The memory card is one of the essential features of a digital camera. Without it, you’re not going to be able to take many photos. But the new Sony Alpha a6400 doesn’t come with one.1 There are some bundles that retailers put together that might include a memory card, but chances are it’s something you’re going to have to pick up separately.
So which card should you get? I’ve put together these practical recommendations in the hope that it makes it a little easier to know which memory cards work well in the a6400.
Sony a6400 SD Card Quick Recommendations
If you’d like to get right down to business, here are some quick recommendations for good memory cards for the Sony a6400. You can find more detailed explanations and more options below.
Any of these offers a good combination of compatibility with the a6400 and cost effectiveness, are quite readily available at major retailers, and are produced by reliable manufacturers. So any of them makes for a good choice.
Why It’s Not as Simple as it Seems
The instruction manuals for cameras tend to be pretty unhelpful when in comes to recommending which memory cards to get for the camera. That’s largely unavoidable, in part because there are new models of memory cards coming out all the time, and by the time the manual is printed there’s a good chance any specific model recommendations will be out of date.
The Sony a6400 manual is no exception. If you go looking for it, this is what you’ll find:
So get an SD card that’s faster than Class 4, correct? These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a card at a retailer that’s not Class 10 or faster. So you’re all set, right? If you’re only shooting still images, then yes. Any SD card of any size that’s Class 4 or above will work fine. There are advantages to having a faster one if you’re shooting in burst mode or trying to speed up the process of downloading photos from the memory card, but for the most part, the a6400 is not especially picky about memory cards in the photo modes.
But the catch is the a6400’s video modes are more demanding on the SD card. So if you’re shooting video with this camera, you’ll want to pay more attention to the speed of the memory card.
Which Memory Cards Work with XAVC S Video Mode on the Sony a6400?
The catch is if you’re trying to record video. If you’ve tried to record video in the high-quality XAVC S mode in 4K or HD, you might have come across this error message:
Cannot record in this recording setting. Either switch to a UHS-I U3 / UHS-II U3 compatible memory card or change the record setting.
That, frankly, is more helpful and specific than the previous version. The key information is the U3. That’s a rating for recording video streams. So you can get one that’s rated for U3, but you can also used ones with ratings that a V30, V60, or V90, all of which are faster ratings still.
Recommended SD Cards for the Sony a6400
The Sony a6400 is compatible with SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards, so you can use any card with those marks on them. Most of the cards available these days are either SDHC and SDXC. In practice, you’ll find SDHC on cards from 8GB through 32GB and SDXC on cards 64GB and larger.
But if you want to take full advantage of the a6400’s features, here are some cards that work well. My emphasis here is on ones that meet the requirements, are from manufactures of high-quality cards, are readily available at retail, and are cost effective. There are faster, fancier, and more expensive cards that also work well, but those aren’t the ones I’m focusing on here.
SanDisk Extreme V30 UHS-I
SanDisk's Extreme range are good bets for many cameras, and that's true here too. SanDisk has faster ranges like the Plus and Pro lines, but the Extreme line is both quick enough for most cameras and usually less expensive than those faster lines.
One thing to note with SanDisk cards is that they recycle their model names. So you can find Extreme cards that are older and slower. You'll probably find those older versions work just fine--it really depends how far back you go--but you can tell the latest version because it's labeled with both U3 and V30, both of which are speed ratings specifically related to recording video. These cards are often good value, and you can sometimes find them sold in 2-packs.
Lexar Professional 1000x V60 UHS-II
Like the SanDisk Extreme Pro, this one actually has UHS-II, which you don't need with this camera, but it's still a very good, reliable option. It's rated for video recording speed rating of V60. It comes in sizes up to 256GB.
Sony U3 UHS-I
These Sony cards are quick, reliable, and fairly widely available. Sony also now has another much faster model that works well but is a bit overkill for this use.
Toshiba Exceria Pro U3 UHS-II
These aren't always as easy to find as some of the other brands, but they're very good cards indeed. Toshiba has been a big player in hard drives and flash memory for a long time, and this range builds on that expertise and reputation.
Buy at Amazon.
SanDisk Extreme Pro U3 UHS-II
This is SanDisk's top-of-the-line range, and they work well in this camera. This latest version is somewhat overkill however, because they use UHS-II, which most cameras can't fully take advantage of. Older versions of the Extreme Pro cards are UHS-I and will still work well (ideally, stick to ones with the U3 rating on them).
Delkin Devices Advantage V30 UHS-I
Delkin Devices have recently come out with a range of new SD cards of varying speeds and specs. This is one of their mid-range cards that is rated for V30 video recording speeds.
Kingston U1 UHS-I
Kingston is another brand that isn't as well known as some of the others, but they've been making reliable memory cards for a very long time. As a brand, they don't tend to focus on the cutting edge speeds but rather on reliable and good-value memory cards.
This particular card (model SDS2 Canvas Select) isn't the fastest in Kingston's range, but it's fast enough to work well in this camera. It's available in sizes from 16GB through 128GB.
Buy at Amazon.
Sony Memory Stick
Sony has their own memory card format known as Memory Stick. It’s the same size and shape as SD cards and broadly compatible with the SD format, with only minor differences.
But there’s a catch. Way back when SD cards were a new thing, there were practical benefits to the Memory Stick specification. But that’s no longer true. As SD cards have improved in speed and capacity, the case for Memory Sticks became hard to make, and the Memory Stick system never really took off. That means that they’re often hard to find. That’s especially true of the larger capacities such as 64GB and above. Just as with the SD cards, if you use a 32GB card or smaller you won’t have full compatibility with all of the camera’s video modes.
A further complication is that when you do find them, there seems to be an unusual number of counterfeit cards. So I’d recommend caution when buying them such as sticking to reputable retailers, buying only Sony originals, and steering clear of knockoffs from brands like “Sonyy” or brands you’ve never heard of.
Overall, I’d generally recommend using an SDXC card in the Sony a6400 rather than going to extra effort to hunt down a Sony Memory Stick.
Video Bitrates of the Sony a6400
The Sony a6400 records video with a variable bitrate. What that means is that it tries to adjust the amount of data being used to the image in the frame. A moving, detailed scene will use a higher bitrate than a still scene with little detail and few color tones.
When you’re using the highest quality codec, the XAVC S mode, the video is recorded with a target bitrate of 100 Mb/s, which is substantially higher than when using the more basic and lower-quality AVCHD, which maxes out at 60 Mb/s. Sometimes it’s a little more and sometimes a little less–that’s the variable bitrate coming into play–but it averages out around 100 Mb/s regardless of which frame rate setting you’re using.
What Size Memory Card to use in the Sony a6400?
As a technical matter, you can use a card with any storage capacity. That means you can use an 8GB card if you want, or one of the brand-new 1TB cards. But as a practical matter, when considering price and convenience, the sweet spot in terms of the cards currently on the market is probably in the 64 to 256GB range.
Here’s an idea of how much video recording you can fit on cards of various sizes. These are with the Proxy Recording turned off; turning it on will use more storage space, so you’ll fit less footage on the card. These figures are taken directly from Sony’s estimates.
|Codec||Resolution/FPS/Bitrate||32 GB||64 GB||256 GB|
|AVCHD||60i 24M(FX) /50i 24M(FX)||2 h 55 min||6 h||24 h 15 min|
|60i 17M(FH) /50i 17M(FH)||4 h 5 min||8 h 15 min||33 h 15 min|
|XAVC S||4K 30p 100M/25p 100M||35 min||1 h 15 min||5 h 15 min|
|4K 30p 60M/25p 60M||1 h||2 h 5 min||8 h 35 min|
|4K 24p 100M||35 min||1 h 15 min||5 h 15 min|
|4K 24p 60M||1 h||2 h 5 min||8 h 35 min|
|HD 120p 100M/100p 100M||35 min||1 h 15 min||5 h 15 min|
|HD 120p 60M/100p 60M||1 h||2 h 5 min||8 h 35 min|
|HD 60p 50M /50p 50M||1 h 15 min||2 h 35 min||10 h 25 min|
|HD 60p 25M /50p 25M||2 h 25 min||5 h||20 h 10 min|
|HD 30p 50M /25p 50M||1 h 15 min||2 h 35 min||10 h 25 min|
|HD 30p 16M /25p 16M||3 h 50 min||7 h 45 min||31 h 30 min|
|HD 24p 50M||1 h 15 min||2 h 35 min||10 h 25 min|
It’s also worth noting that these are not the same limits as continuous recording limits. The Sony a6400 is limited to approximately 30 minutes of continuous recording at a stretch with the default settings in HD and 4K modes. In this case, it’s related to power and heat rather than the old EU camera classifications. You can find more information on it here.
And if you’re shooting in the AVCHD mode, the camera uses chaptering. What that means is that the footage is broken up into chunks, each a separate file of 2GB or less. You can joint the files back together seamlessly in post-production.
And here are estimates on how many photos you can fit on cards of various sizes. Again, these numbers are taken directly from the ones Sony provides.
|JPEG Quality/ File Format||32 GB||64 GB||128 GB||256 GB|
|RAW & JPEG (Fine)||880||1750||3500||7000|
These are approximates. Because of the way image compression works, not every image file comes out to precisely the same file size. So you can expect some wiggle room with these.
The Memory Card Slot on the Sony a6400
The Sony a6400 takes one memory card at a time (some other higher-end models take two).
One thing I don’t like is where the memory card slot is. It goes in easily enough, but because it’s so close to the compartment door, it’s finicky to take it out again. If you’re not removing your memory card often and are using the wireless connection or connecting a cable directly to the camera to download images, it’s not something you’ll run into often. But if, like me, you prefer to put the memory card into a memory card reader to download the images and footage, then it’s an annoyance–a minor one, admittedly, but one nonetheless. All that said, there’s not much you can do about it–I just wish the camera’s designers had done things a little differently.
Formatting the Memory Card
It’s always a good idea to format the memory card in the camera rather than doing it with a computer. That reduces the risk of something going wrong, and some cameras, such as the a6400, add extra things like image databases that can’t be done on a computer.
But if that’s not possible or not what you want to do, you can also format cards using a computer. There are some things to know, though, when formatting SD cards to minimize the risks of your camera having problems with them. So I’ve put together guides on how to format SD cards on Mac and how to use the free SD Card Formatter app for Windows or Mac.
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- The a6400 is also known as the α6400, ILCE-6400 (which is body only), ILCE-6400L (which is body + 16-50mm zoom lens kit), and ILCE-6400M (which is the body + 18-135m zoom lens kit). ↩
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