Sony’s latest arrival, the A6700, is positively tiny and offers a stellar stills performance combined with great video features. But is it a genuine alternative to rivals such as the FX30?
Sony’s line-up of filmmaking cameras is truly formidable, delivering choice at an impressively wide range of price points. For the professional creative looking to combine stills and motion this is pretty much the perfect scenario, with the option to start off with a smaller investment and to then move up the scale over time perhaps as their business starts to grow and the outlay is justified.
We saw this process in action last year, as the FX30, billed as Sony’s first semi-professional APS-C mirrorless interchangeable-lens cinema camera, made its appearance. This was a video-focused model that was very much designed as an alternative to the considerably more expensive full-frame FX3, costing £2088 from CVP, compared to the FX3’s price point of £3948. It was a clever move, intended to attract a new audience to the Sony line-up who maybe couldn’t stretch to the higher-priced model. While the FX3, as you would expect, clearly had the better spec, many were surprised at just how much the scaled-down FX30 still had under its bonnet, and the rationale would appear to be that if you can attract an audience to your brand then they will hopefully stay loyal to the system.
This thought process appears to be continuing with the latest Sony arrival, the super compact A6700. This now appears to be offering serious competition to the FX30, being even more affordable at a CVP price point of £1449, body only, and £1549 with a 16-50mm kit lens. While still representing a decent outlay, on paper at least the A6700 has a great deal going for it, despite being positioned by Sony as being ‘enthusiast level.’ The price point, together with headline features such as a 26MP BSI CMOS APS-C sensor, a BIONZ XR processor (as seen in Sony’s ZV-E1 vlogging camera) and dedicated AI Processing Engine and AF tracking with subject recognition, along with 759 AF points with 93% coverage, would all seem to suggest something a little higher end than enthusiast, with plenty on board to keep the pro more than satisfied.
While its stills abilities are beyond question, the new camera is also no slouch on the video front. As well as featuring what is likely to be the same sensor as that found in the FX30, the A6700 is capable of shooting up to 4K/60p from the full sensor or up to 120p from a 1.58x cropped region, while capturing 10-bit precision and up to 4:2:2 colour. There’s also the choice of XAVC HS (H.265), XAVC-I (All-I H.264) or basic XAVC-S (Long GOP H.264), depending on your needs. The All-I options creep up to 600Mbps (75MB/s), which demand the use of an SD card with the fastest V90 rating, but most modes will happily save to slower cards.
Given the association with the ZV-E1 it’s no surprise to find that there are some vlog-friendly details on board as well, including ‘Auto Framing’ modes that allow you to latch on to selected subject types, such as humans, aeroplanes, cars, animals, birds and insects, and then automatically follow them around. The camera also offers the facility to upload LUTs, that can be directly applied to the footage or just used to preview the impact they would have if they were to be employed.
“It’s a good line-up of features,” observes CVP’s Technical Marketing Manager Jake Ratcliffe, “and I also like the fact that the A6700 has up to 5 stops of in-body image stabilisation, which works just as well in this model as it does in the other Sony bodies that have this feature built in. It’s a handy thing to have in fact, since the camera is so light it could be prone to micro jitters when you’re filming, and built-in IS should help to smooth these out. You can also add some weight with accessories, which will likewise help to stabilise the footage you’re shooting. “However, despite all of this I would still say that the A6700 is aimed more at the higher-end consumer and lower end pro, rather than being a full-on professional model. It’s still a highly capable camera though, and it will easily be able to slide into a range of work with the newly updated features that are now included.
“The model has received a number of key updates, the most important one for me being the change in button layout. There are now dials for controlling all the key exposure points without needing to hit a secondary control, which is a massive improvement, but the body is still incredibly tiny. Because of this the A6700 would make an excellent travel or under-the-radar camera, especially if paired with a nice compact APS C prime.
“Of course, the obvious camera to compare it with is the FX30, since the A6700 does have so much in common. Because of the similarities with the sensor that both models feature, this includes image quality for the most part, which does make this more affordable camera an attractive option.”
The fact that both cameras are crop sensor models taps into an area that’s the source of much debate between both photographers and filmmakers, but Jake is a staunch defender of the APS-C/Super 35 formats, and considers that there are just as many plus points as negatives when it comes to deciding whether this is something a professional creative should be looking at working with.
“Both APS-C and Full Frame have their pros and cons,” comments Jake, “for both filmmaking and photography. However, much as I say in my video review of the A6700, the crop-sensor formats can be looked down on a little in the world of photography, but for those in the filmmaking world that’s not really the case at all.
“In fact Super 35 has been a standard for those shooting motion for years, and one of the main reasons for this is the massive choice of lenses available for this format. Back when affordable full frame video and cine cameras were less common, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 was one of the most popular lenses CVP stocked, and it still offers a fantastic performance at its £665.99 price point. Sony also has a bunch of tiny but really excellent APS-C lenses available now, which are definitely worth checking out.
“You could also go down the route of using a focal reducer with the smaller APS-C sensor with full frame lenses, which is a good way to get closer to the full frame look on a budget if that’s what you’re looking for. This approach would also allow you to plan for the future by investing in full frame lenses for a later date when you might want to upgrade.”
Noise is an issue that can, in certain circumstances, affect the performance of the FX30 and, not surprisingly, it can be an issue with the A6700 as well. “While the A6700 isn’t marketed as having a dual-base ISO sensor, it looks to behave the same as the FX30,” says Jake. “This means that in SLOG3 the low base is 800, and you can then see a clear step of noise reduction at 2500 but this will change depending on what gamma you’re in. As with the FX30, this camera is definitely a bit noisy, so I would suggest experimenting with shooting at different ISO speeds, exposure and noise reduction settings to see where the sweet points are.”
Making the choice
Clearly every individual will need to make their own call on whether a camera such as the A6700 might have a role to play in their working lives, and the decision will be down to lots of variables, such as how big a part you anticipate video will play in your business down the line and what kind of budget you might have to spend. These are testing times for a lot of professionals, and the arrival of a well-featured new contender that could suit the requirements of the hybrid operator while lowering the entry price point to the Sony system has to be warmly welcomed.
“Whether the FX30 is worth the extra outlay over the A6700 will come down to what kind of work you do,” says Jake, “but for people wanting peace of mind when recording over longer work days and who don’t want to risk their camera overheating and shutting down, the FX30 will be worth the extra cash. That said, on our tests the A6700 impressed me with how long it was actually able to film for – around an hour-and-a-half – before it eventually overheated and turned off, but even then it had cooled down and was ready to be used again quite quickly. “My feeling would be that there shouldn’t be too many overheating problems with the A6700 when employed in normal service, but if I were undertaking mission critical projects then I would want to reassurance of working with a camera such as the FX30 that is dedicated to video and naturally has a better heat performance as a result.”
And this is essentially how the scenario plays out throughout any direct comparison between the two cameras, with the A6700 scoring heavily where stills is concerned, while the FX30 is undeniably the winner in pretty much every video situation.
“The A6700 has been designed to be a true hybrid,” says Jake, “which means that it’s a much better stills camera, while its viewfinder is also another big plus point. It can also deliver great quality video, but there are always going to be compromises. The FX30 meanwhile has been designed from the ground up to be a filmmaking camera, and that’s its main focus, and it’s the key area of difference between these two models.”
For those dipping an initial toe into the world of filmmaking the A6700 could be a great purchase, covering off all bases to a level and being capable of producing footage that is well up to professional standards. If you feel you want to get more serious about the world of motion, and you have the budget, then the FX30 or even some of the models further up the Sony food chain would be a better way to go, but you would need to also have an alternative stills camera system in your locker if you intended to carry on offering photographic services to your clients.
The answer, as always, is to talk to the experts at CVP and to have a demonstration of the options available, and to then make an informed decision, backed by impartial advice. These are exciting times and the entry price point to the excellent Sony system just got even more tempting!
Labelled an enthusiast model, the A6700 still packs a ton of pro-spec hybrid features on board.
The A6700 seen in tandem with Sony’s latest 70-200mm f/4 G zoom, also covered in the CVP film.
Accessories such as sliders and monitors can also enhance the A6700’s filmmaking capabilities.
Slow and quick mode is another option found in the A6700’s extensive menu. You can set the A6700 to follow a series of subject types, such as humans and animals.
Scan here to watch CVP’s review of the newly arrived A6700 hybrid camera from Sony. www.youtube.com/watch?v=xoJHfaLO3KQ