Although Sony introduced its first high-end, compact mirrorless camera in 2010, it was the 2014 Alpha a6000 that really made an impact. Five years later, the a6000 remains one of the most popular and best quality consumer mirrorless cameras on the market.
Sony continues to make incremental but significant upgrades in new models, adding such features as 4K video, 5-axis image stabilization and extreme low-light sensitivity.
For most uses, the original a6000, which can now be had for less than $500, remains ideal. But some people will find it worthwhile to spend more on that camera's various successors, such as the a6300 (added in early 2016), the a6500 ( late 2016) and the new a6400. (That's right — Sony didn't introduce its cameras in numerical order.) We've put together this guide to help you decide which model is worth your money.
|Price (body/with 16-50mm lens)||$500/$600||$750/$850||$900/$1,000||$1100/$1,200|
|Sensor type, size, resolution||APS-C, crop sensor, 23.5 x 15.6 mm, 24.3 MP||APS-C, crop sensor, 23.5 x 15.6 mm, 24.2 MP||APS-C, crop sensor, 23.5 x 15.6 mm, 24.2 MP||APS-C, crop sensor, 23.5 x 15.6 mm, 24.2 MP|
|Highest video resolution||HD (1920x1080p), 60fps||4K (3840 x 2160p), 30fps||4K (3840 x 2160p), 30fps||4K (3840 x 2160p), 30fps|
|Image stabilization||2-axis, with supporting lenses||2-axis, with supporting lenses||2-axis, with supporting lenses||5-axis, in body|
|External microphone||Hot shoe only||Stereo jack, hot shoe||Stereo jack, hot shoe||Stereo jack, hot shoe|
|Autofocus points||179 phase-detection / 25 contrast-detection||425 phase-detection / 169 contrast-detection||425 phase-detection / 425 contrast-detection||425 phase detection / 169 contrast-detection|
|LCD type||3 in. 640x480 LCD, tiltable 90 degrees up / 45 down||2.95 in. 640x480 LCD, tiltable 90 degrees up / 45 down||2.95 in. 640x480 LCD touch screen, tiltable 180 degrees up / 74 down||2.95 in. 640x480 LCD touch screen, tiltable 90 degrees up / 45 down|
|Viewfinder||0.39-in, 800 x 600 OLED||0.39-in, 1024×768 OLED||0.39-in, 1024×768 OLED||0.39-in, 1024×768 OLED|
|Battery life (CIPA standard)||At least 360 shots||At least 350 shots||At least 360 shots||At least 310 shots|
|Silent shooting mode||N/A||Up to 3 fps||Up to 8 fps||Up to 3 fps|
|Size||4.72 x 2.63 x 1.78 in.||2.63 x 4.72 x 1.92 in.||4.75 x 2.75 x 2 in.||4.75 x 2.75 x 2.13 in.|
|Weight||12.13 oz.||14.25 oz.||14.3 oz.||16 oz.|
What jumps out first is how similar the four Sony cameras are — all have roughly the same shape, weight, compact size and middling battery life. They all have a tilting, (more or less) 3-inch LCD screen, crisp 1-centimeter OLED viewfinder and the ability to capture 11 roughly 24-megapixel photos per second.
The differences begin with video. After the a6000, Sony upgraded later cameras to 4K (3840 x 2160p) resolution. The company also added an external line-in audio jack, greatly increasing the selection of possible microphones beyond the five made for Sony's multi-interface hot shoe atop the camera.
The top-end a6500 adds 5-axis image stabilization, shifting the image sensor to compensate for movement straight up and down or side-to-side, tilting up and down or side-to-side, or rotating. (Other models have two-axis stabilization only if paired with image-stabilized E-mount lenses.) This makes it much easier for the a6500 to shoot steady handheld video and still photography with slow shutter speeds (in low light) or with long telephoto lenses, which can magnify shaking.
While Sony kept the resolution about the same, all models after the a6000 use a new sensor design with thinner copper wiring that allows more light to reach the pixels, improving the quality of low-light images.
Sony has also progressively increased the number of autofocus points on its sensors since the a6000 — enabling not only faster autofocus but also more sophisticated tracking of subjects for both stills and video.
A silent shooting mode allows photo capture without disturbing subjects such as wildlife or annoying attendees at events like weddings, concerts or theater performances. The a6300 and a6500 capture silently at up to 3fps, the a6400 at 8fps.
Given all these variations, here's a breakdown of key capabilities for each camera model.
Sony a6000: Best for Beginner Photographers
- 1080p video
- Eye autofocus
Going for about $500 body-only (and $600 with a lens), the a6000 is a screaming deal. Photo clarity and color are excellent up to ISO 1600 (and still usable at 3200). The autofocus is quite fast, but may fail when you're trying to take a spontaneous shot in just a fractions of a second. While the a6000 lacks 4K recording, video up to 1080p/60fps is stunning and uses the high-quality AVCHD and extra high-quality XAVC S formats.
Even this aging model has advanced focus technologies. Eye autofocus keeps the subject's eye sharp — critical in portraits with shallow depth of field. Autofocus tracking for video locks onto the subject of your choosing throughout the video. (Photographer Gary Fong's YouTube channel describes how to enable eye autofocus and auto focus tracking for video.)
See our full review of the Sony a6000.
Sony a6300: Best for Hobbyists and Semipro Photography and Video
Key upgrades from a6000:
- 4K video
- Faster autofocus
- Better image sensor
- Sturdier construction
4K video capture is the headline upgrade in the a6300. But there are other video improvements, such as recording in the S-Log gamma format, which allows movie-grade color editing.
Autofocus is faster and more accurate, thanks to the move to 425 phase detection points on the upgraded image sensor. The a6300 also gains the ability to shoot 1080p at 120 fps for 4X slow motion when played back at 30fps. The new sensor captures better low-light photos and videos, which are very clean at ISO 1600 and acceptable up to ISO 6400.
Sony's 4D Focus utilizes the voluminous focus sensors and motion-prediction algorithms to better track still or video subjects across the three spatial dimensions and as they move over time.
Major build upgrades to the a6300 include a magnesium-alloy body instead of plastic. The OLED viewfinder produces sharper previews, with a resolution bump from 800 x 600 to 1024 x 768 pixels and a screen refresh increase from 60 to 120 fps.
See our full review of the Sony a6300.
Sony a6500: Best for Hobbyists, Semipro Photographers and Steady Handheld Video
Key upgrades from a6300:
- 5-axis image stabilization
- Longer continuous shooting
- Touch-screen LCD
The 5-axis in-body image stabilization justifies the a6500's premium for activities like handheld video, low-light still-picture shooting (due to slow shutter speeds) and still or video shooting with long telephoto lenses for subjects like sports or wildlife. One downside: The image stabilizer on the a6500 reduces advertised battery life from 350 to 310 shots.
Otherwise, the a6500 is essentially the a6300 with a nearly identical physical design (just a tad larger and heavier to accommodate the image stabilizers). One welcome upgrade to this model is a touch-screen LCD, letting you tap to set the focus point and navigate more easily through Sony's rat's-nest menus.
The a6500 also has the same image sensor as the a6300, so expect similar high quality (especially at ISO 1600 or below) for photos and video (up to 4K, 30fps). However, faster image processing means longer continuous shooting — 30 seconds of 11fps shooting for JPEG files, and about 10 seconds for RAW images. Aside from extreme sports photography, this is overkill for nearly anything else.
Most other capabilities match the a6300, such as 3fps silent shutter mode, 4x slow motion, 4D focus and S-Log gamma for post-production color adjustments.
See our full review of the Sony a6500 for more details.
Sony a6400: Best for Enthusiasts to Pro Photographers and Videographers
Key upgrades from predecessors:
- Faster autofocus with better subject and eye tracking
- High dynamic range video capture
- Time-lapse video
- Touch-screen LCD flips up to face forward
Lacking 5-axis image stabilization, the new a6400 is more an upgrade to the a6300 than the a6500. But it has a number of handy performance upgrades over both the a6300 and a6500.
The a6400's new image sensor features 425 contrast-detection autofocus points (up from 169). That, combined with the latest image processor enables new focus performance and modes for both stills and video. Eye AF, a somewhat hidden option since the a6000, is on by default with a half-press of the shutter, which is a must for portrait photography. Users can even select which eye (left or right) to track; a software upgrade planned for summer will add eye tracking of other animals.
Sony claims faster autofocus (a record-setting 0.02 seconds) and better subject tracking in stills and video for the a6400. The camera maker boosted the maximum ISO for stills another f-stop, to 102400.
Significant video upgrades include high dynamic range capture. Another first for this line in the a6400 is interval recording for time-lapse video, with from a 1- to 60-second delay between frames. With an LCD touch screen that now tips up 180 degrees, video bloggers can monitor footage while in front of the camera (or snap selfies). But handheld video will be shakier without the 5-axis stabilization.
Pros will appreciate two new shutter features on the a6400. Silent shooting has been increased up to 8fps (from a previous 3fps) for non-disruptive event photography. And Sony now guarantees 200,000 shutter flips, up from 100,000 — welcome for a camera that shoots so fast.