Time for an Upgrade, and Why I’m Not Switching to Full Frame
After almost five years using the Sony a6500 as my primary camera, I recently upgraded to the a6600. Admittedly, on paper this is a rather modest upgrade with none of the improved specs of the a6600 being particularly compelling on their own, but after using the a6600, I really think this is a case where several small improvements add up to more than the sum of the individual pieces. The image quality and sensor performance appear to be identical with no improvements to the sensor. On the other hand, the a6600 features Sony’s improved autofocus system with real-time tracking and always-on Eye AF (plus animal Eye AF) along with a faster processor and more autofocus points. In addition, the a6600 is weather-sealed, uses a much-larger battery, and adds more customization options including an additional custom button, a customizable menu, and custom shoot settings. Finally, the a6600 is one of only two camera bodies that fully support Sony’s LA-EA5 adapter which allows the use of the camera’s modern autofocus system with A-mount lenses including legacy Minolta lenses.
So why am I sticking with APS-C in 2023? The short answer is that the image quality improvements offered by full frame cameras are not worth the additional cost of the lenses and higher weight and size of the full frame system. To be honest, after listening to Mark Galer’s review of the A7C and his recommendations for building a small and lightweight full-frame kit around that camera body, I was ready to buy one from Adorama’s used store for $1890 with the 28-60 mm kit lens. However, even though it is basically the same size, the a7C sacrifices a lot of the usability enhancements of the a6600 (e.g., the a7C has only one custom button). But the dealbreaker was the a7C’s lack of support for the LA-EA5 adapter. It may seem silly but I love my Minolta glass and am really excited to finally be able to use those lenses with a modern autofocus system.
I bought a used a6600 body in Excellent+ condition from Adorama for $1129 along with a new LA-EA5 adapter for $229. By comparison, I priced out a used a7IV body with two lenses for $3,800 (based on what Adorama had available in February 2023). I could certainly sell some of my APS-C lenses but it would not be enough to offset the whole $2,500 difference in price. And for that money I would get slightly better than 1 stop of sensor performance and a few more megapixels while trading off a lot of extra weight for those two big lenses. I’ve learned how to maximize the image quality from the smaller sensors using ETTR and bracketing techniques, and for my style of photography, I’ve got no complaints about image quality. And there are other drawbacks to full frame cameras in addition to the cost and size that affect my photographic needs-including limited depth of field for landscapes requiring focus stacking and lesser reach of telephoto lenses compared to smaller sensors.
The other major difference between full frame and smaller sensors that has become more prevalent the last few years is the megapixel gap. Sony’s latest full frame cameras include 12, 33, 50, and 60 megapixels while their APS-C cameras have been stuck at 24 megapixels since 2011. Sony Semiconductor Solutions Group has APS-C options with 26 (found in the Sony FX30 cinema camera and Fuji’s X-H2S) and 40 megapixels (Fuji X-H2 and X-T5) but there’s no indication that either of those sensors will appear in a Sony stills camera anytime soon.
Before buying the a6600, I did a lot of online research on the current state of camera sensor development (and may write a separate blog post on that topic). I found that the dynamic range and noise performance of CMOS camera sensors has not really changed since about 2014, and that remains mostly true for the newer high megapixel APS-C sensors. Obviously, without an improvement in image quality, there’s no real difference between 24 and 26 megapixels, so a hypothetical 26 megapixel a6800 is not particularly exciting, even if it features a stacked, backside-illuminated sensor. Jumping to 40 megapixels is a more complicated proposition-while that’s a significant increase in resolution, it comes with a steep price in file size and processing power requirements, and the real increase in resolution is limited by the optical quality of the lens and diffraction (look at the Canon 90D and Fuji X-H2/X-T5 for examples).
After a few weeks with the a6600, I’m finding that I love the photos that I’m taking with this camera, and that says a lot more than anything on a spec sheet. I’m more than satisfied with the upgraded capabilities of this camera over the a6500, and I’m not regretting my decision to stick with APS-C over full frame for now. When and if I do make the jump, I think it will be for a Leica Q2 Monochrom. By the way, my a6500 is currently at Kolari Vision getting a Pro-AR full spectrum conversion and will ship back paired with an IR Chrome filter for in-camera Aerochrome!
A note on buying used gear: The a6600 camera was listed in “Excellent+” condition by Adorama and was in absolutely flawless condition with only 143 shutter actuations when I received it, This was my third purchase of used gear from Adorama, and I’ve had the same experience for all three items. I have had a bad experience buying a used drone from B&H, but Adorama has been fantastic, and I will continue buying used gear from them.