src=" Using the Sony a6300 for Sports in Low Light - MirrorLessons

Date: 28/03/2016 | By: Heather

Using the Sony a6300 for Sports in Low Light – A Football Game in Aberystwyth

sony a6300 for sports low light-featured-1

Using the Sony a6300 for Sports in Low Light – A Football Game in Aberystwyth

Last night was our first chance to test the Sony a6300 in earnest after spending four days at the Photography Show in Birmingham. Knowing that the autofocus capabilities are supposed to be spectacular, we took the camera straight to a local football match between our local team, Aberystwyth Town, and Rhyl. I should mention that by winning the game, Aberystwyth managed to keep themselves in the running for the all-important UEFA Europa League Play Offs – way to go, guys!

sony a6300 low light sports
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000

The match took place at 7:45 p.m., meaning there wasn’t any ambient light except for the floodlights on the field, and the only lens I had with me was the E-mount 18-105mm f/4 whose telephoto capabilities are somewhat lacking for this kind of sport and whose aperture, while constant, isn’t particularly bright. Following moving subjects in broad daylight is a challenge in and of itself, so I knew this low-light test would push the a6300 to its limit. As you’ll find out, I was quite amazed by the results.

The Sony a6300 with the 18-105mm f/4 lens

Note: I am not a sports photographer, and there is no question that in the hands of a seasoned professional, this camera could produce even better results.

sony a6300 sports
a6300, 1/500, f/4, ISO 5000
sony a6300 sports
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000

Before I begin, I’ll share a few words about the characteristics of the Sony a6300 and why it is potentially the best mirrorless camera for sports photography.

The a6300 has the highest number of phase detection points of any camera – a whopping 425 in total. Most cameras have a mix of contrast and phase detection points, with a concentration of phase detection points in the center, but the a6300 has them right across the entire image area. This means that no subject will escape the camera’s attention as long as it is within the frame.

The camera’s new High Density Tracking AF Technology concentrates more autofocus points on the subject once the camera detects it (7.5 times the coverage density of the a6000). Thanks to the BIONZ X™ image processing engine, it also has the world’s highest AF speed of 0.05s (according to Sony of course!).

These characteristics combined make the a6300 a machine built for one purpose: to capture fast-moving subjects quickly and accurately.

a6300 sports photography
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000

Below you can find the exact settings I used during the match. They are similar to the settings we use on our Sony A7r II whose autofocus system is quite similar, though not quite as advanced.

  • Continuous AF (C-AF)
  • Zone Focus (for the first half of the match) and Wide Focus (for the second half)

Zone allows you to focus on a limited zone within your frame. It isn’t as precise as Centre or Flexible Spot and it doesn’t cover the entire frame like Wide. I’ve found it more effective when you are photographing one or only a couple of players and you’re able to keep them within a specific area of your frame. The Zone area can be moved to different positions across the frame as well.

a6300 zone af
Zone area

Wide is better when you are dealing with multiple players whose movements are unpredictable. Since there are 425 phase detection points covering almost the entire sensor, the camera manages to track the players regardless of where they move within the frame.

a6300 wide af
Wide area
  • Hi Continuous Burst (8fps)

There are four different burst settings on the a6300: Low (3fps), Medium (6fps), High (8fps) and High+ (11fps). I chose High because it is the only mode that gives you an uninterrupted live-view.

  • Focus Priority

In Focus Priority the camera takes the shot only when it manages to focus on something. (Hopefully that “something” is your subject!) Release Priority will take a picture regardless of whether it has locked focus or not. For review purposes, I opted for Focus Priority to gain a better understanding of how the AF performs. However, many sports photographers tend to use release priority so as to not miss any action.

  • Finder Frame Rate 100fps

You can choose between 50fps and 100fps but the latter is more fluid. Unsurprisingly, it also drains more battery life.

Note: if you are in NTSC mode, the frame rate options will be 60fps or 120fps.

  • ISO values between 3200 and 12800 and Shutter Speeds between 1/500s and 1/800s

Given the lack of light, I chose ISO speeds between 3200 and 12800 and changed my shutter speed accordingly while keeping my aperture at f/4 at all times. I found the high ISO performance quite acceptable up to 6400 but I was reluctant to go beyond 12800 because of excess noise and loss of fine detail.  (I’ll discuss this more in a future article.) To keep the players in focus, the slowest shutter speed I used was 1/500s but when that wasn’t enough, I raised my ISO and used 1/640s and 1/800s.

How did the a6300 autofocus perform?

a6300 sports photography
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000

When I began shooting, I was immediately bowled over by the accuracy of the camera’s High Density tracking system. Even when in Wide Focus mode, the phase detection points immediately sprang to life and clustered around the subject whenever one entered the frame.

sony a6300 low light
a6300, 1/640, f/4, ISO 6400

Looking back at my images, the second thing that impressed me was the keeper rate. While on other mirrorless bodies, I’d been used to a keeper rate of 50-70% (depending on the camera model), the a6300 delivered about 80% perfectly in-focus shots, 15% slightly out-of-focus shots, and 5% missed shots over the course of the game.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/640, f/4, ISO 5000

In the case of the slightly out-of-focus shots, human error also played a role about half of the time. For example, I started out by using 1/500s but it was too slow for some of the action. Once I raised the shutter speed, my keeper rate improved dramatically. Similarly, when I was in Zone Focus mode, I wasn’t always successful at keeping my subject within the selected zone, resulting in slightly soft images.

sony a6300 for sports low light
a6300, 1/500, f/4, ISO 4000 – An example of a slightly soft result.
sony a6300 autofocus
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000 – Another slightly soft result.

The completely out-of-focus shots tended to occur when I suddenly zoomed out from 105mm to a shorter focal length and immediately tried to release a burst of shots. It seems that the camera requires a split second to adjust to the new focal length and if it isn’t given the time to do so, it will focus on something other than your subject (usually the background). In this case, it helps to half-press the shutter button to reset the focus distance after you’ve zoomed out, and then fully depress the shutter button to release the burst.

sony a6300
a6300, 1/500, f/4, ISO 4000 – Taken at 53mm – When I zoomed out and quickly tried to take a burst, the camera wouldn’t lock onto anything for a split second, causing me to miss the shot.

Very rarely, the camera confuses the subject with the background, such as in the example below.

a6300 sports
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 6400 – One image in a sequence of four where the a6300 failed to focus on the correct subject. This happened very rarely.

I did notice that when your battery life dwindles down to 5% and below, the autofocus performance seems to decrease a little. In this situation, it is always wise to change the battery before it’s depleted (15 or 10%). The a6300 is a power-hungry little beast, so it is a good idea to carry around at least three or four extra batteries if you plan on doing a lot of burst shooting with the EVF set to 100fps. To save battery life, I found it helps to turn off the LCD in the Finder/Monitor sub-menu.

How about the uninterrupted Live View?

sony a6300 evf
a6300, 1/500, f/4, ISO 4000 – It was easy to track the players as they ran using the EVF in High burst mode (8fps).

Sony has claimed that the updated Live View minimises the display lag to the point that you almost feel as if you’re working with an optical viewfinder. Keep in mind that while there is a High+ 11fps option, Live View only works up to High burst mode (8fps). Having used the EVF for the entire game on High, I can confirm that there is an extremely short blackout between each frame, making it easy to track subjects moving at the pace of the football players.

Earlier on in the day, I also used the EVF to track our beloved red kites in flight – probably one of the toughest subjects to follow due to their quick and unpredictable movements – and I had a little more difficulty keeping them at the centre of the frame because of the blackouts, however short they were. Since I also had relatively a short focal length (105mm on the long end), I’ll definitely need to perform more in-depth tests with a longer lens to get a real sense of what it’s like to track fast-moving animals with this camera.

Are there any downsides to the a6300?

My testing period has only just begun but there are a couple of things that grabbed my attention while I was shooting the game.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/500, f/4, ISO 5000

First of all, there is the mechanical shutter sound. It is deceptive because the opening and closing of the two curtains results in three consecutive noises, leading you to believe that you’ve accidentally switched to burst mode. And when you are in burst mode, you may end up thinking that you’ve taken more shots that you actually have.

My advice is to simply fire off as many shots as possible during a burst, as you’ll inevitably end up with less than you expected. Or, you can switch to the electronic first curtain shutter, which makes one noise instead of three. (Keep in mind that you may experience some exposure issues at very high shutter speeds.)

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/640, f/4, ISO 6400

Second is the eye sensor. Even with the Finder/Monitor sub-menu set to EVF only instead of LCD/EVF, it takes a split second too long to activate. For sports or wildlife, this can cause you to miss the action. Unfortunately there isn’t a way to disable the eye sensor. One alternative solution is to put a small piece of black electrical tape on the eye sensor so that the EVF always remains active.

The benefit of Memory Recall

I don’t want to go into the ergonomics, menus and button layout until my full review but one thing I want to briefly mention are the Memory Recall 1 and 2 options on the mode dial. I found them extremely useful because I was able to set one of them to be “sports ready” (shutter priority with a fast shutter speed, C-AF, Auto ISO up to 12800 and Zone AF). Having this option meant that I could quickly switch between my standard settings (aperture priority, low ISO, flexible spot) and the ideal settings for fast action without having to enter a single menu.

Initial conclusions

sony a6300 autofocus
a6300, 1/640, f/4, ISO 6400

Since I’ve only used the Sony a6300 for a couple of days, I’ll reserve my final thoughts for the full review which will hopefully be online in a few weeks. What I can say is that the a6300’s AF performance has gone beyond my initial expectations. I knew it would be better than the a6000, which I used last year, but now that I’ve tried it out in the field, I can understand why reviewers are reacting so positively.

sony a6300 high iso
a6300, 1/800, f/4, ISO 8000

In my future tests, I’ll be very curious to see how both the EVF and the autofocus perform for fast-paced sports with longer lenses with a faster aperture like the FE 70-200mm f/4 or the new G Master 70-200mm f/2.8. I’m also planning to try the camera with the new Sigma MC-11 adapter, as I’m sure it will deliver interesting results paired with Sigma’s range of telephoto lenses. Let’s hope that we can find a few more sports in the area to photograph!

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Marc

    PS: as a source of inspiration, you may have a look at this video here that I’ve found (I’m curious to see if your opinions matches this one) – it means the RX10 III is quite similar to the 2d edition except for the lens (and if I got it right, the lens has *more* light at short range / wide FoV (2.4 vs 2.8 aperture), but quickly gets a bit less light , but with an extended zoom range… did I get this right? :) )

  • Heather Broster

    If we get our hands on the RX10 III, we’ll do our best to provide a comparison. :)

  • Marc

    Might even be interesting to share some thoughts on the video comparison with the newly announced RX10 iii (I know, I know, lots of people will say that it would be comparing apples to oranges, but on the other hand, you’ll get both (with lenses) at somehow comparable lenses, both are brand new systems from Sony, and happen to have quite different technologies (with different pros and cons) – and while the RX10 has a smaller sensor, it’s marketed by Sony as THE camera for videographers (or I got something wrong)…)
    Looking forward to reading this :-)

  • Claude B.

    It is look like the best low cost, lighter sports camera with fantastic results!

  • Heather Broster

    That sounds like an interesting experiment! Could you share a few image samples here? We’d love to see them!

  • Carrefinho

    Never thought E 18-105/4 could be a sport lens, pretty impressive! I tried adapting a Canon EF 70-200 F4L IS USM to the A6300 to shoot basketball. It literally blew me away, AF was way better than I expected it would perform when adapting lens.

  • Heather Broster

    Yes, you’re right, thanks. I’ll clarify that in the article.
    I was debating whether or not to even bring the lens to the match but since you can stand next to the field, I figured it was worth a try!

  • Heather Broster

    I’ve only noticed that it overheats when shooting 4K. Still shooting seems to be fine.

  • Sean T

    The a6000 has a memory mode on the dial, but then you have to pick which memory settings to recall from the menu.
    Anyway, I’m impressed that the 18-105 did so well, I never would have considered it a sports lens! You were close to get such nice large subjects in your photos.
    Low light ability of this camera looks (from DPR anyway) to be one stop better than the a6000, which impresses me.
    I’m still disappointed about the lack of touchscreen, we know Sony can do them!

  • Sean T

    Just a little more patience and here we go, the first almost-wildlife lens! Looking forward to your review of the new 70-300.

  • Emmanuel Peña

    In general terms. I have GX8 and the AF is good, but the AF of the A600 is awesome.

    What about overheat?

  • Heather Broster

    Better in terms of AF performance, you mean? Yes, absolutely. I still have to test other aspects such as video before I can comment on the rest. :)

  • Emmanuel Peña

    Heather, do you consider the A6300 better than GX8? Thanks.

  • Heather Broster

    Hm, maybe we should add one! (Though I don’t drink coffee, hehe.)
    I agree that it would be nice to see more dedicated lenses for the APS-C system. I was positive they would announce something earlier on this year alongside the new GM lenses but it wasn’t to be.

  • Heather Broster

    Football, soccer, it’s all the same to me! 😉

  • Heather Broster

    We’ll probably make an article dedicated to the video capabilities. There is a lot to say! :)

  • Robert Moore

    Always fantastic reviews here—but how do you make money on this site? I haven’t seen a ‘buy me a coffee button’ ???
    On the A6300 I have the same age old complaint and it’s nothing to do with the a6300 proper—just where is the wildlife and sports lenses???? Looks like you’ve just proven the a6300 is ISO 6400 capable and even 8000 if you simply have to. F4 lenses are so much more friendly weight and cost wise. Well you’ve heard me complain about this lack of lenses before, so I did most recently look at the Sony e-mount roadmap and, nothing :(
    Maybe Sigma or Tamron may save the day.

  • jjj

    Looking for more sports to test out the A6300, you say? I’d love to see the results at an indoor swim meet. Since swimming is our daughter’s sport, it would be fantastic to see how the A6300 AF and Focus tracking performs at the typically low-light environment of an indoor swim meet. The A6300 AF looked very impressive at the Soccer Match. Football is an entirely different game. 😉 :-)

  • Marc

    Looking forward to the video capabilities: the AF looks great, and the sensor extremely bright, but I’ve seen reviewers pointing out at terrible rolling shutter, which might have dramatic effects at 120fps…

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