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If Sony’s exceptional A77 is a bit beyond your budget or just too much camera for your needs, many of its key features and performance benefits can still be enjoyed in the much more affordable A65.

Challenging the dominance of Canon and Nikon in the D-SLR market is something that nobody has been able to get close to in over a decade, but Sony may just be in with a shout now that it’s focusing all its efforts on SLT-series models. The award-winning A77 represents a strong start as does the entry-level A35 with the mid-range now bolstered by the A65 and recently-announced A57.

The A65 had the misfortune to be announced alongside the A77 which promptly grabbed all the headlines, but in many ways it’s the camera that’s most likely to help Sony bolster its market share. It inherits the A77’s key features and technologies, but it’s more compact and significantly more affordable, being around $600 cheaper (comparing body only prices).

While the A65 has a GRP bodyshell – rather than having magnesium alloy covers (and without weather sealing), it shares the same 24.7 megapixels sensor as the A77 and the same OLED-type eyelevel electronic viewfinder (which, incidentally, is also fitted to the NEX-7). It also has the same ‘Xtra Fine’ TFT LCD monitor screen, but with only a tilt/swivel adjustment rather than one for swinging as well. The autofocusing system is from the A35 rather than the A77 so it has 15 points rather than 19. However, the core values of the A77 are undoubtedly retained in the A65, including, of course, the fixed mirror arrangement which now underpins Sony’s entire D-SLR range and is its point of difference with Canon and Nikon.

The initials ‘SLT’ stand for “Single Lens Translucent” which is a reference to the semi-silvered or ‘pellicle’ mirror Sony has adopted to enable faster shooting speeds and to retain conventional phase-difference detection autofocusing with both live view and video recording. Being fixed, the mirror doesn’t waste valuable time flapping around between exposures so the A65 is able to deliver an impressive continuous shooting speed of 8.0 fps with continuous AF and AE adjustment or 10 fps with the focus and exposure locked to the first frame (in a mode Sony calls ‘Advance Priority AE’). Nothing else in this D-SLR price bracket gets close to 8.0 fps let alone 10 fps.

Speed is also the reasoning behind retaining phase-difference detection autofocusing in live view using dedicated AF sensors rather than employing contrast-difference measurements from the imaging sensor which is inherently slower. Once a conventional reflex mirror is locked up to facilitate live view (and, subsequently, video recording), contrast-detection is the only method of enabling autofocusing, but by adopting the pellicle mirror arrangement Sony has been able to find a way around this. Most of the light passes through the semi-silvered mirror to the imaging sensor, but some is also reflected up to autofocusing sensor arrays located in the top of the mirror box (unlike a conventional SLR where they’re set into the base).

THE EYE HAS IT

Obviously this arrangement makes it impossible to have an optical viewfinder so all the SLT-series Sony D-SLRs have an electronic viewfinder (EVF) which, in general terms, hasn’t always been satisfactory in terms of both lag and a poor dynamic range.

However, Sony has gone a long way to rectifying these deficiencies with its ‘XGA OLED Tru-Finder’. OLED stands for ‘Organic Light Emitting Diode’ so these panels don’t need backlighting and also have a much higher contrast ratio than an LCD. ‘XGA’ refers to the resolution which is 2.359 million dots which is the highest seen in an EVF so far.

The high-contrast display combined with the high resolution and a progressive (rather than sequential) image refresh results in an EVF with the sharpness, responsiveness, colour accuracy and dynamic range close to that of an optical finder. Extreme contrast will still cause a few problems, but otherwise Sony’s OLED-type EVFs are good enough to please the staunchest supporters of optical finders. Scene coverage is 100 percent, the magnification is 1.09x and, of course, it allows for the previewing of capture settings such as the white balance.

As noted earlier, the A65’s external monitor is the same 7.62 cm Sony ‘Xtra Fine’ TFT LCD panel as is used on the A77. It has a resolution of 921,600 dots and an anti-reflective design which employs resin between the screen’s surface and the protective glass. It’s mounted at the base only so it tilts for low-level shooting and then can be swivelled to allow for overhead viewfinder. There’s a button for manually switching between the monitor screen and the EVF, but proximity sensors in the viewfinder’s eyepiece enable automatic switching as the camera is held up to the eye. Usefully, the EVF replicates all the monitor’s displays. Because it’s quite a bit smaller, the A65 doesn’t have the A77’s monochrome read-out panel on the top plate so the main monitor screen is used for all the camera/capture status indicators.