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Working Around the Limitations of the Sony a6300/a6500 Camera

The Sony a6300 camera is an amazing little guy, and overall I've been fairly satisfied with its performance thus far.  However, as is the case with small form-factor mirror-less cameras that feature big-ass sensors and 4K video recording, it's not without limitations.  Below I list the a6300's limitations, along with how I've been working around them.  As 4K video recording is the most intense shooting scenario for this diminutive camera, I primarily focus on that situation.  Knock-on-wood--I have yet to suffer nearly as much when shooting stills or HD video.

Short Battery Life
This camera eats batteries faster than Cookie Monster eats (you guessed it) cookies.  Well, there's not much I can say about this one besides the obvious--get spare batteries and the wall charger.
* Buy spare batteries and the plug-in charger.  Duh.
* Use the AC adapter.  This isn't really an option if you're shooting in the forest.
* Connect the camera to a USB charger or better yet, a USB battery.  The battery will still drain, but far more slowly.  I got one of these mini USB batteries and attached it to the camera with some velcro tape: http://amzn.to/2a6L5Ce  I love this solution because these batteries cost much less than the Sony batteries, and they greatly extend the camera's run time.
* Cycle through your batteries, being sure to have a battery charging while you're shooting.
* Shoot in HD instead of 4K.  The battery lasts longer.
* Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen.

Overheating
Overheating is a disappointing reality with this camera, particularly when shooting 4K video (a recurring theme).  I can usually shoot a single 29-minute clip, but then the overheating problems will soon arise on subsequent shots.  Don't expect to shoot an all-day event like a wedding in 4K with this camera.  I recently had a 3-hour video shoot of mostly start-and-stop recording indoors, and I started getting the overheating warnings an hour in.  The sales guy at my local camera store said it best--"If you want to shoot hours of 4K footage, then get a video camera instead."  Touché, sales guy.  Touché.  The rest of the world and I just adore shooting video using still cameras!
* Update the firmware.  Sony released new firmware which better regulates the camera temperature: https://esupport.sony.com/US/p/model-home.pl?mdl=ILCE6300 
* Pull the LCD screen away from the camera body.  This will help it dissipate the heat a bit better.
* Swap-out the battery for a cooler, fresh one.
* Keep the battery door open.
* Power the camera externally, like with a USB battery (http://amzn.to/2a6L5Ce).  This will prevent the main battery from heating up as much.
* Get this metal camera cage for the a6300: http://amzn.to/1XR7CRQ  It conducts the excessive heat from the camera body, keeping the internal components cooler.  Yes, it adds slightly to the camera size and weight, but it's a very welcome compromise in my opinion.  It also provides a place to velcro tape a USB battery to the camera, as well as plentiful mount holes to attach various accessories.
* Get some small ice packs like these: http://amzn.to/1Y41RSX  Don't freeze them of course--use them at room temperature.  Pull out the LCD screen and nestle one between the back of the LCD and the camera body.  It sits in there quite well I think.  Even at room temperature the gel in the ice pack is a surprisingly effective heat conductor, and these little babies allow me to get far more 4K shoot time out of the camera.  When the ice pack heats up, swap it out for a fresh one.  When I used both the metal cage accessory and the ice packs, I was able to shoot for about as long as I wanted.
* I also tried having a very small USB fan blow on the back of the camera body, but as you'd expect this turned out to be a downright silly solution that ruined the audio.  I suppose it could work under very specific shoot conditions--e.g. a music video, or could be used to cool an already overheated camera faster.  Perhaps next I should design a liquid nitrogen cooling solution...

The a6300's overheating issue is the bunt of many jokes on the web.  What Sony calls an "engineering limitation," consumers call an "engineering flaw."  Despite this flaw/limitation I will keep this camera (for now) because I've never seen such lovely 4K video goodness come from such a small package at this price point.

30-Minute Recording Limit
Due to some stupid EU tax law, Sony places a 30-minute video recording limit on still cameras.  I don't live in the EU, so why is this limit imposed on me??  You can overcome this by installing an "unofficial" app onto the camera.  It can disable the 30-minute limit, as well as set other usually unavailable options (like the menu language).  Whoever made this is awesome.
* Go to this site and follow the directions to install the "Open Memories Tweak" app: https://sony-pmca.appspot.com/   
* Be sure to set your camera's USB setting to MTP mode.
* NOTE: I couldn't get it to work on my Mac.  I had to use Windows and Internet Explorer to complete the install.

LCD Screen Can't Face Front
I suppose Sony finds the need to distinguish themselves from Panasonic by making their LCD screens unable to face front, which sucks for shooting selfie footage.
* Use the Sony wifi mobile app feature to monitor the video while facing the camera.  The app is not as quick to setup as a simple LCD screen-flip, but it does work well and enables some very useful remote control features.  It's also free.
* Connect an external monitor or TV using the HDMI port.

No Headphone Jack
Most people know that relying on the in-camera microphones is a no-no, so that little external mic jack is an essential feature.  Unfortunately, the a6300 lacks a corresponding headphone jack, making it challenging to monitor the sound entering the camera.
* Connect a monitor featuring a headphone jack via the HDMI port.  Yes, such monitors do exist --> http://amzn.to/1VDZcPB.  Monitor the audio using that.  The audio may be a little laggy, but at least you can check the levels and sound quality.
* Monitor and/or record the audio using a field recorder / mixer instead, like the Tascam DR60-DMKII.  I have one of these, and it's a helpful little gadget that delivers surprisingly clear audio.  It is an added task to sync the audio in post, but it's gotten easier over the years.  The Tascam even has a slate marker feature to assist with this, and the XLR audio inputs are a godsend that greatly expand your audio connection options.  If you're lazy like me, you can even opt to run the audio from the mixer straight into the camera, saving you from having to line up the audio later.

Rolling Shutter
As excited as a 12 year-old boy with a new BB gun, I took my a6300 outside to a nearby park and shot some 4K video of the surrounding trees and high-rise apartment buildings.  The side-to-side pan actions looked like jello.  Rolling shutter, folks!
* Change the video mode from "Program Auto" to "High-Speed Shutter."  This will crank-up the shutter speed and reduce the rolling shutter effect.  Please note that higher shutter speeds do reduce low-light performance, though.
* Similarly, set the camera dial to "shutter priority" and increase the shutter speed manually.
* Turn off the auto slow shutter feature.  This automatically reduces the shutter speed in low light, but makes camera movement look laggy.  I don't know about you, but I don't like laggy video.  I use the word "laggy" a lot in this article.  Is "laggy" even a word?  I think so, but my spell check insists otherwise.
* Use a tripod.  You'll get smoother pans.
* Most video editing software these days has a rolling shutter fix feature.  Fix it in post.

The Ultimate Solution
If you really want to undo the limitations on this camera in one (expensive) swoop, then I suggest an external 4K recorder like the Atomos Shogun Flame: http://amzn.to/2a6Lrc0
It costs more than the camera body, but this device unlocks the a6300's potential, allowing it to shine like the star it is.

Summary
The Sony a6300 is an impressive little camera, but it does have a number of limitations that make it unsuitable for certain shooting conditions.  If you have an a6300, how do you like it?  Do you have any creative ways to deal with its shortcomings?

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  • Guest - Emile

    Hi there, increasing the shutter speed does not reduce the rolling shutter "jello" effect. This effect is caused by a slow sensor readout, which is not affected by shutter speed. Increasing the shutter speed only reduces motion blur, which in some instances might actually make the jello effect look worse.

  • Guest - avlisdivad

    Does lowering the resolution of the video help any? Im hoping to record an hour long play. But I don't need 4K.

  • Guest - Arvind Kumar

    Does the A6300 overheat even when one takes still images? HD video? Or only when shooting 4k video?