Should I buy the Sony a6400 for surf photography?

Summary: the Sony a6400 is a vlogging camera that would work well for surf photography, but the a6000 is still my top pick

I’m in the process of updating my recommended surf photography gear page for 2019. I’ve had the chance to use more housings, ports, lenses and camera bodies throughout 2018 and into 2019, so it’s time for an update.

The funny thing is – my number one recommendation is still the Sony a6000. It’s combination of solid features, cheap price and excellent support from water housing manufacturers mean that this 5 year old camera is still the best option for the majority of surf photographers.

Sony have released a couple more higher end aps-c sensor cameras over the last couple of years, but they don’t offer anything that blows the Sony a6000 out of the water, and they’re much more expensive. Sony seem happy to keep selling the Sony a6000, and I’m still happy to use mine, with my Liquid Eye C6000 housing, whenever I shoot fisheye.

Sony a6400

Today, Sony released a new model, the a6400, and it’s an interesting update to the a6300.

It has a lot of video focused features, like a flip up screen for filming yourself and some different video profiles to enable more effective grading of your video files. None of these is that interesting for surf photographers though.

Sony a6400 back and side

The main advantage for still photographers are a bigger buffer and better autofocus performance.

There’s no in body image stabilisation (IBIS), like there is in the Sony a6500, but that doesn’t make much difference for action photos as you’ll be shooting with a fast enough shutter speed to overcome hand shake anyway.

Sony a6000 vs Sony a6300 vs Sony a6400 vs Sony a6500 vs Fuji XT3

Here’s a comparison of the whole Sony a6xxx range (and I added another recent aps-c camera, the Fuji XT3 in there too). I included the most important factors for surf photographers:

Camera Sony a6000 Sony a6300 Sony a6400 Sony a6500 Fuji XT3
price/US$ (body only) $445 $750 $900 $1,200 $1,400
Resolution/MP 24 24 24 24 26
Focus points 179 425 425 425 425
Burst rate/fps 11 11 11 11 20
Buffer (raw files) 21 22 46 100 36
Video resolution and frame rate 1080p 60 4k 30 4k 30 4k 30 4k 60
Mic port No No Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions/mm 120 x 67 x 45 120 x 67 x 49 120 x 67 x 50 120 x 67 x 53 133 x 93 x 59
Weight/g 344 404 453 539
Battery life/shots 360 400 360 350 390

Any clear winner is highlighted in green, and clear losers are highlighted in red.

Sony a6400 water housing for surf photography

The first thing I checked was the dimensions of the Sony a6400. It turns out, Sony have made it really difficult to work out whether the Sony a6400 will fit inside an existing water housing.

I’m not 100% certain on the dimensions of the Sonya6400. It’s definitely the same length and height as the other a6xxx cameras, but the depth is not stated clearly on the Sony website. Here’s what they say:

DIMENSIONS (W X H X D): Approx. 120.0mm x 66.9mm x 59.7mm, Approx. 120.0mm x 66.9mm x 49.9mm (from grip to monitor)

I can’t work out what the 59.7mm measurement could be. The 49.9mm from grip to monitor makes perfect sense, and puts it slightly deeper than the a6300, and slightly less deep than the a6500.

My only guess is that the 59.7mm might include the rubber eye cup for the viewfinder, but I don’t know why they’d include that on the a6400 and not on any of the other cameras.

If the camera is actually about 50mm deep, which it looks like in the photos, then it will probably fit in a water housing that’s designed for the a6300 or a6500, which is great news, as they’re already widely available from a variety of places at a variety of budgets.

The controls also match the a6300 exactly, so an a6300 housing should be the best option (if it’s really only 1mm or so deeper).

Sony a6000 vs Sony a6400 for surf photography

As you can see from the table above, there’s still a lot to like about the a6000. If I was going to buy one of them to start out taking surf photos, I’d go for the a6000 and a water housing, or a couple of lenses.

The advantages aren’t that important for most surf photos, so if you’re on a budget I’d still recommend the a6000 over any of the alternatives.

Sony a6300 vs Sony a6400 for surf photography

This is a harder call to make. You can get the a6300 for a pretty reasonable price these days, and it might drop a bit once the a6400 becomes available too, but the $900 starting price for the a6400 means it’s going to be the obvious alternative to anyone who is looking at the a6300.

For surf photography, I don’t think the difference in performance is going to be massive. The deciding factor will be whether you want the flip up screen for selfie videos. If that’s somethign you need, then go for the a6400, otherwise, get a good deal on an a6300, and use the extra to go towards a lens or water housing.

Sony a6500 vs Sony a6400 for surf photography

There’s not much to choose between these two cameras either. If you’re buying new then you might pay a couple of hundred dollars more for the a6500, but you can certainly get a good second hand one for less than the a6400 will sell for in the near future.

Performance wise, again there’s not much difference for surf photographers.

This time, the choice is between the flippy up screen and in body image stabilisation. If you need either of those features, then you will want the model that offers it.

For surf photography, rather than video, I’d be tempted to get the a6400, as long as the marketing hype is right about the improved auto focus. The IBIS in the a6500 doesn’t make any difference for 90% of still surf photos, but better autofocus, especially tracking, can be really useful.

What about the Sony a7000?

There are rumours that Sony will be releasing a new top end aps-c camera, to compete with the Fuji XT3. The speculation is that it will have similar specifications to the Sony A9, and it will be based on the bigger full frame sized camera bodies that Sony already produce.

If you’ve already got an a6500, this could be a good upgrade, so I wouldn’t swap it out for an a6400 until you know for sure that the a7000 isn’t for you.

Hopefully it will be released in the next couple of months, and the features will be worth whatever price they put on it.

For me, as an a6000 and a6500 user, I’ll probably end up getting the a7000, or whatever it’s called, as I like the lenses I have already, and I’m not planning on moving to full frame any time soon.

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