Eager to try out the camera, I quickly opened the box and peered through the contents. Branded Sony strap, USB cable, battery, camera, and body… As expected, there is no external charger so I’ll definitely need to pick one up at some later time.
The camera itself appears quite lovely, having a nice heft, quality finish, and feel. But I’ve never handled a mirrorless camera much previously, so fiddling with one now, I am surprised to see this thing is small. Especially after having used a DSLR for many years, this thing is tiny in comparison. Even the kit 18-105mm lens somewhat dwarfs the camera body.
Impatiently, I did not charge up the camera before turning it on; I knew the lithium battery would have a charge on it anyway. Unfortunately, I was greeted with a Japanese menu system. While I could generally figure out the settings by recognizing some kanji, it is not a fun process, especially when trying to familiarize myself with a new camera. I read on the internet and saw on YouTube that it was possible to “hack” the camera and unlock hidden menu options. Since the video was rather old, I accepted the possibility that with the newer 2.01 firmware, maybe it would not be possible to change the language.
Sony A6000 / A6300 OpenMemories: Tweak Software
I didn’t want to risk bricking my new camera, so I made sure to read up quite a bit beforehand and find the software I needed. It turns out “hacking” the camera is only matter of a few steps. I have personally confirmed this to work with the A6000 and A6300. (These pictures following are done with my Sony A6000, but essentially the directions are the same as the A6300.)
Running the PMCA GUI, install the OpenMemories:Tweak on the camera connected by USB.
Once uploaded, run the software on your camera under Application (アプリケーション).
Go to the fourth page, and unlock the protected settings on the phone.
This will allow all 35 languages to be made available…
...as well as disabling the (somewhat) arbitrary 30 minute limit set on video recordings.
This simple “hack” will allow my originally Japanese-only camera to have a new menu option, 言語. This is the language setting and wonderfully, I can change it to English now. While I would absolutely love to learn each kanji for every camera setting, I think learning how to use it right in the first place is more important. Especially given the notoriously confusing menu system in Sony cameras. Now that here is no 30min stop and full language menu options, I can use it freely without restriction.
Update: Confirmed to work with A6000 Firmware Version 3.21 and A6300 Firmware Ver 2.01.
As an aside, I think I can understand why they forced Japanese-only on its domestically sold units, even though the language settings are already on the firmware itself. Even at regular price, the camera is sold in the Japanese domestic market for much cheaper than I can buy the exact same setup in America. This would prevent Japanese units being sold overseas for much less than probably dealers are getting the units for… especially since I essentially paid $350 less than stateside. That’s an incredible 33% off!
As I am still learning the camera and discovering its strengths and weaknesses, most of these shots were taken with generally default and auto settings.
I did, however, enjoy using the pop-up zoom screen when manually focusing. Essentially, the camera digitally zooms an extreme up-close view in the screen, allowing me to adjust for some nice, precisely-focused shots.
Within the short time of using it, I found the autofocus is indeed very fast, much faster with much less wandering than my last camera. It picked up faces very well and with the right settings, it generally picked the objects I wanted to focus in automatically. (By default, it was set to focus only on the closest object, which proved annoying for some initial depth-of-field pictures.)
One thing this camera does excel at is the low-light quality, even on auto ISO settings. These shots were taken on a tripod with the timer, but otherwise straight-from-camera JPGs. Both are at set at the widest 18mm (27mm equivalent) zoom and lowest F-stop, F3.5. As you can see, low light performance is fantastic, even with the kit lens. Much better than my DSLR and kit lens.
Even without the aid of a tripod, freehand with the kit OSS lens, the result is absolutely fantastic. (Zoomed up of course, there is significant blur.)
Beyond the quality of the shots, I want to stress in agreement that most reviews complaining about the enigmatic menu settings are absolutely true. I know I am a photographer newbie, so a lot of terminology is foreign to me, but I know enough that these menus shouldn’t be as confusing and poorly organized as they are here; it would absolutely baffle those who have never used a “real” camera,. As further evidence, there are many websites that have detailed instructions on how to understand the menu system and what settings are recommended. If they were more straight-forward like Nikon (and I assume Canon), there would be little need for such redundancy.
I can’t say much for the video beyond a few sample shots, but the 4K quality is absolutely divine. As echoed by other reviewers, however, the “rolling shutter” effect is pretty bad. Quick panning or profile videos of moving cars result in the appearance of “leaning.” Unfortunately, this appears to be fairly common with many lower-budget cameras at high resolution or 4K with current sensor technology. The trick for smooth video would therefore necessitate awareness of this limitation or fix some of it in post-processing.
One thing not covered in depth by many reviews is the ergonomics of the camera. I feel my hands are not particularly large, though with this camera I feel absolutely gigantic. (I usually wear medium gloves with most US brands.) The tradeoff is the camera is very compact compared to a typical DSLR, fitting in virtually all camera bags and shoulder bags with ease.
However, while it is extremely subjective, the feel of the Alpha series cameras is pretty poor in my opinion. The grip places my right pinky free below the camera and my index finger canted at a somewhat awkward angle to hit the shutter straight-on. My right thumb doesn’t naturally rest in the “thumb rest” designated at the back of the camera and if positioned so, my palm doesn’t have a really solid grip of the body.
This is something I am going to have to consciously be aware of when using the camera. It simply doesn’t hold as naturally as a DSLR with a fatter body and grip, even after the month or so of using it. Luckily, there are several options to alleviate this issue somewhat, which I’ll discuss later.
I can only hope this new camera will give me as much love and use as my (still surviving) Nikon.