Autofocus and performance

Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 | ISO 2000 | 1/1000 sec | F6.3

The a6600 gains Sony's latest autofocus tracking technology, which was first seen in the a6400 and a6100 models. This makes the a6600 a supremely capable camera for fast-action shooting, but other aspects of the camera can make sports and action photography frustrating.

Key takeaways:

  • Industry-leading autofocus implementation
  • Excellent tracking of both human and non-human subjects
  • Very fast burst speeds, card write times on the slow side
  • Interface lag and lag when switching from EVF to screen can be frustrating in very fast-action scenarios

AF system performance

Since the a6600's autofocus system is now shared across most interchangeable lens cameras in Sony's lineup, we've covered it extensively before. You can read more here about the nitty-gritty details of the system and how we'd set it up, though there's also a shorter version of that earlier in this review.

It's worth mentioning as well that, unlike many other high-end cameras, the a6600 has no provisions for tailoring the AF system to specific subjects. This is handy for photographing, say, team sports, where you may want to prioritize whether a camera reacts quickly to a new subject passing in front of your current subject, or wait and continue tracking the original. You also cannot change the AF point color to make it more visible, as you can on Sony's full-frame a7R IV.

Let's take a look at how the a6600 performs. To test continuous AF performance, we first try to shoot a subject approaching at a steady speed using the central AF point. This lets us see how good the camera is at assessing subject distance and whether it can drive its lens to that point quickly.

Straight-on
Weave
All images captured using the Sony 70-200mm F2.8 GM.

We then have the subject weave across the camera's AF region in a way the camera can't predict. This has the advantage that the approach rate varies as the subject changes direction. For this test we use the camera's tracking mode, so it needs to identify and follow a subject around the scene, as well as trying to keep it in focus.

Both of these rollovers show the results using the maximum burst speed of 11 fps, but you can expect similar results if you slow down to 8 fps to get a live feed between shots. The a6600 turns in a very good hit rate. You may notice some occasional softness during burst shooting with erratic subjects (you can see a bit of that in the weave here) but it never lost the subject completely.

What it looks like in use

When we first got hold of the Sony a6400, we were keen to see just how effective Sony's new tracking method is, so we grabbed an external recorder to demonstrate just how well it works. Check it out below.

It's a seriously impressive system. You can also enable / disable an Animal Eye detection feature (mainly meant for pets), which is in the menus. You can also assign it to My Menu or a custom button if you wish. For most of our shooting though, including our photo of Belvedere below, we simply left it disabled and used generic subject tracking.

We found regular subject tracking to work well enough that we didn't need to enable the Animal Eye detect most of the time. Out-of-camera JPEG.
Sony 70-350mm F4.5-6.3 G | ISO 1600 | 1/1000 sec | F6.3

Overall performance

When I covered the a6400, I made a point to note in the review that many Sony cameras still suffer from some operational lag, and the a6x00 series is no exception. In fact, I found in side-by-side comparisons with Sony's latest a7-series cameras that the a6x00 series exhibits more pronounced lag. For lower and mid-range cameras like the a6100 and a6400, this is somewhat more forgivable.

But the a6600 is the company's 'flagship' APS-C camera. This means that not only is it more expensive than the other options Sony makes, but it also goes up against some very capable competition from other manufacturers that don't suffer from this same operational foible.

Considering the competition and the a6600's flagship status, its overall performance is a bit disappointing

What we mean by 'lag' is that, from boot-up times to menu navigation to simply adjusting your exposure parameters, you can expect a 'hiccup' from the moment of your input to the time the camera responds to it. If you're shooting fast action and switching from the rear screen, say to get a low-angle, to the electronic viewfinder - the time it takes for the camera to make the switch means a fast-moving subject might be in a different spot altogether. This EVF / screen lag isn't unique to the a6600, but it does take a beat longer on the Sony than, say, an X-T3 or Olympus' latest E-M5 Mark III.

Compounding all of this this is the camera's single UHS-I SD card slot. True, the a6600 shoots at a competitive maximum of 11fps, and has an impressively deep buffer. But it still takes a long time to clear, and many competitors come with faster UHS-II card slots (and maybe even two of them). Plus, while the buffer is clearing, you cannot switch to video mode, you cannot change your burst speed, and you cannot change your image quality settings.

Again, considering this camera's competition, and its position at the top of Sony's APS-C lineup, this is all a bit disappointing.