Hands on with the Sony A6600
By Kevin Palmer
When you have been shooting SLR cameras for a long time, it is easy to get stuck in a kind of snobbish mindset when it comes to mirrorless cameras for underwater photography. And I admit to being guilty of this at times… OK, a lot of times. But it has not always been without reason. Mirrorless cameras of the past were small (nice), but also felt not quite solid, picture taking was not quite instant, the view blacked out when shooting, the batteries died quickly and most importantly, the auto-focus was, well, less than inspiring. Have you ever tried to shoot a Flasher Wrasse at dusk for that split second of full display with a long macro lens on a traditional mirrorless camera? Let’s just say your odds used to be similar to those of your winning the lottery.
But that was then, and this is now. And the best example of a “now” camera design might be the Sony A6600. The minute you pick up this new Sony you notice how it feels like a “real” camera. It has a carved from a single block kind of solidness often lacking in a small camera like this and, finally, a grip you can hold on to. These may not make a huge difference once you put your camera in an underwater housing, but it speaks to this being and impressive accomplishment for a very reasonable price tag.
When it comes to specifications, camera manufacturers rarely deliver all of the wish-list that camera fans hope for, but as underwater shooters, there are some features that are more important than others. So what did Sony give us on the A6600? For starters, Sony fans should celebrate the new battery. It is the same battery supplying the full frame A7RIV camera and the difference in run time is huge. Many shooters may be able to get a full day of diving in on one battery charge. I carried the camera around for close to two weeks, playing with menus, displays settings, took it for a dive, etc… and never had to recharge it once. Thank you Sony.
Two card slots – finally! What took Sony so long? Who knows, but the A6600 has them which means, stills and video can be separate or you can backup to the second card or just take a whole lot of images without downloading.
Resolution at 24.2MP and the video specs haven’t really changed from the A6500, but they were already well regarded, and the software and processing continues to improve.
The biggest improvement that won me over? This is finally a crop sensor Sony that can run with the DSLRs in the auto-focus department. The improvement over the A-6500 and even the Sony A7RIII is nothing short of amazing. Auto-focusing Sony’s excellent 90mm macro lens on older Sony cameras underwater (crop sensor and full frame) was often akin to a sea sickness inducing game of patience. Lots of very slow moving and aimless hunting while you tried to lock it in the right location. Manual focus gears were almost mandatory. Those days are over and good riddance! Mount the Sony 90mm on the A6600 and the first thing you notice is that lens focuses nearly three times faster than on older cameras. It actually seems reasonable to isolate a single moving reef fish. Not only is the lens operate more quickly, but the ability to lock focus on a subject is now consistently accurate with only an occasional hunt on a low contrast subject - much like any modern quality DSLR. Super macro is no longer scary with this new Sony.
Are there downsides to the Sony A6600? Well, there has been some grumbling about Sony choosing to maintain a maximum sync shutter speed of 1/160 of a second. This can prove a limitation of options in some shooting situations. The good news: There is a solution. The A6600 does not come with a pop-up flash so an LED flash trigger or electrical sync is mandatory. An LED flash trigger is an ideal solution and when testing the Nauticam Mini Flash Trigger (SKU # 36315), it turns out that you can easily sync your strobes at 1/200 of a second shutter speed! Problem solved. Better yet, if you are shooting wide angle where the top 5% of the frame is rarely strobe lit, you can easily get away with shooting 1/250 of a second. The portion of the image not exposed to strobe light is quite small, but it would not be recommended to shoot 1/250 for macro work where the lighting is more likely to hit all borders of the image.
Finally: High sync speed underwater thanks to a manual LED flash trigger
What else makes this camera noteworthy? More great accessories when matched with a high quality underwater housing. The Sony 16-50 power zoom has always been a popular and compact lens to use in an underwater housing. Combine that with high quality water-contact wide angle converter lenses like the Nauticam WWL-1 and you had great performance and flexibility. But the WWL-1 was designed for 28mm equivalent lenses which required some zooming in to eliminate vignetting. Now there is a new crop of 24mm equivalent wide angle conversion lenses with the Nauticam WWL-C at the top of that heap. Nauticam even managed to shorten it's already compact port for the 16-50 so that when used with the new WWL-C wet lens, there is minimal vignetting at 16mm with the Sony lens and remarkable range and image quality in a package that is noticeably shorter and lighter than with the traditional WWL-1 set up for the 16-50mm lens.
The WWL-C is low profile and easy to handle, even with the built in float collar. 130 degree coverage and complete zoom through capability never looked so good.
Photo by Kevin Palmer
Current Underwater Housings for the Sony A6600 Camera:
Fantasea for A6600 - Coming Soon
Ikelite for A6600 - Coming Soon