The Sony SLT-A65's body is full of innovative technology and features but on the outside the camera looks and feels remarkably conventional. The shape of the plastic body and the control layout are very close to previous SLT-models and any users looking to upgrade will be familiar with the operation of the new camera in no time.
The A65 has one control dial, on the front of the camera, and unlike many of its competitors, the rear four-way controller is a simple X/Y axis pad, and does not incorporate a dial (or accommodate diagonal inputs). In our time with the camera the only point at which this became an issue is when the A65 is used in manual exposure mode, at which point to change between shutter and aperture control you have to press the 'AEL/AV' button above the thumbrest on the rear of the camera. The exposure compensation button would be the more conventional choice for this function. That said, once you've found out that on the A65 the AEL/AV button is the one to push, this solution works just as well.
For a camera in its class the SLT-A65 comes with a good level of customization and within the four tabs of its custom menu are a number of options that help tailor the camera for your needs. As well as features like in-camera optical corrections, the custom menu also contains several options for customizing the behavior and function of several buttons.
One of the buttons that can be customized is the AEL button, which by default locks the exposure. Those who don't want or need to use this function can assign one of 26 possible functions to this button, including DRO/Auto HDR, AF lock and focus magnification. The same is true of the ISO button. The Preview, Focus hold and smart teleconverter buttons can be customized too, but you can only choose between two possible functions for each button.
Overall operation and handling
From a handling and operation point of view the Sony Alpha SLT-A65 is very close to previous SLT models. Compared to its more expensive sister model SLT-A77 the dimensions have been reduced but the camera still feels pleasantly chunky and solid. The camera grip, with its thick rubber coating, has a good size and is comfortable to hold, even for users with larger hands.
Like all SLT cameras, the A65 works very well in live view mode and the OLED electronic viewfinder is an excellent alternative for framing your images. The A65's EVF, which is identical to the A77's, is very large and and exceeds the (already very good) EVF on the A55 in terms of both clarity and detail.
One of the of the most impressive things about the A55 was how intuitive its full-time live view became after only a brief time with the camera. The ability to see shooting data, including a level gauge, overlaid in the viewfinder, and then switch to LCD screen composition simply by pulling your eye away from the finder is addictive. Like all 'disruptive' technologies the A55 made more conventional DSLRs look old-fashioned almost overnight. The A65's implementation is more or less identical (albeit centred around a higher-resolution viewfinder) and equally effective and enjoyable to use. Coming from a traditional DSLR, one of the most important benefits of an EVF is exposure simulation - enabled in the A65's custom menu via the confusingly-named 'Live View Display Setting Effect ON/OFF' option.
Specific handling issues
The SLT-A65 is generally a pleasure to use in most shooting environments. Depending on what situation you are in you can choose to use the EVF or the rear LCD for framing your shots. Thanks to the camera's translucent mirror design the transition from one to the other is totally seamless - the information displayed and the camera's behavior in general are as good as identical - whether you use the EVF or the screen.
The EVF falls down compared to an optical viewfinder when you need to shoot at the camera's fastest frame rates, at which point live view is not available. Even then, unless you're panning with rapidly-moving subjects it isn't a major annoyance. For more detailed information on this point, head over to the performance page of this review.
Compared to the SLT-A77 the lack of a second control dial is only really an issue if you shoot a lot in manual mode. In M mode the front dial controls the shutter speed and you'll have to press the AEL button and turn the dial at the same time to change the aperture values. In all other shooting modes the lack of a rear dial is easily compensated for by an otherwise intuitive and thought-out user interface.
For users who are new to Sony cameras, the separation between movie and stills playback options is something that needs some time to get used to. To switch between movie and stills views you either have to select the correct mode from the menu or you have can zoom out to thumbnail view and navigate across to the stills or movie tab on the left-hand side in review mode. Things are made slightly more complicated on this latest generation of cameras by the fact that there now two movie folders - one for AVCHD movies and one for MP4s.
If you've already skipped ahead to 'performance' you'll know that the A65 can take pictures very quickly, but something that we didn't expect is how slowly the camera's user interface responds in certain situations. Like on the A77, when you press the 'menu' button the A65's menu takes a moment to appear, and when it does, there is a slight but noticeable 'lag' when moving between options using the control dials and four-way controller. You can find yourself pressing 'menu' then pressing it again because nothing seems to happen and in doing so you accidentally dismiss the menu and have to start again. This can be quite annoying. When changing settings it is all too easy to accidentally move beyond the value you want, because the camera can't quite keep up with the control inputs.