Sony a6500 High ISO Tests with Sample Images

Here’s a selection of photos that I’ve shot at high ISOs with the Sony a6500 to give a sensor of how useful its high ISO settings are in real-world shooting.

Sony a6500 High ISO sample images collage
Text & Photos By David Coleman
Last Revised & Updated:
Filed Under: Mirrorless Cameras

I MAY get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

Sony’s camera sensors are among the best in the best in the business. And while they put their best sensors in their flagship full-frame (and more expensive) cameras like the a1, the sensors in the models further down the list, like the a6500, are pretty darn good too.

The Sony a6500 has an APS-C-sized CMOS sensor that produces 24-megapixel images. The data from the sensor is then run through a BIONZ X image processor.

It has an ISO range from 100 to 51200, but of that, 100 to 25600 is the normal range. Beyond that, you’re into the extended range that exceeds the hardware’s limits but where software takes over to boost things further. That range includes three steps: ISO 32000, 40000, and 51200.

Sony Alpha a6500 Mirrorless Camera
  • 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • XGA Tru-Finder 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF
  • 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
  • 3.0″ 921.6k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

Once you step into the extended range, things start to go downhill quickly. You can expect much more noise, much courser images, deteriorating color rendition, a narrower dynamic range, and generally harsher images. So, it’s typically best to stick to the standard ISO range in everyday shooting. But it’s nice to have the option to turn things up to 11 on a case-by-case basis if you really need the extra light sensitivity to make the difference between getting the shot or not (or if you’re shooting for black and white, which is more forgiving of these aspects).

There are several variations when referring to the Sony a6500. You can also see it referred to as the Sony α6600, Sony Alpha 6500, and Sony ILCE-6500. All refer to the same camera.

About These Sony a6500 High ISO Examples

Below are some high-ISO examples I’ve shot with the Sony a6500. I’ve tried to include a range of different types of tones and lighting and detail.

All of these images were originally shot in RAW, so they’re not directly out of the camera.

Like most cameras these days, the a6500 does have in-camera noise reduction. In this case, there are two types: long-exposure noise reduction and high ISO noise reduction. Those settings don’t affect RAW files, but they are applied to the JPG previews that are embedded in the RAW files.

To get around that, all of the images below have been regenerated directly from the RAW data. If you want the best of both worlds and aren’t being skimpy on space on your SD card, you can have the camera save both the RAW and a JPG version simultaneously (I’ve put together some Sony a650 memory card recommendations separately).

The RAW files were processed in Lightroom Classic.

It’s worth noting that I haven’t applied any noise reduction to these. There are specialized image editing apps available that can do pretty remarkable things in cleaning up image noise at high ISOs (eg. DxO’s DeepPrime and Topaz Labs’ DeNoise AI are good places to start; and if you’re shooting RAW, PureRAW works a bit differently but can yield impressive results).

More Examples at High ISOs

I’ve included the ISO used in the caption of each image, and you can click on a photo to open a full-size version for a closer look.

Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Normally, I wouldn’t shoot this kind of brightly-lit daylight exterior at such a high ISO, but it’s useful to show the color shifts. In this one, you can see a slight green tint overall. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 16000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Another example that I wouldn’t, under normal conditions, shoot at such a high ISO, but you can see the green color shift again. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. The main entrance hall of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. This LED light display is an installation at Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art. It’s titled Multiverse and is by American artist Leo Villareal. It also makes a useful and unusual test shot, and it’s one I shoot often with different cameras. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. The Science Museum in London. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Tower Bridge in London. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 40000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. The Imperial War Museum in London. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. It’s a challenging scene for any camera to handle well–especially with auto White Balance enabled. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. The National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Again, it’s a challenging scene for any camera to handle well. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 25600. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 32000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 3200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

Side by Side

Here are a few short sequences of the same subject at different ISOs so that you can compare them side by side.

Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 8000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 10000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 12800. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 16000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 20000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 25600. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 32000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 40000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 6400. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 8000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 16000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 32000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 40000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 16000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 32000. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel
Sony a6500 High ISO Sample Image
This photo was taken with a Sony a6500 at ISO 51200. Photo by David Coleman / Have Camera Will Travel

ISO Auto Min SS on the Sony a6500

Auto ISO is one of my favorite features of digital cameras. Back in the day, you had to choose an ISO, make sure you had the right film on hand, and then stick with that for the whole roll. And the ISO was basically a fixed part of the exposure triangle, at least until the end of the roll. [1]

With digital cameras, you can use a different ISO image to image. And with the advent of auto ISO, which is common on most new cameras, the camera’s own computer algorithm uses ISO as a completely fluid side of the exposure triangle, adjusting it automatically on the fly.

With the a6500, you have the option of using the Auto ISO on the standard setting. That’s a good default and is widely useful in many situations. It gives a good combination of minimum shutter speed and low ISO. But you can tweak it further, first with options for faster priority or slower priority, which are relative to the standard setting in 1 EV increments. But you can also set a specific shutter speed floor that the camera will try not to go below for stepping up the ISO. That’s especially helpful if you’re shooting moving subjects and need to favor faster shutter speeds. Same goes for reducing the risk of camera shake, something I run into in cold environments or when shooting from moving platforms like boats or trains. The a6500 has the option of setting that floor all the way up to 1/4000 sec or as slow as 30 seconds.

But one thing worth noting is that the Auto ISO won’t step into the extended range. For those higher ISO settings, you’ll need to specify the ISO manually.

Fixing Image Quality Problems in Editing

The general rule of thumb in photography is that it’s better to get the shot right at the time of capture rather than trying to fix it later. That’s a great aspiration, but it’s not always possible to do if you’re shooting in especially challenging conditions or bumping up against limitations or flaws in gear, conditions, or technique.

But it’s worth mentioning that there are some excellent tools available to help address common image quality issues with digital images. And they’re getting better and better all the time as the power of AI ramps up. They can deal remarkably well with anything from sensor issues like high-ISO image noise to lens issues like distortion, softness, vignetting, and chromatic aberration. (Note: I’m focusing here on corrections related to image quality, not image enhancement tools—that’s a different kettle of fish.)

All-round image processing apps like Lightroom Classic and Capture One have solid tools built in that are very good places to start. But it’s also possible to take it much further with more specialized tools. If you shoot in challenging conditions regularly and find room for improvement in the image quality coming out of the camera, these might well be worth a look (and they have free trials). Some are stand-alone apps; some integrate into image editing suites such as Lightroom Classic.

UPDATE: In April 2023, Adobe released an update to Lightroom Classic that added new AI-powered noise reduction for RAW files. It’s a powerful tool that rivals some of the dedicated apps below. If you’re already using Lightroom Classic for your image editing and organization, it’s well worth trying out—look for the Denoise tool under the Detail panel.

Fixing Image Noise & High ISO Artifacts

  • DxO PureRAW 3. Like Lightroom Classic’s Denoise tool, it only works on RAW files. But since was updated to version 3, it has become my go-to app for this kind of thing. I’m consistently amazed at how it can rescue photos with otherwise dodgy image quality from noise. It can also help with lens distortion, lens vignetting, and lens softness.
  • DxO DeepPrime. This is the noise-only offering using the same denoising technology as PureRAW.
  • Topaz Labs’ DeNoise AI. This is another excellent option for specialized denoising. It works alongside Lightroom or as a standalone app.

Fixing Lens-Related Optical Issues

  • DxO PureRAW. Again offers an impressive suite of automatic fixes that are applied before you start editing the images.
  • DxO ViewPoint. Correcting for lens distortion and geometry skews. Lightroom Classic and Capture One also have excellent built-in tools for this.
  • Topaz Labs Sharpen AI. In addition to standard unsharp tools, it includes focus correction and shake reduction.

Price & Availability of the Sony a6500 Mirrorless Camera

Since I originally wrote this, the Sony a6500 has been replaced by the a6600.

Buy New

The a6500 was sold in a range of different bundles, from just the body to kits with lenses and other accessories. With the newer model out now, the a6500 is harder to find new in stores.

Sony Alpha a6500 Mirrorless Camera
  • 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • XGA Tru-Finder 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF
  • 5-Axis SteadyShot INSIDE Stabilization
  • 3.0″ 921.6k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD

Buy Used

Stocks of used copies of the a6500 fluctuate, but some good places worth checking are:

Related

I’ve also put together a separate post on Sony a6500 memory card recommendations.

  1. Yes, it’s technically possible to change up ISOs between shots when shooting 35mm film, and even go back and forth loading partial rolls of film, but neither of those is really practical for most shooters most of the time.[]

Images and product information from Amazon PA-API were last updated on 2024-02-27 at 15:55. Product prices and availability are accurate as of the date/time indicated and are subject to change. Any price and availability information displayed on Amazon Site at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.

Profile photo of David Coleman | Have Camera Will Travel | Washington DC-based Professional Photographer

David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.