We've lately been inundated by news and reviews about the new, Sony a6300 interchangeable lens, APS-C camera --- for a couple of weeks now. It ends up getting re-re-reviewed in some way or another on the front page of DP Review almost daily, and everybody who does a fun web tv show about photography got invited by Sony to Miami Beach for a big, showy launch of that camera. So you see the cigar roller shots and the cabana girl shots everywhere. But.... This is NOT a review of the a6300. This is not a review at all.
This is a blog post about curiosity more than anything else. In the ramp up to the launch of the a6300 Sony trotted out a sales story. According to them the a6000 was the best selling, interchangeable lens, APS-C camera ever minted. Blew the doors off everything else. Outrageous sales! (Which makes one wonder why they didn't take advantage of that leverage to make a bunch of killer APS-C E lenses to go along with the momentum). After I read that, with the sense that I'd blinked and missed some important milestones in the camera industry, I went back and started reading old reviews and assessments and tried tracking down photographers of note who use/used the a6000. What I found is that a lot of people loved the camera ---- inspire of its faults.
Nearly every breathless review of the newer model, the a6300, starts out by comparing it to the a6000 and, if you read between the lines, the cameras have largely the same image quality (the new camera uses the copper wire sensor tech which makes overall processing faster, which leads to a bit more nuanced noise management in shadow areas --- anecdotal, not my first hand experience). The reviews also mention
that the new camera focuses faster; but that's what manufacturers always trot out with every new model. Frankly, I've had very few focusing problems with any camera dating back to 2010 with the Olympus EP-2. In fact, the only issues I ever seem to have are with front or back focusing in connection with modern, traditional DSLR cameras....
The camera comparisons also note that the EVF on the new model is much improved. Faster refresh and higher resolution than the older model. Finally, the new camera got the XAVCs codec (replacing the reviled ACVHD codec of the a6000) along with UHD 4K.
This is where it got interesting to me. The new camera didn't seem to have much to recommend it over the old one for good, old fashion, still images. But the newer video capabilities (and the addition of a microphone port) got me interested because I have had good success with the RX10 and RX10ii cameras as camcorders. The RX10 (classic) got upgraded firmware a while back that added the XAVCs codec so that now, both of the RX10s share a common 1080p look and feel. And I know from hands on experience that the new codec makes a visual difference in the video files. The new camera might have been of interest for that alone. The other lure of the a6300 was the inclusion of 4K (albeit UHD) video.
The 4K on that camera is starting to look like a marketing misstep rather than a feature though. On the RX10ii there is no issue with overheating with 4K but there is on the a6300. Reports are circulating indicating that, depending on the ambient temperatures, the 4K is good for anywhere from a few minutes to five or ten minutes, tops. It becomes a great argument for using the RX10ii into the future for video work.
Then, three days ago, the craziest thing happened. Those nutty people at Sony basically made a brand new camera out of the aging a6000 with the gift of a firmware upgrade that adds the 50mb/s, XAVCs codec to the camera. How fun! XAVCs across my Sony collection of cameras!
Having read all this I became quite interested in the older camera and the system in general. (disclaimer to the hordes from DPReview Sony forums: I am not a "late arrival" to the Sony system having owned both APS-C and full frame Alpha cameras, including the a900, a850, a99, a77, a58; and Nex cameras including: the Nex 6 and Nex 7, along with many of the lenses).
The a6000 is now available at a price point that is roughly half that of the new camera. I bought one of the those for the times when I may want to shoot some b-roll video using a long, fast (older manual focusing Nikon) lens; in conjunction with the RX10 cameras. They all use the same batteries and, in 1080p, the same codecs, which should simplify a multi-camera editing process. The Achille's heel to the a6000 camera is the lack of a microphone jack but I may remedy that, across the line, by getting the Sony XLR attachment gadget that plugs into the multi-interface hot shoe.
In addition to the camera body, which I initialed tested with some of the Olympus Pen-F lenses, ala adapters, I also bought a Sony zoom lens. It's the 18-105mm f4.0 G lens with a servo power zoom. I told myself that I'd just be using the camera for video project but, because I can be capricious and curious, I used the combination to photograph a portrait, on location, on Wednesday morning. I lit the portrait with LED lights and large diffusers (a lighting creature of habit) and shot mostly at ISO 640, and wide open on the lens. The image from the 24 megapixel sensor looked good and the camera is promising, if a bit toy-like.
A deciding factor in my purchase was the desire to see just how good those ancient Pen F lenses could be with a more or less state-of-the-art sensor. The answer? Damn good.
For most of you this will be old news. I see this as a "gateway" camera that may lead me down another expensive pathway. But that's old news too....
What do I like so far? The camera has a great APS-C sensor and the casual photographs I've taken with it are quite good. The face detection AF works well in video in conjunction with the C-AF. The focus peaking works well too. But mostly the a6000 is no better or worse than any of the other cameras we routinely use. Just nice to have something new to play with.
On another note, I spent some time with the Fuji X-Pro2 again. I understand that Andrew Reid at EOSHD.com is a fan of that camera's file output. I'm sure it's quite good at generating wonderful images and much, much better video than previous generations of Fuji cameras ---and I hear the lenses are absolutely great --- but I didn't like the feel or handling of the body and I found the finder to be a weird engineering collage of unwieldy compromises. While I like the basic idea of the rangefinder-esque body I think they could have made the camera much better and less complicated if they had just sunk all of the finder associated development costs and manufacturing costs into a stunning EVF and foregone the optical view all together. It's really only usable up to about 50mm. Lenses longer than that will yield optical finder images that are too small to be useful while extreme wide angles will require additional optical finders. A great EVF in a minimalist configuration would have been just perfect.
I may still be interested in the Fuji line but I'll wait a few months for a rumored Fuji "super camera" that's coming down the pike. I have a sneaking suspicion that the company has found religion where video is concerned and are currently putting the final touches on a real hybrid contender. Staying tuned.
Back to the a6000. Do any of the VSL readers shoot with one? What do you think of it? What are the strengths and weaknesses? Will you upgrade to the a6300? Why?