Is there a company making better mirrorless cameras than Sony right now? Its full-frame flagship, the A9 knocked our socks off when we reviewed it, and its mid-market model, the A6400 did likewise, thanks to its killer combination of performance, image quality and portability. Sony looks like it has mirrorless all figured out – but can it sell us on this one?
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Sony A6600 review: What you need to know
The A6600 sits about halfway between the A9 and the A6400. It has an APS-C sensor, 24.2 megapixels, and can shoot up to 11fps – all features, by the way, shared with the A6400.
Look more closely though and there are plenty of differences. The star of the show for many will be the bigger battery. The A6600 also gets in-body image stabilisation, plenty of body-mounted controls and a bigger, more comfortable grip, making this one of the most desirable APS-C cameras you can get. But there’s plenty of competition out there – can the A6600 cut the mirrorless mustard?
Sony A6600 review: Price and competition
It has to, because it ain’t cheap. For the body only you’ll part with £1,399 (RRP); pair it with the E-mount 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens that came with our review model and it all adds up to a shade under £1,900.
That means there are all sorts of options out there. If straightforward image quality is your thing, the Canon EOS RP is a shade cheaper but offers a spectacular full-frame, 26.2-megapixel sensor, giving plenty of low-light performance. You shouldn’t discount the Nikon D7500 either – an APS-C camera that will save you a few bob (around £939 without a lens) while shooting 8fps, 4K video and Nikon’s trademark ergonomics.
Further complicating your decision is the existence of the Fuji X-T3, which costs £1,549 with a 18-55mm lens, and matches or exceeds the Sony A6600 in plenty of places. It’s a video God, shooting internal 4:2:0 4K at up to 60fps, which compares favourably to the Sony’s limit of 25fps in 4K. Its high-framerate option of 100fps is matched by the A6600, as is its ability to shoot log. Battery life is a key differentiator, with the Sony’s 720 shots or 150 minutes video recording comparing very well to the X-T3’s 390 frames or 45 minutes of video. It’s a fight for the ages.
Sony A6600 review: Features and design
Let there be no doubt – Sony knows how to build a pro camera. The A9 is a superb example of its type, and the A6600, despite being more than £1,500 cheaper, exudes absolute class. Its magnesium alloy body feels resilient and chunky, and is moisture- and dust-repellent. It feels like a camera that will stand up to the rigours of professional, must-get-the-shot mistreatment.
That extra-large battery needs to live somewhere, which is why the A6600 feels more substantial in the hand than the smaller, flatter A6400. The resulting handgrip is easy to get your fingers around and we prefer the bigger, easier to grab ergonomics.
There are custom buttons galore, which makes setting up the A6600 easy. A pair of custom keys on the top plate joins the mode dial and a click wheel; the back of the camera is home to a further three programmable buttons, and the compass points of the direction pad give you quick-fire access to ISO settings, exposure compensation and drive mode.
There’s no obvious concession made for photographers who prefer to use a single autofocus point and manoeuvre it around the frame manually – we love, for example, Canon’s recent cameras which allow to turn the right-hand side of the rear monitor into a trackpad. Here, you need to give the centre of the direction pad a poke, then manhandle the autofocus point around with the direction buttons. It’s pretty quick but there are more intuitive systems out there. Mind you, with the A6600’s next-gen autofocus system it could be argued that single-point autofocus has had its day.
On the subject of the direction pad, the thumbwheel around it – used for controlling shutter speed, by default – is too small and doesn’t offer a stern enough “click” for our liking, making it tricky to use wearing gloves. Indeed, a similar criticism can be made of all the buttons – you’ll be able to get at them fine in most situations, but they’re definitely on the small side.
The EVF is integrated, but is offset on the left-hand shoulder of the camera, making the A6600 a sort of faux rangefinder instead of a camera with the tried and true ergonomics of a DSLR. It takes a little getting used to compared to the central EVFs of the Sony A7 or Fuji X-T3, but it works fantastically. It’s a 1cm number with 2.36 million pixels, and does a really good job of transmitting exposure and focus detail to the photographer. It’s helped along the way by the A6600’s video credentials, which mean both zebra striping for overexposure, and focus peaking are on hand to make sure your image will emerge from the camera just as you expected.
The A6600’s impressive battery life claims are the result of using the rear monitor instead, and it’s pleasing to find a good one here as well. It’s large, at 3in, and high-res, at 921,600 pixels. Naturally, it’s a touchscreen, and it tilts, allowing you to angle it perpendicular to the camera’s body when you’re looking down at it, or nearly perpendicular when you’re looking upwards. It doesn’t swivel out from the camera but can be flipped 180° to face forwards, allowing vloggers and selfie fans to compose accurately.
To recap those battery life statistics – and they bear repeating, because they’re unusually good for a mirrorless camera of this price – you’ll get up to 720 stills or 150 minutes of video recording from a single charge.
Sony A6600 review: Photo quality
The A6600’s stills performance is where it really shines. It’s incredibly fast, shooting 40 RAW frames in a shade under four seconds, making good on Sony’s claimed 11fps shooting speed. If you’re happy to shoot JPEGs you’ll find a generous buffer – we managed 91 frames before the camera clammed up to write files out to our SD card. Continuous shooting is blackout-free, so you can track a subject continuously using either the viewfinder or the monitor.
If the rattle of the camera’s continuous mode is bothersome, there’s the option to shoot totally silently via the electronic shutter. Sony claims 8fps in this mode; we saw about 7.5 but we’re prepared to be magnanimous about that. One word of warning for those who want to spray and pray at, say, a wedding, is that the A6600’s irritating rolling shutter effect (discussed below in Video Quality) is equally obvious when shooting stills with the electronic shutter.
Sony has built itself a quality reputation for autofocus performance, and the camera’s ability to grab onto a subject and hold on really is outstanding. Eye detection and face detection both work really well, as did non-human subject tracking.
ISO performance is excellent. We had to push to ISO 3200 before our test images really distinguished themselves from each other, and onwards to ISO 12,800 before our shots began to look really muddy.
The A6600 doesn’t just have good low light performance up its sleeve, though. In-body image stabilisation offers support on five axes, and, claims Sony, up to five stops relief. We are able, handheld, to catch sharp shots reliably at 0.8” exposures on the included 18mm lens, which itself includes optical image stabilisation.
Given that 1/20th of a second should be safe at that focal length, it seems that four stops is perhaps closer to the truth, but your environment, equipment weight and other variables will all come into play. Still, being able to shoot tripod-free for nearly a second at a time is deeply impressive, and adds to the A6600’s appeal of being a camera that will return great looking shots in a wide variety of environments without the need for bulky external equipment such as tripods.
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Sony A6600 review: Video quality
On paper, the A6600 is a quality option for filmmakers. You don’t shoot on paper, though, and in use the camera is in fact a bit hit and miss. The biggest problem – and the thing that stops it being a great all-purpose video camera – is its rolling shutter, which was evident in nearly all of our handheld footage. The image leans and rolls all over the show, and limits the camera’s appeal for run-and-gun videographers.
It’s a shame, because footage is otherwise superb. We shot in S-log3, a colour option that Sony claims delivers 14 stops of dynamic range, and which provided us plenty of flexibility for grading. You can, of course, opt for various other in-camera colour treatments if you’d rather not grapple with curves and saturation sliders.
Internally, it’s pleasing to see zebra striping and focus peaking, both of which combine to make the A6600 straightforward to use. They’re particularly useful as we found the monitor a little dull in bright sunlight. Externally, you get audio in and out, both in the form of a convenient 3.5mm audio jack.
Autofocus is excellent. There’s plenty of flexibility in terms of how sensitive it is, and Sony’s legendary face and eye detection algorithms are bolstered by the option to direct the camera to pay particular attention to the face of an animal, making this a potentially game-changing camera for wildlife photographers. We gave it a whirl on a succession of approaching and retreating dogs and found autofocus surprisingly tenacious.
Sony A6600 review: Verdict
The A6600 is a dream to use. Comfortable, fast and mounted with a good number of body controls; this is a camera that experienced photographers will get to grips with in no time. We love the viewfinder and its balance, as well as its build quality and, of course, that massive battery, which goes some way to assuaging criticism number one of mirrorless cameras, which is that they don’t go long enough between charges.
For stills photographers, it’s a blast. Image quality is great and it will go days between charges. Sony’s lens catalogue is looking more and more tempting, whether you’re shopping at the mid or high end. Continuous performance is more than good enough for virtually every genre of photography and autofocus matches. Landscape photographers will love the in-camera image stabilisation.
If you’re a videographer, the picture is somewhat different. We didn’t notice as severe a rolling shutter effect when we reviewed the Fuji X-T3, which costs about the same. If you’re looking to shoot excellent quality video in a studio, the A6600 will do nicely. If you’re looking to mount a handle on it and chase after mountain bikers, or shoot free-cam sequences, you’ll want to look elsewhere. It’s a shame, because the A6600 otherwise caters well for filmmakers – but it has quite the Achilles’ Heel.