At the very end of January 2021, Sony introduced a brand new full-frame hybrid, the Alpha 1 (A1). Positioned at the top of the range, the device must also be positioned as one of the best cameras on the market. It only remains for us to verify that …
Sony’s hybrid range is divided into two: on the one hand, devices equipped with an APS-C sensor, which are quite compact and affordable, and on the other hand, full-frame 24×36 hybrids, which are larger and more expensive. And to impose itself at the top of the market, Sony unveiled the Alpha 1 (A1), the model which now covers the top of the pyramid of Sony’s product line.
The best technical sheet of 2021?
The idea is simple: with the Alpha 1 (A1), Sony does not want to leave any space for these competitors and offers a 24×36 hybrid of all superlatives. A new 50.1 megapixel Exmor RS CMOS sensor is paired with two Bionz XR processors. In this way, the very high definition is not an obstacle to the other characteristics.
On the contrary, the Alpha 1 (A1) is very fast, up to 30 fps in its fastest burst mode, with exposure metering and autofocus on each shot! Among other features, an 8K video mode which makes the device the second to offer such a definition, after the Canon EOS R5 .
So who is this giant destined for? If the versatility of the Alpha 1 (A1) is evident thanks to an impressive technical sheet, the 24×36 hybrid is aimed more particularly at the sports photographer, generally equipped with a SLR such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III or the Nikon D6 . Sony could not convince this very conservative niche with the previous Alpha 9 II (A9 II) . The Alpha 1 (A1) takes the speed of the A9 II and associates it with a resolution that could be compared to the Alpha 7R IV (A7R IV) .
We are still waiting for Canon and Nikon
Remember that Nikon and Canon have only recently entered the large sensor hybrid market, at the end of 2018. In this sense, neither of the two manufacturers has yet unveiled its solution for professional reporting or sports photography. We are still waiting for the hypothetical Canon EOS R1 or Nikon Z9, not to mention Panasonic which could also arrive on this market.
Presented in January 2021 by Sony, the Alpha 1 (A1) is marketed at € 7,300 in bare version.
Far from the imposing monoblocks that are the Nikon D6 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark III , the Alpha 1 (A1) is positioned in line with the rest of the single-digit Alpha range. Regulars of the brand will find themselves on familiar ground with ultimately few ergonomic changes. Sony had revised a few points – especially on the handle or the joystick – with the Alpha 7R IV (A7R IV) or the Alpha 7S III (A7S III) and takes them here on the Alpha 1 (A1). There are also some additions inherited from the Alpha 9 II (A9 II) .
A compact body that is too compact?
But before we take a look at the owner, let’s talk about the sticking point: the template. Sony has always gone for compact bodies, which we welcome. However, it is clear that there is little space available between the handle and the lens, which does not facilitate handling with large hands or with gloves.
If the handle has also improved over the years, it is still a little short in height, which is not necessarily suitable for large zooms. A gap compensated by an optional grip (350 €) compatible with the Alpha 9 II and the A7R IV . It can accommodate two additional batteries to improve the autonomy of the whole.
For the rest, the device is resolutely expert and its ergonomics suffers from few defects. It is above all about learning to modify the handling habits taken on other devices. On the right shoulder, in addition to the selection barrel for photo modes, exposure compensation or the rear dial, two control buttons are available to receive settings determined by the user.
On the left shoulder, there is a double barrel to select the frame rates or autofocus mode. Inherited from the Alpha 9 II (A9 II), the settings are well integrated and have a lock. At the rear, there are other configurable buttons in addition to the clickable toothed wheel. As most of the commands are configurable, more than 10 buttons can be assigned one of the available functions from a list of more than a hundred.
One of the best electronic sights on the market
Moreover Sony has taken two major evolutions of the hybrid dedicated to video Alpha 7S III (A7S III) . Without being perfect, the menus are clearer and more readable. In the oddities, to benefit from the instantaneous display – no display of the photo after release -, you must set the option to Off to actually activate it. Another example is that the help menus offer little explanation, but often a simple, unhelpful repetition of the option title.
The other advance inherited from the A7S III concerns the electronic viewfinder. A major development that positions Sony as one of the benchmarks in the field. With 0.9x magnification and a 9.44 million dot Oled panel, it’s going to be hard to beat! The display is so large that it may be difficult to visualize the information available in the corners.
Rest assured, we quickly get used to this luxury.
Up to 240 fps for sports
High definition is not enabled by default and is only achieved with the slowest refresh mode, at 60 fps. Once the option is activated, the image is very beautiful and very fine. To benefit from a faster display at 120 fps, the definition is reduced and the image loses quality slightly, while remaining more than adequate.
A refresh to 240 fps is also possible, but the aim is cropped and has “only” 5.76 million points. This crop is also available at any time for those who prefer it. Note also that the menus and information, in particular aiming aid, do not benefit from a high quality display commensurate with the available definition and that they will always be a little pixelated.
No screen ball, but a well-supplied connection
The screen remains multi-touch, even for navigating the menus. For the rest, it does not really change. If we could have hoped for better on this type of high-end device, it is still decent. On the other hand, Sony is ignoring the screen ball. A limited orientation on an axis is nevertheless possible.
For connectivity, we have rarely seen more complete: headphone jack, microphone, HDMI type A, RJ45, micro-USB (for accessories), Synchro flash and, finally, a USB-C USB 3.2 Gen 2. The latter allows theoretical transfers up to 10 Gb / s and the power supply of the device during the shooting. For wireless, 802.11ac 2X2 MIMO Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC are also present. Only the integrated GPS is missing.
A new memory card format
Also inherited from the Alpha 7S III, we find two storage slots, both SDXC and CFexpress Type A compatible. These latest compact cards are also very fast: they can reach a theoretical speed of 700 MB / s. , only two capacities are available (80 and 160 GB) and are quite expensive.
A still slow start
Once again, the autofocus is handled excellently by Sony. The Alpha 1 renews the excellent performances of the range and improves them. However, small flaws are still present and that’s a shame! The start is long, much too long. If we’ve managed to get an average of just over a second, it’s not uncommon to have to wait 1.5 seconds. The EOS R5 starts up in 0.76 seconds and the EOS-1D X Mark III SLR even reaches a quarter of a second! We are far from the mark, even if this is not a crucial criterion.
Another regret common to the brand’s cameras, the limited sequence of photos. For example, on a Panasonic Lumix S1 , pressing the shutter button repeatedly and quickly naturally activates a kind of burst mode. At Sony, to do this is literally to block the device. To go faster, you have to go through a dedicated setting which will waste precious time if several photos have to be taken unexpectedly.
For the rest, the A1 is excellent in all circumstances, with just a little slowdown in low light. The EOS R5 does a little better on this point. Special mention for the attention paid to the sound of the more felted and “spring loaded” mechanical shutter which will not fail to surprise regulars of the brand.
An incredible burst at 30 fps
The Alpha 1’s frame rate is one of the best on the electronic shutter market. Promises are kept smoothly with 30 fps measured. Another advantage of electronic shutter: the absence of black veil between the views. Monitoring the action is therefore even easier.
However, we notice a more limited speed than the competition in mechanical shuttering. Also, with 50 megapixel images, storage space is quickly eaten away. Be careful when using burst mode.
An electronic shutter designed for sports
The rolling shutter can appear in photo as in video. This is an image distortion when capturing fast movement. If the problem can appear in certain specific cases with the mechanical shutter, it is especially with the electronic shutter that the problem appears.
If it is difficult to say whether the electronic shutter of the A1 will be suitable for all situations, it is clear that we did not have to deplore deformations during our tests. For more details, we have published a news dedicated to the electronic shutter of the Alpha 1
Sony is renowned for the efficiency of its autofocuses, both for their speed, their detection and their tracking of the subject. The very high-end Alpha 1 is no exception to the rule. Even with the fastest burst mode, the camera recognizes the subject’s eye. The monitoring is very effective, even in sporting conditions, regardless of the trigger rates. Losses are always possible, but the hybrid is never “strawberry” and still grips the body.
We were impressed by the performance of the Canon EOS R5 , but Sony ultimately remains in the lead with its A1. In addition to eye detection and tracking, dedicated tracking modes are also very effective, even on objects. Here too, the settings are numerous, it will be necessary to take the time to tame them.
A new way of detecting birds
With the A1, Sony introduces a dedicated bird detection mode. Practical, it still has some limits, especially when there are branches. We also note that the birds, often very agitated, can impair detection, especially when the eye is no longer visible. This mode is nevertheless very practical, even if more limited than the one dedicated to humans.
Electronic noise management
Sony has been producing sensors for a long time and does not hesitate to reserve the best technologies. This is also the case with this 50.1 megapixel Exmor RS CMOS. Its rise in sensitivity is excellent and flawless up to ISO 800, a ceiling beyond which we observe the appearance of noise that will not be too problematic up to ISO 6400.
The 12,800 ISO setting remains quite usable, and it is even possible to push up to 25,600 ISO, after which it will be necessary to do with a notable degradation. However, the very high definition available is a significant advantage. With an adjusted display, rather than a 100% display, the impact of noise is greatly reduced.
Faced with a device like the Canon EOS R5 hybrid which benefits from a 45 megapixel sensor, the Alpha 1 behaves similarly when we compare the JPEGs generated by the body. In this specific case, Sony still has the advantage of a slightly higher definition and an extended ISO range.
At the moment, our software is not yet capable of handling Alpha 1 raw files; we will therefore come back to this point later.
As usual, Sony ignores the DCI definition for cinema rendering and is satisfied with 8K UHD or 4K UHD. This mode is also limited to a bit rate of only 400 Mb / s in 4: 2: 0 8 bits. To have a little more latitude, you have to go through 4K which, for its part, allows recording in 4: 2: 2 10 bits with a bit rate of 600 Mb / s up to 60 i / s with the best All- compression. Intra. Only the slow motion mode at 120 fps reveals a slight cropping.
The 8K mode of the EOS R5 is ahead of the very recent Alpha 1 (A1) in the field of image quality. If the usefulness of the 8K definition is not yet obvious in view of the constraints, Canon retains control on this point.
An excellent video performance
Make no mistake, the Alpha 1 (A1) is still one of the best video hybrids on the market! Many options are available and few absences are to be noted. 16-bit RAW and 4.3K recording is available, alongside profiles suitable for post-production such as S-Log 2 or 3.
Sony is also introducing a new S-Cinetone profile with particular shades from the world of cinema, while the profiles dedicated to HDR are still present. In other options that are handy for experts, the native dual ISO sensor allows more precise adjustment depending on the context. In short, there is plenty to do.
Rolling shutter and autofocus
No surprise on the side of the autofocus which reacts as admirably well in video as in photos. We won’t dwell on the simply excellent eye-tracking function; it hardly lets go and the general reactivity is of the order of the instantaneous.
While we saw that reading the lines of pixels from the sensor was fine in photos, the video portion is not as perfect. That being said, the management of the rolling shutter – distortion of the image during rapid movement – remains acceptable in 8K, although visible. The problem is further reduced in 4K and should not be of particular concern in real use. The overall performance is therefore quite good.
Sony Alpha 1 (A1) – Conclusion
Sony had not yet presented a very high-end hybrid to outperform all other cameras, it is now done. The Sony Alpha 1 (A1) is an ultra complete and ultra efficient device. It easily dominates the heterogeneous empire of the world of hybrids, all categories combined. Its incredible burst associated with a very defined sensor topped by a flawless autofocus makes it a formidable ally to face all situations. The icing on the cake, the video part is not neglected, on the contrary! The 8K plus mode is more than convincing, while the more traditional part should suit most people. However, it is difficult to say whether Sony will keep its place at the top for long, the two historical competitors that are Nikon and Canon do
- Good ergonomics and customization functions.
- Good responsiveness and sensitivity management.
- Detection and AF tracking of faces or eyes in photo / video.
- Stabilization of the sensor.
- Resistance to humidity and dust.
- Burst at 30 fps.
- No deformation in the photo with the electronic shutter.
- Full video mode with 8K UHD.
- No cropping in video (except at 120 fps).
- High quality, 240 fps compatible electronic viewfinder.
- Complete connectivity.
- Double storage slot (SDXC and CFexpress compatible).
- Taking pictures while charging.
- Limited start-up time and photo chaining (excluding burst mode).
- Burst with mechanical shutter limited to 10 fps.
- 8K definition more limited than the competition.
- No ball joint for the screen.
- Lack of DCI cinema video format.
- RAW video recording limited to 4K.
- Cannot use external storage media.
- Uncommon CFexpress Type A card.