Almost exactly 3 years after announcing the A6300, the Sony Alpha 6400 has been unveiled as its replacement. This camera APS-C format mirrorless camera looks a lot like the A6300, but it comes with a big improvement in the autofocus performance. To be fair, the A6300 wasn’t a slouch in that department, but Sony is really leading the pack in this area and the A6400 makes shooting moving subjects easy. There’s also a flip-up screen to appeal to selfie-shooters and vloggers, along with an impressive video specification. Finding the screen a bit wanting for setting the AF point when I look in the viewfinder, I would’ve liked a joystick on the back of the camera, but that’s possibly too much to hope for on a camera at this price.
The Sony A6400 doesn’t just have a fancy specification sheet, it also delivers where it matters, with high-quality images and videos.
For Sony Alpha A6400
- Excellent autofocus system
- High continuous shooting speed
- Good-quality viewfinder built-in
Against Sony Alpha A6400
- No in-body stabilisation
- Limited touch-control
- 3:2 stills look small on the 16:9 screen
- 24.2Mp APS-C format sensor
- 425 Phase detection AF points and 425 Contrast detection AF points
- Real-Time Eye AF
- 11fps continuous shooting with continuous AF/AE 8fps in silent mode
- ISO 100-32,000 expandable to 102,400
- 4K HDR (HLG) recording, 30fps, 8-bit
- S-Log3 and S-Log2 gamma
- 180-degree tilting touchscreen
- 0.3-inch OLED with 2,359,296 dots viewfinder
- In-body intervalometer
Like the A6300, the Sony A6400 has a 24.2Mp APS-C format sensor, however, this is a more modern chip. It’s also paired with an updated version of the Bionz X processor. As a result, Sony has pushed the sensitivity range further, hitting ISO 32,000 in the native range and ISO 102,400 in the expanded range.
There are also new image processing algorithms on-board to help deliver better image quality.
One thing to note is that the Alpha 6400 doesn’t feature in-body stabilisation (IBIS). If you want that you have to look to the next model up, the A6500, which is also due for replacement. However, Sony offers some stabilised lenses, including the PZ 16-50mm kit lens.
One of the most exciting developments is with the autofocusing. It draws on the technology in the Sony A9, A7R III and A7 III. There’s a total of 850 AF points, 425 that use phase detection and 425 that use contrast detection. These are said to be packed together tightly and cover 84% of the image area.
That dense coverage helps make the A6400 good at identifying and tracking subjects.
Sony also claims that the new-generation BIONZ X image processing engine enables the camera to achieve focus in just 0.02sec.
In addition, there’s ‘Real-time Eye AF’, the latest version of Sony’s excellent Eye AF system. This automatically locates the eyes in real time to get them sharp. You can even set a preference for focusing on the left or right eye. There’s also Real-time Tracking that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to help recognise subjects. Together, these should result in fast and accurate focusing in a wide range of situations to allow the photographer to concentrate on getting the composition right.
Excitingly, Sony will also add Animal Eye AF support with a firmware upgrade in Summer 2019. That’s great news for keen wildlife photographers and pet owners.
Like the A6300, the A6400 can shoot at up to 11fps (frames per second). However, there’s a big jump in the burst depth as the A6400 can shoot up to 99 Extra Fine Jpegs, or 46 raw files. This compares well with the 44 Extra Fine Jpegs or 21 raw files possible with the A6300. However, both cameras can shoot up to 21 images when recording raw and Jpeg files simultaneously.
If you want to shoot silently, the maximum rate is 8fps. That’s quite a pace for a camera at this level.
It’s also good to see an intervalometer built-in. This allows you to set a shooting interval of between 1 and 60 seconds for up to 9,999 shots. The images can then be made into a time-lapse movie on a computer running Sony’s Viewer software.
Sony has given the A6400 an impressive collection of video features. For instance, it can shoot 4K (3840 x 2160 at up to 100Mbps) video in super 35mm format with full pixel readout and no pixel binning. This means there’s oversampling and around 2.4x as much data is gathered than is needed for the final video. It’s a methos we’ve seen before it helps to produce higher quality movies.
There’s also a choice of XAVC S (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) or AVCHD (MPEG-4 AVC/H.264) format. In addition, 4K HDR (HLG) recording is available for playback on compatible televisions and S-log3 and S-log2 gamma modes are provided to give greater scope for post-capture grading.
The S-Log gamma curves enable you to capture up to 1300% wider dynamic range than is normally possible. The result is very dull, flat looking footage, but after grading to introduce some contrast, you are left with videos that have both highlight and shadows detail.
The S-Log3 setting also gives up to 14Ev latitude.
While there’s a 3.5mm port to connect an external mic, headphones can only be attached via the optional hotshoe adapter. However, using the adapter blocks the view of the screen when it’s tipped up.
A Slow and Quick motion (S&Q) option on the mode dial enables the A6400 to shoot slow motion video at up to 5x slower than real life and quick motion at up to 60x faster. All the work is done in-camera and footage is saved in Full-HD.
Alternatively, Full-HD footage can be shot at up to 120fps with a bit-rate of up to 100Mbps to create slow-motion movies post-capture.
Build and Handling
According to Sony, the A6400 is has a magnesium alloy design and is dust and moisture resistant. Meanwhile, the shutter is rated at 200,000 cycles.
Sony has stuck with the rectangular, rangefinder-like design of the A6300 for the A6400. This means that the viewfinder is over in the top-left corner. I find this design less natural to use than a DSLR-style camera, but it means right-eyed photographers can see around the camera more easily with their left eye.
The falt design doesn’t extend to the front of the camera and the Alpha 6300 has a decent grip. With a light optic like the 16-50mm kit lens mounted, you can shoot one-handed fairly easily.
With the exception of a joystick on the back of the camera to set the autofocus point, just about all the key controls that you need are provided and within easy reach. In the absence of a joystick, the quickest way to set the AF point is to use the touch-screen. More on this later.
There’s also plenty of opportunity to customise the Sony Alpha A6400’s controls. For instance, you can save up to three sets of custom settings to make multiple settings changes quickly. It’s also possible to customise the purpose of the rear and top command dials when a custom button is pressed.
In addition, there are seven customisable buttons and the 12 features in the Function (Fn) menu can be set to your own preferences. I find the standard arrangement reasonably good, but after a while, I changed two of the settings so I could have quicker access to the Silent shutter and Aspect ratio controls.
There’s also a My Menu section that can be customised to let you reach the features you use most often quicker.
There’s good news with the 3-inch 921,600-dot screen of the A6400. First up, it’s touch-sensitive. As usual with Sony, you can’t use the touch-control to navigate the menu and make setting selections. However, Touch Pad, Touch Focus, Touch Shutter and (a new) Touch Tracking options are available. The latter activates ‘Real-time Tracking’ while Touch Pad allows you to set the AF point via the screen while looking in the viewfinder.
Further good news is that screen can be tilted through 180-degrees vertically to enable it to be viewed from the front. That’s nice for selfie-shooters and vloggers who want to be able to see themselves in front of the camera.
The bad news for stills photographers is that Sony has stuck with the 16:9 aspect ratio screen for the A6400. That’s great for video, but it makes images shot in the native 3:2 ratio seem a bit small.
As a left-eye-shooter, I have to be careful about which area of the screen I use to set the AF point when I’m looking in the viewfinder. If I use the whole screen, or pick the wrong area, my nose moves the AF point. I started out using the bottom-left corner of the A6400’s screen but this proved tricky to reach when a large, heavy lens like the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS was mounted. Consequently, I swapped to the bottom-right corner and used my right thumb on the screen to select the point.
However, there were quite a few occasions when the screen didn’t respond to my touch when the camera was held to my eye. The Sony A7R III and A7 III seem more responsive in this respect, but they both have joysticks on their rear. This meant that I often moved the camera away from my face or I pressed a custom button to access the AF area options and then set the point using the navigation controls.
The Sony Alpha A6400 has the same 0.39-inch type 2.36 million-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the A6300 and A6500. This has 0.7x magnification and if you rummage through the menu, you’ll find an option to boost the frame rate from 60fps to 120fps. The latter gives a smoother view but eats up the battery power a bit quicker than the standard setting.
In either mode, the EVF provides a nice clear view with a good level of detail. However, it’s a little too bright in the default settings. Consequently, it’s a good idea to reduce its brightness via the menu. In the default settings, there’s a risk that you’ll reduce the exposure unnecessarily.
Sony hasn’t just gained ground in the camera market because of the impressive specification of its cameras. They deliver the image quality that photographers want as well. Browsing through my images from the Sony Alpha A6400, I can spot a few that are slightly underexposed because the viewfinder looks a little bright, but the majority are good. In the default settings, it produces quite vibrant colours that will appeal to most people.
Something to note, if you want to capture fast movement across the frame, or if you’re panning, you need to avoid the Silent shooting mode otherwise your subject is likely to suffer from the rolling shutter effect.
Autofocus System Performance
In the past, I would usually opt for a single AF point and then do my best to keep it over the subject. Sony’s clever AF system makes this largely unnecessary and it means you can concentrate on aspects such as the composition and timing of the shot.
As usual with a Sony camera, the A6400 has a collection of autofocus (AF) area modes. Of these, Wide gives the camera the most scope to select the AF area point. It’s the equivalent of Auto Area AF on other manufacturers’ cameras. Previously, I would’ve shied away from this type of setting but recent developments mean it can be very useful. It certainly proved to be so with the A6400. As well as being able to spot and track my ever-present dog, I found it worked very well when photographing birds in flight. It spotted them in the frame and kept them sharp as they moved across the frame and either towards or away from the camera.
As I’ve found with other Sony cameras, when its set the continuous AF the system can struggle to identify the subject if it’s not moving, and will sometimes focus just in front of it. When it moves, however, it latches on quickly.
Real-time Eye AF and Real-time Tracking
Sony’s Eye AF system has proved to be a major bonus to wedding and social photographers. In the A6400 its more likely to be directed at friends and family but it works extremely well. I find that it spots and focuses on a subject’s eyes when they are about the size that they are just visible in the viewfinder. By which I mean around the point when you can distinguish the eyeballs from the eyebrows. And it does a great job of staying with them.
Similarly, the Real-time Tracking, which uses AI, makes keeping the subject sharp easy.
According to Sony the low-light capability of the A6400’s AF system is better than the A6300’s and it can function at -2Ev in AF-S mode. Presumably, AF-C (continuous AF) mode requires a bit more light. And it was only really in low light that the A6400’s AF system disappointed. It struggles a bit more than I’d like. If you can find a high-contrast edge it can often get the subject sharp, but it slows down and hunts a bit.
At the low end of the sensitivity range, the Sony A6400 captures plenty of detail. Images look nice and crisp, and even at 100% on screen everything looks pretty natural. As is to be expected, noise creeps into the equation as the sensitivity level increases. In the gloomy conditions that require a setting of ISO 16,000 or 32,000 (the native maximum), Jpeg images can look a little smudged in some areas.
At these settings, the raw files take more careful processing to find the right balance between noise visibility and removal. Good results are possible, but I would stay within the native sensitivity range (ISO 100-32000) as a rule.
I was lucky to see some bright sunshine during my time with the Sony A6400 and despite the high contrast conditions, the A6400 retained the highlights in most shots without blocking up the highlights. The end result is natural images that reflect the shooting conditions well.
Like the stills, the A6400 delivers high-quality video with plenty of detail and good colour. Moving subjects look smooth and the focusing system can be relied upon to keep them sharp. As usual, the best results are produced if you take control and obey the 180-degree shutter rule, but you can also get decent results with the camera in its automatic settings.
Small crop marks indicate the framing in the highest quality setting, but they can be hard to see with busy scenes.
We spoke to professional videographer, educator and mentor, Brent Kirkman about how and why he uses the Sony A6400 for his work. Here’s what he had to say.
Why the Sony A6400?
I primarily shoot wedding videos with the Sony A7 III and A6400. I’d tried using the A7 III on a DJI Ronin-S stabilising gimbal and it was very heavy. Plus, every time I changed lens or zoomed to a different focal length, I had to readjust the gimbal or risk damaging the motors.
The Sony E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS lens offered a solution to the zooming problem because it doesn’t change length when you adjust the focal length or focus. It’s also a power zoom, which is ideal for video.
As the 18-105mm is an APS-C format lens, it made sense to go for an APS-C format camera. I went for the A6400 because its focusing is amazing and I don’t need the in-body stabilisation of the A6500.
I’ve set the control wheel on the side of the Ronin-S to zoom the lens. Other people use it to adjust focus but I trust the camera’s AF system. I love how the A6400 can be set to track a subject with a tap.
And of course, the bonus is that the A6400 is smaller and lighter than the A7 III. It makes a perfect gimbal camera with the E PZ 18-105mm F4 G OSS. That’s a really good focal length range, equivalent to 27-157.5mm
I can now run behind the bride and groom and shoot nice and tight on their hands, for example, and then zoom out while still moving to reveal the whole scene around them. Normally you’d have to do that from a fixed point, being able to do it on the move really adds impact.
Now the A6400 lives on the Ronin-S and I can literally drive to the wedding and be shooting straight away.
What settings do you use?
Unless a client specifically requests or needs 4K video, I always shoot in 1080p. It saves on storage space and processing time. But also, it’s much more forgiving on skin.
My default setting is Log mode, which means the sensitivity is always ISO 800 or above. I’m happy to go all the way up to the top of the ISO range, but I don’t need to use the A6400 much in low light because that’s usually when I’m shooting on the dance floor and I want to keep my kit to a minimum then. The Ronin-S would get in the way, so that’s when I mainly use the A7III handheld or on a long monopod to shoot from above.
I usually overexpose everything by a stop or two. I can pull everything back in the post production but it helps get the look we want.
We always set the white balance by eye, matching the video cameras with the stills cameras. They’re Sony A9s.
I set the AF Drive speed (movie) to Fast and the AF Track Sensitivity (movie) to Normal. This means that if I pick a new point of focus the camera adjusts quickly but if the subject moves away from the point of focus it doesn’t adjust the focus quickly. The end result is smoother more filmic video.
Generally, we want everything to be quite dreamlike, so I usually shoot at f/4 on the A6400 for the shallowest depth of field I can get.
The video quality from the A6400 is great. I can mix footage from it with video from the A7III without a problem.
We’re both Sony ambassadors now at byLumiere. But we wouldn’t use the kit if it didn’t do what we need. And we’ve paid for it all!
Follow the link to find out more about Brent Kirkman’s work with byLumiere
Follow the link to browse and download full-resolution images
It’s great that Sony has put the work in on the autofocus system for the A6400. It’s something that can really help photographers of all levels. Real-time Tracking aside, it’s not quite as fast or as reliable as the AF system in the Sony A9, but it’s very good, especially for a camera that is set to retail for less than £1000/$1000.
Further good news is that the Animal Eye AF will be rolled out to the new camera in the summer. As well as being useful for budding wildlife photographers, it should be useful for family photographers who want to include their pet in their images.
I was hoping that Sony would adopt a mini-DSLR design for the next round of its APS-C format cameras and give them a joystick for AF point selection. I find this design more comfortable to hold and use. Having the viewfinder in the middle of the top plate would probably rule out having a flip-up selfie screen, but I was hoping for a vari-angle monitor anyway. A vari-angle monitor is more useful for photographers who want to shot portrait format images.
Those issues aside, the A6400 is very a good camera for anyone starting to get serious about photography. It’s attractively priced and it has a comprehensive range of features for both photographers and videographers. While the 16-50mm kit lens is nice and compact, I’m not a big fan of the power zoom. Unless you really want to keep size and cost down, I’d opt for the 18-135mm kit. You lose a bit at the wide-angle end but it’s a more versatile focal length range and you have a traditional zoom mechanism.
Like the A6400, the Sony A6300 has a 24.2Mp APS-C format sensor. And while it’s AF system isn’t quite up to the same standard as the A6400’s it’s still extremely good. The body is also very similar with a familiar control layout. It’s still available to buy but costs a little less than its younger brother.
Canon EOS M50
The Canon M50 is Canon’s best APS-C format mirrorless camera to date. It’s small, light and has both a decent viewfinder and a vari-angle touchscreen. If you stick to Full HD rather than 4K, you’ll also find the autofocus is smooth and capable. It’s a great choice for vloggers.
- Read our Canon EOS M50 Review
Sony Alpha 6400 Sample Image Gallery
Sony A6400 Menu Screens