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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
The Sony a6400 costs $1,499 without a lens. In addition to
the two lenses I’ve already mentioned, Sony sent down the truly amazing FE
70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS telephoto zoom lenses. That’s one of those largely
white/cream lenses which you use to let people know that you’re a serious
That 70 to 200mm is, in 35mm-equivalent terms, 107 to 306mm.
I took this one to the Tidbinbilla nature park near Canberra. It brought me
remarkably close to quite a few kangaroos.
The combination of a wide aperture – f/2.8 across the entire range – and the long telephoto reach resulted
in a beautifully shallow depth of field that made the subjects simply pop. The
bokeh around them was smooth-as, thanks to the 11-blade iris. All shots were
hand-held. Even though the day was somewhat overcast, the wide aperture allowed
fast-enough shutter speeds of 1/320 to 1/1000 of a second at an ISO of 100.
That produced superb clarity and detail.
The only problem: that lens costs $3,999. Oh well.
DMF proves very useful at focusing on the thing that you
Stained glass in churches – this one’s in the historic St
John’s church in Reid, Canberra – can be hard to capture, given that they are
backlit and their surrounds are dark. A bit of exposure compensation and we get
Cropping down, the detail is preserved:
Control. Control! The camera makes it easy to get the
subject in focus, and choose a high-enough shutter speed to get the sought
A view across Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra with a 16mm
Near the centre of the frame it’s hard to tell the
difference between the same shot using the $1,799 lens (left) and $499 lens
But at the extreme right of the frame, the differences
And now, that glorious long lens. With the naked eye the
kangaroo tended to fade into the trees behind it, but not with this lens:
That doesn’t really demonstrate the clarity and detail, so
let’s crop the shot down:
The Sony a6400 is an excellent APS-C camera, capable of very
good performance with price-appropriate lenses. But it’s also full capable of
delivering superb results with the most price-inappropriate lenses.
The official website for the Sony a6400 camera is here.