One of the features we were excited by when the a6300 was announced was the promise of 'live view' while shooting continuous bursts of shots. Now we've used and tested it, what do we think?

What's the big deal?

Autofocus systems on mirrorless cameras have been getting better and better with each generation of cameras, to the point that the best of them match (and in some circumstances, exceed) the performance we expect from similarly priced DSLRs.

However, many models still lag behind DSLRs in their ability to show you what's going on while in continuous shooting mode. The common trick of showing a playback of the last captured image makes it hard to keep up with a moving subject, especially if it moves unpredictably, so that you can't just compensate for the lag.

The a6300 isn't the first mirrorless camera to try to offer a live view while continuous shooting (several Nikon 1 models, which use comparatively small sensors to allow fast read-out, even manage to give an uninterrupted feed), but it's still a rare enough feature to make it worth investigating.

What did we find?

We shot the a6300 side-by-side with the Canon EOS 7D (a DSLR that offers the same 8 fps frame rate as the Sony) and found something interesting. The a6300 has a shorter blackout period than the Canon but turns out to only be showing a single updated frame between each capture. At lower, 5 fps shooting rate, we saw two or three frames on display between captures.

That sounds terrible. It sounds like cheating. but it's not quite the end of the story. Watch the beginning of the video again - the real-time playback - it looks pretty convincing, doesn't it?

The fact that it looks so convincing left us wondering: why does the screen ever black out? Why doesn't the camera just continue to show the 'live' image until the next one is available? We think we know the answer.

Note the way that the image doesn't just cut to black - it fades to black then abruptly cuts to the next update. We believe this is trying to achieve something like the 'black frame insertion' technology used in some modern TVs: inserting a black frame prompts your brain to imagine what's happened between the two frames it's seen, rather than being distracted by the contradiction between perceiving a sense of movement but seeing static images.

Does it work?

In real-world shooting this is pretty convincing: we only discovered the camera was just showing single images when we recorded it at 240 fps, and even then it took us a while to convince ourselves that we weren't looking at an error stemming from a clash in display and capture frequencies (temporal aliasing).

So, while the display is only showing you eight frames per second (one between each capture), it's doing so in a way that gives your brain a convincing sense of motion. The question we wanted to answer was: 'if the blackout between frames is short enough, and the motion looks fairly convincing, is it as easy to follow action as with a DSLR?'

We spent some time trying to shoot rugby with the a6300 to see how easy it was to follow the game's fast and unpredictable action. The results were mixed - the camera gave enough information for you to be able to follow the action to a reasonable degree, but not as much as you might want.

The a6300's live view provided enough information to let us follow the action, but not as much as a high-end DSLR, which meant we reacted more slowly to anything unexpected.

Alongside the a6300 we were also shooting with the Nikon D5, not as direct comparison but because we also need to shoot sports with it. As you might expect, the $1000 mass-market a6300 wasn't as good as Nikon's $6500 professional sports-oriented camera, but it's the way that it fell short that was interesting.

Although the video further up the page shows that the a6300's live view looks a lot like real motion and its blackout is fairly short (shorter than the EOS 7D's, for instance), in use it becomes clear that your brain actually can make use of the extra information that a fast DSLR gives you about the subject's movement.

For example, at the rugby we found that we could keep pace with the action when shooting with the Sony but it would take us longer to react if we made the mistake of believing a player's dummy-pass and started moving in the wrong direction. With the DSLR we'd spot our mistake sooner and turn back to the real action faster. 

At set pieces, where you have a good idea of what's going to happen next, the a6300 could shoot with confidence.

Having looked at what the camera's doing and then put to real-world use, we'd conclude that the a6300's continuous shooting live view more successful than its single frame update makes it sound. It's convincing enough to let you keep up with fast action, but there's still room for improvement as soon as anything unexpected happens.