I recently had the opportunity to try out Sony’s new a1 full-frame camera. With specs like 8K 10-bit video, 30fps continuous shooting and amazing autofocus, the a1 has gotten a ton of hype since it was announced. It goes head-to-head against Canon’s EOS R5, which is a great camera in its own right.
Coming off a TIPA award for the Best Full-Frame Professional Camera, does the a1 live up to the hype? Definitely.
Out of the box, the a1 looks very similar to Sony’s sports-centric camera, the a9 II. You’ll find a combined focus mode and drive mode dial on the top left of the camera, as well as the standard mode dial on the top right. There’s nothing completely shocking here, though I did appreciate the dedicated BKT option for quick access to bracketing options. That said, the camera does a really great job at putting all of the options in your fingertips, which is necessary for a professional camera like this.
The camera feels really nice in the hands. Sony has increasingly put more of an emphasis on ergonomics in its past few cameras, and it shows. The grip is deep to hold my hand comfortably, and I never felt like I lost control with it. While the padding could be a tad bit softer, I’m nitpicking at best.
One thing that did throw me for a loop is, oddly, the memory card door. Unlike Sony’s other cameras, which are spring-loaded, the a1 has you push down on a latch and then to the left. I didn’t realize this at first, as it was not the normal for the company.
Fast, accurate autofocus with great picture quality
While the a1 competes nicely in the video space, I was more interested with its photography capabilities — mainly the 30fps high-speed offering. I utilized this a bit while photographing pop-up performers in the city, and was able to get the Grand Rapids Circus making several fast movements high in the sky.
The 10fps mechanical shutter was equally impressive, especially with tracking, with it locking in on the focus of the performers, even with a busy background. Needless to say the autofocus capabilities blew me away — nearly every photograph was in-focus despite some very fast, unpredictable movements.
If you’re used to shooting action, the a1 will fit in well with your expectations … it might even exceed it. The other nice thing is that the a1 is super quiet. Even with the mechanical shutter, the sound is barely audible.
The picture quality is excellent, and the 50.1-megapixel files allowed me to crop in with ease. This was really highlighted when I photographed a few portraits with the new Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM.
Another huge plus for the a1 is better weather sealing and dust resistance. With my a7 III, I usually have to clean the sensor every two weeks. During my two weeks with the a1, in which I used it heavily, I never had to clean it once. I never saw any dust spots or anything unexpected, and when it did get a little wet from rain, the sensor stayed completely dry.
A few minor misses
All that said, the a1 does fall flat in one area — low light. I used the camera while photographing a pop-up marketplace, and was forced to shoot at ISO 8000 in some situations. Where my a7 III would have hardly any noise, the a1 had a bit more. While the photos were still certainly usable, if you’re shooting in low light often, it’s something to consider.
The a1 also produces pretty big files. Meaning if you’re photographing an event, your computer might be a little slow to process or export the photos. It’s a minor point, but if you regularly photograph events, a high-megapixel camera might not be right for you (in which case, I’d encourage you to look at the a9 II).
Finally, I would have loved if Sony had a fully articulating screen instead of just a tilt screen. While it adopted the new touch screen menu from the a7S III, it didn’t adopt being able to flip the screen around or place it at various different angles. As someone who’s had articulating screens before, I can tell you this can be a super nice feature.
Despite that, the a1 was a really, really nice camera to use, and it exceeded my expectations overall.
- Lens mount: Sony E
- Camera format: Full frame
- Sensor: 50.1 megapixels CMOS
- Image file format: JPEG, RAW, HEIF
- Bit depth: 14-bit
- Image stabilization: Sensor-shift, 5-axis
- ISO sensitivity: 100–32,000 (extended 50–102,400)
- Continuous shooting: Up to 30fps electronic / 10fps mechanical
Will I buy it?
Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love the a1. It’s Sony’s flagship camera for a reason … it blew me away. But because I shoot events — often in low light — I won’t be buying it. I can only hope that some of the technology in the a1 trickles down into Sony’s other cameras though. The 30fps, the Real-Time AF tracking … I’d love to see those in the much-rumored a7 IV.
But if you’re a portrait, landscape or wildlife photographer, this is by-far the best camera you can get on the market today.
Sony Alpha 1 Mirrorless Digital Camera
A flagship in the truest sense, the Sony Alpha 1 is the one camera designed to do it all. Built without compromise, this full-frame mirrorless offers high-resolution for stills shooting, impressive 8K video recording, speed and sensitivity, and connectivity for the most demanding professional workflows.