HandlingWhile it's only too easy to compare this camera with the Alpha 77, the Alpha 65 shouldn't be judged entirely on that basis, as while the cameras are technologically similar, they're not aimed at the same kind of users. Unlike the more advanced Alpha 77, the Alpha 65 is a top-of-the-range consumer SLR designed to rival the likes of the Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D5100.
Compared with its direct competitors then, the 65 is a well-made camera with a nice, comfortable grip handle and generally accessible buttons. Some users may find the plastics on the upper edge of the camera a bit flimsy, but that's really a minor complaint. Compared with the 77, however, the Alpha 65 doesn't come off quite so well. The 65 is obviously lighter, but it doesn't feel as reassuringly sturdy and doesn't have the same splash-proof finish. It has also been stripped of some of the more original design features seen in the Alpha 77—the three-way tilt and swivel screen has been replaced with a standard tilt screen, the second settings thumb-wheel has been ditched and so too have certain customisable buttons. Given the difference in price we can understand all that, but we can't really see why Sony has replaced the neat little four-way joystick seen in the 77 with a classic four-way arrow pad placed lower down on the camera body so you have to bend your thumb down to use it.
The viewfinder and screen are taken straight out of the Alpha 77. The LCD is therefore sharp, accurate and pleasant to use, with just a slight blue overtone in light shades and a decent average deltaE of around 4 (with anything under 3, the difference between the colours requested and those displayed onscreen is considered to be negligible). The OLED viewfinder is as sharp and accurate as ever, but images are a little on the 'warm' side (the colour temperature of 5200 K means that red/yellow shades dominate). All in all though, the Alpha 65 excels in this field, and its high magnification electronic viewfinder can be more comfortable to use than the tight pentamirror optical viewfinders used in some competitor models.
The camera interface is clear, and the panorama, Auto and Auto+ modes generally work very well. Manual modes can be accessed directly via the controls and the only slight downer is the rather dense Fn menu (it may take a while to adapt to the two-column layout) that seems to overlook some key options (panorama image orientation is hidden away in the main menu, for example).
ResponsivenessThanks to their electronic viewfinder systems, Sony's latest Alphas keep coming out on top in our responsiveness tests, and the Alpha 65 is no exception, giving excellent results. Although the start-up time of just under a second isn't particularly special these days, the autofocus is faultlessly fast and the photo-to-photo turnaround time has been pushed down to about the time it takes you to press the shutter release button again.
The continuous shooting mode is excellent too, shooting over 8 fps for 20 Jpeg images. The buffer memory could be a little bigger, as in Raw mode the Alpha 65 can only handle seven images at that rate. The Alpha 65 also has a '10' setting for boosting the burst up to 10 frames per second but, in practice, the difference in speed is pretty minimal. In any case, the Alpha 65 is already up there with the best in its standard burst mode.
Picture QualityThe internal electronics of this SLT have been lifted straight out of the Alpha 77. So since image resolution is more than sufficient for day-to-day snapping, it's interesting to consider picture quality not only for regular shots but also in terms of their potential for heavy cropping.
At 100% size—after heavy cropping, for example—or for very large-format prints (a 24-Megapixel image would end up measuring 34 x 51 cm at its native size!), smoothing and noise appear at 1600 ISO and become problematic at 3200 ISO.
For more common uses like 8" x 12" prints (20 x 30 cm), the difference in quality between 800 ISO and 1600 ISO will only be visible under a magnifying glass, and even the 3200 ISO setting can be used without too much trouble. At 6400 ISO it's a bit of a different story, however, as in our test shots the 16-Megapixel sensor in the NEX-5N did a slightly better job. That said, the difference is barely noticeable when comparing similar sized prints.
The Alpha 65 does have one weakness ... and it's a weakness that we've known about for a while. We first used Sony's 18-55 mm kit lens back in 2009 and, with the 10-Megapixel sensors of the day, we thought it was OK, but nothing more. As sensor resolutions have been upped to 14 Megapixels and then 16 Megapixels, the limits of this lens have become even more obvious—although chromatic aberration isn't a problem, the image could definitely be sharper at all focal lengths.
With a sensor that's as dense as this 24-Megapixel beast, the lens just can't keep up. Sony needs to replace it urgently! The difference in sharpness between this lens and the 16-50 mm lens that comes with the Alpha 77 is immediately obvious in the centre of the frame at all focal lengths, and gets even worse towards the edges. This lens would be fine for an 8" x 12" print (20 x 30 cm), but as soon as you want to crop or blow-up part of the shot (which is the whole point of having 24 Megapixels) its weaknesses are plainer than day.
In fact, it was so disappointing that we shot the ISO test pictures above with a Tamron 18-270 mm lens we had hanging around the office, as the blurry haze in the middle of the shots taken with the 18-55 mm lens meant we couldn't effectively judge the extent of smoothing at 1600 ISO. All shots in the camera face-off are, however, taken with the 18-55 mm kit lens supplied by Sony.
To sum up, the Alpha 65 is a very good camera for anyone who needs to take high-resolution shots but who isn't planning on cropping and blowing up pictures taken at high ISO settings. However, to get the best out of the 65, we'd definitely recommend buying the body only and then buying a decent lens elsewhere.
VideoThe Alpha 65 has the same video modes as the Alpha 77, including AVCHD 1080p50, 1080i50, 1080p25, MP4 1080p25 and more. The default mode is interlaced but anyone looking for super-smooth videos can easily switch to 50p.
There's a separate video record button to start filming instantly, and the video setting on the mode dial offers access to manual exposure controls (but without the autofocus). Picture quality is very nice indeed, giving pleasant results in spite of a slightly dense exposure. The continuous autofocus works very well in Auto mode too.
Sound is good although not extraordinary. The stereo effect is audible and the result is relatively accurate, even if it's subject to annoying echoes. Another downside of the 18-55 mm kit lens is that its motorisation system is quite noisy, and so it's sometimes picked up in quieter scenes—as if we needed another reason to ditch this lens—although you can get around the problem by focusing manually.