You know that moment when you catch something on the street that you know you only have moments to capture or it’ll be gone for good? That moment where you’re relying on muscle memory to grab your camera, power it up, focus and clinch the shot just in time?
If you do, you’ll know that the one thing that you don’t want to happen during those crucial couple of seconds is to lift the viewfinder to your eye and be greeted with a system notification. Unfortunately, this scenario played out too many times for my liking during a recent vacation to Vietnam, new Sony a6300 in tow.
A few weeks before the trip, I’d decided that I was jumping ship from Canon and moving to Sony. I generally shoot around 50% video and 50% photos, and although I was tempted by a number of Fujifilm offerings, the video quality didn’t convince me. The a6300 it would be, despite the ‘rolling shitter‘.
One of the first things I couldn’t wait to play with was 120fps video recording. I scrolled through the menus to find out how to enable it, and saw that I’d need to change my settings from PAL to NTSC in order to get my hands of 120fps (on PAL, I was limited to 100fps). Simply tweak a few settings and I’d be set and shooting in buttery 120fps, I figured.
After rebooting, I had an error message – ‘Running on NTSC’. It was odd, but I ignored it and half-pressed the shutter to confirm. Little did I know I’d be getting very familiar with that error message over the next few days.
Once we’d landed in Hanoi the camera barely left my hand. It felt ideal for street photography, and the right off the bat I was picking out my subjects and rolling through the shutter count. In South-East Asia, motorbikes are everywhere, particularly in Vietnam. This was my first test of the new autofocus system, and it performed like a champ. There was something so satisfying about tracking an overladen scooter down an alley and watching the AF points light up as it moved through my viewfinder. But then that error message would appear again. And again.
I soon realised that the error popped up each time I switched the camera on, and it annoyingly needed to be dismissed every single time prior to shooting or recording video. I soon decided to switch back to PAL, sacrificing the 120fps video, but realised I’d need to format the SD card to do so. As I only had a slow 16GB backup card with me, I resolved to continue trying to ignore the problem.
“I think there’s something wrong with your camera.”
At one point, I handed the camera to a member of our tour group who’d offered to take a picture of my parents and I. Powering up the camera, I handed it to her. She tried in vain to frame up the image and then handed it back to me. “I think there’s something wrong with your camera,” she told me, looking worried that she may have broken something.
That same system error cropped up again and again over the next week, and although it began as a minor annoyance, it became a real pain point. ‘Running on NTSC’ not only caused me to miss a number of opportune moments, but it dampened the experience of using a camera which is otherwise built for speed and accuracy.
After the vacation, I looked up how to rid myself of the error message, and found to my amazement that doing so is virtually impossible without hacking the firmware. As someone that generally shoots video in NTSC, I now have to get used to seeing this error message every time I start up the camera.
The alternative is to either reformat my card back to PAL when I’ll only be shooting still photos, or to buy and format a second SD card and use one for video and a second for photos. Neither is ideal.
A third-party solution has been recently developed to get around the error message and extend the 30 minute video recording limit, but involves hacked firmware which is also far from a real fix for this problem.
Admittedly, this may not be a dealbreaker for many people, especially those that don’t care too much about video, but it’s become a persistent annoyance to me and to many Sony Alpha shooters. It’s a niggling, constant cause of frustration – like an itch that can’t be scratched. That itch, which presents itself multiple times during a day of shooting, is enough to make me question how Sony could overlook such an issue.
Why should consumers be punished for buying a camera abroad?
I realise that the error message exists both to prevent video shooters recording in the wrong format and also to discourage consumers buying outside their native region, but video shooters may wish to switch formats from time to time, and why should consumers be punished for buying a camera abroad?
Overall, I’m a big fan of the a6300 and Sony as a company, but this feels like a significant flaw in user experience of the product, one that has tainted my purchase of an otherwise solid camera.
I can only hope that Sony will address the issue in an official update further down the line, otherwise I may consider looking elsewhere for my next purchase.