Sony Alpha 65 review
We review the Sony Alpha 65 (A65) to see how it measure up to the rest of Sony's translucent-mirror DSLRs
In terms of refreshing its camera range, no brand comes close to Sony, which in the last year or two has launched several models as it looks to replace its ‘conventional’ digital SLRs with its translucent-mirror DSLRs (see our comparison for the differences).
That said, the latest models have all been aimed at the entry-level to lower mid-range sector of the market, so enthusiasts and semi-pro/pros have been left wanting. Since the Alpha 700 was discontinued in 2009, there has been no rival to the likes of Canon’s EOS 60D and EOS 7D, or Nikon’s D7000 or D300s, while at the top of the range, the capable but ageing Alpha 900 continues to fly the Sony flag.
That has changed with the release of two Sony Alpha models – the A65 and A77 – which sport similar specifications (see our comparison) and are aimed at advanced amateurs/enthusiasts. In this test, we check out the more affordable of the two models to discover if it has what it takes to challenge an area of the market where Canon and Nikon maintain a very strong foothold.
Handling & ease of use 22/25
The Alpha 65 is quite a curvaceous model, with its thick right side sporting a chunky handgrip that gives a very comfortable and secure hold. Despite a comprehensive specification, Sony has managed to restrict the number of buttons on the top-plate and rear, so it should prove relatively easy for all but complete novices to get used to. A mode dial on the left side selects from an extensive set of modes, while on the right side, the on/off switch surrounds the shutter button and behind it, located in a prime position, are the ISO and exposure compensation buttons.
The rear of the camera is laid out much like other Sony Alpha models, with a neat arrangement of buttons all clearly labelled and flush from the body so as to be easy to press. A four-way control, along with the Fn (Function) button provides a fast, convenient way to select key features, with the menu button above the top-left corner of the monitor, providing access to an extensive and well laid out menu system.
The general build of the camera is very good and while there are panels with a textured rubberised finish that makes it easy to grip, much of the body has a plastic feel that doesn’t inspire confidence in its robustness and weather protection.
The A65’s 3in LCD monitor is excellent, boasting a sharp, bright 921,600-dot screen that sits on a hinged bracket that allows it to tilt and swivel in all manner of directions, making it very suitable for use in LiveView or when shooting video. Also impressive is the electronic viewfinder, which is far superior to previous generations. Sporting a 2.4-million dot display, it gives an image as close to that from an optical viewfinder as we’ve yet seen. It also has the advantage of 100% coverage, providing an extensive range of information, including tools such as the electronic level for ensuring even horizons. It also has the advantage of giving a ‘live’ representation of exposure and White Balance, so you can make necessary changes before you take the picture. It’s not perfect, however, with a lag in the image appearing when shooting sequences – although because of the translucent mirror, there is no blackout of the image to worry about. Overall, the A65 proves easy to use and handles very well, but doesn’t feel as solid as some of its rivals.
The standout feature of the Alpha 65 is without doubt its 24.3-megapixel resolution, which is significantly higher than the 18- or 16-megapixels on offer from the Canon, Nikon and Pentax rivals. As to whether you need this high a resolution is another matter entirely – in terms of the image size, the A65 has its rivals beaten. While this is understandably the headline feature, the Sony stands out in a number of other important areas. The use of a translucent mirror means it can offer a faster frame rate than rivals, with the eight frames-per-second (ten in high-speed mode) proving faster than rivals. The fixed mirror also means that the Alpha sports an electronic finder rather than a traditional optical viewfinder. I’ve admittedly not been a fan of the electronic finder, simply because it couldn’t match the clarity of an optical viewfinder, but that view has changed with the A65 – if you’ve been put off DSLTs for this reason, try out the A65’s finder for yourself and compare it to optical finders – note how large it is and how clear the screen is.
The other feature of the translucent mirror design is that it allows AF when shooting in LiveView to match the speed and accuracy of autofocus when used in a conventional fashion. While rivals have seen major improvements in LiveView on their more recent models, the Sony system still has a clear advantage. The Sony’s 15-point AF system is similar to that on the A55 and among its standard AF modes, also offers Face Detection, too.
The exposure system is based around a 1200-zone multi-pattern, with the option to select spot or centre-weighted. As well as the core four creative modes (P, S, A, M), there is an extensive range of scene modes. Also on offer is Sony’s excellent Sweep Panoramic mode that allows you to capture a widescreen image by moving the camera in a sideways direction, as well as the Continuous Advance Priority AE mode that allows for shooting at ten fps, albeit with the aperture limited to f/3.5. No limitations apply when using it in continuous high mode, which shoots at eight fps, which should prove more than fast enough for most.
The A65 boasts an expansive ISO range of ISO 100-16000, with the built-in SteadyShot Inside stabilisation facility providing an option to requiring a higher ISO rating when shooting in low light. The integral flash is useful over a limited range and boosts the usual mix of modes, which includes slow- and second-curtain sync, plus Wireless. There is a range of creative effects available, from choosing a Creative Style (Vivid, Portrait etc) to selecting a Picture Effect such as Toy Camera, Pop Color, Retro Photo or Soft Focus. The D-Range Optimizer, which allows you to retain detail in highlights and shadows, also boasts a HDR setting too.
Finally, to complete a very comprehensive specification, the A65 also boasts Full HD video (1920x1080P) with a good range of exposure control and stereo audio from the built-in microphone or an external source.
The Sony Alpha 65 is an excellent all-round performer. It’s easy to use considering the specification and fast in operation. The AF is excellent, regardless of whether you use it in standard mode or in LiveView, while the multi-zone meter proves consistently accurate. Colour reproduction is very good, with images showing nicely saturated colours and clean tones.
Where the A65 is notably behind its rivals is with image noise. While not a problem at up to ISO 800, any rating above this sees a noticeable increase in noise levels, to an extent where we’d not recommend using above ISO 3200 unless absolutely necessary, especially as noise reduction eats into detail quite harshly. The huge file size is impressive and while image detail is very good, at high magnification there is a marked difference between Raw and in-camera JPEG, so to get the most from the sensor, shoot in Raw.
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