The Sony Alpha 1, or Sony A1 for short, recently touched down in end-of-level boss fashion, with the 50MP full-frame camera boasting previously unheard of power and specs for such a small mirrorless body.
Part of the Sony A1's shock factor was the result of the camera being kept completely under wraps without a single leak, a real rarity these days. But now the dust and glitter has settled, is it really the most powerful camera we've seen and a default choice for pro shooters of all stripes?
That still remains to be seen, but we're starting to get a clearer picture from the first shots of the Sony A1 in the wild. Based on specs alone, there's no doubt the A1 is the McLaren supercar of the photographic world – this Canon EOS R5 rival is effectively three pro cameras in one, with 30fps burst shooting for sports snappers, 50MP full-frame resolution for landscape photographers and 8K video for filmmakers.
But what's the camera like beyond those headline specs and how long have you got to save up for one? We have all the answers in this round-up of the Sony Alpha 1's release date, specs, features and early hands-on impressions.
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Sony Alpha 1 release date and price
The Sony Alpha 1, which also answers informally to the name Sony A1, will be available to buy from February in Australia, and March worldwide.
As you'd expect, the Alpha 1 doesn't exactly come with an entry-level price tag. It'll cost $6,500 / £6,500 / AU$10,499 when it's available from late-February (AU) and March (US and UK), which gives you plenty of time to sell your car or remortgage.
Of course, realistically it's a professional camera for photojournalists and filmmakers, but that's still a fair bit more expensive than the Sony A9 II, which arrived for $4,500 / £4,800 (around AU$8,510). It also makes the Canon EOS R5, which costs $3,899 / £4,199 / AU$6,899, look relatively affordable.
Then again, the Sony A1 brings a combination of features that we haven't quite seen on any hybrid mirrorless camera so far.
Sony Alpha 1 specs and features
The Sony A1 is a full-frame 50.1MP camera, but that somewhat undersells what it can do. Thanks to a pair of new Bionz XR processors, it's an absolute brute for both sports shooting and high-resolution video.
For example, the combination of those processors and the Sony A1's stacked CMOS sensor means you can shoot JPEG photos at 30fps when using the electronic shutter, which is impressive for a full-frame camera with this resolution.
By comparison, the Canon EOS R5 tops out at 20fps with its electronic shutter and has a slightly smaller buffer. Whereas the EOS R5 can shoot 350 JPEGs or 180 raw files in a single burst, the Sony A1 can manage 400 JPEGs or 238 raw files in one sequence. Even with full AF tracking, the Sony A1 can apparently shoot up to 165 JPEGs or 155 raw images without pausing for a break.
That processing power is also very helpful when it comes to autofocus. The A1 has a slightly ridiculous 759 AF points covering 93% of its sensor, but more importantly it delivers Real-time Eye AF for birds, which is a first for a Sony Alpha camera.
Sony's autofocus has been class-leading for a while now and adding birds to its Eye AF for animals will be a popular addition. That said, we've already seen something similar on the Canon EOS R5, whose Animal Eye AF blew us away, so it'll be interesting to see how the Sony Alpha 1 compares in real-world shooting.
Naturally, you also get Real-time Eye AF for people and other animals (most notably, dogs and cats). And Sony says the Alpha 1 can do 120 autofocus and auto-exposure calculations per second, which is apparently double the amount possible on the Sony A9 II. We're looking forward to taking that for a spin on a challenging autofocus circuit.
On top of the Sony A1 is a similar viewfinder to the Sony A7S III, which is very good news. This has a 9.44-million dot resolution with a 0.90x magnification, while the refresh rate is now 240fps (which is again ideal for sports shooters). We haven't seen a viewfinder with this kind of refresh rate before – it might just be the one to tempt fans of DSLR optical viewfinders over to mirrorless.
You also get what appears to be the same in-body image stabilization (IBIS) system we've seen on previous Alpha cameras like the Sony A9 II, which promises the usual 5.5-stops of compensation.
Perhaps the only less-than-futuristic touch on the Sony A1 is that it has a tilting touchscreen, rather than a fully articulating one. This screen is also quite low-resolution, at 1.44-million dots (800 x 600 pixels). But this is a professional camera, so the focus is very much on the EVF.
Fortunately, you do also get that lovely new menu system that we saw on the Sony A7S III. And what's most impressive about the Sony Alpha 1 is how it combines a pro stills skills with super-powerful video features like the ones below, in one relatively compact body.
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Sony Alpha 1 video specs
Along with its headline 8K resolution, the Sony A1 brings a few video firsts for a Sony mirrorless camera.
The camera can shoot 8K/30p video using the full width of its sensor (in other words, without digital tricks like pixel binning) and promises to manage that for an impressive 30 minutes, too.
That's all thanks to some similar heat dissipation tech to the kind we saw on the Sony A7S III, although that camera topped out at 4K resolution. We'll have to see how it performs in the real world, but on paper it's shaping up to be a slightly more practical 8K camera than the Canon EOS R5, which has a max 8K/30p shooting time of 20 minutes.
While the Sony A1's 8K video is shot with 10-bit 4:2:0 bit depth and color sampling, it can also shoot 4K in 10-bit 4:2:2 video internally – and that includes in slo-mo 120p. Pro shooters will also be pleased to hear that it can output 16-bit raw video over its HDMI port, too.
In fact, Sony has provided an impressive taster of the Alpha 1's video skills in the sample below (even if your screen or internet connection probably can't quite handle that 8K resolution yet).
Further underlining the Sony A1's pro leanings are its connectivity are card slots. You get two CFExpress Type A slots (which also accept UHS-II SD cards) along with some impressive wireless transfer tech for journalists.
There's a built-in Ethernet connection and also dual-band Wi-Fi that apparently supports FTP transfers that are 3.5x faster than the Sony A9 II. Yes, this camera is very much built for the Tokyo Olympics.
Sony Alpha 1 hands-on impressions
We've now seen the first Sony A1 unboxings and hands-ons appear on YouTube, although relatively have managed to do any in-depth testing in the field.
One of the exceptions is YouTuber Tony Northrup, who has put together a list of mixed first impressions compared to the Canon EOS R5 based on 36 hours with the A1.
On the plus side, he found the Sony A1's EVF to be excellent with no lag, even going as far as suggesting it could be a reason to upgrade from a Sony A7R IV or Sony A9 II for sports and action shooting. For those who have resolutely stuck to DSLRs, he said it was "equal to an optical viewfinder" in terms of a lag-free view of your scene.
He also praised the grip and handling, although found the two-way tilt screen a little limiting for shooting in portrait. Interestingly, his early tests found the new Bird Eye AF to be inferior to the Canon EOS R5, although subject-tracking remains class-leading.
What about continuous shooting? Sony's claims of 30fps burst shooting stood up in Tony Northrup's tests, although only for still subjects – when it came to moving subjects like birds with a 600mm f/4 lens, though, the best he got was 19fps.
This suggests the real-world difference between the A1 and Canon EOS R5, which shoots at 20fps, might not be quite as dramatic as the A1's specs suggest, but more testing is certainly needed.
Another positive was an almost complete lack of rolling shutter for stills, although his early tests did find that, when shooting artificial light, not all the electronic shutter-related banding issues had been solved. Still, the Sony A1's battery life certainly appears to be strong, losing only 31% of its charge after taking 5,500 shots, managing 23 minutes of continuous 8K video with 17% of the battery remaining.
There were mixed results when it came to overheating, which was an issue that plagued the Canon EOS R5 before some firmware fixes. In the Sony A1's 'standard' mode, it stopped recording after 16 minutes, but in 'high' mode (where the camera tolerates more heat before it shuts down) it kept going for an impressive 80 minutes, split into three segments.
It appears that the Sony A1's claim of 30 minutes of continuous 8K recording is, then, based on a middle ground between these two modes, but we again need to put it through its paces in different environments to get a clearer real-world picture.
We thought Sony's introduction of the Alpha 1 as some kind of photographic equivalent of Neo from The Matrix must be overkill, but on paper it really does have super-camera credentials.
That said, we were similarly blown away by the Canon EOS R5's specs when it launched, before running into some minor but notable real-world limitations. So while the Sony A1 is undoubtedly one of the most exciting cameras ever made, it also has a lot to prove to justify that high-end price tag.
For example, the Sony A1 costs more than a Canon EOS R5 and a Canon EOS R6 combined. Can the A1's performance possibly justify that premium, or would two of Canon's latest RF cameras be the better option for all but the most high-profile photographers?
The headline spec for action photographers is that ability to shoot 50MP stills at 30fps with full AF/AE tracking. Wildlife snappers will also be pleased to see birds added to Sony's excellent Real-time Eye AF, though early reports so far suggest that could be inferior to the Canon EOS R5's excellent system.
Still, there's a tasty menu of options for video shooters, too, who will mostly be attracted by the Sony A1's 4K video powers. That includes a 4K/120p mode, which isn't available on the Sony A9 II, along with the possibility of cropping from that headline 8K/30p mode.
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. We'll let you know in our full review very soon.
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