I need to remember that this is supposed to sort of be a photography blog too besides being a place for my photos or whatever else I do.
So, Sony announced a new camera a couple days ago! But not within a range where any photographers were probably really asking for new choices. The new camera coming Soon is the Sony A6400, the latest in series behind the A6300 and A6500. It’s okay; to Sony, numbers do work this way. But you know, it took almost no time to see that I didn’t need this camera. You don’t need this camera either. I don’t think anyone whose primarily interest is photography needs this new camera. Because for photographers, its existence is virtually pointless.
Its spec sheet reads almost the exact same as the cameras to either side of it in the Sony Alpha product range. (You can read a side by side list of specs between the three cameras at DPReview if you’re interested, too!) In fact, looking over the technical details while writing this article, the only thing that appears to even make it distinct in function from its predecessor models is that the ISO can now be pushed up to 102,800, rather than “just” 51,200. Not that you’d be able to see a photo through all the noise that would generate, mind you. The output resolution is the same, the viewfinder quality is equal, it shoots the same number of shots per second, and even uses the same (short life) battery. What does change? Well, it’s supposed to have the most up-to-date autofocus software which may or may not be a discernible boost over the earlier bodies – or it may just be default function tweaks of what already existed. Good autofocus is always a plus, but incremental improvements in that area are rarely a deciding factor for photographers when considering a purchase. There’s also supposed to be an intervalometer functionality, in case you like doing time lapse sequences. Which is sort of a photographic feature being that it involves shooting a bunch of still over an extended time, but I’m kind of stretching the definition. And while the specs don’t detail it, the A6400 is supposed to have an updated version of the Bionz X image processor which theoretically will make higher quality jpgs in camera.
In all the ways that matter though, this is the same stills camera that came out as the A6500 (except without stabilization in the body) and the A6300. It’s the 6500’s body, pretty much. And it has the same sensor as those two earlier cameras. That part is hardly a surprise, though. APS-C is basically at a dead-end point unless someone devises some new production method that lets them pack even more, tinier pixels on the sensor. But even if they did that, a greater number of smaller photoreceptors would probably not lead to any gains in image quality; it would just make larger images. But this dead-end status is why it makes little sense from a photographic perspective to even bother with this the way they did. With a retail price of about $900 (body only) it’s still priced high enough that buying a 6300 for $750 or under still makes more sense. If you want or need the kit lens, it’s still the same difference between the respective $1000 and $850 price points. There’s no reason as a photographer to even seriously consider this camera. Why, then?
The A6400 retains all of the photographic capabilities of the well-received cameras that preceded it, but its real job is to be a vlogging camera replacement for the Sony A5100. And it’s not even that great for that job. A major physical difference over the 6300 and 6500 is the flip-up screen, so you can monitor while recording yourself. It’s a feature only shared by the A5100. And the two have another thing in common: touch screen controls. I don’t know all the details of the touch functionality of the 6500, but it’s supposed to be more extensive than previous offerings. But even just touch to focus would be important to have when self-shooting. It also adds a bunch of extra video formats it can record to, including 4K at 30fps. Up to 120fps is available at 1080p in case you’re the type that wants to do pseudo-cinematic slow-mo shooting. Which can look pretty slick when done well, I’ll admit.
But we need to consider some inherent issues. There’s no in-body stabilization, so if you don’t get the kit, or just reasonably want something better quality than the kind of poor 16-50 Power Zoom, it’s not gonna be a great time if your added lens isn’t stabilized. You’d think inherent stabilization would be something they’d find important for a camera intended to be held at arm’s length on a small tripod or robust selfie stick. The A6500 can accept an external microphone, which is great in isolation. The default attachment point though is the interface shoe on top of the camera, which happens to plant said microphone right in the line of sight of the screen when flipped up. Maybe a crafty end-user could devise an alternate placement to account for this, but it’s still kind of facepalm-making.
The potentially biggest problem though is something that’s been a thorn in the lineup from the A6000 and A5100: These little cameras overheat like nobody’s business. The small body shells make for a portable platform that’s convenient to carry around in a way a DSLR-type body really can’t be. But that tight build doesn’t leave much space for heat dissipation. There’s lots of accounts of overheating problems with full-resolution video shooting, in many cases leading to a forced shutdown after just a short few minutes. With a body almost identical to the A6500 and using the same battery and now doing even more complex video tasks, it’s fair and realistic to question whether this is going to even stay running long enough to be a practical video shooting system. I’ve heard that outputting to an external recorder, or even using an AC adapter in place of the lithium battery can help to deal with the thermal problem. But either of those solutions immediately takes away from much of the point of what this camera is obviously trying to be.
The truth that I see with this announcement is that Sony is not going to be bale to offer anything that competes with the hardware they’ve already made in the realm of photography, at least in the APS-C scale. I was expecting to see a successor to the A5100 in more than spirit when Sony announced a new Alpha series APS-C body: I expected a replacement entry level option taking the things the A6500 offers and simplifying them down and stripping out some of the extras they could get away with, like the viewfinder and hot shoe, just like the A5100 itself did. But still coming in at a lower, more accessible launch price. The A5100 is almost five years old; it’s overdue for an update, but this isn’t it.
My opinion right now is that photographers interested in taking on the Sony system have two good options: get in for about half what the 6400 costs and pick up an A6000 and have a totally competent 24MP stills camera with adequate video as an option in case you need that. Or keep saving up and go to full-frame sensors. The Sony A7III is $2000 for the body and offers among the latest and greatest for what you’d need in photos and video. But the A7II is also still out there as a capable option at around $1500 even if it’s not the leading edge technology-wise. But in no situation, even for a primarily video shooter can I see a reason to get in $1000 on the A6400 when it brings almost nothing to the table that can’t be had elsewhere either for less money, or in a package that offers much more in addition.
The Sony A6400 is quite simply the camera that nobody asked for.