Sony A6600 initial review: Compact, powerful, speedy

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Sony has just unleashed its most powerful A6000-series camera to date, and from our first try with it, there’s definitely a lot to like about this new APS-C. It essentially has all the bells and whistles you’d likely find in some of the company’s more expensive full frame cameras, but crams them into a much smaller footprint.

It’s called the A6600 and boasts several improvements over its predecessors; including in body stabilisation, much better battery life, 4K HDR capture, real time face and eye tracking for people and animals, and a svelte design that’s easy to grip and carry all day.

Of course, with its high end features comes a high end price tag, but it’s still suitably cheaper than any of Sony’s A7 series, and that might just make it a winner. Especially when combined with one of Sony’s new high-end G Master lenses.

Stylish, uncomplicated

  • Magnesium alloy
  • Dust/moisture resistant
  • 180 degree tilting touchscreen
  • Integrated headphone jack + mic input

Look at it at arm’s length, and there’s plenty about the A6600’s looks that make it immediately familiar. It’s clearly a Sony A6000-series camera, with its compact rectangular body and the E-Mount lens mount on the front that takes up nearly all of the available space.

 

Despite its slightly heavier weight (compared to its predecessors), the A6600 really does feel good when held. It’s small, which is great, but it also feels well made, sturdy and durable. That’s predominantly thanks to the magnesium alloy chassis which offers both moisture and dust resistance. 

Part of the joy of holding this camera is also in the design of its grip. It doesn’t feel small or overly cramped, giving you a nice in-hand feel, only helped further by the grippy texture and the rejigged placement of the power/shutter buttons on top. All in all, it’s really easy to use one handed, and doesn’t ever cause tiredness, even when carried around for hours.

It’s not all hunky dory though. Sony has kept with its own version of an articulating screen on the back, which is both great, and not great all at once. We appreciate the sturdiness and strength provided by the hinges, mechanism and framing that holds the little LCD screen in place. That has to be commended. It’s not overly loose, so you can get it precisely how you want it, and know that it’s going to stay there.

It does seem to be missing a trick in places though. When flipped 180-degrees – allowing you to see yourself when shooting a vlog or a selfie – the screen isn’t completely in view. A tiny sliver of the display’s bottom edge seems to be obstructed by the top of the camera. More frustratingly for videographers however, is that it sits almost directly behind the hot-shoe mount. That means if you have a mic, or wireless mic kit mounted on to it, you’re completely blocking the display, rendering it completely useless.

Otherwise, there’s the usual smattering of buttons and controls on the back of the camera, most of which are easy to figure out if you sit down with it for a few minutes, and include the two custom function buttons on the top edge that you can set to control what you want. Whether that be switching between animal and people tracking mode, or something else entirely different.

There are two further custom function buttons on the back, joining the directional pad, menu button, manual/auto focus switch, a primary function button and the gallery access button.

Auto heaven

  • 24.3MP APS-C sensor
  • 23.5 x 15.6mm Exmor CMOS 
  • BIONZ X image processing engine
  • 3:2 ratio photos
  • Fast Hybrid AF – 425 points phase and contrast detection
  • Continuous shooting up to 11fps
  • New Z battery lasts 810 shots

We could list the impressive specs on this compact APS-C camera until they came out of our ears, but to actually use it, you get more of a sense as to how good it can be. The one thing that stood out from our initial test was just how fast the camera is. It focus in no time at all, with a quick half-press of the shutter, and then almost as quickly snaps the shot as soon as you fully depress the shutter button. 

You can see the results of these efforts in the collection above, where we tested it shooting a range of different shots, both close up and zoomed in far away, landscape and portrait. Using the new 16-55mm lens we were able to get some lovely close-up shots with a nice smooth bokeh in the background, with great colours and textures in the image. 

Inside, powering this performance is the same advanced Bionz X image processing engine that’s inside the much larger A9 camera. This – Sony promises – means clear, sharp images with really good low light performance, low noise levels and a wide sensitivity range. 

We only got a few hours to test the camera, and predominantly outdoors in good daylight, so we’ll need to do quite a lot more testing – particularly in low light scenarios – when it comes time to fully review the A6600. 

The thing that Sony was keen for us to try out though was the real time tracking and autofocus features, and given how quickly and accurately it worked in our testing so far, we’d say that Sony has cracked it. 

It not only uses hybrid phase and contrast detection autofocus over 425 points, but also automatically detects faces and eyes, and can track them when they’re moving in the shot, focussing on them. You can even switch it to focus on animal eyes instead if you want. 

4K video chops

  • 4K video – 30fps – HDR (HLG)
  • Super 35mm format
  • 1080p at up to 100fps
  • 5-axis In body stabilisation
  • Real-time tracking/Eye AF

For the videographers and vloggers of the world Sony has ensured the A6500 is equipped with some pretty high performance specs and capabilities. The aim: to give a great B camera experience for professionals while simultaneously giving prosumers and vloggers something that is far more than just capable of shooting video. In fact, it’s a tool that makes shooting great video super simple, or at least, that’s the claim.

All the features that make taking pictures easy all work in video/movie more too. And that means you get the real-time tracking and autofocusing even when you’re shooting in 4K. Combine that with the in body five axis stabilisation and you have something that not only keeps focus on your subject effortlessly, but does it without an excessive amount of shakiness when shooting it handheld.

In practice is pretty impressive. Following a fast-moving pigeon around Copenhagen’s food markets kept the bird in focus easily, quickly and – just as important – silently. Similarly, we were able to film cyclists rushing past while also keeping them in focus throughout the frame.

Most of this was shot using Sony’s new 16-55 mm lens with f/2.8 aperture throughout, and that certainly did no harm. This new lens is quick, and doesn’t lose any light no matter whether you’re zoomed out to its widest 16mm angle or zoomed into 55mm.

Of course, video quality isn’t the only thing that matters to video makers. Sound quality, convenience and practicality matter too, and that’s why Sony included a handful of very necessary ports along one side. Most important are the two 3.5 jacks, for mic/line-in and headphone out. That means you can not only hook up an external microphone (even using a proper mic with XLR, providing you have the right adapter), but you can also monitor your levels with a pair of wired headphones.

For external monitoring of visuals, rather than audio, there’s a mini HDMI port, which allows you to hook your camera up to a screen.

In video terms then, it’s a very versatile camera. Some videographers might bemoan the lack of 4K/60 recording, and if we’re honest, we were a little disappointed not to see it there. However, with the addition of 100p full HD video, you can still shoot sharp video and slow it down without losing any smoothness. It just won’t be at 4K resolution.

As well as the issue with the screen being blocked by any mounted accessories or microphones (which we mentioned earlier) the only other video frustration is that Sony’s camera doesn’t save the video files in the same folder as the photos on the memory card. You have to go digging through folders in the “MISC” file to find them. Once you know where they are, it’s not as big an issue, but it seems a little counter-intuitive. We understand perhaps why you might want them separate, but Sony should at least store them in a primary folder next to “DCIM” that clearly indicates that it has videos in it. 

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