After four years, Sony finally released this new APS-C camera. This is the a6700 with a completely new design. It features the new A.I. engine for identifying and tracking subjects. Unfortunately, Sony forgot to make a few other improvements.
With the new Sony a6700, the APS-C line of mirrorless cameras is finally up to date, for the most part, at least. Although there are some things that would complete the upgrade, most of the modern techniques and features are now available, one of which is the A.I. engine for recognizing and tracking a wide range of subjects.
Also, the camera body benefits from a new design. It makes the camera more ergonomic than any other Sony camera I have used until now. It's not perfect, but enough to make using this little camera a joy.
Although you may find it at every corner on the internet, I've added a list of the more important specifications.
- 26 MP Back Side Illuminated CMOS APS-C sensor
- Bionz XR processor with A.I. engine
- AF tracking with object recognition (human, animal, animal/bird, bird, insect, car/train, and airplanes)
- In Body Stabilization over 5 axes, rated at 5 EV
- Fully articulating 3-inch LCD screen with 1.04 MP resolution
- 2.36 MP EVF with 1.07x magnification and a refresh rate of 120 fps
- Continues shooting with 11 fps both mechanical and electronic shutter
- Recording in 4K 60p, oversampled from 6K capture
- 4K 120p recording with 1.58x crop
- 10-bit video, 4:2:2 with S-Cinetone, S-log3 and HLG profile
- Focus stacking option and bulb timer
A Tour of the Sony a6700
The APS-C sensor allows the camera body of the a6700 to be a lot smaller compared to its full frame siblings. It measures only 12.2 x 6.9 x 6.4 centimeters without a lens, and it weighs 493 grams, including the battery.
Despite its small size, the body is well-designed and offers a lot of grip. Most buttons and dials are positioned at well-thought-through locations. There is also a dial in the grip, just below the shutter release button, which is a big improvement over the previous model. Unfortunately, a joystick is still missing.
Besides the difference in overall design between the predecessor and this new model, the buttons are also better in quality. Although I still encounter the same problems with the buttons that are located in the dial on the back. These are pressed too easily while rotating the dial.
The LCD screen is now fully articulating, which is good news for the vlogger. Unfortunately, the resolution of the screen has not changed. It's still 1.04 megapixels. The electronic viewfinder only received a minor update. Although the resolution did not change compared to its predecessor, it now has a high refresh rate setting available.
The camera features one UHS-II SD card slot next to a micro HDMI port, a PD USB-C port, headphone jack, and microphone jack. The hotshoe has the multi-functionality connectors as well. You need a V90-rated memory card to record in the best available video options. If you don't need that video quality, a slower card can be used without any problem.
The a6700 is powered by a large NP-FZ100 battery. It allows you to shoot up to 570 frames according to CIPA standards. Sony doesn't give you a battery charger when you buy the camera, nor a PD-USB-C cable to charge the battery in-camera. That's important to know.
Image Quality and ISO Performance
At the time of this writing, Lightroom Classic does not support the raw files from the Sony a6700 yet. Therefore, I cannot look at the raw footage to check on the ability to raise the shadows in post.
So, for now I'm limited to the in-camera JPEG images, and they look great. I think every modern camera performs well in that regard. But I can check the ISO performance, and that's what I did.
Every ISO value below ISO 800 looks great. Over ISO 800, the noise levels or noise reduction issues become apparent. I find ISO 3,200 still acceptable. Over ISO 6,400, the image quality becomes worse. Although the camera can be used up to the expanded ISO 102,400, the results are unusable from ISO 25,600 and up.
Autofocus, Tracking, and Speed
The possibilities for setting up the autofocus can be overwhelming at first. It's not only about the the seven autofocus areas that are available, but also the choice of the subject and the customization for every specific subject. You have to dive into the possibilities and try things out. This can be time-consuming, but it's worth the effort.
Sony has added the A.I. engine for subject recognition and tracking, which first appeared on the Sony a7R V. Although it promises machine learning for better autofocus performance, I encountered some strange behavior.
If there is only one clear subject in the frame, the autofocus will find it without a problem. If the focus is locked, the tracking works like a charm. The focus stays on the subject, even if the subject is out of the frame for a short moment.
The behavior becomes different if there are multiple subjects in the frame. I noticed on different occasions how the camera will focus on the wrong subject. It will ignore the selected subject recognition. It makes its own choice.
For instance, I took action photos of my dog, Bruc. Although I chose animal subject recognition, the camera focused on my girlfriend in the back and kept focus on her instead of the dog, not once, but on different occasions. It seems the A.I. engine has its own will and ignores the settings completely. This makes the autofocus less reliable than expected. Don’t forget, this was only noticed at home, because the low resolution of the 3-inch screen doesn't allow a detailed check of the focus when you’re on location.
No matter if you choose an electronic shutter or mechanical shutter, the speed is limited to 11 frames per second. Although this is fast, I think a lot of action photographers will find this on the slow side nowadays. The camera doesn't show any noticeable rolling shutter, and the buffer is large enough to capture a lot of continuous frames.
Using the Sony a6700 for Photography
Unfortunately, I only received a wide angle zoom lens for this review. I did manage to get my hands on a Sony FE 55mm ZA lens. Still, most photography was done with the Sony E PZ 10-20mm f/4 G lens and a Sony E 11mm f/1.8 lens.
I enjoyed using the camera a lot, thanks to its ergonomics and how well it handled. It feels comfortable, and the majority of the controls are well-placed. Sony has made some strange choices regarding the basic settings for the dials, but that's easy to change. The camera offers a lot of customization options.
It features the modern menu structure and good touchscreen functionality. However, there are some downsides. It lacks a joystick, and some buttons don't provide enough feedback. The dial on the back hasn't changed, making it too easy to accidentally push one of the four functions while rotating the dial. On the bright side, the AF-ON button is easily recognizable because it stands out enough.
The a6700 offers a few nice camera options. It has focus stacking and a bulb timer. Additionally, a skin retouch option is available, although the results aren't to my liking.
I noticed strange behavior regarding the exposure compensation. Although it offers a 10-stop range, from minus 5 EV up to plus 5 EV, the exposure simulation only shows the range from minus 3 EV up to plus 3 EV. If you dial beyond plus or minus 3 EV, it won't show up on the LCD or in the EVF.
However, if the camera is set to manual exposure, this limitation isn't present. Even with a setting of ±5 EV or more, the exposure simulation shows the result of that setting. It's something that you need to be aware of since it can result in a gap in exposure and what is shown on the LCD screen or in the EVF.
Using the Sony a6700 for Video
Video is an important aspect of the Sony a6700. It is suggested that it has the same sensor as found in the FX30 Cinema camera. One of the most significant improvements for video is the fully articulating screen. It's no longer necessary to tilt the screen on top of the camera, making the a6700 much more suitable for vlogging.
The camera has a wide range of video capabilities, with 4K 60p from an oversampled 6K recording and 4K 120p with a 1.58x crop. It can reach up to 240 frames per second in full HD.
For the best performance, a V90-rated memory card is required. If you keep it below 4K 25p, a slower card will suffice. The camera offers 10-bit 4:2:2, S-Cinetone, S-log3, and HLG. The fast readout of the sensor prevents any noticeable rolling shutter.
The image stabilization works reasonably well, but it is possible to use an active digital stabilization option. This comes at a cost since it uses a 1.13x crop, but it allows for a better result. The camera also offers auto framing, but in that case, the stabilization is turned off. Although I used it for my video, it's mainly for filming from a fixed tripod, allowing the camera to make adjustments in composition if the subject is moving.
I liked the Sony a6700 from the first moment. It feels quite comfortable while holding it, especially in combination with the small APS-C lenses I received as well. I can't say how it balances with larger lenses and telephoto lenses.
The design and features of the camera make it fun to use. The results, although only in JPEG for now, look great. It doesn't allow for a very high ISO setting, but ISO 3,200 should be enough for most circumstances. If the built-in noise reduction is switched off, perhaps one of the modern A.I. noise reduction software programs can achieve a better result with ISO values beyond the limit of ISO 3,200 I find acceptable.
Talking about artificial intelligence, the A.I. autofocus engine did not impress me that much. The times it went its own way, ignoring my chosen settings, were too frequent to trust it completely. Still, when it did focus, the tracking worked well.
Of course, I had a limited amount of lenses and focal ranges available for this review. But in the situations I used the autofocus and tracking, it shouldn’t be that difficult to lock onto the right subject.
For video, the Sony a6700 works well, with enough possibilities and video formats. The 4K result from the 6K oversampled recording is sharp and crisp. The full HD 120p looks a bit softer, but perfectly usable. I used the built-in microphone for my recording, and although it is acceptable for some situations, an additional microphone should be the first investment.
It's too bad Sony did not make a complete upgrade with this new camera. Why not improve the viewfinder and LCD screen as well? That would have made the a6700 definitely a winner, although it doesn't affect the results from the camera, of course.
What I Liked About the Sony a6700
- Small form factor while still comfortable to use
- Better design compared to its predecessor
- AF tracking works very well
- Fully articulating LCD screen
- Dedicated and easy to identify AF-ON button
- The grip now features a dial below the shutter release button
- Modern menu system
- Fast sensor readout results in unnoticeable rolling shutter effect
- Focus bracketing option (no in-camera depth mapping and merging)
- Bulb timer available
- Customization options are extensive (almost too much)
What Could Be Improved
- Autofocus is not always that reliable
- Resolution of the electronic viewfinder and LCD screen
- Continues shooting of 11 frames per second
- Adding a joystick on the back
- Exposure simulation can’t show more than 3 stops exposure compensation (but it can in manual)
- Less aggressive noise reduction for jpeg
- Not every button gives the same or enough feedback while pressing
- Tilting LCD screen like the Sony a7R V
Should You Buy the Sony a6700?
The Sony a6700 isn’t a perfect camera by far, but then again, a perfect camera doesn’t exist. I think the a6700 is worth the investment. So yes, if you’re in the market for a compact light weight camera, and don’t mind the APS-C sensor, the Sony a6700 is a good choice.