Is the Sony a6400 right for you?
We’ve put the wraps on our full review of Sony a6400, where we look at its image quality, autofocus and more. But is it the right camera for you, and the style of photography you enjoy? Taking the a6400 into account as a whole, here’s how we think it stacks up for these common photographic use cases.
- Family and moments
- Lifestyle and people
- Sports and action
- Candid and street
- Formal portraits
Family and moments
Sometimes, a killer new feature comes along that really changes the way you take photographs – in this case, that feature is Sony’s Real-time Tracking AF. Once you get the camera set up, all you really need to do is place an AF area over the subject you want to track, whether it’s a human or not. If it’s not a human, the system will track that object very tenaciously as you recompose the scene. If it is a human, the system will automatically switch to face or eye detection and reward you with incredibly accurate focus, almost regardless of lighting or subject movement, and even at wide apertures. It’s really something.
As a point-and-shoot family cam, the a6400 is hard to beat
There’s a lot else that the a6400 gets right for this use case, as well. First of all, with the proper prime or the 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 power zoom kit lens, it makes for a compact package that’s easy to toss into a bag or jacket pocket (the very nice 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 kit lens adds quite a bit of bulk, but a very flexible zoom range). There’s above-average battery life, and if you do happen to let the battery drain, the a6400 will charge over its micro USB port. Claimed weather-sealing means a little drizzle doesn’t need to dampen your photographic creativity, and the selfie screen will be handy for, well, selfies.
Marks against the a6400 include a complex menu system that could overwhelm more novice users, and we’ve found the auto white balance can ‘overcorrect’ daylight images, making them look a little cold for our tastes. But overall, as a ‘point and shoot’ family camera, the a6400 and its Real-time Tracking autofocus are hard to beat, especially at this price point.
Photo by Rishi Sanyal
Everyone travels differently, but we believe that the a6400 comes with some merits (and, of course, demerits) that will apply broadly to the type of people that like to bring a dedicated camera with them while traversing the globe.
First off, like all of Sony’s a6x00 cameras, the a6400 is compact and lightweight. Despite this, it still comes with claims of weather-sealing, which is a nice touch should you run into inclement weather. Wireless connectivity, including NFC, is a strong point, so it’s easy to get your photos up onto the web from anywhere, without needing a dedicated computer. There’s an awful lot of lenses in the E-mount ecosystem to choose from at this point, from the flexible 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 Sony kit zoom to Sigma’s excellent 16mm, 30mm and 56mm F1.4 primes. Add on the ability to charge the a6400 from the same power bank that you can use to charge your phone, and you have a strong proposition for a travel camera right here.
The a6400 is compelling option for you to pack into your carry-on for the next adventure
But there are a couple of things to consider. Unfortunately, Sony is one of the few remaining manufacturers to not allow in-camera Raw processing. This is a shame, because we’ve found the auto white balance can sometimes result in unpleasant colors in JPEGs, and JPEGs are harder to correct than Raw files. This means that, if you’re a power user and really like to fine-tune your photographs, you may actually find you want a laptop with you to give those Raw files a look. This could be mitigated if Sony’s Imaging Edge app allowed the transfer of Raw files to mobile devices, but at the time of this writing, it doesn’t.
Still – if you’re primarily a JPEG shooter and don’t mind taking some more control over your JPEG and white balance settings, the a6400 is a compelling option for you to pack into your carry-on for your next adventure.
Photo by Carey Rose
The new screen mechanism on the a6400 tilts all the way up for selfies, yes, but that also opens a window of opportunity for those looking to ‘vlog.’ But aside from vlogging, there’s quite a bit to unpack here, so let’s start with the basics.
The a6400, like the a6300 and a6500 before it, offers oversampled (read: highly detailed) 4K video capture. Autofocus during video is another strong point, requiring a minimum of input from the user for most types of shooting. The microphone input makes it easy to get higher-quality audio recorded in-camera, and Log capture gives power users more flexible files for post-processing. Sony has also updated the processor in the a6400, and in room temperature conditions, the camera will record 4K continuously until the battery runs out, or the card fills – without fear of overheating.
The a6400 is a great B-cam for interviews, and decent for vlogging – but it’s worth checking out the competition
But the market hasn’t stood still. Against competitors like the Fujifilm X-T30, the a6400 has an awful lot of rolling shutter – which is that sort of jiggly, jello-y effect you can often see in shaky footage. And without a stabilized lens, you’ll have a lot of shaky footage, since the a6400 doesn’t include in-body image stabilization. Plus, in 4K/30p, you’ll have an additional crop factor, meaning it will be difficult to get wide-angle footage with standard zoom lenses. There isn’t a headphone jack to make sure your audio sounds alright during recording, and that flip-up screen can be blocked by any microphone you want to put in the hot shoe.
So thanks to its unlimited recording time, the a6400 makes a great B-cam for interviews, and with Sony’s 10-18mm F4 E-mount lens, which happens to be stabilized, you have a decent option for vlogging as well (just watch that crop if you shoot in 30p). It’s just that, at this point, it’s worth checking out the competition to see if other options have a more modern feature set that will work best for the kind of video work that you want to do.
Lifestyle and people
We again see Sony’s Real-time Tracking autofocus playing a major role here; even with a wide-aperture primes, like Sigma’s 56mm F1.4 or Sony’s 24mm F1.4 GM, the a6400 will reliably lock focus on a subject’s eye with incredible accuracy.
Not only that, but malleable files with plenty of dynamic range give you more flexibility for shooting in harsh lighting conditions, and good low light performance means you don’t necessarily have to stop shooting when the sun goes down. Good connectivity options will let you send those files off to your subjects quickly and easily, so long as you’re happy with the JPEGs – it’s probably best to dial in your white balance manually for best JPEG results.
Photo by Barney Britton
The a6400’s 24MP sensor offers a solid amount of resolution for landscape work – and there aren’t many APS-C cameras out there to offer significantly more resolution at this time, anyway. And though it’s the exact same sensor as in the older a6300, it’s still a very good sensor in terms of dynamic range, and so you’ll be able to brighten shadows significantly in high-contrast scenes without introducing a ridiculous amount of noise.
If you’re a tripod shooter, the tilting LCD will be a help for working at lower angles, though if you like to shoot in the vertical orientation, you’re out of luck on that front – the LCD only tilts on its horizontal axis. There’s a strong selection of lenses, both from Sony and third parties, particularly wide-angle primes. The claimed weather-sealing is of course a welcome addition if you’re finding yourself out in the elements, as is USB charging if you’re operating off the grid for any period of time. There’s also a robust built-in intervalometer for time lapse work, if that’s your jam.
The inability to process Raw files in-camera or transfer them to your phone may be frustrating
But for those wanting to travel light, the inability to process Raw files in-camera or transfer Raw files to mobile devices may be frustrating. The a6400 is also one of the few APS-C cameras on the market to only offer lossy compressed Raw files, meaning that you might see some artifacts if you really push your high-contrast files, such as those taken at sunrise or sunset. Overall, though, the a6400 – with the right lenses – is a solid choice for landscape shooters looking to travel light.
Photo by Carey Rose
Sports and action
Sorry to sound like a broken record (do the kids know what records even are, these days?), but Sony’s Real-time Tracking AF is a revelation for sports and action photography, as well. Whether you’re photographing your child’s soccer game or a low light concert, the a6400’s autofocus system is capable of getting you an incredible number of in-focus ‘keepers’, even if you’re firing away at a maximum burst rate of 11 fps. And as stated earlier, the system doesn’t need an eye to latch onto for accuracy – the a6400 will tenaciously track any subject, whether it’s a race car or a helmet, as long as you’ve initiated tracking over that subject.
We’re pleased with the deep buffer, but less pleased with the slow write-times
We’re pleased to find that the a6400 comes with a pretty deep buffer, but are less pleased to say that the card slot is only UHS-I. This means that write-times are on the slow side, and that the buffer will take a while to clear after a long burst. While you can still enter playback while images are being written to the card, some functions – like burst speed – cannot be changed until the buffer has finished clearing. Lastly, we’d recommend a grip extension of some sort for use with larger telephoto lenses, as the small grip on the a6400 will be uncomfortable with those lenses after extended use.
It’s worth adding that the touchscreen on the a6400 can be used for AF point placement, so you can move the area around if that makes it easier to initiate tracking on your given subject. We still prefer a joystick for AF area movement, however, but the touchscreen is better than the fiddly ‘click-click-click‘ of the rear four-way controller / dial.
Photo by Carey Rose
Candid and street
For candid and street, the a6400 is likewise a compelling option. With a tilting screen, shooting from the hip (and using the touchscreen for AF area placement) is a cinch. If you want to be able to react even faster to what’s happening around you, the ‘Wide’ AF area does a surprisingly good job of automatically deciding what to focus on without any intervention from the user. The compact size won’t be terribly intimidating or attract too much attention, and the a6400 comes with a silent electronic shutter for extra discretion.
The one caveat here, though, is that the scan rate of the electronic shutter is on the slow side. This means that if you’re using that electronic shutter and panning or photographing fast-moving subjects, you may see some odd distortion artifacts, and you may also see very pronounced banding if you’re capturing candids under artificial light.
Photo by Carey Rose
Formal portraits are actually another situation in which the a6400 performs well. Again, the reliable Eye AF implementation ensures accurate focus, and though there’s no flash sync port, you can add any number of adapters to the camera’s hot shoe. The flash-sync speed of 1/160 sec isn’t great for outdoor use (though you can always use high-speed sync), but should be fine for use indoors. A nice bonus is that the a6400 can shoot tethered using Capture One software, and there’s a wide variety of excellent prime lenses available, including the excellent Sigma 56mm F1.4 that will give you a standard 85mm equivalent field of view on the a6400.
Photo by Carey Rose
We wrote in our full review that the a6400 is ‘a near-universally capable midrange camera,’ a statement which is borne out through our examination of its merits across these use cases. It’s not a perfect camera – no camera is – but it’s hard to argue against the fact that Sony has created a remarkably flexible camera at an attainable price point for many people. That’s unequivocally a winning combination.
Whether you’re photographing your own family, stylized portraits, sports or looking for a photographic travel companion, the a6400 probably has just about all you need to get the shot in those situations. We have to admit, though, that some of the less tangible aspects of the camera – such as how engaging it is to use – are less impressive to us. But that doesn’t take away all that a photographer can do with the a6400, once they’ve wrapped their head around the controls and interface.
If you own or are looking into a Sony a6400, let us know in the comments what types of photography you’re into and how the camera is working for you.