Upwardly mobile: Sony a6300 Review
The a6300, like the a6000 uses both on-sensor phase detection (for depth awareness) and contrast detection autofocus (for high precision) in a hybrid process.
The available options are very much like those you'll find on the range-topping a7R II. There are five different focus area modes (Wide, Center, Flexible Spot, Expand Flexible Spot and Lock-on AF). Within this, the Flexible Spot mode, where you manually position the AF point, offers three AF point sizes. Meanwhile, Lock-on AF, which can only be used in continuous AF, offers all other AF area modes as sub-options, so that you can decide the most appropriate means of initially selecting the object you want it to track.
|The a6300 offers a four main AF area modes, then Lock-On (tracking) versions of those same modes.
On top of these are the Face Detection and Recognition options, an Eye AF mode and, presumably for video use, a separate Center Lock-On AF function.
It's worth learning how these interact with one another.
On top of these is the Center Lock-on AF mode (not to be confused with the Lock-on AF Center AF area mode, with which it's incompatible). This is an older version of Sony's lock-on system and requires several more button presses to select and engage. Its continued existence is explained only by it being the only tracking mode available when shooting video (and we've no idea why that's the case).
Several aspects of focus behavior change in movie mode, so it's worth making yourself aware of the changes, to avoid disappointment or confusion. For example, unlike in stills mode, the four way controller's function doesn't toggle so you'll need to press the center every time you wish to move the AF point. Focus magnification doesn't automatically engage when you manual focus, either, so you'll need to assign a button and manually activate it each time.
This is especially frustrating given Sony has solved this problem on the a7R II. On that camera there's an option called 'Focus Settings' that can be assigned to the center button. It gives quick access to focus mode and position in autofocus mode and selects and applies focus magnification while in MF mode. There's no obvious reason the a6300 doesn't include this option.
Eye AF does not function continuously in video but face detection does and does so without unnecessary hunting. What's more, you can even attach Sigma Art lenses to the a6300 via Sigma's own MC-11 and get continuous AF and face detection in video with a wider range of lenses.
Telephoto Continuous AF test
With the Sony FE 70-200 F4, the results were really impressive. Not only could the camera happily sustain focus on the subject traveling towards the camera, but in tracking mode with a medium-sized focus target (Lock-On: Flexible Spot M) it was able to keep track of a subject weaving around in the frame. At 8 fps.
This is a really impressive result: the closest we've seen to a 100% hit-rate in this test so far. The Canon 1D X II and Nikon D5 may well be able to match this performance, but there isn't a DSLR that can focus so far out towards the edge of the frame as this. What's all the more impressive is that there aren't any complex settings that need to be configured to get this result - it's essentially point and shoot.
A caveat we should note: this test is a simplified representation of an erratically-moving subject and makes life easier for the camera by having a single subject that's at a very different depth from anything else in the scene. It's quite possible that the camera would have a harder time shooting real sports, where other players can cross in front of the subject and might be wearing similarly-colored kit. Still, it's a hugely impressive result for a consumer-level camera - especially considering the focus is working fast enough to allow shots at around 8 fps.
Sadly the a6300 shares the lamentable Sony habit of locking up many of the camera's features while it writes its images to the card. You can still fire off another shot if you need to but you can't check focus or access the main menu until the camera's finished writing.
Variability, third-party and adapted lenses
Not all lenses showed this same performance, sadly. Both the Sigma's 30mm F1.4 C and Sony FE 50mm F1.8 appeared too ready to fall back on contrast-detection AF. Consequently AF-C wasn't as fast or consistent as with the best own-brand lenses. The majority of Sony lenses we tried worked well, though.
We also tried the test again using a Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS and a Metabones Mk IV Smart Adapter (running firmware v0.48) and again found there's a considerable drop in performance. Tracking modes aren't available with adapted lenses and the camera will only try to continuous focus when drive mode is set to its lowest setting (~3 fps). It performs well within these limitations.
Close-range and portraiture
Much like with say with the Sony a7R II, the a6300 is especially good at focusing on human subjects at close range. Its Eye-AF feature is fairly well hidden (you need to assign it to a custom button to be able to use it), but is very good at placing focus exactly on the subject's eye, even when the subject is moving and even when working with wide-aperture lenses that will highlight any missed focus.
If anything, Eye AF performance during bursts appears improved over the a7R II (where it was introduced), results are still best when used in AF-C for single shots, as the AF point can experience some lag as it catches up to a moving face at high frame rates. You can even quickly select the person you want the camera to target if you have more than one person in a scene.
It struggles a little with people wearing glasses, and can tend to focus on the glass, rather than the eye itself, but on the whole it opens up an effective and reliable way of shooting portraits in fast-changing circumstances.
With the a6300 Sony promises live view during burst shooting all the way up to its 8 fps mode, making it much easier to follow your subject as you continuously shoot. The reality is slightly less exciting.
At 8 fps the camera has a shorter blackout period than the Canon EOS 7D shooting at a similar rate. However, while it does indeed show an image taken live off the sensor it appears to just be a single frame between each captured shot, meaning you still don't quite get the sense of movement that a DSLR's optical finder will give. It's an improvement, certainly, but a small step, rather than a giant leap.
To find out what this performance meant in a demanding situation, read our article about using continuous shooting live view to shoot rugby.
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