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Sony has spent recent years charging full steam ahead into the full-frame mirrorless camera market. But they have also managed to satisfy the desires of APS-C shooters, mainly through their widely-popular a6000 mid-range mirrorless camera. In March 2016, just two years after the debut of the a6000, Sony released the a6300 with improved features, that still retain many of the characteristics of the older model.
To be clear, Sony doesn’t intend for the a6300 to be a replacement for the a6000, meaning the older camera is still in production and can be purchased at a very attractive price point (around $549.00 for the body only).
Before diving into this review, I want to clarify my digital camera experiences to make my perspective more apparent. The Sony a6300 is the very first mirrorless camera I’ve owned, besides my very brief experiment with the a6000 for comparison purposes. Until recently, I’ve shot almost exclusively with Canon DSLRs, namely the 5D Mark III and 6D. As a result, many of the a6300’s features such as its pop-out LCD screen and electronic viewfinder might seem like standard features to other mirrorless shooters, but for a Canon DSLR user like myself, these are newfound novelties that turned my world upside down. With that being said, let’s move on to the a6300’s specs.
The main improvement with the Sony a6300 is a newly developed sensor with a pixel count of 24MP (same as the a6000) that is packed with a whopping 425 phase-detection AF points, which is significantly higher than the a6000’s 179 AF points. According to Sony, the a6300 has the greatest number of phase-detection points to date, on an interchangeable-lens camera ,and makes the a6300 the camera with the world’s fastest autofocus.
Video is another aspect that Sony upgraded on the a6300, with the inclusion of 4k video recording capabilities, the addition of a mic socket, and the ability to record time code. Besides the autofocus and video systems, the a6300 sees an OLED 2.36M-dot viewfinder, an improvement from the a6000’s OLED 1.44M-dot viewfinder. Battery life is also slightly improved at 400 shots versus 360 shots.
Physically, the a6300 is only 2 ounces heavier than its predecessor, although it feels much more solid with its weather-sealed magnesium alloy build, that was lacking on the a6000. An AEL button with an AF/MF switch has also been conveniently added to the back of the camera, which sports and action shooters should find handy. Other than these few additions, the Sony a6300 doesn’t look or feel much different than the a6000.
Overall, these added features of the a6300 clearly appeal to shooters looking to focus on action, sports, and video.
While discussing the pros and cons of the a6300, it should be noted that many of the same features are also available on the a6000.
As a DSLR shooter, the a6300’s compact size was particularly appealing. While testing the Sony a6300, I used both the kit 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 retractable zoom lens, and the Sony 20mm f/2.0 pancake lens, and was amazed that both were incredibly lightweight and basically the same size. There is of course, the trade-off of both lenses being made of plastic and not feeling as robust as say a Fujifilm lens, but they both perform very well and weigh close to nothing. Pairing either lens with the a6300 makes for a very compact, low-profile camera system that is perfect for travel.
While many DSLRs offer a Silent Shutter that is still quite noisy, the a6300’s silent shutter feature makes the camera so quiet you wouldn’t even know a photo was being taken. It’s a great feature for undercover or candid photography moments when you truly want no sound associated with taking a photo. With that said, non-silent shooting on the a63000 produces a very crisp shutter snap, especially when firing away at the camera’s highest shutter speed of 11 frames per second.
After consistently trying, and failing, to take advantage of panoramic shooting on a variety of devices from point and shoots to cell phone cameras, I was beginning to think that on-the-go panoramic shooting was a myth, until I tried it with the a6300. Unlike other devices, the a6300 will shoot and stitch together a near-perfect horizontal or vertical panorama even when your manual panning isn’t spot on. There were a few times when the camera insisted that I wasn’t panning straight enough to make a clear pano shot, but most of the time even my wobbly panning techniques were good enough for the a6300 to make sense of.
Easily two of the best features of the a6300 are the Face Registration and Eye AF (autofocus) features, which do pretty much what their names imply. Activating Face Registration allows you to program the a6300 to recognize and prioritize up to eight faces. This feature is incredibly handy when shooting a crowd of people, and the a6300’s accuracy of picking out the correct face is astounding. Eye AF works very similarly, but without the need to register (program them in) the eyes. Simply enable Eye AF on the a6300 and the camera will automatically search for your subject’s eyes and track them using continuous autofocus. This feature is so spot-on that the a6300 will even lock onto artistic renderings of eyes, such as a painted portrait.
Like most newer digital cameras today, the a6300 has Wi-Fi and NFC, to connect with smartphones and tablets for remote camera shooting, and wireless image transfer via Sony’s PlayMemories Mobile app. Setting up Wi-Fi on the camera is very quick and intuitive, and Sony’s accompanying app also includes an array of other options that can further enhance your shooting experience, such as time-lapse and multiple exposure apps, among many others.
Thankfully, Sony kept one of the a6000’s best features on the a6300: a built-in pop-up flash. Extremely compact and flexible, the little flash can bend 45 degrees to tilt upwards, allowing for bouncing the flash off the ceiling. Next to the pop-up flash is a hot shoe mount that can fire Canon or Nikon Speedlight flashes when used with an adapter.
One accessory that can help fully utilize the pop-up flash are plastic bounce cards which attach to the a6300 via the hot-shoe mount, and hold the flash in an upright position.
Currently, there are over 70 Sony lenses that you can purchase to go along with your new a6300 body. Options range from compact, low-priced primes and larger, higher-priced zoom lenses. Cheaper prime options include the 16mm f/2.8, 20mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2, 30mm f/3.5 macro, 35mm f/1.8, and 50mm f/1.8, all ranging in price from $249.99-$449.99. Wide-range zoom lenses, without a fixed f-stop, are also somewhat affordable, such as the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 ($749.99) or the 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 ($998.99)
However, Sony’s higher-quality lenses are much higher in price, which may be difficult to swallow if you’re converting from a DSLR kit. Larger, high-quality Sony primes such as the 24mm f/2 and 35mm f/1.4, prices are upwards of $1,200.00 and more. The same is true for Sony’s versions of traditional DSLR lenses such as the 16-35mm f/2.8 ($2,248.99), 24-70mm f/2.8 ($2,098.00), and 70-200mm f/2.8 ($2,999.99). If you’re a DSLR shooter with an array of lenses, you can always invest in a converter to use your DSLR lenses with your Sony camera body, but at the expense of slower autofocus.
When you purchase either the Sony a6000 or a6300, you have the option of buying it body-only, or with a 16-55mm f/3.5-5.6 E-mount retractable zoom kit lens, which is valued at approximately $260.99 if purchased separately. For its size, range, and overall performance, the kit lens, plus a Sony prime lens, aren’t a bad starter combination, especially if you’re looking to keep your gear compact and lightweight, and aren’t quite ready to invest in higher-priced Sony E-mount lenses yet.
Sony opted to improve the a6300’s high-ISO performance by including a native ISO range of 100-25,600 with the possibility of extending that ISO to 51,200. While the ability to shoot at higher ISO is great in theory, I found that ISO 6400 was the highest I could comfortably push the a6300 in darker environments, without sacrificing too much image quality. Even my RAW photos shot at ISO 6400 were a little too grainy for my taste, no matter how much noise-reduction I did in post-processing.
A common complaint among Sony shooters, that I have to agree with, is that the camera menu is very difficult to navigate. It truly seems like Sony outfitted the a6300 with so many features, and tried to stuff them all into a menu, that it can take weeks for new Sony shooters to get used to using the camera.
This could be easily solved if Sony allowed users to customize the menu a bit more, so that frequently-used features can be quickly accessed. As it stands, Sony only allows assigning custom functions to the camera’s physical buttons, and there aren’t nearly enough of those.
With that being said, the trick to making sense of Sony’s menus is to customize as much of the camera’s settings as possible. Presently, I’ve customized the buttons and settings on the a6300 set to shoot almost identically to the way I shoot with my Canon 5D Mark III, making it easier to switch from one system to another.
When it comes to the a6300’s LCD screen, I was grateful for its pop-out rotating feature, something that has been sorely lacking on Canon DSLRs. Some other reviewers complained about the a6300 lacking a touch screen LCD, but again, this is something I’ve never had on a camera, so the fact that it’s missing doesn’t bother me.
One feature of the a6300’s LCD that was troublesome, was its occasional blackouts, which usually occurred right after rotating the screen. Oftentimes, the only way to get the LCD working again was to turn the camera off and on. With that said, using the electronic viewfinder (EVF) always worked without fail, even when the LCD blanked out.
Do you already shoot with the Sony a6300, or are you considering making the move? What do you love about it, or what hesitations remain? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.