Lately I’ve been entranced by Sony’s various full frame cameras (see here and here). But now we have the brand’s latest, next-tier down camera, the Sony a6400 mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera. Even though it uses the smaller APS-C sensor, it shares the same E-mount for attaching lenses as the bigger cameras. Indeed, Sony sent down a couple of them for me to try out with it.

Sony a6400 sensor

But we’ll return to those shortly. First, what is APS-C? It’s a sensor size bigger the Micro Four Thirds, but smaller than full frame. Full frame is around 36mm by 24mm. Sony’s version of APS-C is 23.5mm by 15.6mm. It uses Sony’s respected Exmor CMOS sensor with an “effective resolution” of 24.2 megapixels. The actual output resolution is an impressive 6,000 by 4,000 pixels.

Sony a6400

If you buy a full-frame Sony camera, you have to be careful which E-Mount lens you buy. Even though they’re all plug-compatible, some are designed for the smaller APS-C sensor. Those ones won’t produce an image across the whole of a full frame sensor. But the other way around works fine: you can use an E-Mount full frame lens with this camera. And, indeed, I used two of them.

Another difference: because of the smaller sensor, you need to consider the multiplier factor. That’s the factor you use to work out the full-frame-equivalent focal length. With this sensor it’s about 1.53x. If you use a 50mm E-mount lens designed for a full frame camera, on the Sony a6400 camera it will be equivalent to a 76mm lens.

The Sony a6400 camera sells for $1,499, body only. It’s also available at $1,699 with a 16-50mm power zoom lens. Remember, that’s 24.5 to 76mm in full-frame terms. That lens sells standalone for $499, so it’s a good value bundle.

Viewfinder

The body is quite a bit smaller than those of Sony’s full-frame models. Most noticeably, the lump above the lens – which is mostly a styling hangover from DSLR cameras – is missing. The viewfinder is on the top left corner at the back. That places it well for those who use their right eye to shoot, but lefties may find it a problem. Noses can get in the way.

The viewfinder has a resolution of 2.36 megapixels and there’s dioptre adjustment to allow good focus to be achieved by most people. It found it produced a bold, clear and sharp image, quite devoid of pixellation.

The rear monitor is flexible. It will fold out so that it can be viewed easily from both above and below. It can also be seen from the front for “selfies”. The display is touch-sensitive, so you can use it to choose a point upon which the camera should focus. It has 0.92 megapixels of resolution. A “Display” button (on the main selector dial at the back) cycles through several different information displays.

Sony a6400

On the top is a hot shoe for Sony-compatible flashes and other accessories. But there’s also a pop-up flash which can be useful in an emergency, although artful results aren’t typically available with such things.

Controls

The shutter release button is in the usual place. Around it is a power switch. There’s one main mode dial. You spin that to choose Auto, Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual, Video and so on.

One of them is Panorama mode. I found that one quite disappointing. The camera had to be held in landscape orientation and only covered about a 90-degree sweep. Rather than using its electronic shutter, it shot a burst using the curtain shutter. But then it downscaled the stitched-together pictures. They ended up 8,192 by 1,856 pixels. Do the arithmetic and you find that comes to a little over 15 megapixels.

For comparison, my old Samsung Galaxy S7 phone (and, I presume, subsequent Samsung models) kept the original resolution, simply trimming the edges. One of my favourite panorama shots with that phone covered a full 360 degrees and ended up at 23,712 by 3,664 pixels. That’s nearly 87 megapixels.

So, if you want to do real panorama shots with the Sony a6400, I’d suggest taking a number of careful side-by-side shots and using suitable software in your computer to stitch them together.

When you choose aperture or shutter priority mode, the setting can be adjusted with either the dedicated dial on the top right, or the dial around the enter button on the back. If going fully manual, the top dial does aperture and the back dial does shutter speed.

Most of the buttons can be customised to do the operations you find most convenient.