Sony Alpha A6300 Digital Camera Review
Newer. Better. Faster. Stronger.
In 2014, Sony launched what would soon become one of the most successful mirrorless cameras ever sold: the Sony Alpha A6000. The A6000 was built on a simple premise: a compact interchangeable lens camera with big performance and an extremely affordable price tag. In the two years that it has reigned as Sony's mid-range champion, photographers have been anxiously awaiting a follow-up to the camera.
Well Sony has finally opened the curtain to reveal the new Sony Alpha A6300 (MSRP $999 body-only). While it's similar in design to the A6000, it sports an improved sensor, blazing-fast autofocus speeds, 11 frames per second burst shooting, and the ability to record 4K video. While Sony has billed it as the successor to the A6000, we think it's more like a big brother–largely due to the improved performance and, subsequently, the inflated price.
Even with the price increase, the A6300 doesn't shortchange users on performance, as it's simply one of the best mirrorless cameras we've tested to date. But as a result it's competing with much more expensive cameras than the A6000 ever did, such as the Fujifilm X-Pro2, Panasonic GH4, and even its full-frame cousins in the A7 Series. While it might not replicate exactly what made the A6000 great, it's so good it'll likely pave its own road to success.
Design & Handling
When we reviewed the Sony Alpha A6000 back in 2014, we were impressed by Sony's ability to combine power and size so efficiently. However, in the years since the A6000 released, it's become more commonplace for petite cameras to pack a punch. Sony's competitors–such as Fujifilm and Olympus–have turned mirrorless cameras into a medium for showing off more elegant, retro style and premium build quality, as well as high performance.
In contrast, the A6300 comes across rather simple and minimalistic. It's control layout is almost identical to the A6000, but with the addition of a switch that functions as an AF/MF toggle and AE lock. The top plates is home to just a mode dial and a single command dial as well as the shutter release, power switch, and custom button canted forward atop the grip. And the rear layout is a standard array with a command dial and a few dedicated buttons for trash, playback, and menus.
I suppose my real complaint about the A6300 design is it simply lacks character–something I see across most of Sony's cameras. They're incredible cameras from a tech standpoint, but it simply lacks an aesthetic that makes me excited to use it. Cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II or the Fujifilm X-Pro2 are not only more aesthetically pleasing, but they offer more utility in the form of additional dials. To be frank, cameras are so competitive with each other these days, that just performing well isn’t going to cut it—it needs to look good as well. Maybe it's because Sony doesn't have a classic '70s SLR design to borrow from, but the result is a camera lineup that doesn't feel as distinctive as the competition.
Sony did a great job leveraging its ability to make impressive displays by giving the A6300 a 2.4 million-dot OLED EVF. You also now have the option to up the refresh rate to a whopping 120 fps–ensuring you won't miss any of the action. That higher refresh rate is thanks to a faster imaging readout from the sensor, something I'll discuss more in the performance section. The contrast boost can sometimes make images look a little punchier on-camera than when they make it to your computer, but it's still an absolute pleasure to shoot with.
The A6300 is a little more rugged than the A6000 since Sony ditched the glossy finish and went with the matte look from the Sony A7 Mark II. The body is also made entirely out of magnesium, unlike the A6000, which had more plastic in the frame. These changes make it feel sturdier, though Sony was clear that they don't consider the body weather-sealed or anything.
Video shooters will be glad to hear that the A6300 finally includes a mic jack, the first Sony APS-C mirrorless camera since the Sony Alpha NEX-7 to include one. There is however a slight hack to get a headphone jack, but it requires purchasing Sony's UWPD11/42 Lavalier Wireless Microphone System for a cool $600. The receiver simply pops into the proprietary hotshoe of the A6300. That's a steep price to pay for monitoring your audio. If you're that serious about it, I say pick up a Panasonic GH4 and be done with it.
As the long-awaited successor of the widely-loved A6000, the A6300 has a huge shadow cast over it. That said Sony didn't wait two years to release a slightly better version of the A6000, it made sure the A6300 had all the tools to surpass its predecessor in almost every category.
The same tag team of Sony's 24-megapixel CMOS image sensor and BIONZ X image processor return in A6300, but with some key improvements. The sensor now has faster readout performance and a better signal-to-noise ratio thanks to a switch to copper wiring. This didn't change the base ISO range (100-25,600), but users can now access ISO 51,200 without having to tap into the Multi-frame Noise Reduction. I will say that images are still a bit noisy if you're not using any noise reduction settings, so I recommend keeping it set to "low" if you plan on shooting above ISO 1,600.
Believe it or not Sony claims that it has once again set the bar for autofocusing speed–something the A6000 did two years ago with a 0.06 second focusing time. It claims that the new A6300 has shaved another hundredth of a second off for 0.05 seconds to focus. Obviously that's going to be unnoticeable in a real life situation, but credit should be given where it's due. Sony is really pushing focus speeds to the upper limits and that's something that is necessary for camera companies to stay hungry for better performance.
That fast focusing speed pairs well with the improved burst rate. It still tops out at 11 fps (even with both continuous autofocus and exposure tracking), but the mid-range burst setting has been raised from 6 to 8 fps. Additionally, thanks to the improved EVF refresh rate that I spoke about in the design section, shooting in the "Hi" burst mode feels more like using an optical view finder than ever before. With most mirrorless cameras the shutter can go to black or freeze when you take a photo, so you can lose site of what you're shooting. With the A6300 you get an experience similar to an optical finder, letting you track subjects more efficiently.
Another area that the A6300 really shines is video. The 4K video produced by this camera is absolutely stellar, sharper than most 4K footage I've tested to date–with a kit lens no less. It downsamples a 20-megapixel image into an 8-megapixel image instead of binning pixels like some mirrorless cameras, better preserving resolution. While it tops out at 4K/30p, you can also capture HD footage at 120 fps, making it great for turning action sequences into slow-mo.
Needless to say, there are a plethora of options for capturing footage in both 4K and HD. But if you really want to step it up, use Sony's S-LOG 3 feature, which claims to offer 14 stops of dynamic range, and S-Gamut 3 for a wider color space. Granted these will require you to edit the footage for it to look good, but they offer a much wider range of footage for editors to work with.
The one thing I disliked most was the kit lens. I'm not a fan of power lenses for a number or reasons, but mainly it just isn't that sharp. It will absolutely get the job done (as you can see in the samples above), but Sony has plenty of better lenses–especially primes–that will give you better results. And if you really want to go all out on the A6300, you can now use the 425 phase-detect autofocus points with the adapted Sony Alpha-mount lenses. Just pick up the LA-EA4 35 mm Full-Frame A-Mount Adapter and you nearly double the amount of lenses available to you.
It's easy to say that technically the A6300 has surpassed the A6000 on almost every front. But is that really a fair comparison? With a body only price of $1,000 (compared to only $650 for the A6000 at launch), it's simply in another league, and likely appealing to a different buyer.
But for those who are in this part of the market, this is one of the most technically proficient mirrorless cameras on the market right now, and it's quite a bit cheaper than similar cameras like the Fujifilm X-Pro2 or Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. It is a little more expensive than the new Panasonic GX85, but you do get a larger APS-C sensor and superior autofocus with moving subjects.
Video users might be tempted to pick up the A6300 for the stellar 4K video, 1080/120p, and blazing fast focus speeds. However, the lack of a headphone jack and other quality of life features that are optimized for video could be a turn off. It's getting a little long in the tooth, but the Panasonic GH4 still reigns supreme there. It has way more video-centric features and can even output 10-bit 4:2:2 uncompress 4K footage from the HDMI port.
Just about the only people who are likely to be disappointed with the A6300 are people hoping that these kinds of upgrades would've been possible closer to the A6000's original launch price. If you've already got an A6000 and want a better camera, you now have to spend quite a bit more to get there. It does raise the question of how long the A6000 will remain on the market, as if it gets discontinued there will be a massive hole in Sony's lineup between the entry-level and the new A6300.
All that aside, Sony has produced an extremely good camera that can compete with the best APS-C models on the market. It may not be a direct successor to the A6000, but it takes everything that camera did well and does it much better. It's more expensive, but for anyone who needs this kind of performance I doubt you'll have many regrets.
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