Sony Alpha SLT-A65

While most people definitely don't need a 24-megapixel camera, the Sony A65 has a range of other features that will attract photographers in droves.


8.2
CNET Rating

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CNET Editor

Lexy spent her formative years taking a lot of photos and dreaming in technicolour. Nothing much has changed now she's covering all things photography related for CNET.


Need the baddest digital SLR around? Even though we've long ago dispelled the megapixel myth, there are some photographers who abide by the mantra that bigger is better.

How does a 24-megapixel consumer SLR sound to you, then?

Design and features

The A65 is that beast, sporting an almost-ridiculous 24 megapixels on its Exmor APS-C-sized CMOS sensor. Like the earlier SLT-branded Alpha cameras, the A65 is not technically an SLR. It uses translucent mirror technology, which allows these cameras to shoot a lot faster than traditional SLRs and focus quickly as well, thanks to the special pellicle mirror that simultaneously sends light to the image sensor and to an AF sensor. No moving mirror means no blackout time when the photo is taken, among other advantages.

The trade-off is that these cameras use electronic viewfinders (EVFs) rather than traditional optical ones found on many other SLRs you might be looking at when buying a camera. The EVF in the A65 is rather enjoyable to use as it's an OLED viewfinder with XGA resolution (equivalent to 720p).

How does the camera feel in the hand? It is comfortable to hold with some well-placed thumb grips and textured surfaces to offset the reasonably smooth exterior finish. There's a whole range of buttons accessible from both the back and top panel, which cover a range of functions such as auto-exposure lock, ISO and exposure compensation, and a video record button. At the back is a 3-inch LCD screen that pivots out from the base of the camera rather than from the side, and like the EVF it's high resolution as well at 921,600 dots. An electronic level gauge is available and can be overlaid on both the EVF and the LCD when shooting. There's also a built-in GPS, which means location data can automatically be appended to images.

Should you be the sort of photographer who loves having an entire army of features to recruit, the A65 will definitely please. On the mode dial at the top, alongside the standard automatic and PASM controls for manual exposures, the A65 also has a standard automatic mode and an auto+ mode, which lets you take HDR images stitched together in-camera and also scene detection modes. There is also sweep panorama in 2D and 3D as found on many other Sony cameras, as well as movie recording and speedy continuous shooting with autofocus at 10 frames per second.

The A65 has a range of artistic filters that produce the same effects as those on other Sony cameras like the NEX-C3, including toy camera, monochrome, selective colour and high-key just to mention a few.
(Credit: CBSi)

The A65 takes SD and MemoryStick Pro Duo cards in a slot at the side, separate from the rechargeable Lithium-ion battery inserted at the base.

Compared to

Nikon D5100 Canon EOS 600D Nikon D7000 Sony A65
16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS 18-megapixel APS-C CMOS 16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS 24.3-megapixel APS-C Exmor CMOS
3.0-inch, 921,000-dot articulating LCD screen 3.0-inch, 1,04K-dot articulating LCD screen 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot fixed LCD screen 3.0-inch, 921,000-dot flip-down LCD screen
Full HD video (1080p, 24/25fps) Full HD video (1080p, 24/25/30fps) Full HD video (1080p, 24/25fps) Full HD video (1080i, 50fps)
No wireless flash control Wireless flash control Wireless flash control Wireless flash control

Performance

General shooting metrics (in seconds)

  • Time to first shot
  • JPEG shot-to-shot time
  • RAW shot-to-shot time
  • Shutter lag
  • Sony A650.90.31.10.3
  • Nikon D51000.30.60.70.3
  • Canon 600D0.20.40.70.1
  • Nikon D70000.30.20.30.1
  • Canon 60D0.30.40.40.1

Continuous shooting speed

  • 10
    Sony A65
  • 6
    Nikon D7000
  • 5.3
    Canon 60D
  • 3.8
    Nikon D5100
  • 3.7
    Canon 600D

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

The A65 does slow considerably when taking a quick burst of full resolution RAW files; we found that it slowed to process them after five frames, although it did not stop taking images completely. Sony rates the battery for the A65 at 510 shots using the EVF or 560 shots using the LCD screen. We especially like the percentage battery monitor available on the screen, which shows just how much juice is left, a refreshing change from the standard bar arrangement found on other consumer SLRs.

Image quality

For those photographers who just want to point and shoot on automatic settings without delving too far into the menus, the A65 delivers very attractive and punchy images. Colours in particular look nicely saturated and the excellent LCD screen does a lot to make it seem as if you've taken an award-winning image first go. Reviewing images on a computer screen makes you realise that perhaps you're not the next Cartier-Bresson, but that's OK because photos still are attractive. Autofocusing is accurate and quick with the kit lens attached.

An example of the rather attractive bokeh produced by the kit lens and the A65.
(Credit: CBSi)

Inspecting images at full magnification shows some issues with the A65's rendering of JPEGs, with a distinct lack of detail and sharpness, and a fair amount of noise even at low ISO ratings. We can't help but feel that a slight reduction in the megapixel rating would have gone far in alleviating many of these issues. Naturally, shooting in RAW does give a lot more detail to play with, though images even at lower ISO ratings still have a great deal of noise.

A 100 per cent crop (inset) of a photo from the A65.
(Credit: CBSi)

There's no doubt that the A65 is fast in general shooting metrics. But, it's a little slow in other areas that matter in everyday shooting situations. There's a slight lag in reviewing images, navigating through menus and it did freeze while starting up on one occasion, which required a hard reset by removing the battery. We hope these are issues that can be addressed in a firmware update.

A comparison between the RAW and JPEG files that the A65 produces, with 100 per cent crop inset. As you can see the RAW image at 100 per cent shows more detail but there's also more noise present. This image was taken at ISO 250.
(Credit: CBSi)

Video quality is very good, with accurate colours and exposure on automatic settings. Audio quality from the built-in microphone is decent though it is possible to hear the slight sounds of the lens continuously focusing in a quiet environment. To offset this, you can easily use an external mic.

Image samples

Exposure: 1/160, f/4.5, ISO 1600

Exposure: 1/50, f/5.6, ISO 1600

Exposure: 1/160, f/8, ISO 100

Exposure: 1/500, f/8, ISO 100

(Credit: CBSi)

Conclusion

While most people definitely don't need a 24-megapixel camera, the Sony A65 has a range of other features that will attract photographers in droves. Bear in mind that for all the features you get, the A65 doesn't offer a flawless shooting experience. There's intermittent lag issues, and images taken with the kit 18-55mm lens aren't as sharp and detailed as those from its main competitors.

The A65 is available for AU$1299 as body only, AU$1399 for a single lens kit with the 18-55mm, or AU$1599 with the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lens.

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