During Sony’s ‘the one never seen’ case, the latest Sony Alpha 1, or Sony A1 for short, was just officially announced, and the 50MP full-framer is the most powerful mirrorless camera we’ve ever seen.
Impressively, in the run-up to the big revelation, Sony managed to keep the Sony A1 fully under wraps without leaks or rumours. But the hybrid powerhouse is now official, and for camera lovers, it’s an enormous launch. In short, it is turning up to be the photographic world’s Lamborghini Huracan EVO.
For the first time, the Sony Alpha 1 incorporates a 50MP full-frame sensor with 30fps burst recording, a trick that would leave salivating sports photographers. But the Canon EOS R5 rival, with 8K video shooting and comparable heat dissipation to the Sony A7S III, still claims to be an incredibly capable video platform.
The Sony A1 crams in the kind of tech and features that we haven’t seen in a hybrid camera before, based on what looks like an identical chassis to the Sony A9 II. Here’s how it’s shaping up, and how much you can expect to pay for Olympics duty before it comes.
Sony Alpha 1 release date and price
As of March, the Sony Alpha 1, which also refers informally to the name Sony A1, will be available for purchase. Sony has not yet disclosed an exact date for various regions, but as soon as it does, we will update this article.
The Alpha 1 does not exactly come with an entry-level price tag, as you might expect. When it’s available from late-February (AU) and March (US and UK), it’ll cost $6,500 / £6,500 / AU$10,499, which allows you plenty of time to sell your vehicle or remortgage.
Realistically, of course, it’s a professional camera for photojournalists and actors, but that’s also a little more pricey than the Sony A9 II, which came in for $4,500 / £4,800 (around AU$8,510). Then again, the Sony A1 brings a blend of features that we haven’t seen on any mirrorless hybrid camera yet.
Sony Alpha 1 Specification and Features
The Sony Alpha 1 is a 50.1MP full-frame sensor, but that undersells what it can do somewhat. Thanks to a pair of new Bionz XR processors, both sports shooting and high-resolution video make it an absolute brute.
For instance, the combination of those processors and the stacked CMOS sensor of the Sony A1 means that when using the electronic shutter, you can shoot JPEG photos at 30fps, which is impressive for a full-frame camera with this resolution.
For contrast, with its mechanical shutter, the Canon EOS R5 caps out at 20fps and has a much narrower buffer. Whereas the EOS R5 can fire 350 JPEGs or 180 raw files in a single burst, 400 JPEGs or 238 raw files can be handled in one series by the Sony A1. Even with complete AF monitoring, without pausing for a break, the Sony A1 will obviously fire up to 165 JPEGs or 155 raw images.
When it comes to autofocus, the computing power is also very useful. The A1 has a slightly insane 759 AF points covering 93% of its lens, but more significantly, it provides the birds with Real-time Eye AF, a first for a Sony Alpha camera.
For a while now, Sony’s autofocus has been class-leading and a common addition would be adding birds to its Eye AF for wildlife. That said, on the Canon EOS R5, whose Animal Eye AF blew us away, we’ve already seen something similar, so it’ll be fascinating to see how the Sony Alpha 1 in real-world shooting compares.
You still have Real-time Eye AF for humans and other species, of course (most notably, dogs and cats). And Sony claims the Alpha 1 can do 120 measurements of autofocus and auto-exposure per second, which on the Sony A9 II is obviously twice the amount necessary.
A close viewfinder to the Sony A7S III is positioned on top of the Sony Alpha 1, which is really positive news. This has a dot resolution of 9.44 million with a magnification of 0.90x, although the refresh rate is currently 240fps (which is again ideal for sports shooters).
You also get what seems to be the same mechanism of in-body image stabilization (IBIS) we have seen on previous Alpha cameras such as the Sony A9 II, as it promises the normal compensation of 5.5 stops. Perhaps the only less-than-futuristic touch on the Sony A1 is that, rather than being entirely articulated, it has a tilting touchscreen.
You also have the lovely new menu structure we saw on the Sony A7S III. And what’s most exciting about the Sony Alpha A1 is how it blends pro stills abilities in a comparatively lightweight body with super-powerful video features like the ones below.
Check Out: The Best Sony Full-Frame Cameras
Sony Alpha A1 Video Specification
The Sony A1 carries a few video firsts for a Sony mirrorless camera alongside its headline 8K resolution.
Using the full width of its sensor (in other words, without optical tricks like pixel binning), the camera scans 8K/30p footage and claims to handle it for an incredible 30 minutes, too.
That’s all thanks to a similar heat dissipation technology to the kind we saw on the Sony A7S III, although at 4K resolution, that camera topped out. We’re going to have to see how it works in the real world, but it’s shaping up on paper to be a much more realistic 8K camera for the Canon EOS R5, which has a 20-minute maximum shooting time of 8K/30p.
While the 8K video of the Sony A1 is shot with 10-bit 4:2:0 bit depth and color sampling, it can also internally shoot 4K in 10-bit 4:2:2 video and that includes 120p in slo-mo. Pro shooters would also be delighted to hear that its HDMI port can also output 16-bit raw video.
In fact, in the sample below, Sony has given an amazing taster of the video skills of the Alpha 1 (even if your screen or internet access can not yet support the 8K resolution).
Its connectivity are card slots that further highlight the Sony A1’s pro leanings. As well as some impressive wireless transfer technologies for journalists, you get two CFExpress Type A slots (which also accept UHS-II SD cards).
There is a built-in Ethernet and dual-band Wi-Fi link that supposedly facilitates FTP transfers that are 3.5x faster than the Sony A9 II. Yeah, the Olympics in Tokyo are very much built for this camera.
We figured Sony’s launch of the Alpha 1 had to be overkill as a sort of photographic version of Neo from The Matrix, but it really has super-camera credentials on film.
That all comes at a massive expense, of course, and for the ordinary photographer, it’s not a camera, unless you just got really lucky with a lottery scratchcard. But the Sony A1 is pioneering some innovative features that could filter down to truly inexpensive cameras (one day).
The capacity to take 50MP stills at 30fps with complete AF/AE monitoring, albeit with the electronic shutter, is the headline spec for action photographers. Wildlife snappers will also be delighted to see birds added to the excellent Real-time Eye AF from Sony, and we are looking forward to seeing how that corresponds to the excellent device of the Canon EOS R5.
There’s also a delicious menu of choices for video shooters, who will mostly be drawn to the 4K video capabilities of the Sony A1. This includes the 4K/120p mode, which is not available on the Sony A9 II, along with the 8K/30p headline mode option.
Overall, what’s most amazing about the Sony Alpha 1 is how in one comparatively compact 737g body it blends these cutting-edge stills and video abilities. Still, much like the athletes planning to shoot at the Olympics in Tokyo, all that needs to be seen is how it really works.