This article first appeared in HWM Oct 2011.
Think of the Sony Alpha SLT-A65 as a steel bar wrapped in wool. Outside, it may not have the magnesium alloy body that its higher performance sibling, the A77 does, but inside it still packs a punch.
Launched at the same time as the A77, the A65 is a simpler camera sitting closer to the entry-level range while possessing fewer bells and whistles, coming without the A77’s top LCD and a rear control dial. But inside, the A65 carries the same new 24.3-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and the same 2359k-dot OLED viewfinder. And it shoots up to 10 frames per second, 2 less than the A77’s 12 frames per second, but 1 frame more than Canon’s high-end 7D. It also shoots both progressive and interlaced video (60p/60i/24p or 50p/50i/25p depending on regions), and has a 3.5mm audio jack for an external microphone. There’s even GPS hardware built-in for geo-tagging your photos.
Even though the A65 is made of plastic, the camera feels substantial. The body alone is 543g, and comes out to 850g with both battery and 18-55mm kit lens attached. So it doesn’t come light. The A65’s heavily-molded grip helps with the weight, with curved rests for your fingers to grip comfortably.
One clue that the A65 was built for an entry-level user is that there’s no quick way to change AF points. To manually indicate an AF spot requires four steps at the minimum, and that’s if the AF mode was already set to Local. Otherwise it’s best to set AF mode to Wide (automatic), but even so the AF area is limited to the 15 AF points clustered in the middle of the screen. If your target is just a bit too far to the edges of the screen, you’re out of luck. But there’s usually no need to manually determine AF points, as the AF performance itself is brilliant; focusing quickly and accurately most of the time.
The OLED viewfinder in the A65 is superb. Unless you’re in low light where you’ll see image noise, the image performance is so good you’ll hardly suspect that you’re using an electronic viewfinder instead of optical. And because it’s electronic, it can be overlaid with settings information as you shoot.
It’s not just the electronic viewfinder which has great performance, so does the rear LCD. The autofocus on most if not all DSLR cameras today with the traditional mirrorbox structure can slow to a crawl when using Live View on the rear LCD to shoot with, but not with the A65. The rear image is brilliant, and the AF responds just as quickly.
All the fancy new technology won’t be worth anything if the A65’s image quality doesn’t measure up, and we’re pleased to report that it does. It scores a high 2200-2400LPH horizontal and vertical on our resolution chart, delivering high on clarity. Image noise looks clean up to a high ISO1600, with ISO3200 delivering noticeable noise. ISO6400 is its best limit; beyond that the noise smudges the image too noticeably.
The A65 is a curiously mixed-bag of entry-level controls and high performance features. Its two strikes are the larger-than-entry-level size and weight, plus the difficulty in manually changing AF points on the fly. Otherwise, it delivers high image quality, combined with a fast frame rate during continuous shooting and solid auto-focus. Lastly, we can’t help but wonder if 24 megapixels isn’t overkill for most of its intended users, as a 24-megapixel JPEG can be as large as 10MB. Luckily, users can always set image resolution down to 12MP, dropping the file size to a more manageable 5MB or so.