Image quality

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sigma 56mm F1.4 DC DN | ISO 100 | 1/2500 sec | F2
Photo by Richard Butler

With the same sensor and processor as the existing a6400 and a6100, it should come as no surprise that the a6600 produces identical image quality as those other models - which is to say, it's pretty darn good.

Key takeaways:

  • The a6600 will produce identical images to the existing a6400 and a6100 cameras
  • Sony's default color output looks great, has evolved since early a6x00 cameras
  • The silent electronic shutter still tops out at 1/4000 sec, and can produce banding and rolling shutter artifacts

Studio scene

Our test scene is designed to simulate a variety of textures, colors and detail types you'll encounter in the real world. It also has two illumination modes to see the effect of different lighting conditions.

Raw

Throughout the scene, we can see that the a6600 performs all but identically to the a6400 in terms of detail capture. Fujifilm's X-T3 captures a similar level of detail (26MP vs 24MP is a pretty trivial difference), but it's X-Trans design tamps down on false color at high frequencies much more so than other competitors here. As we'd expect, the EOS M6 Mark II churns out more detail than the rest in all these comparisons.

The a6600 performs very well at higher ISO values, and though the X-T3 appears to have slightly less chroma noise, it also shows some signs of noise reduction on its Raw files. When normalized to the same resolution, the M6 II compares pretty favorably to the other options here as well. At the very highest ISO values, the Sony's begin to pull ahead of their peers, but it's not so big a difference that we'd make a purchasing decision based on it.

JPEG

Switching over to JPEG, we can see that there's not a huge difference between these cameras color-wise. We prefer the warmer and deeper yellows and greens of the X-T3 here, while Canon's relatively strong saturation will be a matter of preference. Canon reds are a perennial favorite, and while the a6600 also renders a pleasing red - more so than the Fujifilm - it has a slight orange tinge that the company's flagship a7R IV does not. Compare the a6600 against the older a6x00 models and you'll see a number of improvements: yellows in particular have become warmer and less green, and greens have become less blue-shifted. However, blues still exhibit a slight magenta shift.

JPEG sharpening is very well-judged, as we've come to expect from Sony. In comparison, Canon's larger radius sharpening extracts less detail, but has fewer artifacts in the text than the other options here. The a6600 puts in really impressive performance in terms of detail retention just about everywhere; and the banknote is where you'll notice Canon's larger radius sharpening doing it a bit of a disservice, with less fine detail at the pixel level than the lower-resolution competitors. The Sony cameras continue to lead the competition in terms of detail retention as ISO values climb.

Shutter modes

The a6600 has options for both an electronic front-curtain shutter (EFCS) and a silent, fully electronic shutter. Both of these options, plus the regular mechanical shutter, come with their own pros and cons.

The only reason we'd use the regular, fully mechanical shutter is if you're using a very wide aperture and shooting with plenty of light, and therefore require fast shutter speeds (greater than 1/2000s). If you stay in EFCS mode, you'll find that your out-of-focus highlights are truncated, which can lead to a busier, more distracting background that can even appear as though it were shot with a smaller F-number. The reason to use EFCS, and why it's enabled by default, is to avoid shutter shock at slower shutter speeds, and to minimize shutter lag.

Unfortunately, unlike some competitors, the a6600 has no provision for automatically switching between EFCS and the mechanical shutter at a certain shutter speed threshold, so you just have to remember to switch between the two on your own.

The fully-electronic shutter is a nice option to have for those that want to be as discreet as possible, but be aware that the sensor in the a6600 - though capable of great image quality - isn't the fastest to read out. This means that you may find the E-shutter resulting in banding in artificial light, and if you have a fast-moving subject or are panning, you're likely to see rolling shutter artifacts. Some of the a6600's competitors are using faster, more modern sensors that don't suffer from these problems as severely.