Looks like Sony has created a top contender for the camera of the year! This amazing device is suitable for both professional photographers and professional videographers. What is the miracle of Sony Alpha 1 — we figure it out together.
Feature #1: 50-megapixel sensor
The main magic of the novelty is hidden in its very heart — a 50-megapixel multi-layer full-frame matrix. This is the second such sensor in the history of the company, we saw the first sample in the 24-megapixel Sony a9 and Sony a9 II. By “multilayer” we mean that the camera has a DRAM module (from the English dynamic random access memory) built into the back of the matrix. This gives the sensor an incredible readout speed of less than 1/200th of a second, which is one and a half times faster than the sensors of the a9 and a9 II models, despite doubling the number of pixels in the novelty.
What does this mean in practice? First, you can shoot with flash using the silent electronic shutter, with sync speeds up to 1/200 of a second. It will also minimize the effect of rolling shutter for fast moving objects.
Readout speed “overclocks” continuous shooting to 30fps with electronic shutter, but only when RAW files are compressed with lossy. And the new matrix shoots video in 8K resolution, but more on that later.
If you want to use a traditional mechanical shutter instead of an electronic one (which, by the way, is very quiet), then the maximum burst speed will be 10 fps, and the flash sync will be 1/400 second.
Feature #2: Lossless RAW
The Alpha 1 was the first Sony camera to shoot in RAW with lossless compression. RAW files are smaller, but with full editing capabilities, which does not always come out with conventional (lossy) compression.
Files are 20–50% smaller than uncompressed files, depending on the image itself (the previous format guaranteed a 50% reduction). When switching to lossless RAW, the maximum shooting speed drops from 30 to 20 fps, but you can get up to 96 shots in a burst, as opposed to 82 in a mode without compression at all.
Like past Sony full-frame models, the new model received a stabilization system that compensates for up to 5.5 exposure steps. But stabilization in video can be improved during post-processing by using data from the gyroscope.
The camera can shoot in both 4K and 8K resolution. Unfortunately, 4K quality with oversampling from 8K material cannot be obtained immediately — only independently in the post-processing process. Instead, the camera shoots in 4K with pixel binning (combining technology) from the entire width of the sensor at 60p, or at 120p, but with a 1.1x frame crop. Shooting up to 10-bit 4:2:2 recording is available. At the same time, 4K video, unlike 8K, can be shot with additional digital stabilization.
4K quality with oversampling is available in Super35 mode, which uses 5.8K capture. 4K resolution can be saved with both the new XAVCS HS (H.265) codec and the old XAVC SI All‑I (H.264) codec. 16-bit RAW video output is also available.
However, the main feature in the video is still 8K quality — this is only the second consumer camera on the market after the Canon EOS R5 with this option. Sony takes a slightly different technological approach. The camera reads an area of 8640 x 4860 pixels (full-width) of the sensor and then compresses it to 7680 x 4320-pixel 8K format, which promises to reduce the moiré effect (the appearance of a wavy pattern. Interestingly, the aspect ratio of the video is 16:9, unlike the wider 1.89:1 DCI that Canon gets from all pixels.
8K video is available at up to 30p and stored as 10-bit 4:2:0 XAVC HS files (H.265). 8K content can also be output via HDMI, but only in 8‑bit 4:2:0.
The novelty uses a cooling scheme similar to that in the a7S III model. Sony claims the camera is five times more efficient at dissipating heat than the a7R IV. If true, this, combined with lowering the overheating protection setting, allows you to shoot 8K video for “more than 30 minutes”. The exact time will depend on the ambient temperature and the selected bit rate.
Hull and control
The body design and control layout will be familiar to users of Sony’s latest full-frame cameras, especially the a7S III and a9 II.
Given all its characteristics, Alpha 1 turned out to be very compact. According to Sony, the company has improved weather protection with this camera compared to the a7 and a9 series. At the same time, the novelty has inherited a fairly large and comfortable grip from previous models. When working with large “telephoto” cameras, you will most likely need an additional battery pack, but with “fixes” and regular “zooms” the camera feels very balanced.
The buttons and control dials are comfortable to use, and thanks to their clever size, they can be operated with thin gloves. The shooting mode and autofocus dials have protected position locks — to change the settings, you first need to hold down the button in the middle of the dial. But the exposure compensation dial lock can be left open for faster access.
Like other Sony cameras, Alpha 1 is suitable for flexible customization of buttons, dials and settings: you can not change the settings for only three keys — “Menu”, “Playback” and “Fn”.
In terms of performance, the new a1 is arguably Sony’s most responsive camera yet. Users have been complaining for years about lags in the settings and interface — you could quickly change the position of the disk, but until the setting itself changes in the camera, you had to wait a few moments. Sony managed to cope with this problem — all settings in Alpha 1 change in real time. The touch screen has also been expanded for adjusting various settings, including menu navigation.
Screen and viewfinder
Despite the 8K video option, the slanted screen design hints that the camera is more geared towards photography (models aimed at video tend to use a swivel screen).
The tilting display is very handy for waist and hip shots. However, for greater versatility, in our opinion, a “double hinge” option, like in the Fujifilm X‑T3, would be suitable, in which you can tilt the screen in both landscape and portrait orientations.
The 3‑inch display has a resolution of 1.44 million dots, which is slightly behind the modern market: many less expensive cameras offer 3.2‑inch screens with a resolution of 2.1 million dots.
On the other hand, Sony really pleased with the electronic viewfinder — OLED with a resolution of 9.44 million dots and with a magnification of 0.9x. This magnification value is one of the best indicators on digital cameras. The maximum distance from which you can see the entire panel is 25 mm (the longer it is, the more convenient it is to use the viewfinder). And the viewfinder detail, especially in High mode, is virtually unrivaled.
Available refresh rates are 120 and 240 fps (with a slightly lower resolution). This speed is good for shooting fast action scenes, while the high resolution mode is better suited for studio or landscape photography. In general, it is safe to say that today this is the best electronic viewfinder among all manufacturers.
A little more about the characteristics of the camera
At the request of professional photographers, Sony has added the ability to close the mechanical shutter to protect the sensor when the camera is off.
In terms of battery, the CIPA-rated camera can take 530 shots on a single charge when using the display, or 430 when using the viewfinder. As usual in practice, higher figures, depending on your shooting style.
The camera can be charged via USB using a USB PD device. However, this cannot be done while it is running. The novelty is compatible with the VG-C4EM battery grip, where there is room for a second battery.
Results for Sony Alpha 1
The Sony Alpha 1 is one of those rare cameras that does what others couldn’t before. The pros got a high-res camera that can silently shoot at speeds higher than the lower-res sports/wildlife geared models.
With Alpha 1, Sony got rid of the “curse” of the slowness of its past cameras (this model instantly reacts to any changes in settings), added shooting in RAW format with lossless compression and super-detailed 8K video. This camera is clearly created for professionals, as evidenced by its price — 6.5 thousand dollars at the beginning of 2021.
Of course, it shares many of the same features as the Canon EOS R5, but a1’s range of additional features, such as faster readout, non-dimming burst shooting, and a stunning viewfinder, may well justify the price difference (Canon’s competitor is under $4,000).
In the meantime, the Sony a1 looks like the best all-around full-frame mirrorless camera on the market, combining high resolution with advanced video capabilities.
*In preparing the article, materials from the resource dpreview.com were used