Sony a6400 Review – Is the End of Manual Focus Lenses Near?

January 31st, 2019

With the introduction of the Sony a6400, I had a chance to take the new camera for a short spin and after playing with it for a bit, I made up my mind. Sony’s latest offering is very different and interesting, BUT, is it worth the upgrade from its a6300 and a6500 siblings? (Same sensor but enhanced image processing engine). Is it really a Vlogger’s camera? What is its strongest selling point and last but not least, what is the real reason for Sony to introduce this camera in my personal opinion? Interested? Keep reading.

Sony a6400 – The autofocus is a killer!

It is the middle of January. My short (and yet to be disclosed) assignment in Japan is almost over but before going back home, I’m lucky enough to put my hands on the new Sony a6400 to take it for a short spin. At first, my plan was to shoot a short documentary with it and by doing so, explore its video capabilities, but after noticing that most features and even technical specifications are very similar to the Sony a6300 and a6500 (which I reviewed and tested before), I decided to scrap my original plan and concentrate on testing a single feature, the one that captured my attention most.

Sony a6400 – An Overall Look

Before talking about that feature, let me conclude and say that for the price ($898), the Sony a6400 is a fine camera. It accommodates an APS-C sensor, plus, has all the “normal” goodies we have been given by Sony for the last years now. Namely, S-Log 2, S-Log 3, high frame rate recording, different exposure measuring tools, REC-709 view assist function, proxy recording (unfortunately without matching file names) and even LCD and EVF guides (2.35:1, 1.85:1 and such). On top of that, Sony added HDR and time-lapse recording functions plus a 180-degree tiltable LCD monitor. On the less favorable side, the rolling shutter is horrendous, there is no IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization) system, no headphone jack and the camera menu, well, what can I say, it is slowly but surely becoming one of the least pleasant camera features to deal with. So many possibilities and functions, yet so little sense (at least in my opinion), to why it is all there. If I’m in the video mode, all I want to see is the related functions – ONLY! Nothing more and nothing less.

Sony a6400 – Try and see yourself in the tilted LCD screen now

Is it the Right Tool for Vlogging?

Now, somehow I got the feeling that Sony is kind of emphasising the advantages of this camera as a vlogging tool. In my opinion, it might be useful to promote this camera as a family companion or all the way up as an additional “throw in bag” filming device for professionals (to act as a secondary camera in addition to a more capable one). I think that the idea to push the a6400 as a vloggers device might prove to be wrong. Surely it can be operated as one but so many things might go wrong, especially when filming on the move. The absence of IBIS and the very noticeable rolling shutter effect might kill your shot. The exclusion of a headphone jack will make it hard to monitor audio levels, yet if you insist vlogging with it, don’t add a microphone on the available hot shoe mount and tilt your LCD monitor at the same time as the microphone will block the LCD view completely (the screen can only be folded upwards!)

My review could end here, but there is one huge thing which I haven’t talked about yet: Sony added ONE KILLER feature. An autofocus function which has an algorithm that was fine-tuned to tightly work together with the Bionz X processor and as the results show, this is certainly worth writing about!

Sony a6400 – a Superior Autofocus Function

As an experienced shooter and camera tester, it is seldom that I’m being introduced to a feature that can change the face of the industry forever! The new autofocus system presented by Sony on the a6400 is exactly that kind of feature. It is not that we haven’t seen a good autofocus functionality before (Canon and FUJIFILM are a good examples), but now, Sony is certainly taking it to the next level.

The reliability and consistency of the new autofocus was very impressive. True, it is not always 100% there, but, I was really challenging it and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Back to the camera “vlogging option”, I set the camera in front of me and “talk to it” during doing my OLYMPUS E-M1X review, and for about 40 minutes of recording time in 2 different locations (lit very differently), it did not lose the focus on my face even once. Actually, the autofocus did not even “hesitate” or try to search for my face while filming. Later, when running with it on the streets of Tokyo, it continued to amaze me to the point that I was starting to believe that the days of manual focus lenses are numbered.

Yes, you read that correctly (and I did not confuse taking the blue pill with a red one this morning) …. If this technology will be implemented on any of the more professional video orientated Sony cameras (mirrorless and beyond), there will be NO reason to use manual focus lenses for documentary shoots anymore, especially zoom lenses. Let’s think about it this way. There are a few reasons to why we are using manual focus lenses. One of them is the reliability in achieving constant focus. Now, imagine that autofocus lenses can do exactly that same thing, plus:

  • Stay focused on the object while ignoring disruption like crossing people/cars/general objects
  • Reliably track objects/people coming towards you
  • Change focus from one object to another WITHOUT any noticeable breathing (also when using modestly priced lenses)

On top, one will always have the possibility to change from this autofocus mode to the manual focus, if wanted. So after reading all of the above features, wouldn’t you choose this focusing option? If you would have asked me a year ago, I guess I would have dismissed this option especially as I’m a pro who is used to working with manual lenses, but now when thinking about how good and reliable this autofocus function is, there is actually no reason not to use it on everyday production(s).

By the way, in regards to the Sony a6400, as this camera does not have a rear joystick, it is not so easy to place the desired object in focus while using the EVF. If you are using the LCD, it is much easier. With your finger, touch the screen where you want the focus to be, and voilá. It will stay there.

I hope you can take a moment to look at the footage above which I’ve captured with the camera. In this case, an autofocused picture worth a thousand words…

Sony a6400 – The price is very reasonable

Conclusion

Manufacturers often test new features in their professional lines first and then let them crawl down into their consumer/prosumer line – and it seems like this is what they did again on the A9, which is considered to have one of the fastest autofocus systems in the industry. (We haven’t tested Sony’s top-of-the-line A9 mirrorless camera simply because it’s not focused on video shooting at all – it lacks all Slog options.) So while the a6400 could have been that ordinary camera which resembles the a6300 and a6500, that autofocus killer feature alone is worth the extra look, especially as this is a glimpse to the future of all other cameras too!

The music used in the video above is courtesy of Music Vine. Get 25% off your next music license with code C5D25 (valid for one use per customer).

What do you think? Would you be able to rely on the functionality of this autofocus during your productions? Are you able to think “out of the box” and endorse new technologies as long as they are working well and enhancing your creativity? Please share with us your thoughts on the comment section below. 

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 Ferdinand Cibulka
Ferdinand Cibulka
Member
September 27th, 2019

Hi Johnnie, i´m looking for a very small and light 2nd camera for a TV documentary. When i´using the Sony 6400 on a Gimbal, will the rolling shutter problem of the camera be better?

robux codes
Guest
July 9th, 2019

purchased this last week. its epic

NICK
NICK
Guest
May 2nd, 2019

Do you know if the superior autofocus that you speak about will also be in the A7iii/A7riii/A9 in the new firmware upgrade? Or is this exclusive to the A6400 for now?

 Miklos Nemeth
Member
February 6th, 2019

What can I say, I am blown, not only the smooth and perfect autofocus, the image quality, your camerawork all were a perfect match a joy to watch. This 18-135 is possibly the best 18135 in its class, absolutely gorgeous. I saw no examples of rolling shutter artifacts. Absolutely mind-blowing. Did you have time to shoot this movie S-Log and color-graded to your liking, or was this just out of the camera? After watching your movie in India, I bought a camera that you used in that project. I guess my next camera is going to be an A6400, too. YouTube is full of total crap reviewers about A6400; your work stands out miles ahead, actually you are the only serious movie maker; if I were Sony, Canon, Fuji, I’d invite only you to camera announcement events; you don’t mess up megabits per second with megabytes per second.

damian
damian
Guest
February 4th, 2019

I think the question posed in the title is very misleading.

While this theory sounds appealing, some of the focus pulls are abrupt and not very organic looking.

Theres more to focus pulling than keeping stuff in focus, you need to be able to read the scene and the emotional context that is intended for the screen. Focus pulling is an art in itself and is why the top focus pullers in the world get paid what they do. That goes for drama projects and documentary. And as the top production cameras in the world, Arri’s, Red’s, Venice etc don’t use autofocus, but can still adapt to use current stills glass (which many DoP’s do), I can not see manual / semi manual focus lenses disappearing any time soon in favour of full automated AI driven glass.

The other thing that grates me about these types of reviews is that very few of them are using fast glass. It’s easy to keep things in focus manually at F4 on a full frame camera if you know what you’re doing, even as a solo operator.

Johnnie, can you do another test of the auto focus system using a lens that more people would actually using on a APSC sensor, with an f-stop of 1.2 / 1.4 or t1.3 and shoot that test wide open?

RAJAT GHOSH
Guest
February 1st, 2019

Sad that Sony has missed the mark again, it is too delicate a camera that they make, and cant be used by pros, but by those with low budget and mom pope to film their kid at local club meet, will never buy these flimsy tools

Michael Großmann
Guest
February 1st, 2019

Good review, I share your opinion (I use autofocus more frequently with C200 & 1DX MK2). Which lens did you use?

Steve Won
Guest
February 1st, 2019

Jonny that sounds amazing. Shooting a documentary without taking care of focus anymore would be a big help to focus on other details. Hope they implement this feature + sensor stabilization + 10 bit in the new a7s3 … ! I know its the wrong topic but still about autofocus… would you say that Fujifilm XT3 is reliable for interviews while the camera have no operator? And also reliable for gimbal shots with a 35mm lense wide open?

best
Steve

Member
February 1st, 2019

No matter what you are still going to have to deal with Sony’s horrible support if something goes wrong.

 Conor Keenan
Conor Keenan
Member
January 31st, 2019

Great stuff. makes me miss Ueno park!!

 Christoph Malin
Member
January 31st, 2019

Thank you Johnnie for this review. I am shooting sports video, 99% Mountainbike related, and have to regularly shoot, grade and juggle Phantom 4 Pro, Inspire X5s, GoPro 7 and Sony A7iii footage into one piece of action.

The Sony A7iii has so far the fastest Autofocus I have ever seen in Sports Video without any rolling shutter btw. It can focus track the front guy of a group of two or three Mountainbike Riders that speed 70 km/h or more towards me on a twisted singletrack.

After seeing this repeatedly while working with the A7iii for a season with various G and G-Master Lenses, I totally believe your impressions of the a6400 autofocus. the A7iii’s AF impressed and blew us away us a whole season 2018 of mountainbike video shoots. so that a6400 will be ultrafast as well, makes sense.

Sony has currently the edge on AF systems with Video (and Sports as well), and it doesn’t look like they slow down at all.

bummer that the a6400 has rolling shutter. so obviously worth waiting for the A7iii S version instead, hopefully it will be 10bit and ProRes Raw (maybe? ;)

Cheers
Christoph

Michael
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Interesting review. One thing that caught my eye is your comment “Change focus from one object to another WITHOUT any noticeable breathing”. Breathing is a function of lens design, so why mention it here? Does this camera somehow fix breathing in the processor?

I like both auto and manual focus capabilities. My experience with Sony lenses is that they lack good manual focus control as they use fly by wire mechanisms, esp the cheaper stills lens versions. Does the focus system work as reliably with third party lenses (via adapter or native mount)?

Arya Boustani
Arya Boustani
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Thanks for the review. Autofocus is depending on the lens. In my case, I like to see if DSLR can meet ENG requirement to address all the scenarios needed for run and gun which is a must to use a motorized zoom lens. So this statement of confidence for autofocus needs to be examined using lens like Sony E PZ 18-110mm f/4 G OSS, although the zoom is not triggered by a real smooth and adjustable rocker but still it is better to include the behaviour of autofocus in zoom changes rather than only examining object distance change.

Cts519
Cts519
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Ai at work. This is good enough for most. It looks convincing at first glance. Only when you have a critical eye can you say it doesn’t work. It will only get better.

Member
January 31st, 2019

No dynamic range tests?

Aquib
Aquib
Guest
March 26th, 2019
Reply to  Johnnie Behiri

But why though?

Howard Grimsdale
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Oh sure “great autofocus beats horrendous” rolling shutter anytime, anywhere … ??? NOT ! ?

Member
January 31st, 2019

I would like to know if the LCD still blacks out. You can still use the touch-to-focus on the LCD panel on the a6500 but you need an external monitor to see where things are (when recording in 2160p) and then it’s a guess if you’re touching the blacked-out screen in the right place.

I shot a feature film in 2017 with an a6500 and a7riii and relied on the autofocus quite a bit. Currently I do a lot of commercial work, frequently of moving objects (or cameras), and the AF on the “newer” Sonys works pretty well, especially the a7iii, which we now have two of. Caveat: good, fast glass helps, and we have a set of Zeiss Batis lenses that work great.

But Sony is still holding back. I’d really like to see the Lock-On AF implemented in video mode, currently it’s only for stills. There’s a face-recognition AF mode but using it is guesswork (partly because of the confusing menu choices). Wouldn’t it be nice to tap the screen on somebody’s eyes and the AF follow them through the shot? It seems like they could make that happen but won’t.

Seriously, AF, or better yet, “assisted” AF will replace all other focus modes when we can pull up the camera screen on our iPad, then tap the iPad screen where we want the camera to focus. Goodbye all those expensive remote follow-focus systems, goodbye the missed focus points. I mean, really—if we have sophisticated AF systems, and AF lenses with focus motors built into them, then why do I need to buy an external motor to do the same task? Asking for a friend.

Raphael Brand
Raphael Brand
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Thank you Johnnie! very interesting. I have the 6500 and everything around focusing is not ideal(nor with any camera) but this 6400 seems to do an amazing job, did you have it on continues focusing? and there is a choice in the camera where you can decide how fast it changes to a new focus point. was it on standard…I wonder what the slow setting give…?

thanks
Raphael

Telas
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Hi great review. One note, on a6500 you can focus using the touch screen as a track pad moving the focus points around while looking inside evf. I think the same can be done with a6400.

Ronnie Yeoh
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Yes

Member
January 31st, 2019

Thanks for the interesting and informative review Johnnie (as per usual). The auto-focus is indeed very appealing. I’m interested in your personal opinion on a purchasing dilemma I’m facing. I want a b-cam to compliment my FS-7 and pair of e-mount Fuji MK zooms (plus several EF mount L-series lenses). It would sometimes be a static cam on multi cam shoots, but primarily be used when I want to shoot from a gimbal (likely Robin-M). What compact camera would you recommend? I’m torn between classics like the A7 series (A7riii?), or possibly Gh5, or maybe even this little A6400. It doesn’t seem like any one would be ideal. The Sony’s would be great in terms of very similar colour science, and compatible lenses, yet the GH5 seems like a better all around cam. The Fuji XT3 is also appealing but comes with its own lens ecosystem. Arghhhhh! Any advice? Cheers! Jason

Gleb Volkov
Guest
January 31st, 2019

Thanks for the review Johnnie! Quick question – does the LCD still black out when outputting 4k signal to an external monitor? This is a bummer on the a6500, since I always use one, and can only roughly guess where to tap the black camera LCD.

 Miklos Nemeth
Member
February 6th, 2019
Reply to  Johnnie Behiri

Am I right when I think that this problem has been solved on the A7III? I am aware that face detection is enabled only when the external monitor is a recorder on A7III; that is, internal 4K recording + face detection + external HDMI monitor doesn’t work at the same time on A7III. So, on the A6400, when a 4K external monitor is connected the screen becomes blank? Right?

Jyrki Sorjonen
Guest
January 31st, 2019

No

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