The Sony a6400 is the company’s latest midrange mirrorless camera. Its body, 24MP sensor and many of its specs are familiar from the existing model, the a6300.
And, because it’s a new model, the a6400 is, initially at least, more expensive relative to the lineup it fits into. So is it better to buy an older model at a discount price, rather than forking-out more to have the most up-to-date features?
We’ll have a look at how the a6400 compares with its immediate peers and the factors you may wish to consider if you’re in the market for a new camera.
- Sony a6400 vs a6300
- Sony a6400 vs a6500
- Sony a6400 vs a6000
- Sony or a different brand?
- Sony a6400 vs Panasonic DC-GX9
- Sony a6400 vs Canon EOS M50
- Sony a6400 vs Fujifilm X-E3
- Sony a6400 vs Nikon D5600
Which is better, a6400 or a6300?
The a6400 shares a lot with the model it replaces (and, for once, Sony has made clear that it replaces the a6300). They both offer 24MP APS-C sensors, oversampled 4K video and 11 fps continuous shooting. They have the same viewfinder and much of the same hardware. So what’s the difference?
The most immediate difference is a rear screen that’s now touch-sensitive and can tilt up by 180 degrees, and allows for touch control of autofocus, selfies and vlogging (though any hot shoe mic will block the screen). These are nice additions, but are unlikely to swing most people towards the (initially) more expensive model, unless you really need one of those things.
The big difference is autofocus performance and operation. Our initial experiences are that the a6400’s AF is more ‘sticky’ and consistent but also much simpler to use, offering Eye AF without a second button press and being smart about when to automatically switch to ‘general’ subject tracking if the eye or face disappears – to ensure the camera always focuses on your intended subject. If your subject looks back at the camera, face/eye detect will automatically engage. In fact, it’s so good you can even use this new ‘Real-time tracking’ mode to shoot even food photography or landscapes – there’s no reason you should, but it’s nice to have one focus mode that does it all, because you never have to worry about switching.
The new, presumably more efficient, processor means there’s less risk of overheating limiting when capturing video. Unlike its predecessors, the a6400 is not limited to 29:59 minutes of recording time, either, and recorded for over 45 minutes in our initial tests.
It’s also worth considering that Sony will be selling a kit that bundles the a6400 with its recent 18-135mm zoom. It costs more and is larger than the 16-50mm power zoom but covers a wider range (albeit without such wide-angle capability), and has the advantage of not being the weakest kit lens on the market.
Which should I buy, a6400 or a6500?
The comparison to the a6500 is more difficult, since the older camera was originally a much more expensive camera and hence has at least one key additional feature: in-body image stabilization.
In-body stabilization is an undeniably useful feature for photography and is even more valuable if you’re shooting video, since it more easily allows shots without a tripod and lets you keep horizons steady in a way in-lens stabilization can’t.
The a6400’s AF is significantly better, though: both in terms of performance and ease-of-use (the new AF experience requires much less manual intervention), which is hard to ignore. The a6400 is also quicker to focus and fire off a shot from boot-up, possibly thanks to the new processor. Like the full-frame generation 3 Alpha cameras, you can even assign custom buttons to override your AF mode or other camera settings – a huge plus for a camera with limited dials and buttons.
Which you choose will come down to which of these features you value more. Or, if you need both and your current setup is workable, can you wait long enough to see if Sony brings an a6400-like upgrade to its stabilized model?
Is the a6400 better than the a6000?
Another tempting model is the a6000. Part of the reason it sells so well is because it’s cheaper than many of its rivals but it’s very much a case that you get what you pay for (it was recognizably stripped-down even for 2014).
The a6400 is better in every respect. It has several generations of AF improvement, revised user interface and touchscreen, vastly better video capabilities (4K vs 1080) and a better viewfinder. It’s a higher-end model, as well as being much newer.
However, more fundamentally than any of this, the a6400 will offer better image quality. Partly because it has a more modern sensor, but mainly because in the time between the two cameras’ launches Sony has continually worked to improve its JPEG color. And the difference is marked: the a6400’s output will simply be more attractive, even before you look closely at the sharpening and noise reduction improvements.
Sony a6400 vs the competition
Of course, the a6400 faces competition from outside the Sony lineup. And, while this slideshow focuses on how the bodies stack up against one another, it’s massively important to consider the lens availability for different systems.
Don’t be swayed by promises of X number of lenses, or cross-compatibility with full frame (the ‘upgrade path‘ might lead to manufacturer profit more directly than to the place where all your photographic problems are solved). Instead check whether the lenses you think you might want exist, for a price you’re willing to pay. After all, there’s little solace in knowing there’s a choice of manual focus 12mm primes if you primarily shoot portraits.
That said, it’s hard to think of a camera that promises the all-round capability of the a6400 in terms of image quality, autofocus and video quality. Not because the Sony’s performance is the best possible – its 4K is pretty wobbly, thanks to significant rolling shutter – but because any cameras that outdo it in any regard are all significantly more expensive.
Sony a6400 vs Panasonic Lumix DC-GX9
The Panasonic GX9 is probably the Sony’s most capable rival. It has a slightly smaller sensor, but feels better built, has more direct controls and adds in-body image stabilization. It also tends to come with a better kit zoom (and a wider range of native lens choices, generally).
The GX9’s autofocus is pretty good, but it can’t offer the dependability that we’ve seen from the a6400 so far. Equally, if you’re interested in shooting video, the significant extra crop on the Panasonic means it’s noisier and harder to shoot wide-angle with. That said, the GX9’s video will be stabilized and it exhibits much less rolling shutter, though like the Sony, you can’t attach headphones to monitor your audio.
Sony a6400 vs Canon EOS M50
The Canon EOS M50 is the other obvious rival to the Sony. It’s slightly less expensive and fits into a system with even fewer native lenses than the a6400 but, like the Sony, it’s an unstabilized APS-C mirrorless camera with a built-in viewfinder.
The Canon’s main appeal is that it’s comfortable and easy to use. Its AF performance and usability isn’t in the same league as the Sony, and its cropped 4K video is distinctly soft by comparison. But, despite a sensor with less dynamic range for Raw shooters, its JPEG output is very pleasant. So, while it falls behind in just about every regard, it’s still a likeable option if you just want a small, easy-to-use camera that takes good photos.
Sony a6400 vs Fujifilm X-E3
The Fujifilm X-E3 is also a 24MP APS-C rangefinder-styled mirrorless camera without built-in stabilization, so why do the two cameras seem so un-alike? Part of the reason is that the Fujifilm is a much less expensive body paired with a much more expensive lens (the 18-55mm F2.8-4 OIS is one of our favorite kit lenses, which is not something anyone has ever said of the Sony 16-50mm power zoom).
The X-E3 shoots beautiful images, thanks to one of the best JPEG engines in the business. However, while it’s a nicer camera to take control over than the Sony, it’s not the best-handling Fujifilm, with a bit too much dependence on the little fiddly command dials. It also can’t come near the Sony in terms of AF speed or dependability or even usability (you can’t tell the camera which face in your scene to target, for example), and is one of the only 4K cameras to exhibit more rolling shutter than the Sony.
Sony a6400 vs Nikon D5600
The other camera that falls into the ‘cheaper body, better lens’ category is the Nikon D5600 DSLR. The twin-dial D7500 is rather more expensive, as well as being larger, so we’d consider the D5600 and 18-140mm F3.5-5.6 VR kit to be most directly comparable. The single dial setup of the D5600 also ends up making you as dependent on the function menus as the Sony does.
Despite being a DSLR (meaning fewer, less accurate AF points, more tightly grouped near the center,) the D5600 perhaps comes closest to matching the Sony for ease of getting the AF point to stay on your chosen subject (though it’s nowhere near as sticky, nor does it function as well in low light). However, its video specs are nowhere near that of the mirrorless cameras: offering only 1080 capture and essentially unusable video AF. Like the Fujifilm, you’d only choose this over the Sony if you exclusively shoot stills, and don’t need the AF capabilities of the Sony. Also, keep in mind that since the D5600 doesn’t offer any sort of usable live view AF for moving subjects, your compositional freedom will be limited since you’ll always be using the EVF, not the LCD, for shooting.
Sony’s a6000 has always been a popular camera, but the more advanced a6300 and a6500 models don’t stand out from their peers quite so well, despite the more advanced technology and impressive looking specifications. We’ve always found them capable all-rounders but not always the most enjoyable to use (especially if you want to take control over what’s going on).
The a6400 has immediately impressed us in this regard: the revamped autofocus performance and, just as importantly, usability in its simplicity means there’s one less thing to wrestle against the camera over.
As with every system, it’s worth checking the lens lineup offers you the options you want, but our early impressions are of a camera that’ll turn itself to a bit of everything gaining possibly the most capable and usable AF systems we’ve encountered. Which may just be the cherry on the cake.