As an aspiring travel filmmaker and a photographer, I often get asked about the camera I use, the reason behind my purchase and I never have the time to fully answer that question and express my opinion about it so I decided to write this article to review the camera I have been using, the Sony a6500, the things I love and hate about it, and the reason why this is by far the best travel camera you can get in 2018.
I love my Sony a6500, I have been using it since the early 2017 and I have taken the camera with me to over 10 countries through the most challenging environment imaginable and came out unscratched. The camera has served me well for the past year and a half both in terms of functionality and quality and if you are looking for a great travel camera for your next big trip, read on and find out why you should consider the Sony a6500.
What You Should You Look For in a Travel Camera
When it comes to travel cameras, there are a few things you should look for when purchasing a new one:
Weight and Size: This is by far the most important factor in purchasing a travel camera. Since you will be carrying the camera around all day long, sometimes, up a mountain while hiking, the weight should be light and the size small enough that you can pack away in your daypack easily with rooms to spare for other essentials like a water bottle or a jacket.
See also: If you are looking for something lighter than the Sony a6500, here is a camera you might want:The Sony RX100 and the ultimate guide on traveling light with your camera gear.
Photo Quality: Smaller size doesn't mean you are sacrificing quality. Since you are traveling, you will want a tool that allows you to capture the best quality image possible. Things to consider are the sensor size (1 inch, APS-C, or Full Frame) which will determine how large a pixel captures (the larger the better), the in-body stabilization to produce less blurry photos, and full control over your manual settings for technical shots.
Video Quality: Gone are the days when you have to buy a specialized camcorder to capture a video, together with your camera for photos. Nowadays, you can get a camera with great photography features AND excellent video capturing functionalities all in one package. Something to look for nowadays is 4K capabilities, fast autofocus, and maximum frame rate per second for slow motion.
Lens Selections: Since you will be traveling with it, you will need to go with a camera that has great lens selection so you have the option to choose which one to buy for which circumstances. Things to look out for are the focal length (wide-angle, portrait, or a bit of both), the aperture which will determine how great it is in low-light and how soft the bokeh effect (the lower the better), and the one that supports autofocus.
Durability: Traveling will expose your camera to many tough environments so you will have to make sure that it will survive rainy, snowy and dusty locations. Things to consider are the material of the body, the gripping of the camera and the available cases for protection.
Why the Sony a6500?
The Sony a6500 is a mirrorless digital camera with a 24 Megapixels APS-C cropped sensor which basically means the sensor is only one step smaller than the full-frame format but it comes at a much smaller body that weighs only 15.98 oz/453 g which meet our first criteria, the size and weight.
With its APS-C sensor only second to the full-frame equivalent, you are not sacrificing too much picture quality for a more compact size. You will still get high quality 6000x4000 resolution images in a form factor that is only a little bigger than a normal compact camera. It also comes built-in with an in-body stabilization and together, with an optical stabilization equipped lens, you can say goodbye to blurry images. The Sony a6500 also comes with 3 custom buttons and a dedicated manual mode that will give you the flexibility you need to take control of your camera to do a more technical shot like shooting a Milky Way. Another criterion met.
The video quality of the Sony a6500 is one of the best you can get for any camera of this size with its 4K capability that produced sharper footages than its competitors. How? Their cameras (Sony a6500 and the Sony a7 series full-frame equivalent) are using the full capability of its sensor to capture 6K resolution videos and then downsized them to 4K to improve the sharpness of its 4K footages. When you put that with in-body stabilization, one of the fastest autofocus, and the small form factor, you just can't beat the Sony a6500 for videos. You can view some sample videos on my Inspiring travel videos page.
Lens selection is not Sony's strong suit since they are one of the newer players in the industry but if the past 5 years of Sony beating to the punch when it comes innovation was any indication, Sony is in this for the long haul and their lens selection will only get better from here especially with the third party companies like Sigma producing more lens for the Sony E-Mount cameras.
That said, Sony has most of the focal length you will need covered for the Sony a6500 APS-C E-mount with the 10 - 18mm f4 lens for wide-angle, 18 - 105mm f4 zoom lens for general purpose and the 35mm f1.8 lens for a portrait, street photography and bokeh magic. If you are looking for a low-light wide-angle lens, you have the option to go with Sigma 16mm f1.4 lens that is fully compatible with the Sony a6500.
Wondering which lenses to pick for you Sony a6500? Read more here: What Are The Best Travel Lenses For The Sony A6500?.
Last but not least, the durability of the Sony a6500 is just phenomenal. Its body is environmentally sealed with a magnesium alloy body, a high-durability shutter, and a recessed grip that helps you hold on to your camera better when you are out and about.
These are the reasons why I decided to go with the Sony a6500 and I have never looked back since.
What I Love Most about the Sony a6500
Coming from a phone camera to a compact camera and to this one was a big move and even now, after a year of pushing it to its limit every day, I still have yet to use all the features that comes with the camera but the experience I had with the camera was delightful through and through.
One of the best thing about the Sony a6500 is its size and with a combination of a light-weight lens like the Sony 16 - 70mm f4 Zeiss zoom lens that covers most of the essential focal lengths, you should be good to go for almost any circumstances while traveling, all in a body that is half the size and a fraction of the weight of the full-frame equivalent.
Since the body is so small and light, so are the accessories like the tripod and the lens that you will need for traveling and trust me, you will appreciate this fact when you have to carry those items every day in your bag. Not to mention, accessories for the Sony a6500 tend to be cheaper than the full-frame equivalent.
The photo and video quality are also phenomenal with a large sensor that captures 6000x4000 resolution, a variety of picture profiles to choose from and the 6K-downsampling 4K format, you can't ask for more from a camera this size.
The autofocus is so fast and reliable in both photo and video modes that I can not recall when was the last time I used manual focus with the Sony a6500 and since I use it for traveling which often times, require me to capture a moment spontaneously, I have to rely on autofocus most of the time, and the Sony a6500 doesn't disappoint.
I also love that the camera supports 120 fps which allows me to slow down the clip by 75% to create cinematic slow-mo effect I sometimes need for my travel videos.
See also: My new travel video, "Go with the Baltic Flow"
Last but not least, the price tag which I believe, for what I do as a travel filmmaker and photographer, is quite a bargain. At around US$1,098.00 (body), I am getting all the features from the full-frame cameras (except the sensor size), with 4K capability, interchangeable lens, advanced autofocus and stabilization at half the price which is more than I could have asked for.
That said, the Sony a6500 do have its fair share of problems which I think should be considered before you buy the camera.
Battery life sucks on the Sony a6500. With heavy usage (shooting RAW photos 4K videos), the 1020mAh battery only lasted me half a day and I often have to scramble for a spare battery to last a whole day. Thankfully the battery is pretty small so I can have several spare batteries to keep going.
As mentioned before, the lens selection is not Sony's strong suit and there are some lens that I wish Sony has, for example, a super wide angle fast lens like the Rokinon 12mm f2.0 but that supports the Sony fast autofocus for gimbal work. I also wish that the Sony official lens are a little cheaper than they are now.
Due to the fact that Sony has cramp so many features into their cameras, their menu system is having a hard time handling all of it and I think it needs a little revamp to accommodate all the features. Some behavior of the menu system seems illogical at times like not being able to set a custom white balance in a memory mode and the unnecessary popup that shows up every time when switching to the memory mode, etc.
Overall, the Best Travel Camera You Can Get
- Very Portable
- Excellent photo (24MP) and video quality (4K)
- Fastest Autofocus out there
- Battery life sucks
- Clunky menu system
- Sony's lens selection leave me wanting more
As you can see, the Sony a6500 meets all the criteria for a great travel camera and even pass expectations in some areas like the video quality all for a price of only US$1,098.00 (body) which is cheaper than any of its competitors and jam-packed with more features.
All the drawbacks are inconvenient but not a deal-breaker and often time, all of them can be overcome easily by doing your research, being prepared and finding workarounds that fit your workflow.
All in all, I could not think of a better light-weight yet powerful travel camera than this one. If you are a light traveler like me and are looking for a professional camera, you will find everything you need with the Sony a6500.
Bonus: If the Sony a6500 exceeds your budget, consider the newly released but cheaper Sony a6400 (~US$ 898) or consider older mirrorless models such as the Sony a6300 (~US$ 848) and the Sony a6000 (~US$ 640) which are cheaper alternative to the Sony a6500.
Tips: If you are on the fence between the Sony a6400 and Sony a6300, go with the a6400.
Update 2019: The Sony a6400 is the newest mid-range model that is supposed to fil the gap between the Sony a6500 and a6300. Since it is a new model, the Sony a6400 benefited from newer technologies that are not present even on the Sony a6500 such the all-new autofocus technology and a flip-out screen. That said, the Sony a6400 lacks in-body stabilization which will come into play when picking a lens to go with it.
Videos shot with the Sony a6500, a6400 or a6300
If you need more convincing about how such a small form factor can produce such beautiful quality videos, then you can see it for yourself. Listed below are one of the most beautiul travel videos that were shot with either the Sony a6500 or the a6300:
- RUSSIA by Me
- Thrones of Semana Santa by Brandon Li
- India by Neal Howland
- Wanderlust:Plose by FilmSpektakel
- Beyond the Curve by Nhi Dang
Looking to Buy the Sony a6500?
If you are looking to buy the Sony a6500, here are all my recommended lens and accessories to go with your new camera. Follow all the links below to see what are the options available to you if you buy the Sony a6500:
Camera and Lens
- Sony a6500 body
- Sony 10 - 18mm f4 zoom lens (for super wide angle shots)
- Sony 16 - 70mm f4 zoom lens (a general purpose lens for photography)
- Sony 18 - 105mm f4 zoom lens (a general purpose lens for videography)
- Sony 35mm f1.8 prime lens (for portrait and bokeh shots)
- Rokinon 12mm f2.0 prime lens (for super wide angle low-light shots)
- Sigma 16mm f1.4 prime lens (for wide angle and bokeh shots)
Cheaper alternatives to Sony a6500
The Solo Traveler’s Resources is a series of posts by Bucketlistly where we will explore the ways of life of nomads including how we work, travel, and what we carry in our backpack.
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