Key Takeaways

  • Autofocus system makes it easy to focus quickly, especially with human subjects
  • Video is incredibly detailed and relatively easy to shoot
  • Accessing tracking autofocus in video means changing the way the touchscree works for stills shooting, which is inconvenient

Autofocus

The a6100's AF system is very powerful and potentially simple but it's evolved from older, less powerful systems that offered a multitude of focus area modes. Unlike the more expensive models, you cannot hide these on the a6100 but you can, for the majority of shooting situations and subjects, ignore them.

The a6100 has five types of AF area mode, but it's the tracking variants of them (at the end of the list) that are the valuable ones.

So, while you get a choice of Wide, Zone, Center, Flexible Spot and Expanded Flexible Spot AF area modes, along with Tracking variants of each, it's probably easier to set the camera to either Tracking: Flexible Spot M or Tracking: Wide.

The a6100 doesn't have any of the settings to let you fine-tune the AF behavior to match specific sports (there are times when you want the camera to refocus on something nearer than the subject it's tracking and other times you want it to ignore the distraction), which will ultimately limit when it comes to shooting a child's soccer match or, perhaps, wildlife. But for most things you're likely to shoot, it'll work without you needing any such settings. The only setting you're likely to want to change is to switch between Human and Animal detection.

The a6100's tracking works like that of the more expensive a6400, shown above

Another feature Sony has recognized the need for in other models but not included here is the ability to change the color of the AF area. Like older models, the AF point is displayed as a grey box, which can be somewhat difficult to see. Thankfully it lights up green when you half-press the shutter button, so you always know what it's tracking.

AF Tracking performance is directly comparable to that of the Sony a6400.

Generally we've been very impressed with the a6100's autofocus: point it at something, hold the shutter at half-press, and it'll just follow the subject. If they're human it'll continue to follow them, even if they face away from the camera. It doesn't absolutely guarantee that every photo is in focus, but it's immediately recognizable as better than any camera we've used before, certainly at this price. This simplicity is at the heart of what we think makes the camera so good.


Video

The a6100's video is pretty impressive. It can shoot highly detailed 4K footage from the full width of its sensor or from a cropped region if you want the faster 30 fps capture. There's a fairly prominent 'jello' effect if you swing the camera around or if your subject travels across the frame too fast, which is worth being aware of. 1080 (Full HD) mode doesn't have this drawback but is significantly less detailed (more than just the difference in pixel output).

Enabling 4K capture

The camera is set to Full HD capture by default, so you'll need to change the setting [Camera Menu 2 | Movie File Format] to XAVC S 4K if you want to shoot the highest quality footage.

You'll need a U1-rated card to record 4K footage and a U3 speed one to record at the highest quality. To maximize the length of clip you can capture, you'll need to set [Setup | Auto Power Off Temp] to 'High' which extends the capture time around 30 minutes, depending on the ambient temperature. Sony recommends you use a tripod for this, since the camera body will get hot. This rules it out for recording extended videos, such as school performances.

There's also an S&Q (Slow and Quick) mode that capture Full HD footage at up to 120 frames per second and plays it back as 1/5th or 1/4 speed slow-mo, or 1 fps footage sped-up up to 60x.

Tracking Autofocus in video

It's possible to access the camera's excellent tracking AF in video mode, which immediately lifts it to the top of the competitive pile in terms of how easy it makes it to shoot video clips. Or, at least, makes it easy when you're actually shooting. To access the camera's tracking in AF mode, you need to change the behavior of the touchscreen from Touch AF to Touch Tracking. [Camera Menu 2 | Page 9/9 | Func. of Touch Operation]

The downside of this is that this setting applies to both stills and video mode, changing the way AF tracking works in stills: you'll need to cancel tracking if you start it from the touchscreen and the AF touchpad function (where you can move the AF point by swiping the screen when the camera's to your eye) stops working.

There are 43 different options that can be applied to the camera's Fn menu. The behavior of the touchscreen isn't one of them, so you'll need to add it to your My Menu tab, if you want to quickly change it.

There's a microphone input if you want to get better audio than the camera's internal mics allow, but there's no headphone socket for judging the audio levels, so you'll need to get good at interpreting the on-screen indicators.

The a6100 has a mic socket for recording audio and an HDMI port for monitoring or playing-back video

There's no in-camera stabilization or even digital correction in video mode though, so you'll need to be steady with your hands and accept that the lens stabilization's correction has its limits, if you're grabbing hand-held clips.

Overall, though, it's a camera that can shoot really impressive video clips if you want to, but it's not quite as 'press and go' as stills mode.