Camera Review: Sony’s a6300
August 2, 2016
The a6000 was the best-selling mirrorless camera of all time, according to Sony and the NPD Group, a market research firm. So the a6300, its successor, arrives with some mammoth shoes to fill. Rather than follow directly in the a6000’s footsteps, Sony stepped up the feature set—and price tag—to make the a63000 more compelling for serious shooters.
The a6300 packs a 24-megapixel APS-C-sized CMOS image sensor with a native ISO range of 100-25,600 (expandable to 51,200). While the sensor has the same resolution as the a6000, it uses copper wiring for speedier performance and less image noise. It builds on the a6000’s already plentiful AF points by piling on many more. The a6300 boasts 425 phase detect AF points and 169 contrast-detect AF points, so that your entire frame is covered with AF points. Leveraging both the plentiful focus points and its image processing engine, the camera is able to predictively track moving subjects and better shift the focus points in anticipation of movement, ensuring crisp action shots.
Low-light focusing is available down to -2 EV and mechanical shutter speeds top out at 1/4000 sec. There’s Wi-Fi and NFC for remote control via mobile devices.
The a6300 also boasts a highly capable video feature set. It records 4K video (3840 x 2160) at either 30 or 24p and Full HD video at up to 120p. There’s no pixel binning, so you’ll get the full sensor readout during recording. Sony’s S-log2 and S-log3 and cinema-friendly picture profiles are also available, as are composition aids like zebra stripes and focus peaking. You can output an 8-bit 4K signal at 4:2:2 via HDMI and there’s a built-in mic port but, sadly, no headphone jack.
Unlike many high-end mirrorless models these days, Sony isn’t fetishizing photography’s analog past in the design of the a6300. It’s purely modern and functional with a comfortable, prominent grip, large buttons and a top dial for exposure changes. It’s dust and moisture resistant, too.
There are just two things missing from the design: a second dial, up near your forefinger (when you’re shooting) to adjust shutter speed. That’s currently handled by the main dial on the back of the camera and it’s a pain to adjust when you’re shooting. What would also be nice is a joystick to navigate through AF points, similar to the one on the Fuji X-Pro2. Both of these would greatly aid composing in the heat of the moment, especially using the EVF. Also, the a6300 continues Sony’s tradition of putting a hard-to-trigger movie button in an awkward spot on the camera’s grip. Putting it almost anywhere else on the camera would make more sense.
The 3-inch display can be tilted up and down, but it’s not touch. Given the multitude of AF points, touch focusing would have been very useful. There’s a 2.36-million dot resolution EVF that’s quite sharp with a blazing refresh rate of 120 fps to better keep pace with fast-moving action. We did find ourselves wishing that, like the display, the EVF tilted up.
You won’t be disappointed by the still image quality of the a6300. Color reproduction in JPEGs is consistent and accurate, and while the 24-megapixel sensor doesn’t quick pack the pixels of an a7R II, it puts Sony ahead of DSLR competitors like Nikon’s D500 and all of the Micro Four Thirds bodies. The Sony a6300 shows excellent dynamic range in still images and the 14-bit RAW file is flexible enough to recover significant shadow and highlight details.
Low-light shooting was also impressive. Noise remains well contained in JPEGs through ISO 6400, though we did notice some unusual (though very tiny) red splotches at 100 percent when we jumped from 3200 to 6400 in some stills. At ISO 8000 and above, noise is more apparent and we saw a color shift in reds.
Video performance is equally strong. While the 8-bit output of the a6300 may put off some filmmakers, files straight from the camera are very clean at ISO 800, the camera’s base setting. Shooting handheld, we did miss the in-body stabilization that has made the a7 series so invaluable.
It’s a stretch to say that the AF system on the a6300 can’t miss—it does miss, sometimes—but it’s remarkably speedy and consistent nonetheless. We took the camera to a Little League game to test the AF prowess. Set to continuous, we enjoyed a very good hit rate. During short bursts of between 8-12 images, the a6300 could keep every frame of a pitcher’s windup and release in focus.
There were times when predictive tracking did make for some unpredictable results. Sometimes continuous AF stayed locked on the pitcher’s body, other times on an adjacent player. Overall though, AF performance was excellent.
Set to continuous shooting through the EVF and you’ll clock in at 11 fps with continuous AF engaged—speedier than Canon’s 80D and, by a hair, Nikon’s D500. Switch to the LCD and continuous shooting speed drops down to a still very respectable 8.5 fps.
Battery life is on par with other mirrorless models in its class. The a6300 delivers a modest 350 shots using the viewfinder and 400 shots with the LCD, per CIPA standards.
At $1,000, the a6300 is missing features, such as a touchscreen or tilting EVF, found on competitive models, but those aren’t major liabilities. More serious drawbacks, at least for some users, include a limited flash sync speed (1/160th) and a slower mechanical shutter than models like the Olympus E-M1.
That said, the a6300 is very much the pace horse of the crop-sensor mirrorless category. It’s blazingly fast, feature-rich and delivers excellent still and video quality.
PROS: Speedy AF; excellent image quality; great video quality and feature set.
CONS: No touchscreen; fixed EVF; no in-body image stabilization; no headphone jack.
To learn this product inside and out, check out this Sony a6300 video tutorial on CreativeLive.
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