Last Updated on May 13, 2023 by Photography PX
The Sony a6400 is an interchangeable lens E-mount mirrorless camera. Initially released spring 2019, it’s Sony’s unofficially testing bed for their latent firmware prowess. It marks the first camera to feature Real-Time autofocusing, which melds traditional phase-detect AF with an algorithmic approach. Officially, it’s the replacement for the previously released a6300.
Yet, simultaneously, it inherits much of the feature set and improvements made in the a6500, in a single unified body. It features a 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, unlimited 4K video, class-leading autofocusing, improved battery life, and design. Interesting. On paper, it’s specifications rival the a6500 and appears to create a better performing camera.
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So did Sony go too far? If so, where does this leave current a6500 users? In today’s post, we find out where this camera fits into Sony’s existing lineup and assess it’s capabilities. Sony has positioned the camera to showcase what’s truly possible from compact APS-C cameras and fierce competition to Fujifilm’s X-T30 and Canon’s M50.
What are some of the goods, bads, and uglies of the Sony a6400?
While it retains the same 24.2MP CMOS sensor as the a6500, Sony has made improvements to the sensor with this iteration. In this case, the upgrades come in the form of better color science and improved dynamic range. It marks the latest camera in the series to inherit the new color science initially introduced on the a7 series of full-frame cameras.
This modern color science brings better color rendering, especially in skin tones, and overall colors are more accurate and faithful to what we see with our eyes. Thankfully, gone are the days of a slightly green tint that plagued the previous cameras. While mostly unchanged, the image quality this camera delivers is the best in the series to date.
It now features HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) profiles, a first for a 6000 series camera, allowing users to get HDR videos straight out of the camera without the need for any post-production modifications. This addition also serves as a way to match footage to other Sony cameras offering the profile, which is essential if using this as a b camera in a broader setup.
Unlike previous cameras in the series, this camera thoroughly fixes any forms of overheating, and you can now record well over an hour continuously without fear of shutdown and loss of footage.
This camera now features unlimited video recording, a first in the a6000 series lineup. You can now record as long as you want, with the only limitation now being storage space. Thank goodness, gone are the days of the dreaded 29 minutes and 59-second limit. This change joins Sony alongside Panasonic as some of the only manufacturers which offer this particular removal. A bonus, it’s also one of very few Sony cameras to not break up recordings into 4 GB segments and, instead, records to a single file. Overall, it’s an excellent choice for anyone looking to shoot long-format video content.
The video quality this camera delivers is excellent, and the camera shoots proper 4K video, downsampled from the sensors 6K resolution. It shoots 4K UHD at 24 or 25p at full sensor width. And it is one of the very few cameras in this category that not only shoots 1080p Full HD video at 120 fps but does so at 120 fps properly not slowed down 30 fps. When shooting in this mode, you can also record with autofocus, audio recording, and complete manual controls.
Low Light Performance
It has a native ISO range from ISO 100-32,000 for videos and 102,400 for photos. Overall, low light performance is excellent, considering its small sensor. Users can expect usable images up to ISO 6,400, without the need for any post-production noise reduction.
While it inherits the same 425 Phase-Detect AF system as the a6500, it also now uses 425 contrast-detect points as well. Sony claims that this is the fastest focusing system on the market, with a 0.02 acquisition time. And yes, at the time of release, this was true, and it was industry-leading. At the time of this writing, it’s system is only second to Sony’s own newly released a6600 flagship camera.
The new system also incorporates Sony’s latest Real-Time tracking algorithm, which now brings an element of AI and machine learning to autofocus tracking. In short, what it does it use algorithms to detect patterns to recognize subjects or objects better. And it seamlessly transitions from object tracking to eye detection as needed, without the need for adjusting settings.
The implementation of Real-Time tracking makes continuous autofocus the best possible choice for every shooting situation, whether the subject is moving or still. Unlike other cameras, were single-shot AF is typically the most accurate option, this camera makes continuous autofocus virtually perfect.
Before this innovation, you would have to manually setup autofocusing to best suit the shooting demands. But, now, the camera does all of the heavy lifting for you. Gone are the days of customizing the autofocusing system for every specific situation and fiddling with settings. No longer will you be forced to choose between AF-ON and Eye-AF. This system even thoroughly removes the need for single-shot AF and manually selecting specific autofocusing points using the D-pad.
Sony has also enabled Eye-Detect AF by default, eliminating the need for digging through menus to turn on the feature otherwise. Instead, it’s available immediately after half depressing the shutter and not through a custom button, greatly simplifying the process. With that, you can half depress the shutter and let the camera do all of the work for you. Frankly, this is the best implementation of tracking we’ve seen to date and one that makes autofocusing as a whole more straightforward. It’s also incredibly accurate, with virtually no hunting whatsoever, and works even when subjects are great distances away.
Lastly, the addition of a touchscreen means the camera now sports both touch focus and touch shutter. Users perform focus transitions, as well as tracking, by a simple tap on the screen in both photos and videos.
While it uses the same NP-FW50 batteries as the predecessor, Sony has made software enhancements to increase the battery life to 410 shots per charge. This improvement now makes the camera’s lifespan above the industry-standard 350 shot lifespan expected for cameras of this size. And overall, battery performance is adequate, though not excellent.
Display & Viewfinder
It features the same 3.0-inch touchscreen TFT display as the a6500 with a resolution of 921K dots. However, unlike previous a6000 cameras, Sony has implemented an articulating screen, the same design used in the a5000 series, which tilts 180° upwards for front-facing selfies and vlogging applications. It’s touch capabilities allow the camera to sport both touch focus and touch shutter. And it delivers critical improvements over the predecessor in functionality. Firstly, it now longer dims during 4K recording. Secondly, it now has a 16:9 aspect ratio, making it adequately optimized for shooting video. Not only that, but it’s also sharp, bright, and delivers accurate colors.
It has an electronic viewfinder with a resolution of 2.36M dots, x0.7 magnification, and variable refresh rate up to 120 Hz. Overall, it delivers an excellent viewing and composition experience.
While the camera maintains the incredibly tedious and lengthy menus, the amount of customization included helps to avoid much of the deep menu dives typically required. In this case, Sony has implemented a graphic interface, finally allowing users to see which custom buttons are selected and its available parameters. Additionally, Sony’s also included the much needed customizable My Menu function, allowing users to customize their favorite menu items into a single page. While most of the menu remains the same in design, Sony refined the user interface, now with more pleasing colors. And overall, the menu is improved.
The camera features three separate save states accessible with the MR (Memory Recall) selector on the mode dial, allowing users to create predefined custom shooting presets. These save states function the same way as user-defined presets on the mode dial, though do require a bit more fiddling for proper configuration.
Surprisingly the custom keys and function menu are separate for a video, stills, and playback modes. This separation allows users to extraordinary customization over the camera’s configuration. And you can now rate images using a custom key when during the playback mode.
Physical Layout & Ergonomics
The body design and layout are mostly similar to the predecessor. However, the camera now features a luxurious grip, considering its small size, which makes it quite comfortable to hold. Though, more shallow than the competition, it represents a good compromise between portability and handling. And it provides reassurance in hand.
It has two custom buttons, C1 and C2.
It inherits the SNQ mode, allowing users to record up to 120 fps in-camera, a first for the a6000 lineup. This addition removes any need for using post-production software for this functionality.
- It features weather sealing, though not to the same level as the full-frame a7 series cameras.
- It has silent shooting, which is now available in all continuous shooting speeds up to 11 fps.
- It has a microphone input.
- It has a built-in pop-up flash.
- It has Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth for wireless pairing to a smartphone for image transfer and remote control.
- It supports USB charging.
It inherits spot metering points, which allows you to link a spot metering and spot AF point together to metering and focus from a single point.
It offers continuous shooting speeds of 11 fps using the mechanical shutter with continuous autofocus and auto exposure. Its buffer depth has doubled over the predecessor. It now supplies 47 RAW images, which makes it a contender for sports applications and quite good for this class.
Sony has done away with the PlayMemories app store. And, instead, replaced the functionality with a built-in intervalometer for time-lapse recording. Though they didn’t go as far as to create the lapse in-camera, you must still do so using post-production software.
It has an AWB lock, which locks the white balance during continuous burst shooting to avoid changes in white balance that occur, keeping the shots in the burst more consistent.
Unfortunately, this camera uses the same 8-bit color depth and lacks 10-bit recording. While Sony has added profiles for added flexibility in post-production grading, the 8-bit color space limits those who want more flexibility in grading footage before the files breakup.
When shooting 4K at 30 fps, the cameras experience a 1.2x crop that results in an 18% reduction in the field of view.
It surprisingly lacks the standard MP4 file format. Instead, only AVCHD and XAVCS formats are available.
Since this camera inherits the identical sensor from the a6300, it also simultaneously inherits the same amount of rolling shutter as well. So, unfortunately, doing fast pans on this camera will cause intense distortion in the frame and is easily disorienting. Take extreme caution when recording video handheld in 4K, as this camera rolling shutter can easily ruin footage.
While there are associated pros with the rear displays articulation, there are also cons as well. Yes, it allows for more flexibility shooting at extreme angles, and also helps for selfies or filming. However, the screen becomes obscured when using a microphone or other accessory on the hot shoe on the camera. Sadly, so much so that the screen is virtually useless when in these configurations. To avoid this, a cage or adapter to reposition the hot shoe is required. Nonetheless, the inconvenience here doesn’t outweigh its advantages.
Unfortunately, we still don’t have a fully optimized and touch-enabled menu. It’s a shame to see that the camera lacks this, consider the developments made in its competition.
The video recording button is still in the same awkward position, recessed on the camera’s grip. Thankfully, you can now customize the shutter as the video start-stop, completely removing the need for this button. This is a significant upgrade of the a6500, which lacks the capability.
The camera only has a single SD card slot, and even worse, it’s only UHS-I compatible, not the faster, and more modern, UHS-II. It’s slower speeds become problematic when it comes to clearing the buffer, where the camera takes upwards of 2 minutes to clear a complete burst. Overall, it significantly slows down the workflow. Thankfully, you can still access most menus while the camera clears the buffer. But why Sony refuses to upgrade to a UHS-II compatible slot always doesn’t make any sense to us. And because of this, the camera is not entirely ideal for sports or wildlife applications.
- The camera maintains a micro USB port instead of USB-C, which means its file transfer speeds are slower than the competition.
- It lacks in-body image stabilization. Instead, you have to use lenses that have Optical Steadyshot, which, while effective, isn’t ideal for those wanting to use non-stabilized lenses.
- It lacks a headphone input.
Is this a good beginner camera?
Yes. While many will claim this is simply an a6300 with a tilting screen, larger grip, improved buffer, it’s not. This camera represents the testing bed for upcoming iterations in firmware, specifically autofocusing capabilities, and other technologies to come. And, in raw performance, it’s far superior to the a6300. Yet, it still maintains a compact form factor and delivers the best performance of the series to date, outside of the newly release a6600. Overall, it is an excellent choice for someone looking for a starting camera, with its respectable price point and class-leading autofocusing.
Is the Sony a6400 a good camera for you?
It makes an excellent choice for those looking for a photography-centric camera, with its class-leading autofocusing performance. Of the cameras in its competing class, nothing comes close to the accuracy and consistency this autofocus system in this camera delivers.
It makes a variable option for sports and wildlife applications, with its superior tracking and fast 11 fps burst rate. Just bear in mind its slow buffer clearing speeds due to the UHS-1 card slot.
It makes an excellent upgrade for current a6300 or a6500 users who desire improved autofocus and tracking abilities. However, if you do not want the specific firmware improvements in that regard, then it’s not a necessity. The reality is that the image quality between all three cameras are largely identical. So, upgrading to this camera comes down to the niche additions it provides, not necessarily its raw capabilities.
Sony touts this as their ideal camera for Youtubers or vloggers. While capable, it’s not entirely perfect for this medium. It’s articulating touchscreen is helpful. However, the lack of image stabilization proves to be its inevitable downfall, namely for those who don’t own or use Sony E-mount lenses with Steadyshot. The lack of IBIS doesn’t lend itself as the ideal solution for these applications, and the reality is that a gimbal or external stabilization is a requirement with this camera.
Not only that, the camera suffers from extreme rolling shutter, especially prevalent when filming handheld, and it lacks a headphone input. Overall, while capable, it turns out to be compromised on this role for several reasons and is far from perfect.
Putting vlogging aside, it does make an excellent choice for those looking for their very first APS-C mirrorless camera or a second camera for existing shooters. It’s even more attractive as a b camera for videographers looking for another angle, with its unlimited 4K recording.
In the end, this camera lags behind its competitors in a few key areas, namely the single UHS-1 card slot, USB-C, rolling shutter, lacking stabilization, and headphone ports. But, where it does shine, however, is in its software. Sony has proved they’ve got the best firmware and technology in the business with this camera. And it serves as a testament to their prowess in the industry with its class-leading autofocusing performance, the best seen to date. In all, the Sony a6400 provides what photographers and videographers want most, sharp shots.
It delivers the goods, and it offers excellent value for money while doing so. Sure, it’s not the pro-level APS-C camera we hope during the initial announcement. Nonetheless, it still surpasses many expectations considering it’s a small and compact mirrorless camera. Overall, the improvements make it among the best available mirrorless APS-C cameras available on the market to date and one that, surprisingly, rivals Sony’s a7 full-frame line.
Sony has proved they’ve got the best firmware and technology in the business with this camera. And it serves as a testament to their prowess in the industry with its class-leading autofocusing performance, the best seen to date. The a6400 delivers the goods and makes for an excellent workhorse of a camera.