The A6600 is Sony's most powerful A6000 series camera to date. Just reading the spec sheet makes it clear that if you're after a compact, premium camera with all the bells and whistles, you should definitely consider the A6600 on your shopping list. 

It boasts several improvements over its predecessors, including in-body stabilisation, much better battery life, 4K HDR video capture, real-time face- and eye-tracking for people and animals, and a svelte design that's easy to grip and carry all day.

Of course, with its high-end features comes a high-end price tag, but it's still suitably cheaper (and smaller) than any of Sony's A7 series, and that might just make it a winner. Especially when combined with one of Sony's new high-end G Master lenses.

Stylish, uncomplicated

  • Sony E-Mount lenses
  • Magnesium alloy construction
  • Dust/moisture resistant design
  • 180 degree tilt-angle touchscreen
  • Integrated headphone jack + mic input

Look at it from arm's length and there's plenty about the A6600's looks that make it immediately familiar. It's clearly a Sony A6000 series camera, with its compact rectangular body and the E-Mount lens mount on the front that takes up nearly all of the available space. 

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Despite a slightly heavier weight compared to its predecessors, the A6600 feels like a great balance; it's small, which is great, but it also feels well made, sturdy and durable. That's predominantly thanks to the magnesium alloy chassis which offers a moisture- and dust-resistant build. 

The grip design is great too. It doesn't feel small or overly cramped, giving you a nice in-hand feel, only helped further by the grippy texture and the rejigged placement of the power/shutter buttons on top. All in all, it's really easy to use one-handed, even if you're out shooting for hours on end.

It's not all hunky dory though. Sony has kept with its own version of an articulating screen on the back, which is both great and not-so-great all at once. We appreciate the sturdiness and strength provided by the hinges, mechanism and framing that holds the little LCD screen in place. It's not overly loose, so you can get it precisely how you want it, and know that it's going to stay there.

It does seem to be missing a trick though. When flipped 180-degrees - allowing you to see yourself when shooting a vlog or a selfie - the screen isn't completely in view. A tiny sliver of the display's bottom edge becomes obstructed by the top of the camera. More frustratingly for videographers, however, is that it sits almost directly behind the hot-shoe mount, which means that if you have a mic or wireless mic kit mounted on to it, you're completely blocking the display, rendering it completely useless.

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Otherwise, there's the usual smattering of buttons and controls on the back of the camera, most of which are easy to figure out if you sit down with it for a few minutes, and include the two custom function buttons on the top edge that you can set to control what you want. Whether that be switching between animal- and people-tracking mode, or something else entirely.

The movie recording button did take a little while to get used to for us though. Rather than be placed on top, or near the main shutter button, it's tiny and awkwardly placed on the corner, just behind the fixing points for the shoulder strap. Thankfully, you can program the camera to use the shutter button instead. It makes you wonder why Sony used such a bizarrely small movie button and then put it in a weird position. 

Auto heaven

  • 24.3MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor, Bionz X image processing engine
  • Fast Hybrid autofocus: 425 points phase- and contrast-detection
  • New Z battery lasts for up to 810 shots
  • Continuous shooting up to 11fps

We could list the impressive specs on this compact APS-C camera until they came out of our ears, but to actually use it you'll get more of a sense of how good it can be. The one thing that stood out from our testing was just how fast this camera is. It focuses in no time at all, with a quick half-press of the shutter, and then almost as quickly snaps the shot as soon as you fully depress the shutter button. 

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You can see the results of these efforts in the collection above, where we tested it shooting a range of different shots, both close-up and zoomed-in from far away. Using the new 16-55mm lens we were able to get some lovely close-up shots with a nice smooth bokeh in the background, with great colours and textures in the image. We can't sing this new lens' praises enough, it's truly fantastic.

Combined with this camera you get photos that a crisp, sharp and evenly balanced, with great dynamic range and really sharp details. And it didn't seem to matter if light levels dropped either, you can still get relatively noise-free images without any heavy graining.

Get both camera and lens together and you're looking at paying upwards of £2,500, though, but let's not forget that's still £1,000 off the price you'd have to pay just to get the body of the latest Sony A7R full-frame camera. With that comparison in mind, we'd say it's worth the outlay if you have the budget for it. If not, there are plenty of other cheaper lenses to get you started.

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Powering the A6600 is the same advanced Bionz X image processing engine that's inside the much larger A9 camera. Again, a camera that costs a lot more than what you'll be charged for this A6000 series model.

This enables sensational real-time tracking and autofocus features. Whether shooting video or photo, the A6600 accurately and quickly locks onto subjects with ease. For those times where it wasn't quite locking onto the desired element in the frame, you can just touch the screen and select where you want it to focus instead. 

It not only uses hybrid phase- and contrast-detection autofocus over 425 points, but also automatically detects faces and eyes, and can track them when they're moving in the shot, focusing on them. You can even switch it to focus on animal eyes instead if you want.

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When you consider this camera offers super battery life too, it's almost as if there aren't any serious compromises at all. Sony claims up to 810 stills from a fully charged battery, and we don't think it's far off that. Upon first opening it we shot around 70-80 shots in relatively quick succession, and shot a little video in 4K resolution, and found the battery drained little over 10 per cent. 

4K video chops

  • 4K video - 30fps - HDR (HLG)
  • Super 35mm format
  • 1080p at up to 100fps
  • 5-axis In body stabilisation
  • Real-time tracking/Eye AF

For the videographers and vloggers of the world, Sony has ensured the A6600 is equipped with some pretty high-performance specs and capabilities. The aim: to give a great B camera experience for professionals, while simultaneously giving prosumers and vloggers something that is highly capable. In fact, it's a tool that makes shooting great video super simple.

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All the features that make taking pictures easy also work in video/movie mode too. And that means you get the real-time tracking and autofocusing even when you're shooting in 4K footage. Combine that with the in-body five-axis stabilisation and you have something that not only keeps focus on your subject effortlessly, but does it without an excessive amount of shakiness when shooting handheld.

It's impressive in practice too. Following a fast-moving pigeon around Copenhagen's food markets kept the bird in focus and - just as important - was achieved silently. Similarly, we were able to film cyclists rushing past while also keeping them in focus throughout the frame.

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Of course, video quality isn't the only thing that matters to video makers. Sound quality, convenience and practicality matter too, and that's why Sony included a handful of very necessary ports along one side. Most important are the two 3.5mm jacks, for mic/line-in and headphone out. That means you can not only hook-up an external microphone (even using a proper mic with XLR, providing you have the right adapter), but you can also monitor your levels with a pair of wired headphones.

For external monitoring of visuals, rather than audio, there's a mini HDMI port, which allows you to hook your camera up to a screen.

In video terms the A6600 is a very versatile camera. Some videographers might bemoan the lack of 4K60p recording though - and we're a little disappointed not to see this higher frame-rate here. However, with the addition of 100p Full HD video, you can still shoot sharp video and slow it down without losing any smoothness. It just won't be at Ultra-HD resolution.

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As well as the issue with the screen being blocked by any mounted accessories or microphones the only other video frustration is that Sony's camera doesn't save the video files in the same folder as the photos on the memory card. You have to go digging through a series of folders. It's complete guesswork, because none of them are named "video". Once you know where they are, it's not as big an issue, but it seems a little counter-intuitive.

Verdict

If you're looking for a small, durable camera that packs a lot of punch then the Sony A6600 is the camera for you. It's a portable powerhouse, boasting many of specs you'd only find in a bigger and much more expensive models, like the Sony A7 or A9.

Video makers might bemoan the A6600's lack of 4K recording at 60 frames per second, and they'd be right to do so if it's a key part of their workflow, but you can shoot at 4K30 instead. This is arguably the only thing missing from what is an otherwise impeccable camera. That, and the flippy-up screen that's not that well positioned when shooting yourself - it really should come out the side to make it more useable. 

Those foibles aside, we still came away from our time with the A6600 rather blown away by what is achievable - in both video and stills performance terms - from a camera this size. It really is a sublime little camera.

This article was first published on 29 August 2019 and has been updated to reflect its full review status.

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