Sony A6400 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A6400|
(23.5mm x 15.6mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 32,000|
|Extended ISO:||100 - 102,400|
|Shutter:||1/4000 - 30 sec|
|Max Aperture:||3.5 (kit lens)|
4.7 x 2.6 x 2.4 in.
(120 x 67 x 60 mm)
includes batteries, kit lens
|Full specs:||Sony A6400 specifications|
Sony A6400 Review -- Now Shooting
Sony A6400 Field Test Part II
Boring, unexciting, and probably the perfect camera for most
by Jaron Schneider | Posted 06/24/2019
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 31mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 100
Even though it introduced Sony's most impressive autofocus technology in some time, the Sony A6400 is not an exciting camera. There is not much on the specifications sheet that makes you say "wow," and it could even be argued it wasn't what fans were expecting when it was announced (though what they were expecting was a bit outlandish).
But as blasé as the A6400 might seem, I argue that it is probably the best camera from Sony for a good majority of those looking to buy a camera.
What photographers and perhaps the readers of Imaging Resource often overlook are the facts surrounding who the people are who want to take photos, and what those photos are used for. You as a consumer are constantly bombarded with images on a daily basis, and unless you're in the mindset to be looking critically at a photo, these everyday photos you see work only to provide tidbits of information, whether they be advertisements for products of interest, or photos from your family showing off the dog doing something silly, or your cousin graduating from college.
To satisfy the commodity that the camera has become, it only has to do a few things correctly in order to meet and exceed the expectations of the buyer.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 51mm, f/4, 1/160s, ISO 100
To review the A6400, I tried to take myself out of the professional photographer mindset and instead put myself into the frame of mind that my friends might find themselves. One of them is a nurse who enjoys a hike on the weekends. One is a scientist who does triathlons as a hobby. One is a marketer for a local brewery. Each of these people has the desire to make images, and for these images their baseline reason to acquire a standalone camera is to just get photos that look better than they can make on their phones.
That means that the enhanced features you and I probably look for in a camera are far and away unimportant to whom the A6400 is made. Those eye-catching specifications on a new camera's data sheet are meaningless numbers to them.
My friends would only care that it was easy to use, that it achieved focus correctly and with little effort, and that it made "good" images. It helps if it's small, and maybe if it takes some video, too, that would be helpful. Oh, and it can't be too expensive.
Honestly, it's a pretty short list and one that's easy to satisfy. But when I look at the cameras that get all the attention, like the Nikon Z6, the Sony A7 III, or the Canon EOS R, for example, do any of these actually aim to satisfy what my friends want in a camera?
I argue that they over-deliver on these simple wants. The Sony A6400, however, in its unassuming and honestly boring package, is a perfect fit.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 70mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO 100
Overall Design and Ease of Use
Of all the places the A6400 excels, I will say that the usability of it is actually its weakest point. That's not to say it isn't easy to use, once you get the hang of it, it's that it requires getting the hang of it.
It's no secret that at the time of this article's publication in mid-2019, Sony's camera menus are far and away the worst in the industry. That doesn't change on the A6400. If any of the three friends I mentioned above were to buy this camera, at least two of them would call me and ask me to help set it up, because it's absolutely not user friendly. Even me, a guy who has used almost every camera currently on the market, struggled for a few minutes to remember how to change from Program mode to Manual mode for shooting video. I had to remember that the option to adjust this isn't on any button or dial, and also wasn't in the Fn (Function) menu. You actually have to go into the camera's main menu, second camera tab, and change it from there.
By default, almost none of the features you want as a shooter are active, such as AF Tracking, touchscreen functionality or 4K video, and that's common on Sony cameras. Once you get past this major hurdle, the camera works really well. It's just an annoying mountain to ascend that Sony insists on placing in front of every new user.
But once you get the camera set up and your basic preferences are in place, it's so easy to use. Sony's autofocus is as good as it always is, and user feedback in the EVF or rear LCD, such as the ability to see all the active AF point during tracking, is probably my favorite among any camera manufacturer.
The organization of the buttons and dials is as good as I could expect, with a majority of the higher-level features easily accessible through the Fn button, and that menu can be customized as well (provided you can figure out how to navigate the aforementioned bad menu). For the most part, taking a photo with the A6400 is easy, with most of the day-to-day photo-taking features available within the range of a single button press.
The compact size of the A6400 makes it ideal for quickly adding to just about any small backpack or shoulder bag. It's the smallest camera I have around my office next to the Fujifilm X-T30, and yet the Sony manages to actually add a somewhat functional grip to the equation. I say "somewhat" because if your hands are even slightly large, this camera is going to be almost painful to hold correctly, so scrunched up will your fingers be. This isn't a new problem for Sony, and since my hands are somewhat small/medium-sized for a guy, it's never been a problem for me personally. I just know that it will be a complaint for others.
Sure, the EVF itself is pretty small and fairly low resolution (in fact, I am never absolutely certain I got a photo in focus when looking through the EVF), but after I got used to it, I learned to just trust the camera. For a vast majority of my shots, the images I had back at my computer rewarded that trust.
The A6400 doesn't use a particularly high-capacity battery, so it's important that the camera can startup quickly since I made sure to turn it off any time I was not actively shooting. I'm happy to report that it does, and I never found myself missing a shot even when starting with the camera fully off. If you do not turn the camera off constantly or if you shoot video, you'll find the battery life to be pretty sub-par though.
There are other lower-end consumer cameras that try and combine all your settings management into one dial, which can be frustrating if you want to have manual control over shots. I'm happy to report that the A6400 bucks that trend and offers two control dials to manipulate shutter speed, aperture and ISO. There is a dial on the top of the camera as well as one on the rear, to the right of the LCD.
Some other minor complaints:
The SD card slot is in the same compartment as the battery, which I'm never the biggest fan of since that compartment is easily blocked by many tripods.
Sony did institute touch operation to the A6400, albeit limited. I am not sure why they put so many hamstrings on touch operation on their cameras, but Sony would serve themselves to make it as much a part of the operating system as Canon and Nikon have.
It does have a flip-up "selfie" screen, which as obnoxious as that is to write, is lovely to have on the device, honestly. That said, it's not very well implemented since the EVF blocks a good portion of the LCD when it's flipped up. So while it's good that it has this feature at all, it seems haphazardly added.
It's either the processor or the writing speed of the single memory card slot, but the A6400 is not fast to save images. If you shoot a burst of full resolution photos in RAW, expect to have to wait a bit in order to cleanly browse those images in the Playback mode. This is again not a complaint limited to the A6400, as this is relatively common even on Sony's highest end cameras, it's just not rectified here.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 20mm, f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 100
Image Capture and Quality
I think it's safe to say that what the average camera consumer cares about the most is "does it take good pictures?" While I like to say that pretty much every camera that comes to market these days takes great images, Sony floats up above the competition when it comes to autofocus performance, feedback and therefore the number of "keepers" you can get for a given session. So before I talk about the image quality itself, let's briefly discuss the autofocus.
Basically our entire first field test is dedicated to talking about autofocus on the A6400, and specifically the new Tracking autofocus feature that Sony debuted on the A6400 but has since found itself on the a9 as well. There is more to the A6400 than just the new Tracking feature, but there is nothing "new" about those features.
It may not be new, but it is the culmination of years upon years of advancement on Sony's part, and the result is a pleasant experience.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 46mm, f/4, 1/500s, ISO 100
When you shoot with the A6400, it just feels right. When I'm looking in the EVF, I'm not thinking about the aforementioned lower quality EVF LCD, or the irritation I have with the menu design of the camera, or even the small grip. No, I'm immediately locked in to the shot I'm getting, and the immerse feedback of the Sony autofocus system. The blinking green AF points that adapt to my every shot (I like Wide AF mode by the way) show me what the camera sees, how the camera sees it, and how the photo will be captured.
And then I just get the photo. From the second my eye goes to the EVF to when my finger hits the shutter button, I'm all about taking the photo.
This is the kind of experience that will really appeal to the average user. When you look through the EVF, you can pretty much already tell how your photo is going to come out, despite the less than great EVF viewing experience. It feels connected, advanced, and like it's a camera that will "take good photos." It even feels like it's worth the somewhat more elevated price that the A6400 commands among the entry-level cameras available.
As far as pure image quality goes, it's just above middle of the road for APS-C cameras. You'll find dynamic range to be somewhat limited, and the camera's metering seems to want to bring shadows in line more than highlights, meaning photos with mixed lighting will tend to have more blown highlights than I expected.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 64mm, f/4, 1/1250s, ISO 100
In even light, both darker or overly bright, the camera is going to be more consistent. I found that my favorite images came from either bright, daytime sun or lightly-diffused bright light. Backlighting also looks good. This isn't entirely surprising as most all cameras will do better in situations like this.
So let's look at one of my example friends, for whom I said this camera is ideal. Let's say you need to take product photos, and you just need them to stand out on your Instagram or website. There isn't a reason I can think of as to why the A6400 wouldn't be great at this. Colors pop, the details are crystal clear, and the camera is so easy to use on aperture priority that you can just trust that the photo is going to come out sharp and beautiful.
Honestly, this camera, despite being considered a somewhat entry-level camera, is almost overpowered for this kind of work. But it's kind of nice to say that this camera has more features than the average shooter is going to need, because it makes you feel like you're getting a lot for your dollar.
So what if you want to take this out and shoot your friends at a triathlon or other sporting event? I hope our prior field test shows it's great for that too, with the eye-AF working to make sure you get just the right person in focus.
Alright, what about getting solid photos from a hike? The A6400 is great here too, with good dynamic range in the shadows to really make forested areas look beautiful, and the colors of flowers shine.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 28mm, f/4, 1/50s, ISO 640
What about video?
I mentioned that for my friends, it would "be nice" if their ideal camera also captured good video, and I think it's safe to say that's exactly what the A6400 offers. It's not outstanding, high quality video by any means, and there are limitations to video capture, but overall it's much more than enough for the average enthusiast.
Sony obviously put the idea of vlogging into the A6400, you can look at that flip-up selfie screen as evidence of that as well as the marketing choices Sony made at the launch of the camera. For that purpose, it is in my opinion solidly "OK" at it. You only get four 4K options, a lower-data rate and a higher data rate capture for both 24p and 30p, with up to 120 frames per second in 1080p. These are the same, rather standard video options that Sony has paraded out in all their cameras for the past few years. As unexciting as they are, they work.
Sony A6400 Sample Video #1
3840 x 2160, 24 fps - Download Original (704.7MB MP4)
If you've seen video taken from a consumer Sony mirrorless camera any time in the last three years, you've seen the footage from the A6400. There is no innovation here, but on the flip side it's not worse, which is good.
What makes the A6400 only "OK" for video when I said the A7 III is an example of a good video camera comes down to one feature left out on the A6400: image stabilization.
Sony really pushed the envelope when it came to full frame sensor-shift image stabilization, but in this APS-C sized sensor, they opted to leave it out entirely. Not every lens available for the A6400 offers optical stabilization, and combining that with the lack of on-sensor stabilization means that unless you've got a very steady hand or a tripod, you will end up with shaky, perhaps even jello-y footage. For example, I was shooting a video for Instagram (which I shot vertical because of the intended final publishing location) where I hand held the camera while seated. There was very little movement other than my natural shaking hands, yet looking at the footage in post, there is clear "jello" shaking in the corners, which doesn't look like only shaking, but wobbling of the subjects in the frame. It's the kind of vibration that can't be corrected in post very easily.
Sony A6400 Sample Video #2
3840 x 2160, 24 fps - Download Original (1.06GB MP4)
So if the camera struggled with hand-held footage without much motion, I can't imagine footage taken in a vlogging format, especially while walking, would look particularly good either.
And that's a shame, because the camera itself is very light, has a screen that flips up and works well for the vlogging format, and because it has a smaller sensor, the size of the lenses available is also similarly smaller. The whole thing would work well for a high-quality small camera, if not for leaving out image stabilization.
A final note: there is no headphone jack on the A6400. It's a bit of a perplexing omission for me, since Sony did make sure to mention video capability and aim it for a traveling video shooter. Though sure, vloggers probably won't notice this since they will rarely monitor their own sound, it's still something that should be included by default for anyone shooting video.
E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS: 64mm, f/4, 1/2500s, ISO 100
Summary: Dull, unexciting, but perfect
Look, there isn't anything shiny, new and exciting about the A6400 that the average consumer is going to be excited about. Even the Tracking AF feature, which was added to this camera in what I consider to be one of the larger head scratchers of the last year, isn't even enabled by default for new users, meaning the vast majority of new A6400 users will not a) know it exists or b) know how to turn it on. You can't even use it in video without first enabling it, and then next making sure touch features are on (which isn't fun by the way, as that's way deep in the menu).
But I argue that as unexciting as the A6400 is, it's exactly the camera the average consumer camera owner (or soon-to-be owner) needs. Nay, wants! It has very good image quality, is fun to use once you spend half an hour initially setting it up, is small and lightweight, and can play a host of different roles for a ton of different shooting situations -- most of which consumers will only ever attempt a fraction. It is, however, a rather expensive consumer camera, but that price may be worth it. Though the Canon EOS RP is full-frame, which gets a lot of attention and commands headlines, it can't do a whole lot other than capture a photo at a time. The A6400 is far more versatile thanks to considerably more options in video, and it can shoot 11 fps which is more than double that of the RP's 5 fps. The A6400 can also shoot 1080p120 slow motion video, the body is smaller, and it has smaller lens options than the RP.
I think the crux of my opinion on this camera lies in its shooting experience, and especially with the continuous autofocus: it's just so pleasing to use. If making sure that every shot you take with your camera is in focus, and the experience of getting that shot takes a low skill ceiling and isn't fiddly with how it gets you there, then yeah, the A6400 is one of the best options you can pick up.
Sometimes a camera doesn't have to be "exciting" or "dazzling" in order to be a good camera. Sometimes, it just has to do the job, and the Sony A6400 fits that bill to the nose.
• • •
Sony A6400 Review -- Product Overview
by Mike Tomkins
It's been close to three years since Sony launched its award-winning A6300 mirrorless camera, itself a followup to the A6000 and, even earlier, the NEX-6. All three models proved to be very popular, which certainly bodes well for the latest entry in the lineup, the Sony A6400.
Featuring almost the same body as in the previous couple of generations, the A6400 will be immediately familiar to anyone who's shot with the A6000 or A6300. So, too, will its 24.2-megapixel resolution from an APS-C image sensor, and its top burst capture rate of a swift 11 frames per second with autofocus tracking.
So what's new in the A6400? There are improvements to be found in a few key areas, most of them related to either autofocus or ease-of-use.
An overhauled LCD monitor with touch screen and selfie-friendly articulation
Firstly, Sony has improved the tilting articulation mechanism which allows the LCD monitor to be raised or lowered over a much greater range, sufficient not just for shooting from the hip or over your head, but also for selfies or vlogging. (In the A6300, the screen could flip upwards 90 degrees, or downwards by 45 degrees. It can now flip upwards a full 180 degrees to allow viewing from in front of the camera, or downwards by around 74 degrees.)
The LCD monitor has also been gifted a new touch-screen overlay, allowing it to serve double duty as an input device. Sony takes good advantage of this new feature with Touch Pad, Touch Focus, Touch Shutter and Touch Tracking functionality, the latter of which is a new addition to the roster which allows for real-time tracking of a user-selected subject as it moves around the image frame.
"World's fastest" autofocus with real-time tracking
Perhaps the most significant change for users beyond the new touch-screen user interface and selfie compatibility will almost certainly be in the autofocus department. Here, the earlier cameras were already extremely good performers. The most recent A6300 had a 425-point hybrid autofocus system, and was capable of achieving a focus lock in 0.15 seconds in our in-house testing, or of shooting with continuous AF between frames at up to 11 frames per second.
The Sony A6400, though, promises even better autofocus performance than its predecessors in several ways. Firstly, Sony says it has updated its autofocus tracking algorithms for what it's calling "real-time tracking". Courtesy of artificial intelligence techniques that help to recognize subjects based on distance, color and brightness, Sony is promising a noticeable improvement in its tracking capability.
Automatic Eye AF in all autofocus modes
And not just that, it's also given the Eye AF technology which we've praised in past reviews an important promotion. Previously accessed as an option through the menu system, it's now available in all autofocus modes. Yes, you read that right: If your chosen subject has a human face, the A6400 will automatically focus on your subject's eyes.
The camera can either choose which eye automatically, or be set to default either to the left or right eye alone. A custom function will allow you to quickly switch between the latter two options at will. And from summer 2019, the function should also allow for detection of not just human eyes, but also those of certain animals, as well. (Sony has yet to state which, but we'd hazard a pretty safe guess that cats and dogs will likely be on the list.)
Better low-light focusing and a variety of other AF tweaks, too
Those are the headline changes for autofocus, but there are a fair few other miscellaneous tweaks made, too. For example, the A6300 used to have a lower focus point count (169 points) for contrast-detection AF than for phase-detection (425 points). But the A6400 instead has the same count of 425 AF points regardless of which of the two AF detection mechanisms is in use. (Incidentally, the autofocus points cover some 84% of the overall image frame.)
The AF system also works even better in low light, with a working range of EV -2 to 20, expanded from the earlier EV -1 to 20 range. (That's likely due to improved sensitivity for the main image sensor, on which contrast-detection AF can be performed, but we'll come back to imaging pipeline changes in a moment.)
Other notable changes in the focusing department include smoother and more accurate autofocus for video capture (another topic we'll be returning to shortly), and a new blue color option for focus peaking. Our press materials also suggest that when shooting with the optional LA-EA3 A-mount adapter attached, the A6400 will now only use phase-detection AF instead of the full hybrid system.
A new-generation BIONZ X image processor
Sony has further honed the imaging pipeline of the A6400, which is still based around the same 24.2-megapixel APS-C sized image sensor as in the A6300. Output from the sensor is handled by a new image processor chip which, while it's still branded as a Bionz X chip just as in the previous couple of generations, is now a "new-generation" chip.
When we asked if this meant it was the same chip as used in the recent flagship Sony A9 (whose processor also carries BIONZ X branding), company reps couldn't comment beyond telling us that the A6400 had borrowed "systems" from the A9.
A modest improvement in sensitivity / noise levels, and a much bigger buffer
The new processor and updated algorithms within allow a modest increase in the upper sensitivity limit, which was ISO 25,600 by default in the A6300, but now roams as high as ISO 32,000 by default in the A6400. With expanded sensitivity enabled, we see an increase from the A6300's ISO 51,200 upper limit to a maximum of ISO 102,400 in the A6400. At the bottom end of the range, the lower limit of ISO 100 (regardless of ISO expansion) is unchanged.
The updated internals also bring with them a significant increase in buffer capacity, with the Sony A6400 now able to capture roughly twice as many frames in a burst as was its predecessor. Per Sony's figures -- we've yet to perform our own in-house testing on this new model as of press time -- you can now expect to capture around 99 Extra Fine JPEGs, 46 raw files or 44 raw+JPEG pairs in a burst.
Of course, with no major improvement in card speed simultaneously, since the A6400 remains UHS-I only, you can expect a longer wait for the buffer to clear, as well.
Some new options for still-imaging creatives
Sony has taken the A6400 as an opportunity to tweak its creative options in a few areas. Firstly, there are two new metering mode options: entire-screen average or highlight metering. You can also now adjust the spot metering area to either standard or large sizes. And at the same time, Sony has also added a new 1:1 aspect ratio mode to the A6400.
Lots of love for video shooters, too
Sony was clearly thinking of videographers in launching the A6400, as well. The new camera has some very worthwhile upgrades over its predecessor in this area. It can still record 4K video at 3,840 x 2,160 pixel resolution with full-pixel readout and no pixel binning, just as did the A6300. However, you now get goodies like support for HD proxy recording, so the camera can simultaneously save a low-bitrate and relatively low-res version of your footage for use in editing. Then, once your edits are complete, you can swap in the high-quality, full-res footage instead.
There's also a new Slow & Quick Motion mode in place of the earlier high frame-rate mode. This still allows up to a 5x slow-motion effect, but now adds up to a 60x quick-motion effect to the feature list, as well. And in addition, you can now shoot with hybrid log gamma, S-Log2 or S-Log3 picture profiles, catering to HDR and color grading needs.
One subtraction is that the MP4 file format is gone, with only XAVC S and AVCHD options on offer in the A6400.
No more PlayMemories Camera Apps; intervalometer goes standalone
Another more significant subtraction is the PlayMemories Camera Apps with which we've long had a love-hate relationship in past models. In some respects, they were a nice idea, allowing your camera functionality to be extended somewhat to meet your evolving needs post-purchase. However, in other respects they could be infuriating, especially in their use of a siloed menu system which duplicated -- and yet totally ignored -- identical options available in other camera modes.
And many of these apps were also payware costing anywhere from $5 to as much as $30 apiece. Sure, we're used to paying for small apps on our phones nowadays, but we also expect to take those apps with us between new phones and perhaps even between different phone manufacturers, seamlessly. Sony's Camera Apps had to live within a much smaller ecosystem of just Sony's standalone cameras, which made paying for them feel spendier than it really was.
All of which is to say that we won't really miss the PlayMemories Camera Apps, even if in some respects they were a nice idea. The most commonly-requested of the bunch, the intervalometer function, has now been built into the A6400, rather than remaining a standalone, payware app.
A Bluetooth radio to supplement the existing Wi-Fi and NFC
The Sony A6400 retains the built-in Wi-Fi and NFC radios of its predecessor, the former of which was used for high-speed data transfer, and the latter for quick-and-easy pairing and bump-transfers with Android phones. And alongside them, there's now a Bluetooth 4.1 radio for a low-power, low-bandwidth data connection which can be left on in the background, so the camera and phone can communicate as needed, then raise the Wi-Fi connection automatically for large data transfers.
The Bluetooth connection can also be used to sync location data from your smartphone.
In other respects, the A6400 will prove familiar to owners of its predecessors
And that's very close to it for the changes. Sony does spec a very slightly higher battery life of 360 frames on the electronic viewfinder, or 410 frames on the LCD monitor, both figures being increased by 10 frames from the A6300. The camera body is also a millimeter or so deeper, and about a gram lighter than before. Sony has also upped the EXIF revision to version 2.31, and now includes its AC-UUD12 USB charger in the product bundle, where previously it just supplied a USB cable and expected users to supply their own chargers.
Sony A6400 pricing and availability
The Sony A6400 will ship in February 2019 for a suggested retail price of US$900. It will also be offered as a kit with the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS PZ lens for a suggested price of US$1,000, or in a kit with the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens for a suggested price of US$1,300.
• • •
Sony A6400 Field Test Part I
Amazing achievement, abject failure or just a pretty good camera?
Sony's new subject-tracking technology is pretty incredible, particularly on the A9, based on a firmware update that will be coming in April 2019 (Read our article about Sony's amazing Real-Time Tracking AF). Our experience on the A6400 was quite a bit different though. On the one hand, it fell drastically short of what we'd been led to expect, and relative to the implementation on the A9. Does that mean the A6400 is a failure, though? That's the difficult question we had to answer, and that's taken us this long of inspecting literally thousands of shots we took with the camera to sort out. Read on to see where we stand on the camera currently. (As we write this, we're still waiting for a production sample to put through more rigorous tests in our lab and the real world; we're told one will be forthcoming soon.)
The Sony A6400 is definitely not "entry-level"
The Sony A6400 is the latest iteration in the A6xxx product line, and Sony says it will become their new "entry level" model, with the A5100 going away entirely. The A6000 will apparently continue to be sold for a while yet, but Sony was clear that going forward, the A6400 will represent the bottom end of their APS-C line.
The terminology puzzles us, though, because neither the price nor its features are remotely entry-level. Relative to their current lineup, the A6400 is listed for $900 body-only or $1,000 for the kit with a 16-50mm zoom lens. By comparison, the A6000 is currently selling for only $390 body-only, or $648 with a 16-50mm zoom. That's a huge gap between the two!! Comparing to other brands, $1,000 is way beyond an entry-level price, with cameras like the Nikon D3500 and Canon T6 both selling for just $400 for kit versions(!)
Buy the Sony A6400
$849.00 (6% less)
32.5 MP (26% more)
$1999.00 (55% more)
26.1 MP (7% more)
Also has viewfinder