Jordan Drake’s Take on the Sony A6300 Hands-On Field Test

  By Jordan Drake

It’s been a long time coming. After a deluge of new camera releases from Sony, they finally updated the most popular camera in the line-up, the A6000. This was easily the most well rounded sub-$1000 mirrorless camera on the market. It had been out for two years, which is equivalent to two decades in Sony release cycles. I love my A6000, but with my son starting to move faster, I wanted an upgrade on the low-light autofocus and some improved video capability. The A6300 is Sony’s attempt to address those areas, and a few others as well. Chris and I were able to look at pre-production A6300 in New York earlier in February but we weren’t able to put a card in the camera. To check out the full production quality camera, Sony invited us to Miami to run some tests. The major things I was curious about were the new autofocus system and improved video capabilities.

First things first, the Sony A6300 looks almost identical to the previous A6000, but it quite a bit heftier, owing to the new weather sealing in the body. The interface is the same, and that means the return of the dreaded Sony menu system, but the external controls and customization will help you stay out of those as much as possible. The electronic viewfinder looks the same externally, but it’s now much sharper and has no noticeable lag.

Let’s talk about autofocus, the thing everyone seems to be the most curious about. I was very impressed with the AF of the Sony A6000, but mostly if my subject was moving towards me at a constant rate. You can see how well this worked in our Great Mirrorless Autofocus Shootout. However, erratically moving subject could really mess with the camera, so I found myself still using a DSLR for shooting most demanding subjects. Now, the Sony 6300 has 425 AF points, and a much faster, more intelligent system. Chris had the chance to shoot a huge variety of tough scenarios, and the A6300 performed extremely well. We even brought along a Canon 7D II, one of our favourite focusers, to compare. We sorted through an enormous number of shots and found that the hit rate was nearly identical between the two cameras. We even tried shooting action with the new GM 85mm F1.4 lens, with insanely shallow depth of field, and our subject was nearly always in focus. One feature I love is the continuous eye-detect AF brought over from the A7R II. I shot a series of portraits of my son with this feature activated on the A7R II a few months ago, and every image out of over 100 was in perfect focus. It seems to work even better on the A6300!

In my opinion, the biggest improvement for stills shooters on the A6300 is way the camera displays subjects while shooting in burst mode. Most mirrorless cameras simply show you the last shot you took, making it very difficult to follow your subject. The A6300 functions like a DSLR, showing you action is it’s happening, with only a very short blackout as a shot is captured. This is a huge advantage, and it makes the process of shooting burst feel much more organic and less ‘digital’ than other mirrorless cameras.

All that photo stuff is well and good, but what I was really curious about was the new video features. The A6000 was great for the odd snapshot, but it was never my primary video camera, due to the lack of a mic input and the limited dynamic range in the video clips.  Now the A6300 adds S-Log recording, allowing me to capture more shadow and highlight detail, a mic input, and beautiful 4K recording. One odd quirk, the 4K recording is best at 24 frames per second. At 30 frames there is a significant crop factor and increase in shadow noise. Fortunately, I’ve been shooting all my home videos at 24P so that aesthetic can continue. For TCSTV, which is generally shot at 30P, I may think twice before grabbing the A6300 in low light.

The addition of a mic input is a big deal, as I was limited to Sony brand hotshoe mics for the A6000. Now I can plug my other mics and wireless kits into the A6300. Despite Sony’s apparent attempt to woo us audiophiles, though, there is no headphone jack! For this reason, I’d avoid using a wireless system unless you can find another way to monitor the audio for clothes rubbing, interference, etc.

I was incredibly impressed with the 4K/24P footage from the A6300, it looks almost identical to Super 35 recording from the Sony A7R II, a $4000 camera! Dynamic range is excellent, and the image very usable to 6400 ISO.  One complaint I do have to make is that there is quite a bit of rolling shutter ‘jello’ in the image, which is exacerbated by the lack of built in stabilization. Try to use stabilized lenses, or keep the camera on a tripod or monopod for best results.

Sorry, I got a little worked up over the video there, but I’m really excited about the improvements! I can see a huge number of advantages to upgrading my A6000 to the new unit, as the autofocus, durability, viewfinder and video features are all going to be incredibly useful for my style of shooting. If these features sound compelling to you, definitely check out the Sony A6300 when it hits stores in a couple weeks!