In early February, Sony unveiled the a6300, a follow-up to one of the best selling interchangeable-lens cameras of all time, the a6000. The updated a6300 features an APS-C 24.2-megapixel CMOS sensor, 4D Focus system with 425 on-chip phase-detection points and 169 contrast-detection areas, 11 frames-per-second burst shooting, and 4K video recording without pixel binning. Along with many other similar features that are available on Sony’s flagship a7II-series cameras, but with a price tag of only $999 (body only), this is one of the most feature-rich prosumer cameras ever released.
The Sony a6300 is an interchangeable-lens mirrorless camera design with a small footprint. At only 1.92-inches thick, 4.72-inches wide, and 2.63-inches tall, it is nearly identical in size to the a6000. While it shares many features from the a7II-series Sony cameras, it does lack in-body image stabilization as well as uses a APS-C sensor rather than being full-frame. In the a6300’s own benefit, the physical form of the body is able to be made even smaller than the already relatively small a7 series.
The magnesium alloy body is dust and moisture resistant, however it is not waterproof. The body’s texture and appearance has undergone the same style revision as the a7-series cameras did when moving into the Mark II versions. The smooth shininess of the a6000 is now lightly texturized and less glossy, making it appear less cheap in my eyes. The a6300 has an upgraded reinforced lens mount structure and a new shutter release button and mode dial. The viewfinder is now 2.36 megapixels and can be set to display at a smooth 120 frames-per-second which looks excellent, especially when framing up action shots.
The button layout of the a6300 has not changed much from the a6000 other than adding a switch toggle to the AEL button, allowing it to flip between AF/MF and AEL controls now. Many of the physical buttons on the camera can be customized through the menu system to get the controls you care about at your fingertips, however you may find yourself wishing there were more buttons in general on the camera. At first I thought the same thing, but after a short adjustment period of working with less it really wasn’t bad. There are nine customizable buttons on the camera, which is where all my critical controls were set to. Then under the function button (Fn), which holds 12 secondary control options, I set up my other important but not ultra time-sensitive controls.
One of the biggest headline features of the Sony a6300 is the autofocus system. Designed with a remarkable 425 phase-detection autofocus points spread over the entire image area, it achieves a good amount of freedom to capture subjects wherever they may be within the frame. The autofocus system is also responds very fast — 0.05 seconds fast. This is an attractive piece of information for sports and action photography up-and-comers who are looking for the best camera for the best deal. Combining the widespread AF points with extremely fast focusing and Sony’s well-programmed Eye AF and face detection, the a6300 can be a treat to work with when photographing people.
The autofocus coverage density also opens up some interesting abilities to motion track moving objects going from one side of the frame to the other. Combined with the top speed of 11 frames-per-second shooting bursts, it’s almost silly how easy it is to come through with a successful shot from the burst group. When shooting at its full resolution 24.2 megapixels, the a6300 can shoot 11 frames-per-second for up to 21 frames in raw or 44 frames in JPEG. Keep in mind, however, that if you choose to go with 8 fps instead, the a6300 will allow you to see live view action between minimal blackout much like a DSLR.
One issue that I experienced while photographing action with the first batch of the a6300s is that while being very fast to obtain focus and lock into an object, it wouldn’t always focus on the correct thing in the frame. At its worst, the one object I wanted to get focus on was the only object in my frame in motion — something I hope would be a red flag to the camera that that is the object I want — and yet it would lock on to a stationary object. For me it was always something in the frame much brighter than the object, such as hot white wake boarding ramps in midday sun or specular highlights from water. Luckily, this just seems to be something that can be reexamined by Sony engineers and improved with a future firmware update, and I do know that Sony is already aware of this issue.
The second issue with action photography using these Sony cameras is the slow buffer speeds. You can fire away in the lengthy bursts mentioned above, but you are going to have to wait to review any of your images. How long do you have to wait? Who knows, as the camera will give you no indication of how many images are left in the buffer. This becomes even more frustrating if you are shooting an event in bursts every 30 seconds or so, because the buffer might not be cleared before you have to fire off again leading you down a blind path of never being able to double-check things until an extended lull in the action.
Again, much like the latest Sony a7 Mark II offerings, the a6300 has taken to using copper wiring in a thinner layer with a larger photo-diode in its sensor to improve efficiency. This translates into an expanded ISO range in the a6300 over the a6000 as well as less noise and more fine details in low light. In my time with the camera, I found ISO 6,400 was about the highest I was comfortable going to in order to retain enough good image quality where I could still push and pull the files in post-processing. If you so choose, the a6300 will allow you to go up to ISO 51,200.
For video, the a6300 has been set up with 4K recording and high-frame-rate capabilities. Using 20 megapixels of image data off its sensor, or a 6K video equivalent, it is then condensed down into a 4K video with no pixel binning. The downsampling from 6K to 4K is claimed to improve resolution within the video, much like how taking a 36-megapixel photo and sizing it to 12 megapixels can typically show more clarity comparing it to a photo shot right at 12 megapixels. Shooting 120 fps at 100 Mbps XAVC S is possible in Full HD 1080p resolution, but the camera’s best video quality is going to be from shooting standard speed 4K at 24p. The a6300 has a base video ISO of 800 and capable of S-Log3, customizable zebra function, time code and user bit functions, uncompressed HDMI output, and has a microphone jack for audio. Unfortunately there is no headphone jack which may make some avid filmmakers weary.
The Sony a6300 includes Wi-Fi and NFC for easy access to your images on the go. Through Sony’s PlayMemories app (iOS | Android), you can save JPEG photos to your mobile device as original full resolution, 2 MB (1920 x 1080px), or VGA (800 x 600px). This works great for those that want to share to their social media accounts what they are up to at the moment without having to transfer over their entire memory cards to a computer long after you’ve already wrapped up.
Priced at a reasonable $999, Sony is taking aim at a very large number of camera consumers who are hobbyists, up-and-comers, or professionals looking into second or third camera options for say their main a7RII which costs more than triple the price of a a6300. It’s obvious that Sony is looking to recapture the fire behind the very successful a6000, and with heavy improvements made all around in the a6300 it’s refreshing to see the company continue to make big leaps instead of small footsteps when they refresh a product. The lack of in-body 5-axis image stabilization is one of the biggest differences when comparing the camera to the a7II series. If we look at the a6300 as an action shooter however, which seems to be the way it's been marketed, it can be understood that high shutter speeds aren’t benefitting from image stabilization anyways, and instead there can be improvements made to high ISO image quality and also maintain the sub-$1,000 price point.