As I see it, there’s really only one question potential a6300 owners need ask themselves:
“Do you like Jello?”
And now I update this post after using the camera on a slightly more extensive shoot. I no longer call this camera the a6300. Around these parts it’s now known as “Jello in a toaster”.
If everyone starts using this name perhaps Sony will adopt it for this very-prone-to-overheating beauty of a camera. It may actually represent a step forward in the intelligibility of camera names (when did the a6100 and a6200 happen?) and it might help Sony realize at long last that issues this prevalent need to be advertised as features just as much as “4D autofocus” or their marketing is misleading. The pro video features of this camera are trumped by the fact that you never know when your camera may be completely unusable. I’m sorry to be so hard on Sony, but this is what pushed me over the edge into updating this review: I just finished a shoot indoors, in a climate controlled room, using an external recorder and I still got the temperature warning. The camera never actually shut off, but the fact that it got warm enough to trigger the warning without even asking it to do any heat-generating internal transcoding is terribly sad. Sony updated firmware on the A7R2 shortly after release which seemed to pretty well do away with the overheating issues. Is a firmware fix possible for the a6300 or have they already pushed the temperature shut off switch to just before the meltdown limit? Time will tell.
I can’t continue talking about this camera without being honest about the first thing I noticed when I looked at the rear LCD. Absolute Jello-fest. Rolling shutter is very apparent. Much more so than it should have been for a 50mm equivalent lens on the front. After five minutes of navigating menus to see if I had some funny refresh rate anomaly or something I finally recorded and played back some footage. Not good news. I’m sure someone else will take the time to quantify just how bad it is, but my gut says we might be talking worse than NX1 bad. To me, the fact that Sony markets this camera to videographers with this sort of issue is something of an embarrassment. I know a lot of people will claim “You only see it in phony whip pans!”, or “I am careful with my shots”, or “I don’t film buses driving by!”. Well, I feel like I shoot in harmony with all those comments as well and I’m here to tell you it’s bad enough that unless you’re shooting static on a tripod you’re going to see it. Hand hold this thing with a lens above 50mm and you’ll notice a sea of near-nauseating undulation across the screen, accentuating each motion of your hands. No 5-axis stabilization here. It’s not the vertical leaning that usually gets me–oftentimes it’s in shots quick enough that the casual observer won’t even notice. I also am not planning a feature on passing buses anytime soon. The issue at hand for me is that footage straight out of the camera has so much digital-looking micro-motion everywhere that the potential for good-looking handheld shots is greatly reduced. Looks like everything you shoot has been put through a bad case of warp stabilizer. After shooting with the A7R2 I have grown so used to the excellent 5-axis stabilization and shooting handheld. Don’t count on it with this little guy. Hopefully the future will bring a stabilized sensor. With the physically smaller sensor size of the a6300 it could outperform the A7R2 (look at how beautifully stabilization works on Olympus MFT cameras). Anyhow, apologies for the verbose disclaimer, but it is very much an issue to be aware of and for some mysterious reason I haven’t seen others be upfront about it.
So onto something more positive. What do I like about the camera?
This little guy boasts some features over the mighty A7R2. That’s saying something for a camera at one third of the price. The built-in flash is one of my favorite things. Again, before your pretentious side kicks in claiming “Real pro photographers don’t need on-camera flash”, let me explain. The tiny Panasonic GM1 is still a favorite of mine. I shot a lot with it in Antarctica of all places when the Canon 5DmkIII was to impractical or slow due to its size. The GM1 had a nice little flash whose arm can be bent back to point up at the ceiling. Have a white ceiling? There’s your bounce. An on-camera flash suddenly has at least one, very valid, use case scenario. Having a movable flash also gives you the ability to ‘dumb sync’ optical slaves when you forget your radio triggers (or their batteries die and your backups are at home). A flash that can be pointed at the ceiling so it’s not affecting the subject too much, but gives just enough light to trigger optical slaved flashes for your ‘real’ off-axis lights can be surprisingly useful. Don’t discount it ’til you’ve tried it. It’s fast, it’s there, and on a camera with as good a low light performance as the a6300 a little flash like this is not to be underestimated.
I won’t go into these extensively, but the gamma assist feature is another one the A7R2 doesn’t have. Judging exposure in S-Log2 (please don’t shoot S-Log3 on this camera) is very difficult. The consensus is to shoot two stops over, but good luck doing that accurately. It requires a knowledge of where your white and/or gray point should be and is most easily done with a chart and a waveform monitor. Since neither camera boasts a waveform your left with the irritating histogram or the usable zebras. I had higher hopes for the gamma assist. While it does give you a better idea of the contrast of your final image, it does not affect the histogram at all, so there goes your exposure assistance. Turn it on and off and you see the histogram stay parked in the exact same place. Please inform me if there is a more intelligent way of using this and I’ll modify my post. Another amusing issue is that this exposure assist is sort of like a gamma LUT applied over the entire LCD. By that I mean that even in playback mode, clips shot in rec709 will show it meaning you get some psychedelic contrast and saturation. These are hopefully pending firmware fixes.
1080p 120fps is another big thing I’d eagerly anticipated on the a6300, and something the A7R2 does not have. Unfortunately you won’t want your audience dwelling on the imagery during drawn out slow motion shots as the quality suffers greatly. 60fps and some Twixtor might get you by. 30fps is subject to a weird crop factor (even 24p has a bit of a crop in video–enough to make your ‘just wide enough’ lens a bit too tight). The 1080 mode of this camera seems a large disappointment. I won’t elaborate on all the reasons one would still wish to shoot 1080 on a camera, but oh how I wish Sony would have given us usable 1080 on this one. I’m forced to use the Atomos Assassin to downscale now, but I suppose that’s ok since I’m using the Assassin for proper scopes anyway. If you’re planning on using a mic that only spits out a mic-level signal, while you can plug it into the a6300, manually adjust audio levels, and monitor it through the Assassin’s headphone out, know that you’re subject to the quality of a6300 pre amplification which didn’t seem too bad if kept under half power.
So, tangential as ever, I’ve told you a couple advantages of the a6300 over the A7R2 and then dismissed two of them as only being advantages on paper. Here’s a final advantage, and one that is a bit surprising. I found the autofocus on the a6300 to be faster than on the A7R2 with Canon lenses+Metabones Speedbooster. The difference is marginal in my brief tests, but it did consistently seem quicker with a good variety of the lenses I use most. Pretty amazing really. This is one of the most incredible features of the a6300 to me. Applause for Sony. No standing ovation yet, however. The news for video is not good. Since I haven’t seen much written on this point either, and my curiosity has finally led me to simply by the camera for myself to test it, video AF with Canon lenses is absolutely no bueno on the a6300. Big sigh of disappointment. Stick a Canon lens on the Metabones, flip the wheel into Video mode and you don’t even get the option to choose between AF and MF, just a lens incompatibility error. One amusing thing is that the AF Lock On feature is accessible if turned on via the menus and it will let you select a point for tracking. It will even show its little box and track that point around the screen. The focus will not change, however! A big reason I’ll advocate the Metabones over the knock-offs is that it’s firmware upgradeable. Is that worth an extra $300? Absolutely. For AF on the photography side I’ve seen poor performing Canon lenses come to life with a simple firmware update from Metabones. With Sigma’s supposed Sony-like performance in their MC-11 adapter perhaps the future will be brighter for Canon lens video AF, but only for Sigma Canon mount lenses. Perhaps Sigma will open their adapter to all lens manufacturers and then Metabones will be forced to reverse engineer Sony’s electronics as well.
That brings me to what I’d better make my final point (still need to clock in at work): Sigma has produced such amazing glass that it’s motivated my camera purchase. I am downgrading from a full-frame, overpriced Sony to the a6300 largely because of Sigmas 18–35mm f1.8 APS-C lens and the upcoming 50–100mm. That’s two zooms to cover 90% of everything I shoot and it’s roughly the equivalent DOF of a f2.7 on fullframe. You’ll pay significantly more for Canon’s beastly 24-70 f2.8 and it’s a slower lens! If you haven’t tried the Sigmas, please rent or buy them and have a go. Buy Ken Rockwell’s used one which he dislikes enough to maybe cut you a deal on it. Of course, it depends on what you’re shooting, but if you’re like me, you’ll have found a keeper. The most entertaining part is that, since the video AF doesn’t work at all with Canon lenses, I’m buying Sony lenses just for that. And no, not G Master lenses. With a rumored price of $3k for a 70-200 I think I’ll pass (and I hope you do as well so Sony doesn’t feel justified in charging that for a lens and instead turns at least some attention to less expensive APS-C lenses). I’m buying slower (aperture-wise) primes for their small size and slightly larger depth of field–perfect for gimbal use during video which is where I really need the auto focus. Why I call this amusing is that the photographer’s paradigm used to be fast prime lenses and a slow zoom. Now I shoot with two fast Sigma zooms and a few slow (but small) primes. Go figure.
Now that we shoot with Sony bodies, Metabones adapters, Sigma lenses and Wasabi batteries all in the same package I do want to make a quick clarification on my two favorite adapters–mentioned briefly above: The Aputure DEC and Metabones EF to E Mark IV. The latter is more commonly known and for good reason. It’s the combination of the DEC with the autofocus abilities of the a6300 that excites me. The DEC lets the operator pick two focus points and rack between them with a little thumb rocker. All you need is a relatively recent Canon lens and the adapter. I don’t know what voodoo they’ve magicked up but it works smoothly and it works well. Traditional focus pullers would be driven absolutely nuts by it because you’re level of control and speed ramping is drastically inferior, but for the price and form factor I love this thing. For my style of shooting, I use the in-camera AF most of the time, especially if speed is the priority. On calculated, repeatable shots in low light, however, the Aputure DEC can not be beat.
This last statement really brings me to a final point that should be self-evident: find what works for you. This is a combination that checks most of the boxes for what I need and I’m happy with it–particularly for $1k. You’ll have different needs, but hopefully I’ve hit on something that pertains to you or you’ve wasted a good chunk of your time. If I’ve misspoken on anything please advise and I will keep this post updated with current information as I discover it. I’ll also post some sample video and photos as I get the camera involved in real-world projects. The best part is that now when people ask me what I’m currently shooting, I happily respond: “I’m shooting with Jello in a toaster!” The humor makes the whole thing more manageable to me.
Thanks for reading!