Sony Alpha SLT-A65VK camera
Sony's mid-range Alpha SLT camera has some nifty features, including an excellent electronic viewfinder
The race to see who can cram the most megapixels into an APS-C sized sensor is so far being won by Sony. The company's mid-range SLT-A65VK boasts no less than a 24.3-megapixel sensor, which is overkill if all you want is a camera to take pictures that will only be shared on social media Web sites. Where this resolution comes in handy is if you want to closely crop images or make very large-sized prints. But that's only one aspect of this digital camera.
- Excellent electronic viewfinder (EVF)
- Good high ISO performance
- Fast focusing
- Auto modes not great
- Slightly soft image quality
It's not a true digital SLR and it's not as small as a mirrorless camera. Instead, the Alpha SLT-A65VK is an in-between model that still has plenty to like about it, including a large and vibrant EVF and fast focusing. Its huge sensor gives you versatility when it comes to cropping and printing and its low-light performance was surprisingly good in our tests. However, its image quality was a little soft at times and its auto modes tended to over-expose images a lot.
Like the entry-level Alpha SLT-A35, the SLT-A65VK is not a true digital SLR camera. It has a mirror box and a mirror, but unlike the mirror in a regular digital SLR, it's translucent and doesn't move. It also doesn't reflect light up into the viewfinder — the viewfinder on this camera is electronic. The purpose of this translucent mirror is to let light pass through to the imaging sensor behind it, and to also bounce some light into the camera's focus sensors in order to supply fast and accurate focusing performance.
The focusing performance of the SLT-A65VK was very fast during our tests — we tested it with the supplied 18-55mm kit lens. The camera focused within milliseconds of us halfway pressing the shutter button, but it did struggle a little when focusing on objects in low-light situations that lacked distinct contrast (a shaded area of a scene, for example). You can easily change the focus type through the menu system, and you can also easily change the focus point manually — there are 15 points to choose from in three central clusters. We like the fact that the focus boxes actually turn green in manual focus once they detect that an object is in focus — it's a nice, helpful touch. You can also make use of the focus magnifier feature.
When shooting videos, the camera's fast autofocus performance became even more apparent. Even slight changes in a scene sometimes meant that the camera would change its focus point, and that wasn't always a good thing with the image changing from one focal point to another. You could see the green focus box changing to different spots on the camera's screen. One way to get around it was to set a specific focus point — this way the focus did not jump around. Once you learn the intricacies of the camera, you'll find that it's great for shooting Full HD video, and you can even use the built-in 'art' mode effects to give your movies a different dynamic. You'll want to keep the camera still while you shoot video though, as even slight movements will cause the image to look jerky. It's best to use a tripod.
For still images, SLT-A65VK supplies more than decent clarity and colour reproduction and its images are huge. With 24 megapixel images at your disposal, there are many things you soon find out. One is that you might need a larger-than-usual memory card if you plan to shoot a lot of images, especially in RAW format. Another is that you can make out background objects a lot more clearly than you would with a camera with a smaller resolution.
We found this out when taking some shots of the Sydney Kings basketball team during warm-ups. When we reviewed the images at their native resolution, we could see that people sitting in the background (in this case NBA basketballer Andrew Bogut) were viewable, albeit with soft definition as they weren't the focus point. You can crop in-focus parts of images quite closely without noticing too much loss in detail, but if you do crop too closely, then images will lose some definition. At their native size, images have a noticeable softness to them — even parts that are in focus.
Top: the full uncropped image. Below: a 100 per cent crop focusing on Andrew Bogut, who was in the background at the time, but not in focus.
One thing we love about this camera is its fast burst mode. It can capture around 13 frames in a single burst before slowing down as it writes them to the SD card. If you keep the shutter pressed at this point, it will record around 1.3 images per second.
You can use the fast burst mode feature to capture action, such as a slam dunk sequence at a Sydney Kings game.
In low-light situations, the camera produced very good results up to ISO 3200. We noticed only a slight introduction of noise in dark colours and feathering around the edges of objects. These images are 100 per cent crops.
Taken in bright sunlight with manual exposure settings.
A 100 per cent crop of the above flower image.
As for the user-friendliness of the camera, it feels good to hold and its controls and menu system is easy to understand after a few hours of use. What we particularly love is the electronic viewfinder. It makes use of OLED technology and it's one of the best we've seen. It's large, it's vibrant and it shows you all of the same on-screen information as the LCD screen. The only thing that's a little annoying is the slight delay that's noticeable when changing the aperture or shutter speed manually — it takes a while for the values on the screen to be updated. We used this camera in manual mode as much as possible during our tests because the auto and semi-manual modes didn't always expose our pictures properly. In most cases, the camera over-exposed way too much for our liking.
Overall, this is a good camera that should suit anyone who wants very good results when capturing both stills and video. Its image quality can be a little soft at times, and its auto modes don't always produce the best results, but its focusing performance, continuous shooting mode and high ISO performance are great. Furthermore, its huge sensor gives you versatility when it comes to cropping and printing and its electronic viewfinder is excellent. However, if we weren't going to get a regular digital SLR camera, we'd probably give this a miss and get a mirrorless camera instead: something smaller, such as the Olympus PEN E-P3 or the Panasonic LUMIX GF2, or even one of Sony's own oddly-shaped NEX models.
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