Highly Versatile, but Not Truly Flagship: A Brief Discussion on the Sony a6700 Camera
I have an apple, I have a pen. Ahhhh - Apple Pen.
Sony a6700 gives me the impression of a machine that consolidates Sony's resources and maximizes the reuse of existing mature systems to create a highly satisfying APS-C high-end model. A true master of supply chain management! This model can hardly be considered a traditional APS-C flagship as it lacks features like dual card slots and a large buffer. It might signify the demise of traditional APS-C flagships.
The emergence of each camera and the rise and fall of each product positioning have their own historical background. So, under what circumstances did the introduction of the a6700 and the disappearance of flagship APS-C cameras occur?
APS-C Flagships in the DSLR Era
APS-C flagship cameras in the DSLR era were exemplified by Nikon's D500 and Canon's 7D Mark II, often referred to as "mini D5" and "mini 1Dx," respectively. They retained many characteristics of flagship models, such as powerful autofocus modules, dual card slots, excellent body design and weather sealing, and abundant control options. The only notable difference was the slightly smaller sensor size. These cameras and entry-level full-frame bodies (D610, 6D series) formed the lineup of camera manufacturers' products priced around $1,000. You would go for full-frame if you wanted better image quality, usable autofocus, and high-speed continuous shooting. If you didn't prioritize ultimate image quality but needed fast continuous shooting and autofocus, then the flagship APS-C option was the choice.
In the DSLR era, the most expensive part of a camera was the high-speed mirror, which could precisely move up and down at a rate of 10 frames per second. This miniature mechanical marvel, coupled with the independent autofocus module inherited from the flagship models, created an APS-C flagship. Naturally, dual card slots and weather sealing also followed suit. However, in the mirrorless era, this approach is no longer feasible.
Why High-Speed APS-C Flagships Are Difficult to Create in the Mirrorless Era?
In the mirrorless era, autofocus and continuous shooting performance are directly dependent on the speed of the CMOS sensor. In other words, if the CMOS sensor is fast, everything works well.
This creates an awkward situation: if a highly-speedy CMOS sensor is developed that can achieve usable APS-C resolution (e.g., 24 million pixels), then the full-frame version of this CMOS sensor could reach 50 million pixels, just like the Sony a1. Therefore, creating an APS-C version using the IMX610 from the a1 for APS-C flagship purposes is simply impossible. Let's be blunt and assume that the cost of this CMOS sensor is half that of the full-frame version. If a camera aligns with this positioning, should it be priced at $3,899? That would be excessive.
But a $3,899 APS-C flagship would be out of sync with the entry-level full-frame market, which represents the mainstream and even the mid-high-end market for full-frame. These full-frame cameras, such as the Sony Alpha 7R V and Alpha 7 IV, offer higher image quality and decent continuous shooting and autofocus capabilities. At this point, it's clear what most people would choose. So, what if we take a 24 million-pixel sensor, such as the IMX571 used in the $4,499 high-speed full-frame Alpha 9 II, and create an APS-C version? It would result in a camera with only 10 million pixels, priced at $1,399. Would you buy it? In reality, there is not enough demand in the consumer market for a $1,399 low-resolution APS-C camera with high-speed autofocus and continuous shooting capabilities. It would also be challenging to push the price up to $3,899. Hence, we have the CMOS sensor used in the a6700—a 3.76-micron pixel pitch, inheriting from the a7R5's IMX455 (a similar sensor with a different name, IMX584). As a result, we have the FX30 and the a6700. So, why doesn't Sony release a 40MP APS-C camera? Sony is not Fujifilm, and there is no need to cling to APS-C for image quality.
A6700 - Sony's Integration of Resources
The a6700 is not a traditional APS-C high-speed flagship, and many of its choices become clear when viewed from this perspective. It is not meant to be a mini high-speed camera, so it does not offer the enormous buffer capacity or the 1/8000s shutter speed and 1/250s sync speed typically found in APS-C flagship cameras. Since it doesn't want you to perceive it as a small speed machine, it naturally lacks features like CFexpress for quick card clearance. Therefore, it inherits the IBIS and mechanical shutter components from the a6600. It cannot compete in the professional video market against the FX30, so it is not designed for heavy-duty use with robust heat dissipation, dual card slots, and full-size HDMI.
Additionally, it has done away with the dual card slots. However, to make it significantly better than the a6600, it does incorporate modern features such as AI-based autofocus recognition from the a7R5, the handgrip design of the a7R5, and the dual-layer dial configuration from the a7M4. This helps avoid internal competition.
So, is the Sony a6700 Good or Not?
If you expect it to be an APS-C high-speed flagship, it is not suitable for you. However, if you want a camera that is enjoyable to use, the Sony a6700 is indeed a great choice. It has all the necessary features, and its autofocus performance is likely on par with the a7RV, although it may struggle in complex environments. It offers uncropped 4K60p video, and while 4K120p shooting is also possible, it involves some cropping. In summary, it's a camera that provides enough flexibility and satisfies the demands of enthusiasts who want all the features to play with.
However, if you plan to engage in professional photography, you may need to consider other devices. For photography, the Sony a7M4 would be the best choice, offering features such as flash sync, control, and EVF. For video shooting, the Sony FX30 would be the ideal option, with features like heat dissipation, dual card slots, and mounting points.
With an excellent ecosystem of lenses, the a6700 remains one of the most recommended high-end APS-C models. It is particularly suitable for enthusiasts with a certain budget and aspirations who can graduate from entry-level cameras. Buying a Sony a6700 with Sigma's APS-C zoom trio or Sony's G-series APS-C lenses would cost around $2,000, which is still cheaper than just the a7RV body.