Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Conclusion - Pros
- Excellent 2.4 million-dot OLED EVF
- Versatile full-time live view system
- Very high-resolution 24MP CMOS APS-Csensor
- Strong feature set including Auto HDR and Sweep Panorama
- Class-leading video resolution
- Intuitive and well thought-out ergonomics
- Fast and responsive operation
- Fastest continuous shooting in its class
- Efficient SteadyShot INSIDE image stabilization system
- In-camera GPS
- Good battery life
- Attractive price point
Conclusion - Cons
- In-camera JPEGs don't show off the 24MP sensor to its best extent
- Comparatively strong noise reduction at medium and high ISO settings
- Very noisy raw files at high ISO settings
- Little control over high ISO noise reduction in JPEG mode ('auto' or 'weak')
- Limited control in 10 fps continuous shooting and movie modes
- No live view in 8 or 10 fps continuous shooting modes makes accurate panning very difficult
- Slightly 'laggy' menu system and UI
- Slightly counterintuitive setting of aperture in manual mode
- Awkward to navigate between stills and movie playback modes
If you look at the pros and cons list above you will notice that it is not too dissimilar from the one in our SLT-A77 review, posted last month. The reason for that is simple: Under the hood the A65 is in many respects very similar to the flagship model A77. If you don't have a specific need for the magnesium body with its additional control dial and top-LCD and can live with the A65's less sophisticated, but still very decent, AF system, the camera essentially gives you a lot of the features and precisely the same image quality as the A77 but at a lower price.
The A65 shouldn't simply be regarded as a stripped-down version of the flagship A77 though. This would be missing the point. It is aimed at a different kind of customer, and competes in the mid-level bracket of the DSLR market against cameras such as the Canon EOS 600D/Rebel T3i, Nikon D5100 and Pentax K-r. Compared to these models, the A65 is exceptionally well specified.
The A65's 24MP offers by some margin the highest pixel count in its class, but this is far from the most interesting thing about the camera (in fact, as you'll see from our 'image quality' comments, below, you'll need to shoot in raw mode to really get the most out of the A65's twenty four million pixels).
The most interesting things about the A65 are its other features. Compared to the optical viewfinders of its more conventional peers the A65's 2.4M dot OLED EVF, for example, is a revelation. Likewise full-time live view mode. While the A65's fast continuous shooting modes have some limitations in terms of auto focusing and live view they are - again - class leading. It's hard not to be impressed by 10fps capture at 24MP, and we're sure that for some consumers, this speed will be genuinely useful, if not for sports and action, certainly for portrait and social photography.
In addition to these headline features the A65 also offers a range of useful 'electronic helpers' such as Auto HDR and sweep panorama and customization options for those photographers who like to set their camera up for certain applications or a specific shooting style. We've seen these modes in previous Sony Alpha models, and we're impressed by their implementation in the A65.
In terms of image quality the A65 is a little 'two-faced'. The good news is that straight out of the camera, JPEG files are bright, punchy and contain enough detail for an attractive A3+ (13 inch) print, and of course easily enough for smaller prints and web display (where you don't use anything like the sensor's full complement of pixels). Stunning results can be drawn out of carefully-processed raw files, but the bad news is that if your requirements are more critical, you might be disappointed by the relatively mushy JPEG image quality when files are examined closely (see 'Image Quality', below).
The Sony SLT-A65's 24MP CMOS sensor, which is also used in the SLT-A77 and NEX 7, is currently the highest pixel-count APS-C size sensor available in any camera. In terms of pixel count the A65 is way ahead of the most direct competitors in its class such as the Nikon D5100, Canon EOS 600D/T3i or Pentax K-r. However, if you've read the image quality sections in this review you know by now that you have to shoot in raw mode in order to see the full potential of of the camera's 24 million pixels. If you are willing to put in the extra time and effort required for the conversion of your raw files then - certainly at low ISO settings - you'll be rewarded with results that are close to what we've seen from high-end full-frame cameras such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II or Sony's own Alpha 900.
On the other hand, if you prefer to stay away from post-capture processes such as raw conversion and want to use your JPEGs straight out of the camera the A65's mushy JPEG rendition means that in absolute terms the resolution advantage over the competitors is not as big as it otherwise could be.
The major caveat here, of course, is that the difference between raw and JPEG image quality is only really visible at a pixel level and almost certainly won't matter for most users in the A65's target group (it is worth noting, too, that we applied exactly the same caveat to our image quality analysis of the higher-level A77).
At higher ISO sensitivity settings though, the A65 is visibly and measurably noisier than some of the competition, as you can see from the graphs and images on the noise page of this review. For JPEG shooters much of this noise only becomes visible at the highest settings although you'll see the smearing effects and loss of low-contrast caused by noise reduction even at lower sensitivities.
In the final analysis we're far from convinced that the sort of consumers at whom the A65 is aimed actually need 24 million pixels. Certainly if you're a habitual JPEG shooter, we suspect that for everyday photography you might be better served by the cleaner, significantly smaller files produced by the 16MP SLT-A35 and original A55.
In normal use though, we're very impressed by the images that the SLT-A65 produces. In the several hundred sample shots that we took while working on this review we did not have any significant exposure or color issues. At default settings colors are usually on the vibrant side (especially reds) but not unnaturally so, and auto white balance does a decent job in natural light. Another piece of good news is that the ghosting issue that we found on the first generation of SLT cameras has completely disappeared on the latest models. We could not find any ghosting in our images, even when we tried to provoke it, so it's pretty safe to say Sony has somehow managed to 'engineer' the issue away in this latest generation of SLT cameras.
In terms of its ergonomics the A65 is very similar to the first generation of Sony's translucent mirror SLT cameras. Upgraders will be able to familiarize themselves with the new models in very little time. The A65's operation is not too dissimilar to more conventional DSLRs either but the full-time live view and the bright and detailed OLED EVF are real advantages over the camera's most direct competitors such as the Canon EOS 600D/Rebel T3i or Nikon D5100. In terms of dimensions the A65 is close to these models but its rubberized grip is a tad more substantial and makes the camera comfortable to hold, even for photographers with larger hands.
One of the elements that set the SLT cameras apart from more conventional DSLRs are the electronic viewfinders and the one on the SLT-A65 is simply excellent. The camera works very well and and is very responsive in live view but the OLED electronic viewfinder is an excellent alternative for framing your images in bright conditions or if you prefer to hold the camera up to your eye. Switching between EVF and live view is a totally seamless process since the operation of the camera is all but identical in both modes.
The lack of a second control dial is only really an issue when the A65 is used in manual exposure mode, at which point to change between shutter and aperture control you have to press the 'AV' button above the thumbrest on the rear of the camera. For a camera in its class the SLT-A65 also comes with a good level of customization, and we're pleased to see that the behavior of several of its various buttons can be changed according to your requirements.
What we're less impressed by is the generally somewhat 'laggy' operation of the A65's menus and control points. Although in terms of its overall performance the A65 is a fast, responsive camera when you're actually taking photographs, it is frustrating and disorientating to experience delays of a fraction of a second when changing key shooting settings and entering, navigating and dismissing menus.
The Final Word
The SLT-A65 was launched at the same time as the long awaited A700 successor, the SLT-A77, and as we mentioned in the introduction to this review, amongst all the excitement over the flagship SLT model there was always a risk that the A65 might get overlooked. To overlook the A65 would be to do it a huge disservice though. Given its price, the A65 will inevitably appeal to a much larger number of users, and considering how much of its core technology is shared with the more expensive A77, the A65 is highly competitive.
At a MRSP of $999 including the 18-55mm kit lens the A65 is currently a little more expensive than its most direct rivals, the Canon EOS 600D/T3i and Nikon D5100, but it offers a higher pixel count, faster continous shooting, a considerably superior viewfinder experience and a number of interesting features and customization options, all of which contribute to making it a pleasure to use. Naturally, as the SLT-A65 starts hitting the retailers' shelves in significant numbers we'd also expect the street price to go down a little.
Overall then the Sony SLT-A65 is an exceptionally well specified camera not only considering its class, but the consumer-level DSLR field as a whole. Quite apart from its 24MP sensor, the A65's OLED EVF, full-time live view system and 10fps continuous shooting mode are unmatched by its more conventional DSLR peers, and when you add the well thought-out ergonomics to that formula you end up with a camera that deserves both your attention, and our highest award.
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
Feature-lovers and photographers on a budget who want maximum pixel count
Not so good for
Traditionalists and pixel peepers
The Sony SLT-A65 is an exceptionally well specified camera for its class. The 24MP CMOS sensor, the OLED EVF and the 10fps continuous mode are real stand-out features in the mid-level bracket of the market. Add the well thought-out ergonomics to that and you got yourself a camera that is a pleasure and fun to use in almost any shooting situation.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
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