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Sony Alpha a6000 Review for Mountain Sports

Trail running in Lauterbrunnen, Swiss Alps

We are not camera reviewers or even remotely interested in camera tech. We just make photos, concentrating on the experience, with familiar gear we know to be reliable and of the highest quality. However, as professional photographers and athletes, we have long dreamt of a small camera capable of making perfect images for publication. One that would also have to be very fast so as to capture just the right body position necessary for many of our subjects. If you want the tech stuff, and to read reviews from people who know about comparisons with other cameras, there is a never ending Google-able supply. But as a very experienced pro mountain sport photographer who is out every day using camera equipment, I can give you a basic overview for that need.

Last year we bought the small Sony RX100 and found the quality superb, but the user experience not so – the screen was too hard to shoot with and it was far too slow, and not wide enough (28mm) to shoot what we needed it for, mountain running. For most people the camera is just about perfect, but for us, it came up short.

Then along came the Sony Alpha a6000. We read some reviews and suddenly it was part of our camera family. Yesterday we took it for a big mountain run in perfect sunny weather in the Swiss Alps. In no way are we affiliated with Sony, we bought the camera ourselves, and here’s what we found.

Sony Alpha a6000 and 16-50 (24-75mm) kit lens

Familiarization and learning the camera system is super easy, Sony did a great job with the button layout. The mini buttons all crammed together make for a bit of a mess on the back when trying to make rapid adjustments, but this is expected for the size of the camera.

The camera feels like a small DSLR – one selling point for us was the ability to look through a viewfinder and not just be limited to framing on the screen. This allows for more creativity and ease of use in bright light.

Sony has figured out the focusing – the camera’s auto focus nails it every time. And, there are numerous focusing modes guaranteeing one will be just right for the situation.

Speed….. whoa, 11 frames per second is for real. Shooting running was made effortless. Find the right framing, shoot. Done. Somewhere in that group of images is the exact right body position. Next!

Notice that the images made from the Sony a6000 all include perfect running form – the moment that needs to be caught. This is simplified with the 11fps speed.

Battery – Sony says one battery will get 330 images. We made 800 on one battery (although we did not spend time in camera editing). But still, the battery drained very quickly when shooting in high speed. Looks like we’ll be buying more batteries for the running trips.

Image Quality – Rich blacks, wide tonal range, large RAW files that allow for cropping, and razor sharp images thanks to a focus accuracy and the large sensor. We did find the corners to be a bit soft at 16mm (24mm with conversion). In terms of low light and noise… we only shot on a sunny day – to be determined.

Our goal is to be able to do our sports and always have a camera along that we can whip out and shoot. For us, this camera is not about being super creative or diving into the image making process, rather, it is about getting a very real image from a real experience. The RX100 was too limiting in terms of speed and use while our 5d’s are just too big. All these years of shooting mountain running have required us to split the DSLR body and lens between us, but this insures missing images as it is not convenient to shoot on the fly. The saying goes that the best camera is the one you have with you – but if that camera is not ready, you may not use it. The a6000 is the camera at the ready. This is our first ever camera review and I can honestly say that I am one thrilled photographer to have it in my pack.

All the images posted here are from our first day with the camera. The test was to go for a mountain run and see, 1) How easy the camera is to use. Can it be pulled out when ahead of or behind a runner and quickly shot on the fly thanks to the camera controls? (YES). 2) If we stop and do a quick shoot, is it fast enough to make the process brief? (YES, 11 fps gets the shot!), and finally 3) Do we come home confident in our image files so that they can go right into our stock collection ? (YES).

Sold. Have you used this camera? Let us know what you think.

And by the way….. the running tour was pretty good too!

Berner Oberland

Switzerland’s Berner Oberland, from the Jungfrau (l) to the Breithorn (r). Our tour was 28km with 2050 meters of gain starting and ending in Lauterbrunnen Valley. Light packs required to move quickly through this terrain. This image was made with the Sony a6000 panorama feature.

Janine headed west from Obersteinberg to the end of the valley before looping around and back east. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

After a quick in and out towards the Mutthornhütte. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Dan running the moraine above the Schmadrihütte. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Trail’s end and highpoint – time to head down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments 15

  1. I love that valley. It’s one of my favorite places to hike (the big loop from Stechelberg and back).
    Great pictures.

  2. Hi,

    great photos! Ah – and that area… It’s just one of my favourites! 🙂

    Regarding the Sony. We truly finally arrived at products which transport superb quality (and the right controls for creative and easy use) into smallest packages.

    Having had a NEX 5n myself, I still found it too complicated (lens changing and bulk) to take it (in the cycling jersey pocket) with me except with the 16 mm pancake. I also found the user interface not the best.

    Since then, I just love my Sony RX100 for such purposes. Albeit I also wish it would go wider. I certainly will have a look at the new RX100 Mk III, which goes to 24 mm. Yay! And it will feature WiFi remote control – a thing I crave for more creative Selfies on my cycling tours.

    Did you consider Micro Four Thirds also? I found it get’s me the photo quality I need in a small package like the Sony NEX or Alphas nowadays, but with more possibilities. Great range of very good lenses and auxilliary ports for really making my DSLR obsolete. Which it has. I just use my Olympus OM-D E-M5 instead of my old Canon 7D, which I sold.

  3. Saw your Instagram post on this which brought me to your blog post. Decided to sell my current lightweight system Canon SL1 and two lenses and get this Sony a6000. Thanks Dan!

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      Awesome Whit! And what lens(es) did you get? Let me know if you get the 16mmE pancake, I am thinking to get it for most superlight needs. Hope you are well, Dan

  4. Hi !
    I also use a mirrorless camera, (Olympus EM1), and I like to use it when hiking, but so far I haven’t a good way to carry hit when I’m mountain running or mountainbiking…
    How do you carry your A6000? with wich gear?

    Have a good day
    Adrien

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      Author

      Hi Adrien,
      I’m able to get it into either a side packet on my hiking or running pack, or even better – it fits into the waterbottle pouch on the front of my running pack, on the shoulderstrap pouch, it’s a Mountain Hardware pack and the camera just barely fits with the kit lens. My plan is to get the pancake 16mm which will make it significantly smaller.
      Dan

  5. After 40+ years as a Canon user (5D3 & L glass) I switched a few months ago to Sony A7r & A6000 bodies with Zeiss and Sony glass. Dynamic range of Sony sensors are fantastic. I shoot landscape and travel and the weight difference in my pack or bag is a relief. Mirrorless cameras are definitely the future! Great and inspirational blog.

  6. Dan, thank you for the ultra inspiring images that are your signature. I wonder if you still use the A6000 regularly while biking and running or where weight is an issue? I am in a situation where the point and shoot is not good enough and the SLR is sometimes too cumbersome. Do you find you are still producing the type of images you like with the SONY A6000 or has the honeymoon period with a new camera device worn off? Thanks for your opinion. Jeff Scher, Portland, Maine

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      Jeff, your timing is incredible. While I still really like the a6000, yes, we have been frustrated by some limitations. Just today it went along with us on an alpine climbing route. At the top of the route was an incredible scene, we traversed the lip of a wildly overhanging wall with 300 meters of air beneath our feet. The a6000 was pretty worthless to capture the feeling, we needed our usual 5d with 16mm on board.
      So, the comment was made, today….., “We still need to carry the ‘real’ camera”. Or, the hunt continues.
      But, the a6000 has a sweet spot – trail running – for this, I still really enjoy it. Let me know what you find, we need an a6000 full frame with 16mm lens. The day will come, but when? Thanks for writing! // Dan

  7. Dan, thanks for the update on the a6000. I had a feeling that that camera best performs until certain ideal conditions but I worried about the all around performance it might or might not provide. Thanks for the clarity. I am always looking to lighten the load but bring back the bacon at the same time. I’ll still keep the camera under consideration but need to ID where it’s role can be most useful to avoid frustrating moments of… should have brought the Canon etc… Thanks again. Jeff

  8. Hi! Nice site, review, and pictures! In regards to your recent comments about the A6000’s short comings, have you considered getting a wider lens? The 10-18mm would get you an 15mm-27mm equivalent in 35mm terms. Or the Zeiss Touit 12mm would be wider than your kit lens also (18mm eq). Or do these lenses start to blur the line between compact vs DSLR for you that you’d rather carry the 5D?

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