Basic Specifications
Full model name: Sony Alpha ILCE-A1
Resolution: 50.10 Megapixels
Sensor size: 35mm
(35.9mm x 24.0mm)
Kit Lens: n/a
Viewfinder: EVF / LCD
Native ISO: 100 - 32,000
Extended ISO: 50 - 102,400
Shutter: 1/32000 - 30 sec
Dimensions: 5.1 x 3.8 x 3.2 in.
(129 x 97 x 81 mm)
Weight: 26.0 oz (737 g)
includes batteries
Availability: 03/2021
Manufacturer: Sony
Full specs: Sony A1 specifications
50.10
Megapixels
Sony E 35mm
size sensor
image of Sony Alpha ILCE-A1
Front side of Sony A1 digital camera Front side of Sony A1 digital camera Front side of Sony A1 digital camera Front side of Sony A1 digital camera Front side of Sony A1 digital camera

Sony A1 Hands-on Review

by  Jeremy Gray and William Brawley
Preview posted: 01/26/2021

Last updated: 11/01/2021

Updates:
02/22/2021: First Shots added
02/26/2021: Gallery Images added
05/03/2021: Hands-on Review Part I added
06/30/2021: Image Quality Comparison added
11/01/2021: Hands-on Review Part II added

Click here to jump to our in-depth Sony A1 Product Overview

 

Sony A1 Hands-on Review Part II  

Has Sony made the perfect camera?

by Jeremy Gray | Posted 11/01/2021

Earlier this year, we went hands-on with the Sony A1. The camera is Sony's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera, and it is well-suited to just about any task. The A1 is a true powerhouse of a camera.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/250s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

If you haven't read our prior coverage of the Sony A1, you should do so now. However, just as a refresher, the A1's list of features is as impressive as it is expansive:

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
  • 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
  • Dual UHS-II/CFexpress Type A card slots
  • Full-size HDMI, USB Type C, headphone and microphone jacks
  • $6,500 body only

As you can see, the Sony A1 has a lot going for it. The A1 is, simply put, Sony's most advanced camera. The camera's improvements don't stop at just performance, though, the A1 is also improved when it comes to design and usability.

Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM, f/1.8, 10s, ISO 6400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony A1 design and handling: An excellent refinement in camera design for Sony

My colleague William Brawley extensively discussed the A1's design and handling in his review this spring, but I want to add my own $0.02. I've long been impressed by Sony's cameras in terms of image quality, autofocus and performance. Plus, Sony makes many great mirrorless lenses. However, I've never been a fan of Sony camera design, operability and the overall user experience. Much of this is subjective, of course, but I mention this because I really enjoyed working with the Sony A1.

The Sony A1, shown here with the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, is a stylish, relatively compact full-frame camera. It has a nice front grip and it offers a very good control layout.

The camera isn't large, by any stretch, but it includes a lot of physical controls. Buttons and dials can go a long way toward making a camera easier and faster to use. For example, the stacked drive mode and autofocus mode dials on the top are handy. Being able to quickly swap between different shooting speeds and to go between AF-S, AF-C and DMF with ease is great. There's no need to dive into any menus.

Likewise, mode and exposure compensation dials are on the other side of the A1's top panel. You can easily use exposure compensation while shooting without needing to stop looking at the viewfinder. There are also a pair of customizable command buttons on the top of the camera, plus a power switch surrounding the shutter release. Speaking of the shutter release, it feels very responsive.

The good news continues to the back of the camera. There's a dedicated movie record button, two command buttons, a dedicated autofocus joystick, a directional pad and a function button, and typical playback/delete/menu buttons. The AF joystick works well and is responsive. You can also use the directional pad on the back to quickly adjust ISO and display settings. Between the two command dials, an assortment of customizable command buttons and a customizable function menu, quickly changing key settings on the A1 is remarkably simple. By the way, the A1's menu system is significantly better than any other Sony camera I've used. It's colorful, easy to read and well-organized.

The Sony A1 has a truly excellent electronic viewfinder. It's very large and has 0.9x magnification. It's also really sharp and has a fast refresh rate.

The A1's electronic viewfinder is outstanding. It uses a 9.44M-dot OLED panel and has a 0.9x (!) magnification factor. Looking through the A1's viewfinder is great. The display is crisp and smooth with a 240fps refresh. At the 240fps refresh rate, the resolution is decreased, however. If you want the best resolution, you can reduce the refresh rate down to a still-quick 120fps.

The Sony A1 feels great in the hands. Despite being a relatively compact and lightweight full-frame camera, the A1 has an ample front grip, excellent physical controls and the best EVF I've used on a full-frame camera. The A1 addresses all my prior complaints with Sony's camera design and overall user experience.

Image quality: The Sony A1 produces great image quality

William didn't originally get to spend a long time with the Sony A1, and his shooting was primarily in daytime light. I spent quite a bit of time with the A1 in low-light situations and tried to put the image sensor through the paces in challenging lighting.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 261mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 8000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file. This image has been edited in ACR to have +0.25 exposure and a few other adjustments. I also corrected white balance, which was too blue in the original file. The A1 does a good job of AWB in most situations, but it can struggle slightly in low-light scenarios.
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 261mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 8000.
100% crop from the above image. This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 261mm, f/5.6, 1/500s, ISO 8000.
100% crop from the original JPEG image. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The A1's 50.1MP backside-illuminated image sensor produces strong image quality across a wide ISO range. While image quality, particularly sharpness, is excellent at ISO 100, fine detail continues to be high up to ISO 3200 and beyond. Yes, there's visible noise, but it's possible to reduce the noise while preserving most of the sharpness during post-processing.

Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM, f/1.8, 10s, ISO 2000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The A1 also produces good colors with rich tones and especially nice greens and blues. I enjoy the color rendering of the A1. For JPEG files, the camera's standard color profile produces pleasing images straight from the camera. Noise reduction on JPEG files is also pretty good, with a nice balance of sharpness and noise reduction.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 70mm, f/11, 1.6s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

In terms of file flexibility, you can do a lot to the RAW files from the A1. You can perform significant adjustments to the shadow and highlight regions without introducing excessive noise. You can also make substantial adjustments to exposure without adding extra noise.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 216mm, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 320.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Autofocus and performance: Excellent autofocus and performance across the board

The Sony A1 has an excellent autofocus system. During my time with the camera, it proved to be adept and fast with everything I threw at it. It very rarely came up short and succeeded in ways that few other cameras can match. As far as I'm concerned, the Sony A1 is now the camera to beat with respect to autofocus speed and performance.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 500.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony's 'Real-time Tracking' autofocus is here in full force, and it works as advertised. Further, eye-detect autofocus and tracking worked well for me. It works on human and some non-human subjects alike. You need to choose your subject appropriately, but that's a minor complaint. Interestingly, while writing this review, Nikon announced its Z9 camera, and they says that the camera will automatically swap between subject-tracking modes, with no need for the user to change settings. I wonder if this is something Sony will investigate for the A1, as it would improve usability.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/640s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Nonetheless, back to the A1. It's a familiar autofocus system for experienced Sony shooters. There are quite a few different focus area modes, though, including different wide, zone and spot settings. I use spot autofocus frequently, and the dedicated autofocus joystick works well. Despite the camera's large number of autofocus points, you can quickly move the autofocus area throughout the image frame. You can place a spot autofocus point on a subject and then enable tracking, which works well, especially when continuously shooting.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 362mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 250.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The A1's 30 fps spec has garnered a lot of (deserved) praise and attention since the camera was announced. It instantly became the benchmark in its class. However, it's not so simple to achieve 30 frames per second of continuous shooting. You must use lossy compressed RAW. This isn't a big deal for most situations, but it may be a non-starter for some users. You also must use the electronic shutter. The electronic shutter works very well on the A1, but in certain situations – none I encountered – you could theoretically end up with some rolling shutter artifacts. Further, it's 'up to' 30 fps, so not every lens and every situation will be conducive to the camera's maximum speed.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 376mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 320.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Those are a few caveats. Suppose you want to use uncompressed RAW or lossless compressed RAW, the A1 tops out at a still-very-fast 20 fps. If you want to use the mechanical shutter, speeds drop further to 10 fps.

Like with most of the highlight-worthy features of any camera, there's no free lunch with the A1. If you want the fastest speed, there are tradeoffs. However, for many photographers, the tradeoff is probably worth it. For me? I like lossless RAW files and 20 fps is plenty fast for what I like to shoot.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 576mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 1000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

William tested the A1's buffer performance, and it's impressive. At least when you use a CFexpress memory card. Both the A1's card slots accept CFexpress or UHS-II SD cards, which is great for compatibility. However, if you want the best shooting performance, CFexpress is the way to go. You can read his Field Test for more details.

Overall, the Sony A1 is a super-fast camera, with excellent performance across the board. It's a true flagship camera and an incredible achievement for Sony.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/640s, ISO 320.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Video: While not quite an A7S III, the A1 is an excellent video camera

Despite packing 8K video recording, the A1 still feels, in many ways, like a stills-oriented camera that also does video. That's probably not a fair assessment, but the camera is so packed full of amazing photography features that its excellent video features and performance feel like dessert rather than the main course.

I'm a stills photographer, first and foremost, so video is outside my wheelhouse. However, let's quickly recap the A1's video features. It records 8K/30p (10-bit 4:2:0) video using the full width of the 50.1MP image sensor. This is a great feature to have, although storing and editing 8K video is demanding. It includes full-frame 4K footage that is pixel-binned rather than downsized 8K. More on this in a moment. The camera can record 4K/60p video in this way. It can also record 4K/120p video, although with a slight crop. If you want oversampled 4K footage, you can do this in the Super35 mode. Also, when recording 4K video, 10-bit 4:2:2 footage is possible, although it can be limited depending on your memory card, like other high-end video modes. You need a V90-rated card for some features.

Full width 4K video was my focus during testing and the resulting quality is pretty good. It's not as sharp as 8K, of course, nor is it quite as sharp as oversampled 4K with Super35. However, you get the advantage of the field of view of wider lenses by using the full width of the image sensor.

Sony A1 video compilation #1 - 3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second.
Download edited video (1.58GB .MP4 File)

The A1's 4K video offers good sharpness and color. Performance in low light is impressive, as well. The camera delivers strong autofocus performance too, including with continuous autofocus and tracking performance.

Sony A1 video compilation #2 - 3840 x 2160 at 60 frames per second.
Download edited video (1.58GB .MP4 File)

If you want the best video feature set Sony has to offer, the A7S III is probably for you. However, the A1's 8K video is a nice feature, and the camera delivers an impressive and diverse set of video features overall.

In the Field with the Sony A1: An excellent experience

The Sony A1 is a joy to use. This may sound like odd praise, but when using the A1, I rarely thought about the camera's features. This is because the camera performs so well that it never creates any friction. I didn't need to think about the camera because it works so well.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 448mm, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 1600.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

The A1's control layout is excellent and intuitive enough that I quickly learned where everything was and got it set up for my preferred workflow. The image quality is so good that I never worried about the ISO being too high, either. Autofocus is impressive enough that I very rarely had missed shots. Performance is fast and the camera seldom had to stop and think for more than a few seconds. The Sony A1 is such a great photographic tool because it just stays out of your way.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 4000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

For landscapes, the Sony A1 is a great camera. Is its image quality quite as good as the A7R IV for highly detailed scenes at low ISO? No, not quite, but 50.1 megapixels is more than enough for pretty much any situation. The A1 offers excellent dynamic range, as well. The RAW files are remarkably flexible, and you can push them to their absolute limits without much concern.

Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, f/8, 3.2s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

What about higher ISO situations? When photographing wildlife, the Sony A1 performed well. Even in dim morning light, the camera focused extremely fast and accurately and image quality holds up well at ISO 3200, 6400 and beyond. The burst shooting performance is useful here, too, ensuring that you never miss the action, even if you don't quite reach the camera's top-end 30 fps spec, for one reason or another.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/7.1, 1/800s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

For portraits, the eye-detect autofocus and tracking performance is great. My cousin is young and therefore doesn't like to sit still, but that's no problem for the A1.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Who is the Sony A1 best for?

If the Sony A1 is good at everything, the better question is perhaps 'Who isn't the Sony A1 best for?' Well, excellent performance comes at a price. $6,500, to be exact. That is a lot of money. Let alone that if you want to get the most out of the A1's excellent image quality and autofocus performance, you'll want to use Sony's high-end G Master lenses. They make great G lenses, too, of course, but the point is that an expensive camera is reasonably paired with expensive glass. By the time you've got a full kit built out, you've probably spent more than $10,000. That's a lot of money.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 1250.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Even though the A1's performance lives up to its price, it is overkill for many photographers, me included. The Sony A1 is a professional tool for professional photographers who demand and require the utmost in performance across a wide range of situations. If you need resolution, speed, performance and even high-quality video, the A1 makes a lot of sense. If you need just resolution or just speed or just video, there are other more affordable cameras in Sony's lineup that may even perform better than the A1 in specific situations.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 500.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

For example, a professional or enthusiast landscape photographer may prefer the Sony A7R IV because of its fantastic image sensor. If you need just speed but not the resolution, the A9 II is an amazing camera. The new Sony A7 IV packs many of the same features as the A1 but has less resolving power and slower top speeds. The A7 IV will still be a great camera for a lot of photographers, pros included.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 1600.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Sony's lineup of Alpha cameras and lenses is as good as it's ever been and probably beats everyone else out there right now. There's genuinely something for everyone. To that point, the A1 doesn't really make sense for everyone, but I imagine a lot of photographers in 2021 have been trying very hard to rationalize buying the Sony A1. It's just that good.

Going up against the competition

Above, I talked about the A1 mostly in the context of someone who is already interested in Sony cameras or is in the Alpha ecosystem already. But how does the Sony A1 compare to the offerings of other mirrorless manufacturers? Or if someone was switching from DSLR to mirrorless right now, does the A1 make more sense than something from Canon or Nikon. Also, we love the Panasonic S series of cameras, but they don't have anything in the system right now that competes against the Sony A1 in terms of design, performance, price and target audience. If we were talking about the A7R IV or the A7S III, Panasonic would be in this section.

Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, f/1.4, 10s, ISO 3200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

That's a huge question that goes a bit beyond the scope of a review. Still, it's worth touching on because finally, after years, the big three of Canon, Nikon and Sony are pretty much going head-to-head at the professional price point in their respective mirrorless systems. The Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9 are just around the corner. Can the Sony A1 fight them off?

Image sensor

The Sony A1 has the highest megapixel count of the three. It beats out the 45.7MP Nikon Z9 by a small margin. However, the Canon EOS R3 lags at 24.1MP. All three cameras incorporate a stacked, backside-illuminated CMOS image sensor. All three promise strong low-light performance and fast sensor readout speed. Until we go hands-on with the Nikon Z9 and Canon EOS R3, we can't know how image quality differs across the three cameras, but we know that the A1 produces the largest images.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/500s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.
 
Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 200mm, f/2.8, 1/1000s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Autofocus

We know for certain that the Sony A1 has a fantastic autofocus system. It works extremely well. From what we've seen of the Canon EOS R3 and the Nikon Z9, both cameras promise significant improvements over previous cameras. They both include subject detection focusing modes for humans, non-human animals and different vehicles. We're excited to try these modes out, but for now, all three cameras look poised to deliver great autofocus.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/8, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Hopefully, we're able to test all three side-by-side someday soon because that would be an epic shootout. Further, that's the only way to know which camera delivers the best autofocus performance, even if the new EOS R3 and Z9 cameras have a few interesting tricks up their sleeves that the A1 lacks. The R3 also has Eye Control AF, which looks cool. We're excited to try that out.

Performance

The Sony A1 promises up to 30 frames per second of continuous shooting of RAW images. We've already talked about the caveats associated with that number and concluded that while you may not always get 30 fps, the A1's performance is superb. The Canon EOS R3, perhaps in direct response to the A1, targets 30 fps as well. Pending real-world testing will show if the R3 can pull it off. Nikon has gone a slightly different direction, opting for 20 fps shooting with a larger buffer depth. You can shoot the Z9 at 30 fps, but it's JPEG only to reach that speed.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 524mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 1000.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

So then, how does the A1 compare? Well, it's the only camera of the three that can shoot at or near 50MP RAW files at or near 30 fps. However, the Z9 offers more buffer depth at a slower speed. And the EOS R3 produces significantly smaller images. If you value resolution and speed, the A1 seems to have the edge. But, if you value buffer depth, perhaps the Z9 is the winner.

Video

The A1 and Z9 both record 8K video, although the Z9 will be able to do so at a higher frame rate of 60 fps when a free firmware update comes out next year. We haven't used the Z9 yet and therefore can't comment on video quality, but we can safely say that the A1 produces excellent video across a wide range of resolutions and frame rates. The A1 also has excellent autofocus and sports many video-friendly features. The Z9 looks like Nikon's best video camera yet, but we can't be sure how the quality will hold up yet. The EOS R3 can't do 8K video since it has a 24MP image sensor, but it does offer 6K video, and if it's anything like the R5 and R6, video quality should be impressive. Canon cameras traditionally produce pleasing video (and stills) with great colors and tones.

Ergonomics and usability

To have a built-in vertical grip or not? That is the question. Canon and Nikon answered it in the affirmative and Sony didn't. It may not seem like a big deal, but for some users, it is. I strongly prefer cameras with an integrated vertical grip. It always feels and works better than an add-on accessory, and it makes portrait orientation shooting a much better experience. While this is subjective, of course, I wish the A1 had a built-in grip.

Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS II lens at 70mm, f/4, 1/4s, ISO 100.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

That said, the Sony A1 has great usability. The redesigned menus, improved front grip and great control layout make it a joy to use. It is built for pros, and you can instantly feel the quality when using the camera. The A1 also has the largest EVF of the bunch. It's a fantastic EVF and is probably the best I've ever used.

So, which camera has the best design? The Sony A1 is either more compact and that's good, or it's more compact and you miss the grip. Otherwise, all the cameras are designed for pros and promise highly refined design, ergonomics and usability.

Summing up

If someone had a large sum of money, no brand attachment and could build a brand-new professional mirrorless kit, the choice of what to pick is a tough one. I both do and don't envy someone in that situation.

That said, the case for the Sony A1 is a strong one. The camera is superb. The A1 has a great image sensor and produces excellent image quality. The autofocus system is similarly excellent. Performance? Great. Video? Yeah, that's good, too. So, what can't the Sony A1 do? I haven't figured that out yet.

Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens, f/1.8, 10s, ISO 3200.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

Also, Sony has the edge over Canon and Nikon concerning glass. Sony has been fully invested in its Alpha system for significantly longer than Canon and Nikon have been working on their EOS R and Z systems, respectively, which shows when looking at lenses. Both Canon and Nikon have made great strides, especially with their shorter pro glass. However, Sony simply has more native glass available and for a lot of people, that matters. A lot.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/9, 1/200s, ISO 800.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

As of right now, the A1 has the edge. However, when we go hands-on with the Canon EOS R3 and the Nikon Z9, those cameras might push their way right past the A1. Honestly, that's the most exciting part of 2021, all three manufacturers are trying to leapfrog each other with technology, features and performance. It is exciting, and it results in better cameras for everyone, no matter what they own.

Sony A1 Hands-on Review Part II Summary

Sony's most versatile camera ever

What I like most about the Sony A1

  • Very good image quality
  • Good dynamic range
  • Impressive high ISO performance
  • Excellent autofocus speed and reliability
  • Very fast
  • Good video performance
  • Highly versatile
Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/8, 1/640s, ISO 800.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

What I like less about the Sony A1

  • Image quality, while excellent, doesn't quite match the A7R IV
  • Autofocus is great, but the A1 doesn't automatically change modes to match the subject in a scene

What I dislike about the Sony A1

  • Some of the features, like shooting speed and EVF resolution, have caveats
  • Expensive

The Sony A1 can do it all. Is it the best at every single thing? No. Is it a must-have camera? Probably not. But the Sony A1 is, simply put, the best all-around camera I've used. There is no single area where the Sony A1 struggles or comes up short.

I've reviewed plenty of versatile cameras, and typically, they feel like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The Sony A1 doesn't feel that way. I mean, yes, it's a jack-of-all-trades, but it's not a master of none. It's a master of most. It has the best autofocus and performance in Sony's lineup. It offers the second-best performance in terms of resolving power and image quality. Its video features are right up there.

Sony FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens at 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1000s, ISO 400.
This image has been converted and processed to taste in Adobe Camera Raw. Click for the full-size image. Click here for the RAW file.

I'll finish this review by saying that despite a few things I wish were slightly different, the Sony A1 is about as close as anyone has come to the perfect camera.

 

• • •

 

Sony A1 Hands-on Review Part I

An absolute powerhouse for image resolution, AF and performance

by William Brawley • Posted 05/03/2021

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 1000

Sony's Alpha full-frame mirrorless system has several varieties and versions to fit one's shooting style or creative needs. The 61-megapixel Sony A7R IV fits the bill quite well for professionals who want very high-resolution performance, offering fantastic resolution and dynamic range. For those needing tip-top speed and fast image transfers, such as news wire and sports photographers, the Sony A9 and A9 Mark II were practically tailor-made for ultra-swift performance. However, in many respects, the existing A7R IV was and is rather impressively capable for fast action and high-speed shooting, despite the 61MP sensor. Though, to be fair, it could only shoot at up to 10fps, while the 24MP A9/II offered a speedier 20fps.

But, let's say you wanted a camera that can do both high-res and high speed. Or rather, a camera that can do nearly everything, including high-res stills, low-light shooting, insanely-fast burst shooting with sophisticated autofocusing, ultra-high-res video recording, fast workflow features and more? Does this "Swiss Army knife" camera exist?

Sony believes so with their flagship Alpha 1 camera. On paper, the new Sony A1 seems absolutely packed with the features and performance to make it a do-it-all camera. High-res photography? The A1's 50MP sensor should offer excellent resolving power. High-speed sports and action photography? The A1 can shoot full-res images at up to 30fps, plus no EVF blackout and a high-performance AF system with sophisticated subject-tracking. What about video? The A1's got you covered there, with 4K video up to 120fps as well as 8K at 30p. And when it comes to workflow features, the A1 has built-in Wi-Fi that's 3.5x faster than the A9 II, has 1000BASE-T Ethernet, a full-size HDMI port and USB Type-C with up to 10Gbps transfer speeds.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 400 (Cropped)

As I said, on paper, the Sony A1 seems absolutely incredible, but how does the A1 perform out in the real world? In this initial Field Test Part I, I will dive into the physical features of the A1, including build quality and handling characteristics. I will also explore real-world image quality and performance, particularly in birding and wildlife photography.

(Note: We were only given a very short time with an Alpha 1 sample, as they are currently in very short supply. We only had about a week or so with this initial review unit. However, we hope to get another review sample in the future, and we will have much more to review and investigate with this super Sony flagship camera.)

Without further ado, let's dive in...

Key Features & Specs

  • Full-frame 50MP Exmor RS stacked CMOS sensor
  • New Bionz XR image processor
  • ISO range: 100-32000 (native); 50-102400 (expanded)
  • Up to 30fps continuous burst with blackout-free shooting
  • Hybrid AF system with 759 PDAF points & 425 CDAF points
  • OLED EVF with 9.44M dots and 240fps refresh rate
  • 8K/30p & 4K/120p video
  • Updated menu system from the A7S III
  • Touchscreen rear display
  • Dust- and moisture-resistant construction
  • Dual UHS-II/CFexpress Type A card slots
  • Full-size HDMI, USB Type C, Headphone & Microphone jacks
  • Ethernet connection and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac)
  • $6500 body-only

Design & Handling

While the internals of the Sony A1 are largely all-new, the exterior design is, by and large, very similar to that of existing full-frame Sony Alpha cameras, particularly the A7R IV and A7S III as well as the A9/II. In terms of physical measurements, the A1 is nearly identical to the A7R IV, with practically the same dimensions and weight, though the A1 weighs just ever-so-slightly more. Overall, the design and operability of the Sony Al should be largely familiar to those who have used a recent Sony full-frame Alpha camera. The camera maintains that sleek, chiseled styling with angular EVF placed front and center. However, the edges of the camera body are smooth and slightly curved, allowing for a comfortable hold on the camera. The handgrip, too, is fairly sizable despite the overall small form factor, taking after the larger, deeper handgrip design that debuted back on the A7R IV.

Like my experience using the A7R IV, the grip on the A1 feels very nice in the hand, yet the camera body overall remains very compact. The larger, contoured handgrip fits nicely into my average-sized hand, with the camera being tall enough for all four of my fingers to fit comfortably around the grip. On earlier Alpha camera models prior to the A7R IV, the bodies weren't as tall, and I tended to slide my pinky finger underneath the camera. Like with the A7R IV, I don't experience this at all now with the Alpha 1. The slightly taller body and deeper handgrip greatly improve the ergonomics and overall hand-feel of the camera. Of course, the grip isn't as deep as the ones on a typical full-sized DSLR, but it's certainly deep and substantial enough to offer a secure, balanced grip, even when using heavier lenses.

The top of the Sony A1 (top) compared to the earlier Sony A9 (bottom)

Once again, despite the overall impressively small and compact size of the A1 for a full-frame camera, I still sometimes found the outside of my fingers bumping up against the lens, especially if it was a large and wide lens such as the FE 200-600mm G lens. I wish there was just a bit more room between the grip "interior side" and the lens mount. It's not particularly bothersome or uncomfortable -- this is undoubtedly a minor quibble -- but simply something I've noticed when using Sony mirrorless cameras.

When it comes to the controls on the Sony A1, the camera is essentially a blend of the A9 II and the A7R IV, with only some very subtle tweaks to the design of a few buttons. Once again, if you've used a Sony Alpha camera before, things should be extremely familiar for you with the A1. Like the A9-series cameras, the Alpha 1 has a pair of large control dials on the top deck, one being the main PASM mode dial on the right of the EVF and a dual-layered dial on the left. This left dial was unique to the A9-series and is now on the A1 as well, and offers quick access to Drive Mode settings and AF modes -- two critical shooting features that many professionals and advanced amateurs need to have right at their fingertips. I love this extra physical control, as it's an overall much more pleasant experience than diving into the menus or even using the Fn (Function) shortcuts menu. I find that it's a faster way to change these settings as well as offer a super-quick way to simply check what burst and focus modes you are currently set to.

Strangely, speaking of the Fn menu, the A1 uses the same overall operating system and menus as the A7S III (which, to be fair, are vastly improved compared to earlier Alpha-series cameras), but by default, two of the Fn menu slots are taken up my Drive Mode and AF mode settings. The A1 doesn't let you adjust these two settings via the Fn menu because they are set using the dedicated dials on the top. Fortunately, you can customize the shortcuts in the Fn menus, but it seems like strange overlooked detail.

On the back of the A1, the control layout is essentially identical to that of the A9 II and A7R IV. This new camera uses the same button layout and the same slightly-enlarged buttons and dials that we saw in these two earlier models. If you haven't used one of the earlier-generation Sony Alpha cameras prior to any of these three models, or compare them side by side, you won't notice a difference. However, the slightly larger buttons are just a little bit easier and nicer-feeling to press. They feel just a bit more substantial. The joystick control also has an improved texture for easier operation.

I am most familiar with the A7R IV in terms of the other current-generation Sony Alpha full-frame cameras. On that model, I noted that while it had touchscreen functionality, it felt somewhat underutilized -- at least in general. The touchscreen only really offers tap-to-focus or touch-and-dragging the AF point/area around the screen. It also has a Touch Pad mode that keeps the touchscreen active for AF point changes while using the EVF. Personally, however, I only really use a camera's touchscreen for moving the AF point around, so it wasn't much of a frustration point for me on that camera. However, the Sony Alpha 1 brings over the touchscreen usability improvements we saw with the A7S III. Utilizing the revamped menu system and graphical user interface improvements from the A7S III, the Alpha 1 is much more touchscreen-friendly. You can now tap and swipe through all the menus, as well as the Quick Menu shortcuts -- and you can still use physical buttons for menu navigation if you want as well. You can also pinch to zoom and swipe through images in Playback mode now, as well.

Unlike the new A7S III, the Alpha 1 retains the more stills-centric up-and-down tilting rear screen design rather than a fully-articulated screen with front-facing functionality. For the most part, it comes down to personal preference, but as a photos guy, first and foremost, I much prefer this tilting display style rather than the articulated design. I find it much easier to use for low-down or up-high shooting positions, and I just like the smaller footprint of not having a screen swung out to the side. That said, it's not as user-friendly for vertical orientation shooting, which I do miss. Also, despite the A1's downright impressive video specs, the screen design here is not as user-friendly for video creators. The Alpha 1 feels like it still leans a bit more into the photos space rather than video, while the A7S III is more of the video-heavy Alpha camera (unless you need 8K video).

Lastly, I should, of course, touch on the A1's fantastic electronic viewfinder. Again, the camera shares a lot of similarities to the A7S III, which introduced an absolutely incredible, high-resolution viewfinder. The A1 also sports the extremely sharp 9.44M-dot EVF OLED EVF with a massive 0.9x magnification factor. The view through the camera is crisp, bright and expansive. The refresh rate, however, is doubled compared to that of the A7S III, from a 120fps refresh rate to 240fps. With speed and performance being two of the Alpha 1's hallmark features, having that swift EVF refresh rate makes tracking and photographing fast-moving action much easier. You can, however, adjust the EVF frame rate down to 120fps or 60fps, if desired. The instruction manual states that when the EVF frame rate is set to the "Higher" setting (aka 240fps), the display's resolution is decreased.

Overall, the handling and user experience of the Sony A1 is very familiar and similar to that of the A7R IV and A7S III. The larger grip and improved controls make for great handling and usability despite the camera's generally compact form factor. The build quality also feels top-notch and extremely sturdy. If you're already a Sony Alpha owner, you'll feel right at home with the Alpha 1, and if you're moving over from an earlier-generation Alpha camera, the updated menu system is a major improvement. In my opinion, the menus can still feel a bit complex (the camera, after all, has a lot of features and a lot of user-customization options), but it's much easier to find what you're looking for than the earlier menu design.

Image Quality

While the exterior of the Sony Alpha 1 isn't all that different from the A9 II, the all-new imaging pipeline is the star of the show. In particular, the brand-new 50.1-megapixel full-frame sensor puts it among the highest-resolution full-frame cameras on the market. It sits just below the 61MP A7R IV as Sony's second-highest resolution mirrorless camera, while also competing squarely against other high-res full-frame cameras, such as the 45MP Canon R5 and Nikon Z7 II as well as the 50MP Canon 5DS/R DSLR cameras. For fine-detail work, such as landscapes, portraiture or editorial work, for instance, the Sony A1 is clearly an excellent option.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 1000

However, these comparisons only really apply if you're looking at straight resolving power, but the Sony A1 is much more than just a megapixel machine. The camera's new 50MP sensor features a backside-illuminated design for increased light-gathering performance. Also, it uses a stacked circuitry design and integrated on-chip memory like the A9/II sensors for faster data readout performance. In fact, Sony states that the sensor readout speed is 1.5x faster than that of the A9 II's stacked 24MP sensor. These sensor characteristics allow the A1 to not only perform well at higher ISOs, despite the high megapixel count, but also read out raw sensor data very quickly, which allows for super-fast burst shooting and minimal rolling shutter artifacts when shooting with the electronic shutter.

It's clear that with the combination of sheer resolving power and performance, the Sony A1 is designed to be as versatile as possible when it comes to the type of subject matter you want to photograph.

FE 200-600mm G: 547mm, f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 640

Now, as mentioned earlier, we were only given an Alpha 1 review sample for about a week or so, and because of this, my shooting time with the camera has so far been fairly limited, with the majority of time spent shooting in daytime situations. Also, the Alpha 1 is the first Sony camera with Real-time Eye AF for Birds, and as such a good portion of my shooting time was spent capturing photos of birds and some other wildlife. There are, however, some more general-subject sample images in the Gallery. As such, my discussion here on image quality performance will focus primarily on overall image quality, particularly at lower- to mid-range ISO levels, as well as dynamic range and raw file flexibility. However, photographing wildlife in forested areas did provide some opportunity to raise the ISO level somewhat, so I will touch on high ISO performance in this Field Test, as well.

FE 200-600mm G: 594mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 400, -0.3EVs

Sharpness & fine detail

When it comes to overall image quality performance, I'll cut right to the chase: the Sony A1 is fantastic. Given Sony's reputation for cameras with excellent image quality performance, I was not expecting a poor showing from this flagship Alpha camera in the image quality department -- and particularly so given the camera's $6500 price tag! And indeed, the A1's 50MP full-frame sensor can capture images with a stunning amount of fine detail, even with just the JPEGs straight out of the camera.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/500s, ISO 640

Like the high-res A7R IV, the Alpha 1's sensor also lacks an optical low-pass filter (OLPF), enabling you to capture more extra-fine detail. More and more cameras these days are doing away with the OLPF in order to squeeze out just a bit more per-pixel detail out of the sensors, at the risk of capturing moiré and aliasing artifacts, however. In most day-to-day shooting, you likely won't encounter issues. However, if you photograph subjects with fine, repeating patterns, such as certain fabrics or buildings, aliasing and moiré pattern artifacts can appear.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 800
JPEG crop
RAW crop (Capture One export into Photoshop for cropping)

During my time with the Alpha 1 photographing primarily natural subjects like birds and wildlife, I rarely noticed any issues with moiré or aliasing artifacts. That being said, I did notice a few occurrences of it, such as on the face of a distant building and even in some areas of the very fine detail of a bird's features. However, bear in mind that I had to look very closely at the images -- nearly 200% zoomed-in on the RAW files in Capture One -- to really notice. The A1's in-camera JPEG processing does a good job of removing these artifacts, particularly with moiré, however as you can see from this bird photo below, the jagged aliasing artifacts are quite tricky to process and appear in both the JPEG image and in the RAW file.

FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 24mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 100
RAW crop (Capture One export into Photoshop for cropping) - It's difficult to see, but you can still make out a subtle bit of moiré pattern interference covering this area of fine brick detail.

At the end of the day, it's unlikely you'll run into major issues with moiré or aliasing artifacts, but it is worth considering depending on the type of images you capture most often.

All in all, from just a resolving power perspective, I am extremely pleased with the image quality performance from the Alpha 1. The Sony A1 is clearly a fantastic camera for high-resolution creative endeavors, be it landscapes or wildlife photography. For wildlife photography, and birding in particular, the A1 offers excellent cropping capabilities, as well, giving you a lot of creative freedom and extra "reach" in order to get the best composition. Plus, it's just a lot of fun to zoom in on and see all the fine feather details!

Dynamic range

Another area of strong performance is dynamic range. Once again, Sony's sensors have a history of excellent performance in this image quality segment, and the Alpha 1 shows no sign of deviating from that path. As I mentioned earlier, most of my shooting time was during the day and often during midday hours in bright, sunny conditions; not the most appealing time of day for outdoor photography but a good way to get tricky high-contrast images with lots of dynamic range.

FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 39mm, f/5.6, 1/500, ISO 100

Looking at just the JPEG images straight out of the camera, the Sony A1 does an impressive job at balancing bright lights and retaining detail in the shadow areas, even on some rather tricky images. The camera's processing does well here, even with the camera's standard Picture Profile setting. Comparing a JPEG against its companion unedited RAW file in Capture One, the JPEG files oftentimes show a bit more detail in the shadows, while in the RAW file, the shadow area appears completely black.

Now, of course, RAW files give you way more flexibility in terms of tonal adjustments, and as expected, the Alpha 1 is no slouch here. As you can see in some of these example images below, the A1 offers a lot of adjustment potential, even in tricky, super high-contrast scenes. Editing files in Capture One, I was very impressed with the ability to pull back a lot of bright highlights and reveal detail, as well as lift up heavily crushed black areas without introducing much noise.

FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 24mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO 100

Even in this excessively adjusted RAW version of the above photo, the amount of noise introduced by drastically raising the darker shadow areas is surprisingly minimal to my eye. (And this is with Capture One's Luminance and Color noise reduction sliders set all the way to zero.)

RAW adjustments in Capture One
100% Crop -- Capture One RAW edit with with shadow/black levels excessively boosted, and NR processing reduceded as much as possible (Luminance and Color noise reduction sliders set to zero.)

High ISO performance

Lastly, I want to touch on high ISO performance. Photographing birds and other wildlife with the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G lens in forested areas and with a higher shutter speed did provide some opportunity to raise the A1's ISO sensitivity to some degree. Rarely did the ISO creep past ISO 3200, however. Nevertheless, I wanted to comment on higher ISO image quality, at least to some degree, even if I have not had the opportunity to extensively shoot at the camera's extreme higher ISOs.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 2000

Much like the high-res A7R IV, the Sony Alpha 1 does impressively well at higher ISOs, despite the high-res sensor. Traditionally, about five or so years ago, high-megapixel camera sensors were at a bit of a disadvantage for high ISO performance compared to similarly-sized sensors with lower megapixel counts and thus larger pixels. These lower-res sensors, all else equal, were generally better at gathering more light and therefore doing a bit better in low-light and higher ISO situations. These days, with big advancements in sensor design and image processing technology, you can easily have a high-res camera that also does very well at high ISOs.

FE 200-600mm G: 456mm, f/6.3, 1/1250s, ISO 2000

At what I'm considering mid-range high ISO levels, such as ISO 3200-6400, the Sony A1 does very well at controlling noise levels, and I was very pleased with the image quality, even from JPEG files straight from the camera. The JPEG image processing with the default level of in-camera noise reduction does a very nice job at reducing visible luminance and chroma noise while still maintaining a pleasant amount of sharp, fine detail. At really close inspection, much like my experience with the A7R IV, NR processing is noticeable, with the processing smoothing out some noticeable fine detail and giving the image somewhat "digital look" -- especially with regard to blurred background areas and background noise.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 5000, +0.7EVs
xxxxx

At lower "high ISOs," such as ISO 800-1600, the Alpha 1 offers outstanding image quality. Even in RAW files, noise feels almost nonexistent to my eye, even at 100% zoom level. Images are very clean, feature excellent fine detail and vibrant colors.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 1600
JPEG Crop

When examining RAW files without heavy NR processing, I also see very well-controlled noise levels at this higher ISOs and very good fine detail. The noise has a fine-grained appearance to it, and it doesn't seem all that distracting when viewed up close. As is typically the case, RAW files give you more control over noise removal and sharpening than just SOOC JPEGs, and how one processes RAWs files is a matter of personal taste. I lean more towards letting a bit more noise remain in my images to allow for finer detail to come through, so I am very pleased that the A1 keeps noise levels under control at higher ISO levels.

Autofocus & Performance

Finally, I want to talk a bit about the Sony A1's performance as well as its autofocus. Besides resolving power, one of the Alpha 1's other hallmark features is its sheer horsepower when it comes to continuous burst shooting performance. The A1 is clearly designed to handle sports, fast action and other fleeting, fast-paced moments, offering up to 30fps burst shooting (with some caveats, though) and a high-speed AF system with tons of AF points and sophisticated subject tracking features.

Autofocus

In terms of autofocus, the A1 features the same overall AF system as in the recent A7S III. Despite the different sensors, the A1 incorporates the same massive number of AF points, at a whopping 759 on-sensor phase-detect points plus 425 contrast-detect AF points. The autofocus coverage also spans nearly the entire frame at about 92% of the total sensor area, which makes it easy to precisely place your AF point right where you need it as well as more easily track moving subjects through the frame.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 800

Like other recent Sony cameras, the Alpha 1 also features Real-Time Tracking subject detection with Real-time Eye-AF for both humans and animals. The A1 offers several ways to utilizing the real-time tracking AF modes. It can either be a totally automatic "all-points" mode (Focus Area: WIDE), in which the camera will essentially determine where to focus automatically. Or, you can have a movable AF point (or a zone of AF points) to provide the camera with a "starting point" of varying precision to begin focusing and tracking. Despite the increasing sophistication of subject-detection AF systems these days, I'm still wary of letting a camera completely and fully automatically determine where to focus, which is why I'm glad that Sony cameras, including the Alpha 1, provide focus area modes like Small Spot and Expand Mode that also work with real-time tracking. For instance, when photographing wildlife with lots of grass, plants, tree branches or other obstructions in between you and the subject, the camera can still misfocus when using a fully-automatic AF mode. For the majority of my time with the A1, I used the small- or medium-sized setting of Expand Spot AF mode + Tracking for small perched birds or other small wildlife, which let me easily and quickly control precisely where I wanted to focus. Then, while half-pressing the shutter, I could easily reposition the camera to get my composition while maintaining focus on my subject.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 640

One of the brand-new features of the Sony A1 is the addition of "Bird Eye AF" to its Real-time Eye-AF system. In addition to being able to detect and track human eyes as well as some animals like dogs or cats, the inclusion now of tracking birds' eyes is a major benefit to bird photographers. Being a fan of bird photography, I was really excited to test this feature out, and lo and behold, it works extremely well. Sony's Eye AF technology has always worked very well, especially for people, and in my experience, the cameras detect and begin tracking faces and eyes very quickly -- and even when the subject is surprisingly small in the frame. I had the same kind of experience here with the A1 and Eye AF with Birds.

FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM: 400mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 320

Not a great shot, of course, but even in this backlit scene with the bird completely in shade, the A1's Real-Time Tracking AF feature still managed to find and focus on the bird's face/eye.

Whether close up or frustratingly far away, I was very impressed with how the Alpha 1 was still able to detect and lock onto a small bird's eye. Furthermore, even in challenging lighting conditions, with eyes in deep shadow or even the entire bird in full shade and silhouetted against a bright background, the majority of the time, the A1's Bird AF was able to find the bird. What's even better is that if the camera can't lock onto the eye of the bird, the AF system doesn't just fail or give up, but rather it seems to revert back to general face/body detection, which also generally hit the mark with both birds and other small wildlife subjects.

FE 200-600mm G: 600mm, f/6.3, 1/250s, ISO 1250

Overall autofocus performance of the A1 is excellent. Much like with other Sony Alpha cameras I've used, single-shot AF is extraordinarily fast and feels nearly instantaneous in most situations. Continuous tracking also works extremely well, and the new Bird AF feature is excellent. And while I didn't have an opportunity to really push the limits of the continuous AF, such as with motorsports or a fast-paced sport like soccer or football, the camera never felt sluggish in acquiring or tracking focus on a moving subject.

Burst Shooting Performance

The Sony A1 also has some very impressive performance specs, thanks in part to the combination of the stacked sensor, the fast BIONZ XR processing engine and the speedy CFexpress memory card support. The A1 is capable of capturing full-resolution 50MP images at 30 frames per second, with continuous autofocus. That is some serious memory-card filling shooting performance!

Of course, there are some caveats to the Alpha 1's eye-catching burst specs. In order to achieve the full 30fps burst rate, you first must use the electronic or silent shutter. The camera's mechanical shutter is still limited to just 10fps, much like the A7R IV. Also, you can't capture images at 30fps using uncompressed RAW or the new lossless compressed RAW image formats. Instead, you'll have to use JPEGs or lossy compressed RAW. Otherwise, with these other image quality settings, like uncompressed RAW+JPEG, the Alpha 1 will "only" shoot up to 20fps -- which, to be honest, is plenty fast for almost any sports or action subject.

FE 200-600mm G: 594mm, f/6.3, 1/800s, ISO 800

Further, note that the camera's menus won't explicitly mention "30fps", even if you're in the proper image quality mode or camera settings. Be aware that it's "up to" 30fps, and other factors such as the particular lens' AF motor or other challenges in maintaining focus on your subject might impact the camera's maximum burst rate.

In the field, I wanted to make sure I was capturing images at the highest possible quality settings -- uncompressed RAW + JPEG -- and as such, I was limited to just 20fps. As mentioned, this is an already extraordinarily fast burst rate and more than enough to capture challenging moments.

Gif of a 20fps burst sequence - Stacked and auto-alighed in Photoshop

In some quick, non-scientific tests, however, I confirmed that the camera can shoot at around 30fps using the lossy RAW image quality setting. One burst at about 1.5 seconds in length, the camera captured 51 frames, and in another 1.3-second burst, I got 42 frames. I also switched over to a UHS-II SD card rather than the faster CFexpress Type A car, and with another approximately 1.3-second burst, I recorded 45 frames. Similarly, using JPEG + Uncompressed RAW, the camera recorded about 29 frames in an approximately 1.3s burst in multiple runs, which closely matches the 20fps burst spec for that image quality setting.

Buffer capacity also varies with the camera's continuous shooting rate and image quality settings. Buffer feels nearly endless when using Lossy RAW format and a super-fast CFexpress memory card. I was able to capture over 400 frames at 30fps with no noticeable slowdown. Once lifting my finger from the shutter button, the camera finished writing buffered images to the card in about 10-11 seconds. At 20fps with uncompressed RAW + JPEG, I consistently captured about 80 or so frames before the shooting rate speed dipped slightly (which is also consistent with around the 78 frames according to Sony's specs).

With the fast CFexpress card, buffer clearing times are fantastic. So even if the 20fps burst rate slows, you can easily take a quick pause and resume shooting without any real impact on performance or any noticeable sluggishness. In most scenarios, you wouldn't be likely to continuously shoot for that long, or at least I wouldn't. However, using a Sony 300MB/s UHS-II SD card was noticeable slower when it came to buffer clearing, which isn't unexpected. Buffer clearing there took about 26-27 seconds, and at 30fps, burst shooting felt like it slowed down after only about 5-6 seconds.

FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 70mm, f/2.8, 1/2000, ISO 125

Summary

Overall, the Sony Alpha 1 is an outstanding camera. Given Sony's history of producing excellent cameras with fantastic image quality, excellent autofocusing and solid performance, I was expecting the flagship Alpha 1 to feel familiar and more of the same, really. Only better. And it is.

Design-wise and ergonomically, the camera is comfortable and rugged with an array of physical controls, a nice photo-centric tilting touchscreen and a lot of user customization. It feels like a solid, modern Sony mirrorless camera. Sony has improved the usability of the touchscreen and menu system, which were two of the main usability criticisms from the A7R IV.

FE 24-70mm F2.8 GM: 24mm, f/8, 1/320, ISO 100

From an image quality standpoint, the Sony Alpha 1 is one of the best cameras I've ever used. With 50-megapixels at your disposal, you can capture images with a stunning level of detail, excellent dynamic range and vibrant yet natural-looking colors. And for wildlife photographers, you have plenty of leeway for cropping if needed. Of course, the downside to 50MP files is storage, which fills up quickly -- especially when you are shooting at 20-30fps. My folder of 2300 or so images quickly ballooned to over 300GBs. Performance-wise, the Sony A1 is a stunning piece of technology. The autofocus system is fantastic, offering fast performance and excellent subject tracking, even in very tricky shooting scenarios. Burst shooting, also, is bordering on excessive. But it's nice to have the speed when you need it. It's certainly faster-shooting than what I need; 20fps is more than enough, let alone 30fps. Though there are limitations to achieving that eye-watering "30fps" burst rate, the camera is still capable of outstanding performance for almost any photography situation.

Overall, the Sony A1 is what I experienced with A7R IV but turned up to 11. I thought the A7R IV combined image quality and performance (and to be fair, it still does), but this new flagship Alpha 1 goes even further.

 

• • •

 

Sony A1 Product Overview

by  Jeremy Gray

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).

Closing thoughts

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.

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