Sony A6400 review: A star of track and field
The Sony A6400 is in many ways a gap-filler in the mirrorless camera market, sitting in-between the A6300 and A6500 – both of which were released back in 2016.
Naturally, the A6400 has gained new technology that outclasses both. The big gains come in its focus-tracking and ISO sensitivity, as well as ability to tilt the screen for selfie-shooting.
But are these features enough to keep the E-mount range ahead of the game?
- Lens mount: Sony E-mount
- Multi-slot reader for SD or MSPro cards
- 2.4m-dot electronic viewfinder
- 3-inch 921,600 dot LCD rear tilt-angle touchscreen
- 11fps burst shooting
- Silent shooting mode
- NFC, Bluetooth and wireless compatible
The look and feel of the A6400 is a tried-and-tested formula that has remained relatively unchanged since the A5000 from back in 2014.
Rather than a miniature DSLR or retro design, though, the A6400 has more of a modern rangefinder styling, with the viewfinder over to the far left of the camera. This tends to be more comfortable when holding up to your eye and avoids nose prints on the LCD screen. The grip is subtle and won’t please everyone – that pinkie finger falls off the bottom if you’ve got anything larger than child-like hands – but is enough to control what is a relatively light body.
For the advanced shooter, the A6400 offers a good range of buttons and dials to allow quick access to all the main features on the rear, many of which can be customised to your most-used functions if desired. The only slightly awkward position for us, however, is the movie record button, which sits on the back-right corner of the grip. It’s difficult to press without changing your hold – which is perhaps the point – but other custom buttons can be used for this function if you wish. High-frequency shooters (and particularly video shooters) may be disappointed by the lack of a second card slot too.
Other custom options appear in the menu, allowing you to create a My Menu for your most used functions. This may be time-consuming at first – but it will save you digging through what is a busy and over-complicated menu. The five main headings are further sectioned into up to 14 screens, making scrolling across them a lengthy process compared to more traditional vertical menu structures.
The rear screen takes up a large portion of the back of the camera, and its touchscreen capabilities allow you to use it to quickly select the focus point. Unlike the screen on the A6500, which only tilted up to 90 degrees, the A6400’s screen angles up a full 180 degrees, jutting out from the camera to avoid the viewfinder. The rubber eyepiece partly obscures the screen in this position but this can be removed. This screen position will please all those looking for a quick selfie, and perhaps more importantly, it makes this camera suitable for video bloggers without a separate monitor. The screen also tilts down nearly 80 degrees for overhead shooting, should you need that.
It’s worth noting that the A6400, just like its predecessors, has both a built-in flash and a hot-shoe, which can be used for an external flash, microphone or external monitor – though anything you place on the hot-shoe will block the screen. The main downside to the A6400 compared to the A6500 is the lack of in-camera stabilisation, which is only really an issue when using longer lenses, and both kit lenses come with optical stabilisation, which is arguably more affective.
- Fast Hybrid AF, 425-point phase-detection, 425-point contrast-detection
- Focus modes: Auto, Single, Continuous, Direct Manual, Manual
- Dynamic range optimiser and auto high dynamic range options
- Battery: 360-410 shots (still), 70-75min (video), internal charge
Where the A6400 really stands out is in its autofocus ability. It sports both 425 phase-detection points and 425 contrast-detection points, rather than the 169 contrast-detection points on the previous models.
This, Sony claims, allows for the world’s fastest autofocus, at 0.02secs. It’s a claim we hear far too often in camera releases, but in use it certainly is fast and accurate.
The A6400 is also the first Sony camera to feature the new Real Time Tracking, which locks onto the subject with a half press of the shutter and can follow them around the frame using a combination of subject, face- and eye-detection to ensure the subject isn’t lost. The full power of this system only works in the continuous focus mode, with tracking and face detection enabled, but once setup it works extremely well both for stills and video.
Sony is also due to update its EyeAF system to detect animals later this year, which will make this an ideal choice for wildlife photographers.
For those looking for fast shooting, the camera is capable of 11-frames-per-second (11fps), which slows to eight frames when used with silent shooting mode, or if you wish to maintain the live view on the rear screen. When shooting in 4K you also have the option of pulling a still frame out of the movie afterwards, which gives an 8.3-million-pixel image.
One area in which the camera doesn’t feel overly speedy, however, is in its start up time. When using the power zoom lens you can be waiting up to three seconds for the lens to extend and the screen to come on – slightly less when using the viewfinder.
On the video side, the A6400 is setup for some serious shooting. It records in Super 35mm format at 6K to use the majority of the sensor, and then downscales to 4K for a better-quality result using Sony’s consumer friendly XAVC S codec.
Unlike previous models, there’s no limit on recording time here. And, on top of the left and right channel audio monitoring and 3.5mm mic input, there’s also clean and uncompressed 4:2:2 8bit output via HDMI, plus S-Log2 and S-Log3 profiles suitable for grading.
On the mode dial next to the video option is S&Q, which stands for slow and quick, which allows you to set a frame rate of between 1fps and 120fps for high speed or extra slow-motion video, without affecting your default movie setting.
- 24.2-MP APS-C type sensor
- ISO 100-32,000 ISO (up to 102,000 expanded)
- Charged anti-dust coating and ultrasonic vibration system
- Shooting modes: Raw (14-bit ARW), Raw+Jpeg (Extra Fine, Fine, Standard), Jpeg
- Video: 4K (3840 x 2160, 25/30p), HD (1920 x 1080, 100/120p)
- 1200-zone evaluative metering (multi-segment, centre-weighted, spot regular/large, average, highlight)
The A6400 offers a very similar sensor to the A6300 and A6500 in terms of pixel sites, and the same Bionz X processing engine. The ISO range has been extended, though, pushing up to a standard range of ISO 100 to 32,000 (and expanded to 102,400).
Jpeg images straight out of the camera are bright and punchy with little need for editing. Sony’s 1200-zone metering system does a great job at managing the exposure, with a choice of six modes. In the standard multi-segment mode, it manages to protect highlights while still keeping details in the shadows, in some tricky conditions. The video output also looks great, though rolling shutter is an issue here when you are panning with the camera, particularly in 4K.
Image noise levels are well controlled throughout the standard range and while image noise is visible from ISO 400, it remains very subtle up to ISO 3200, and the images are still very useable at ISO 32,000. Even at the highest expanded value of ISO 102,400, the result is not entirely unpleasant, just a little washed out and lacking in detail.
The fine detail in the images is impressive too. We used the camera with both the 16-50mm power zoom and the 18-135mm zoom, which are the two kit options available for the A6400, both of which feature optical stabilisation. For kit lenses, both are impressive but for size and practicality the 16-50mm was our lens of choice. The sliding lever and electronic ring that controls the zoom on the lens won’t be to everyone’s taste, but it does help to keep the lens compact and the camera pocket-sized.