"I compared the Sony A65 vs. Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i"5.0 starson by EricTessmer
Pros: See my summary
Cons: See my summary
Summary: Review of the Sony A65 DSLR Camera
by Eric Tessmer, Honolulu Hawaii
I'm writing this with the hope it might save time for others, since I just invested many hours doing camera comparisons before buying my own new camera. I have been a biomed technician for 35+ years, so my experience evaluating equipment and its features may be useful to others.
Before I purchased this camera, my experience had always been with Nikon or Canon cameras. I have been using Canon cameras for over 15 years and have been happy with all of the models I owned. I had no interest in Sony originally, but a friend of mine, who has considerable photography experience, suggested comparing the three top cameras in this DSLR class before buying.
I compared the Sony A65 vs. Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i. I also spent a fair amount of time looking over photos, specs, and reading what professional and "average Joe" photographers think and feel about Sony and specifically the A65.
I started out biased towards Nikon and Canon, not even liking Sony cameras, based on the ones I had seen a few years back. But some of the reviews and comments about the new Sony DSLR were from nationally known professional photographers whom I respect. Also, I saw that Trey Ratcliff, the HDR guru, stated that the newest Sony cameras will be real game changers in the DSLR world. With all of this, I took a closer look at what all the buzz was about.
I am a member of DP Review and have posted numerous questions about this camera there. I have also spent time in camera shops holding, inspecting, and taking photos using the Canon T3i, Nikon D5100 and Sony A65. I poured over a lot of reviews, professional opinions, specs, and technology, learned a lot, and ended up really liking the approach Sony was taking - not trying to copy, but to truly innovate. Sony is obviously investing very heavily in their camera division.
Look, Fit and Feel:
Although the Canon and Nikon have a good feel to them (Nikon getting the definite edge), I liked the Sony quite a bit better because the body felt better balanced, was slightly lighter and smaller, and the button layout was intuitive and had a real solid feel. Also, the hand grip side was sculpted and deeper with a larger thumb pad which gave a surer, more confident grip to my hands than either the Canon or Nikon.
View Finder (VF):
Both Nikon and Canon use optical VF and Sony has an Electronic VF. Both the Nikon and Canon VF were quite small, but were also fairly clear. The Sony looked very good and I took several pictures which were very easy, especially with the useful overlays (similar to what you would see on the monitor). Here are the specs:
• Eye-level fixed XGA OLED, 1.3 cm (0.5 type) electronic viewfinder
• 2,359,296 dots resolution
• Magnification approx.1.09x
• 100% frame coverage
From Image Resource Website: "In a class of cameras that tend to be fitted with comparatively small pentamirror viewfinders, the large, bright and high-resolution EVF of the Sony A65 stands apart. Unlike optical viewfinders, the size of an EVF doesn't have to be constrained by the size of the camera's sensor, which means it's possible to offer a finder much closer to the size photographers enjoyed when they shot film SLRs. In terms of size, clarity and utility, the finder in the A65 at least rivals, but in some respects surpasses some of those found in much more expensive conventional DSLRs. Compared to its direct APS-C format DSLR peers, there is simply no contest. The A65's EVF is close enough to the quality of a high-end optical viewfinder that it has advantages (the ability to preview exposure and white balance, or to gain-up for working in low light). The OLED Trufinder that Sony is now using over older EF technology is a very different beast - its 2.4M dots are able to provide a 1024 x 768 pixel display and do so with a progressive update. As a result, the viewfinder not only gives a more detailed view but also one that's free from tearing. After extended use, we're confident in saying that it is the best EVF we've ever used.
Low refresh rates were often a bugaboo of early EVFs, but the problem seems pretty completely banished with the combination of the Sony A65's sensor, fast processor, and OLED EVF technology. The area where EVFs completely crush optical viewfinders is, of course, in on-screen information display. With the whole viewfinder area a full-color high-resolution image display, readout, status and other information can be displayed anywhere you please. Not only that, but full menu displays are a button-press away, so your eye never need leave the viewfinder while operating the camera."
I particularly liked the 3-axis level indicator which you can turn on in the VF.
Shooting and Controls:
Shooting: all three cameras were pretty much the same, but with a slight edge to the Sony, since with Sony, there seemed to be zero lag when the exposure button was pressed and the control layout seemed better.
Controls: all were very good, but the exposure control being on the left side of the Sony made it much easier to control your settings while looking through the VF.
Photo Reviews and other photographers comments:
Of the numerous comments from owners of this camera, the only major negative I read was that it does not do as well in low light situations. If you do a lot of action shots over ISO 1600 in low light, then the Nikon and Canon will outperform the Sony. This is due to the fact that Sony has 24MP vs. Canon at 18MP and Nikon at 16MP in about the same size APS-C sensor. The Sony also uses a pellicle (transparent) mirror. There's no reflex mirror to raise, but there is a 20% light loss to the sensor.
I have the same issue with my current Canon at 15MP with a CCD sensor, which is worse because I cannot shoot anything over ISO 400 without seeing some noise and over 400 it is really noticeable. I have managed with ISO 400 or less for my quality shots for over three years, so I can deal with 1600 or less. Thus I still feel the other advantages of the Sony A65 outweigh this disadvantage. Plus, as one user pointed out, there is a noise-reduction multi-frame mode which allows you to take six shots in less than 1 second and it combines these into one low-noise image for low light photos. The sample photos look very good.
The pellicle (transparent) mirror in the A65 uses the same technology as on Sony's high-end semi-professional A77 model.
Another edge Nikon has over the Sony was that several reviewers felt that the JPEG algorithm was slightly better in the Nikon at higher ISOs and recommended shooting the Sony RAW at over 400 to get the best image quality. In the RAW format, the Sony image quality was judged to be significantly better than either Nikon or Canon up to 1600 and was comparable to full frame DSLR sensors.
A bit more information on the pellicle mirror from Imaging Resource: "The defining feature of the Sony SLT-series cameras, the translucent (or pellicle) mirror allows most light to pass through to the imaging sensor beneath, while a small portion is reflected for use by the camera's phase-detect autofocus sensor. This unusual design brings three main advantages over a traditional SLR: full-time phase detection autofocusing (even during video capture), improved burst shooting performance, and a modest reduction in camera body size. This, combined with use of an electronic first curtain, allows the Sony A65 to capture 10 frames per second with less noise and vibration."
One reviewer, Michael Reichmann of the Luminous-Landscape.com, summed up his perspective on Sony and their position well: "Never underestimate Sony. They are the new kid on the block when it comes to mid-to-high-end digital photography, but they are an 800 pound gorilla in the electronics industry, and the digital cameras industry is now the electronics industry.
When Sony purchased Konica/Minolta in 2006 they acquired substantial SLR, DSLR, and optical lens technology along with staff and expertise. They also added a licensing / manufacturing relationship with Carl Zeiss, so that they could use that company's lens technology for both digicams and DSLRs. Not to be discounted is the fact that Sony is one of the few camera makers that designs, engineers, and fabricates their own sensors and other semiconductors. Indeed competitors such as Nikon and Pentax reportedly have Sony fabricate their sensors for them, sometimes based on Sony designs as well.
It's now five years on, and Sony has had decent success with their Alpha cameras, and during the past 12 months with their NEX series of CSC (Compact Systems Cameras). Their A900 and A850 cameras have been the least expensive full-frame 24MP cameras on the market, and last year the A35 and A55 introduced Sony's unique "Translucent Mirror" technology - a pellicle mirror that allows extremely high speed shooting, and continuous autofocus in video mode.
The NEX cameras have offered up the smallest and lightest weight APS-C sensor cameras available, and have been very successful in some markets. Now, in late August 2011, Sony has announced four new cameras, three of them with 24 Megapixel APS-C sensors, along with a new NEX model with a 16MP sensor, and a number of lenses and accessories. This isn't just a large number of new products all at once - it's a full-court-press on the rest of the industry."
DP Review gave the A65 it's Gold Award, meaning it was rated the best in its class.
From various websites, I looked at hundreds of side-by-side photographs of the same image using the A65 vs. D5100 vs. T3i and I have definitely come to prefer the Nikon images over Canon. But I also believe Sony has a big edge over both. Even with high ISO limitation, I still prefer the Sony A65 image quality over the Nikon D5100 & D7000 even at ISO 1600.
At 3200 both Nikon and Sony images are compromised, but the Nikon is definitely better. See this terrific link to do camera photo comparisons: http://www.imaging-resource.com/IMCOMP/COMPS01.HTM
For further A65 photos please see this link: http://www.imaging-resource.com/PRODS/AA65/AA65GALLERY.HTM
I did a direct comparison with the D5100 and here were the main A65's advantages:
• Much larger viewfinder - more than 90% larger
• Built-in image stabilization vs. none
• Faster continuous shooting - 10 fps vs. 4 fps
• Much higher sensor resolution 24 MP vs. 16 MP
• Built-in panoramic creation vs. none
• 3D photo capable vs. none
• GPS vs. none
• Better light sensitivity 12,800 ISO vs. 64,000 ISO
• Faster autofocus phase vs. contrast detection
• Much better viewfinder coverage 100% vs. 95%
• Built-in focus motor vs. none
• More focus points 15 vs. 11
• More cross-type focus points 3 vs. 1
The main A65 disadvantage to the D5100:
• Noisier image at high ISO (over 1600)
• Fewer lens selections
• Slightly larger and heavier (by a few mm and grams)
• $200 more expensive than the Nikon D5100
While I initially took a skeptical approach about the Sony camera, I gradually became convinced that the Sony A65 was my best choice. I made the purchase through Amazon and it is interesting to note that from the dozens of stores and websites I checked, no one was discounting the camera. They all were the same price - a very good sign of the quality and value of this camera.
Now I have had this camera for a month, have taken over 1,000 pictures of various types and settings, and absolutely love this camera. It both lives up to the hype, and has also exceeded all my expectations. I have had ZERO issues with this camera and here are some of my favorite features:
• Built-in panoramic stitching - fabulous job stitching together a bunch of photos into one seamless photo in a few seconds - all without having to use a tripod - it really works amazingly well.
• Noise reduction Auto-ISO - multi-frame merged shots for great low-light shots
• Several choices of built-in High Dynamic Range (HDR) shooting modes - with stunning results
• Built-in help and explanation menus
• Intuitive menu selections and controls
• Incredible detail and full shooting information in electronic viewfinder
• Easy to use and flexible HD video mode
• Very sharp high resolution photos
For a full set of specs on the A65: http://store.sony.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&searchType=search&storeId=10151&catalogId=10551&productId=8198552921666375303#specifications
Eric Tessmer, CBET, Biomed Technician
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