Whether you’re looking to make your first move to mirrorless, or are keen to upgrade existing kit, the choice available is bigger than ever – and it’s only going to keep growing. After tentatively dipping their toes in the mirrorless water back in 2011 with the now defunct 1 series, Nikon came back with a bang late last year introducing two full-frame models. We took one of them, the 24.5-megapixel Z6 and compared it to Sony’s latest arrival, the A6400. Which is best for you? Read on to find out…
Design and build
While we wouldn’t go as far as saying these two cameras are like chalk and cheese, there are certainly plenty of cosmetic differences that ensure you’ll never confuse one for the other. The Nikon is much the bigger camera, both in size and weight with the body tipping the scales at 675g with battery and memory card on board, while the Sony is a more modest 403g. While heavier, the Z6 does benefit from a weather resistant design, plus it features a top-plate LCD, two features that are lacking on the A6400.
Much of the Nikon’s extra height is thanks to the central faux pentaprism, which houses a 3.69 million dot electronic viewfinder, while the Sony opts for an offset viewfinder with 2.36 million dots. The Z6 also has a more sizeable handgrip to the A6400. Combining these two factors suggests the Nikon is more likely to appeal to the existing DSLR user making the switch to mirrorless, while the Sony is clearly the better bet if size and weight (or lack thereof) are key factors in your buying decision.
Both models feature one memory card slot, but while the Sony accepts its own Memory Stick alongside standard SD media, Nikon has opted for an XQD card slot, presumably due to their speedier overall performance. While undeniably fast, XQD cards are also undeniably pricey, so you will need to factor some additional cost into your budget.
Both cameras offer similar resolutions – the Sony has 24.2 megapixels and the Nikon 24.5 – but the Z 6 is likely to offer superior image quality because it boasts a full-frame sensor compared to the A6400’s APS-C offering. With a similar number of pixels on a larger sensor, individual pixel size on the Nikon is going to be larger than the Sony, which should mean improved low light performance. This fact is borne out by the higher native ISO on the Z6 of 51,200 (expandable to 204,800) compared to the Sony’s maximum of 25,600 (expandable to 102,400).
The Sony does offer more autofocusing points than then Nikon, however, along with a better continuous frame rate if you want to have autofocus and auto exposure measured on every frame. If you do, you can capture 11 frames-per-second on the A6400 and nine on the Z 6, but if that’s not a must-have, the Nikon can shoot at 12 frames-per-second, no doubt by virtue of the EXPEED 6 processor and aforementioned XQD card. Autofocusing sensitivity is marginally better on the Sony, extending from EV-2 to 20 (EV-2 to 19 on the Nikon), while the metering sensitivity on the Nikon is better in low light, dropping down to EV-4 (EV-3 on the Sony).
Both models offer 14-bit RAW capture with the maximum Sony file size measuring 6000 x 4000 pixels, while the Nikon’s is 6048 x 4024. 1:1 and 16:9 aspect ratios are also available on both cameras, but the Nikon has the added advantage of capturing TIFFs alongside RAW and JPEGs.
As the more established system, the Sony currently enjoys the greater range of lenses without needing an adapter. Over 40 Sony lenses are available in the A6400’s E-mount, plus there are some independent options. To date there are just four Z lenses for the Nikon, but a lens roadmap confirms there will be another five before this year is out and a total of 12 by 2021. You can also fit DSLR-compatible Nikon glass using an optional adapter.
If you want to shoot movies, headline specs are comparable between these two models. Both the Nikon and Sony offer up to 4K video recording at 30P and Full HD at 120P, plus they have Log functions for those who want ultimate post-production control. The Z6 does record in 10-bit, while the A6400 tops out at 8-bit.
The Nikon also has another key advantage in the form of 5-axis in-body image stabilisation, which will come in very handy for videographers who like to work hand-held, but delve deep into the Sony’s menus and you’ll uncover a real wealth of video-dedicated functions that combine to make it a sophisticated moviemaker offering.
Tilting, touchscreen rear LCDs are available on both models, but the Nikon has the edge in terms of dots. Its screen has 2.1 million dots compared to the Sony’s 921,600, suggesting the Z 6 will benefit from greater detail and more accurate colours. The A6400’s rear LCD does tilt through 180°, however, which gives greater versatility, especially if you’re a fan of shooting selfies.
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity is provided by both cameras, but the Sony also offers NFC if you have compatible devices. The Sony also benefits from an integral flash, which is absent on the Nikon. With a guide number of 6, it’s hardly going to illuminate a concert hall, but it could help lift a head and shoulders portrait or pep up a group shot in low light.
On paper, the Nikon Z6 is the better camera, but it’s also twice the price of the Sony. The Z6’s larger sensor, more detailed viewfinder, weather resistant design and versatile video functions make it a tough competitor. But you are going to have to spend more on XQD memory cards and an optional lens adapter should you want a greater optical choice from the get-go.
The Sony is smaller, lighter and hardly short on stills and video capability. It holds its own remarkably well against the Z6 given the cost differential. Ultimately, we’d make this buying decision based on size – both of your wallet and your gadget bag. If size, weight and price are important, buy the Sony. If they’re less of a deciding factor, go for the Nikon.
|Sony A6400||Nikon Z6|
|Resolution||24.2 megapixels||24.5 megapixels|
|Processor||Bionz X||EXPEED 6|
|ISO range||100-32,000 (expandable to 102,400)||100-51,200 (expandable to 204,800)|
|Video||4K 30p/Full HD 120p||4K 30p/Full HD 120p|
|Rear LCD||3-inch, touchscreen, 921,600 dots||3.2-inch, touchscreen, 2.1 million dots|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Weight (body with battery and card)||403g||675g|