Sony had the right idea with its A6000: It made a powerful mirrorless camera and sold it at a relatively affordable starting price. And people loved it, with Sony claiming it's been the world's best-selling mirrorless camera since it came out two years ago. Now the company is following up with the A6300, a $1,000 (body-only) shooter with top-of-the-line specs designed for photographers and videographers alike. We've seen this formula play out well for Sony with some of its other recent models, but now it's hoping for similar results on a camera that doesn't cost north of three grand.
Gallery: Sony's A6300 mirrorless camera | 17 Photos
For starters, it features a newly developed 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor, a Bionz X processor, 11-fps continuous shooting, ISO range of up to 52,000 and 4K video in Super 35mm format. To give you an idea of how confident Sony is about the A6300's Ultra HD (3,840 x 2,160) capabilities, the company says this is the best 4K video quality it's ever put in any consumer camera. Those are strong words, considering Sony already has some excellent mirrorless models, including the A7R II and A7S II. To be fair, though, those are full-frame, not APS-C.
Part of what makes the A6300 great for both stills and movies is Sony's refined 4D Focus, which locks in on subjects in a mere five-hundredths of a second, according to the company. The camera's autofocus system is so fast that, at times, I actually had a little trouble keeping up with it. This was particularly noticeable when I was in continuous-shooting mode, since the camera would try too hard to focus on moving subjects. The reason for this is that there's a high-sensitivity AF option enabled by default, but you can fix that by switching to either medium or slow (I preferred medium).
Nevertheless, the prowess of the A6300 is helped by its 425 phase-detect points, compared to the 179 found on the A6000. That, combined with the 4D Focus, makes the A6300's AF twice as fast as the A6000, according to Sony. And it shows. As someone who's tested a handful of cameras over the past several months, Sony's latest mirrorless shooter is definitely the fastest one I've tried. Canon's EOS M3 and Olympus' E-M5 Mark II are two solid alternatives to the A6300 (and cost about the same too), but don't expect either of them to be quite as speedy as Sony's camera.
Altogether, the A6300 exceeded my expectations. As I mentioned in a previous article about the camera, I didn't think it was capable of making me forget higher-end models like the A7R II or A7S II, both of which I've used before on a regular basis. But it did. Taking pictures with it is a breeze, and if you've used a Sony camera before, you'll feel right at home. You won't have trouble finding menu settings you're comfortable with, and the dials are similar to those found on other Alpha cameras.
Something to note, per Sony, is that even though the A6300 seems to be the obvious replacement for the A6000, it isn't. The manufacturer doesn't have any plans to discontinue that popular older mirrorless camera, which is good news for people who don't want to spend more than $1,000 on this newer model. For the rest of you -- those who are looking to get serious about photography -- the A6300 could be a better choice.
I will say, however, that the A6300 performs better when paired with Sony's new E-Mount lenses, called G Master. During the time I shot with the A6300, I leaned heavily on G Master glass -- namely the FE f/1.4 85mm GM and FE f/2.8 24-70mm GM, plus existing Sony lenses such as the Vario-Tessar 16-70mm and FE 70-200mm. Not surprisingly, the best images I took were with G Master lenses, as you may be able to tell by checking out EXIF data from my samples.
The 85mm G Master lens in particular makes it possible to capture stunning, bokeh-filled pictures and videos. It was definitely my favorite of the two. While there's no denying that Sony's new lenses make a difference in image quality, the A6300 has no trouble performing well with non-G Master glass, like that 16-70mm I mentioned earlier.
When Sony announced the G Master series last month, it said the goal was to offer lenses that were optimized for stills and videos rather than only focusing on the former. Thankfully for those invested in the Sony-camera ecosystem, these do not disappoint. You'd hope so too, considering the cheapest G Master glass (f/1.4 85mm GM) costs $1,800, while the f/2.8 24-70mm is $2,200. There will be an f/2.8 70-200mm as well, scheduled to release in May, though Sony hasn't said how much it will cost. The G Master launch won't completely alleviate Sony's weak lens lineup, then, but it's a step in the right direction.
Sony has done a tremendous job with the A6300. It's small, sleek and fast, and, most importantly, it captures impressive photos and video. Paired with the right lenses, the A6300 has no trouble matching up with its more expensive Alpha relatives or even some mid-tier DSLRs. If you can afford them, I'd recommend spending the extra cash on G Master lenses: The image quality you get makes them worth it. Just don't feel like that's a necessity, because the camera is still good enough with less expensive E-Mount optics.
Gallery: Sony A6300 sample images (part two) | 40 Photos