagine a dSLR. Now apply Colin Chapman’s philosophy to it. “Simplify, then add lightness.” Remove the bulk, make it a lot lighter, and remove everything that’s unnecessary. So remove the the mirror inside the body of the camera required to make the optical viewfinder work. Now the camera operates in Live View mode all the time. That’s pretty much the only difference between dSLR’s and Mirrorless cameras. There are a lot more but it doesn’t really matter to us.

I needed a camera that
a) takes great pictures;
b) is easy to use;
c) is small and strong enough to carry around everywhere;
d) is discreet to use

There are many options available in the mirrorless camera market, but I was price limited to just two options: Olympus O-MD E-M10 mkII, and the Sony a6000. Initially I had my heart set on the Olympus because it was better looking, smaller, had great stabilisation, and a great selection of lenses. It was just a lot cooler.

But then I was priced out of this comparison as I had some great coupons for the Sony and eventually settled on the a6000. There’s not much to complain about the Sony, as it fulfils all my needs. But that’s about how far it goes. Or so I thought. I didn’t really like the way Sony made the a6000. It looked like it was designed half-heartedly, by someone who didn’t like cameras at all. The Olympus looks like it was designed by an enthusiastic photographer, with it’s lovely knobs and dials paying homage to the original Olympus O-MD. Even the Sony lenses look dull and unexciting, as great as they may be. The Olympus Zuiko lenses are just so much more exciting and look so much better.

It’s fair to say that because I had my heart set on the Olympus for such a long time that perhaps I needed to open up to the Sony. On a recent trip to Ahmedabad-Jaipur-Mumbai, I took the camera along, to see what it was capable of and if it could excite me.

First stop: Ahmedabad. Our seniors were graduating, and they needed photographers to shoot them in the act. I was put on the job with my friend, and we joined the scrum at the Eames Plaza. She had a regular Nikon dSLR with the kit lens, so it would be a nice comparison to see which handled better. This was the first time I had ever used the camera in real anger so it took sometime to get a hang of, and it was quite the challenge to deal with the ever growing scrum of photographers, battling for space and good angles. I put the camera in full-auto to see what was possible, and turned on the full 11fps machine gun like burst mode. Even in the first ten minutes or so as I grappled to understand all the buttons and functions, I was still getting some great shots. My friend meanwhile, with the regular dSLR, wasn’t having a great time, especially as she struggled to work through the menus to enable burst mode on her Nikon. In the next ten minutes, I understood how to use the camera and I was regularly nailing my shots as our seniors whipped by, collecting their degrees. The burst mode was not only great to capture the moment, but it also drew a lot of surprised looks. No one expected such a small camera to make such a racket. It allowed me to capture great in-focus shots of the person even as I was constantly being shoved around. In the end when we compared results, the ease of use and smaller size meant that I was able to capture some great photos, and with every photo being correctly exposed (a few were tad overexposed). The Nikon didn’t perform so well, with focus or with exposure and shutter speed.

Later, my camera was taken away by my friends and the photos they took were also fantastic. All on full-auto mode, great exposure, all in-focus and lovely colour reproduction. It was so easy for them to use and get such great results, really very impressive.

 Next stop: Jaipur. The Jaipur Literature Festival was on and I was attending it with a friend I hadn’t met for a long time. Great trip. And a great test to see how the camera would work. It was great at all the touristy stuff, and again, performed impressively on full-auto, which is where it will spend most of it’s time in. Not because I don’t know how to work with shutter speed and aperture, but because I won’t be able to use it in situations where I have the liberty and the time to do so. At JLF, I didn’t get to attend many talks, and much less find good opportunities to use the camera, but when I did it worked ever so well. Top marks to the focus on this thing, its super fast and clever. The whole camera is so clever in fact, that it automatically crops ideal frames and even suggests optimum framing.

Mumbai. I didn’t get to use the camera a whole lot, but my sister used it to shoot videos from the airplane and if she can configure it to shoot videos, then it’s genuinely quite good. The video quality is great as well, although you do require a fast memory card to access some of the higher quality video modes.

The Sony a6000 is growing on me, and I’m even warming up to how it looks. I’ve covered up all the badges, and now it looks great. It’s what cameras will probably look like in the future. It’s all very functional, and I like it that way. I like the WiFi transfer capability and the option to control it remotely from your phone. It focuses very quickly and the burst mode is very impressive, and useful. 11 fps is properly bonkers, especially at this price point. It’s small and also very well built. This means that I can use a small multi-purpose pouch instead of using a camera bag and that saves me space as well as opens up options for packing while travelling. Apart from the lack of in-body image stabilisation, and a high speed video mode, there’s absolutely nothing to complain about. Okay so perhaps it feels a bit plasticky in certain places, and the battery life is poor. Although a great feature is that you can charge the camera via USB, which make it a lot more versatile. Too bad you can’t use it while charging, but it still makes using it a lot more convenient on the move. I’m also excited about the prospect of using vintage lenses using adaptors. The large sensor make it convenient to use these lenses.

It’s a great little camera this. I’m looking forward to using it more often. 

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