Sony has pretty much established a strong foothold in the Indian camera industry. With big guns Nikon and Canon being late to the party, Fujifilm playing solely in the APS-C segment and Leica being more aspirational than achievable, Sony today sits at a comfortable middle ground in the camera industry, buoyed further by its strong reputation. The Sony a6400, interestingly, is a near-splitting image of the company itself.
Starting at a body-only price of Rs 66,990 (market price) and Rs 75,000 for the 16-50mm starter kit, the Sony a6400 isn’t quite what you’d call a beginner or casual hobbyist’s camera. Rather, we found it to be more worthy of being a professional’s second kit. That said, what truly makes the a6400 stand out in the crowd is the fact that the camera feels at home in both cases — be it with an art college student with a hefty scholarship, or a professional looking for a nifty quick-shooter.
As with all our camera reviews, all our camera discussions begin with talking about its imaging performance. With the Sony a6400, the tried and trusted 24.1-megapixel APS-C CMOS backlit sensor takes centrestage. Accompanying it is a new, improved Bionz X image processor, which Sony states is actually based on its venerable flagship, the a9. Adding to this is a new, 425-point phase detection autofocus system with real-time tracking, rounding off the internals.
In terms of photography, the first thing users will notice is the superlative quality of the in-camera JPEGs. With out-of-camera processed files, Sony manages to produce a great level of detail and sharpness on intricate objects, as well as excellent colour accuracy. Overall colours are rich and vibrancy levels are high. As a result, the reds and yellows look richer, greens look warmer and blues look deeper but more subtle. This adds to a pleasant composition effect, without taking anything away from the overall colour accuracy.
As mentioned in our leader, though, the Sony a6400 does have a few (seemingly minor but still important) pet peeves. For instance, if you often prefer to not bother the white balance adjustments much, the Sony a6400 will make you break a sweat. With AWB, the overall colour temperature is biased towards cooler shades. As a result, overall colour tones shot during the day can take an easy hit. Take the manual route, however, and you are well settled.
When it comes to the overall ISO performance, the Sony a6400 is largely reliable, and shoots well within the ideal ISO ranges. There isn’t any nasty surprise in terms of noise and grain, which is important for a good camera. However, high ISO performance is a tad erratic for our preference — the Sony a6400 produces a considerable amount of noise, and the grains have a coarse texture. That, though, also shows the Sony a6400’s strength — the noise is sharper and better defined, and the excellent dynamic range, coupled with good ISO invariance of the camera means that colours are still well defined in low light shots, and RAW edits can be salvaged to an extent. The overall noise does mean only about 1.5 stops of exposure adjustment in RAW, but it still retains shadows, colour tones and range of shades quite well.
While this can cause infrequent moire, what’s good to note is the clean low ISO performance, and no apparent banding. Why this is so important to discuss is because of the Sony a6400’s crucial lack of in-body image stabilisation — coupled with the high noise at high ISOs, shooting in low light can often become quite tricky, particularly if you’re an amateur hobbyist that has invested a sizeable chunk of money on this camera. This is also the most significant shortcoming that we found with the Sony a6400.
The new autofocus module is also quite impressive, and while it is largely consistent, it does have its moments wherein it struggles to lock focus. However, Sony has thrown in plenty of features in here, including assisted focus and focus peaking to make manual focusing quite seamless. The added offering of real-time object tracking is quite precise, and will aid wildlife and sports enthusiasts. The latter, though, is particularly beneficial for videographers.
This is where the Sony a6400 earns all its money. The camera is capable of shooting oversampled 4K30p videos without sensor crop, as well as full HD at higher frame rates (120p/60p) to enable post-processed smooth slow motion shots. Coupled with the excellent colour performance, accurate white balance, brilliant AF tracking and great dynamic range, the Sony a6400 makes for a brilliant video camera for semi-professionals, to even professionals using the camera as a second unit.
The oversampled 4K video recording adds flexibility for users to downsample when editing, giving more room to work around. The Sony a6400 also features proxy recording, a nifty feature that simultaneously records a lower resolution clip, which can be instantly shared via the in-camera Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to a smartphone. This is a neat feature that should aid vloggers. What we also love is that there are no time restrictions on 4K video recording, making the a6400 a great package.
The Sony a6400 further features multiple log profiles for versatile video outputs, as well as a flat contrast log profile should you desire it for better control on colours and parameters while post processing videos.
Build, handling and battery life
On overall terms, the Sony a6400 is a familiar camera for anyone that’s used a Sony before. It combines this familiarity with clever ergonomics, a neat button layout, a light camera body and a hefty handgrip that makes the entire camera feel robust and solid. What we also love is how the LCD display flips upward, further suiting the vlogger target audience. Adding to this is the incredibly sharp electronic viewfinder that is a pleasure to shoot with, but unfortunately, the crisp resolution comes at the cost of battery life.
The Sony a6400 is rated for 410 shots (CIPA) on LCD, we are often used to our cameras outliving their CIPA-rated battery cycle. Unfortunately, the Sony a6400 appears to only be good enough for about 400 shots. This essentially means that you’ll be restricted to one-day charge cycles, when vacationing.
While this is something we can live with, what we do not like are the overlaid buttons on the click wheel, which feel a bit out of sync with the rest of the camera. The display, while touch-enabled, only supports touch inputs in select places — a decision that we do not really understand. What we also do not understand is why, in a camera that is essentially good enough for the next five-odd years, would Sony place the archaic microUSB port on. Most mainstream accessories, even non-premium ones, are moving to USB-C ports, and while it may sound like nitpicking, factors like these do play a big role in such fine products like the Sony a6400.
To sum up, the Sony a6400 is a very, very likeable camera. It nails colour performance, and teams it up with great AF tracking, good ISO performance and great dynamic range. Video performance is its strength, and even in photography, the Sony a6400 more than holds its own ground. While its prime competitor, the Fujifilm X-T30 can outperform it in quite a few aspects, the Sony a6400 feels like a more well-rounded camera — one that offers a great product, good future proofing and peace of mind, at the price point of Rs 75,000.