Sony a6400 Review
By Yvonne
2022-10-09

Sony's a6400 camera is an enthusiast-friendly model that blurs the lines between hobbyist and consumer. It delivers automatic operation to take family photos with high quality images and fast speeds.

Sony a6400 Review

Grip

The pros

  • Simple construction
  • Image sensor 24MP APSC.
  • Quick, accurate autofocus.
  • 11fps continuous drive.
  • Sharp, large EVF.
  • Selfie LCD.
  • Hot shoe and flash built-in
  • Video in 4K without any recording limits

Cons

  • In-body image stabilization is not available.
  • Vloggers don't like flip-up screens.
  • There are some operational problems.
  • External charger is not included.
  • Weather sealing is only for full-frame lenses.
  • Slot for UHS-I cards

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Sony a6400 Specs

Name Value
Dimensions 2.8 by 4.8 by 2.0 inches
Weight 14.3 oz
Type Mirrorless
Sensor Resolution 24 MP
Sensor Type CMOS
Sensor Size APS-C (24 x 16mm)
Lens Mount Sony E
Memory Card Slots 1
Memory Card Format Memory Stick Duo, SDXC (UHS-I)
Battery Type Sony NP-FW50
Minimum ISO 100
Maximum ISO 102400
Stabilization None
Display Size 3 inches
Display Resolution 921600 dots
Touch Screen Yes
Viewfinder Type EVF
Viewfinder Magnification 0.7x
EVF Resolution 2.36 million dots
Connectivity micro HDMI, Microphone (3.5mm), micro USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
Maximum Waterproof Depth 0 feet
Video Resolution 4K
HDMI Output 4:2:2 8-bit
Flat Profile Yes

The Sony a6400 ($899.99, body only) isn't the sexiest, flashiest camera to come from the brand in recent years—most of the buzz comes from the company's full-frame line. Not everyone needs or wants a large sensor. It is the same format found in many consumer cameras, but it offers a good balance between size and image quality. Sony's latest entry to its APS-C mirrorless series inherits features from some of its pricier siblings. This is a great successor to the Sony a6300 and has earned our Editors Choice award.

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A Selfie Screen and an EVF

The Amazon a6400 is very similar to the Amazon a6300 (6799.00). Sony hasn’t done a significant design overhaul of this camera style in many years. However, there have been some incremental changes to the models. The camera is available only in basic black—silver editions of others in the series have come to market in the past, but typically well after the initial announcement. The camera is compact at 2.8x4.8x2.0 inches (HWD), and weighs in at 14.3 ounces (both without the lens).

Only photographers with compatible lenses can purchase the a6400 as a body. Sony bundles the a6400 with the 16-50mm F/3.5-55.6 zoom lens for $999.99 or the 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 lens for $1,299.99. The kit lenses come with optical stabilization which is a benefit over the a6400.

Sony is encouraging you to upgrade to the a6500 (Amazon: $699.99) in order to receive an APS-C camera that has in-body image stabilization. Although the performance of the advanced autofocus system on the a6500 may not be as good as that found in a6400, it is still a strong performer.

It does come with an in-body flash and an electronic viewfinder (EVF), as well as a hotshoe. A mirrorless camera doesn't necessarily have all of these features. The pros may scoff at the small pop-up strobe, but it's definitely a step up from the flashes you'll find in consumer SLRs for a simple reason—it's mounted on a hinge. To get softer, even lighting you can simply pull the hinge back and bounce light off of the ceiling with your finger.

Take a look at the side-by-side comparison above—the shot on the left was captured with the flash pointed forward, and the one on the right was shot with it pointed to the ceiling. It's a bit of a hack—there's no way to lock the flash in position to bounce—but if you find yourself using the feature frequently, some gaffer tape can keep it pointed up.

The device has some weather protection. Sony claims that the Sony a6400 can only be protected against the elements. However, it cannot protect from moisture and dust. The a6400 is not recommended to be taken out during a monsoon, blizzard or other severe weather conditions. However, you should feel safe shooting under less severe precipitation. You can also benefit from a full-frame lens (FE), which offers weather sealing, that is not available with standard APSC (E).

You won't notice any changes to the controls if you are considering upgrading from your a6300. Except for the front button that unlocks and unmounts the lens, the camera does not have any buttons. All top controls can be found on the right. You will find the On/Off switch, which surrounds shutter release and is located at the top of the handgrip. It is slightly angled. The programmable C1 switch is located next to the shutter release.

There are two dials behind the camera. You can switch between manual and automatic shooting modes by using the Mode dial. The a6300 has some differences. The a6400 has MR access, which allows you to recall one of three stored banks of settings. It also replaces the two dial positions that were used for the a6300s custom profiles. S&Q stands for Slow and Quiet Motion. This is slow motion video at 120 fps in 1080p.

The mechanical flash release is located at the back, just below the flash. It's near the top of your body. The Menu button is just below it, as well as the AF/MF/AEL control. This button has two functions and can be operated by a toggle switch.

The Record button is located on the right side of your camera. The Record button for video is difficult to find and is recessed to avoid accidental activation. If you are primarily a professional photographer and occasionally do some video, I believe its location makes sense. It's not the best place if you intend to use it often. Thankfully you can reprogram other buttons to start video—I found the C1 button to be just about perfect. It's not possible to change the function of the Record button.

You will find the other rear controls on the left side between the LCD's edge and the body. Fn is the key to access a customized on-screen menu with up to 12 additional functions.

Although the rear control dial is not flat, it turns easily. You can also remap it, but you will most likely use it to adjust shutter speed, f-stop or EV compensation depending on the mode. The OK/Enter button is located at the center. Directional presses can adjust ISO, EEV, Drive and display information. You can map any of the four functions from the directional presses.

The Play and Delete/C2 buttons are located between the lower edge of your wheel and the bottom portion of your camera. The function of the Delete/C2 buttons can be customized during image capture, as you would expect.

This touch-screen LCD screen is an improvement on the A6300. It measures 3-inches. The resolution is the same at 921k dots, however the hinge was redesigned. It doesn't tilt down or up like other models from the a6000 series, it also flips in front for selfies and video logging. It is sharp and large with a 16 to 9 aspect ratio. A three second countdown timer engages when you take selfies. This allows you to make sure that you are ready to go.

It is not possible to input touch data everywhere. Primarily you'll use it to set an autofocus point—it's especially handy for overriding automatic focus point selection when needed—and you can double tap the screen to punch in and check focus on an image in playback mode. It can't be used to navigate Sony's menu, although it is more intuitive than ever, and still quite dense.

This model has some improvements to the menu. You can get on-screen assistance to explain what each function does. There is also a My Menu page that you can customize and illustrations to help you change the functions of the programmeable buttons. Enthusiasts should set up My Menu—it'll save you time in the long run—and most casual family snapshooters can get pretty good results without fiddling with settings.

Similar to the EVF in the A6300, the EVF looks similar. The panel is an OLED panel that has a 0.7x magnification, and 2365k dots. It fits into a small frame. Although the finder may not be the biggest you will see on a mirrorless camera it is very comparable in resolution and size to other models in its price range. I've got very little bad to say about the EVF—I don't think you'll be disappointed in it, even if you're looking at the a6400 as a secondary camera to supplement your full-frame Sony mirrorless body.

A built-in interpolator is another feature worth noting, especially since it's brand new for the a6000. You can capture images at predetermined intervals and combine them to create a time-lapse. The a6400 doesn't make the movies in-camera—you'll need to use the software Sony provides or your favorite video editing program to make the finished video. You can use software as simple as iMovie or as sophisticated as Adobe Premiere Pro to do this. The a6400's 24-MP sensor has enough resolution for time lapses of 6K resolution.

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Connectivity and power

The a6400 has wireless connectivity, as you would expect. The a6400 supports Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi. Apple users now have the ability to pair their camera with the Sony PlayMemories mobile app using a single tap. This is the same as Android owners for years.

It's easy enough to transfer images and video to your phone—once you've got the two devices connected you can tag and send photos from the camera, or browse memory card contents using your smartphone. Remote control can also be used, with live streaming to your smartphone's screen.

On its left, the a6400 features a microphone input of 3.5mm and micro HDMI 2.0 ports. The battery—the W style Sony has used in the a6000 series and other models for years—is the power source here, although you can run the a6400 from a USB power bank or AC adapter. CIPA rates it for 360 shots with the EVF and 410 when using the rear LCD.

Those seem like good estimates after two full days of using the camera in the field—I managed around 450 shots using about two-thirds of a charge, but the figure benefits from a liberal use of burst shooting. CIPA gives the Sony a6400 about two hours continuous record time. I mixed in video capture. Sony does not include an external charger for charging the camera's battery, but it includes an AC adapter as well as a micro USB cable to charge the device in-camera. Although I like the ease of charging my camera via USB or from my computer, I believe a charger is necessary. A spare battery for a camera like this is something that you will want to purchase, particularly if you are on vacation.

The a6300 was known to heat up when recording lengthy video clips, according to some videographers. The a6400 would overheat while recording 4K video, which I failed to do. You can record footage up to the end of your battery or memory card. There's no limit on recording time.

You will find the SD card in the bottom compartment, along with the battery. Memory Stick is also supported by the slot, although no one uses it. To take full advantage of all the video features of the A6400, you will need an SDXC. However, the SDXC only works at UHS-I speeds. The a6400 will only push files at about one-third of the speed you would get if your card is UHSII.

Autofocus: What's new?

The a6300 is no slouch when it comes to capturing fast action, but it's also not the best out there—perfectly understandable given its price and position in the market. Sony claims that the a6400 is the fastest in focus acquisition. Our tests showed it could lock onto a subject in less then 0.05 seconds, which compares to Sony's claim of 0.02-seconds. To test focus speed, we are currently using an analog timer. It doesn't provide the accuracy required for measuring durations shorter than 0.02-second.

Autofocus is not just about focus acquisition. While the a6400 has many of the same functions as the A6300, it drops Sony's old Lock-On subject tracking system. Instead, the new system is called Tracking. You can only use the older focus modes if the camera is set to AF-C. They work well and are not necessarily a problem for novice users. But if you're photographing subjects moving through the frame and want to track one in particular—say your child at a sporting event—it's useful.

To better track and identify subjects, the Tracking mode makes use of machine learning techniques. It takes the same data as the standard focus mode—color, distance, and face detection—and adds real-time eye detection and pattern recognition to better identify and track subjects. It worked very well in my tests. Although the camera may occasionally miss focus, it does an excellent job of keeping your subject focused. The Eye Detection function works only with humans at press time. However, a firmware upgrade (slated to release in the summer) will allow for support for animals.

This is not inconsiderable. That's why I would place Sony's top-end A9 camera (which will get the Tracking focus mode through a firmware upgrade in spring). The autofocus system could be thrown off by foreground objects, which I discovered was a problem. The tracking was not as bad as the initial acquisition. It was quick to pick up a volleyball net and not the player. The camera also was prone to latch onto artificial snow. This was an aspect that was part of the one portrait shot set by Sony during the announcement of the camera. It stuck to them once it had found both the obstructions and humans.

The a6400—and other mirrorless cameras—have some tangible advantages over SLRs when it comes to autofocus. Technically, the focus is obtained from an image sensor. This means that there's no need for calibrating a body or lens to achieve dead-on focus. A mirrorless camera's focus area is usually larger than an SLR. This makes it easier to use. The focus points are grouped towards the middle of the frame when you use a mid-range SLR like theCanonT7i.

Autofocus won't pick up a subject if it is outside of this area. It has dense contrast and phase detection sensors that run almost all the way to the edges of the frame. If you want to get a close shot of your dog picking up a frisbee from the air but don't have the speed to do so, the camera can find the subject even when the object is almost out of view.

The a6400 is fast—at its fastest it manages an 11fps burst rate. Sony includes an 8fps mode, which allows you to preview changes from one shot to the next, so that it is easier to follow a moving subject. The continuous focus test was a success. It kept every shot in focus while shooting a moving target towards and away from it, at a speed of 11fps.

The buffer of the camera can quickly fill up when you shoot so fast. For 46 Raw+JPG or 49 Raw shots, the a6400 can keep up its maximum speed. It is also capable of capturing 114 JPG images. There is a signficant amount of time required to clear the buffer to memory—41.7 seconds for Raw+JPG, 26.7 seconds for Raw, and 41 seconds for JPG. Although the 300MBps card is used for our tests, the UHS-I speed of the a6400 means that it can't take full advantage UHS-I speeds.

While the buffer has been cleared partially, you cannot start again shooting. If you want to start a video clip after shooting a burst of images, you're out of luck—the camera displays a message indicating that it's unable to start recording until all files have written to the card. Sony should address this issue in the near future. However, one major step is to support UHS-II file transfer speeds.

Image quality

The 24MP APSC-C image sensor in the A6400 is the same as that used by the a6300. You can set it as low or high as ISO 100, as well as ISO 32000. It also has expanded ISO to 102400 when you need the extra light.

In the lab, Imatest reports that the a6400 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 3200 when capturing JPGs at default settings, and shows about 1.6 percent at ISO 6400—just outside our threshold of acceptable noise. Some cameras achieve low noise scores via aggressive noise reduction—which washes away detail along with grain—but the a6400's JPG output competes with full-frame models when shot through ISO 6400.

Our test photos show that ISO 100 to ISO 3200 have almost identical clarity. You will notice a slight decrease in quality around ISO 6400. But you have to be very careful to find it. It's at ISO 12800 where images start to suffer—details are noticeably smudged. At ISO 25600 blurry images appear. Full-frame cameras are able to distinguish these extreme settings from those with APSC image sensors.

Raw capture is the preferred choice for shutterbugs. Our Raw images were converted using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. I used the default settings to develop them. At lower settings there's not much difference in detail between JPGs and Raw images—Lightroom's default output even appears a little bit less sharp, but a slight bump in contrast will satisfy photographers who prefer a punchier look to images.

Raw images offer more freedom than JPGs when it comes time to adjust exposure, remove details from shadows or reduce too bright highlights. They also show more detail—and more grain—at higher ISOs. Although the Raw output of the a6400 doesn't suffer from any loss at ISO 6400 it does display a little more grain than its JPG counterpart.

At ISO 12800, the difference in JPG output and Raw output is like night and day. Although the Raw image may be noisy, the Raw file has sharper and clearer details than the JPG, which smudges the JPG to remove the grain. Although the results at ISO 25600 are slightly less clear, it is a similar story. The grain starts to dominate the ISO 51200 image and 102400 image. However, I would feel more comfortable using ISO 51200 when images require a rough or gritty black-and white conversion.

4K Video

Videographers will find a lot of value in the a6400. The a6400 can capture 4K video at 24, 25, and 30 frames per second. It also has the ability to record 1080p at 120 frames per second. The autofocus system is reliable and can be adjusted to match your subject.

4K quality is lovely—sharp, colorful, and with the pop you expect from high-resolution video. To get the best color grading, pros can go beyond standard settings to shoot Hybrid Log Gamma HDR video or a flat SLog2 profile. Pro features include proxy recording for faster 4K editing.

This flip-up screen is great for vlogging but it doesn't help if your audio comes from an on-camera shotgun mic. Although there are brackets that can be used to relocate the microphone to one side, Sony should have used the screen that opens to the sides.

In-body stabilization lacks more at the video level than it does for stills. Sony's Optical Stability Shot stabilization is available in many native E-mount lenses. However, it doesn't work as well with moving images. A camera that uses both in-body tech and in-lens technology will be able to stabilize them as effectively.

An Exemplary midrange option

The a6400 definitely isn't entry-level—not when you can buy a basic Nikon D3500 SLR, with a lens, for five hundred bucks—and it's not top-end either. It's an attractive option if you have more basic needs and don't mind spending over $1,000 for a kit.

It has a lot of power. You will find 4K video, machine learning-improved focus and a 24MP sensor for image. It's also quite compact—even the 18-135mm kit zoom is small, considering its coverage range—so you don't have to think too hard about picking it up to take with you for a trip, whether it be to the local park or to Machu Picchu.

However, it's not perfect. Although Sony has made great efforts to improve its menu system I believe there is still room for improvement. Although it's not a big deal, I wish Sony included a charger to charge the battery from the wall in its box. Also, a modern USB-C port would be a better option for faster in-camera charging. Sony has yet to find a solution. The frustration of being unable to record video and images to the card while they are writing is something that I think anyone wants to do to create a mixture of video and still images should feel.

Yes, IBIS may be a detriment, but the camera will still cost less to make without it. It is likely that the a6500 will be updated in the near future. A successor with stabilized image sensors and a higher price tag, however, is unlikely. This feature is reserved for mirrorless models that are more expensive. Although there are SLRs, mirrorless cameras, and models with Micro Four Thirds imagesrs that are smaller with IBIS, they don't compare with the a6400 in terms of autofocus. It's the best we have seen on a camera below $1,000.

New Fujifilm X-T30 is almost as great for the price. Although it does not offer weather protection, enthusiasts might prefer the more extensive lens library and film simulation options. The dial-based control system is also available. We've not had a chance to full evaluate the X-T30—Fujifilm says we can expect a production sample to test soon.

Although the Sony a6400 may not be a perfect camera, its shortcomings are less significant than their strengths. We're naming this our Editor's Choice. This is the only camera to serve both enthusiast and consumer audiences. Its size, image quality, and autofocus system will be appreciated by family historians. The advanced features such as the subject tracking system and Raw image support will please hobbyist photographers. The a6400 performs well, regardless of what group it is, and especially considering its cost.