For an under-$1,000 camera, the Sony A65 packs monster specs, including a massive megapixel count and breakneck shooting speed. Chalk it up to Sony's unique translucent-mirror design. In some ways it beats traditional digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, but experts say it lags behind in other respects. The A65 is one of critics' favorite midpriced DSLR-type cameras, just behind the touchscreen-equipped Canon EOS Rebel T4i (*Est. $850 with kit lens).
Electronic viewfinder is "a revelation." Sony's cameras look, feel and work a lot like regular DSLRs, except for one thing: The mirror inside doesn't move every time you take a shot. Instead, it lets some light pass through, which speeds up shooting. But that also means no optical viewfinder since there's no real mirror to reflect the scene into your eye; Sony substitutes an electronic viewfinder that shows you a live video feed instead. Some critics say this can never be as accurate as a true mirror image, but the A65's EVF is considered extremely good. It's the same as that on the more advanced Sony A77 (*Est. $1,300 body only).
"Simply the best EVF that we've ever had the pleasure of using," says Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. It shows 100 percent of the scene while optical viewfinders in this price range usually show 95 percent. DPReview.com testers call it "a revelation" compared to those optical viewfinders: "The ability to see shooting data, including a level gauge, overlaid in the viewfinder, and then switch to LCD screen composition simply by pulling your eye away from the finder is addictive."
The 3-inch LCD screen is equally "clear, bright and very detailed, with its anti-reflective coating proving its worth under bright conditions," says Josie Reavely at TechRadar.com. The A65's bottom-hinged, swiveling design helps you shoot from odd angles. Both the LCD screen and viewfinder work equally well for framing your shot, experts say, better than the smaller, dimmer versions on the cheaper Sony A37 (*Est. $600 with kit lens).
Critics find the Sony A65 bigger and heavier than most midpriced cameras, but still easy to hold. Beginners can let the camera do the work in Auto or Auto+ mode, which analyzes the scene to automatically pick the right mode such as portrait or landscape. Novice and advanced users alike will appreciate the Guide function, which Reavely says "works as a built-in camera manual," explaining how to handle tough photographic situations and get the effect you want.
One quibble, however: The menus sometimes work sluggishly in tests at TechRadar.com and DPReview.com, dragging down the Sony A65's otherwise easy, speedy personality.
Super-high resolution and quick shooting. The Sony A65's headline feature is its hefty 24.3-megapixel compact sensor, the same one as on the pricier A77 and now equaled by the cheaper Nikon D3200 (*Est. $650 with kit lens). In short, the images look vibrant and natural. Straight out of the camera, the A65's JPEGs make a fantastic print up to 13 inches, DPReview.com says.
But those JPEGs use a lot of noise suppression to get that way in low light, reviewers say, which smears details if you look for them under a magnifying glass. Shoot raw files instead, experts advise. You'll have to edit some low-light noise, but you'll wring every drop of resolution out of those 24 million pixels.
The camera's fast, too. PhotographyBlog.com's Goldstein revels in the "headline-grabbing burst shooting speeds" up to 10 frames per second (fps), plus speedy autofocus for both photos and video and almost nonexistent shutter lag. HD video looks great, with good audio, although if you zoom or autofocus the sound will show up on your movie.
Battery life is rated at 560 shots when using the LCD screen, or 510 with the viewfinder.
Plastic body is typical for this price. Like all entry-level DSLRs, the Sony A65 uses a mostly plastic body to save weight and cost, which experts say is fine. "The A65 doesn't sport the same magnesium-alloy body as the A77 ... but still manages to give an overall impression of being well-made and robust enough to cope with everyday use," says Reavely at TechRadar.com.
If you need a weatherproof camera, the similarly priced Pentax K-30 (*Est. $825 with kit lens) is rainproof, dustproof and coldproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit. If you need something tougher than that, you'll have to step up to a metal-bodied camera like the Sony A77.
Missing some of Sony's latest tricks. The A65 is a little older than its brand mates, so it lacks a few of the latest features you'll find on the cheaper Sony A37 and A57 (*Est. $700 with kit lens). There's no Auto Portrait Framing, which automatically crops a portrait out of a bigger picture, or Clear Image Zoom, which uses digital zoom to double the range of your lens.
However, the A65 is faster, sharper and generally higher-spec than its cheaper siblings, and it has the same Sweep Panorama feature that snaps several photos as you pan the camera, then stitches them together into a panoramic shot. Likewise, it can shoot Sweep Panorama in 3D, if you have a 3D HDTV and glasses with which to view it.
The Sony A65 also features an on-board stereo microphone and an external mic jack, and includes exposure bracketing. You'll find this useful photo feature on entry-level Canons, but not entry-level Nikons. Not only that, but the A65 adds built-in GPS to embed location info into each photo. It locks onto satellites quickly, says Reavely at TechRadar.com, only struggling indoors or between tall buildings as most other cameras do. "You can then use the bundled software to view your images on a map, or -- if you own a Bravia TV -- use the Photo Map function."
Review Credibility: Very Good Fantastic specs for the money win the Sony A65 a Gold Award here. The camera impresses these picky testers with its high resolution, fast shooting speed and "well thought-out ergonomics."
Review: Sony SLT-A65 Review, Lars Rehm, November 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good In many respects -- including shooting and autofocus speed -- the Sony A65 is a class leader, Reavely says. Her thorough evaluation reveals some image-noise problems with JPEG photos but not raw images, and few other quibbles.
Review: Sony Alpha a65 Review, Josie Reavely, Dec. 12, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good The Sony A65 is one of this website's favorite midrange DSLR-type cameras. After a full test, Goldstein says it delivers "image quality ... easily rivaling the DSLR competition," plus the advantages of Sony's translucent-mirror design.
Review: Sony A65 Review, Mark Goldstein, Nov. 1, 2011
Review Credibility: Very Good Editors here test dozens of DSLR and DSLR-like cameras. They judge each one's image quality, flash photos, video quality, viewfinder, LCD quality and ease of use before picking the best buys. Each camera gets a short write-up, but reviews here aren't as detailed as at the dedicated camera websites. However, ConsumerReports.org refuses all freebies and advertising, and its objectivity makes it a valuable source.
Review: Sony SLT-A65VK, Editors of ConsumerReports.org, As of October 2012
Review Credibility: Fair With more than 50 user comments posted here, 85 percent give the Sony A65 either 4 stars out of 5 or a perfect 5 stars. Several of the low reviews come from owners who got defective cameras.
Review: Sony A65 24.3 MP Digital SLR with Translucent Mirror Technology, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of November 2012