The Sony Alpha A65 - the brand's second-gen 'SLT' camera - shows Sony furthering the evolution of yet another camera technology and also packs great video
With interchangeable lens compact system cameras – or CSCs – encroaching onto the territory traditionally occupied by bulkier digital SLRs, and a range of different but essentially similar systems available, there's been a lot of new camera tech for us to get our heads around lately.
Sitting just below the flagship Sony Alpha A77, the Sony Alpha SLT-A65 intermediate model externally resembles your regular DSLR. But like the A55 and A35 before it, internally this is something different again.
The SLT stands for 'Single Lens Translucent' camera. Rather than remove the traditional mirror box mechanism that in part gives DSLRs their bulk, as Sony has done with its NEX compact system cameras, it has instead been made see-through, or translucent.
The result is that this mechanism no longer has to flip out of the way to provide a video feed to the rear LCD, as on a traditional DSLR when 'Live View' mode is selected.
The upshot is that shooting video with the A65 is a much swifter, more fluid affair than on traditional DSLR such as the Nikon D7000, Canon EOS 5D or EOS 7D.
As one would hope, here it's possible at the press of a dedicated 'movie' button. Sony has clearly designed the camera with video in mind as much as stills – rather than bolting video on to an existing stills camera set up.
But even for those happy capturing photos, the see-through set up provided here has delivered much faster auto focus (AF) - indeed full time continuous AF is provided – so there's less chance of missing the moment between a half squeeze of the shutter release button and the camera actually taking the shot.
And in fact the other big talking point here is a very high stills resolution: 24.3 megapixels from an APS-C sized CMOS sensor.
While not an outright bargain, the Sony A65 comes priced similar to a mid-range conventional DSLR, retailing for a suggested £869 with 18-55mm standard zoom lens. A quick online search did reveal a price nearer to £750 for the combo however.
Sony A65: Controls
Outwardly the A65 very closely resembles its A77 bigger brother, with differences discovered mainly 'under the bonnet'. A case in point is that this model offers a maximum 10 frames per second continuous shooting speed plus a 15-point auto focus (AF) system against the pricier A77's 12fps and 19-point AF.
While a chunky shooting mode dial with the usual manual and fully auto settings (including 3D and panorama options) is located over at the left hand side of the top plate, on the right a large shutter release button features prominently at the top of the handgrip where it's encircled by the on/off lever.
Press down fully on the shutter release button to take the shot and the camera's reaction is lightning fast. Sony officially puts the time that lapses between button press and the camera actually taking the picture as 0.05 seconds.
Thanks to anti shake being built into the camera body, any attached lens also becomes immediately stabilised so blur is largely avoided as is the need for specialist anti shake lenses, something Canon and Nikon owners require.
So another benefit of choosing the Sony system. While not over burdened with buttons, essentials like ISO and exposure compensation are given their own controls, lending the A65 user-friendliness.
Sony A65: Screen
The Sony A65 features the distinct advantage –when shooting either video or stills – of a tilting LCD screen on the back plate. This enables creative angles not otherwise achievable when using the eye-level OLED viewfinder.
The larger 3-inch screen offers a high and clear resolution of 921,600 dots, so similar to that of a semi professional DSLR too.
Should users want to compose shots in a more conventional manner, there's the OLED viewfinder that boasts a more vivid, life-like appearance than a conventional electronic viewfinder (EVF). In fact Sony claims the contrast is up to 10x better than regular EVFs.
The same image is relayed to the camera's sensor, so, aiding accuracy of framing, it's a case of what you see is what you get.
Sony A65: Battery
The Sony A65 comes packing a NP-FM500H lithium ion rechargeable battery, inserted into the base of its handgrip. This isn't shared with a card compartment – a slot that accepts both Sony's Memory Stick Duo media and more commonly sourced SD cards is instead provided at the side.
The A65's battery life in the heat of the action is good for 560 shots if using mainly the LCD, or 510 shots if using the viewfinder instead according to industry tester CIPA. While perfectly acceptable, that's half that of the admittedly pricier Nikon D7000.
Sony A65: Image quality
We were able to be up and shooting video fast on the A65 – as quickly as stills in fact – while auto focus was lightning quick to find our subject in both formats; a performance that could be accurately described as offering a best of both worlds then.
And of course with tilting 3-inch, 921k-dot LCD plus electronic OLED viewfinder spoiling us for composition and review, there's less suggestion that silky smooth 1080p video here is an add-on.
Indeed it's integral, with an accelerated 50fps capture speed offered along with continuous auto focusing, so users don't need to be a whizz at manual focusing. Stills look bright and colourful, and 24 megapixels ensures there's plenty of detail packed into every frame, even if you might want to augment the jack of all trades zoom lens provided with a sharper prime (fixed focus) lens at some stage.
Sony A65: Verdict
The likes of Canon may have more lenses at its disposal to give its conventional DSLRs the edge, especially with its range bolstered with the likes of the EOS-7D and newer EOS-5D Mark III plus C30 and C500 'cine cameras', but otherwise for those wanting to shoot HD video as fluidly as stills, the A65 comes highly recommended.
A 24.3 megapixel top resolution also means there's a reasonable amount of future proofing built in here.
Plus, with the ability to shoot in 3D and generate panoramic images that are automatically stitched together in camera, along with manual control courtesy of program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual settings, those who do want a more advanced camera aren't likely to quickly tire of the Sony A65.
Sony A65 availability: Available now
Sony A65 price: £869.99 with 18-55mm zoom lens