Body and handling
A lot of fans were hoping that Sony might reboot the A6500's rather plain, ergonomically-deficient body and go with something that looks more like the A7R III. That didn't happen. The A6600's body is pretty similar to the previous model, except for one important detail: a much bigger grip.
That grip not only makes it easier to grab and hold the camera, but also houses a much larger Z-series battery. You now get 810 shots on a charge, an incredible spec usually reserved for DSLRs. In that department, it beats its main rivals -- the X-T3 (390 shots), Canon's M6 II (305 shots), the Panasonic GH5 (410 shots) and the Nikon Z 50 (300 shots) -- by miles.
Unfortunately, that's where the ergonomic improvements end. The A6600 has the same button and dial layout as before, bar some minor nip-and-tuck work. That means it still lacks a front shutter/aperture dial and a joystick control for focus. It's inexcusable for Sony to leave those things out on a flagship, $1,400 camera, especially when you can find them on all its competition.
The A6600's menu system is roughly the same as before, which is to say, not good. Many functions are buried in the wrong menus, and require endless scrolling to find. Given that, and the lack of manual controls, using the A6600 was frankly a frustrating experience — especially after I had such a good time with the well-designed A7R IV. Oh, and on top of all that, the A6600 is still pretty ugly, too.
Another negative is the 2.36-million dot OLED electronic (EVF) viewfinder, which is also largely unchanged from the last model. It works okay, but feels out-of-date compared to the 3.69-million dot, blackout-free EVF on Fujifilm's X-T3.
The A6600 has just a single card slot, and worse, it only uses the UHS-I standard and not UHS-II with triple the speed. As I'll explain later, that can slow down shooting considerably. While this might have been acceptable three years ago, in 2019 the A6600 has to go up against the X-T3 and Panasonic's GH5, both of which have two fast UHS-II card slots.
On the positive side, the rear touch display now tilts up, making the A6600 more useful as a vlogging camera. You can also use it to choose autofocus tracking subjects, but unlike the touch displays on all its rivals, it can't be used to operate the main menu or even the quick menu.
Like before, the A6600 has a microphone input, and Sony has also added a headphone port. That's a nice addition, as serious videographers can monitor sound while they're doing interviews and other chores.
While ergonomics are not the A6600's strong point, it has excellent shooting speeds and, particularly, autofocus performance. It can handle bursts up to 11 fps with full autofocus and auto exposure, which is a bit slower than Canon's M6 Mark II (14 fps) and identical to the Fujifilm X-T3. However, in electronic shutter mode, the X-T3 can hit 20 fps, nearly doubling the A6600 burst speeds.
Sony's uncanny autofocus system, with 425 phase and contrast detect AF points, still delivers more in-focus shots than those models. The latest feature is what Sony calls "real-time tracking" and "real-time eye autofocus." What that means is that Sony has increased AF speeds to the point that you can touch to select a subject, and it'll track them in real time.
The face- and eye-detect systems are particularly good, staying locked onto your subject's face even if they temporarily move out of view. If you touch to select your subject, it tenaciously tracks them no matter where they go. I found that the only time subject tracking didn't work well was if they were particularly far away.
Overall, Sony still has the best autofocus and face-tracking AI of any APS-C camera. It was able to handle everything I tried, from tracking people playing at a pond, to a musical group in low light, to dogs running around.
However, it's hampered by a couple of things. First off, if you need to be unobtrusive while shooting sports with the silent electronic shutter, you might end up with skewed shots because of the sensor's rolling shutter issue.
And while you can shoot pretty long bursts of up to 99 shots at maximum resolution, it takes ages and ages for the buffer to clear. That's likely because of the relatively slow write speeds from the UHS I slot that Sony inexplicably decided to use. When that happens, you can't shoot anymore and many of the camera's functions are inoperable.
Another issue with the burst shooting is the lack of a blackout-free EVF. That can make it hard to follow action in sports or wildlife — and that's the point of burst shooting and tracking autofocus. The X-T3, on the other hand, has no blackout in the viewfinder at the maximum 20 fps shooting speeds.
One of the Sony A6600's biggest advantages over similar cameras is the five-axis stabilization. The system lets you shoot in much lower light than would otherwise be possible. With five stops of shake reduction, I was able to take photos at shutter speeds down to around 1/15th of a second, provided my subject didn't move around much. On other cameras, including Nikon's Z 50 and the X-T3, you'll need to use lenses with built-in stabilization — and many of the best primes don't have that option.