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Sony RX100 and a6300 Reviewed for Mountain Sports

Trail running above Lüsens, Austria while on a multi-day running tour

The Dynafit Speed Transalp required me to run along with a group of very strong mountain runners, and make photos. I used the a6300 to stay as light as possible while getting the best image quality.

As a pro mountain sport photographer, and someone working and playing in the mountains more than 300 days a year, I used to dream of having a camera light enough to not be a burden but also capable of producing the highest quality image files. I tried many systems but all came up short, the quality was not there. Then in 2012, we bought our first Sony system, the RX10o II. We shot it here and there and it seemed very good, but of course we were still shooting our big Canon systems for all our work. Then our first experience on the Hardergrat came and we decided to take only the RX100. The Canon was much too heavy for the trail that we had heard was long and difficult, staying light seemed best.

30° Cover

The Swiss magazine 30° featured our cover image from the Hardergrat, shot with the Sony RX100 II

And so at sunrise, in one of the most beautiful places I had ever been, I was left standing with this point and shoot cursing my decision to not bring the “real” camera. I shot anyway, and thought everything looked ridiculous on that tiny screen. But at home that evening when I imported the images into Lightroom, they seemed okay. I figured they would at least be good enough for social media or blogging. Then I started developing them and suddenly they came to life, they looked nearly as good as the Canon DSLR images. We processed them properly in Photoshop and put them into our stock collection. These were some of the first images made on the Hardergrat and they were picked up everywhere. From that little Sony RX100 we had major magazine covers, advertisements, and even huge 3 meter wide trade show displays. I had found my super light camera system! I hope our story of discovering what is possible with the the Sony systems can help you make a camera decision.

This seems like a good time to announce that I am in no way affiliated with Sony. My enthusiasm about their products comes only from the fact that I am a professional user appreciative of the quality they provide, and the incredible bulk and weight savings. I am not here to explain any technical aspects, only real world, hands on usage and experience with the Sony systems and why they might be right for you. For technical specs, and quality comparisons, I use the DXOMark site.

Our evolution as Sony users continued when we next bought the a6000, a slightly larger body with the ability to change lenses. Now we had a camera that was more versatile and with even better quality, plus with the a6000 we had a viewfinder to look through allowing for more creativity and easier viewing in sunny weather. With the a6000 we were shooting many of our trail running tours and ski mountaineering days, the images were getting published and the quality outstanding.

Mens Journal Ueli Steck

I switched to the Sony a7II for Ueli Steck’s 82 Summit project. This saved me a huge amount of weight over the Canon 5d, critical for keeping up with Ueli…

In early summer of 2015, I got involved with Ueli Steck’s 82 Summit project. I would be joining Ueli for some peaks and photographing the experience. I figured I’d take along the a6000, but I was limited at the time to a 24mm lens and climbing often requires wider. The a7II system was the next choice, done! Now we had all three of the Sony Alpha cameras. I used the a7II for the entire summer of 2015, never touching my Canon gear again.

At this point I was convinced that the system was right for me, the quality of the image files from the a7II were better than the Canon 5d Mark III and 1D Mark IV and the weight savings tremendous. My only issues with Sony were the battery life and tiny buttons. Shooting Sony with gloves on is nearly impossible. I decided that before getting rid of all the Canon gear, I’d spend a winter shooting the a7II and the new a7RII. Winter came and went with no problems, then 7 weeks in the Himalaya with Ueli Steck and David Göttler at Shishapangma with only the Sony systems – and still, zero problems. I returned from the Himalaya and took 15 years of Canon gear to the used shop.

At this point, all our work was being shot with the a7 systems, while the RX100 II was being used for more fun trips. The a6000 with its 12fps was along for running days. We had our system. But like every piece of technology these days, it only got better. We upgraded to both the RX100 IV and to the a6300, which has since become my favorite camera.

Ascent_Dirt2016

We had the covers of two major American magazines, Rock & Ice and Trail Runner, both shot with Sony systems.

The vast majority of the work we shot in the summer and fall of 2016 was with the a6300. All our work this year was from very real trips in the mountains, photoshoots more about real experiences than about production – the a6300 is ideal, pro quality files and super light. There are a huge number of high quality lenses now available for Sony users. Our a6300, once limited to 24mm, now has a razor sharp Zeiss 12mm lens which converts to an 18mm, perfect for much of our work.

What does all of this mean for you? Good news… For mountain sport folks wanting the lightest, most simple systems, you have two incredible options. The RX100 IV and Sony a6300 are, in my opinion, perfect cameras for most everyone.

Sony RX100 IV

This little camera has an electronic viewfinder, shoots 14fps, and produces images you can do most anything with. That 14fps number is important if you shoot running or skiing, all but guaranteeing you’ll get the shot with the best body position. In addition, the camera is completely managed by Sony’s phone app Play Memories, allowing you to set up the camera and shoot with your phone – action selfies!

Sony RX100_1

The Sony RX100 IV allows you to shoot using the camera’s back display, or…

Sony RX100_2

Or with the camera’s pop up electronic viewfinder – much nicer in bright, sunny weather.

Sony a6300

This is, hands down, my favorite camera ever. I am able to completely rely on this little machine for work, and hardly feel it in my pack or pocket. I ran with it on the Dynafit Speed Transalp, a 3 day 90km trail running shoot, and my pack wasn’t much heavier than any other runner’s. I can’t recommend this camera enough, for both mountain sports or for general travel. I’ve found that the ideal lens for it is the Sony Vario Tessar Zeiss 16-70 which I always take with me, but so too the Zeiss Touit 12mm f 2.8, a very light option that gets you to 18mm with the a6300’s conversion.

Runners_World_Patitucci

This is a great example of a real image being made while on a very real mountain run. Janine shot this image of me with the a6300 – our go to camera for mountain runs where we also want to make some work photos.

Sony Tips

Batteries : There is no denying that the Sony cameras go through batteries. It’s only a problem if you don’t have enough power, so I always carry multiples. Any day out will include at least three total batteries. In temps over 15° you can expect to get about 350-400 photos. As it gets colder things rapidly deteriorate, so it’s up to you how you manage the system. I keep batteries in my pocket, close to my body and continually rotate them in and out to keep warm ones in the camera. We have 12 batteries total for the a7 and a6300…

Small Buttons : I found that customizing the UI was crucial for minimizing issues with the buttons on the back of the camera. I made things as simple as possible by keeping most all my controls in the Function (Fn) button menu. One big improvement I found was to keep all the dial buttons turned off so I don’t accidentally hit any of them when moving quickly. There is a wealth of info online about the button functions and set up – find what works for you and learn it perfectly. Rumor has it that in the next weeks Sony will be releasing a major Firmware update with an all new Menu system. Let’s see if things improve…

Focusing : There are many options for focusing, both for action and still subjects. I’ve found the “Wide” mode to work best for subjects moving horizontally through the frame when in Continuous Auto Focus, while for still subjects, the Single Shot Auto Focus mode combined with the small Flexible Spot is very reliable. These are my go to combos, find what works for you.

Our lens selection is:

Sony Zeiss Touit 12mm, f 2.8

Sony Zeiss 16-70, f4

Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4

Sony Zeiss 24-70 f4

Sony Zeiss 70-200 f4

Sony cameras

The Sony a6300 with Zeiss Touit 12mm lens vs. the RX100 IV – both small, both perfect systems – it’s up to you which one is right for your needs.

 

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Comments 8

  1. Very good to read a review from a trail runner’s perspective. This helped me make up my mind and get an a6000. Could you tell me what you use to carry your cameras when out on the trails? I’ve been looking for a small case which could be attached to a waist pack to allow quick access.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Donny, For my a6300, I usually just have it in a beanie in my pack, and if it is out I have it held tight against my chest using my packs sternum straps (Dynafit running pack) which are shock cord and can be pulled tight. It’s not the ideal set up… But I do have a case that it fits perfectly into and pads it against my back somewhat, it’s some Manfrotto case I found at a shop, nothing special, just thin and light. Osprey is actually making a case that the a6000 fits perfectly into as well, although it’s a hair big, but a very good case. This one. Hope that helps! // Dan

  2. How do you pack / carry the a6300 while running? Do you hold it, keep it in the pack, or secure it in another way so it does not bounce around? When / if it is in the pack, to you keep the lens and body connected?

    I am a running and photography enthusiast am looking for a camera to use to document a few running tours this upcoming year. Your article was fantastic (though I am still debating between the RX100 and a6000). Thank you for such a great write up and your work is amazing. Hope to one day capture photos like yours.

    -Micah

    1. Post
      Author

      Good question… and I am still trying to figure out the best solution. Mostly, I have the camera in the pack, in a beanie and yes, body and lens together. Or, it is out but held tight against my chest as I run under my sternum straps. Dynafit running packs have a shock cord that can be wrapped around it and tightened pretty good – it works, but it does tend to work itself loose over time. None of this is ideal – there needs to be a kind of holster it drops in and cinches tight on the chest.
      Tough call on the 6000 series vs the RX100 – if I didn’t have to make work photos, I’d go RX100. Either way, you’ll have a good system.
      Enjoy!

  3. Great points. I am also looking at the Olympus E-M10 II. It seems to split the difference (small and larger variety and better priced lenses with a sensor btwn 1″ and APSC). The RX100 is awesome, but I am having trouble paying ~$1000 for a point and shoot that I would only use for trail running. With an interchange lens system, I hope to get more use out of it.
    And the a6000 seems like an awesome camera at a great price, but I worry about the small amount of lenses available specifically for it and their price. I ordered both the a6000 and the Olympus E-M10 II so I can try them both in hand.
    What made you choose the a6000 over other mirrorless cameras?

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      Author

      For me, the RX100 Mark IV is a key camera because if I do decide it is the only camera that is going, it needs to produce results I can distribute for our work. What I am doing tomorrow is a classic example… it will be something big and hard, and I am going with someone I need to keep up with, but it’s not for work. Hmm… the a6300 or the RX100? I decided to go light and simple. All I’m after is a social media pic or two. But if it is something that ends up being good, the quality should be there. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s IG photo to see if it went okay.
      Why I chose the a6000 is pretty much the same as what you are doing, reading blogs… I had already used a RX100 Mark II and was super happy, so I had faith in Sony.
      What you want to do with your images is a huge factor – if they are only for social, Like you said, I’m sure you have a lot more options for quality and for less money.

  4. Great review. For shooting mostly stills do you think it’s worth spending the extra cash to get an a6300 vs a6000? I’m looking for a smaller, lighter body for running and ski touring to take rather than my a7ii
    Thanks- awesome site !!

    1. Post
      Author

      Depends on how you need to use the photos. For me it’s work, so the a6300 is necessary. If it’s for social media and home prints, then the 6000 is fine. Thanks for the nice words! That helps keep us going. Much appreciated!

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