Thursday, April 7, 2016

Sony Alpha a6300 Camera Review, Part II - 07 Apr 2016

Mounting the camera on the Digidapter™ was straightforward. The barrel of the Digidapter™ fits snugly around the 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens of the Sony a6300, so fitting the base of the Digidapter™ and locking down the screws was easy. Now, it was just a matter of sliding the camera forward until the lens produced a clean, sharp vignette circle at the 16mm setting. I suspect strongly that this is great for shooting at 16 mm, but focal plane misalignment may occur as the lens is zoomed to 50 mm, so it might be more prudent to move the camera a bit more forward. However, too far forward means that you cannot turn the focusing ring on the lens because it will be inside the Digidapter™ barrel (plus, you need to avoid crashing the lens into the eyepiece while zooming). BTW, the power zoom switch on the side of the lens is a nice touch and easier to use than reaching for the lens ring.

With the camera securely on the Digidapter™ it was now the time to figure out the best settings for imaging. Aperture-Priority was dialed in immediately. Then, I went to the Menu:

Image Size: RAW+JPG (I would quickly learn that Photoshop CS6 won't read the RAW files, so I broke down and signed up for the $9.95/mo. Adobe Lightroom 6 / Photoshop CC package. Now to learn Lightroom...).

Video: XAVC S 4K Video requires at least 64GB SDXC I U3 memory card. All I had were 16GB SD cards, so I dialed in the next best thing: XAVC S HD 60P 50M. I would purchase a Scandisk Extreme Pro 128GB SDXC I U3 card from B&H Photo Video for $79.

Drive Mode: Continuous-HI (the camera also has a nice 10-sec timer w/ 3-frame continuous capture).
Focus Mode: AF-S or MF (I would eventually switch to Manual Focus as it allows me to control focus when using Magnified Focus).
Focus Area: Center
ISO: ISO AUTO (100 - 6400 w/ Minimum Shutter Speed of 1/125 sec.)
Meter Mode: Center
White Balance: Auto
Focus Magnifier: ON
Smile Detection: OFF (doesn't work for birds, apparently, but is great for people / regular shooting)
Color Space: sRGB
MF Assist: ON

Focus Magnification Time: NO LIMIT (A slight turn of the lens ring turns on Focus Magnifier and I'm able to perform critical focusing using the scope; then hit shutter to take images. Be careful to not depress the shutter while focusing as it will disable the Focus Magnifier)
AF in Focus Mag.: OFF

Focus Peaking Level: MID / Yellow ( In manual focusing mode the focus peaking works very well, but may not provide critical focus sharpness; the Magnified Focus seems to provide better results so I use it whenever possible)

Silent Shooting: OFF (necessary for getting 11 fps, otherwise only allows 6-8 fps when ON)

e-Front Shutter Curtain: OFF (necessary for getting 11 fps, otherwise only allows 6-8 fps when ON - I believe this is the case; a quick test w/ OFF produced faster fps shooting)

Format: It's the Toolbox icon / 5 (always format the card in camera after transferring files to the computer)

The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) is very bright, as is the viewing screen on the back of the camera. However, users of the camera quickly learn that it is useless in sunlight, so the EVF is necessary. An alternative is to use something like the Hoodman Loupe, which can be velcroed directly to the viewing screen (but only after buying a screen protector) and used in place of the EVF. I may go that route eventually as I had great luck when I used it on the Nikon 1 V3 and Sony RX100 III.

The camera is weatherproofed, and the magnesium body gives it a nice, solid feel. I think it fits the Digidapter perfectly!

Initial testing using AF-S produced some disappointing results, but I was shooting in low light, so tracking may have been the issue. I've been a bit nervous using AF since focus-peaking / magnified focus seems to be necessary in order to obtain the sharpest images (the Nikon's AF system is much more reliable).

After shooting Manual Focus for the past few days I really like the way the camera handles. As long as the camera is initially focused on the same subject as the scope I can use the EVF to find and focus using the scope. A quick touch of the lens ring activates Magnified Focus and I can perform critical focusing w/ the scope. Then fire a burst. I seem to have a lot of rejected photos, but the keepers are impressively sharp.

Color balance is excellent! I used to have to adjust color in the RX100 III but this camera seems to be spot on. Lightroom adjustments are minimal.

Sony Alpha a6300 + 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Kit Lens on the 40X W Eyepiece

Lightroom / Photoshop adjusted
How is image quality? I managed to capture an image of this American Robin under low light the first time I tried the camera. 1/125 sec at f/5.6 at ISO 6400! With the Nikon 1 V3 I could not get usable images at anything greater than ISO 800. Luminance noise is negligible, and color noise is almost non-existent. Lightroom / Photoshop adjustments are able to clean up the image nicely.

Original inset and 100% zoomed

With the only sunlight available all week I took the scope out and camped out by the feeders. From about 20' away I spent an hour or digiscoping birds using the 16-50 mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Kit Lens. This Black-capped Chickadee actually stayed long enough to get several bursts off.

American Goldfinches are actively molting into their breeding plumage, and this image was tack-sharp. Check out the feather detail!

A Downy Woodpecker attacking the suet feeder was a challenge for the magnified focus, but I was able to get quite a few sharp images. A European Starling also paused long enough for a few keepers.

The kit lens is not known for its sharpness, but its a quality lens with good center sharpness (soft on the corners). For all but the most discerning digiscopers this is a terrific lens to have. Me, I'm a bit pickier w/ my image quality, so I'm opting for the extra quality that comes from good primes. 

Sony Alpha a6300 + Sigma 30mm f/2.8 Lens on the 40X W Eyepiece

With overcast skies and light rain falling I decided to try the Sigma 30mm f/2.8 DN lens on the camera. This time I shot through the open window, so there might have been a touch of convection (heat) currents to deal with. But, I shot wide open at f/2.8 and tried shooting at 1/250 sec. using Auto-ISO. All of these images would expose between ISO 800 - 3200.

Its difficult to compare a good prime on an overcast day with a lesser lens on a sunny day, but I'd say the Sigma 30 did an extremely nice job in low light. I noticed a touch of chromatic aberration on the cheeks of the chickadee (blue fringing) but focus was off and it cleaned up easily in Lightroom. Otherwise I saw good feather detail, especially w/ the American Tree Sparrow and House Finch. The next time I use the lens I'll stop down to f/3.5 and see if it makes any difference. Depth of field won't improve, but I might get a slightly sharper image.

So, after only a few days with this camera I have to say that I'm extremely happy with the results. The Sony Alpha a6300 handles wonderfully, feels great, and produces some wonderful, clean images even at very high ISO's. Also, after playing with the menus this evening its very possible that I was only shooting at about 8 fps and not 11 fps (due to the e-Shutter Front Curtain being ON).

I'll also have to pull out the Zeiss 20-75X Zoom Eyepiece and give the Sigma 30 a try. Who knows? It might produce good enough results to go back to the zoom eyepiece.

Heck, I even got a flight shot of a Turkey Vulture soaring over the field behind the house. Not bad for a first try...

Sony Alpha a6300 + Sigma 30mm f/2.8 on the 20 - 75X Eyepiece

I found the Zeiss 20-75X Eyepiece this morning and decided to give it a try w/ the Sony a6300. I found that current position on the Digidapter for the 40X W eyepiece also produced a sharp vignette circle on the 20-75X eyepiece, so there was no need to readjust the camera's position on the Digidapter. It was raining outside, but I decided to open the window and give it a try, anyways. With the 30mm Sigma the Zeiss eyepiece zoomed cleanly throughout the entire range. 

At 75X these images of a Pine Siskin and American Goldfinch looked sharp.

I did notice CA with the eyepiece, but Lightroom adjustments removed it nicely. As with the other lenses I found that magnified focus produced sharper images than using the focus peaking alone. Image quality is good enough that I think I could start using this eyepiece again - it would provide a more versatile magnification range (EFL of 900 - 2250 mm) than the 40X alone (1800mm).

Incidentally, I seem to be getting 11 fps now that I disabled the e-shutter front curtain in the menu (see above).

Now, its on to 4K and the prospect of being able to grab stills from the UHD videos! But I'll wait for better weather.

I'm excited to get out to the wetlands and put the Sony Alpha a6300 to a real test in the field. Thanks for watching!

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