By Brady Betzel
It’s fair to say that the still and motion camera market isn’t boring. Canon and Nikon have been the huge players in the market, more so a few years ago when Canon introduced the landscape-changing 7D and full-frame 5D cameras. The 5D was the magic camera for the filmmaking community. Over the years, other companies have been breaking the 5D mold with cameras like Blackmagic with its Pocket Cinema Camera, but once the filmmaking community started lusting for higher frame rates that filmed at higher than 1920×1080 resolution, along with a Log or Log-like color space, the field began to really open up.
It seems that’s when Sony started taking the prosumer camera market seriously and doubled down on the Sony a6000 mirrorless E-mount camera, which eventually led to the 4K (technically UHD) recording-capable a6300 and a6500.
Once people started seeing the images and video that the APS-C-based a6300 produced, mixed with the awesome low-light capabilities and wide dynamic range using picture profiles like SLog2/3 — Sony had a bonafide hit on their hands. And if you still wanted more sensor size than the a6300 can provide with its crop sensor, you have the full-frame A7SII and A7RII (and, hopefully, soon the A7R/S III).
In this review, I am going to cover the Sony a6300 and explain why it’s a good value for anyone looking to make some great content, or even just have top-notch 4K home videos. The image fidelity that comes from the Sony a6300 is truly incredible. It’s a little hard to quantify for me, but I think that the Sony a6300 has a look from the sensor that is superbly unique to a handheld camera. The Sony a6300 delivers a top-notch product for around $949.99 (not including lenses) or $1049.99, which includes a 16-50mm lens… but more on pricing later.
Technically, the Sony a6300 is a handheld camera camera with an interchangeable E-mount lens system. Since this is an APS-C crop sensor camera, it is not full frame. The sensor will record images at 24.2 megapixels and up to UHD (3840×2160) resolution when recording video, and since I work in video I am focusing on that aspect of the a6300. It records in the Sony created xvYCC color space — essentially an extended gamut color space that allows for more saturation but is compatible with existing YCC color space. Short answer: more saturation. It accepts Sony Memory Stick Duo or SD memory cards to record on, but do some research on your memory card as not all will allow for UHD recording at the full 100Mb/s. In movie mode you have an ISO range of 100-25600, which really shines in the high ISO range when filming in low light.
In terms of video recording formats, the Sony a6300 stays in the family with its XAVC S, AVCHD and MP4 all of which are 8-bit out of the camera. Keep in mind that if you edit a lot of footage in XAVC- or AVCHD-based codecs, your computer will need to be on the higher end and/or you will want to create proxy media to edit before finishing and color correcting. The XAVC and AVCHD codecs allow for pretty good quality video to be recorded, but this really stresses editing systems because of the way interframe codecs work. If you notice your system can’t play down your clips, it might be time to think about transcoding them to a more edit-friendly codec like ProRes, Cineform or DNxHR.
When recording in XAVC S 4K/UHD (3840×2160) you can shoot in multiple framerates and bitrates — 24p @ 100/60Mbps; 30p @ 100/60Mbps; XAVC S HD (1920×1080) 60p/30p/24p @ 50Mbps and 120p @ 100/50Mbps as well as many other options — but for this review those are the ones that really matter. The real beauty in the Sony a6300 is the ability to shoot in Log color space, which in very basic terms is a video with a grayish-flat color that allows for advanced color correction in post production because there is more information to pull out of the shadows and highlights aka dynamic range.
To enable the Log color spaces, find the Picture Profile menu under menu five and select PP7, PP8 or PP9. This is where you will find the Gamma menu and S-Log 2- or 3-enabled by default. There are more options but the next one that concerns a lot of people is the Color Mode, which can be changed to S-Gamut, S-Gamut3.Cine, S-Gamut3 and more. These are a little tricky, and my best piece of advice is to try each combination in different lighting environments like sunset, a bright blue sky with gradations and low light to see which works best for each situation. I noticed I got a good amount of noise in S-Log3 S-Gamut3.Cine, but I really tried to push the low light in that mode. I fixed excessive shadow noise when I was color correcting by using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Suite Denoiser — read my review.
I noticed S-Log2 left me a little more detail in the highlights, while S-Log 3 gave a little more detail in the shadows; that may have just been my experience, but that is what I noticed. In addition, when shooting in S-Log 2/3 I noticed some macro-blocking/banding in shots that had color gradations, like a blue sky turning into white or even very bright lights — this will look like square digital artifacts or bands arcing across the gradient. I even saw a dead pixel flash when shooting some really low-light footage. The real test is to watch this footage on a huge TV or output monitor above 32-inches because you will really start to see the noise and banding that is present. I did some testing with noise removal, and with a little bit of noise removal elbow grease you can get a great picture. Overall, I am very impressed with the Log type images I was able to pull out of the a6300 and how well they held up in color correction. Typically, a camera that can pull this type of image would be at least over $5,000-6,000 or more plus lenses, so the a6300 is a steal.
After all that S-Log talk you might be asking, “What if I just want to shoot great video and not worry about Logs and Gamuts?” Well, you can set the Picture Profile to 1-6 and get a great image with little to no color correction needed. Specifically, Picture Profile 1 is really the automatic setting to use; it is described by Sony as being the “Movie Gamma,” which basically means your video will look good.
For more descriptions on the Picture Profiles of the Sony a6300, check out their help guide. You will need to test out all of the Picture Profiles though as they all have different characteristics, such as more detail in the shadows but less accurate color in the highlights. Just something to take a few hours and test out.
More Cool Stuff
The internal microphone on the a6300 is ok, but probably shouldn’t be used to use as your primary audio recording. I would suggest something like the Røde VideoMic Pro. Unfortunately without being able to monitor your audio by headphones you will definitely need to test your external microphone to check whether you need a pre-amp, or if something like the VideoMic Pro +20dB boost will be enough or too loud.
One thing that really stuck out to me was how fast the automatic focus was on the Sony a6300. I am used to using a Canon EOS Rebel t2i camera, and the Sony a6300 is lightning fast, almost instantaneous. It really impressed me. I was visiting Disneyland when I had the a6300 and was taking some stills and video around the park, I took a picture of my son, but the Sony a6300 had accidentally caught a bubble in the autofocus and very clearly took a picture of that bubble. It was accidentally incredible.
In addition to the camera, Sony let me borrow a few lenses when I tested out the a6300, including the 50mm f1.8 ($249.99), E 35mm f1.8 ($449.99) and E PZ 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 ($349.99). While the 35mm and 50mm are great , I felt that the 16-50mm zoom lens did the job for me overall. In low-light situations it definitely helped to have the f1.8 prime lenses in my bag, but during daylight, and even dusk, the zoom lens was great. However, when taking portraits or footage where I wanted a nice bokeh background, the prime lenses were what I had to use.
If I was going to buy this camera for myself I would weigh the idea of spending a little more money and grabbing a really nice lens, whether it be a prime or zoom. The only problem with that is most of the upgraded lenses are for full-frame cameras, which brings me to my next point: Would I just go all the way to a full-frame Sony A7rII or A7sII camera? In my mind, if I have enough money to get a full-frame camera I do it. The quality, in my eyes, is far superior. However, you are going to be paying an extra $1,000 to $2,500, depending on the lenses, whether you buy new or used. So a middle ground might be to buy the full-frame lenses like the G Master series for the a6300. This way when you find the right Sony body you don’t have to upgrade lenses as the full-frame lenses will work on the a6300. Keep in mind you will have a crop factor of 1.5, which means a full-frame 50mm lens will actually be a 75mm lens. That might be more confusing than helpful, but it is a constant fight for Sony a6300 owners after they see what the Sony cameras can do. Another option is to take a look at Craigslist or Ebay and see if anyone is selling a used a6300 or A7srII. I did a cursory search when writing this article and found a Sony a6300 with four lenses and extra accessories for $1,300, and another a6300 for sale with one lens for $700, so there are options for used cameras at a great price.
So what didn’t I like about the Sony a6300? There is no headphone jack to monitor your audio. That’s a big one, but one possible solution is using the micro-HDMI port. If you use an external monitoring solution, like an Atomos or a SmallHD monitor, you will be able to use their audio monitoring. Also, I just can’t get used to Sony’s menu and button setup. Maybe because I’ve been used to Canon’s menu, button and wheel setup for a while, but Sony’s setup for some reason throws me off. I feel like I have to go in to one or two extra menus before I get to the settings I want.
The bottom line is that the Sony a6300 is an incredible UHD-capable camera that can be purchased with a lens for around $1,000. It lacks things like proper audio monitoring but gives you great control over your color correction when filming in SLog 2 or 3, and with a little noise reduction you will have clean low-light footage in the palm of your hand.
There is a newer version of this camera in the a6500, which has the following upgrades over the a6300 — 5-axis image stabilization, touchscreen LCD (can swipe to change focus on an object or touch to set focus) and improved menu system. The a6500 costs $1,399.99 for the body only. The image stabilization is what really sells the a6500 since you can now use any lens (with adapters) that you want while still benefitting from image stabilization. Either way, the a6300 is the best bet to get a great UHD-capable camera at a great price, especially if you can find someone selling a used one with a bunch of lenses and batteries. The video that comes from the Sony line of cameras is unmistakable, and will add a level of professionalism to anyone’s videography arsenal.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.