AM Video's newest camera is the Sony a6300 so I figured that it would be a good idea to write up an in depth review on it! The a6300 is a small mirrorless camera that is an upgrade to its predecessor the a6000.
The a6300 boasts a 24.2 mega pixel APS-C sensore, 4K video up to 30fps, and 1080p up to 120fps, as well as lightning fast 0.05 second 4D focus that utilizes phase detection and 425 auto focus points. It can also shoot photos continuously at up to 11 frames per second.
This camera is using a Exmor CMOS sensor and a BIONZ X processor. What does that mean? Well those are the same ingredients as the a7s II, which means that the a6300 has some of the same amazing features as the a7s II, just slightly minimized.
The a6300 isn't quite the low light beast that the a7s II is, but for its size, sensor size, and price point, it is still a low light beast of its own. It can shoot a wide range of ISOs from 100-51,200. In video mode it maxes out at 25,600 ISO, which is still impressive.
It also features an SGA OLED viewfinder that can be used during video recording when the screen may not be the most visible (like I don't know, shooting in daylight).
As for video quality, well it is superb. It can record in multiple formats including AVCHD for lower bit rates, and XAVC S at up to 100mb/s. It also features the very popular S-LOG 3 for recording video with wider dynamic range.
I shot a review video that talks about the camera and the image quality and shows examples of the footage from the camera that is included below.
The camera body itself is quite nice. It isn't overly small but is smaller than a DSLR yet it is a bit heavier feeling in the hand than a DSLR. The handle on the camera is not great though unless you have absolutely tiny hands.
As for the overall design, again, good but not great. Most of the controls are well placed such as the dial for the shutter and scrolling through menus. But then what threw me for a bit of a loop was that the second dial, on the top of the camera is to control the iris.
This is nice actually so that you don't have to hold a button then scroll to change the aperture like you do on certain DSLRs. So after getting used to that, it is nice to have a dedicated dial for the aperture.
For a quick menu it has a button that is labeled "Fn" which I had to click just to find out what it was, because let's be honest here, who really reads the manual? But their quick menu is really nice and can pretty much control everything important in the camera. This is good because the actual full menu is so overly convoluted. It's really quite awful.
My biggest complaint, just like everyone else, is the placement of the record button. Talk about awkward. Rather than put the record button on the back of the camera where it is easy to push, it is on the corner of the grip.
This means that to push record, if you are holding the camera by the grip, you have to move your thumb to an awkward position and loosen your grip in order to hit record.
The button itself is also sort of stiff and it can be hard to feel if you actually clicked the button. The camera has a beep that happens when you start recording which at first was sort of annoying, but after shooting for a bit I found that I appreciated knowing for sure that I had started recording without having to check the screen. So for that reason alone I won't be turning off that setting.
The other nice aspect of the camera body design is the swivel screen. Although it does not swivel out from the camera body like the screen on a t3i, it does at least come out far enough that you can effectively use it to capture high and low angle shots.
It is also nice that the screen will automatically turn off when you look through the viewfinder, even though this isn't a fancy new feature or anything
The camera also has a hot shoe mount on the top of the camera that can be used to mount accessories including specialty on camera microphones being sold by Sony.
There are a few features that I mentioned at the beginning that are the features that Sony boasted specifically for this camera. I've tested them and overall have found that Sony has been right on the money with all of them.
Fast 4D FOCUS
When using a Sony lens compatible with continuous auto focus, the focusing abilities of this camera are absolutely insane. You can set a focus point on the screen and the camera does a really good job of keeping that spot in focus even with camera movement.
The only time that it seemed to flop with this was when the camera had been recording for a while when I was shooting the video review. Despite the camera being locked off it eventually stopped focusing pretty much at all and wouldn't even hunt for the proper focus.
But other than that one incident, it has been very good for focusing continuously or when pushing the auto focus button. When using compatible lenses it is really nice being able to click the focus button and having it instantly focus on that spot.
This feature is great for shooting interviews or really any type of shoot with non moving subjects so that you can quickly and accurately set your focus.
But the best use for the continuous auto focus will probably be gimbal work. Being able to track your subject and keep them easily in focus will come in very handy for low budget and indie shooters.
4K Resolution Video
The 4K video from this camera is absolutely fantastic. It is very sharp and the detail in the video looks really good. In the video review you can see shots in 4K that show it's low light capabilities as well as it's color.
When filming with people, it handles skin really well. So far I have only been using the SLOG 3 gamma setting since it gives so much more dynamic range than shooting in a standard Rec.709 color space.
I have also only been recording in the high bit rate XAVC S in order to get the best image quality. Even when shooting at the highest bit rate the camera it doesn't eat through SD cards like crazy. Honestly on an average day long shoot I don't imagine that I will use more than maybe two 64 GB SD cards, and that's if it's all day coverage such as at a live event.
Slow Motion Video
Another awesome feature that the a6300 has is the ability to shoot continuously at 120fps in 1080p. This is a great feature for shooting slow motion video for many different project types.
One thing about this feature though is that it requires you to shoot the footage to either a 24p or 30p clip. This is neither a good or bad thing really but it did warrant noting. The plus to this is that it is easier to then use the footage in the rest of a timeline that is using either 24p or 30p footage.
But it does also mean that you have to set which you want to record to which has to be done through the annoying, giant, convoluted menu.
The footage shot in slow motion does look really great though. The 1080p is slightly softer than the 4K footage, but that is to be expected. If you haven't watched already, the video review does have two different test shots showing off the slow motion capabilities of the camera.
Low Light Abilities
Now this was one of the most important aspects to me when purchasing the camera, and important to many other shooters. This camera features the same type of sensor that is in the a7s II, only a crop sensor version instead of full frame.
With the amazing low light abilities in the a7s II, I could only imagine that the capabilities of this camera would be similarly good. In the end, this camera has definitely proven to be a good camera for low light shooting conditions.
The camera can shoot up to 25,600 ISO in video mode which is pretty crazy for me coming from a Canon DSLR and the Black Magic Pocket cinema camera which are not low light monsters like these new Sonys are.
I tested the camera in every ISO for noise and was actually very impressed across the board at the quality of the footage in low light. The noise from this camera is actually impressively similar to grain rather than noise.
I did not see any colorful noise or artifacts even when shooting at 25,600 ISO. At the higher ISOs the noise is definitely visible, but rather than detracting from the image quality it seems more reminiscent of film.
I also noticed that throwing a nice high contrast grade on the footage is a great way to minimize how noticeable the noise is at the higher ISOs.
I think what I found the most strange about the noise on this camera is that it shows up at basically every ISO when shooting in SLOG 3. At first this worried me when I was seeing a decent amount of graininess to the footage shooting at 800 ISO. But once I threw on even a basic log to Rec.709 LUT it really cleaned up.
As with any camera there are the big features that everybody knows they want, then there are the little features that people forget that they want. There is one very particular feature that this camera has that I almost forgot to review it seemed so minimal.
For white balance there are of course all of the presets for different white balances, but the big thing that it has for video production is the ability to select you white balance by Kelvin. You can also go even further than that and tweak the Hue of the white balance directly.
I've never seen that ability in a DSLR, let alone a $1K camera.
Another nice feature for video mode is the ability to shoot at pretty high shutter rates. You can shoot up to 1/4000 in video mode which is actually a nifty feature when shooting at high frame rates outdoors.
You can get very crisp movement while also maintaining shallow depth of field with a fast lens.
One last seemingly minor detail that I have been finding that I really like more and more is the on screen balance indicator. Again, not a feature that I have really seen in cameras that fall in the $1k price range.
This feature is great for both tripod shots and handheld shots to make sure that the camera is level. I know that sometimes I think the camera is level then I check that little indicator and realize that I definitely was shooting at a minor dutch angle.
Overall I am very happy with this camera. The video quality from it is really great, and the high bit 4K footage looks really good. I look forward to using it on more projects in the future.
As for the photography features, there are some really cool features but I have a lot more exploring to do with this camera in terms of photography.
If you are looking for a good starter camera, or a nice small, budget friendly 4K camera, I can not recommend this camera enough. It is an incredible camera especially for the $1K price tag.
While at NAB Show 2016 I got my hands on my buddy Bart Johnson's (Bart Johnson Productions LLC) Black Magic Design URSA Mini 4.6K cinema camera while we were out at Fremont Street to put it through some tests with Nate Brubaker of Rock Shore Media.
If you have ever been to Fremont, you know that the lighting conditions here are harsh to cameras, so we figured this would be a good place to put the camera through its paces. What we found was that the camera does create great images, but there are also some downfalls.
Overall the design of the camera is really nice. The URSA Mini is much lighter than its predecessor, the full size URSA. There are two versions of the URSA Mini, the 4K and 4.6K. We were shooting on the 4.6K which has a better sensor than the 4K, not just in resolution, but in dynamic range as well.
The built in monitor on the camera is really great. It is bright, sharp, and does relatively well in daylight for visibility. My only slight complaint was that it was very stiff to move, but I am sure that was due to the camera being brand new and it should loosen up with further use.
The button arrangement on the camera is good, everything was very easy to access. My only frustration was that I had to look at the side of the camera to find the record button when I wanted to start or stop recording.
We were shooting with a Wooden Camera top handle which made handheld shooting really nice on the camera. The handle mounted in a way that gave the camera a really nice natural balance in hand.
There was only one REALLY huge flaw with the overall design, but it is something Black Magic could easily fix. The flaw has to do with the Operating System (OS) of the camera. We started the night filming at 4K Prores 422, but of course wanted to get at least one test shot in RAW.
So I popped the camera into RAW and filmed one shot then without changing anything else set the codec back to Prores 422. In my haste I did not notice the automatic change that occurred. The camera automatically set us to 1080p instead of 4K. We went on to film a bunch of shots in 1080 rather than 4K until Bart noticed the change.
We went back and tested and sure enough it was due to the camera auto changing resolutions that we ended up in 1080. So Black Magic if you're reading this, fix that right away!
The other thing is that this thing shoots to CFast cards, which as we all know, are insanely expensive. To get enough memory to really feel safe shooting on this thing would cost almost as much as the camera.
But by using CFast cards instead of solid state drives like other cameras in the Black Magic lineup, this gives the camera a pretty sweet feature of dual memory slots.
So overall, the design of the camera is prettygood.
Now we get into the really important part, the images that come out of the camera. From the test that we did, I have to say the image quality is nice. We were shooting at 1600asa on an f4 lens at 4K in Prores 422. Let's go ahead and watch the footage we shot.
The first thing that I noticed when taking the footage into post was not the magenta color issue everyone else has noticed, but the Fixed Pattern Noise (FPN) that I could see faintly in every single shot.
While we were shooting at 1600asa and Black Magic cameras are not known for their lowlight abilities, it was disappointing to see the FPN. I personally own the Pocket Cinema Camera and although it gets noisy at 1600asa, it doesn't have such a problem with FPN.
I was most disappointed about this simply because Black Magic cameras have such a great ability to create filmic noise that is more similar to grain, but FPN is always ugly.
So to try to remedy this, I used a high contrast, pretty harsh Lut/grade that actually did help to reduce the visibility of the FPN pretty well. In the end, I was actually pretty happy with the footage once it had been colored.
But here is where I really ran into an issue. I shot a single clip in RAW on the camera which should be the best image quality out of the bunch for color and lack of noise. Instead, this clip has the most obvious noise that didn't go away with the same color grade used on the rest of the shots. It also showed off the magenta issue reaaaaally badly. See the examples below. Click on the images to see them full size.
The colored image above is using the exact same color grade as the similar shot that was filmed in Prores. As you can see, the color difference is exponentially different. Not only does the uncolored RAW image show up as really red, but it becomes even more noticeable when colored.
The best part of the image quality that I noticed was how it handled skin even in such harsh lighting conditions. Even with the high contrast grade that I used, including my favorite Kodachrome emulating Lut, skin looks good across all the lighting conditions.
See the below images of a performer under different lights Click on images to view full size.
Also, the images coming out of this camera are very sharp without getting into the realm of being too sharp and digital looking. Proof of how good the image sharpness is is that even though we shot a lot of footage at 1080p, I was able to upres it to 4K and it seamlessly blended with the 4K footage on a 4K timeline.
The final flaw that we ran into was yet another when shooting in RAW....we had skipped frames. Both myself and Bart tested the RAW shot in Premiere Pro and both ended up with skipped frames.
I tried to open the clip in Resolve to test it but Resolve didn't want to recognize the file as a video, instead the individual dng files showed up. I'm guessing this might have been due to the missing frames, but I am unsure as I honestly didn't bother troubleshooting.
The URSA Mini 4.6K has a lot of potential. I think that with future firmware upgrades and proper lighting conditions, this thing can create absolutely, stunningly, phenomenal images. But as of right now, it has a little ways to go.
In regards to the use of CFast cards though, there are was a new product that Bart tested at NAB Show that uses dual dummy cards to output to a solid state recorder. Depending on the cost of this adapter, this could be a great option to bring the down the overall cost of the camera and put it in the realm of affordability.
To check out all of the tech reviews and information Bart has, pop over to his YouTube Channel Bart Johnson Productions.
For more of Nate Brubaker's work, check out his website rockshoremedia.com