Sony A1 Review
|Full model name:||Sony Alpha ILCE-A1|
(35.9mm x 24.0mm)
|Viewfinder:||EVF / LCD|
|Native ISO:||100 - 32,000|
|Extended ISO:||50 - 102,400|
|Shutter:||1/32000 - 30 sec|
5.1 x 3.8 x 3.2 in.
(129 x 97 x 81 mm)
|Full specs:||Sony A1 specifications|
Sony A1 Preview -- First Impressions
by Jeremy Gray
Preview posted: 01/26/2021
02/22/2021: First Shots added
Sony has announced the groundbreaking Alpha 1 camera, promising many new features, blazing-fast performance, improved image quality, 8K video, and a pro-oriented workflow.
The Sony A1 is equipped with a brand-new stacked 50-megapixel image sensor, paired with the Bionz XR image processor introduced in the Sony A7S III. This combination and other advancements in technology make Alpha 1 Sony's most advanced camera to date. The company also claims it's the most innovative, and it's tough to disagree. Let's take a deep dive and learn more about all the impressive tech packed into the all-new Alpha 1.
Sony A1 Key Features and Specs
- New 50.1-megapixel full-frame stacked Exmor RS CMOS image sensor
- Native ISO range of 100-32,000, expandable to 50-102,400
- Sony promises improved colors, tones and gradation with new sensor and processing engine
- Stated 15-stop dynamic range
- Upgraded Bionz XR image processor
- Blackout-free continuous shooting at up to 30 frames per second
- Up to 120 AF/AE calculations per second
- Hybrid AF system with 759 PDAF points and 425 CDAF points
- AF system delivers 92% image area coverage
- Bright, large 0.64-type OLED EVF with 9.44M dots and 240fps refresh rate
- Improved silent, vibration-free electronic shutter
- New carbon fiber mechanical shutter
- Anti-flicker shooting with both shutters
- Electronic flash sync of 1/200s, mechanical flash sync of 1/400s (up to 1/500s in APS-C)
- 8K/30p video
- 4K/120p video
- Industry's fastest built-in Wi-Fi
- Includes built-in 1000BASE-T Ethernet
Sony A1 Design
The Sony A1 has familiar Sony styling, but there are some intriguing aspects of the body to discuss. Sony is building upon its advancements with other Alpha cameras, including many cues from the recent Sony A7S III. The A1 uses the same new menu system found in the A7S III while adding menu options to correspond to new features. The main menu and function menus are touch-responsive, which is a big improvement compared to the A9 II.
Likewise, the A1 incorporates the same 0.64-type electronic viewfinder as is found in the A7S III, albeit with double the refresh rate. The 9.44M-dot EVF has a 240fps refresh rate, plus with the blackout-free shooting, the A1 promises to be a very smooth camera when shooting action. You can also select from 60fps and 120fps refresh rates for the EVF. The EVF has 0.9x magnification and a 41-degree FOV. The A1's EVF is the highest resolution, largest and fastest EVF in its class.
In terms of durability, the A1 is built using a magnesium alloy chassis that is both light and rigid. The lens mount has six screws, which Sony states enhance strength and rigidity. The body has dust- and moisture-resistance at all body seams and the battery cover. The dual media slots, which support UHS-II SD cards and new CFexpress Type A cards, have a double sliding cover. The A1 also includes a lens lock button and mount cushion.
The shutter has also seen improvement. The A1 has a new mechanical shutter unit, which allows for shooting speeds up to 10fps. The carbon fiber shutter has an advanced motor, brake, and dampers. Sony promises that the shutter is 'good for more than 500,000 cycles.'
When looking at the front of the camera, you can see an IR white balance sensor. This promises improved white balance accuracy, particularly under fluorescent, LED, or other artificial light sources. We know the lens mount is strengthened, but the shutter also closes when the camera is powered off, protecting the sensor from dust and changing lenses. There is a standard anti-dust system in the A1 as well.
On the back of the camera is a 3" tilting touchscreen. The display tilts up 107 degrees and down by up to 41 degrees. The display is not tilt/swivel, which may prove disappointing for videographers who don't necessarily want to use an external monitor. The display has 1.4M dots, so unlike the EVF, this is not an area where Sony has pushed its existing technology forward.
To the right of the display is Sony's standard rotating selection wheel, an Fn button, autofocus sub-selector joystick, dedicated AF-ON button, and AEL button, and a dedicated movie record button. To the left of the viewfinder are C3 and Menu buttons. The layout is certainly familiar.
To the viewfinder's left on the camera's top deck is a stacked Drive Focus mode dial. You can use this stacked dial to adjust the Drive Mode and Focus Mode on the fly while shooting. The right of the EVF has shooting mode, rear command, and exposure compensation dials. The shutter release has a surrounding on/off switch, and the C1 and C2 buttons are also located on the top of the camera.
The Sony A1 is packed with ports. The A1 has a SuperSpeed USB 3.2 Type-C connector, capable of 10Gbps transfer speeds, and it can accept power delivery over USB. There's a full-size HDMI port, mic/headphone ports, a USB Micro port, a flash sync terminal, and a 1000BASE-T Ethernet port for wired LAN transfer. In addition to the physical connections, the A1 also has the 'industry's fastest' built-in Wi-Fi, supporting 2x2 MIMO. The Wi-Fi is 802.11a/b/g/n/ac and supports 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Wireless data throughput with the A1 is about 3.5x faster than with the A9 II, which should excite many working professionals in fast-paced fields.
Image sensor, image processor, and shooting features: The Sony A1 has a new sensor and newfound speed
At the heart of the Sony A1 is its new imaging pipeline. The most significant change compared to previous Alpha cameras is the brand-new 50.1-megapixel Exmor RS image sensor. The image sensor utilizes a stacked design much like the 24MP Exmor RS sensors in the A9 models. The stacked design includes individual pixel and circuit layers and new A/D conversion for faster processing. The backside-illuminated image sensor and its integral memory promise speedier readout. The readout speed is up to 1.5x faster than the A9 II's readout speed. The enhanced readout speed performance, along with the new architecture in the Bionz XR image processing engine, is directly responsible for many of the A1's advanced features. Following the BIONZ X, the new BIONZ XR processing engine is technically comprised of two separate components (though Sony didn't expand on how many cores are involved or if it's a full-on dual-processor arrangement), and the BIONZ XR is said to offer 8x more processing power than the previous BIONZ X engine.
For example, the fast sensor readout speed minimizes still-image distortion when using the electronic shutter, which is required to achieve shooting speeds faster than 10 frames per second. The improved processing power also means that the electronic shutter has about 1.5x less distortion than the electronic shutter in the A9 II. The A1's power also results in the new flicker-free electronic and mechanical shutter functionality. The A1 is the first camera to offer flicker-free shooting with both its electronic and mechanical shutters.
The A1's electronic shutter includes a Hi Frequency Flicker function, which uses a variable shutter. This is important when shooting using LED lighting. When this feature is enabled, the shutter speed is variable in 0.X increments. For example, the A1 can shoot with a 1/200.6s shutter speed, rather than a standard 1/200s shutter speed, to significantly reduce issues from high-speed flickering light sources, including eliminating banding with LED light sources.
In terms of shutter speed specifications, the new carbon fiber mechanical shutter has an exposure range of 30s to 1/8000s, with a bulb mode, too, of course. The electronic shutter has the same bottom end but can capture images at up to 1/32,000s. When shooting continuously, both shutters have a minimum shutter speed of 1/2s.
The new shutter also impacts flash sync. When using the mechanical shutter and the full-frame area, the flash sync is 1/400s, a new record high for the market. You can achieve 1/500s flash sync when using the APS-C crop. This is a big deal for studio photographers and any photographer that uses flash for their work. When using the electronic shutter, the A1 introduces another first, using it for flash photography. When using the electronic shutter, the flash sync is 1/200s in full-frame mode and 1/250s when using the APS-C image area.
Getting back to the new sensor and how it impacts image quality, Sony promises better color accuracy and overall image quality than previous models. Sony also promises up to 15 stops of dynamic range when capturing still images with the A1. The image sensor has a native ISO range of 100-32,000, which can be further expanded to ISO 50-102,400. Sony states that high ISO performance is improved due to gapless on-chip lenses and an 'AR coated seal glass.' It will be interesting to see how the sensor performs in real-world use relative to the A9 II and the A7R IV.
The A1 also includes Sony's Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode. This mode allows four images to be stacked for a roughly 50-megapixel final image composite with improved color and visible resolution. Or you can stack 16 images for a 199-megapixel composite image. While Pixel Shift Multi Shooting is not new to Sony cameras, the new sensor's readout speed now allows for the use flash in this mode (with flash sync up to 1/200s), something the A7R IV doesn't offer.
In terms of additional image quality features, the A1 has 10 Creative Look presets that can be used to fine-tune the appearance of stills and videos. The A1 includes a new Light JPEG image format and a new Lossless Compressed RAW image format, which impacts performance, as we will see in the next section. The Lossless Compressed RAW file is about 50-80% smaller than the Uncompressed RAW format, and Sony states that the image quality is the same. The camera also supports 10-bit HEIF formats.
Autofocus and Performance: Improved autofocus, 50-megapixel shooting at 30 fps and more
The Sony A1 uses the same autofocus system recently introduced in the Sony A7S III. The Alpha 1 has a hybrid autofocus system with 759 phase detection autofocus points and 425 contrast detection autofocus points. The autofocus points cover approximately 92% of the total image area. The AF system has more coverage density than the A9 series' AF system. The A1's AF system can be used in light as dim as -4 EV and can be used at f/22. The AF/AE system refreshes up to 120 times per second.
In terms of AF features, the camera includes Real-time Eye AF, which Sony says is improved by over 30% compared to the previous system. Real-time Eye AF and subject tracking can be used when recording stills and video. Real-time Eye AF for animals, and the newly added Real-time Eye AF for birds, is only usable when recording still images. The AI-powered subject recognition has been further improved with new algorithms. The A1's subject tracking algorithm analyzes color, pattern, brightness, and subject distance data to process information in real-time.
Appealing to sports photographers, in particular, the A1 includes the ability to temporarily disable the tracking capabilities while shooting. For example, if a subject is still in the frame, but you wish to track a different subject, you can disable the tracking to reset the subject and begin tracking once again.
The Alpha 1 can record 50-megapixel images at up to 30 frames per second, but with caveats. You must use the electronic shutter for speeds faster than 10fps (the mechanical shutter maxes out at 10fps), and you also must be shooting JPEG or compressed RAW files to achieve this maximum 30fps speed. When shooting at 30fps, you can record 165 JPEG images or 155 compressed RAW images, according to Sony's specs. You can slow down to 20, and 15 fps speeds, increasing the buffer to 400 and 1,000 JPEG images, respectively. At 20 fps, you can record in the new Lossless Compressed and Uncompressed RAW file types for 96 and 82 consecutive images, respectively.
The A1 is also equipped with in-body 5-axis image stabilization. This promises up to 5.5 stops of shake compensation.
Video: 8K/30p and 4K/120p highlight an impressive list of video features
For the first time in an Alpha camera, the A1 includes 8K recording. You can record 8.6K oversampled video at up to 30 frames per second. 8K video is recorded in 10-bit 4:2:0 XAVC HS format via HDMI.
The A1 offers in-camera 4K recording at up to 120 fps. The high speed allows for up to 5x slow motion – the A1 includes Sony's Slow and Quick shooting mode. 4K video supports 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, Long GOP inter-frame compression, and All-I intra-frame compression. 4K video can be recorded using MPEG-H HEVC/H.265 codec. 16-bit RAW output is also available to an external recorder via HDMI (requires a hi-speed HDMI cable). You can also record HDR HLG video using the BT.2020 color space with the A1. The maximum bitrate is 600Mbps.
When shooting 4K, the A1 uses full sensor readout with no pixel binning, and it utilizes 5.8K oversampling. In the Super 35 mode, about 2.3x the required QFHD 4K required data is acquired with full-frame readout and then rendered into Super 35. The improved sensor readout also results in about 2.8x improved rolling shutter effect.
The Alpha 1 and its Bionz XR engine allows for Real-time Eye AF (human) and Real-time Tracking for video recording as well, even when recording 8K/30p and 4K/120p video. If a 1.1x crop is acceptable, you can also record video using active mode image stabilization, making stable handheld recording possible when recording 4K/FHD video at 60fps or slower. In terms of operability, the A7S III's touch functionality when recording video is present in the A1.
To ensure extended recording, the A1 employs a revised heat-dissipating structure. You can record 8K/30p video or 4K/60p video continuously for up to 30 minutes. Sony didn't specify if there is a hard limit to the 30 minute recording time, only that they guarantee up to 30 minutes of continuous recording. Similar to the A7S III, depending on card capacity and/or environmental factors, it might be possible to record for longer periods of time. The heat-dissipating structure uses a graphite heatsink built into the IS unit, and it is said to be 5x more effective when extending the recording time than the system found in the A7R IV.
The A1 uses Sony's new Digital audio interface. Its Multi Interface (MI) shoe is compatible with the Shotgun Microphone (ECM-B1M) and XLR Adapter Kit (XLR-K3M). You can record audio at up to 48 kHz/24 bit using 4 channels.
Additionally, the A1 includes the S-Cinetone color profile. This profile, recently seen in the A7S III, was first present in Sony's FX9 and FX6 cinema cameras. S-Cinetone promises a cinematic appearance, featuring natural mid-tones, good skin tones, soft colors, and 'gorgeous highlights.'
To achieve the maximum dynamic range, which Sony states is greater than 15 stops when recording video, you must use the 10-bit S-Log 3 (S-Log 2 is also supported). This mode requires a minimum ISO of 800 (expandable down to ISO 200 for reduced noise).
Overall, the A1 promises many of the impressive video features of the A7S III while pushing boundaries more than the A7R IV and A9 II.
When will the Sony A1 be available, and what does it cost?
You can order the Sony A1 starting tomorrow, January 27, at 10 a.m. EST. Sony expects delivery to begin in late February or early March. The Sony A1 is the most expensive Alpha camera to date, with a suggested body-only retail price of $6,500 USD ($8,500 CAD).
It's an exciting day for Sony fans. The Sony Alpha 1 is the company's new flagship camera, and it aims to be everything for everyone. Although Sony expects the feature set to appeal to advanced enthusiast photographers, it's clearly targeting the professional market with this feature-packed, high-performance camera.
Sony is pursuing an all-in-one camera body, and the A1 appears to be as close as the company has gotten. There are some caveats for users to consider concerning certain highlight features, like the 8K video and 30fps shooting, but the A1 pushes a lot of boundaries. We're excited to go hands-on with the camera as soon as possible and let you know how it performs in real-world testing.