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The A6300 is fast, fine and occasionally frustrating (hands-on)

Sony made some solid improvements to the A6000 for this model, but there are a couple changes we wish had made the cut.

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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7 min read

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After a few days of shooting with the new Sony A6300 in sunny, not-February-in-NYC weather (on a Sony-sponsored trip with other reviewers, though CNET paid my way), I ultimately came away very impressed by it.

The new autofocus system a big step up from both the A6000 and many of its similarly priced competitors and the 4K video is up to Sony's usual standards. Plus the camera retains a lot of the excellent qualities that made the A6000 such a winner. But there are also a few big disappointments.

It's priced at $1,000, £1,000 for the body, and $1,150 for a kit with the 16-50mm power-zoom lens. No Australian prices were available -- I don't even see any sign that it's even a gleam in Sony Austraila's eye -- but those prices convert to AU$1,400 and AU$1,615 respectively.

Sony A6300 photo samples, good and bad (pictures)

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What's hot

The big deal here is the new autofocus system. The A6300 requires a lot more testing before any definitive conclusions about it's performance, but overall it felt very impressive, though not the magic bullet that marketing would lead you to expect.

Sony expands the number of phase-detection points from 179 to 425 and updates the contrast AF areas from 25 to 169. More important, it's using a combination of both for continuous-tracking autofocus. In addition, it now offers a zone-like autofocus; once it locks on to a subject, it uses a sub-segmented clump of 15 smaller AF areas to track it.

One of the typical drawbacks of continuous shooting with an electronic viewfinder is that it has trouble refreshing fast enough to provide a dSLR-like shooting experience -- despite having to wait for the mirror to flip, the latter still has a much shorter blackout period. The A6300's EVF refreshes quite quickly, and even shooting at its highest rate, I only occasionally wished it refreshed faster. Most of the time it was quick enough to be able to see the AF points track the subject.

In practice, using the continuous autofocus effectively can get complicated -- just as with every other sophisticated AF system. On one hand, you'll get a lot more in-focus shots than with the A6000 -- and than with a lot of other cameras in this price class -- simply by leaving it on the defaults, which include face detection and one-press object tracking.

First shots with the Sony A6300 (pictures)

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But to increase the number of in-focus shots beyond that takes selectively overriding the settings and frequently overriding your instincts. This especially applies to ones that are focused on the precise areas you want rather than just the general area of the subject, such as a smaller target like hands rather than a torso.

For instance, I typically pan a lot; that's when you move the camera in sync with the subject. I'm used to doing it in part because that produces a motion-blurred background, but also because with a lot of cameras I test the tracking AF just doesn't work well enough under some circumstances.

With the A6300 it operates reasonably well, so I had to struggle to override my instinct to pan; when you pan with the default wide AF tracking on, that can cause it to lose the subject if there's no face or face detection is off. And while it's pretty good at figuring out what the subject is, it occasionally misses and locks onto the background or another big area.

Also, Sony needs to offer a setting to link the automatic exposure to the clump of tracking AF points, since the traditional metering options -- the full scene, center weighted and spot -- don't really work well with the tracking, especially when the subject is moving in and out of high contrast light, or whether you're jumping back and forth between differently lit scenes. Spot is too sensitive and the others aren't small or sensitive enough, which means you generally need to shoot in full manual for best results, something I suspect a lot of this camera's users will not be doing.

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A frame extracted from the 4K video.

Lori Grunin/CNET

Overall, the photos look excellent. They're a little cleaner than the A6000's at the higher ISO sensitivities, for both raw and JPEGs (at least as far as I can tell without direct comparison shots). At higher ISO sensitivities you can regain more detail by processing raw; the noise looks a little better, which also means the JPEGs are a little crisper at comparable settings.

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You can get more detail out of the highest ISO sensitivity shots by processing the raw (ISO 25600, using prerelease version of Adobe Camera Raw codec).

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The other major update to the camera is 4K video support. As you'd expect from Sony, it's quite good; sharp, with an excellent noise profile and well preserved tonal range in low light. Highlights will blow out with the default settings, though.

Not so hot

First, Sony failed to improved the battery life -- a big problem with all its mirrorless models. Second, when you pop up the flash, the camera automatically limits your shutter speed to a maximum of 1/160th second. While that's also true on the A7 series, the A6300 has a built-in flash and is more likely to be used; and sometimes, there are reasons you want to shoot beyond the maximum sync speed.

If you use the Picture Profiles (custom color and tone curves) for video but want to jump back and forth between still and motion, the implementation could use some tweaking. Part of the PP setting is a minimum ISO sensitivity, which makes sense as it's optimizing the tonal range. But even though PP's don't affect still-photo curves, it still imposes the minimum ISO sensitivity during photo shooting. (It's like this on the A7 series, too.) It can become infuriating.

But most important, the company chose to not incorporate in-body image stabilization, instead relying on the older, lens-based SteadyShot technology.

While this was the the norm in 2014 when the A6000 shipped, now Sony and many of its competitors have in-body (sensor shift) stabilization. It's preferable for consumer and enthusiast models because you're ensured of stabilization and don't have to pay extra for it in the lens, and because it's then available with wider-angle lenses, where most companies leave it out. So if you want to pair it with many of Sony's mid-to-wide-angle primes, for instance, you get no stabilization.

And I really miss stabilization for video; without it, you need to rig the camera to stabilize it, something that many folks don't want to be bothered with unless they're a video enthusiast.

Additionally, the SD card write time isn't up to the continuous-shooting speed, a shortcoming in all Sony's mirrorless models. The camera has sufficient throughput to handle a decent burst run, or even a couple sequential runs, but if you try to review or change menu settings you're subjected to a frustrating wait.

Keep in mind that the performance requirements for recording 4K video (class 10, U3) are different than those for fastest continuous shooting (UHS-II) -- so a card that's suited to the former may not be optimized for the latter. And the A6300 doesn't take advantage of the extra transfer speed of UHS-II cards.

The body remains close to unchanged from the A6000, and while that model has a streamlined and comfortable shooting design, for the most part, the A6300 retains the poorly located and hard-to-feel-and-press record button, too.

Conclusion

Any real conclusions will have to wait until I can do more structured comparative testing, but the A6300 certainly improves on the A6000 in important ways. I think it's a great general-purpose camera, and a compelling alternative to similarly priced dSLRs as well as its mirrorless competitors. I do wish Sony had tackled some of the issues mentioned above, though.

Comparative specs

Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II Sony A6000 Sony A63000
Sensor effective resolution 16.1MP Live MOS
12 bit
24.3MP Exmor HD CMOS
14 bit
24.2MP Exmor CMOS
14 bit
Sensor size 17.3 x 13mm 23.5 x 15.6mm 23.5 x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
OLPF Yes Yes Yes
Sensitivity range ISO 100 (exp)/ISO 200 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600 ISO 100 - ISO 25600/ISO 51200 (exp)
Burst shooting 5fps
unlimited JPEG and raw
(10fps with fixed focus and IS off)
11fps
49 JPEG/49 raw
11fps
44 JPEG/21 raw
Viewfinder
(mag/ effective mag)
OLED EVF
n/a-inch
2.36 million dots
100% coverage
1.3x - 1.48x/ 0.65x- 0.74x
OLED EVF
0.4 in/10 mm
1.44 million dots
100% coverage
1.07x/0.71x
OLED EVF
0.4 in/10 mm
2.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.07x/0.7x
Hot shoe Yes Yes Yes
Autofocus 81-area
Contrast AF
179-point phase detection, 25-area contrast AF 425-point phase detection, 169-area contrast AF
AF sensitivity n/a 0- 20 EV -1 - 20 EV
Shutter speed 60 - 1/8000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/250 sec x-sync (Super FP to 1/8,000) 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 x-sync 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Shutter durability n/a n/a n/a
Metering 324 area 1,200 zone 1,200 zone
Metering sensitivity -2 - 20 EV 0 - 20 EV -2 - 20 EV
Best video H.264 QuickTime MOV
1080/60p, 50p (52 Mbps); 30p, 25p, 24p (77 Mbps)
AVCHD 1080/60p @ 28Mbps XAVC S @ 100Mbps; UHD 4K 2160/30p, 25p, 24p; 1080/120p
Audio Stereo; mic input; headphone jack on HLD-8G grip Stereo; mic (via accessory shoe) Stereo, mic input
Manual aperture and shutter in video Yes Yes Yes
Maximum best-quality recording time per clip 4GB 29 minutes 29 minutes
Clean HDMI out Yes No Yes
IS Sensor shift
(5 axis)
Optical Optical
LCD 3 in/7.5cm
Articulated touchscreen
1.04m dots
3-inch/7.5cm
Tilting touchscreen
921,600 dots
3-inch/7.5cm
Tilting, flip-up touchscreen
921,600 dots
Memory slots 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC 1 x SDXC
Wireless connection Wi-Fi Wi-Fi, NFC Wi-Fi, NFC
Flash Included add-on Yes Yes
Wireless flash Yes No Yes
Battery life (CIPA rating) 310 shots
(1,220 mAh)
420 shots 350 (VF), 400 (LCD)
Size (WHD) 4.9 x 3.3 x 1.8 in
124 x 85 x 45mm
4.8 x 2.9 x 1.8 in
120 x 66.9 x 45.1mm
4.7 x 2.6 x 1.9 in
119 x 66 x 48mm
Body operating weight 15.7 oz
446 g
11.6 oz
330 g
14.3 oz (est.)
405 g (est.)
Mfr. price (body only)
not listed = manufacturer does not offer body-only configuration in those regions
$1,000
£770
AU$1,250 (est.)
$500 (est.)
£430
AU$900
$1,000
£1,000
Release date February 2015 April 2014 March 2016