Update: As of mid-2018, the A6300 reviewed in the following article was demoted to second body status after I made the jump to a full-frame body. As a second body, it gets a lot of use with a compact ultra-wide or even the fisheye mounted on it. It also gets good use as a telephoto multiplier (1.5x crop) for the FE 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G. The autofocus isn’t quite up to the next-generation A7III but still beats anything in it’s price range. I haven’t removed this review since the A6300 is still available and though it has been replaced with the A6400, it is still a great little camera.
On to the review…
At a little over two years as of this writing, my A6300 is half as old as my A6000 and a generation newer. Still in production, it’s place in Sony’s APS-C lineup has moved to the middle between the now-entry-level A6000 (a misnomer describing an awesome camera) and the flagship A6500. It has been my workhorse camera since the day it arrived. I am updating this review to reflect my appreciation of a fine piece of equipment that has served me well and is still a valid purchase for someone who is moving up from a Point & Shoot or smartphone and wants enthusiast APS-C DSLR performance in a compact format that’s ideal for travel.
Retiring my DSLR and moving to the Sony mirrorless system has been the most liberating event in my decades of photography since digital and autofocus before that. Same (now better) quality and performance with half the weight. Traveller’s dream! I currently shoot with both an A6300 with an A6000 as a backup/second body in the travel kit. Many comments are based on comparing the A6300 to its older sibling.
Outwardly, the A6300 is nearly indistinguishable from the A6000 sitting next to it. At second glance, the slightly textured finish of the magnesium alloy body and the the AF/MF switch just under the mode dial do supply some visual cues. Looking at the top plate is cheating since there is a distinct A63000 label. So, if it is virtually the same camera, why did I buy it?
Turning it on, spending 20-30 minutes in the menu and playing with autofocus provided at least half of the answer. This is not the technical leap like the A6000 was when it first appeared but it has solid improvements that may or may not justify the $400 difference between it and the still-available A6000. The justification would be based on personal needs or preferences and depends a lot on how and what you shoot. If you use your camera for video at all, it could already make it a done deal since the improvements in that department make it one of the most capable part-time video cameras in its price range. If not, your decision may be a bit more difficult. Not because the A6300 is in any way lame, but because the A6000 is still to be considered a fantastic camera.
I’ve compiled a list of the changes that justified my choice for getting an A6300 and moving the A6000 to the second body position in my travel kit.
Two small things right off the bat: “USB Power Supply = On” Allows the use of a USB battery pack to extend battery life almost indefinitely. It allows the camera to operate while charging and with a 15,000 MAH device charger pack connected, it should power the camera for hours.
“Release w/o Card = Disable” No more puttering around in the garden snapping random flowers only to find the card was left in the reader when inspiration hit.
The significant things
Focus : Autofocus is incredible. 425 phase-detect focus points on the sensor cover most of the frame and allow for vastly improved focus tracking. Face recognition is fast and accurate. Improved eye-AF tracks focus on a subject’s eyes so the face is always in focus. Huge value for weddings and such. The A6000 and the 55-210 kit lens weren’t bad for outdoor action shooting but the A6300 makes the kit zoom into a much better action lens. One feature I hadn’t heard mentioned but stumbled across in the menu was “AF In Focus Mag.” It allows you to magnify the focus point while in DMF mode as you would in manual focus and a half-press on the shutter activates autofocus while remaining zoomed, allowing for a critical focus check. Another pleasant surprise is that the on-sensor phase-detect is now available to SSM A-mount lenses via the LA-EA3 adapter. Focus speed seems little different, if at all, from native lenses. AF-A is disabled, as is DMF and the specific MF setting but manual focus is always available.
Viewfinder: The A6300 has nearly double the number of pixels as the one in the A6000 and while the difference is noticeable, it isn’t an “Oh My God” difference. What is very noticeable is the 120hz refresh on the viewfinder which eliminates image tearing and lag. I’m also happy to see the return of the electronic level as a viewfinder and LCD overlay. Unlike its predecessors that display the last image shot in a rapid (but lagging) slide show during burst shooting, the A6300 offers a real-time live viewfinder display at 8 frames per second with full auto-exposure and focus tracking that makes action shooting much easier. At the full 11 frames per second, you still get the slideshow but metering per shot still happens. It really brings EVF tech one step closer to elevating the EVF to preferred status over optical viewfinders for more people who aren’t me. (I was won over by my A77.)
Silent Shutter Mode: It is truly silent. Its potential for use in a solemn situations like wedding ceremonies is pretty awesome. I did some research on the tech behind it and found an interesting article related to the A7x series cameras that warn of the time it takes to read out the image once the electronic second shutter is triggered. If panning aggressively or if a subject were to move suddenly an effect similar to the “jell-o legs” in CMOS video may manifest. Concerned, I went out and did some testing and didn’t find it to be an issue that I could find in my normal shooting. Depending on what you shoot, it is possible that vertical lines may be distorted in aggressive panning or fast moving subjects. In my experience, the distortion doesn’t come into play as obviously as it does in video.
Build: Not a tank but definitely, at least, an IED-resistant Humvee. Reminiscent of the NEX-7, actually. The magnesium alloy feels solid (but so does the A6000’s polycarbonate) and its pebbled texture feels “comfortable”. The grip now has a slight indentation at the bottom on the lens side right where your middle and ring fingers rest. The indentation on the grip sharpens the ridge a bit and makes it slightly easier for my medium-sized hand to hold (IMHO). The body is 4mm thicker front to back than the A6000 and along with the extra 2 ounces of heft makes the camera feel a little more substantial but unless you have a body in each hand, the additional weight isn’t really noticeable. Except for the aforementioned AF/MF switch, the controls are identical. The added weather sealing is a nice bonus.
Sensor: Another evolutionary rather than revolutionary improvement. The shallower photosites made possible by using copper rather than aluminum in the sensor circuitry improve compatibility with wide-angle lenses (theoretically) as well as light gathering. 10x better in low light than the A6000? Sadly, no. However, the changes in the sensor and processor have made about a one-stop improvement IMHO. I can set the auto-ISO to 6400 now with little to fear where the A6000’s ISO6400 shots were hit and miss as far as usability. Copper wire is a better conductor than aluminum which may contribute to the significantly faster readout that enables 120fps in 1080p recording. The big thing is the phase-detect autofocus array and associated image analysis for tracking and overall speed. There is still hunting in low-contrast, dim environments but the ability to find and lock focus is much improved. Of all the improvements, this could be the One Big Thing when looking for a reason to choose the A6300 over its older sibling.
Customization: The buttons and Fn menu can be customized to host almost any shooting or playback function. After I finished fiddling with button customization I have settled on Focus Assist for C1 by the shutter release and Silent Shutter for C2 on the back. I then turned to the Fn menu and found that the Drive, ISO and Exposure Compensation access on the four-way nav had redundant entries in the grid as did the top-dial-adjustable Shooting Mode. I replaced them with a few items left out in button customization that I would I still have to dig in the main menu to get to. Now Auto ISO Minimum Shutter Speed, Face/Smile Detect, Image Quality and Finder Refresh Rate are easily accessed.
Video: Except for occasional short clips of no more than 5 minutes, I don’t do video. If I did and wanted to shoot important video of a wedding or something I would spend time learning the ins and outs of the extensive video settings. Frankly, if you are a serious videographer, I would suggest buying an actual video camera that doesn’t legally have to legally terminate shooting at 29 minutes and 59 seconds to avoid import taxes. The A6300 is a stills camera with remarkable video capability, not a dedicated video camera. I may play with some of the video features simply because they are there but I bought this camera for the solid still image feature set.
It wasn’t long after I got it that I could confidently say that its capabilities matched the research I did before ordering it. I have taken it on multiple cruises and virtually never leave home without it at least in the car. I have shot tens of thousands of frames with it and find it very enjoyable to use. Soon after it arrived, I replaced the (surprisingly capable) 16-50mm PZ zoom with the 18-105 f/4 G as the daily driver. The choice of the 18-105 f/4 G was a good one too, despite its size. Since then it has been mounted on the A6300 about 99% of the time. The improved live-view and extra stop of clean ISO really came in handy shooting a couple of family weddings. Even an outdoor one in Atlanta in June at a humid 102° didn’t trigger any overheating issue for stills or extended bursts (no video). Eye AF is pretty amazing when trying to keep someone in focus on a dance floor and tracking AF is actually useful now. It doesn’t feel any different from the A6000 until I shoot with the A6000. As good as the A6000 is (and that is quite good), the A6300 is an obvious upgrade if you use both alternately.
What about my poor orphaned A6000? Don’t worry. It’s in in the hands of a avid young photographer (16 y/o granddaughter) and gets a surprising amount of use. (Updated A6000 review HERE) I am a two-body shooter who likes to keep a complimentary lens mounted on the second body and the A6300 often has the Rokinon 12mm or even the 8mm fisheye mounted and ready to go. One of the reasons I originally went to a mirrorless NEX-5 as the second instead of a DSLRs was the ability to carry that second body in a small waist-pack instead of a much larger sling bag. One thing led to another and the main DSLR was replaced by the A6000 and the rest is history.
Bottom line: I feel my money was well spent. I went through the release of the A6500 and a couple generations of the A7 cameras without wishing for the next upgrade or feel the need to jump to full-frame. The image quality is excellent and being able to carry two cameras and an assortment of lenses in a day pack makes this photographer smile.
Recently, I made that jump to full-frame. I am using the A7III as my main shooter and the A6300 will follow the A6000 to backup duty. The difference is that with the A6300’s performance and image quality, it may be the primary on days where I’m shooting with a telephoto and want the 1.5x focal length boost from the APS-C sensor. The story about how that came about is chronicled in My Long Road to Full-frame article