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Hands-on Review: Sony a6400 APS-C Mirrorless Camera, 135mm f1.8 GM FE Lens

With the opportunity to get our hands on the Sony a6400 (ILCE-6400) mirrorless camera and the 135mm f1.8 GM (SAL135F18Z) lens that have been launched recently, several features of the mirrorless camera and lens stood out to us – speed, versatility, and portability chief amongst them.

They reside on near opposite sides of the cost spectrum. Sony a6400 costs SGD1,299 while the 135mm f1.8 GM costs almost double at SGD 2,699. Where the a6400 is intended for intermediate hobbyist photographers, the 135mm f1.8 GM really is for professionals.

FE 135mm f1.8GM

This monster of a lens is by no means cheap. It boasts a wide aperture at f1.8 and long reach at 135mm, which comes in perfect for portraiture applications.

The FE 135mm f1.8 GM, mounted on the Sony A9. Image: Ian Ling

Bokeh is a thorny topic. Ideally, you want it to be unintrusive, yet characterful. Bokeh rendition on the FE 135mm f1.8 GM  is natural and, dare I say, pleasant. Where most reviewers have critiqued Sony’s GM bokeh to be too “perfect”, bordering on the clinical, The output of the 135mm in particular showcased its ability to remain inconspicuous, yet maintain a hint of “swirliness” that helps just that little bit to draw your eye to the centre of the image. This is most noticeable at a cursory glance – where your eyes are instinctively drawn to the elegant shapes adorning your image.

Shooting conditions were challenging at the venue. The backdrop was a frankly ugly wall of fake greenery, with terrible overhead showfloor lighting that did little to flatter the beautiful model. To make matters worse, the barrier surrounding the shooting area was a bright Sony orange, which could very well throw the white balance off.

FE135mm f1.8GM, ISO 500, Sony A9. Out of camera JPEG. Image: Ian Ling

Despite these setbacks, the setup produced beautiful images with rather accurate (and rather orange) colours.

At 135mm, the lens also enabled me to maintain a comfortable distance from the model, while keeping the framing tight. I was still able to easily communicate and connect all without encroaching on personal space.

A close crop of the image above at full resolution, showing the resolving power of the lens. Image: Ian Ling

Focus is another key point to discuss. With the 135mm f1.8, focus is about as fast as it gets with the linear focus motors on board. Sure and silent, there was little hunting – just the sharp image pulling into view at the half-press of the shutter.

There are a few creature comforts: a lovely tactile aperture ring with clicks at third-stop increments that can be de-clicked with the flick of a switch, that allows for easy adaptation for video. A focus limiting switch allowed me to switch between 0.7 – 2m, 2m – infinity, or the full range of focus distances for even faster autofocus performance. There’s also two focus hold buttons on the left and top sides of the lens.

It has dust and moisture-resistant sealing, along with an 82mm filter thread. At 950g, the lens balances with the Sony full-frame lineup without the need for a tripod foot or collar.

Sony a6400

With its diminutive form, weight and price, the a6400 is targetted at travellers, or those who often are up and about. Even in my tiny hands, the a6400 still feels small – but not in the bad way. Even with the massive and front-heavy FE 85mm f1.4 GM lens appended to its front (just look at its bulbous front element!), the combination still managed to feel balanced and was easily controllable.

The Sony a6400, shown here with the 85mm f1.4 GM lens. Image: Ian Ling

From its precessor, the a6400 adds a variety of new features that might appeal to an ever-growing market hobbyists. Not confined to the bounds of still photography as we know it, people – by which I mean the everyday you and me, want to take great photos, great videos, and get them online on our social media platforms, pronto, for the world to see.

So, apart from the stunning image quality we have grown to expect from Sony’s line of mirrorless cameras, the a6400 is the brands’ first APS-C mirrorless camera to receive support for Hybrid Log Gamma (HLG), with both S-Log2 and S-Log3 profiles for added flexibility in colour grading during post production.

And yes, 4K output with no pixel binning is available on the a6400 too.

The eye-tracking on the a6400. Image: Ian Ling

Where the camera excels in is its autofocus capabilities. With what Sony boasts to be the world’s fastest autofocus, the a6400 is able to perform eye-autofocus that enables captivating portraits with incredible ease. This capability is expanded for animals, so portraits of our fidgety furry friends will be a breeze, too.

With our limited testing, we found the autofocus to deliver its promise – portraiture required less focus (pun intended) on toggling focus points or chimping the LCD screen to ensure the images were in focus. A little green box over the pupils and voilà – you’re in business.

Though there was a showcase of football acrobatics at the showfloor, I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for its use in demanding, fast-paced situtions like sports photography. 

Most of the shots with the athletes in motion were out of focus, and this one in particular, where he stands still and juggles two soccer balls, threw the autofocus slightly off. In the full-res crop above, you can see that the plane of focus is actually on his hair and ears – not on his eyes as the autofocus indicators had claimed.

But it’s not as if the camera was intended to accomplish such feats, despite a whopping 11fps of continuous shooting with full AE/AF tracking. Perhaps with better lighting (it was really terrible), and faster glass, the a6400 can be a decent choice in a pinch.

Ian Ling
http://uncommontragedy.com
Ian is the resident Tech Monkey and Head of Content at VR Zone. His training in Economics and Political Science is at the basis of his love for journalism and storytelling. A photographer by passion, and an audiophile by obsession, Ian is captivated by all forms of tech that makes enthusiasts tick.

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