Sony A1 review

Verdict

The Sony Alpha 1 becomes the most powerful all-round mirrorless camera to date, essentially combining the best of Sony’s existing A7 and A9 bodies. While Sony’s previous bodies were also strong all-rounders, each had a speciality whether it was the highest resolution from the A7r, most sophisticated video from the A7s, or sheer speed from the A9. Now the Alpha 1 gives you the best of all Worlds in a single camera. Sure the 61 Megapixel A7r IV may slightly out-resolve it, but the Alpha 1 comes very close to its photo quality while outpacing the A9 on speed and delivering 8k that’s absent on the A7s. There’s literally nothing that can deliver this combination of top-end features.

It all works well too. Lots of cameras exploit electronic shutters for fast speeds, but only Sony so far has managed to sufficiently minimise rolling shutter to actually make them practical for most subjects. Individual images are packed with more detail than most cameras whether you’re shooting individual frames or 30 of them a second, and the AF system consistently delivered an almost faultless hit rate, although you may need to adjust the settings and use Sony lenses for the fastest speeds. The degree of connectivity and workflow possibilities are impressive and while the viewfinder may force you to choose between detail, refresh rate and size, it still delivered the best overall experience I’ve seen from an electronic panel. The quality in 4k and 8k video is also tremendous while avoiding the overheating and half hour clip limitations suffered by Canon. This camera really does seem to do it all, albeit with a hefty six and a half grand price tag to match.

Ironically though, by becoming the ultimate all-rounder and lacking a speciality, it becomes harder to pinpoint the target audience and justify the cost to them. The Alpha 1 is supremely capable but with models like Canon’s EOS R5 coming very close in photo and video quality at a considerably lower price, Sony has to push its truly unique selling point of shooting 50 Megapixel images at 30fps – something the R5 cannot do.

This then makes the Alpha 1 the ultimate camera for high-end sports and wildlife shooters who desire the fastest speeds but also plenty of resolution to crop. The question these photographers need to ask themselves then is whether the cheaper A9 or indeed the EOS R5 are already detailed and fast enough, especially when using specific lenses or files that have restrictions on the Alpha 1, or if the similarly-priced 1Dx III or D6 are a better option. For me the pro DSLRs are interesting as while the Alpha 1 significantly outperforms them on speed and resolution, the Canon and Nikon flagship bodies continue to look and feel very different. Now I haven’t bashed any of them around so can’t say if one is particularly tougher than another, but I’m sure there’s demand for a flagship full-frame mirrorless camera with a built-in portrait grip – something that looks like the Olympus EM1X. Indeed at the time I made this review, Nikon had already revealed its upcoming Z-9 pro mirrorless camera featured a built-in grip and I’m sure Canon will inevitably do something similar for a future flagship, and these are the models we should be comparing the Alpha 1 against. At that point would the Alpha 1 look and feel less professional than its arch rivals, or enjoy a unique lead in mobility instead? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

If you’re more into pure photo quality, there are also higher resolution alternatives to consider. Sony’s own A7r IV technically out-resolves the Alpha 1 at a little less than half the price and I should add while its AF covers a smaller area and it ‘only’ shoots at 10fps, it’s still fast enough for a lot of sports and wildlife. Or for the same money as the Alpha 1, you could actually go medium format with the Fujifilm GFX 100S and capture 100 Megapixel images. Sure there’s fewer lenses and building a system could end up costing more, but landscape, studio and portrait shooters may prefer that route.

Ultimately the Alpha 1 is a jack of all trades and impressively a master of many of them all too, but you have to ask yourself if you really need a camera that does so much at such a high level. Is that my complaint then? That it does everything well and that few owners would truly exploit all of its capabilities and therefore justify its price? Is it more of a demonstration of Sony’s unrivalled sensor technology trying to find a body and a customer? A few things are certain, not least that it makes Canon’s EOS R5 look like pretty good value. I can’t wait to see what Canon and Nikon have planned for their pro mirrorless bodies.

Check prices on the Sony Alpha 1 at B&H, AdoramaWEX or Calumet.de! Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
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