a6400

a6400

Sony a6400 Review

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What We Love. The Sony a6400 performed so much better than we had expected, making shooting with it a pretty cool experience. Externally, it looks more like an entry-level model crafted for inexperienced shooters and fledgling vloggers. Internally, this APS-C body has been outfitted with premium features that more veteran photographers expect from their investment, including 4K recording with full pixel readout at 30fps, a wide sensitivity range of 100 to 32,000 (expandable to 102,800), a very impressive hybrid autofocusing system that boasts 425 phase detection and 425 contrast detection points, an incredible EyeAF coupled with Real-time tracking, a blazing fast burst mode of 11fps, and many other things. And that's without mentioning the stunning and super sharp images it produces.

What We'd Change. With a $900 price tag, you'd be hard-pressed to expect perfection, but this camera comes remarkably close. Still, we would have been happier to see the Sony a6400 with the pricier a6500's in-body image stabilization, an LCD with better tiltability, and an EyeAF that performs better in low light situations. Additionally, we would have liked to see the single SD card slot be UHS-II compatible, and video shooters may find the rolling shutter unworkable with fast pans. Still, there are workarounds for most of our complaints.

Pick This Up If... you're a beginner looking to upgrade your camera body to one with an excellent autofocus system, an enthusiast or pro in need of a second camera body, or a filmmaker or vlogger looking to make more 4K content on a budget.

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INTRO

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Click on any photo in this review to see/download full-size files.

Sony's follow-up to the a6300 may be reminiscent of its previous iteration when it comes to its design and 24.2MP Exmor CMOS sensor, but the Sony a6400 has definitely acquired a few major upgrades including a speedier and more efficient autofocusing system, a more functional LCD touchscreen, a faster burst mode when using the electronic shutter, and according to Sony, improved build quality for more durability.

On its own, the a6400 holds its own against other APS-C bodies, not only because of its plethora of features, especially video-wise, but also because of its superb image quality. While its LCD screen doesn't do its still image capabilities justice, you will be pleasantly surprised at how sharp, clean, and beautiful those images are when you view them on a larger screen.

Let's dig in deeper to see what the Sony a6400 has to offer.

GEAR USED

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Alongside the Sony a6400 review unit, Sony also provided us with its E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens to use for this review. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get a gimbal to test this camera's video capabilities. We only utilized a JOBY GorillaPod to help stabilize (somewhat) our videos.

KEY FEATURES

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  • 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS Sensor
  • BIONZ X Image Processor
  • XGA Tru-Finder 2.36m-Dot OLED EVF
  • 3.0" 921.6k-Dot 180° Tilting Touchscreen
  • XAVC S: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, AVCHD: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264
  • S-Log3 and S-Log2 Gamma
  • Hybrid Log-Gamma picture profile
  • S&Q Motion in Full HD from 1-120 fps
  • Built-In Wi-Fi with NFC
  • Real-Time Eye AF & Real-Time Tracking
  • 425 Phase- & Contrast-Detect AF Points
  • Up to 11 fps Shooting 
  • ISO 100 to 32,000 (expandable to 102,400)
  • 13 Picture Effects and 13 Creative Styles
  • Connectivity: WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC
  • Battery life: up to 410 shots
WHAT'S IN THE BOX

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  • AC Adaptor: AC-UUD12
  • Accessory shoe cap
  • Body cap
  • Eyepiece cup
  • Lens cap
  • Lens hood
  • Lens rear cap
  • Micro USB cable
  • Rechargeable Battery NP-FW50
  • SEL18135
  • Shoulder strap
BUILD QUALITY & DESIGN

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The Sony a6400's magnesium alloy body keeps most of its predecessor's design. It has the same dials and buttons all in the same places as the a6300. It has the same 0.39-type 2.36-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, 3.0-type 921K-dot wide type LCD, and NP-FW50 rechargeable battery.

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But of course, there are a few modifications where it matters most, both externally and internally. First of all, as far as its build quality, Sony claims to have made improvements, though this wasn't something we were about to test by "accidentally" dropping the camera. It does feel sturdy enough to withstand minor bangs, drops, and falls. And although its weather sealing isn't as extensive as we would have liked, it does have some level of that to protect it from dust and moisture. Unfortunately, we weren't able to test our review unit in the rain as we did the Sony HX99, but the a640 performed admirably on a cold and windy night while shooting on a freeway overpass.

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The single SD card slot makes sense for a mid-range APS-C camera, but limiting compatibility to (slower) UHS-I SD cards seems like a missed opportunity. In our experience, there are noticeable delays emptying the buffer after shooting bursts. Considering the smaller 24MP file sizes, the wait time was longer than ideal.

While it uses the same battery as the a6300, Sony indicates the a6400 has a better battery life--more specifically, at 360/410 shots (viewfinder/LCD), 10 shots more than the before.

ERGONOMICS

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The a6400's front grip is similar to its previous iteration, which isn't really anything to write home about. It's a decent grip for smaller hands, good enough to give you a tight hold on the camera while walking around and shooting. Plus, all the most important and often used buttons and dials are easily accessible on the right side, allowing for smooth operation. 

Bigger hands might find the grip (and the camera) a tad small; however, since this camera is compact and only 403g, which is less than a pound, a bigger grip isn't really necessary.

With one of its two kit lenses mounted, this camera is nicely balanced. However, because of its small form factor, it's easy to imagine the a6400 being dwarfed and overpowered by Sony's bigger and heavier E-mount lenses. This is definitely something to keep in mind if you're planning on pairing this body with that kind of glass.

Finally, not to be nitpicky, but we really wish they found a better spot for the video record button. It's currently sitting on the hump of the thumb rest/grip, which puts it in a location that's out of sight and also not very accessible. The good news is that the a6400 does have eight customizable buttons/dials, so you can easily reassign it to a more ergonomic location.

MENUS & DISPLAYS

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The Sony a6400's LCD touchscreen tilts up 180 degrees (compared to the a6300's 90 degrees) and down 74 degrees (compared to the a6300's 45 degrees), giving users access to more angles as well as more effortless selfies and vlogging. That's a decent improvement. Personally, though, we'd prefer a Vari-angle display, which offers more flexibility when shooting vertically and less hot shoe obstruction. With its current design, if you mount a mic or flash, those accessories block the screen.

Sadly, Sony seems adamant about not adding menu operability to its LCD touchscreens so you'll have to be satisfied with using the multi-function button/dial to navigate their notoriously complicated menu. On the upside, the Sony a6400's screen does allow touch focus, touch shoot, and touch-and-drag functionalities.

As complicated as it may be, Sony's current menu system is better than before and will be familiar for current Sony shooters. If you find these menus too cluttered, check out the My Menu tab, which can store up to 30 of settings of your choosing.

SPEED & AF PERFORMANCE

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The Sony a6400's autofocus performance is top-notch for a mid-range mirrorless body. It may not have 90%-plus image area coverage of Sony's higher-end models, but the a6400 touts 425 phase & contrast detection points that cover 84% of the image area as well as a 0.02 AF speed, startling upgrades over the a6300. 

Sony has also added super accurate EyeAF and face detection, and what Sony dubs its 'real-time tracking' tracking that automatically takes over where the EyeAF is no longer applicable (i.e. when your subject isn't facing the camera). Real-time tracking is especially helpful when your subject is in motion, sticking to that moving subject like glue. 

Sony combines fast AF with a fast burst mode of 11fps, though that does slow down to 8fps when using the electronic shutter and you are limited to a smaller buffer because of the UHS-I write speed.

The result is an autofocusing system that meets some sports photography standards (speed and accuracy), but is far from pro capable (buffer delays when burst shooting). Still, the a6400 performs beautifully when taking portraits, which is how we mostly utilized this camera, and we're expecting it to work even better when the EyeAF summer update is released for tracking animals. Still, there was one scenario where the camera suffers...

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In lower light and mid contrast situations, the a6400's EyeAF can lose accuracy. As you can see above, we were shooting in a room with decent lighting coming through a couple of large windows, EyeAF failed only three feet away from a subject facing the camera. Thankfully, this didn't happen too often (Face Detection tends to take over), and you can always switch to manual focusing to nail a tricky shot.

METERING

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The Sony a6400 boasts the same 1200-zone evaluative metering with an EV-2 to EV20 sensitivity as the a6300. The main difference is that the former adds two more metering modes to its roster. Joining the Multi-segment, Center-weighted, and Spot modes are the Spot Standard/Large, Entire Screen Avg., and Highlight, giving users more flexibility in depending on the lighting conditions they're working with.

During our tests, we've mostly stuck to the Multi-segment mode, which basically assesses the whole scene to determine the best exposure. Based on our photos, it's done a pretty good job in keeping those exposures balanced. We didn't experience any overblown highlights even in higher contrast situations, and it still gave us a lot of details in the shadowy bits.

STILL IMAGE QUALITY

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Alongside its uncanny ability to lock in focus fast and accurately, the a6400's incredible still image quality really blew us away and, frankly, surprised us. Again, we didn't expect much from this camera in the beginning. It wasn't until we were seeing our first images on a bigger screen that we realized what this camera is capable of in terms of actual results.

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To start, thanks to this camera's remarkable AF system, the focus on our images is probably about 99% on point. (That includes those low-light portraits that we had to manually focus ourselves.) Of course, it helps a lot that our images came out tack sharp, very clean, and detailed, which says something considering the a6400 has inherited its predecessor's 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor.

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Colors are rich and accurate, if maybe ever so slightly subdued, and the dynamic range is excellent, making it a good camera to use if you're not able to do shoot during the golden hour or when the lighting is even. We still get some yellow-leaning skin tones common in Sony bodies, requiring extra processing afterward, but it didn't seem as bad as in older models.

There were also signs of ghosting and flare, but this is more of a reflection on the E 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens we were using. It isn't the kind of lens you'd expect to be as effective in minimizing such lens issues. However, it's still a pretty good lens, producing vibrant colors, very minimal chromatic aberration, and surprising sharpness. With its wide focal length range, it's also a pretty versatile, just the ticket if you need a compact lens to travel with and pair with the a6400's small form factor.

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Because of the missing in-body image stabilization, there were a couple of images we shot at slower shutter speeds that didn't come out as crisp as we would have liked. However, we didn't feel that the lack of IBIS had that big of an impact on its still image taking ability.

ISO PERFORMANCE

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Thanks to its enhanced Bionz X processor, the Sony a6400's sensitivity range is wider than its predecessor, hitting a maximum of 32,000 (up to 102,800 expanded). The noise handling isn't bad either. While luminance noise does start appearing around ISO 800 (noticeable only when you zoom in), it doesn't affect the overall image quality until around ISO 6400. Chromatic noise, on the other hand, is kept well at bay until around ISO 10,000, which is pretty impressive.

It's nice to have these higher ISO options, though we have found that anything over 25,600 is pretty much for your eyes only.

VIDEO QUALITY

The Sony a6400 features oversampled 4K recording at 30, 25 and 24fps with no pixel binning, high-speed Full HD at 120fps, and S-Log2/S-Log3 log profile support to offer a wider dynamic range ideal for color grading. The camera also boasts an HLG picture profile, its Fast Hybrid AF for smooth and seamless focusing in videos, and interval shooting to make it easier to create time-lapse videos.

Unfortunately, if you're not a proud owner of a gimbal, the non-existent in-body image stabilization is something you will miss. You'll have to master your duck walk and rely on your compact tripod if you plan on shooting a lot of videos with this camera. Otherwise, trust us, you'll end up with really bad, very shaky footage.

The missing IBIS isn't as bad as this camera's rolling shutter, however, which many folks are complaining about. This wasn't as big of an issue during our shoots because we typically don't pan across scenes that fast. However, in those very few instances when we did, we definitely experienced its terrible rolling shutter, which could be a major problem especially for vloggers as well as for videographers who shoot a lot of fast action shots.

Other than those than, we're pretty happy with the video quality. The videos are very crisp and clean (aside from the occasional ghosting/flare the lens couldn't minimize). The colors are accurate, but ever so slightly subdued so it's good for beginner videographers who do not want to use gamma curves yet still want to do color-grading in post.

The intelligent autofocus also does a fantastic job with locking onto subjects using the EyeAF and Face detection features, and the focus transitions are butter smooth. We have noticed that sometimes it has a bit of trouble locking onto a single subject when shooting in a crowd of people. Then again, when we only encountered this issue when we weren't homed in on a particular person. We were merely shooting the crowd of crossing tourists on Hollywood Blvd, so we didn't exactly "tell" the camera to lock on to one subject.

WIRELESS PERFORMANCE

With WiFi, Bluetooth, and NFC (for Android devices), the Sony a6400 can be easily paired with smartphones for photo and video transfers on the go, geotagging, and using your device as a remote control. 

Sony has recently revamped its mobile app, replacing the PlayMemories Mobile with the new Imaging Edge Mobile. It's a decent app to use, especially if you're transferring images or if you need to access your camera remotely. However, it isn't as reliable or as efficient as we would like so we hardly use it for shooting. It is, however, pretty good when you're just transferring images.

PROS & CONS

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Pros
  • Excellent image quality
  • Accurate and very responsive AF
  • Great EyeAF
  • Wide ISO range
  • Nice noise handling
  • Burst mode of 11fps
  • Slightly improved battery life than predecessor
  • LCD tilts 180-degrees upwards
  • 4K recording at full pixel readout
  • Slow-motion recording available
  • Log profiles supported
  • Buttons and My Menu customizations
  • Accurate metering
Cons
  • No IBIS
  • Rolling shutter
  • EyeAF's low-light performance needs improvement
  • SD card slot doesn't support UHS-II
FINAL THOUGHTS

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The Sony a6400 may have a few flaws, but given its $900 price point, excellent image and video quality, super responsive autofocus (and EyeAF), and E-mount compatibility, we are very impressed. 

If you're a beginner looking for your first interchangeable lens camera, the a6400 would serve you well as an everyday camera or a traveling companion. If you're an enthusiast or a pro already invested in the Sony E-mount system, the a6400 would make an excellent second or backup camera (as long as you don't shoot sports). And if you're a filmmaker or vlogger, the a6400 would be a great tool for you as well (just lay off rapidly panning across your scenes).

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