Sony Imaging — maker of what are routinely hailed as the best camera sensors on the market — is aggressively stepping up its advanced-amateur body and pro-grade lens game. Its new A6300 mirrorless camera and its G Master lens series, both announced earlier this year and available now, are filling in key gaps in its lineup to ensure that competitors Nikon, Canon and Fuji stay fully on their toes.
I traveled to Miami recently to try the new products, and I came away even more convinced of the rapidly ascending brand’s place in the photo/video universe — a place where photographers tend to be brand-loyal as much for practicality’s sake as quality’s sake. (Expensive lens collections don’t cross over from one camera system to the other without clunky, feature-limiting adapters.) Though Sony’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, the A7 series in particular, are exceptionally highly regarded, the lens options haven’t been able to compete with those of other brands, and in terms of more consumer-oriented mirrorless APS-C sensor (that is, smaller than a full-frame) interchangeable-lens systems, the 24.2MP A6300 ($998) pushes the technology to the most capable model yet from any manufacturer.
So let’s start there. The A6300’s predecessor, the A6000 ($498), was the most successful mirrorless camera ever, as well as the most successful interchangeable-lens system. The new camera, which shares the same general look of the A6000, introduces a new, lightning-fast focus system with a leading 425 phase-detection autofocus points (up from 175 in the A6000) and the ability to lock on in just 0.05 seconds. Though the camera was occasionally stymied by complex scenarios (including, for instance, splashing water) it was overwhelmingly able to keep pace with the action, and usually nailed the focus even in tricky scenarios. That speed and focus capability represents merely its core capability, though. The A6300 is also the first mirrorless, interchangeable-lens Sony to provide internal 4K video recording (as opposed to recording to external storage, which many systems still do) and the first to provide live-view continuous shooting at 8 frames per second, meaning you can track your target continuously while the camera fires away. It’s an important capability for both pros and amateurs trying to capture high-speed action.
In our sample images from the 24-70, 70-200 and 85 (in that order) demonstrated impressive sharpness, excellent rendition of out of focus areas (bokeh), and a penchant for low-light shooting. Photos: Eric Adams
The A6300’s advanced digital viewfinder and magnesium body, both upgrades from its predecessor, round out the premium touches to the little camera, which is good because its $1,000 price tag (for the body alone) might be a deterrent for all but the most dedicated shooters. Those who do invest, however, will be thrilled with the results.
The lenses are competitive with the best from Nikon and Canon, which makes them the glass pro shooters have been waiting for from Sony.
The A6300 uses E-Mount lenses, which means it can accept the manufacturer’s most advanced options — the ones primarily used with full-frame cameras these days. These options include the new G Master series of lenses that was announced simultaneously with the A6300. I had the chance to shoot the three new premium lenses with both the A6300 and an A7RII full-frame mirrorless camera. The new models include a 24-70mm F2.8 zoom (a versatile lens that often serves as the go-to option for many shooters), an 85mm F1.4 prime lens, and a 70-200mm F2.8 zoom. These hefty lenses also come with hefty price tags: $2,200 for the FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM Standard Zoom and $1,800 for the 85mm F1.4 GM Telephoto prime lens. (Pricing hasn’t been determined for the 70-200, yet.) But for serious shooters, the price tags are worth it — the wide range and magnificent color rendition in the 24-70 and the smooth bokeh effect of the faster 85mm (that is, sharp focus in the foreground, say, with an out-of-focus background) will vastly improve both image quality and your shooting options.
Credit for all this goes to a series of innovations, including aspherical elements newly designed to boost resolution and limit chromatic flaws in conventional lenses while enhancing the bokeh effect, and optical coatings that improve light throughout for maximum brightness. The 70-200 also includes built-in stabilization to further ensure sharpness while shooting on the fly. The lenses are competitive with the best from Nikon and Canon, which makes them the glass pro shooters have been waiting for from Sony. It will likely give many the nudge they need to cross over fully to the brand — and for those building their collection from scratch, they’ll be perfect places to start.