Sony A1 Review
Review Manufacturer: Sony
Price when reviewed
$6500 Check current price
Sony has created a camera for professional photographers and content creators that delivers on its promised combination of speed and resolution along with great video capability. It really can do everything very well. Of course, such technological excellence doesn’t come cheap, but Sony has priced the A1 to match the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III and Nikon D6. Time will tell if the A1 has the robustness of those cameras, but it’s certainly an excellent and versatile creative tool.
What is the Sony A1?
As well as being Sony’s most advanced camera to date, the Sony Alpha A1 is the world’s most technologically advanced camera. It has the type of specification that leaves photographers pinching themselves. It’s mirrorless and aimed at professional photographers and content creators who want fast shooting speeds and high-resolution images plus a quick, versatile autofocus system for stills and video.
As such, the Sony A1 combines a new 50.1Mp full-frame stacked Exmor RS image sensor with dual Exmor XR processing engines to enable up to 120 AF/AE calculations per second, 30fps continuous shooting and 8K 30p 10-bit 4:2:0 video.
Sony A1 price and availability
At launch, the Sony A1 price was set at £6,500 / $6,498 and it went on sale in March 2021.
You can order the Sony A1 from Wex Photo Video and Park Cameras in the UK and Adorama or B&H Photo Video in the USA.
Camera type: Full-frame mirrorless Announced: 26th January 2021 Sensor: 50.1Mp full frame (35.9 x 24.0mm), Exmor RS CMOS sensor Lens mount: FE Sensitivity range: Stills: ISO 100-32000 (expandable to ISO 50 to ISO 102400) Video: ISO ISO 100-32000 (expandable to ISO 100-12800) Still Image format: Jpeg, HEIF, raw (Sony ARW 4.0) Video format & compression: XAVC S: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, XAVC HS: MPEG-H HEVC/H.265 8K Video (XAVC HS): 7680 x 4320 (4:2:0, 10bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 30p(400Mbps / 200 Mbps), 24p(400Mbps / 200 Mbps), 7680 x 4320 (4:2:0, 10bit, PAL) (Approx.): 25p(400Mbps / 200 Mbps) 4K Video (XAVC HS): 3840 x 2160 (4:2:0, 10bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 120p (200Mbps), 60p (150Mbps / 75Mbps / 45Mbps), 24p (100Mbps / 50Mbps / 30Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:0, 10bit, PAL) (Approx.): 100p (200Mbps), 50p (150Mbps / 75Mbps / 45Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 120p (280Mbps), 60p (200Mbps / 100Mbps), 24p (100Mbps / 50Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, PAL) (Approx.): 100p (280Mbps), 50p (200Mbps / 100Mbps) 4K Video (XAVC S): 3840 x 2160 (4:2:0, 8bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 120p (200Mbps), 60p (150Mbps), 30p (100Mbps / 60Mbps), 24p (100Mbps / 60Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:0, 8bit, PAL) (Approx.): 100p (200Mbps), 50p (150Mbps), 25p (100Mbps / 60Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 120p (280Mbps), 60p (200Mbps), 30p (140Mbps), 24p (100Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, PAL) (Approx.): 100p (280Mbps), 50p (200Mbps), 25p (140Mbps) 4K Video (XAVC S-I): 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, NTSC) (Approx.): 60p (600Mbps), 30p (300Mbps), 24p (240Mbps); 3840 x 2160 (4:2:2, 10bit, PAL) (Approx.): 50p (500Mbps), 25p (250Mbps) Movie functions: Audio Level Display, Audio Rec Level, PAL/NTSC Selector, Proxy Recording (1280 x 720 (6Mbps), 1920 x 1080(9Mbps), 1920 x 1080(16Mbps)), TC/UB, Auto Slow Shutter, Gamma Disp. Assist, raw output(HDMI) Autofocus system: Hybrid AF with 759 phase detection points and 425 contrast detection points, Still images: Human (Right/Left Eye Select) / Animal (Right/Left Eye Select) / Bird, Movie: Human (Right/Left Eye Select), sensitive down to -4EV Maximum continuous shooting rate: Mechanical shutter: 10fps, Electronic shutter 30fps Viewfinder: 0.64-inch 9,437,184-dot EVF with 100% coverage and up to 0.9x magnification. It also offers 0.90x viewfinder magnification, 41° diagonal field of view with 25mm-high eyepoint Screen: 3-inch 1,440,000-dot tilting touchscreen Stills shutter speed range: Mechanical shutter: 1/8000-30sec plus Bulb, Electronic shutter: 1/32000-30sec plus Bulb Max flash sync speed (full-frame): Mechanical shutter: 1/400 sec, Electronic shutter: 1/200 sec Image stabilisation: 5-axis giving up to 5.5EV compensation Storage: Dual SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I/II) & CFexpress Type A slots Connection ports: Sync, 3.5mm headphone, 3.5mm mic, LAN Battery: NP-FZ100 rechargeable Li-ion battery giving 400 shots with the viewfinder or 530 with the screen Dimensions (WxHxD): 128.9 x 96.9 x 80.8mm / 5 1/8 x 3 7/8 x 3 1/4 inches Weight (including battery & memory card): 737g / 1 lb 10.0 oz
Inside the Sony A1 is a newly developed image Exmor RS sensor that sandwiches three layers with the light-sensitive photodiodes on top of a memory layer and a processing layer at the base. It’s paired with two upgraded Bionz XR imaging processing engines to enable 50.1Mp images to be shot continuously at 30fps with up to 120 AF/AE calculations per second.
Continuous Shooting at up to 30fps
Thanks to its high-speed readout from its 50.1Mp image sensor and large buffer memory, the Sony A1 can shoot up to 155 full-frame compressed raw images or 165 full-frame Jpeg images at up to 30 frames per second when the electronic shutter is in action, with full AF and AE tracking performance. It’s worth noting here that if you need to shoot at 30fps, you have to record lossy compressed raw or Jpeg or Heif files, you can’t shoot uncompressed raw image at that rate. If you need to shoot uncompressed raw files you can ‘only shoot at 20fps.
With up to 12 focusing and metering calculations made each second, the Sony Alpha 1 is designed to focus on fast-moving subjects. It can also automatically adjust exposure when there are rapid changes in brightness and the AE response latency said to be as short as 0.033 seconds.
Sony A1 autofocus system
There are 759 phase detection AF points on the Sony A1’s image sensor, covering around 92% of the image area. Also, thanks to the dual Bionz XR processing engines, the Sony A1’s advanced Real-time Eye AF improves eye detection performance by 30% over the previous system.
In addition to improved Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals in stills mode, the Alpha 1 uses high-level subject recognition technology for Real-time Eye AF for birds. That’s a first in a Sony Alpha camera. Algorithms also maintain the AF tracking if a sitting bird takes off or the framing changes.
While you lose the real-time Eye AF for animals and birds in video mode, it still works with human eyes when shooting 4K or 8K footage.
The Sony Alpha 1 also has AI-based Real-time Tracking and a subject recognition algorithm that looks at colour, pattern (brightness), and subject distance (depth) data to process spatial information in real-time at high speed.
9.44-million-dot OLED viewfinder
The Sony A 1 has the same 9.44-million-dot 0.64-inch type OLED Quad-XGA electronic viewfinder as the Sony A7S III. Further good news is that it has a refresh rate of up to 240 fps whereas the A7S III viewfinder has a maximum rate of 120fps, and the magnification can be set at up to 0.9x. That’s an impressive set of numbers that should ensure plenty of detail is visible, while the highest refresh rate should mean the display is smooth even with very fast-moving subjects. What’s more, the viewfinder doesn’t blackout when a shot is taken, giving seamless framing and tracking when shooting continuously.
However, it’s not possible to use the fastest refresh rate, highest resolution and highest magnification at the same time. Instead, you have to choose between high performance (resolution) and high refresh rate depending upon what you’re photographing or videoing.
To get the highest resolution, the refresh rate has to drop to 60fps. So if you’re shooting landscapes, you might want to opt for the Highest Performance setting but if you’re shooting sport or a fast-moving subject, you may want to drop the resolution and magnification to get the 240fps refresh rate.
Because of the high speed of the readout from the Sony A1’s new sensor, rolling shutter effect has been reduced by up to 1.5x when shooting stills, in comparison with the Alpha 9 II.
Using the electronic shutter, it’s also possible to shoot continuously and silently with anti-flicker engaged. That’s good news when shooting indoors under fluorescent or other flicker-prone artificial lighting.
Also, in another first for a Sony Alpha camera, the electronic shutter can sync with flash at up to 1/200 sec.
Dual driven mechanical shutter
When the mechanical shutter is in use, the Sony Alpha 1 has the world’s fastest flash sync speed of 1/400 sec.
In addition to a carbon fibre shutter curtain, the Alpha 1 features the newly developed dual driven shutter system utilising a spring and electromagnetic drive actuator, offering high durability and lightness at the same time.
Dynamic range and noise control
Sony claims that the A1 can capture over 15EV of dynamic range for video and 15 stops for stills. That should ensure natural-looking gradations from shadow to highlight.
There’s also a sensitivity range of ISO 100-32,000 (expandable to 50-102,400, when shooting stills).
Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode
For when you need larger images, the Sony A1 has evolved Pixel Shift Multi Shooting mode that composites up to 16 full-resolution images.
When this is activated, the camera shifts the sensor in one pixel or half-pixel increments between shots as it captures 16 separate images. This generates 796.2 million pixels of data, which are then composited into a 199 million pixel (17,280 x 11,520 pixels) image using Sony’s Imaging Edge desktop application.
Still file formats
In addition to compressed and uncompressed raw format, the Sony A1 has lossless compression with no quality degradation available via its Lossless Compressed raw format. There is also a new ‘Light’ JPEG/HEIF image quality setting that results in smaller files than the ‘Standard’ setting, which could be useful for news and sports photographers who need to file images quickly.
Along with a range of raw and Jpeg formats, the Alpha 1 offers the HEIF (High Efficiency Image File) format for smooth 10-bit gradations that capture more realistic skies and portrait subjects.
Images shot on the Alpha 1 can be trimmed in-camera to the desired aspect ratio or size.
Sony A1 Video
The Sony A1 is the first Sony Alpha series camera to feature 8K 30p 10-bit 4:2:0 XAVC HS video recording. It’s also capable of shooting 4K 120p / 60p 10-bit 4:2:2 video and offers S-Cinetone colour.
It uses 8.6K oversampling for enhanced resolution and, naturally, the 8K footage can be used for 4K editing during post-production – provided your computer can handle it. In Super 35mm mode, the A1 can produce 4K video from oversampled 5.8K video with full pixel readout and no pixel binning.
While the 8K video recording is internal, the A1 can also output 16-bit raw video to an external recorder via HDMI for maximum post-production flexibility.
In addition, there’s a digital audio interface in the Multi Interface (MI) Shoe for clearer audio recordings from a compatible Sony external microphone. Naturally, there’s also a 3.5mm mic input and a 3.5mm headphone output.
While the 8K capability might grab the headlines, the Alpha 1’s 4K recording at up to 120 frames per second may be of more interest to many as it enables up to 5X slow-motion video.
In addition to supporting 10-bit 4:2:2 recording, this can be used with efficient Long GOP inter-frame compression or high-quality Intra (All-I) intra-frame compression.
The Alpha 1 features S-Cinetone, the same colour matrix that produces the highly regarded FX9 and FX6 colour and skin tones. It delivers natural mid-tones, plus soft colours and attractive highlights. In addition, the S-Log3 gamma curve makes it possible to achieve 15+ stops of dynamic range, while the S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.Cine colour gamut settings make it easy to match Alpha 1 footage with video shot on VENICE cinema camera, FX9 and other professional cinema cameras.
Sony has given the A1 a unique heat-dissipating structure to maintain the temperature of the sensor and image processing engine within their normal operating range. This is designed to prevent overheating while still enabling the Alpha 1’s compact form. Consequently, the Sony A1 can record 8K/30p video continuously for approximately 30 minutes.
Sony A1 IBIS
Gyro sensors and optimised image stabilisation algorithms work with the in-body image stabilisation unit to enable a shutter speed compensation of up to 5.5EV.
The Alpha 1’s IBIS also has an Active Mode for handheld movie shooting.
In addition, when using Sony’s desktop applications Catalyst Browse or Catalyst Prepare for post-production, there’s an image stabilisation function that utilises metadata generated by the camera’s built-in gyro.
The Alpha 1 has been designed and configured to support photo and video journalists and sports shooters who need to deliver stills or movies as quickly as possible with advanced connectivity options. It offers several features for fast, reliable file transfers including the industry’s fastest built-in wireless LAN that allows communication on 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands with dual antennas to ensure reliable communications.
5 GHz includes 2×2 MIMO support (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac) offering 3.5 times faster wireless FTP transfer speed than the Alpha 9 II – a notable advantage for news and sports shooters who need to deliver with reliable speed.
There’s also a USB Type-C connector to support high-speed PC Remote (tethered) data transfer for large image files. The Alpha 1 also has a built-in 1000BASE-T LAN connector for high-speed, stable data transfers, including remote shooting. FTPS (File Transfer over SSL/TLS) is supported, allowing SSL or TLS encryption for increased data security.
Also, the A1 has a full-size HDMI Type-A connector, and USB PD (Power Delivery) support, allowing higher power to be supplied from an external source so that users can record for extended periods with minimal internal battery usage.
Apps and extras
The Sony Alpha 1 is compatible with a variety of apps, add-ons and tools. For example, with Imaging Edge Mobile and Imaging Edge Desktop, professional photographers can transfer raw files and files that use lossless compression and remotely control Touch Tracking and Touch Focus for convenient AF operation.
The Transfer & Tagging add-on (Ver. 1.3 or later) can automatically convert voice memos attached to image files to text captions or transfer the files to an FTP server from a mobile device.
Sony’s desktop applications Catalyst Browse/Catalyst Prepare allow creators to browse and manage video clips shot by Sony’s camera. In addition, the Remote Camera Tool can remotely change camera settings and shoot from a computer connected via LAN cable and feature a number of refinements for the Alpha 1: faster transfer, touch response, dual slot and HEIF support.
For reliability, flexibility and speed, the Sony A1 has two media slots that are both compatible with UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards, as well as the new CFexpress Type A cards that deliver faster read/write speeds.
Build and handling
At first glance, you might mistake the Sony A1 for the A9 Mark II, but it’s actually a tiny fraction taller and a little deeper making the grip more comfortable in your hand – especially when longer lenses are mounted. For comparison, the A1 measures 128.9mm x 96.9mm x 80.8mm (WxHxD) while the A9 II is 128.9mm x 96.4mm x 77.5mm (the same as the A7R IV), so there’s only a little in it. Comparing between an A7R IV and the A1, it’s hard to see a size difference, but it feels slightly chunkier.
Sony has designed the A1 for professional photographers and content creators, so durability is an important consideration. With this in mind, it has a magnesium alloy chassis and it’s weather-sealed along all the joints and at the battery and memory card port.
Like the Sony A7S III, the A1 has a double sliding cover and lock that keeps water out of the memory card bay.
I used the Sony A1 in a heavy downpour for about half an hour or more on a couple of occasions and aside from a message popping up to warn me that a non-existent accessory wasn’t compatible with the camera, it functioned satisfactorily both at the time and later. I’ve had the same issue with the A7R IV in heavy rain. I suspect that it might be something to do with water getting onto the hot-shoe contacts.
The top plate of the A1 looks just like the A9 II. Compared with the A7R IV and A7 III, it adds stacked focus mode and drive mode dials to the left of the viewfinder. Both of these dials have a lock button that has to be pressed before they can be rotated. The drive mode lock button is at the centre of the dial while the focus mode lock is on the edge of the dial. When the dial is set to AF-S, the lock button falls under your left thumb when you reach to rotate to another setting. It would be nice if the dials could be locked or unlocked depending upon what you’re doing, but that’s not an option.
Over on the right of the top plate, we’re in very familiar territory with a mode dial sporting the usual PASM options along with Auto (yes even on a fully pro-level camera), movie mode, Slow and Quick (S&Q) mode and three customisable shooting modes number 1 to 3. This dial also has a central lock button that has to be pressed before it can be rotated.
On the rear right corner of the A1’s top plate there’s the exposure compensation dial with markings running from -3Ev to +3 in 1/3EV steps. Weirdly, just like the Sony A7R IV and A7S III, this dial has an optional lock. I can’t understand why Sony has limited this to the exposure compensation dial and not give the mode dial and drive/ focus mode dials optional locks.
There are also two customisable buttons, C1 and C2, on the top plate. These access the white balance and focus area options by default.
Besides the exposure compensation dial, there’s the rear command dial, which adjusts shutter speed by default in manual exposure mode. Its partner, the front command dial, sits at the top of the grip on the front of the camera just forward of the shutter release and power switch. As you’d expect, by default, this is set to adjust the aperture in manual mode.
The back of the Sony A1 looks almost identical to the A7R IV and AS III. In fact, the only difference that I can spot between it and the A7R IV is that the video record button is a little larger and has a red circle on it rather than a dot. On the A7S III, this button is marked C1.
As on the A7R IV and A7S III, the AF-On button on the back of the camera protrudes further than the buttons either side of it. On the A1 and A7R IV, the button to its left is the video record button. This means that you need to be careful to not press the AF-on button as you reach for the record button, but it all makes it easy to know which button is under your thumb. As the A1 is pretty compact for a full-frame camera (compared to a full-frame DSLR like the Nikon D6 or Canon EOS-1D X Mark III), I find it easy to reach the record button with my right thumb, but it’s also possible to set another button (including the AF-On button) to start recording instead.
Like the A7S III and A7R IV, the Sony Alpha 1 has a chubby joystick on its back. My thumb finds it automatically when I’m holding the camera to my eye. I’d prefer it to have a rubberised surface, but I suspect that the hard textured surface my be more durable. It also gives pretty good purchase, so it’s quick and easy to shift the AF point around the frame as you look in the viewfinder.
Sony debuted its revised menu arrangement with the A7S III and it’s carried it into the A1. Naturally, with a feature-packed camera like the Sony A1, the menu is going to be very long, but it’s easier to navigate and find the option that you’re looking for with the new system. That said, most people, even existing Sony users will need to go through a period of adjustment, but there’s also the My Menu section to help ease the transition as you can assign your most commonly used features to it so they’re easier to find.
Further good news on the Menu side of things is that there are two Function (Fn) menus, one for video mode and the other for stills mode.
Also, within the Operation Customize section of the Setup menu, there’s ‘Different Set for Still/Mv’, which enables you to select whether you can have different values for the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure compensation, metering mode and picture profile in stills or movie mode.
As I mentioned in the features section the Sony A1 has an impressively specified 9.44-million-dot 0.64-inch type OLED Quad-XGA electronic viewfinder. However, you need to take control over its various settings to get the best shooting experience in different situations, so it’s worth assigning the controls to the My Menu if you switch between slow or motionless and fast-moving subjects on a frequent basis.
Dropping the display quality from ‘High’ to ‘Standard’ makes a noticeable difference to the image quality in the viewfinder. The ‘Standard’ setting isn’t bad, it’s just not as good as the excellent ‘High’ setting, and you may notice some moiré patterning and a slight dip in the level of detail visible.
Using the highest viewfinder frame rate (240fps or Higher or FPS Hi+) produces the smoothest, most natural view of moving subjects, but the Display Quality and Viewfinder Magnification both drop to the ‘Standard’ and ‘Zoom out’ settings automatically. Opting for the middle-value frame rate gives you the choice of the two magnification settings, but you can’t control the Display quality.
If you wear spectacles, you may find it better to use a lower ‘Zoom-out’ magnification because your eye is further from the viewfinder and it’s harder to see the edges when it’s set to the higher ‘Standard’ magnification setting.
Sony A1 Screen
On the back of the A1 is a 3-inch 1.44 million-dot LCD screen. While it gives a decent enough view, its specification seems oddly out of sync with the rest of the camera.
It’s a tilting screen rather than a vari-angle or tri-tilt type screen, which means it can be angled to help with composing landscape orientation images at high or low angles, but not portrait orientation images.
However, it’s also touch-sensitive and it responds quickly to a tap. In hand with the new menu arrangement, Sony also enables the menu options to be selected by taps on the screen – it’s much faster than using the navigation controls.
The Sony A1 isn’t the first 50Mp camera around and there are higher resolution models available, including the 61Mp Sony A7R IV, but the quality of the images that it produces at low ISO settings is absolutely superb.
Like the Sony A7S III, the A1 has an IR sensor on its front, between the top of the finger grip and the bottom of the viewfinder housing. This is designed to improve the performance of the auto white balance system, and it appears to have the desired results and the A1 produces some of the most pleasing colours of any Sony camera when it’s left to its own devices. Nevertheless, if you want consistent results, it’s best to set a custom white balance value or at least shoot raw images so you have the full-colour information for making any adjustments.
With a maximum continuous shooting rate of 30fps, and autofocus performance to match, the Sony A1 is a great choice of camera for photographing sport and action. Of course, shooting 50Mp images at 30fps gobbles through the storage capacity of the installed memory card(s), but there are times when that could make a huge difference to a professional photographer. For other occasions, the rate can be knocked back to 20, 15, 10 or 5fps.
Sony A1 image quality
As I’ve just said, the Sony A1 is capable of delivering excellent results, especially at the lowest sensitivity settings. When it’s paired with a top-quality lens like the Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM, the level of detail is breathtaking.
With such a high resolution, it’s not really a surprise to see a hint of luminance noise in ISO 400 raw files when they’re examined at 100% on a computer. At more normal viewing sizes, for example, when the image is scaled to fit a 27-inch monitor, that noise is invisible and the shot looks detail-rich.
By ISO 12,800, luminance noise because apparent in even-toned areas of images sized to fill a 27-inch screen, but the results still look good. Nevertheless, zooming in to 100% reveals a significant drop in detail and sharpness.
At the maximum native sensitivity setting, chroma noise is visible when raw files are examined at 100% on-screen, but again, the results at standard viewing sizes are perfectly acceptable.
The A1 is aimed at professional photographers, including photojournalists who may need to capture images in sub-optimal conditions. While the maximum sensitivity setting of ISO 102,400 doesn’t produce especially attractive images, it could prove useful for news-gathering purposes.
Sony A1 Autofocus performance
Over the last few years, Sony has been responsible for raising our expectations of autofocus systems and changing the way that we use them – or at least Sony’s.
Although it’s not absolutely flawless, the Sony A1 seems to have an uncanny understanding of what the subject is when it’s set to its Wide Focus Area setting. When this mode is selected, the camera uses any of the AF points across the whole sensor and when the shutter button is pressed halfway, green squares appear in the viewfinder or on the screen (in stills mode) to show where the camera is targeting. In most situations, it gets it right and nails the focus.
If the camera should struggle in Wide Focus Area mode, and it does occasionally, there are other settings that enable you to narrow down the area that it uses for focusing. These include Zone, Center Fix, Spot (small, medium and large) and Expand spot. If the focus mode is set to continuous, there’s an additional Focus Are option of Tracking which can be set to Wide, Zone, Center Fix, Spot (small, medium and large) and Expand Spot.
Again, Tracking: Wide works very well in many situations, but it’s sometimes helpful to narrow down the area that’s being targeted. This is especially helpful when your subject is off-centre and other potential subjects come into the frame and are near to the camera or more central within the frame.
It’s also useful when you want to focus on a very small subject, such as a single bluebell flower. The A1 copes remarkably well with things like this, where other cameras are prone to hunting when presented with a small subject and a busy background, the A1 does a great job of getting the focus where you want it. That’s particularly important when you’re using an aperture of f1.2!
The Sony A1 offers Eye AF for birds as well as humans and animals (for stills shooting), and it’s very useful for wildlife photography. Nevertheless, human Eye AF is the most reliable and it does a great job of spotting eyes in the frame even when the subject is side-on for the camera.
Human Eye AF also works very in video mode, which makes life a lot easier for anyone shooting footage of people or in social situations.
While the A1’s Eye AF for animals is very good, it’s not quite as enthusiastic for its task as the Eye detection AF system in the Canon EOS R6 and Canon EOS R5. Canon’s system picks up eyes when they’re smaller in the frame and at a wider range of angles, but it’s close and, as I said, the Sony A1 is very good at spotting eyes.
Canon’s Eye detection AF system also has the advantage of having a ‘No priority’ setting which means it can just look for any eyes in the frame if you want. It would be nice if Sony could add this option via a firmware upgrade. In lieu of this, I used the A1’s customisation options to enable me to switch between human, animal and bird detection by pressing the focus hold buttons on some of Sony’s lenses – including the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and FE 70-200mm f/4 G OSS.
Exposure and colour
With an accurate preview in the viewfinder and on the screen on the back of the A1, I had no need during my testing the switch away from the default Multi metering mode. This mode usually delivers good exposures and aside from a few situations when you might expect it to be required, I only used the exposure compensation for creative reasons.
As I mentioned earlier, the Sony A1’s auto white balance (AWB) setting is good, but in some situations, you get better results when you take control over the white balance value. On a heavily overcast day, for example, the results are a bit too realistic and a little warming produces a more attractive result. Switching to the Daylight white balance warms things nicely, but it can seem a bit too much on some occasions, and I’d probably reserve the Shade and Cloud settings for sunrise and sunset photography when I want to give images a golden hue.
Inevitably, it’s best to shoot raw files or set a custom white balance value when you’re not getting exactly what you want in-camera using the AWB setting.
Sony A1 video performance
Sony has given the A1 a plethora of video options, so there’s something to suit most shooting scenarios. Whether you need the flexibility of externally recorded raw video or internally recorded 8K footage, or the convenience of Full HD or 4K video recorded with a Creative Look or a Picture Profile applied, it’s all possible.
When you’re selecting the settings that you want to use, it’s worth bearing in mind that the SteadyShot stabilisation system can’t be set to its ‘Active’ mode when the highest resolutions or frame rates are selected. If you’re shooting with the camera on a tripod or a gimbal, that won’t be a concern, but if you’re thinking of just hand-holding the camera you might want to drop the resolution to get the benefit of the digital system – bearing in mind the slight crop it applies.
It can be a frustrating business working out which combination of settings work together, but after a while, most people probably settle to just using a couple of options on a regular basis.
The quality of the results is excellent and over the next few days, I’m planning on posting a few more examples.
Sony’s claims for the A1’s heat dissipation hold out as I was able to shoot 38minutes of 8K footage to a UHS-II SDXC card before it gave an overheating warning and stopped recording. After a few minutes of cooling, it was ready to go again. It recorded for another 21 minutes until it needed to cool again.
The grip and the front of the camera were warm to the touch during the recording, but the camera body didn’t feel uncomfortably or dangerously hot.
In-body image stabilisation
Sony claims a maximum shutter speed compensation of 5.5EV for the A1’s SteadyShot image stabilisation. I found this a bit of a stretch with the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS at the 200mm end, with 4EV being closer to the mark. I got the odd image sharp at 1/3sec, which is around 6EV slower than you’d expect to use, but increasing the speed to 1/13sec (4 stops slower than you’d normally expect to use), I got around 50-60% of my images acceptably sharp.
In video mode, however, the A1 coped remarkably well with SteadyShot set to its ‘Standard’ mode when the same lens was mounted. I was using the lens hand-held, while I stood still or occasionally rested my hands on a post or rail as they supported the camera, and while there’s some movement, the results are better than I expected and better than I’ve seen from some other cameras at such long focal lengths. Switching on the ‘Active’ mode smooths things out a bit more albeit at the expense of a slight crop to the framing.
After shooting with the Sony A1 for a while, it becomes apparent that it doesn’t burn out highlights or block up shadows too readily. At the low sensitivity settings, its dynamic range is very good, in fact, even its Jpegs can withstand heft brightening if you should need to protect the brightest highlights. Naturally, raw files make a better choice if you want to make and post-capture adjustment.
Sony A1 sample images
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Sony A1 Image Gallery
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Sony A1 sample video
This short video was shot on the Sony A1 set to XAVC HS 4K at 100p and 200M 4:2:0 10bit. The footage was shot hand-held with the SteadyShot stabilisation set to ‘Standard’ (‘Active’ isn’t available with the selected resolution, frame rate and file format). The lens was a Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS and the focal length varied throughout the filming. It was an almost windless (but rainy) day and the audio was recorded by the onboard mic. The white balance was set to Automatic, exposure was set manually.
The Sony A1 was set up in a similar way to before but using XAVC HS 4K mode at 100p and 200M 4:2:0 8bit.
The Sony A1 is a complex and versatile camera that has features beyond what’s available with top-flight DSLRs. It also successfully combines high-resolution with speed and has a staggeringly good autofocus system that can keep pace with the high frame rates.
Increasingly, we use the term ‘content creation’ to cover what many professional photographers now do, for many, video has become an integral part of the job. The Sony A1 enables professionals to capture both high-quality video and great stills. There are also video resolutions, file formats and frame rates to suit a wide range of situations, but recording 8K footage is likely to demand a computer upgrade. thankfully, the 8K technology can also be used to produce even high quality 4K video in-camera. And of course, raw 4K footage can also be recorded externally.
Sony’s new interface makes a marked improvement, and as with the Sony A7S III, it’s just that bit easier to find the options you want on the A1. However, it would be nice if the camera could give a bit more information about which settings need to be changed when you attempt to select a setting that’s incompatible with the current arrangement. It does so on some occasions but leaves you guessing on others.
The revamped touch control is also very good and you can’t help but wonder why Sony has taken so long to introduce it – but it’s here now.
While it’s aimed at professional photographers and content creators, the A1 makes capturing great images and video easy, and the AF system goes a long way to ensuring that you get the best from your lenses and the camera’s resolution.
It’s a phenomenal camera in many ways, but the error message that it gives after enduring heavy rain gives me slight concern about the weatherproofing. If I were to spend £6,500/$6,500 on it, I’d also invest in a suitable rain cover just to be on the safe side, at least until the A1 is a bit older and we have more information about its longevity.