IN CON­CEN­TRATED FORM

A po­tent threat to the en­thu­si­ast-level D-SLR, Sony’s E-mount mir­ror­less flag­ship of­fers all the same ca­pa­bil­i­ties and per­for­mance with­out ei­ther the size or the weight.

Camera - - ON TRIAL -

With the full-35mm sen­sor Al­pha 7 Se­ries cam­eras con­tin­u­ing to the grab the head­lines, it’s easy to over­look Sony’s ac­tiv­i­ties in the ‘APS-C’ for­mat with its orig­i­nal E-mount cam­eras. Be­fore the A7s ar­rived, the NEX cam­eras (Sony has now uni­fied all its in­ter­change­able lens prod­ucts un­der the ‘Al­pha’ name) rep­re­sented ex­actly what the mir­ror­less de­sign was all about… ultra-com­pact and highly ca­pa­ble. For a while, the NEX-7 was the un­doubted king of the ‘APS-C’ for­mat mir­ror­less cam­eras.

The good news is that the spirit of the NEX-7 lives on in the A6300, the new E-mount flag­ship which packs a lot of into its slim­line RF-style weather-sealed mag­ne­sium al­loy bodyshell. De­spite its size, the A6300 still man­ages to ac­com­mo­date an EVF, pop-up flash, hot­shoe (ac­tu­ally Sony’s ‘Multi In­ter­face’ cou­pling so it can drive other ac­ces­sories), a tilt-ad­justable LCD mon­i­tor screen with a 16:9 as­pect ra­tio, and dial-based con­trol­la­bil­ity. There’s also a good-sized hand­grip – with a thum­brest (which con­ve­niently in­cor­po­rates the video start/stop but­ton) – and the EVF’s eye­piece has a sub­stan­tial shade so it’s one of the few we’ve en­coun­tered not to have is­sues with stray light. The viewfinder it­self is also com­fort­able sized and uses a 2.359 megadots OLED-type panel which re­freshes at 100 fps so there’s no lag. The mag­ni­fi­ca­tion is 1.07x (0.7x in 35mm for­mat terms) which also helps with com­fort­able viewing and there’s a strength ad­just­ment

with quite a wide diop­tric range. A prox­im­ity sen­sor in the eye­piece al­lows for au­to­matic switch­ing be­tween the EVF and the mon­i­tor screen, although both can be run sep­a­rately and in­de­pen­dently if so de­sired.

Both EVF and mon­i­tor are ad­justable for bright­ness, and the for­mer also for colour tem­per­a­ture. The mon­i­tor screen has an ad­just­ment called ‘Gamma Dis­play Ad­just’ which pro­vides a colour cor­rected preview when the flat, low-con­trast S-Log pro­files are be­ing used to shoot video. It’s worth not­ing here that the A6300 is as ca­pa­ble a video cam­era as it is a stills cam­era, and this as­pect of its op­er­a­tion is cov­ered sep­a­rately in the Mak­ing Movies panel.

A lit­tle sur­pris­ing is the ab­sence of touch­screen con­trols which means nav­i­gat­ing the menus and set­tings in the tra­di­tional way. There’s a main mode dial, of course, and the key cap­ture set­tings are di­rectly ac­ces­si­ble via ex­ter­nal con­trols plus there’s eight cus­tomis­able but­tons (with over 60 as­sign­a­ble func­tions for each) and the op­tion of cre­at­ing an ‘Fn menu’ of up to 12 reg­u­larly-used set­tings. These make it pos­si­ble to stream­line op­er­a­tions for im­proved ef­fi­cien­cies and the A6300’s menus, while ex­ten­sive, are well or­gan­ised and log­i­cal to nav­i­gate. The mon­i­tor screen can be set to pro­vide an ex­tremely com­pre­hen­sive info dis­play which in­cludes both a real-time his­togram and dual-axis level in­di­ca­tor. Both are also avail­able in the live view screen (EVF and mon­i­tor), along with a choice of three guide grids. You can also choose to have the pre­view­ing of set­tings such as white bal­ance or spe­cial ef­fects switched on or off.

SEN­SOR AND SEN­SI­TIV­ITY

The sen­sor is a Sony-made ‘Ex­mor’ CMOS – which, in­ci­den­tally, re­tains an op­ti­cal low-pass fil­ter – with an imag­ing area of 15.6x23.5 mm and a to­tal pixel count of 25 mil­lion. The ef­fec­tive pixel count is 24.2 mil­lion which de­liv­ers a max­i­mum im­age size of 6000x4000 pix­els. Two smaller sizes are avail­able at this 3:2 as­pect ra­tio and a fur­ther three im­age sizes in the 16:9 as­pect ra­tio, all with three lev­els of JPEG com­pres­sion (Ex­tra Fine, Fine or Stan­dard). RAW cap­ture is in Sony’s ARW 2.3 for­mat with the op­tion of RAW+JPEG cap­ture which ap­pends a large/fine com­pressed file. RAW files are cap­tured with 14-bit RGB colour.

Sony main­tains its tra­di­tion of pro­vid­ing a panorama mode that cre­ates real, full-length panora­mas rather than a crop­ping down of a nor­mal frame... so the max­i­mum im­age size is 12,416x1856 pix­els in the Wide mode and 8192x1856 pix­els in the stan­dard mode. The sweep can be set up for left, right, up or down (i.e. the lat­ter two for when the cam­era is held ver­ti­cally) and then it’s just a case of keep­ing the shut­ter pressed un­til shoot­ing stops. The stitch­ing is per­formed in-cam­era and, in the usual Sony fash­ion, ap­pears to be very ac­cu­rate.

The sen­sor’s sen­si­tiv­ity range is equiv­a­lent to ISO 100 to 25,600 with a one-stop ex­ten­sion to ISO 51,200. The Auto ISO range spans 100 to 6400 and is ad­justable for both the up­per and lower lim­its. The A6300 has Sony’s ‘Bionz X’ high-speed pro­ces­sor to en­able, among other things, 4K video record­ing and con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing at up to 11 fps at full res­o­lu­tion. Files are recorded to a sin­gle, but dual-for­mat mem­ory card slot which ac­cepts ei­ther SD types or Sony’s own Mem­ory Stick PRO Duo/PRO-HG Duo de­vices. UHS-I/ U3 speed SDHC and SDXC cards are sup­ported.

GET THE POINT

A key de­sign as­pect of the A6300’s sen­sor is the pro­vi­sion of 425 measuring points for phase-dif­fer­ence de­tec­tion aut­o­fo­cus­ing along with 169 points for con­trast-de­tec­tion mea­sure­ments. Sony calls this ar­range­ment ‘Fast Hy­brid AF’ which is ex­actly what it is. The phase-de­tec­tion AF ex­clu­sively in the con­tin­u­ous mode to en­able sub­ject track­ing, but oth­er­wise it em­ploys a com­bi­na­tion of both mea­sure­ments – coarse fo­cus­ing with phase-de­tec­tion and fine-tun­ing with con­trast de­tec­tion. There’s no men­tion of any cross-type AF sen­sors, but they’re ab­sence doesn’t ap­pear to com­pro­mise the sys­tem’s ex­cel­lent re­li­a­bil­ity.

There’s the choice of man­ual or au­to­matic switch­ing be­tween sin­gle-shot and con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tions plus Sony’s ‘Di­rect Man­ual Fo­cus’ (DMF) which al­lows for man­ual fine-tun­ing along with aut­o­fo­cus­ing. There’s a se­lec­tion of five area modes – Wide, Zone, Cen­tre, Flex­i­ble Spot and Ex­pand Flex­i­ble Spot – which al­low var­i­ous ways of man­ual or auto point se­lec­tion. As is the case on many D-SLRs, the Flex­i­ble Spot op­tions al­low the fo­cus­ing zone to be

A KEY DE­SIGN AS­PECT OF THE A6300’S SEN­SOR IS THE PRO­VI­SION OF 425 MEASURING POINTS FOR PHASE-DIF­FER­ENCE DE­TEC­TION AUT­O­FO­CUS­ING ALONG WITH 169 POINTS FOR CON­TRAST-DE­TEC­TION MEA­SURE­MENTS.

ad­justed to one of three sizes to bet­ter suit the shoot­ing sit­u­a­tion. In the Ex­pand mode a sur­round­ing point is au­to­mat­i­cally se­lected if the sub­ject sub­se­quently moves. Con­tin­u­ous AF is sup­ple­mented by a Lock-On func­tion which works with any of the area modes to pro­vide more re­li­able track­ing. You can also switch the track­ing sen­si­tiv­ity be­tween High or Nor­mal to bet­ter match the sub­ject’s move­ment and the AF drive speed can be set to Fast, Nor­mal or Slow. The face de­tec­tion AF mode has the op­tions of reg­is­ter­ing faces for pri­or­ity se­lec­tion and au­to­matic shut­ter trig­ger­ing when the sub­ject smiles.

Low light/con­trast as­sist is pro­vided by a built-in LED il­lu­mi­na­tor.

Man­ual fo­cus as­sist is pro­vided by a mag­ni­fied view (up to 11.7x) and a fo­cus peak­ing dis­play which can be set to red, yel­low or white with three lev­els of sen­si­tiv­ity (high, mid or low). The fo­cus mag­ni­fier can be set to op­er­ate con­tin­u­ously or for timed du­ra­tions of two or five sec­onds. Im­por­tantly, Sony al­lows for both the en­larged view and the fo­cus peak­ing dis­play to be used to­gether with makes fine fo­cus­ing ad­just­ments a breeze. In­ci­den­tally, the fo­cus mag­ni­fier can be en­gaged in the AF modes too which is very handy for check­ing ab­so­lute sharp­ness in any area of the frame. The A6300 again il­lus­trates the point that mir­ror­less AF sys­tems are be­com­ing as ca­pa­ble as any in a D-SLR.

LIGHT AND COLOUR

The A6300’s me­ter­ing con­tin­ues with Sony’s 1200-point sen­sor based mea­sure­ments with the choice of multi-zone, cen­tre-weighted av­er­age or spot mea­sure­ments and sen­si­tiv­ity down to EV -2.0 (at ISO 100). The stan­dard set of ‘PASM’ ex­po­sure con­trol set­tings is sup­ple­mented by nine sub­ject/scene modes which in­clude ‘Anti Mo­tion Blur’ and ‘Hand-Held Twi­light’. Both cap­ture mul­ti­ple frames which are then com­bined to with the

main ob­ject be­ing to re­duce the noise which gen­er­ally comes with us­ing higher ISO set­tings. Anti Mo­tion Blur uses high ISOs to en­able faster shut­ter speeds while Hand Held Twi­light uses higher ISOs to al­low shorter ex­po­sures. There’s also an ‘In­tel­li­gent Auto’ (iAuto) mode which per­forms au­to­matic scene mode se­lec­tion based on the anal­y­sis of sub­ject data from the AF and AE sys­tems. Ad­di­tion­ally, if the ‘Su­pe­rior Auto’ mode is se­lected, the multi-shot cap­ture regimes are ap­plied, when re­quired to re­duce noise and cor­rect for ex­tremes of con­trast (i.e. in strong back­light­ing).

The auto ex­po­sure over­rides com­prise pro­gram shift, an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of com­pen­sa­tion (ap­plied in ei­ther 1/3 or ½ stop in­cre­ments), and auto brack­et­ing over se­quences of three, five or nine frames. For the first two, the max­i­mum ad­just­ment per frame is +/-3.0 EV while over nine frames, it’s +/-1.0 EV. Ex­po­sure brack­et­ing se­quences can be com­bined with the self-timer.

The A6300’s fo­cal plane shut­ter has a speed range is 30-1/4000 sec­ond (plus ‘B’) with flash sync up to 1/160 sec­ond. There’s the op­tion of se­lect­ing a sen­sor-based ‘elec­tronic first cur­tain’ to re­duce shut­ter lag, vi­bra­tion and noise, but there’s no in­crease in the top shut­ter speed. The built-in, pop-up flash has a met­ric guide num­ber of six (ISO 100) and the on-board modes in­clude red-eye re­duc­tion, slow and high-speed sync, first/ sec­ond cur­tain sync, up to +/-3.0 EV of flash com­pen­sa­tion, and auto brack­et­ing over three, five or nine frames. The built-in flash can also serve as the (op­ti­cal) com­man­der for a wire­less TTL set-up.

The auto white bal­ance con­trol is sup­ple­mented by ten pre­sets – in­clud­ing four for dif­fer­ent types of flu­oro light­ing and one for shoot­ing un­der­wa­ter – a cus­tom mea­sure­ment and man­ual con­trol tem­per­a­ture set­ting over a range of 2500 to 9900 de­grees Kelvin. Fine­tun­ing is avail­able over the blueto-am­ber and green-to-ma­genta ranges and, ad­di­tion­ally, there’s a set of a CC fil­ters; seven steps each for blue, am­ber, ma­genta and green (and they can be com­bined). White bal­ance brack­et­ing is also avail­able with ad­just­ments made over three frames.

TAK­ING EF­FECT

The im­age pro­cess­ing for JPEGs starts with a set of ‘Cre­ative Style’ pic­ture pre­sets, now num­ber­ing 14 which; in ad­di­tion to the sta­ples such as Stan­dard, Vivid, Por­trait and Land­scape; in­clude more es­o­teric of­fer­ings such as Clear, Deep and Light. The ad­justable pa­ram­e­ters are for con­trast, sharp­ness and sat­u­ra­tion, with the B&W and Sepia pre­sets sim­ply delet­ing the colour con­trol. There is no pro­vi­sion for stor­ing a cus­tomised ‘Cre­ative Style’ as a new pre­set.

There’s a choice of 13 ‘Pic­ture Ef­fect’ spe­cial ef­fects which again in­clude all the sta­ples – such as Toy Cam­era, Retro Photo, Minia­ture and Soft Fo­cus – plus oth­ers such as Wa­ter­colour, Illustration and Rich-Tone Mono­chrome. Many are ad­justable and the ef­fects can be ap­plied in any ex­po­sure mode. There are a num­ber of frills such as the ‘smile shut­ter’ men­tioned ear­lier, but also ‘Auto Ob­ject Fram­ing’ – which ba­si­cally crops in tighter when, for ex­am­ple, shoot­ing por­traits or close-ups – and ‘Soft Skin Ef­fect’ which au­to­mat­i­cally re­touches por­traits and can be set to one of two lev­els. Use­fully, ‘Auto Ob­ject Fram­ing’ cre­ates a new file so you don’t lose the orig­i­nal com­po­si­tion.

There’s also a set of ‘Pic­ture Pro­files’ which are de­signed for use with video record­ing and so cov­ered in more de­tail in the Mak­ing Movies panel.

For cor­rec­tive pur­poses, the A6300 has both long ex­po­sure and high ISO noise re­duc­tion ad­just­ments, ‘Dy­namic Range Op­ti­miser’ (DRO) pro­cess­ing and a se­lec­tion of multi-shot HDR modes. The DRO op­tions com­prise auto cor­rec­tion – based on the con­trast range of the scene – or five lev­els of pre­set cor­rec­tion. The HDR op­tions also in­clude an auto mode – when the cam­era cap­tures a se­quence of three frames with the cor­rec­tion ap­plied au­to­mat­i­cally, again based on the bright­ness range in the scene – and a se­lec­tion of pre­set ex­po­sure ad­just­ments, this time from +/-1.0 EV to +/-6.0 EV. These frames are sub­se­quently pro­cessed to com­bine the un­der­ex­posed high­lights with the over­ex­posed shad­ows and the cor­rectly ex­posed mid-tones. Auto brack­et­ing is also avail­able for the DRO pro­cess­ing. In-cam­era lens cor­rec­tions are pro­vided for vi­gnetting, chro­matic aber­ra­tions and dis­tor­tion.

WHAT’S PAR­TIC­U­LARLY IM­PRES­SIVE IS THAT FULL AF (AND AE) AD­JUST­MENT IS MAIN­TAINED AT 11 FPS AND, OVER­ALL, THE AUT­O­FO­CUS­ING PER­FOR­MANCE IS ONE OF THE A6300’S STRONG POINTS.

SONY’S HER­ITAGE IN VIDEO IS CLEARLY EV­I­DENT IN THE A6300’S IM­PRES­SIVE SUITE OF MOVIE-MAK­ING CA­PA­BIL­I­TIES WHICH IN­CLUDE MANY PROLEVEL FEA­TURES AND 4K RECORD­ING.

The im­age play­back modes in­clude 12 or 30 thumb­nail pages, zoom­ing up to 16.7x and a slide show with ad­justable dis­play times. The re­view screens in­clude a thumb­nail with high­light and shadow warn­ings, a full set of RGB and lu­mi­nance his­tograms, and the key cap­ture info, in­clud­ing the ‘Cre­ative Style’ and DRO/HDR set­tings.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the A6300 has built-in WiFi with the con­ve­nience of NFC touch-and-go con­nec­tiv­ity and, in ad­di­tion to wire­less file trans­fer, there’s the op­tion of re­mote cam­era con­trol from a mo­bile de­vice via Sony’s ‘Smart Re­mote Con­trol’ app. The cam­era ac­tu­ally has a built-in in­ter­face for di­rectly ac­cess­ing Sony’s PlayMe­mories cam­era apps which in­clude the op­tion of adding new fea­tures to the cam­era such as an in­ter­val­ome­ter. Neat.

SPEED AND PER­FOR­MANCE

Loaded with our ref­er­ence 128 GB Lexar Pro­fes­sional SDXC UHS-II/ U3 (Speed Class 3) ‘2000x’ mem­ory card, the A6300 fired off a se­quence of 46 JPEG/large/ex­tra fine frames in 4.236 sec­onds which rep­re­sents a shoot­ing speed of 10.86 fps… as close to the quoted 11 fps speed in the Hi+ con­tin­u­ous mode as re­ally makes no dif­fer­ence. For the record, the test file size av­er­aged 22 MB. It should be noted here that, at 11 fps, the EVF doesn’t keep up so you get a rather stac­cato dis­play of the cap­tured frames (i.e. mi­nus any live view) which could be an is­sue with fast-mov­ing sub­jects that you’re try­ing to track. Sony’s so­lu­tion is to of­fer a speed set­ting which en­ables live viewing and this is still at a re­spectable 8.0 fps. What’s par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive is that full AF (and AE) ad­just­ment is main­tained at 11 fps and, over­all, the aut­o­fo­cus­ing per­for­mance is one of the A6300’s strong points. In any sit­u­a­tion it’s fast and re­li­able, but there’s many op­tions for fine-tun­ing its op­er­a­tion to suit spe­cific types of sub­ject, shoot­ing or move­ment. Here, then, is fur­ther ev­i­dence that mir­ror­less cam­era AF sys­tems are catch­ing up with the best in the D-SLR world. The A6300 doesn’t have quite the same low-light AF re­li­a­bil­ity as, say Nikon’s D500, and nor is it quite as ‘in­tel­li­gent’, but it’s still very, very ca­pa­ble.

The JPEG/large/ex­tra fine im­age qual­ity is also ex­cep­tional, par­tic­u­larly in terms of the crisp

re­pro­duc­tion of fine de­tail­ing, but also the colour fidelity and the tonal gra­da­tions. In the stan­dard ‘Cre­ative Style’ pre­set, the colour sat­u­ra­tion is very ac­cu­rate across the spec­trum, but ob­vi­ously there’s scope for tweak­ing if you pre­fer a bit more punch. The dy­namic range is also pretty good with­out any ex­pan­sion pro­cess­ing, re­tain­ing tonal­ity well into the brighter high­lights. Sony’s DRO – which pri­mar­ily ad­justs the tone curve to en­hance the dy­namic range, but doesn’t in­crease the ISO (so noise isn’t in­creased) – helps ex­tend de­tail­ing into the darker shad­ows with af­fect­ing the high­lights. The five man­ual set­tings give finer con­trol, but in prac­tice the Auto DRO pro­cess­ing works ef­fec­tively, par­tic­u­larly in con­trasty sit­u­a­tions.

Noise is well man­aged up to ISO 1600, but def­i­ni­tion and sat­u­ra­tion start to re­duce at ISO 3200, but both this set­ting and ISO 6400 are quite us­able al­beit with some re­duc­tion in the size of the re­pro­duc­tions pos­si­ble be­fore the soft­ness and smear­ing be­comes ap­par­ent. Over­all, though, the high ISO per­for­mance is a good as it gets with a 24 MP ‘APS-C’ size sen­sor.

THE VER­DICT

The A7 cam­eras, es­pe­cially the later Mark II mod­els, maybe seem to be the brighter stars in the Sony mir­ror­less fir­ma­ment, but the A6300 def­i­nitely de­serves a place here as the more com­pact – and es­sen­tially cheaper – al­ter­na­tive. Only the orig­i­nal A7 costs less and the A6300 is, of course, a much newer model with all the im­prove­ments and en­hance­ments this brings. Pana­sonic’s GX8 is cheaper too, but it doesn’t have the same video ca­pa­bil­i­ties and, although it’s be­com­ing less of an is­sue these days, its sen­sor is smaller. The GX8 han­dles bet­ter and is nicer er­gonom­i­cally, but the A6300’s nig­gles here are mostly mi­nor and, as a com­plete pack­age, it’s just as de­sir­able with su­pe­rior aut­o­fo­cus­ing and marginally faster con­tin­u­ous shoot­ing. Fu­ji­film’s X-E2S is ar­guably the clos­est ‘APS-C’ ri­val and the Sony out­shoots it in quite a few ar­eas, in­clud­ing by be­ing more com­pact. What about lenses? Well, it’s true Sony has been putting most of its ef­forts of re­cent times into the FE size mount (which is com­pat­i­ble, but ob­vi­ously these lenses are bulkier), but the ded­i­cated ‘APS-C’ E-mount sys­tem is pretty ex­ten­sive and there’s some Zeiss mod­els too, so the choice is good, although it lacks the ‘ex­ot­ica’ start­ing to turn up in other mir­ror­less sys­tems. Nev­er­the­less, the A6300 is still well served as far as lenses are con­cerned.

Aside from the ab­sence of touch­screen con­trols (which prob­a­bly won’t be an is­sue for some peo­ple), the Sony A6300 is an im­mensely ca­pa­ble cam­era that’s well equipped to take on the com­pa­ra­ble en­thu­si­astlevel D-SLRs.

Its aut­o­fo­cus sys­tem is a big plus, but this cam­era is com­pe­tent in ev­ery de­part­ment and yet an­other strong ar­gu­ment for tak­ing the mir­ror­less route.

Sony’s new Al­pha E-mount flag­ship has a neatly-styled mag­ne­sium al­loy bodyshell with weather seal­ing.

The hot­shoe is ac­tu­ally Sony’s ‘Multi In­ter­face’ cou­pling and so can power a range of ac­ces­sories. The LCD mon­i­tor screen has a 16:9 As­pect ra­tio and ad­just­ments for tilt, but cu­ri­ously, no touch con­trols. The rear panel con­trol lay­out cen­tres around a multi-ac­tion con­trol wheel. The menu but­ton could be bet­ter sited though, as it gets a bit lost where it is.

The EVF has a nicely deep eye­cup to elim­i­nate stray light and en­hance com­fort. De­spite the A6300’s com­pact­ness, the top plate ac­com­mo­dates (from left) an EVF, hot­shoe, built-in flash, main mode dial, and in­put wheel. The pop-up flash has both low-speed and high-speed sync modes and can serve as the (op­ti­cal) com­man­der in a wire­less TTL set-up.

Ze­bra pat­terns can be em­ployed to warn of over­ex­po­sure. Man­ual fo­cus as­sists are a mag­ni­fied im­age (with a handy timer op­tion) and a peak­ing dis­play. Use­fully, the two can be com­bined.

Com­pre­hen­sive info dis­play in the mon­i­tor screen in­cludes a real-time his­togram and dual-axis level in­di­ca­tor.

The menu sys­tem is ex­ten­sive, but com­par­a­tively easy to nav­i­gate.

The mon­i­tor screen can be set to pro­vide an ex­tremely com­pre­hen­sive info dis­play.

Con­nec­tion bay lacks a stereo head­phone out­put. The A6300 has built-in WiFi with the con­ve­nience of NFC touch-and-go con­nec­tiv­ity and wire­less file trans­fer.

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