Sony Alpha A65 review

4.5 out of 5
£799

For

Many of the A77’s features for less cash, decent image quality from ISO 100-1600, super-fast 10fps burst mode, OLED viewfinder is the best currently available

Against

High ISO image quality won’t match up to similar-priced DSLR cameras, the electronic viewfinder won’t suit all and suffers from lag compared to an optical equivalent

The Sony Alpha A65 is the latest SLT (Single Lens Translucent) model to hit the shelves, following in the footsteps of the higher-spec, pricier A77.

The A65 may look a lot like a DSLR, but it’s different by design: a translucent mirror removes the need for mechanical mirror movement when each shot is fired. Instead light is fed to the sensor and an autofocus sensor simultaneously and without interruption which means this nifty bit of kit can perform some DSLR-beating features, including the A65’s 10 frames per second burst shooting mode with continuous autofocus. No DSLR can match that at this price.

However, such design means it’s not possible to implement an optical viewfinder. Like the rest of Sony’s SLT models, you’ll find the A65 has an electronic viewfinder, or EVF, that gives the camera a similar yet different feel to a DSLR.

Electronic vs Optical

The A65’s 2.4million dot EVF has been engineered to a level that can almost rival an optical equivalent. The OLED panel is not only gorgeous to look at and high resolution, but the 1.09x magnification means it’s large to the eye. As exposure, white balance and other settings are adjusted you’ll see these change in real time in the viewfinder, including quirks such as Sepia or Black & White mode.

As per the A77’s viewfinder, which is the same as found in the A65, this is the best EVF that we’ve seen to date.

The OLED panel benefits from a progressive scan that eradicates image tearing that would otherwise be experienced from an interlaced signal, but the refresh rate isn’t quite good enough to avoid all ghosting. As the light dims or when panning you’ll still be able to see a subject’s "trace" in some situations, plus low-light situations enhance image noise in preview.

That’s not to say this EVF isn’t excellent, because it is, but it’s still not 100 per cent there by comparison to an optical equivalent. Sony’s taken a big step in the right direction, but we’d suggest testing out the EVF before considering the A65 as the camera for you.

In support of the EVF is a 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD screen (not OLED here) that’s mounted on the rear via a vari-angle bracket. The screen can seem a little high contrast at times, but the resolution is good and the ability to reposition is useful, though we’d rather it was hinged to the side rather than the bottom of the camera body.

24-megapixel: quality or oddity?

The A65 features the same 24.3-megapixel APS-C sensor as found in the pricier A77, meaning there’s no difference in picture quality between the two cameras. There certainly aren’t any other sub-£1000 24-megapixel cameras out there, so that makes the A65 quite the bargain if large image size is right up there in your wants list.

As per the A77’s images, the A65’s shots are impressive and the high megapixel count has little effect on the low ISO shots. Shoot from ISO 100-800 and the JPEGs straight from camera will take on and match similar priced DSLRs with no worries. As the ISO increases - and it tops out at ISO 16,000 - there is a dip in quality due to image noise, particularly subtle colour noise. It’s from ISO 3200 where processing issues are more problematic, meaning lower-resolution DSLRs such as the Nikon D7000 will produce better results from here and above.

So, although the A65 won’t win a prize for best low-light performance, it’s still an impressive camera and that super-high resolution will appeal to stock photographers and the like. For most users, however, the resolution is overkill.

Super-fast shooting

The A65’s 10fps burst shooting may not be quite as turbo-charged as the A77’s 12fps option, but for a lot less cash it’s still a hugely impressive feature. Compared to the Canon 60D or Nikon D7000 and the Sony outperforms both, without a shadow of a doubt.

The Sony’s new autofocus system has a 15-point array, including three cross-type points with a sensitivity of f/5.6. That means extra sensitivity whether the camera’s rotated in portrait or landscape orientation. The AF system is suitably fast though not as impressive overall as the A77’s 19-point (11 cross-type) system. Still, there’s little to no difference between this Sony system and a similar DSLR in terms of speed.

Where the Sony gets one over the DSLR crowd is in its live preview mode. Whether using the EVF or the rear LCD screen the camera still engages phase-detection autofocus that’s far quicker than a DSLR’s contrast-detect autofocus system. This translates into super-fast focusing however the camera’s being used, including the impressive 1080p movie mode - which is the same as the A77 with 50i/25p/24p modes, stereo sound and a 3.5mm mic input.

But for all its speed the A65 has a few downers. Small issues such as the delay for the viewfinder to activate when raising it to your eye can be frustrating and stop the camera feeling like an all-round DSLR beater. It’s a small thing, but significant enough for serious shooters.

Also all that tech is power-hungry. The A65 lasts a decent stretch of time, and has a per-cent-based battery indicator that’s useful, but the model won’t last out against the likes of the pricier Canon 60D or Nikon D7000. Saying that, the 600D and D5100 models offer similar battery life, so the Sony’s not a million miles away in this department.

Verdict

Alongside the A77, the A65 is likely to put the SLT format on the map. This camera does things that DSLRs just cannot do: a 10fps burst mode with continuous autofocus and a live preview movie mode with the same super-fast autofocus is without rival at this price point.

The 2.4million dot OLED viewfinder is the best EVF we’ve yet seen (the same as found in the A77 and NEX-7 models) and, in the right conditions, isn’t a million miles from the look and feel of an optical viewfinder. It won’t suit everyone, particularly when it comes to dim conditions, but does have its merits too.

Few downsides include a limited battery life and limitations to high ISO images due to the packed-out, 24-megapixel sensor - a tad too high resolution to resolve above ISO 3200, but a great performer at lower ISO settings.

There’s very little not to like otherwise. In many ways the A65 is more impressive than the A77 based on price alone. It’s the model that’ll make advanced features all the more accessible for a wider public, and that can only be a good thing.