I have a confession to make: I don’t actually like Sony cameras. If you’ve read my other Sony camera reviews, or my less-restrained rant on the greatness of the A7R II, or about my desire to go mirrorless, then it probably surprises you to read me admit this. But you have to understand: there is sometimes a very large gap between what I like and what is good, and the Sony A6300, the company’s latest APS-C mirrorless camera, is very, very good.
Let me explain how this seemingly contradictory statement actually makes sense: I really like the Olympus PEN-F. It is fun to use, easy to carry around, and, dangit, I love its classic looks. The A6300, however, is not fun to use—and it’s ugly. Its controls feel sloppy in comparison to the Olympus; I constantly changed exposure modes when I meant to adjust my aperture because the two dials are right next to each other and feel almost identical. The shutter speed dial, which encompasses the control pad on the back of the camera, is flimsy and doesn’t provide enough tactile feedback, making it easy to skip over the setting you were looking for.
Don’t even get me started on Sony’s menu system, which still confuses me to this day.
Follow the A6300 around the world with Around Gaia!
Ivana and Manuel are riding a motorbike around the world. We had the pleasure of meeting them when they stopped by Pro Photo Supply to replace their aging camera gear as they were heading north to Alaska. With Sony’s help, we set them up with an A6300 and a couple of compact lenses. It was the perfect camera for such a project!
But when it comes to the photographs themselves, it’s hard not to choose the A6300 over practically any other competing camera. And that’s not just in the aforementioned comparison with the PEN-F, which is a smaller format, but even when compared to other APS-C cameras, including Fujifilm’s beloved X-Series. Here, again, Sony is the less likable brand, but I would still take the A6300 from a results perspective. The sensor itself may not necessarily be better, but the supporting technology is.
This is revealing of Sony’s origins as a tech company, as opposed to a camera company. I realize the line between those two things has always been blurred, and is especially so today, but there is an obvious difference between Sony’s approach and the approach of companies like Olympus and Fujifilm, whose photographic legacies reach well back into the film era. The latter seem to have a much more intuitive grasp of the “why” of photography, which they express through their product design. Sony is exceedingly confident in the “how,” which shows up in the speed and complexity of the tech that powers their cameras.
To that end, while the A6300 is certainly not the most enjoyable camera I’ve ever used, it is one of the most confident, mirrorless or otherwise.
A lot of this confidence comes down to the new autofocus system, which puts 425 phase-detection AF points across the sensor. That’s enough points that they literally span the entire frame from left edge to right edge. Every point works via phase-detection, meaning the dreaded AF “hunting” typical of older mirrorless cameras is all but eliminated.
Sony also claims it is the fastest autofocus in the world among APS-C, interchangeable-lens cameras. I didn’t bother to measure it, but I can confirm that is ridiculously quick. In fact, the camera often achieved focus and fired the shutter before I could even perceive that the shot was in focus. This was true even when focusing on a moving subject. There were a few misses here and there, but no more than what I would expect from a DSLR.
The one downside to the AF system comes from what I can only imagine was some sort of compromise to keep the price so low: there is no touchscreen. This means focus points can only be manipulated using the directional buttons, which is a tad laborious at times given the sheer number of points and range that they cover. It would also be nice to be able to touch on different parts of the screen to perform a rack focus in video, as is possible on many other cameras today.
Autofocus isn’t the only area where the A6300 shows off its speed. When it comes to continuous shooting, it can churn out 8 frames per second with continuous AF and live view. Give up live view, and the speed bumps up to 11 fps. I didn’t have the chance to test it in a proper environment, but a full-width, phase-detect AF system combined with that kind of shooting speed could offer incredible value for action/sports photographers, especially snowboard or ski photographers who need to travel as light as possible.
On that note, should you decide to take this camera up to the slopes, Sony also promises “improved” dust and moisture resistance. I’m not sure if that means the camera is fully weather sealed or not, and I’ve yet to see a test, but I expect you won’t have to worry about light rain or snow.
Battery life is always a shortcoming of mirrorless cameras, but Sony has actually made improvements here, as well. The CIPA rating of 400 exposures puts the A6300 about 10% higher than the A6000, and 110 shots more than the dismal rating for the full-frame A7R II. And really, 400 shots is about as good as it gets in the mirrorless world right now.
As with any new Sony, the still photography features are only half the story. In the video department, the A6300 does not disappoint. It is leagues above the competition at this price point, and even includes features that not long ago lived only in the realm of dedicated cinema cameras.
To start things off, the APS-C sensor matches the frame size of Super35 motion picture film, and the camera records the full width of that sensor thanks to some clever engineering. It reads 6K resolution, processing every pixel from edge to edge, and outputs 4K, for incredibly sharp, cinema-quality video at 24p or 30p. Drop down to 1080 HD resolution, and it can shoot up to 120p for slow-motion.
The other big video advantage comes from Sony’s latest logarithmic gamma profile, S-Log3, which allows filmmakers to realize the the full dynamic range potential of the sensor: a claimed 14 stops. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first time we’ve seen a log profile included in a camera at this price. This is huge for indie filmmakers, or even high-budget studios who need “cheap” crash cameras, POV cameras, etc.
Internally, the A6300 shoots video up to 100mbps in the XAVC codec, but clean, uncompressed 4K footage can also be output via HDMI. Whether recording internally or externally, the camera is limited to 8 bits per pixel, however, unlike the Panasonic GH4 and some other cameras that offer 10-bit output. The 8-bit limitation is not unexpected; it is common among all of Sony’s Alpha mirrorless cameras, due to technical reasons that go a bit over my head. That said, I really can’t complain: the results are simply stunning.
Like other CMOS-sensor cameras, the A6300 still suffers from rolling shutter, but in the sample footage I’ve seen, it doesn’t seem worse than any other camera—despite the fact that it’s processing an additional 2K lines of resolution. Videographers have been working around rolling shutter for many years now, so while I look forward the day when we are finally free of this headache, it’s not a reason to avoid using the A6300 as a primary camera for video.
Unfortunately, and unlike the higher-priced A7R II and A7S II, the A6300 does not have in-body image stabilization (IBIS). Many Sony lenses have Optical Steady Shot (OSS) built in, but IBIS is great for video as it allows for smooth, handheld shooting even with legacy manual lenses from Nikon, Canon, Leica, and others which can be easily adapted to fit Sony’s E mount. Maybe there just wasn’t enough room in the camera, or maybe this was another cost-saving measure, but it is the only thing about the A6300 that felt like a letdown to me.
The only other thing lacking on the video front is a headphone jack. This would have been such a trivial thing to include given everything else that makes the A6300 so attractive to video shooters. I can’t imagine a headphone jack costs a lot of money, so my guess is it was left out in order to create greater separation between this and Sony’s higher-end models. It does have a standard 3.5mm microphone input, at least.
Looking beyond these shortcomings, the A6300 is still a camera with best-in-class still image quality, Hollywood-caliber cinematic video, a revolutionary autofocus system, incredible high-speed shooting, and a compact design that makes it approachable to just about anyone.
This is when I triple-check the price and confirm that, yes, the A6300 starts at just $999 for the body. Quite frankly, that’s astounding.
This camera is so capable in such a wide variety of settings that it’s impossible not to recommend it to virtually anyone in the market for a new camera with a budget of $1,000. For the professional, enthusiast, or student; videographer or still photographer, it could be all the camera you need.
The A6300 is proof, again, that Sony is not afraid to innovate. On both features and price, Sony is creating and driving competition. This is quite possibly the most well-rounded camera I’ve ever tested, and it offers unprecedented value. It may not have the heart and soul of a Fuji or an Olympus, but it makes up for it with a very smart brain.
Product photos by Daniel Sloan.
- Studio 75%
- Photojournalism 82%
- Travel 76%
- Casual 78%
- Filmmaking 78%
This is our assessment of a camera’s usability based on both objective and subjective measurements in four categories. Each category’s score is a function of all measurements, but with different weights.
Studio – A high rating in this category means a camera is well-suited to use in a studio environment, where size and weight don’t matter and lighting can be fully controlled. This score is most affected by resolution, while ISO sensitivity and cost are negligible.
Photojournalism – Cameras that perform well in this category are generally good for concerts, weddings, sports, and travel photography. This score is most affected by ISO sensitivity, build quality, and performance (AF and continuous shooting speed, battery life), while resolution is negligible.
Travel – Above all else, a good travel camera is one you can take with you anywhere. Size and weight matter most to this category, while build quality and ISO sensitivity are also important.
Casual – A casual-use camera is one that you can easily carry with you and is great for family pictures, vacations, hiking, etc. This score is most strongly affected by size, weight, and cost.
Filmmaking – This score looks at all the video features of a camera, such as video resolution, frame rates, and audio inputs and outputs. Keep in mind, this score is provided in the context of a camera being reviewed for its still photography first. A high score in this area does not necessarily mean you should shoot your next blockbuster indie skate rap video on this camera.