"Best equipped prosumer DLSR (that's not even a DSLR)"4.5 starson by drdfwatt
Pros: 1)Best viewfinder in the business
2)Class leading resolution
3)Many useful shooting modes
4)Full-time live view system
5)Class-leading video resolution(1080/60p)
6)Intuitive and well thought-out ergonomics, w/fast, responsive operation
Cons: 1)More noise at higher ISO
2)Early firmware bugs-some have been improved but still room for more improvements? JPEG definitions could also be improved
3)Not as svelte as A55
4)Limited control in high-speed shooting
5)Screen black out in HS shooting
Summary: This review is, as much as anything, an attempt to balance the dismal digital camera reviews foisted on readers by CNET. CNET is TOTALLY out of their depth in this area of technology and their camera reviews are almost worthless. Have you ever seen an area of hi-tech where virtually everything is rated 3.5 out of 5 stars? When in doubt, consult DP Reviews as a truly professional-grade resource, and ignore CNET.Apropos of earlier comments about slightly mushy default JPEG definitions, and how noise becomes an issue in higher ISO settings, I have discovered that there are some easily accessed menu settings that can substantively improve these issues. I have found that if I set sharpening to 3+ on all of the various creative modes, and then set high ISO NR (noise reduction) to its maximum, I get the least noisy and sharpest JPEGs. This combination of settings appears to get closer to the maximum capacity out of the sensor without having to go to the RAW file format.
I have had a chance to spend lots of time with this camera over the last five weeks and taken roughly 2000 pictures - for sure one of
the best electronics purchases I have made in the last 10 years, but I can also see some consistent problems that need addressing in future firmware updates. JPEGs (Sony's default jpeg algorithm could use some mild tweaking/sharpening) print out sharply at 30 by 20 print sizes (as long as I stay under ISO 1600). RAW images at low ISO will print sharp to 36x24 easily. When paired with the new Sony 16-50mm 2.8 lens (see separate review for this remarkable lens), takes some of the best pictures this side of a Nikon D3x ($8000 full frame pro camera) - if you stay to ISO 800 and under.
1) Best viewfinder in the business (2.4 million dot OLED), as bright as any full frame viewfinder, and with far more useful information. Once you've used it, you won't be able to go back. Paradigm changing - once you experience what you can do creatively with this new tool, optical viewfinders seem primitive and confining.
2) Class leading 24 megapixel resolution (at low to medium ISO, yields remarkably detailed images, esp in RAW).
3) Many useful shooting modes including terrific panorama and high dynamic range modes. Intuitive and yet deep & customizable operating system. But can be put in simple AUTO and AUTO+ modes for the less technical.
4) Full-time live view system - far better than the clunky live view systems 'tacked on' in traditional DSLRs.
5) Class-leading video resolution (1080 at 60p) with as good video capabilities as any camcorder. Takes better video than any DSLR if you shoot in 60p.
6) Intuitive and well thought-out ergonomics.
7) Fast and responsive operation. Fastest continuous shooting in class (10 frames per second). Fast focusing, decent menu speed (improved w/ new firmware)
8) Excellent image stabilization system (and no more sensor overheating from the IS that plagued the Sony A55!).
9) In-camera GPS (can be defeated).
10) Decent battery life (significant battery upgrade from the Alpha 55) given that EVF sucks down a lot of battery.
11) Best features/price ratio in the middle to high-end consumer/prosumer model DSLR group.
12) Easy access to any Minolta lens and a decent selection of Sony lenses for reasonable money, particularly a superb new 16-50 mm 2.8 lens (see separate review).
13) Ability to remove virtually all CA, distortion, and vignetting in increasing number of Sony lens (firmware-based). When used with the new 16-50mm 2.8 lens, produces very sharp images, w/out any visible classic optical distortions (CA, vignetting, barrel distortion, etc).
14) The few legit knocks on the camera are potentially addressed in firmware updates, unless Sony is falling asleep, which is doubtful, given what they have invested in this new technology (curious to see a full frame 'A99').
Firmware correction of lens optical aberrations has to be one of most under-appreciated but valuable features of this new camera's operating system. These corrections work with many popular Sony lenses (such as popular kit and tele zooms), w/ more included in future firmware (wish Sony would make that list more available to SLT owners!). This software correction makes a VERY discernible difference in large prints, and means that these classic distortions are basically a non-issue for corrected lenses (see DP Reviews treatment of this in their A65 review).
1) Some increase in noise at higher ISO, particularly in RAW images without NR. Not at all surprising in view of increased pixel density.
2) Early firmware bugs - some have been improved, but still room for more improvements? (i.e., Sony's HVL-F42 bounce flash yields still badly overexposed pictures - this happens mostly with bounce flash. Other firmware bugs and weaknesses (like JPEG definitions) could also be improved.
3) As great as the EVF is, sometimes the view is too contrasty, yielding either blown highlights or 'blackout' regions - needs contrast adjustment function.
4) Not as svelte as the Alpha 55 (but for those with big hands, the extra heft and size work). A bit porky with the 16-50 2.8.
5) Limited control in high-speed shooting modes.
6) Screen blacks out once you fill up the buffer in high-speed shooting and you have to wait until all the images are dumped onto your card.
7) Loss of live view in high-speed shooting modes can make aiming the camera a bit tricky.
8) Switching between viewing photos vs. videos is still a bit cumbersome and awkward.
9) Not able to buy bundled with Sony's superb new 16-50 2.8 lens, only standard kits lens (see separate review for 16-50mm) - not sure why Sony does that?.
Although the Sony Alpha 65 might have flown under the radar in the context of the simultaneous release of Sony's flagship Alpha 77, I believe it's actually the better deal for everyone who's not interested in a pro-style body. It contains most of the high technology of the flagship model Alpha 77, minus the top LCD panel and the 12 frame per second shooting rate (you'll have to suffer along with a measly 10 frames per second), a slightly less complex AF system, and a few other minor 'downgrades'. But the sensor and the EVF (in my judgment, the most important innovations of the A77) are intact. All this for a significant reduction in Price ($949 for body only versus $1449 for the Alpha 77). Unfortunately, it's very tough to get this model right now - minimal supply and lots of demand.
If you're interested in video, there is nothing right now that beats the video specification of this camera as most DSLRs will only shoot in 60i (often times interpolated from 30p), whereas this camera will shoot a true 60 frames a second in progressive scan. Still pictures are spectacular, and with more resolution than virtually anything outside of the full frame 24 megapixel Nikon D3X. A large 19x13 printout of a standard test image shows the A65 very, very close in detail to the Nikon D3x (the current resolution king in 35mm photography and able to resolve detail comparable to 35mm Kodachrome 64 (remember that stuff??).
LOW LIGHT PROBLEMS?
Although the recent Digital Photography Review (the closest thing to a definitive source on digital cameras on the web) slammed the Alpha 77 for its high noise particularly in RAW, and its somewhat 'mushy' JPEG rendering, I disagree (at least with their emphasis on this point), and as the best evidence, would actually reference DP Review's own images (!). If you look on their website (on their very revealing and useful standard studio scene comparator tool), and pull up images from several full frame cameras like the Sony 900, and the Nikon D3S and the pro-Canon EOS - 1D Mark IV, the Sony A65 more than holds its own at low ISO, with frankly more detail than any 35mm camera (outside of the Nikon D3x and the NEX 7), only giving ground a bit as ISOs get above 1600 (with a much higher pixel density as a major disadvantage). Even there, in low light, I believe that the camera does a credible job, and trades off a little of its resolution advantage for more noise reduction. However, as it has more detail than any of the other cameras in its class, competing well with full frame 24MP pro cameras at low ISO, it's got headroom to trade. Even in head-to-head comparisons with the A900 (full frame 24MP sensor), the A65 does a very credible job as ISO rises - and with the disadvantage of a smaller APS-C sensor. Admittedly, the full frame Nikon D3x and Canon 5D Mark II (and esp. the new Canon EOS 1Dx - a low-light phenom) are going to beat it soundly at 3200 and 6400, but realistically, who willingly or often shoots at 3200 and above?? I certainly don't. Plus, both the Nikon D3x and Canon EOS 1Dx are HUGE full frame cameras, costing roughly 8 times what this camera costs . . . really not a fair comparison. That's almost as unfair as comparing an APS-C sensor with a point and shoot sensor - the sensor with the low pixel density always looks better in low light (all other things being equal).
More telling are the comparisons on a level playing field. A recent comparison of this camera with the Canon EOS 7D (at the same price point as the A65 and also an APS-C sensor) showed that the although the Canon 7D kept a somewhat higher percentage of its ISO 100 resolution at 1600, the Sony was still handily out-resolving it at ISO 1600. So take the "low-light noise" knock on this camera with a large grain of salt. Given that the A65 does just fine up to ISO 1600 in terms of noise, I think the modest bashing of the camera by some (not all) of the DP press and few disgruntled low-light fanatics is somewhat overblown. If it beats some full frame cameras in low light (think Sony A900 - admittedly not a low light phenom), it can't be terrible. As much as I often agree with almost everything that DP Review says, they put too much emphasis on RAW noise, and not enough on overall image quality. If you shoot in RAW, you will have to use significant noise reduction at higher ISOs, but you've got more resolution to begin with to trade against. If you need convincing, check out DP Reviews JPEG image comparator for yourself. Pixel peepers only. Also, I would expect that its low light performance might still improve somewhat as firmware updates progress - there has been huge progress in that area from early firmware to current 1.04 versions. Admittedly, its JPEG definition could be sharper to show off all the detail the 24MP sensor is capable of, but hopefully this can be addressed in new firmwares (see Cons).
BOTTOM LINE - SONY AND THE BIG TWO?
It's all about which tradeoffs you want to make. Sony made a clear decision to trade low light ability for speed, resolution and detail in better light. For me, that's a good-to-great tradeoff, but for some others, perhaps not so much. Obviously, it's just a matter of priorities and personal preferences. You really can't have everything. In bright light, the A65 is going to outresolve the new Canon EOS 1Dx for lots less money, and some Canon devotees are upset about potentially spending 8 grand when this camera comes out, and getting only 18 MP worth of detail. On the other hand, that camera will take good pictures in the virtual dark. If you love to shoot in very low light, get one of the Nikon or Canon full frame cameras (just bring a truckload of money for the camera and lens systems). If you are willing to trade some of the low light ability for 1) more compact lenses/body; 2) much less money than a full frame system; 3) the best video you've ever seen from a DSLR camera, then this system is for you . . . and is a very good deal. If you believe (like some purists) that HD video is a modern corruption of the original function of SLRs, you probably aren't someone who is going to like Sony's approach anyway.
Bottom line - there isn't another camera for $900 (body only) that even comes close to this feature set, and with impressive speed and ergonomics. This is a shot across the bow that both Nikon and Canon are very concerned about. Anyone who compares this to the Nikon 7000 or the Canon EOS 60D (two other prosumer models - with the A65 slightly cheaper than either) has to walk away thinking that the Sony is the better deal - and simply a more capable camera - except in very low light. If you're interested in live view, the live view on this is so much better than the clunky live view on both the Canon and Nikon it's not even funny. And one look through their dim optical viewfinders, after you've used the amazing EVF on the Sony Alpha 65, and you won't be able to go back to Canikon. The viewfinder alone is a paradigm-shifting experience - once you've used it, optical viewfinders in traditional sub-frame DSLRs seem primitive and confining. Overall, this is an amazing value - there is no other camera for under a grand that can compete - at least in decent light - with full pro cameras, while beating them all in video quality. Videos shot in 60p are just stunning, as are most photos at ISO 100-400.
If you look at Digital Photography Reviews over the last 18 months (the closest thing to a definitive reference on the Internet about digital photography), they have given four APS-C Sony cameras highly coveted Gold Awards in the last year and a half (the Alpha 65, Alpha 55 (its predecessor which also won Camera of the Year from Popular Photography in 2010), the NEX 5N, and just recently, the NEX 7. They have also given four Silver Awards to Sony (the NEX 3C, the Alpha 77 and Alpha 35, another silver to the more traditional DSLR Alpha A580). Four Silver and four Gold Awards in 18 months. NO OTHER CAMERA MANUFACTURER HAS EVEN BEEN WITHIN SPITTING DISTANCE OF THIS PERFORMANCE ON THE PODIUM IN THE LAST YEAR OR TWO. If you put all of Nikon's and Canon's awards in the DSLR and APS-C classes together during the same period, they aren't even close to this medal haul.
This suggests that a subtle but real shift of power is taking place in digital photography. Although professionals still clearly gravitate toward the Big Two (where Sony has been seen as an interesting distraction and lightweight), there is increasing reason now to seriously consider Sony, at least in the APS-C segment. Little question that Sony is now making the best compact ILC cameras (the NEX series), and starting to challenge Canon and Nikon in areas of their traditional dominance. In the space of just over one year, Sony has made traditional DSLRs look clunky, limiting and . . . . well, almost obsolete. Unless you are ideologically married to an optical viewfinder - or shoot in the virtual dark - you'll love this camera.
Updated on Jan 27, 2012
You probably would not want to set sharpening to its maximum on any Canon DSLR (their default JPEG definition is already a bit crunchy), but Sony on the other hand is perhaps too enamored of the 'smooth look' and benefits from some extra sharpening.