Introduction

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony 16-55mm F2.8 G | ISO 400 | 1/250 sec | F2.8

In Eden, there is greasy pizza, hoppy beer, a DJ and a ton of hipsters (myself included). I am of course describing Eden Seattle, an event space in the city's industrial neighborhood that was recently home to an Art Battle.

Before you ask, an Art Battle is a competitive, live-action art contest. There are a series of twenty minute rounds, with the audience voting at the end of each to decide which artists progress to the finals. At the end of it all, the paintings are auctioned off and everyone goes home happy – often a little tipsy, and possibly with a piece of rapid art under their arm.

As it turns out, the a6600 is just too darn slow

As a photographer, the challenge is to capture the fast-moving, well-lit painters as well as the atmosphere of the attentive audience in the surrounding shadows. This means constantly changing settings to properly compensate for lighting and subject movement. I needed a camera that could keep up with me, that would react instantly to my inputs, and get out of my way so I could get on with taking pictures.

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony 16-55mm F2.8 G | ISO 320 | 1/250 sec | F2.8

Along with a new 16-55mm F2.8 G lens, we just got the Sony a6600 into the DPReview office. We already know a lot about the image quality of the camera, and have been impressed with its autofocus system, but I wanted to see how Sony's APS-C flagship and a high-end zoom lens (plus a couple fast primes for good measure) would cope with the fast-paced environment.

As it turns out, the a6600 is just too darn slow.

Taking the good (photos) with the bad (lag)

Processed in Adobe Camera Raw.
Sony 16-55mm F2.8 G | ISO 3200 | 1/100 sec | F2.8

Now, it's true that the a6600 shoots ridiculously fast bursts, high-speed video, and all that. By 'slow,' I mean that I experienced such distinct operational lag when changing settings – lag that is noticeably worse than the company's a7 or a9 series of full-frame cameras – that it was an incredibly frustrating tool for this type of use.

I was constantly double-checking my settings instead of focusing on my photographs

To start, here's how I set up the camera: full manual control, with auto ISO. I did this because I wanted to make sure that the aperture stayed wide-open regardless whether I had the zoom or a prime on the camera, and I wanted to be able to quickly change the minimum shutter speed with direct dial control. I could drop to 1/60 sec for static subjects in the dark, and 1/320 sec for the properly-lit painters. But here's where the lag comes in.

Processed and cropped slightly in Adobe Camera Raw.
Sigma 56mm F1.4 | ISO 1600 | 1/320 sec | F1.4

First, lag in the dials. If I quickly turn a dial, say, three clicks, the camera will almost always adjust my setting by three steps – but only after a small pause. That's frustrating, but not a deal breaker.

Then, there's a pretty pronounced lag when swapping between the electronic viewfinder and the rear screen. Again, not a deal breaker, but if I'm changing settings just before, after, or as I'm raising the camera to my eye, sometimes the camera seems to get bogged down and doesn't catch up to the number of clicks I've felt the dial go through. That meant I was constantly double-checking my settings instead of focusing on my photographs.

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony 16-55mm F2.8 G | ISO 125 | 1/100 sec | F2.8

Then, there is a lag with the buttons. When I hit the exposure compensation button, I have to wait a beat before I can turn a dial to adjust it (and again, if the camera is swapping from EVF to LCD or vice versa, it would occasionally ignore this input altogether). And I tried assigning the rear AF/MF button to AF-ON, since I prefer back-button autofocus, but then there was a lag before autofocus initiated. It initiated much faster if I left autofocus on the shutter button.

And lastly, there's lag if you want to use the touchscreen to move your AF point around with your eye to the finder. Sony's Real-time tracking means I could theoretically keep my AF point in the center, alter my framing to get it over my subject, initiate tracking and recompose at will. However, I don't want to always have to drastically alter my composition to get my focus point over my subject. But that's what I ended up doing, because the screen lag meant I couldn't quickly and precisely move the AF point where I wanted to.

Not a big deal, or a deal breaker?

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sigma 56mm F1.4 | ISO 640 | 1/200 sec | F1.4

Now, it's true that the Sony a6600 is an enthusiast camera, not a professional camera, and this sort of use-case is really pushing both what it's capable of and could reasonably be expected to do.

But here's the rub – there are other cameras, including the Nikon D7500, Fujifilm X-T3 and the Panasonic G9 – that I can expect to perform well in these situations. It's not unreasonable to say that a larger sensor in an even more pro-oriented body would be even better, but at least those aforementioned cameras don't leave me feeling as though I'm waiting for them to keep up with me.

To be fair, I can't say that another camera would necessarily have gotten me appreciably more technical 'keepers': images that are in-focus, properly exposed, and so on. But what I can say is that I would have had a lot more fun, and felt a lot less frustration, and been able to focus far more on my surroundings and compositions if I didn't have to worry about whether my shutter speed is where I wanted it to be.

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