Burst modes of up to 11 frames per second are available.
Both battery and the single SD card slot are accessible through a door at the bottom. You can of course use Sony’s modern memory sticks instead. The battery life is rated at 360 photos using the viewfinder and 410 shots using the rear monitor. Movie recording is rated at 70/75 minutes. You charge the battery in place using a Micro-B USB socket on the left-hand side of the camera. I would love to see that connection retired in favour of USB Type-C.
Next to that is a Type-D micro-HDMI connector for output and a 3.5mm socket for microphone input.
The Sony a6400 supports both Wi-Fi (2.4GHz only) and Bluetooth. You can use Sony’s clever app on your phone for transferring photos or remotely controlling the camera.
The 16 to 50mm lens provided in the bundled unit is fairly compact when the camera is switched off. It extends out by about 25mm when the camera is on. It has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 to f/5.6.
The camera itself has no optical stabilisation, so look for lenses with that OIS built in. Sony’s version is called Optical Steady Shot. This lens implements Optical Steady Shot.
The lens has a slide control on the side. Push it up or down to zoom in or out. If you prefer – and that’s something I prefer – you can instead use the control ring around the lens. That felt a little clunky in use, with the control motor seeming to lag by a tiny amount. When you’re in manual focus mode, that turns into a focus ring instead.
Pretty much regardless of lens, it’s worth choosing the “DMF” – Direct Manual Focus – mode. This is the same as auto focus mode, giving you the options for scene, area, pinpoint focus and so on. But while you’re holding the shutter release at half press you can then tweak the focus manually. That’s great for doing things like shooting a bird that’s a branch or two back in a tree. Cameras often want to focus on the closest branch.
Sony also sent down the Sony/Zeiss Vario Tessar FE 16-35mm FA ZA OSS lens. This one costs $1,799, or more than three times the cost of the bundled lens. I thought it would be fun to compare their performance. I didn’t do a comprehensive analysis, but it was clear that at the centre of the images, there was very little separating them in performance. The more expensive lens provided a slightly bolder contrast and slightly more subtle colours. At the edges of the image, though, the cheaper lens lost resolution while the Zeiss lens retained sharpness.
Taking photos with the Sony a6400
For the most part the camera was easy to use. But since it has so many of the manual control features of a high-end camera, you can get things wrong.
For example, at one point I took several photos under lowish light. Quality wasn’t imperative since they were just to illustrate an object. But when I popped the card into my computer, I was pretty started by the terrible quality. The pictures were all extremely grainy. I had the camera on “Aperture” mode – that’s my default – with the aperture on the particular lens at f/4, its maximum. Yet the shutter speed was up on 1/4000th of a second.
I soon found out that I’d somehow accidentally, unknowingly, managed to set the camera’s ISO to a fixed 65,535. No wonder it was grainy! I cancelled that and retook the photos. The ISO control button and dial was pretty much under the heel of my thumb, so I figure I must have pressed it while holding the camera. Be careful.
Of course, if I’d just left the camera on full auto mode, I’d have never had that problem in the first place.
That was a rare event, though. For the most part the camera did its stuff with no problems. Autofocus was fast. As is usually the case, Sony specifies an insanely fast speed. It says 1/50th of a second, but that’s not the sense I had. Nonetheless, I almost never found myself having to wait for focus to be found. When it wasn’t found satisfactorily, it was usually because I’d somehow gotten the area of focus into the wrong place.
The camera was light in my hand and the shutter release was well graduated, allowing me to hold half-press with reasonable ease.