Mirrorless Cameras

Sony Alpha 1 the flagship mirrorless full frame camera announced: Monstrous specs at a killer price

Sony is making a play for the top end of the professional digital camera world, where videographers and sports photographers demand immaculate image quality at high resolutions in short order. The new Alpha 1 or Sony A1 for short, beats pretty much everything on the market on paper, but it’ll set you back a solid $6,500. This is above the price range of ordinary consumers or spendy prosumers, but for trendy photography enthusiasts, this is just another day in paradise.

Sony Alpha 1 stand out features

The Alpha A1 is Sony’s most technologically advanced camera to date and combines high-resolution and high-speed performance.

It’s Equipped with a new 50.1-megapixel full-frame stacked Exmor RS image sensor with integral memory and upgraded BIONZ XR imaging processing engine with eight times more processing power, the Alpha 1 is capable of 8K 30p 10-bit 4:2:0 video recording.

Fast sensor readout enables up to 120 AF/AE calculations per second, which is double the speed of the Alpha 9 II, enabling blackout-free continuous shooting at 30 fps. The new camera also includes the following features:

New Sony Exmor RS Sensor

The newly developed image sensor has memory integrated into it and it’s paired with an upgraded BIONZ XR imaging processing engine. This combination enables 50.1Mp images to be shot continuously at 30fps with up to 120 AF/AE calculations per second.

9.44 million dot OLED Viewfinder

The Sony A 1 has a 9.44 million dot OLED Quad-XGA electronic viewfinder, with a refresh rate of up to 240 fps, ensuring no blackout. (claims to be the “world’s first”)

This impressive refresh rate should ensure a smooth display even with very fast-moving subjects.

What’s more, the viewfinder doesn’t black out when a shot is taken, giving seamless framing and tracking when shooting continuously.

The 9.44 million-dot (approx.), 0.64 type Quad-XGA high-definition OLED display and refined optics deliver the highest resolution in its class. It also offers 0.90x viewfinder magnification, a 41° diagonal FOV, and a 25mm-high eyepoint for clear, low distortion viewing from corner to corner.

Continuous Shooting at Up to 30fps

Thanks to its high-speed readout from its 50.1Mp image sensor and a 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 with the electronic shutter with full AF and AE tracking performance.

With focusing and metering calculations made at up to 120 per second, the Alpha 1 is said to focus accuracy on fast-moving subjects. It can automatically adjust exposure, when there are rapid changes in brightness and the AE response latency said to be as short as 0.033 seconds.

Front view of the Sony Alpha 1 with no lens fitted. (Source: Sony.)

Advanced Autofocus

According to the manufacturer, the Sony A1 can track complex, fast-moving subjects precisely and with ease. It has 759 phase detection AF points on the image sensor, covering around 92% of the image area.

Thanks to the BIONZ XR processing engines, the Sony A1’s advanced Real-time Eye AF improves eye detection performance by 30% over the previous system.

It is said to detect the subject’s eye even when they look away from the camera.

In addition to improved Real-time Eye AF for humans and animals, 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.

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.

Sony A1
Top view of the Alpha 1 with no lens fitted. (Source: Sony.)

Silent, Vibration-free Electronic Shutter

Because of the high-speed readout from the Sony A1’s new sensor rolling shutter effect has been reduced by up to 1.5 times when shooting stills, in comparison with the Alpha 9 II.

Using the elctronic shutter, it’s also possible to shoot continuously and silently with anti-flicker. that’s good news when shooting indoors under florescent 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.

Angled rear view of the Alpha 1 showing the tilting monitor screen. (Source: Sony.)

Dual Driven Shutter System for 1/400 Flash Sync

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 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 ensire for 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).

In addition, 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 capturing 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.

8K 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.

 

Video Formats

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.

Heat-dissipating Structure

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.

What else?

Other features that the Alpha 1 offers include;

  • 16-bit RAW output to an external recorder via HDMI for maximum post-production flexibility
  • a digital audio interface in the Multi Interface (MI) Shoe for clearer audio recordings from a compatible Sony external microphone
  • 5.8K oversampled full pixel readout without pixel binning for high-resolution 4K movies in Super 35mm mode
Sony A1

Enhanced Workflow

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.

File Formats

In addition to compressed and uncompressed RAW, the Sony A1 hass lossless compression with no quality degradation, Lossless Compressed RAW. There is also a new ‘Light’ JPEG/HEIF image quality setting that results in smaller files than the ‘Standard’ setting, allowing faster deliver for news and sports photographers.

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 provide more realistic reproduction of skies and portrait subjects. Images shot on the Alpha 1 can be trimmed in-camera to a desired aspect ratio, size, or position for versatile usage.

The Alpha 1 is also compatible with a variety of apps, add-ons and tools. With Imaging Edge Mobile and Imaging Edge Desktop, professionals 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 professionals 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.

Sony A1

Reliable and Easy Operability

Professional users also need reliability and durability from their camera. With this in mind, the Sony A1 has two media slots that both support UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards, as well as new CFexpress Type A cards for higher overall capacity and faster read/write speeds.

It also has a magnesium alloy chassis, long battery life with the Z-battery (which can be extended using the optional VG-C4EM Vertical Grip), an improved dust removal feature, shutter close function on power-off to protect image sensor, plus dust and moisture resistance that maximises reliability in challenging environments.

The A1 also has a durable, reliable 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.

A revised menu structure provides easier navigation, and touch-responsive menu operation offers fast, more intuitive control with Touch Focus and Touch Tracking on its 3.0 type 1.44 million-dot (approx.) LCD monitor.

A subset of the camera’s shooting settings now changes according to the selected shooting mode, making it easier than ever to use different aperture, shutter speed and other settings for shooting stills and movies.

Rear view of the Alpha 1 showing the dual card slots. (Source: Sony.)

Storage

The Alpha 1 has dual media slots that support UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards, as well as new CFexpress Type A cards for higher overall capacity and faster read/write speeds.

It also features a durable magnesium alloy chassis, long battery life with the Z-battery which can be extended using the optional VG-C4EM Vertical Grip (sold separately). Other features include an improved dust removal feature, shutter close function on power-off to protect image sensor, plus dust and moisture resistance that maximises reliability in challenging environments.

A durable, reliable HDMI Type-A connector and USB PD (Power Delivery) support allow higher power to be supplied from an external source so that users can record for extended periods with minimal internal battery usage.

Takeaway

At first, Sony’s introduction of the Alpha 1 is like some kind of photographic equivalent of Neo from The Matrix which looks overkill, but on paper it really does have super-camera credentials.

Of course, that all comes at a huge cost and it’s not a camera for the average photographer, unless you just got very lucky with a lottery scratchcard. But the Sony A1 does pioneer some exciting features that might (one day) trickle down to genuinely affordable cameras.

Overall, what’s really impressive about the Sony Alpha 1 is how it combines these cutting-edge stills and video skills in one relatively small 737g body. Now, just like the athletes it’s hoping to shoot at the Tokyo Olympics, all that remains to be seen is how it performs in reality.

Kiran Fernandes

Kiran is your friendly neighbourhood tech enthusiast who's passionate about all kinds of tech, goes crazy over 4G and 5G networks, and has recently sparked an interest in sci-fi and cosmology.

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