Sony's new premium compact system camera features a 24.2-million-pixel sensor, fast AF tracking as well as 4K video capture. We take a first look at the Sony Alpha 6300.

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First Look: Sony Alpha 6300

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As one of Sony’s best-selling cameras of the past few years the Alpha 6000 was always going to be a hard act to follow, but the new Alpha 6300 certainly seems up to the task. From the short amount of time we spent with the camera recently, it is clear that Sony has worked hard to address some of the issues that people have with compact system cameras, namely the response of the EVF when shooting continuously and the speed of continuous autofocus.

Read our comparison of the Sony Alpha 6000 and Alpha 6300 here

Key features
Let’s start with the basics, as that is where a lot of the new features of the Alpha 6300 have their roots. First is a new 24.2-million-pixel, APS-C sized, CMOS sensor. The new sensor has copper, rather than aluminium, wiring. Although Sony didn’t go into exact details of how this works, copper is more conductive that the aluminium that has previously been used in its sensors, meaning that the wire can be thinner while still allowing for a fast data-transfer rate. It is this transfer rate that is important for many of the key features of the new camera.

Sony Alpha 6300 sensor design diagram

In addition, the photodiodes have been made larger to allow more light to be captured, which in turn improves the noise-to-signal ratio and results in better images. Combined with the BIONZ X image-processing system, the new sensor allows the camera to have a sensitivity range of ISO 100-51,200. This is an impressive range, but not unexpected given the recent advances in sensor technology. Perhaps just as important for photographers is the 14-bit raw sensor output, which should produce raw files with a good dynamic range and colour depth.

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However, it should be noted that this isn’t a Back Side Illuminated (BSI) sensor, such as the one that features in the full-frame Sony Alpha 7R II, although the technology is obviously there to do this in an APS-C-sized sensor. As well as Sony having it in a full-frame sensor, Samsung used it in the 28-million-pixel NX1, so some commentators are asking why the Alpha 6300 doesn’t have this technology. It is surely only a matter of time before we see such an APS-C sensor in a Sony camera.

Autofocus
While the image quality of compact system cameras has never really been in doubt, it is the shooting speed and focusing speed that have always seemed to stop many photographers switching from their DSLR. Like every other manufacturer, Sony is trying its hardest to tackle these objections head on, and like almost every other compact system camera that is released, Sony’s Alpha 6300 is the latest to claim it has the fastest AF speed in the world at just 0.05sec.

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The Alpha 6300 that we were able to use was still a pre-production sample, so we couldn’t put a memory card in and save pictures, but we could draw a few conclusions about the AF speed. First, the Alpha 6300 claims to have the highest number of AF points on any CSC, with 425 phase-detection points that go practically from edge to edge. This is a huge number of phase-detection points, and when we tried it in a point-and-shoot situation it seemed to snap in to focus almost instantaneously, with no lag.

‘But what is it like with continuous focus?’ I hear you ask. After all, this is where DSLR cameras currently have the upper hand. Well, Sony has developed a new AF tracking system that, according to what we have seen on the promotional videos, should be able to match the continuous focusing speed of a DSLR. The system uses a low-density amount of focus points across the frame to track significant changes to the movement of the subject, but uses a very high density number of AF points over the actual subject being tracked. This allows for very accurate focus tracking, but without needing the huge amount of processing power that continuously monitoring all 425 AF points would.

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Within the confines of the Sony HQ in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, there was little opportunity to really put the AF through its paces, and as the Alpha 6300 cameras didn’t have final firmware we couldn’t judge this. Usually CSCs that claim to be able to shoot at fast frame rates with AF will only have around, say, 4 out of 10 shots precisely in focus. The Alpha 6300 could be the first to do significantly better than that, but we will have to wait and see.

High-speed shooting and viewfinder
One of the other major complaints about high-speed shooting with compact system cameras is the blackout that occurs between shots. Different manufacturers handle this in different ways. Some will simply show the first image that has been shot, and then the last when the burst has finished. Others will show the last shot that has been taken, while some will black out the screen, or viewfinder, and attempt to show a real-time image in between shots. However, the trouble is that the lag often means that the refresh rate isn’t fast enough in between shots to keep up, resulting in poorly framed images and missed shots. Sony claims to have significantly reduced this when shooting its high-speed 8fps mode. The camera can shoot at up to 11fps with AF tracking, but the viewfinder refresh won’t quite keep up at this mode, hence the lower 8fps mode also being available.

The viewfinder itself is 2.3-million-dot display, in line with the latest generation of Sony Alpha cameras. Impressively, though, it has a refresh rate of 100fps, which means it presents a very realistic view with minimal lag.

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Build and handling
In use, the Alpha 6300 is similar to the Alpha 6000. It has a fairly lightweight but solidly built body that is constructed from magnesium alloy. Underlying that this is a premium product in Sony’s CSC range, the camera has dust and moisture resistance. The rear LCD screen uses RGBW dots, allowing for good colour rendition and brightness from its tiltable 921,000-dot screen. As we have come to expect from Sony, there is a huge amount of button customisation that allows you to assign a variety of different features. If you are thinking of buying the Alpha 6300 to accompany an Alpha 7-series camera, then you should be able to set them up so they have a near identical button arrangement.

Sony A6300 dust and moisture waterproof sealing

One nice touch is that not only can the camera battery be charged via USB, but it can also be powered by a USB battery. This is great news for videographers and those who wish to shoot long timelapse or astro images.

Video features
Not only does the faster sensor readout of the Alpha 6300 allow for better AF tracking, but it also enables the camera to cope with the huge amount of data required for 4K video.

Impressively, the camera records 4K without pixel binning, meaning that it actually captures 6K footage from a Super 35mm size area of the sensor, then downscales this to 4K video. This should ensure that very fine details and colours are captured. Interestingly, the camera doesn’t capture 6K information when shooting at full HD. Sony wouldn’t explain exactly what the sensor and processor are doing when recording this footage, but the company was keen not to use the words ‘pixel binning’, implying that this wasn’t a standard ditching of pixels to reduce the resolution. We will try to find out more when we fully test the Alpha 6300.

When in 1920×1080, the camera can also record up to 100fps for slow-motion footage, and there are also S-Gamut 2 and 3, and S-log 2 and 3 colour and gamma modes. This means the Alpha 6300 can be colour graded alongside the Sony Alpha 7 and professional Sony video camera line-up.

Importantly for videographers, the camera can also output 4K over HDMI at 4:2:2 colour sub-sampling. The Alpha 6300 also has a microphone input, but sadly no headphone socket for monitoring audio.
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The Sony A6300 will be available in March and will cost £1000 body only and £1100 with the 16-50mm lens