Sony A1 Camera: Hands-On Review

I’ve been shooting with the Sony Alpha 1 (A1) camera— the company’s new full-frame flagship camera — for a few weeks now and recently took it on a photography trip. Below I’ll be covering my impressions on the camera’s ergonomics, usability, image quality, and performance.

Key Features of the Sony A1 Camera

  • Weather-sealed body
  • 50 MP (8640 x 5760 pixels) Full frame BSI-CMOS sensor
  • ISO 100 – 32000 (expandable to 50 and 102400)
  • Continuous 30 fps with electronic shutter
  • Eye AF and tracking for both video and stills
  • 530-shot CIPA rated battery life
  • Dual USH-II/CFexpress Type A card slots
  • 0” tilting touchscreen (1.44M dot resolution)
  • 44M dot OLED EVF (0.9X magnification)
  • 5 stops of CIPA rated image stabilization
  • 8K/30p video capable
  • Wifi and NFC capable
  • 737 g (1.62 lb)

Resolution and Sensor

The headline feature of the A1 is — of course — the 50 MP Back Side Illuminated (BSI) CMOS full-frame sensor capable of 30 frames per second bursts and 8K video recording. I mainly photograph landscapes and birds so having 30 fps is critical to capturing the perfect moment as a raptor snatches a fish or a bird turns its head.

The dynamic range (DR) and noise profile at base and high ISO are also impressive. On the Sony A7RIV camera, DR was stellar at base ISO but not super great at high ISO. Conversely, on the A9/A9II camera, DR and noise profile were stellar at high ISO but not up-to-par at the lower ISO. The A1 gives us the best of both systems. I no longer need to carry around graduated neutral density filters or do extensive exposure bracketing to achieve optimal brightness in my images. For example, for a sunset shot, I just expose for the sky and let the foreground go dark. In post-processing, I can bring back all the shadow detail with minimal noise penalty.

Photo by Mahesh Thapa

Camera Body and Ergonomics

The A1 feels sturdy and substantial in the hand — mainly because of the large grip.  I have medium-sized hands and the grip feels perfect even with gloves on. The buttons are very responsive, large, and have excellent travel distance.

The A1 sports a lock button for the exposure compensation dial and the drive mode so your settings won’t accidently change. In addition, the focusing method can be selected with another dial below the drive dial. I love having all these physical dials and buttons right on the camera. I don’t have to go diving in the settings to make changes and I can see exactly what my parameters are by looking at the top of my camera. The weather sealing is also top-notch. I’ve shot this camera in pouring rain and close to waterfalls with heavy mist with no trouble. The camera has dual UHS-II slots and can accommodate CFexpress Type A cards.

The high-resolution OLED electronic viewfinder is 9.44M dots and a pleasure to look through. I know many people prefer optical viewfinders, but I love electronic viewfinders because they provide real-time feedback on setting changes such as white balance and exposure values.

The Sony A1 uses the workhorse FP-Z100 battery which seemingly lasts forever. Even in cold environments, I was able to get well over 600 shots per battery. If you’ve forgotten your charger, you can charge the battery in camera using the USB 3.0 type C port. The port also allows you to attach external battery packs so you can shoot very long exposures or extended time lapses.

Photo by Mahesh Thapa

Shooting with the Sony A1

The A1 is a speed demon. I never felt like I was waiting for the camera. It was always waiting and ready for whatever I needed to throw at it. The electronic shutter is lightning fast and minimizes rolling shutter while allowing for 1/200 flash sync speed! The viewfinder is amazingly detailed with absolutely no blackout. And, for the first time ever, Sony is providing lossless compressed Raw images (at up to 20 fps bursts).

The video features are equally impressive. The A1 not only offers the same specs as the video-centric a7SIII but, because the A1 sports a much higher resolution sensor, it is able to produce 8K footage. This footage uses the full width of the sensor and is capable of internal capturing at 10-but 4:2:0 H.265. If you’d like to stream your footage, you can do so easily via the full-sized HDMI port at 8-bit 4:2:0. It also goes without saying that the A9 sports 3.5mm headphone and mic ports.

As a landscape photographer, I was especially intrigued by the multi-shot mode offered by the A1. It can combine 4 or 16 shots to create up to a whopping 200MP image! The detail in such images needs to be seen to be believed.

I’m excited to mention that the new menu system has also made it to the A1. I love the organization and how everything is now responsive to touch.  The separation of stills and video settings is also highly appreciated.

Photo by Mahesh Thapa

Wish List

The OLED viewfinder is undoubtedly class-leading. My wish is that Sony would made the rear-screen a bit bigger and slightly higher resolution. The 30 fps is amazing, but keep in mind that value is highly dependent on the lens you have on the body. The 30 fps is not available on all lenses. Finally, we still have to manually choose bird, human, or animal for eye autofocus. It would be great if the camera just knew what type of subject I was pointing the camera at. Nonetheless, the Sony A1 camera is truly an all-star piece of equipment.

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