Sony A6300 review: The A6300's best-in-class images marred by annoying operation

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The Good The Sony A6300 delivers class-leading photo and video quality, plus good performance and features for shooting action.

The Bad Myriad small annoyances mar the experience and it has the trademark poor battery life of Sony's A series. Plus it really could use in-body image stabilization.

The Bottom Line A respectable update to its very popular A6000 mirrorless interchangeable-camera model, the Sony A6300 remains great but also retains some of the drawbacks of its predecessor.

8.3 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 9

The Sony A6300 experience, as with many of its A series interchangeable-lens camera (ILC) models, feels like soaring through the sky one minute only to smack into a window the next. It flies with a beefed-up autofocus system, excellent 4K video (with supporting features) and improved low-light photo quality over the A6000's already great images. Combined with the usual advantages of an ILC -- smaller body and lenses, better photo preview and more streamlined video shooting -- there's a lot to appeal to enthusiasts who might otherwise buy a fast general-purpose dSLR.

It's priced at $1,000 (£1,000, AU$1,700) for the body, and $1,150 (£1,100) for a kit with the 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 power-zoom lens. There doesn't seem to be any official kit pricing in Australia, but I've seen it for AU$1,800.

That kit lens is one of my least favorites, though -- it feels cheap, slows camera startup a lot, and the inexpensive power zooms generally have worse quality than their manual counterparts. It seems a waste for this camera.

Best quality, for the moment

It really is a moving target, but for now the A6300 seems to have the best photo quality in its price class: most accurate automatic white balance, with nicely rendered detail, decent tonal range and above average noise profile even with the default Creative Style setting. It pushes the contrast a little, but doesn't mess with the actual hues.

It's not a huge lead, though. For example, you won't see much difference from the much-cheaper A6000 in the JPEGs until you hit about ISO 6400; below that, they're practically identical. The A6300's JPEGs are only really clean through ISO 800; you can push that through ISO 3200 by shooting raw to avoid the aggressive noise reduction and to expand the shadow areas that get clipped.

As you'd expect from Sony, the 4K video is 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, as with many cameras.

Analysis samples

JPEGs are clean through ISO 800; by ISO 1600, in-focus areas look good but you can see noise-suppression artifacts in even slightly out-of-focus regions.

Lori Grunin/CNET

By ISO 3200, even in good light you can see a lot of detail loss in JPEGs.

Lori Grunin/CNET

The A6300 delivers excellent color, saturated but neutral with no hue shifts.

You can see why the A6300's photos appear much better than the A6000's at high ISO sensitivities: it looks like there's better signal processing, resulting in raw files with a much better noise profile. (ISO 12800, raw with no software processing)

Lori Grunin/CNET

At high ISO sensitivities, you can improve the perceived detail by processing the raw rather than shooting JPEG. (ISO 6400)

Lori Grunin/CNET

Fast -- not fastest

For the most part, the A6300 performs almost identically to the A6000; that shouldn't have surprised me, but it did. (I retested the A6000 with our current setup for the purposes of comparison.) That's both good and bad.

At most operations it's fast, at least as fast as good performers in its class at single- and two-sequential-shot focusing and shooting under most conditions. Though my tests indicate it's reasonably speedy in dim light, I frequently experienced slow focus or complete inability to focus in low light situations that usually aren't a problem for dSLRs I shoot with. And that's with a better-than-kit lens, in this case the Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70 mm F4 ZA OSS.

Its continuous shooting speed varies widely. Under our test conditions, the A6300 hit its rated spec of 11fps for 54 shots when it's configured like it's the A6000; the A6300 has a higher-quality JPEG option, Extra Fine, and we perform our tests with the highest-available JPEG quality, even if it's not the default.

With all the useful settings -- JPEG Extra Fine, 1/500 second shutter speed, High-speed burst, focus-priority (rather than the default release priority) selected, and Sony's version of continuous-autofocus tracking and autoexposure -- the camera's continuous-shooting performance ranges from 6.5fps to 8.3fps, for about 46 shots. (I used the average of the most frequently occurring range of values for my chart.) In raw, shooting slows at about 24 shots, and performance ranges from 8.5fps in high-speed burst to 9.5fps for Hi+.

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