Body & Design
The Sony Alpha SLT-A65 is fairly similar ergonomically to the A77 (and by extension to the A55) but it has been slightly 'slimmed down' compared to its higher-end sibling. The A65's all-plastic body shell feels very solid and the grip is the same pleasantly thick rubber as on the A77, although with its magnesium body the A77 definitely feels like the more 'serious' camera.
Unlike some earlier Alpha DSLRs (and the still-current A850) the A65's main control points are sensibly arranged and fall easily to hand, and the dual-axis rear LCD screen makes composition from high and low angles very easy in both still and video modes. We'd have preferred a more conventional side-hinged screen (or, better still, the extra stand-off provided by the A77's extra hinge), but it's not something that we anticipate anyone missing too much on the A65, not least because it offers similar versatility to competitive DSLRs like the Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D5100. The same applies to the lack of a top-plate LCD - it's a feature that some people really appreciate but, in a camera like the A65 with its versatile EVF display, it seems more than ever like a hangover from the end of the film era.
Ergonomically, the A65 is a very satisfying camera to use, and on the whole it matches our (very positive) experience of using the earlier A33/35 and A55. It offers essentially the same interface as the last generation of Sonys, combining 'traditional' button and dial-led ergonomics with fairly sensible and convenient on-screen operation, courtesy of a 'Fn' button quick menu. More importantly, in most respects it at least matches, if not surpasses, most of its DSLR peers in terms of ergonomics.
Compared to Canon EOS 600D / Rebel T3i
High resolution OLED EVF
In a class of cameras that tend to be fitted with comparatively small pentamirror viewfinders, the large, bright and high-resolution EVF of the A65 stands apart. Unlike optical viewfinders, the size of an EVF doesn't have to be constrained by the size of the camera's sensor, which means it's possible to offer a finder much closer to the size photographers enjoyed when they shot film SLRs. In terms of size, clarity and utility, the finder in the A65 at least rivals, but in some respects surpasses some of those found in much more expensive conventional DSLRs. Compared to its direct APS-C format DSLR peers, there is simply no contest.
The A65's EVF is close enough to the quality of a high-end optical viewfinder that its advantages (the ability to preview exposure and white balance, or to gain-up for working in low light), outweigh the areas in which it is inferior to an optical finder.
The EVF display in the A33 and A55 (and still-current A35) showed an 800 x 600 pixel array, updated one color at a time, which could lead to a rainbow-like 'tearing' effect if you moved your eye around the finder too quickly. The OLED Trufinder that Sony is now using is a very different beast - its 2.4M dots are able to provide a 1024 x 768 pixel display and do so with a progressive update. As a result, the viewfinder not only gives a more detailed view but also one that's free from tearing. After extended use, we're confident in saying that it is the best EVF we've ever used.
The other great advantage of EVFs is that they aren't constrained by the size of the camera's sensor - even the best APS-C sensor cameras have small viewfinders when compared with inexpensive film SLRs. Trying to magnify the APS-C-sized reflection from the reflex mirror results in a darker viewfinder. With an electronic viewfinder, there is no such connection, so the size and brightness of the finder is dependent only on the current state of the technology. In the case of the A65, its 100% coverage, 1.09x magnification makes it essentially the same size as the immense optical finder in the Sony A900 full-frame DSLR.
Viewfinder size and crop
One figure hidden away in every SLR's spec is the size of the viewfinder (often in a format that makes comparison between competing models impossible). The size of the viewfinder is a key factor in usability - the bigger it is, the easier it is to frame and focus your shots, and the more enjoyable and involving process it is.
Because of the way viewfinders are measured (using a fixed lens, rather than a lens of equivalent magnification), you also need to take the sensor size into account, so the numbers in the diagram below are the manufacturer's specified magnifications divided by the respective 'crop factors'.
|The Sony SLT A65's electronic viewfinder is large - on a par with the optical finders of full-frame SLRs. This makes it substantially bigger than those in its APS-C mid-level SLR peers such as the Nikon D5100 or Canon EOS 600D. It offers 100% coverage of the final image, with no crop - what you see is what you get.|