In February 2016, Sony surprised with the announcement of the Sony A6300. The Sony A6300 is the showpiece/flagship among the Sony cameras with an APS-C sensor. We tested the Sony A6300 over the course of a couple of weeks. It gave us a very positive introduction to the Sony Alpha series. Where Sony’s mirrorless system cameras with a full-frame sensor (Sony A7R mk2, Sony A7S 2) look like a compact SLR camera, the Sony A6300 has the look of a rangefinder camera. You might not immediately associate a rangefinder camera with action photography. Then you would be mistaken. The Sony A6300 is a speed monster. 425 AF points that focus at lightning speed – as applicable in combination with 4D AF for actively tracking a subject – are a unique experience on a camera with an APS-C sensor. And on the point of image quality, this camera also sets a new standard for cameras with an APS-C sensor.
At first glance, the Sony A6300 strongly resembles its predecessor, the Sony A6000. But the grip on the front is more textured and therefore offers a better grip. What also stands out on the Sony A6300 in comparison with other cameras from the same price class, is that this camera does not have two discs for setting shutter time, aperture and over-/under-exposure. The cameras from the Sony A7 series and from Panasonic and Olympus do have that. The high-end models from Canon and Nikon are also equipped with two discs. Personally, I find that very nice to work with and therefore think it’s a pity that this APS-C flagship from Sony does not have that.
Sony A6300 list price: 1250 euros (1400 incl. kit lens)
Because the Sony A6300 is the flagship of the Sony cameras with an APS-C sensor, it is not very surprising that the list price of the Sony A6300 is over a thousand euros. The Sony A6300 is sold without a lens, but also as a kit with the Sony E 16-70 mm f/4. That is a beautifully built, compact and light zoom lens with a widely usable zoom range and built-in image stabilization (Optical Steady Shot: OSS). Because the list price of the kit is just 150 euros more than that of the body, that is an extra attractive offer.
Sony A6300 vs Sony A6000
To start right away with a confession: the title of this article does not tell the whole story. We actually do not write about cameras or lenses that we have not really tested. And we have not tested the Sony A6000, which has now been on the market for two years. Even so, we cannot avoid a brief comparison. In the Netherlands, the Sony A6000 has been amazingly popular ever since its introduction. So why would you choose a Sony A6300 if you can also buy a less expensive Sony A6000?
The Sony A6300 (4 ounces)—partly because of the sturdier, dust- and splashwater-tight aluminum body—is heavier than the Sony A6000 (265 grams)
Do you want 425 (A6300) or 179 AF (A6000) phase detection points? 169 (A6300) or 25 contrast detection AF points?
According to Sony, the AF for video is twice as fast on an A6300 in comparison with an A6000
The A6300 films in 4K (@ 30p) and Full HD (@120p), where the A6000 is limited to Full HD (60p)
The A6300 offers Time lapse, where charging via USB can be an important advantage if you want to use the camera for an extended time lapse. That is not possible with the A6000.
The resolution of the viewfinder of the A6300 is significantly higher (2359k dot vs 1440k dot)
Thanks to the new sensor (more about that later), the ISO range of the A6300 is 1 stop greater (up to 51,200 instead of 25,600)
It’s handy that you can set a minimum shutter time with auto ISO on the A6300
Sony A6300 versus Sony A7 II
At the risk of making the whole thing even more complicated: why wouldn’t you choose a Sony A7 II? That camera costs 300 euros more, is nearly the same size and weight as a Sony A6300, but has a full-frame sensor, a larger viewfinder (with lower resolution) and built-in image stabilization. If you like to use lenses with a fixed focal length, then Sony has multiple attractively priced, compact FE lenses (such as: 28 mm f/2, 50 mm f/1.8). Then the choice for full frame does not have to mean that you have to spend a lot more or that you have to carry a bigger or more valuable camera bag. The built-in image stabilization of the Sony A7 series can then be an important advantage relative to the Sony A6300.
If you want to use the Sony Zeiss or Zeiss full-frame lenses or bright zoom lenses, then the price difference between a Sony A7 and an A6300 is much greater and the choice for the Sony A6300 is more obvious.
Sony A6300: Build quality & Features
The electronic viewfinder of the A6300 is not in the middle, as it is with an SLR camera or with the Sony A7 series cameras with a full-frame sensor. Rangefinder cameras are popular among street photographers: it fits nicely in the hand, is not as not as noticeable as an SLR camera, and when you look with your right eye through the viewfinder on the top left of the back of the camera, then you don’t hit the screen with your nose. The OLED screen in the viewfinder is, by description, identical to that of the Sony A7 series, but because the A6300 has a smaller sensor, the final viewfinder enlargement (0.46) is less, but also sharper (since the number of dots is the same), than that of its big brothers (~0.75). As a glasses-wearer, I could use the viewfinder of the Sony A7S II and the Sony A7R II more easily than the viewfinder of the Sony A6300.
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Practically all mirrorless system cameras are quieter than SLR cameras, because there is no mirror that flips up and down when taking a picture. You only hear the sound of the shutter, which in some cases can still be noticeable. The Sony A6300, just like the cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, has a completely silent shutter: you hear nothing when you take a picture. Ideal for someone who wants to take pictures without being noticed. Take into account that it is not possible to take fast series shots in the silent shutter mode (also applies for other brands). Then you will have to use the regular shutter.
In the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, there is a beautiful collection of Asian art to admire. The high signal-to-noise ratio of the Sony A6300 makes it possible to record a memory without flash, with the noise remaining nicely suppressed. A shot made at 6400 ISO f/5.6, 1/80 sec is a bridge too far for most cameras with an APS-C sensor (or smaller). Not for the Sony A6300. Move your mouse of the picture above (in which I adjusted the white balance) and you will see a partial enlargement of the jpg file, directly from the camera and enlarged to 100%.
Lightning-fast, versatile and light-sensitive AF
Because the Sony A6300 uses the APS-C sensor for focusing, this camera is also able to focus in the dark where other cameras have already given up. We tested with a Sony 24-70 mm f/2.8. The Sony A7R mk2 did even better in our tests, which is not so crazy because this camera has a larger sensor, and we used a brighter f/1.8 lens for the test. In our test, the Sony A6300 focuses from infinity to one and a half meters in about 300 ms. Sony indicates that the A6300 can focus in 50 ms with a Sony E 16-50 mm lens. That can quite easily be true. We did this test with a larger and heavier lens, with a smaller focal depth. It is quite possible that with a smaller lens, focusing would be faster. With the Sony E 16-70 mm, we measure a focus time of 250 ms (the release delay + the time that is needed to focus from infinity to one and a half meters). In practice, it is faster, because you usually focus over a smaller range. When tracking a moving subject, the distances that have to be focused over are, for example, very small. If you want to limit the focus time to just the release delay, then you can set the camera to Pre-AF, so that it is already focused before you press the release button to take a picture.
An important development is that there is no black-out when taking series shots during action photography. That was an important minus point of mirrorless system cameras relative to SLR cameras. With SLR cameras, the mirror goes up and down so fast during action photography that you have enough time left over to keep tracking a subject. With mirrorless system cameras, blackouts during series shots are longer, so that it is more difficult to keep tracking an erratically moving subject. For testing the continuous AF by following a moving car, we had less trouble from that, because that movement is reasonably predictable. The Sony A6300 might be the best mirrorless system camera when it comes to tracking subjects. I advise you to also read the item on DpReview about this.
High resolution and image quality
The image quality of the new Sony sensor is very high and sets a new standard for cameras with an APS-C sensor, matching the image quality of many cameras with a full-frame sensor or (depending on the brand) beats it.
Click on the illustration here for a partial enlargement of 200 ISO vs 6400 ISO (jpg), made with the Sony E 16-70 mm f/4 OSS (200 ISO f/4 and f/7.1 6400 ISO). The color noise is so low that below 6400 ISO the color noise suppression can be better set to 15 or lower rather than the standard setting of 25. The less you edit a file, the better. At 6400 ISO, noise suppression producing 15% chroma noise and 50% luminance noise in a RAW file gives a nicer picture in my eyes than the standard jpg.
You can usually discover more about the image quality when you look at the dark areas instead of the middle tones. (Color) noise will show up first in the shadows. And noise suppression usually makes the most significant changes there as well. Click on the image for a comparison between an edited RAW image and the standard in-camera jpg file.
The image quality is determined in part by the lens. The higher the resolution, the sooner you benefit from the extra quality of a lens with a fixed focal length. It is often written that the selection of lenses for Sony APS-C cameras is still modest. But when you realize that a lens that is designed for a Sony FE camera with a full-frame sensor works very well on a Sony A6300—since on a Sony A6300 you only use the center of the lens, so that the optical performance in the corners significantly improves—then Sony does offer a solid package of attractively priced lenses:
Documentary (field of view 35 mm full-frame equivalent: Sony FE 28 mm f/2)
Standard (field of view 35 mm full-frame equivalent: Sony FE 28 mm f/2)
Portrait (field of view 80 mm full-frame equivalent: Sony FE 50 mm f/1.8)
The Sony A6300 has a very high dynamic range. Better than that of many cameras with a larger, full-frame sensor. At low ISO values and a low signal-to-noise ratio, we measured a dynamic range of 12.7 stops with Imatest, and a usable dynamic range (with a good signal-to-noise ratio) of 7.3 stops. With that, the Sony A6300 delivers the best performance of all cameras with an APS-C sensor that we have reviewed to date. Only the Sony A7R II, Nikon D810 and the Sony A7S II scored higher for dynamic range in our tests.
Shots made in artificial light on automatic white balance have an orange wash in practically all cameras. In some artificial light shots, the automatic white balance of the Sony A6300 did remarkably well.
With the standard image style, the color reproduction of the A6300 in daylight was good: the saturation was marginally lower (the reference colors (squares) lie more toward the outside than the measured colors (circles)). In most cases, you will not see that difference with the naked eye (when the reference color and the measured color both lie within the ellipse). For colors 11,12, 14, 15 and 18, a small difference is observable. As always, the color differences between the different image styles on one camera are greater than the color differences between cameras.
If you open a RAW file in Lightroom or Photoshop, then by default, the Adobe standard color profile is applied (can be found under the calibration tab). Sometimes, the jpg files that are stored directly in the camera are nicer than the RAW files with the standard Adobe settings. You also have the option to use the same color profiles for RAW as you can choose for the jpg files in the camera. I think Adobe does not use any profiles for this that are provided by the manufacturers; rather, Adobe analyzes the jpg files and then creates calibration profiles. Because of this, very small differences between the in-camera jpg file and the RAW file with the same color profile can remain.
Sony A6300 is the first camera with an APS-C sensor that also suffices at 6400 ISO
The sensor of the Sony A6300 makes use of thinner, copper wiring that runs over the pixels. Because the wiring is thinner, more light is captured by the pixels, with a higher signal-to-noise ratio and a higher usable dynamic range as a result. With this, Sony is one step ahead of the competition (and relative to some competitors, multiple steps). The next step will be that Sony installs the wiring behind the pixels, with a BSI sensor design that we now know from the A7R mk2. Another factor that contributes to a high signal-to-noise ratio is the clever way of sharpening that Sony applies to jpg files. With most other brands, the whole image is sharpened. Sharpening is only applied by Sony at the edges, so that the noise in flat areas remains unsharpened. The noise in RAW files, instead of a grainy structure, has more of a fine “salt and pepper” character, over which the noise suppression in Lightroom Photoshop has a bit less influence, I think. When applying noise suppression, I seldom go over 25% (luminance noise) and 15% (chroma noise), but with a 6400 ISO RAW file from the Sony A6300, I went up to 50% (luminance noise, with 25 sharpening R=1). The sharpness of the RAW file is a bit lower than that of the jpg file, the noise a bit more visible, but you cause fewer artefacts that way, so that the RAW file looks more natural.
Video: 4K, slow motion and S-log 3 (even better than S-log 2)
On the point of video as well, the Sony A6300 clearly the flagship of the Sony cameras with an APS-C sensor. You can make 4K 30p shots and Full HD slow motion (120p) shots with it that look very good. While the Sony A600 is missing a microphone input, the A6300 has one. On one point, the Sony A6300 even beats out the Sony A7 R II. Filming is like photographing in jpg: the 8-bit file that you end up with has less room to play with exposure than a 14-bit RAW file. Video specialists who want to prevent over-exposed highlights make use of the S-log 2 Picture Profile, which reduces the contrast and protects the highlights. The disadvantage of S-log 2 is that noise can become visible in the dark areas in post-editing. That is resolved better in S-log 3 (the red curve in the illustration from Sony below). S-log 3 is also on the Sony A7s II (the video flagship of the Sony A7 series), but not on the Sony A7 R II.
Capture One Express for Sony
As free software with the Sony A6300, you get one of the world’s best RAW converters: Phase One Capture One Express (for Sony), which is known for good color and detail reproduction. But it is also suited for flexible management of all files, all essential adjustment tools and fast, responsive performance in one adaptable, integrated solution. For those who do not make use of Photoshop or Lightroom, that is a valuable addition. And for those who want to get everything possible out of the RAW files from this camera. It is not without reason the flagship of Sony's APS-C cameras.
Sony A6300 + Sony E 16-70 mm f/4 @ 41 mm, 1/50 sec , 6400 ISO, f/5.6
At the start of digital photography, the new models were tripping over each other, because progress was made so quickly in the development of the digital camera. In a few years’ time, a completely new kind of camera, the mirrorless system camera with an electronic viewfinder, has matured. The refresh rate of cameras is starting to stabilize. That means that you can devote more of your budget to the purchase of a new camera. Whether you choose a less expensive Sony A6000 with a few extra lenses or a Sony A6300 is a personal decision. Another choice you could make is to choose a Sony A7, which falls into the same budget range as the Sony A6300. Or stretch the budget by a couple hundred euros and go for a Sony A7 II with built-in image stabilization. The Sony FE 28 mm f/2 and the Sony FE 50 mm f/1.8 are attractively priced, very compact lenses with which you also have image stabilization on a Sony A7 II. A full-frame camera is in that case not much more expensive, bigger or heavier than a Sony A6300
Hundreds of AF points (both phase detection and contrast detection) over the whole sensor
No blackout during series shots
Free Capture One Express for Sony
List price over 1,000 euros
Short battery life
No built-in image stabilization (Sony A7 II series does have that)
Screen only tilts
No disc for the index finger
Overheating of the sensor from extended recording in 4K
We deliberately chose a review that is only based on the image quality. We thus exclude the influence of any personal preference of the reviewer from the test results. The Sony A6300 is the best-performing camera with an APS-C sensor at the moment in our list of reviews when it comes to image quality. The Nikon D7200 is nipping very, very close to its heels. Dynamic range, signal-to-noise ratio and resolution are so high that many cameras with a full-frame sensor (with the exception of the Nikon D810, Sony A7R II and Sony A7S II) are beaten out. The scores that we give for image quality are for photos. If we had weighed in video quality, the image quality of the Sony A6300 would stand even higher above that of other cameras with an APS-C sensor.
Even so, a camera has much more important properties than image quality. And the Sony A6300 scores high on those other characteristics as well. When it comes to build quality, versatility and options, the Sony A6300 scores high. The AF is lightning fast, and focus tracking—thanks to a record number of focus points that are spread across the whole sensor surface—works remarkably well. Because the AF points cover a much larger part of the image than the AF points of an SLR camera, you are more able to keep following a fast-moving subject.
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.