Few camera manufacturers have done as much as Sony has to establish the mirrorless camera as a serious alternative to the digital SLR over the past decade. The company is often accused of having too many competing models on the market at any given time, with only the price and a confused marketing department to try and tell them apart.
Following on from the massively popular A6000 comes the A6300, a small interchangeable mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor, 4K video capabilities, and more features than most enthusiasts will ever need — for about $1150 with a kit lens (UK).
If you’ve never taken mirrorless cameras seriously before, the Sony A6300 might just make you think again.
Small Package, Big Features
The first thing that you’ll notice about the A6300 is its size. Despite having an APS-C sized sensor more commonly found on entry to mid-level digital SLRs, the A6300 is smaller than the Canon PowerShot in your dad’s desk drawer, at 120 x 66.9 x 48.8 mm for the body. It weighs just over 400g including battery and memory card, but things will obviously get bulkier and heavier depending on the lens you’re shooting with.
The camera features a dust and moisture-resistant magnesium alloy body, which gives it a solid feel in the hand while still being lightweight. The camera is compatible with E-mount and FE-mount lenses, the latter of which are pricier on account of their intended use with Sony’s pricier full-frame cameras. The camera even features an in-built pop-up flash, which sits perfectly flush with the body, alongside a hotshoe mount for external speedlights, microphones, lights, and other accessories.
The power and ability to size ratio is impressive right off the bat. It’s surprising how far mirrorless cameras have come to provide such a high level of performance in such a tiny package, one of the reasons this model’s predecessor was such a popular choice. It is worth noting that the A6000 launched at around $800 with a kit lens, which is about $250 cheaper than what the A6300 is currently going for.
Being a mirrorless camera, there’s no true optical viewfinder like you’d find on a digital SLR. Instead the A6300 features an electronic viewfinder (EVF) alongside a 7.5cm TFT screen that uses a 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. The screen swivels forwards to a 180º angle so you can point and shoot from above, but there’s no ability to pull it out completely for taking selfies (you can use your smartphone to trigger the camera remotely, though).
There’s also no touchscreen, which is odd because it’s a feature we’ve all gotten used to on our smartphones by now. Fortunately the EVF is fast, bright, and automatically disables the screen when in use thanks to its proximity sensor. With a size of 1cm, the XGA OLED EVF features a 120hz refresh rate which is great for tracking fast-moving targets, shooting video, and seeing exactly what you’re pointed at even in the brightest of conditions.
There’s only one main adjustment dial on the A6300, which sits alongside the mode-select dial and shutter release at the top of the camera. There’s also a jog wheel on the back of the camera, which can be used to adjust exposure value (EV), and other functions like (shutter speed) depending on the mode you are using. Another dedicated dial would be nice, and the subdued approach Sony has taken in this regard may be of concern to serious still shooters.
There are only two custom buttons (C1 and C2), alongside a Function menu which can be customized to put features within a few taps. There are also two dedicated custom modes on the mode dial. For video the A6300 uses a dedicated movie button on the rear-right corner of the unit to start and stop recording (accessible in any mode) — it sits at an awkward angle for my large hands, and I have to loosen my grip on the camera slightly in order to hit it.
None of the buttons light up, which can make using the A6300 in complete darkness a little tricky to start with. One of the upsides to having so few buttons and dials is that you get used to where everything is pretty quickly, in my case a day of shooting. The same is true for the size — the camera feels compact coming from even a small SLR, but you soon get used to it.
Unfortunately a lack of buttons mean you might have to spend some time in the A6300’s complicated menu system. This is nothing new — Sony has been using tabs within tabs on its cameras for years, and this time round things haven’t gotten any simpler. There are a lot of features, and you’ll just have to sit down and learn what each thing does till you’ve mastered it. Fortunately you can put your most oft-used features on a menu activated using the Fn button on the back of the camera.
In the box you’ll find the unit itself, a kit lens (unless you go for the body-only option) which is already attached to the camera, a viewfinder eye cup, and possibly the world’s most uncomfortable neck strap. While the camera and kit lens feels pretty light around your neck, the strap is sharp and uncomfortable unless you can tuck it behind a collar or hood.
No Mirror Necessary
The main difference between a camera like the A6300 and a digital SLR is the lack of a mirror. On an SLR this mirror provides a through-the-lens view, so you see exactly what the sensor sees when you hit the shutter button. Mirrorless cameras must use an electronic viewfinder — which provides a video feed rather than a reflected image — to provide similar functionality.
While Sony has done an impressive job of providing an EVF that is fast, bright, and accurate; it’s still an EVF — and that means added battery drain compared with an SLR. Though the EVF isn’t running constantly (the camera chooses whether to use the live view TFT screen or the EVF), a sensitive proximity sensor on the back of the unit can result in the screen randomly cutting out if you’re shooting from the hip and your clothing or body gets a bit too close.
For this reason, mirrorless cameras often feel more “digital” than their SLR counterparts, and this is definitely the case with the A6300. In general using the camera feels like less of a manual operation, and there’s certainly more of a reliance on menus than dedicated buttons as you’d find on a mid-to-high-range SLR.
While many new digital SLRs feature image stabilization within the camera (as does Sony’s A7 mirrorless series), the A6300 omits the feature and instead uses lenses that include the company’s Optical Steady Shot technology. The feature works well for handheld video or shooting in the dark without a tripod, but isn’t featured on every compatible lens — particularly cheaper third party ones.
But despite the obvious differences, the A6300 takes the fight to the mirror by providing many of the digital SLR mainstays in a much more compact package: a 24.2 megapixel APS-C Exmor sensor the same BIONZ X image processor found in their top-end full frame cameras, 11 frames per second continuous drive, RAW file support (albeit compressed), and a choice of lenses and focal lengths.
That sensor produces images which are the same size as many full-frame SLRs, resulting in 25MB RAW files. The big improvement over the A6000 is the use of copper wiring in the sensor to capture even more light, which results in impressive low light performance and a maximum ISO of 51200. Shooting in very low light with the not-particularly-fast kit lens, I was constantly surprised how clean the resulting images are.
One of the A6300’s biggest claims to fame is its autofocus system, which Sony claims is the fastest in the world at a speed of 0.05 seconds. This is traditionally an area in which digital SLRs dominated, but that day has come and gone. The sensor features 425 AF points with phase-detection for tracking moving subjects with startling precision, even in video mode. That’s 7.5 times better than the A6000, and it really works. Best of all the feature mitigates the “focus hunting” that plagues videographers who choose digital SLRs or mirrorless cameras.
A feature called Eye-AF actively looks for and tracks a subjects eyes, and while it sounds like a gimmick it actually works very well. You can of course go manual too — the A6300 features a manual focus assist which magnifies the viewfinder to better help you pick a point of focus. You can lock focus or exposure using a dedicated button and toggle switch on the back, a feature most digital SLR faithfuls expect to see. The lack of a touchscreen means there’s no tap to focus though.
Shooting with the A6300
The size of the camera lends itself well to particular styles of photography, but will probably appeal to anyone who appreciates carrying less equipment and a lighter camera body around with them. Street photographers and anyone who’s ever wanted to give it a go will appreciate the discreet nature of shooting mirrorless with an A6300, particularly when paired with the camera’s noiseless “silent mode.”
The camera itself isn’t going to provide instant confidence on the street, and nor will it necessarily improve your photography (you’ll have to conquer those areas yourself), but I felt far less conspicuous shooting with the A6300 — particularly from hip height with the TFT tilted screen. This pushed me to take more daring shots, allowed me to get closer than I would with a large SLR glued to my face, and got me excited about street photography again.
There’s a lot to be said bout using a less conspicuous camera, whether you’re trying to capture strangers on the street or shooting a children’s birthday party. By virtue of the fact that it’s so small, I’ve felt more inclined to actually take the camera out of the house with me — which may say more about me than the camera, but I doubt I’m alone. Travel photographers, or travellers who want to shoot high quality images who are tight on space will also appreciate the high performance in a small package.
There’s also virtually no shutter lag (and if there is, it’s imperceptible), and there’s a satisfying click when you squeeze the shutter (unless you go silent). I’ve found myself shooting in programmed auto (P mode) a lot, with some time spent in aperture priority for accentuating depth of field and shutter priority when I want some movement in the shots. While doing so I’ve developed great trust not only in the camera’s ability to meter for light and pick white balance (setting custom white balance is a cinch too), but also focus quickly and accurately.
There’s a large amount of manual control there if you want it, but I found that the end results within the A6300’s 25MB RAW files are impressive to say the least. Your choice of lens is much more important than many of the on-camera settings, but you can limit max ISO, choose from several different AF and metering modes, and manually adjust EV if you want to.
Possibly the biggest grip for would-be SLR shooters switching to a mirrorless system like the A6300 is battery constraints, and the A6300 doesn’t make any leaps in this department. The relatively small 1020mAh removable battery is good for 400 shots (350 if you’re using the EVF), and that’s pretty disappointing if you’re used to getting thousands of shots on an SLR. You don’t get a battery charger with your camera either, so if you do decide to buy extra batteries (and there are some far more generous after market versions available) you’ll have to charge them in-camera or spend more on a dedicated charger.
This isn’t all bad however. The A6300 charges just like a smartphone, from a USB port using a standard micro USB connector. That means you can charge it from your laptop, via the included wall charger, or by buying a rechargeable smartphone charger and plugging it in wherever you are. This isn’t ideal — the door that covers the connectors has to stay open, and you have to lug a portable battery around with you — but it certainly sweetens the deal when it comes to battery life.
Photo & Video Quality
For the money, the A6300’s APS-C sensor provides results you’d probably expect from a much larger, more expensive camera. The autofocus system is exceptional in good lighting, and very good in low light. JPEG quality is fine if that’s what you’re used to shooting, while Sony’s compressed RAW .ARW files allow you to extract an unbelievable amount of detail from the shadows and highlights.
It’s possible to recover a very “flat” looking image from an underexposed or overexposed shot. If you’re shooting in difficult circumstances — dark alleyways with a fringe of blown out sky, or well-lit streets with dark shadowy corners — the A6300 is rather generous with its dynamic range. I’m able to go crazy with Adobe Camera RAW’s shadows and highlights sliders to pull back an image that’s evenly exposed. This allows you to shoot at lower ISO values, especially useful if you want large, clean prints.
If you’re not bothered about prints, the relatively clean and grain-free higher ISO values let you shoot at a lower aperture (higher f-stop number, expanding your area of focus) or faster shutter speed even in low light. There’s no vibration reduction in the camera, so if you do want to shoot at slower shutter speeds you’ll have to use one of Sony’s lenses with in-built Optical Steady Shot (OSS) like the kit lens I’ve been using.
Video performance is similarly impressive. While HD performance isn’t anything to write home about (due to a wealth of very capable HD cameras — even your smartphone does a good job these days), 4K video uses the A6300’s Super 35 sensor to produce gloriously detailed images in a tiny package. You’ve got a choice of the older AVCD codec, or newer XAVC which records at a higher bitrate, providing more shadow detail and cleaner movement.
You’ll need a fast UHS-I class-3 SDXC or SDHC card to capture 100megabit 4K video, but the results are worth it. Both HD and 4K video capture modes provide a choice of framerates — 24p, 60p, 100p — and bitrates. You can also make use of Sony’s picture profiles for capturing as flat an image as possible, including S-Log2 and S-Log3. There is one possible pitfall to 4K video performance though, and that’s the device’s tendency to overheat.
The problem is well-documented online, and though the camera didn’t flat out refuse to work, it did get warm while shooting 4K footage. There are reports of the A6300 calling it quits after only 15 minutes recording, and as it’s winter here in Australia, I couldn’t test the phenomena on a 40ºc Melbourne day. Some have suggested a firmware update will fix it, others suggest using a USB battery pack or third party grip.
There’s another drawback in the video department too. While HD video recording is pretty good, the rolling shutter or “jello effect” hampers 4K video. The higher the bitrate, the more pronounced the effect. It will only affect fast pans or footage where the camera operator is moving (like shooting video while in a moving vehicle) but it’s pretty pronounced. Post processing can help to fix this, but it’s probably something Sony should focus on in the next revision.
Even with these misgivings, under the right situation the A6300 is still a very capable video camera. Interchangeable lenses provide a large focal range to play with (up to around 200mm anyway), and the dynamic range is just short of what Sony’s A7 series offers for a third of the price. If you’re not shooting fast subjects or action, the footage will bring a smile to your face and is perfect for video bloggers, interviews, and getting into tight spaces where conventional digital SLRs and larger cameras don’t fit.
Switching to Sony
Compared to long-established photographic systems that have come to be known as Canikon on Internet comment sections the world over, Sony is a relative newcomer to the world of mid to high end digital photography. After a brief foray with digital SLRs, the company is putting most of its eggs in the mirrorless basket with its A7 series and “prosumer” A6300 accounting for the majority of the interest in the company’s still and video offerings.
As such, many enthusiasts who have relied on the mirror may be tempted by a discreet mirrorless setup that offers high quality photo and video in a smaller package. In this case it’s an APS-C package, which means a crop factor comes into play when you’re looking at lenses. The A6300 will increase focal range by 1.5x — so a 35mm lens effectively becomes a 52.5mm lens.
The A6300 uses the Sony E mount, which allows you to mount E and FE series lenses. The E series is designed specifically for APS-C sized cameras, though the focal crop of 1.5x still applies. The FE series are designed for Sony’s full-frame E-mount cameras, like the A7 and its derivatives. If you stick an E-mount lens on a full frame camera, you’ll get a black ring around the edge of the image and you’ll need to use the camera’s crop mode to get rid of it.
That’s because the E series lenses are a lot smaller, playing up to the compact nature of a small mirrorless camera. You can buy an A6300 body only for $998, and you can have the same camera with a Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens for an extra $150. Considering this lens retails for around $350 (UK) on its own, the kit is well worth it.
The 16-50 is a power-zoom, which means it collapses down to a relatively small size when you turn the camera off. It’s incredibly versatile, providing an effective focal length of 24–75mm in 35mm terms. There’s a single ring which can be used to zoom (regular behaviour) or as a focus ring (in manual mode, or while holding the MF button). There’s also a slider for zooming in and out on the side.
It isn’t the sharpest E-mount out there, and there’s a certain softness around the edge of the frame at its widest points (above). Zoomed in and these all but disappear, though you’d be forgiven for spending a lot of time taking wide-angle shots given the versatility of the lens on offer. There’s also some noticeable vignetting at the widest point (below), but zooming in to the 18mm or 20mm mark will get rid of that. You can also very easily fix this, along with the perspective distortion, in post.
The lens features Sony’s OSS built right into the lens, and I was able to shoot handheld at relatively slow shutter speeds (around 1/30) with no blurring. The feature is great for video too, which I tested by holding the camera in my hand while cycling. The maximum aperture of f/3.5 is pretty standard on a kit lens, and while the bokeh isn’t amazing that’s more than enough to throw the background out of focus and draw the eye towards the subject of your shot.
If you are thinking of switching to mirrorless, then Sony is your best bet at this stage. You’ll also be looking at a smaller APS-C sensor, unless you’re looking at spending a few thousand more on an A7 camera — and the AF is better on the A6300 at present. In that case, you’ll need to consider your options in terms of lenses.
The E-mount is relatively new, and as such there’s not a huge number of lenses to choose from at this stage. You can mount FE lenses on your A6300 too, but you’ll be spending considerably more money on glass you can’t make full use of (ideal if you plan to go full frame at some point in the future, though). There are a decent range of fast prime lenses (Sony’s 35mm and 50mm f/1.8s, and a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 which has gotten great reviews) as well as a decent number of versatile zooms (like Sony’s own 18-105mm f/4 with OSS).
However if you’re into sports or action photography, and need a large focal length that goes beyond what the Sony 18-200mm (around $850) or 55-210mm (around $350) offers then you’re out of luck at this stage. If you have a large budget then there are some very fast and expensive lenses on offer, like the Vario-Tessar 16-70mm F4 OSS with Zeiss optics (UK) which costs as much as the camera itself, but nothing that will satisfy serious sports or wildlife enthusiasts.
You can also find adapters for existing lens systems that allow you to use your old lenses on newer sony cameras, but keep in mind that many of these add bulk to a system that shines for its compact nature. The A6300 is only as compact as the lens you’re using, and a set of shorter primes or versatile E mount zooms in essence help define who this camera is for.
A Promising Future
What Sony is now delivering in such a small package is enough to tempt many away from bulkier, pricier digital SLRs — and with good reason. If you purchased an entry to mid-range SLR five or more years ago, there’s a good chance the A6300 is an all-round better camera (sorry about that). Poor battery life and a limited set of lenses aside, the only real consideration to make is whether or not you need instant-startup or focal lengths greater than 210mm. For most amateur, enthusiasts, and many pro-level shooters, the answer will be no, and the Sony A6300 ticks a lot of boxes.
But jumping ship from an existing photographic system presents another problem entirely — whether Sony has done enough to convince you will depend on your circumstances. One thing’s for sure: the future for compact jack-of-all-trades mirrorless cameras is looking bright.
If you have no prior commitments to another photo system, the A6300 won’t disappoint you for the money — but a lack of long focal lengths and a slightly-flawed approach means this camera isn’t ready to replace everyone’s SLR just yet.