Sony Alpha A6400 Review: An Excellent Camera Constrained By An Outdated Design
The Sony A6400 is a dull camera, despite introducing Sony’s most remarkable focusing technology in a while. It may even be said that it wasn’t what fans were anticipating when it was revealed because there isn’t anything on the specifications sheet that makes you say “wow” (though what they were expecting was a bit outlandish).
Even yet, I contend that the A6400 is arguably the greatest camera from Sony for the vast majority of people shopping for cameras.
The information about the persons who desire to take images and the purposes for which those photos are utilized is something that photographers and possibly readers of Imaging Resource frequently ignore. You are constantly exposed to images as a consumer, and unless you are in the mindset to critically examine a photo, the everyday pictures you see only serve to inform you of tidbits of information, whether they are advertisements for products you might be interested in, pictures of your family with the dog doing something funny, or pictures of your cousin receiving his or her college diploma.
Only a few things must be done perfectly for the camera to please the consumer and live up to the commodity that it has evolved into.
Overall Layout and Usability
I’ll state that, despite all of the areas where the A6400 shines, its usability is actually a weakness. That is not to imply that it is difficult to use once you figure it out; only that it takes some practice.
It’s no secret that Sony’s camera menus are by far the worst in the business as of the article’s publishing in mid-2019. The A6400 doesn’t alter that. Given how difficult it is to operate, if any of the three friends I named above were to purchase this camera, at least two of them would call me for assistance. Even I, a man who has used practically every camera on the market right now, had trouble remembering how to go from Program mode to Manual mode for taking videos for a short while. I have to keep in mind that there is no adjustment option for this on any buttons, dials, or in the Fn (Function) menu. In order to alter it, you must navigate to the second camera tab in the camera’s main menu.
For most Sony cameras, the features you want as a photographer—like AF Tracking, touchscreen usability, or 4K video—are not on by default. When you overcome this significant obstacle, the camera performs admirably. Simply said, Sony insists on putting a mountain in front of every new user that they must climb.
But once the camera is set up and your fundamental choices are in place, using it is quite simple. The user feedback in the EVF or rear LCD, such as the ability to view every active AF point while tracking, is probably my favorite feature of any camera maker. Sony’s autofocus remains as amazing as it has always been.
The knobs and buttons are arranged as well as I could have expected, with the Fn button providing quick access to the bulk of the higher-level capabilities and allowing for customization of that menu (provided you can figure out how to navigate the aforementioned bad menu). The majority of common photo-taking options on the A6400 are accessible with only one button push, making the process generally simple.
The A6400’s modest size makes it simple to add to almost any small backpack or shoulder bag. Next to the Fujifilm X-T30, it’s the smallest camera I have in my workplace, but the Sony actually adds a rather useful grip to the mix. I say “somewhat” because if your hands are even slightly big, it will be nearly painful to hold this camera correctly since your fingers will be squashed up. As my hands are rather tiny to medium in size for a male, this isn’t a new issue for Sony, but it has never been an issue for me. I simply know that other people will be upset about it.
Even though the EVF is rather tiny and has a low quality (I can never be confident I focused a shot while using the EVF), as I got used to it, I learned to just trust the camera. The photographs I had stored on my computer at the time of the great bulk of my shoots validated that faith.
Since the A6400 doesn’t have a very large battery, it’s critical that the camera can start up quickly because I turned it off whenever I wasn’t taking pictures. I’m delighted to say that it does, and even when starting with the camera completely off, I never found myself missing a photo. Nevertheless, the battery life will be rather poor if you take video or if you do not switch the camera off frequently.
Some lower-end consumer cameras attempt to handle all of your settings through a single dial, which can be annoying if you desire manual control over your images. It gives me great pleasure to learn that the A6400 breaks that trend and has two control dials for adjusting shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Both a dial on the top of the camera and one on the back, to the right of the LCD, are present.
Other small grievances:
As many tripods may easily block that compartment, I’ve never been a great fan of the SD card slot being in the same area as the battery.
Sony did add touch functionality to the A6400, although in a restricted way. Sony might benefit from making touch operation on their cameras as much a part of the operating system as Canon and Nikon have. I’m not sure why they place so many restrictions on it.
It does include a flip-up “selfie” screen, which, despite how annoying it sounds to say, is really nice to have on the smartphone. Even so, the EVF partially obscures the LCD when it is turned up, making the design poorly executed. While having this option at all is nice, it appears to have been introduced randomly.
The A6400 is slow in saving images, possibly because of the CPU or the writing speed of the one memory card port. Expect to have to wait a little while if you shoot a burst of RAW shots at maximum quality in order to explore those photos in the Replay mode. Again, this is not only an issue with the A6400; even Sony’s most expensive cameras exhibit this issue, which is just not fixed in this instance.
Quality and Capturing of Images
I believe it is reasonable to assume that “does it capture decent pictures?” is what the average camera buyer is most interested in. While I like to state that almost all cameras on the market today produce excellent photographs, Sony stands out from the competition in terms of focusing performance, feedback, and the consequent amount of “keepers” you can obtain for a given session. Now let’s briefly review the autofocus before I evaluate the actual image quality.
Essentially, the discussion of focusing on the A6400, and particularly the new Tracking autofocus technology that Sony introduced with the A6400 but later added to the a9, takes up the all of our first field test. There is more to the A6400 than simply the new Tracking capability, although those additional capabilities are not at that novel.
Although it may not be brand-new, it is the culmination of years and years of development on the side of Sony, and the end product is a satisfying one.
Using the A6400 for photography seems natural. I don’t consider the poorer quality EVF Display described above, the camera’s menu system that irritates me, or even the little grip when I’m staring in the EVF. The shot I’m receiving and the immersive feedback from the Sony focusing system instantly lock me in, though. The green AF points that blink in response to each image I take (I like Wide AF mode, by the way) let me know what the camera sees, how it sees it, and how the photo will be taken.
I then just receive the picture. I’m focused only on shooting the picture from the moment my eye catches the EVF till the moment my finger presses the shutter button.
The typical user will find this sort of experience to be quite appealing. Despite the less than ideal EVF viewing experience, you can very much immediately predict how your shot will turn out as you glance through it. It has the impression of being connected, cutting-edge, and a camera that “takes beautiful images.” Even the somewhat higher price that the A6400 costs compared to other entry-level cameras feels justified.
In terms of pure image quality, it’s somewhat above average for APS-C cameras. You’ll see that the dynamic range is fairly constrained and that the camera’s metering seems to favor bringing shadows into alignment over highlights, which causes more blown highlights than I had anticipated in shots with mixed illumination.
The camera will perform better in even lighting that is neither too bright nor too dark. I discovered that either the brilliant, daylight sun or the bright, lightly-diffused light produced my favorite photographs. Backlighting is also attractive. This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise because almost all cameras perform better in settings like these.
So let’s have a look at one of the people I used as an example and who I suggested this camera for. Consider the scenario when you need to take product images for your website or Instagram and you merely want them to stand out. I can’t think of any reason why the A6400 wouldn’t be excellent at this. You can just trust that the shot will turn out sharp and lovely since the colors pop, the details are clear, and the camera is so simple to operate on aperture priority.
Indeed, while being regarded as a fairly entry-level camera, this one is nearly too powerful for this type of job. However, stating that this camera has more functionality than the typical photographer will require is sort of great since it gives the impression that you’re getting a lot for your money.
What if you want to use this at a triathlon or another athletic event to shoot your friends? I hope that our previous field test demonstrates that it is excellent for that as well, with the eye-AF working to ensure that you get the exact subject in focus.
So, how about taking some good hike-related photos? The A6400 performs admirably in this situation as well, with adequate dynamic range in the shadows to truly enhance the beauty of wooded regions and the vibrancy of floral colors.
Video, what about it?
I remarked that it would “be wonderful” if my friends’ ideal camera could also record quality video, and I believe it is reasonable to say that the A6400 does just that. Although the video capture has certain restrictions and is not by any means of exceptional quality, it is still more than sufficient for the ordinary hobbyist.
You can see that Sony clearly integrated the notion of vlogging into the A6400 by looking at the flip-up selfie screen and the marketing decisions Sony made when the camera was first introduced. It is definitely “OK” at it, in my opinion, for that purpose. There are just four 4K choices available, with 24p and 30p recording available in both lower and higher data rates, and up to 120 frames per second in 1080p. With all of its cameras over the past five years, Sony has offered the same, quite basic video settings. They are boring, but they do the job.
The film from the A6400 has already been viewed by everyone who has watched video made using a consumer-level Sony mirrorless camera in the past three years. This is not innovative, but on the other hand, it is not worse either, which is a good thing.
Although I claimed the A7 III is an example of an excellent video camera, the A6400’s lack of one feature—image stabilization—makes it merely “OK” for video.
When it comes to full frame sensor-shift image stabilization, Sony really pushed the boundaries, yet they decided against using it at all with their APS-C sized sensor. If you don’t have a tripod or a very steady hand, your film will likely be unsteady and maybe even jello-like because not all lenses that are compatible with the A6400 feature optical stabilization. For instance, I hand-held the camera while sat as I recorded a video for Instagram (which I filmed vertically due to the position where it would ultimately be published). Other from my naturally trembling hands, there wasn’t much movement. But, on reviewing the clip in post-production, it is obvious that the corners are swaying like “jello,” which gives the impression that the subjects in the frame are also wobbling. It’s the type of vibration that’s difficult to quickly fix in post.
But if the camera has trouble with hand-held film with little movement, I doubt vlogging-style video, especially video recorded while walking, would look particularly nice either.
It’s unfortunate since the camera itself is lightweight, has a screen that folds up and works well for vlogging, and because it has a smaller sensor than other cameras, the lenses that can be used with it are likewise smaller in size. If image stabilization had been included, the setup would be ideal for a high-end compact camera.
One other thing: the A6400 lacks a headphone jack. Although Sony made care to include video functionality and design it for a traveling videographer, I find this absence to be a little puzzling. Although vloggers won’t likely notice this because they seldom listen to their own sound, it should still be a standard feature for anybody filming video.
Summary: Boring and uninteresting but great
Look, there isn’t much about the A6400 that will thrill the typical customer that is flashy, fresh, or intriguing. Even the Tracking AF function, which was one of the past year’s biggest brain scratchers when it was added to this camera, isn’t turned on by default for new users, which means the great majority of new A6400 users won’t a) be aware of its existence or b) know how to activate it. Without first activating it and then ensuring sure touch features are on (which, by the way, isn’t fun because that’s really down in the menu), you can’t even use it in video.
Nonetheless, I contend that despite the A6400’s lack of excitement, it is the precise camera that the typical consumer camera owner (or soon-to-be owner) needs. No, desires! It boasts excellent image quality, is enjoyable to use after spending 30 minutes setting it up, is portable and lightweight, and can perform a variety of functions for a wide range of shooting scenarios, most of which customers would never attempt. It is a somewhat pricey consumer camera, but that cost could be justified. The Canon EOS RP can only take one shot at a time, despite the fact that its full-frame design attracts a lot of attention and media attention. The A6400 can shoot at 11 frames per second, which is more than twice as fast as the RP’s 5 frames per second, making it far more versatile owing to many more video possibilities. In addition to shooting slow motion video at 1080p120, the A6400 also has a smaller body and fewer lens choices than the RP.
The main reason for my favorable view of this camera, in my opinion, is how enjoyable it is to use, particularly the continuous focusing. The A6400 is one of the greatest solutions you can choose if you want to make sure that every photograph you take with your camera is sharp and the process of taking that image requires little talent and isn’t fussy.
It’s not always necessary for a camera to be “exciting” or “dazzling” to be an excellent camera. The Sony A6400 perfectly fills that need when something just has to get the job done.