Sony Alpha a65 £749.99

12th Dec 2011 | 13:15

Sony Alpha a65

High-end features in an SLT for a lower-end price

TechRadar rating:

4 stars

Like:

ยท Class-leading Full HD movie mode Responsive full-time phase detection AF system; Built-in GPS; Built-in Image Stabilization system (SteadyShot INSIDE); Highly impressive OLED EVF

Dislike:

Noise isn't as well controlled compared to rivals; Inclusion of only one control dial hampers manual shooting; Slight delay in registering button presses can be frustrating; Loss of live view feed when shooting in high-speed modes; Two-way LCD design can cause issues with tripod usage

Overview and features

Released alongside Sony's flagship SLT camera – the Alpha 77 – the Alpha 65 may be the 'little brother' to this formidable camera, but it's certainly no less impressive in its own right.

Touted as a slightly pared-down, more affordable alternative to the A77, the new Sony A65 is aimed at enthusiasts looking for a camera that's simple to use, yet with enough features and manual functionality on offer to allow for developing their photography skills without outgrowing it too quickly.

Despite its lower price-point, the A65 shares many of the core high-end features of its pricier sibling, including a high resolution 24.3mp APS-C-sized "Exmor" HD CMOS, top-notch OLED EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), full-time phase detection AF and Live View – to name just a few.

Like the A77, consumer models are yet to make it to the UK, with the disastrous flooding in Thailand resulting in delays to the official release of Sony's latest SLT cameras into the market. For the time-being however, we're pleased to be able to provide a full review of the A65: read on for our verdict on how one of the hottest new contenders to take on the might of the DSLR squares up to the competition.

Sony alpha a65 review

Features

If you've missed our previous reviews of Sony's innovative SLT cameras, here's a brief explanation of how their design differs from that found inside a traditional DSLR: the latter type of camera incorporates a mirror which reflects light entering through the lens up into a prism, which then resolves the image in the optical viewfinder.

The mirror has to swing out of the way when the photographer presses the shutter release, in order to allow the light to hit the imaging sensor instead and the image to be recorded.

SLT (Single Lens Translucent) cameras incorporate TMT (Translucent Mirror Technology): a translucent mirror that allows most (70%) of the light entering through the lens to pass directly through it and onto the imaging sensor, with a smaller proportion (30%) being reflected up to the camera's phase detection AF sensor. This means that the mirror can remain fixed in place, speeding up the time taken to record a shot and allowing for fast, full-time AF.

Sony alpha a65 review

There are a few drawbacks to the design: a reduction in the amount of light hitting the imaging sensor increases the potential for low light performance issues and the lack of scope to include an optical viewfinder; although Sony has engineered an innovative solution to the latter, as described in the next section.

In addition to Sony's latest generation SLT core specifications that we've already mentioned, the A65 offers a double-hinged, high resolution LCD that can be tilted away from the back panel and swivelled to accommodate easier shooting at odd angles, plus Full HD (1080p) movie recording with stereo sound (as with the A77), built-in GPS, SteadyShot INSIDE (image stabilisation) and a sensitivity range spanning ISO 100-16000, expandable to include ISO 25600 (in multi-shot NR mode - JPEG only).

Sony alpha a65 review

The A65 offers a range of creative in-camera effects that let you add distinctive looks to your images without having to go near a computer. Effects on offer include Toy Camera, Pop Color, Posterization: B/W or Color, Retro Photo, Soft High-Key, Partial Color, High Contrast Mono, Soft Focus, HDR Painting, Rich-Tone Mono and Miniature.

Some of the effects also have further options available, allowing you to customise the way they're applied to your shots; for example the Toy Camera effect provides Normal, Cool, Warm, Green and Magenta settings, and you have the opportunity which area of the frame remains in sharp focus when using the Miniature effect. This is a feature that really enhances the range of possibilities open to the creative shooter and offers advanced users a bit more to get their teeth into than the largely fully-automatic modes seen on many of the A65's main rivals.

There are a few features that the A65 lacks in comparison to its big brother, namely an Auto ISO range that's fixed at ISO 100-1600, rather than being customisable, a marginally less rapid 10fps continuous burst mode (rather than the A77's 12fps offering) and a slower maximum shutter speed of 1/4000sec (compared to 1/8000sec).

The A65 also misses out on the superb 19-point AF system with 11 cross-type sensors that the A77 boasts, incorporating a 15-point alternative with just 3 cross-type sensors instead.

Sony alpha a65 review

These few items aside, the A65 still has a great deal to offer the budding enthusiast looking to upgrade from an entry-level DSLR or compact, with many of the features that it does boast beating those provided by its main rivals. The SLT-A65 certainly looks capable of presenting a serious challenge to its traditional DSLR competitors on paper; but real-world performance is where it really matters. Check out the remaining sections of our review to see how it compares.

Build quality & handling

Sony alpha a65 review

The A65 doesn't sport the same magnesium alloy body as the A77 – being constructed from a sturdy plastic instead – but still manages to give an overall impression of being well-made and robust enough to cope with everyday use.

Despite being considerably smaller than its big brother, there's still a reassuring weight to the camera and it feels well-balanced with the 18-55mm kit lens attached. The front grip is generously proportioned and clad in a tactile rubber coating that adds comfort and grip, along with the curved thumb pad around the back.

The control layout – while similar to that on the A77 – has been simplified on the A65, making it effortlessly easy to pick up and start shooting with the camera right away. One big difference between the two siblings is the loss of the top panel LCD on the A65, which facilitates its slimmer profile. Those who are accustomed to shooting with a camera that features a top panel LCD may find they miss it initially; however the rear LCD (and the EVF) is capable of displaying a very comprehensive set of shooting information if you choose to leave it permanently displayed.

Sony alpha a65 review

Additionally, some of the dedicated controls seen on the A77 have migrated to the back panel, appearing as shortcuts on the four-way navigation-pad that replaces the larger camera's joystick on the A65.

Sony alpha a65 review

The A65's extensive range of exposure modes are all quickly accessed via its chunky mode dial. There are plenty of choices to explore, whether you're a beginner or more experienced photographer, with the latter being catered for by the full range of P, S, A, M modes.

Newcomers to photography benefit from a fully automatic exposure mode and a further Auto+ mode, which uses scene recognition to analyse your subject and pick the corresponding mode for you. The mode dial also offers access to a discreet 'no-flash' option, Sony's highly impressive 2D and 3D Sweep Panorama feature, 3D, 10fps continuous burst and HD movie modes. There's also a slot that calls up the A65's set of scene modes, covering everything from portraits, sports and macro to sunset, night scene and hand-held twilight situations.

While the control layout is a little different to the A77's, the A65 still offers fast access to all of the key settings you're likely to need while shooting, with dedicated buttons for exposure compensation and ISO sensitivity on top and softkey access to the camera's display, white balance, Picture Effect and drive mode options via the navigation pad.

The central AF button activates the A65's excellent Subject Tracking mode, while further controls call up playback options, the main menu system and a handy guide function that works as a built-in camera manual, featuring explanations of how to achieve different effects and make the most of a range of photographic situations. The latter is a really nice added touch that newcomers to photography will find genuinely useful, while more advanced users are also catered for with explanations relating to a selection of more complex techniques.

Sony alpha a65 review

The main menu system sticks with Sony's tried-and-tested tabbed layout, with a black, white and orange colour scheme. It's logically laid out, easy to navigate and the range of options expands or contracts according to the exposure mode that you have selected, so you don't end up having to scroll through endless advanced options if you're working in one of the automatic modes for instance.

The one – somewhat surprising issue – we did encounter was an occasional delay between pressing a button / directional key to select and option and the camera responding to your input. This lag can hamper the shooting process if you're in a hurry, and we sometimes ended up either selecting the wrong feature or dismissing a change we had intended to make by pressing buttons more than once in the mistaken belief that our input hadn't been registered.

Sony alpha a65 review

The screen itself offers 100% frame coverage and a high resolution, 921,000-dot display. In use, the 3-inch LCD is clear, bright and very detailed, with its anti-reflective coating proving its worth under bright conditions. It is articulated, but uses a different hinge mechanism to the A77, flipping out downwards as well as being capable of rotating to the left or right through 270-degrees. It's a little less versatile than its pricier sibling's three-way screen and can cause issues when the camera's mounted on a tripod, but still a useful feature that helps to make the most of the camera's excellent Live View and Full HD movie modes.

One of the A65's biggest assets that it inherits from the A77 is its OLED EVF (Organic Light Emitting Diode electronic viewfinder) which offers 100% frame coverage and an industry-leading resolution of 2,359,296-dots. A fast refresh rate, high contrast display and the ability to maintain shooting information, a live histogram or a virtual spirit level on the EVF monitor are all features that add to the appeal of what is arguably the best viewfinder of its type currently available on the market.

Performance

Sony alpha a65 review

As the A65 shares the same 24.3mp sensor as the flagship A77, we were expecting the same sort of high-quality images that we marveled at when reviewing the more expensive model recently: we weren't disappointed.

Images are packed with lots of fine detail, with a decent level of edge-to-edge sharpness (thanks to the kit lens) and display well-controlled noise throughout much of the A65's ISO sensitivity range.

The A65's Auto White Balance performs well for the most part, although it is a little off the mark under artificial lighting, generating overly warm results in general. Thankfully the camera provides a decent range of options for tweaking the WB and/or setting it manually.

Raw files also offer the capacity to fine-tune the colours post-shoot, as well as providing the opportunity to pull extra detail out of under and slightly over-exposed areas in high contrast images, allowing you to get the very best from the A65's superb sensor.

By default, colours are natural-looking, with a pleasing level of saturation, while the metering system performs well, producing accurate exposures across an array of different subjects and lighting conditions.

The camera's DRO (Dynamic Range Optimizer) and HDR (High Dynamic Range) features also proved to be very effective: handy options which will help avid Auto-mode shooters to expand the dynamic range in JPEGs.

Sony alpha a65 review

For more creative photographers who don't want the hassle of processing raw files post-shoot, the A65's impressive range of Picture Effects (some of which are customisable) all produce distinctive results and are very enjoyable to explore.

The A65's phase detection AF system performs admirably. Despite its scaled-back design in comparison to its big brother's, the A65's 15-point system is still incredibly responsive, finding a near-instant lock under most circumstances. In low light, the AF remains pretty reliable; thanks to the helping hand it gets from the camera's built-in pop-up flash, which fulfils the function of the dedicated AF-assist lamp that Sony chose to reserve for the A77 alone.

The full-time AF – whether you're shooting stills using the Live View system or recording HD movies – is a real gem of a feature that leaves a favourable impression of the level of responsiveness you can squeeze out of a camera built around SLT technology. It's fast, reliable and there's a decent range of options on hand to tweak exactly how you want the system to behave, with the option of choosing the number and spread of AF points used for instance.

We're also impressed by the A65's Subject Tracking mode, which does an admirable job of keeping up with moderately-paced moving subjects. One particularly striking aspect of the latter function is its ability to re-establish the original lock even if it temporarily loses sight of the subject (if they pass behind another object or leave the frame for a short amount of time for instance).

This feature – coupled with the camera's equally impressive full-resolution 10fps continuous burst mode – should serve everyday action photographers very well indeed, although we should mention there is the same issue we experienced the A77, in that the Live View feed is lost when shooting at the fastest available frame rate, and in high-speed burst mode the accuracy of the AF system does drop, making it tricky to pan after moving subjects.

Sony alpha a65 review

The A65's 1080p HD movie mode (also shared with the A77) is accessed via a dedicated button on the back of the camera and records clean, crisp footage with decent quality stereo sound, although the microphones pick up the noise from the AF system working.

One distinct advantage for more advanced users is that the A65 also provides is the facility to maintain manual control over settings while working in any of the P, S, A, M exposure modes. Movies can be shot either in AVCHD or the more easily-shared MPEG-4 format, and you also have the option of dropping the resolution to a 640 x 480 VGA mode (25fps) to save space and/or if you just want to share small clips on the Web for instance.

Movies can be viewed directly on a compatible HD TV, thanks to the A65's HDMI port, but you'll need to purchase and HDMI cable separately.

The built-in GPS system is another added extra that nudges the A65 ahead of its rivals. The system is quick to find a lock on open ground, only struggling when shooting indoors or in areas surrounded by tall buildings – a limitation of the current GPS technology available that's common to most of the in-camera GPS features that we've seen in the past. The latter point aside, the system works well, automatically recording location information and incorporating it into each shot's EXIF data. You can then use the bundled software to view your images on a map, or – if you own a BRAVIA TV – use the Photo Map function, as well as making use of the location data to help you tag and organise your photo collection.

Resolution

Our results from the lab have been compared against the Sony Alpha 55, Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D5100 all available in kits at a similar price.

Raw files – while considerably noisier than the A65's JPEGs – make the most of the level of detail that the sensor retains at the higher settings, offering plenty of scope to clean up shots and make the most of their potential.

Resolution charts

As part of our image quality testing for the Sony Alpha 65, we've shot our resolution chart with the DT 18-55mm F/3.5-5.6 SAM lens fitted.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 100 the Sony Alpha 65 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them please click here to read the full article.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 100

JPEG images

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 100

ISO 100, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 22 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 20 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 6400

ISO 6400, score: 20 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 12800

ISO 12800, score: 16 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 16000

ISO 16000, score: 16 (see full image)

Raw images

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 100

ISO 100, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 200

ISO 200, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 400

ISO 400, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 800

ISO 800, score: 24 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 1600

ISO 1600, score: 22 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 3200

ISO 3200, score: 20 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 6400

ISO 6400, score: 20 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 12800

ISO 12800, score: 16 (see full image)

Sony alpha 65 review: resolution iso 16000

ISO 16000, score: 16 (see full image)

Noise and dynamic range

Examining the results from the A65 on their own, noise appears to be very well controlled, with very clean images at the bottom of its sensitivity range. Noise starts to appear around ISO 400, although its remains unobtrusive right up to ISO 1600. Past this point, we were still able to get usable images up to ISO 6400, beyond which point we'd only recommend venturing if it's an emergency.

Our analysis shows that all four cameras produce good results, but whilst the JPEG images from the Sony Alpha 65 are comparable with the Sony Alpha 55, Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D5100, the raw files just have the edge over the other cameras. Examining the signal to noise ratio results for the raw files (after conversion to TIFF) reveals the Sony Alpha 65, Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D5100 are similar, with the Alpha 65 producing the best results at the lower end of the sensitivity range. It is only just beaten by the Canon 60D at higher sensitivities. TIFF dynamic range results show an even contest between the Nikon D5100 and Sony Alpha 65.

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

JPEG images

Sony alpha 65 review signal to noise ratio

JPEG images from the Sony Alpha 65 are more-or-less on a par with those from the Sony Alpha 55, Canon EOS 60D and Nikon D5100.

Raw images

Sony alpha 65 review signal to noise ratio

TIFF images (after conversion from raw) show an increased signal to noise ratio and an improvement over the Sony Alpha 55.

Dynamic range

JPEG images

Sony alpha 65 review dynamic range

JPEG images show a slight drop in dynamic range when compared to the Sony Alpha 55, despite this drop the camera still captures a wide tonal range across the entire sensitivity range.

Raw images

Sony alpha 65 review dynamic range

This chart indicates that the Sony Alpha 65's raw files have at least a 0.5EV higher dynamic range than the Sony Alpha 55 and the Canon EOS 60D up to a sensitivity of ISO 3200.

Sample Images

Sony alpha 65 review

The A65's large APS-C CMOS sensor and the manual control it offers make it possible to generate some very pleasing shallow-depth-of-field effects. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

The A65 is capable of capturing highly-detailed, sharp images with pleasingly saturated colours. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

The metering system has coped pretty well with this high contrast scene, managing to retain plenty of detail in the shadows. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

At ISO 1600, noise is well-controlled, a good level of sharp detail is maintained and colours remain faithful. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

The extra warmth that the A65 tends to inject into images works very well in this case, adding a bit of punch to this overcast, autumnal scene. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

Taken at ISO 1600, while there is some visible noise and a very slight reduction in sharpness, the overall result is still a perfectly printable, high quality image. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

The camera's AF Tracking system puts in a very good performance, proving its worth by accurately keeping our moving subject in focus. (See full image)

Sony alpha 65 review

The A65's 24.3mp sensor resolves bags of sharp detail; while the built-in IS system helps to prevent camera-shake when shooting under overcast or low light conditions. (See full image)

Sensitivity images

Sony alpha a65 review

Full scene, the images below show cropped versions at 100%

Sony alpha a65 review iso 100

ISO 100 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 200

ISO 200 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 400

ISO 400 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 800

ISO 800 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 1600

ISO 1600 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 3200

ISO 3200 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 6400

ISO 6400 (see full image)

Sony alpha a65 review iso 12800

ISO 12,800 (see full image)

Verdict

Sony alpha a65 review

Currently, Sony's online shop price for the A65 stands at £789 (body only) or £869 (with 18-55mm lens). This places the A65 in the same arena as mid-entry-level DSLRs like the Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D5100 – albeit at a higher price-point that's justified by its raft of high-end features.

In essence, the A65 attracts largely the same points of praise and criticism as the more expensive A77, due to the fact that it shares much of the same technology underneath its unassuming plastic outer shell. For a lower price, you don't miss out on that many features, so if you're not bothered about having a weather-sealed camera body, top LCD panel, marginally faster continuous burst mode or more sophisticated AF system than the (still very good) one that the A65 offers, then it makes perfect sense to save some cash and plump for the A65.

What you do still get for your money is Sony's astounding new XGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF, which offers the highest resolution and subsequent level of clarity we've seen to date, and is a shining example of the sort of advancements in camera design that the manufacturer's SLT technology affords. The A65's 24.3mp sensor also presents the highest resolution for any camera in its class, really coming into its own when you switch to shooting raw files in particular. JPEGs are still very good, but there is a more evident shortfall between the A65's ability to control noise compared to the competition if you stick with this image format setting.

In many other respects – namely its AF speed, the size of its viewfinder, Full HD movie mode and overall level of responsiveness – the A65 is a class-leader, matching and sometimes even exceeding the specifications belonging to some of its closest rivals.

We liked

The SLT-A65's comprehensive range of high-end features borrowed from its big brother – the A77 – all add enormous appeal to this camera when comparing it to the competition. Its EVF – although not quite able to knock the traditional optical viewfinder off its pedestal – is superb; the camera handles very well and is capable of producing very detailed, high quality images.

We disliked

The occasionally sluggish performance when navigating some of the menus takes a bit of the shine off the A65's otherwise speedy performance, as does the incorporation of only one control dial (if you work in manual mode a lot). The loss of the live view feed when using the A65's high-speed burst mode is also a little disappointing.

Final verdict

The Alpha 65 is very well-specified in comparison to its rivals, matching or exceeding the competition's feature-sets in many respects. It's pricier, but we feel the impressive stack of high-end features that this camera has to offer more than outweigh its cost.

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