Sony A1 (Alpha ILCE-1) Review: Sony’s best full-frame camera ever

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Sony Alpha 1 is a 50MP full frame mirrorless camera designed to impress photographers and videographers. A1 enters the market as a second camera with 8K video recording capability. And at the same time, it gets a lot of improvements and niche features from the A7R, A9, A7S and FX series cameras.

Thus, Sony A1 strives to become a one-stop solution for everyone. And with an uncompromising decision. In many ways, the Alpha 1 is the culmination of the entire Sony ecosystem. The company is positioning this camera as a competitor to the Canon EOS R5 and Leica SL2 . But at the same time, it challenges the Canon 1DX Mark III and Nikon D6 , each of which is the king of DSLR cameras.

The Sony A1 has a reasonably sized body so it can be used in reportage or travel photography, and its Ethernet ports and high-speed USB-C speak to the ambition of sports photography. In this Sony Alpha ILCE-1 review, we will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the new product. And let’s try to understand if this is really the most amazing camera in the world.

Sony A1 review

Design and management

The Sony a1 is impressively compact considering its specs and build quality. Sony claims improved a1 camera sealing over other a7 and a9 series cameras. Those who prefer simpler or shorter zoom lenses will find the a1 really solid in the hand and reasonably well balanced.

The Sony A1 camera is also one of the most responsive Sony cameras. It does not have the interface delays of previous models, which made the survey somewhat “incoherent”. You can turn the command dials as fast as you want and the a1 will keep up with you. All buttons on the A1 have excellent travel and ease of use with light gloves.

The Sony a 1 is very customizable. There are three user sections on the mode dial. Menu, Playback, and Fn are the only three camera buttons that cannot be configured. You can also customize the functions of the command dials. In general, in terms of controls and external design, the Alpha 1 is the closest to the Sony A9 Mark II.

An important update: Compared to the A9 II, the Sony Alpha 1 inherits the newer dual slot that debuted on the A7S III . Thus, behind a solid door on the side of the handle hides what at first glance appears to be a conventional dual SD card slot, compatible with UHS II. But they can cleverly accommodate the new CF Express Type A cards, which support high write speeds of up to 700MB / s.

Photo quality

The Sony a 1 camera contains a newly developed 50.1MP full-frame Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor and BIONZ XR processing processor. As with the a9 II, this sensor uses a multi-layer back-illuminated design with built-in memory, which provides 15 stops of dynamic range for still images.

The new XR processor delivers better color accuracy than previous models, combining the accuracy of the A7S Mark III with the pleasing rendering of the FX6. Overall, the image quality is excellent and is currently the best Sony has to offer of any Alpha series camera. 14-bit RAW (ARW) files offer greater dynamic range than the entire lineup.

Bionz XR delivers high resolution, superb detail and outstanding color reproduction. So far, only the A7R Mark IV has the advantage of a higher-resolution sensor. But otherwise the new camera surpasses it in all respects. The newly developed dual-drive shutter improves flash sync speed to 1/400 s with a mechanical shutter.

Sony Alpha 1 - overview

The Sony a1 camera features a new HEIF image format, which has a better balance between high fidelity RAW (10-bit, 4: 2: 2) color and JPEG file sizes. By the way, the built-in HDR only works with HEIF files. Light JPEG creates files that are smaller than standard ones. This is a useful option for photojournalists looking for the fastest transfer rate.

This time around, Sony has finally added a lossless compressed RAW format that offers the same details as an uncompressed RAW file. There are ways to reduce the file size by about half, from 104 MB to 57 MB. Sony Alpha 1’s continuous shooting speed has been greatly improved thanks to optimized processing by the BIONX XR engine.

The camera can now shoot at 30 frames per second at full resolution with AF and AE using the electronic shutter. Or up to 10 fps with a mechanical shutter. Buffer depth and cleanup speed have improved to 155 compressed RAW frames or 182 JPEGs in a single burst at 30 fps.

Video quality

The Sony Alpha 1 has many of the same features as the A7S Mark III and FX6. Thus, it is a strong video rival, despite the high-resolution sensor. But the A1 now offers 8K 30p video, as well as 4K 120p and 1080p FHD 240p. And in all formats, shooting is in 10-bit color with 4: 2: 2 downsampling. The highly efficient HEVC / H.265 codec provides flexible editing options.

Sony a 1 camera shoots 8K 30p video at full sensor width with oversampling from 8.6K read data. This provides outstanding sharpness and realism. In 4K, it uses pixel binning to reduce the recording resolution. The A1 offers unlimited video recording time, and the heat sink allows you to record up to 3 hours. Thus, it becomes a kind of mini FX6 movie camera with 8K option.

Sony A1 camera has a full set of Sony profiles and color schemes, including Cine 1-4, S-Gamut, S-Gamut3, S-Gamut3.Cine, Rec.709, HLG and S-Log2-3. There is also the S-Cinetone profile, which debuted on the VENICE movie camera. It delivers crisp color reproduction with natural midtones, pleasing colors and soft highlights. The HLG profile now supports BT.2020 color space with wide gamut for HDR recording.

Focusing

The sensor design and updated BIONZ XR chip also boast a redesigned autofocus system that outperforms even the flagship a9 II. The Sony A1 is equipped with a 759-point Fast Hybrid AF system that covers 92% of the image area. Autofocus works at an illumination level of -4 EV. Updated Real-Time Eye AF to include a dedicated Bird Mode.

Autofocus performance is now arguably best-in-class. You can count on a high level of accuracy when tracking moving objects, even at 30 frames per second. Sony claims it has a 30% improvement in accuracy over the a9 II. Autofocus settings are inherited from the A7S Mark III and FX6.

Display and viewfinder

The Sony a 1 gets the same 3.0-inch wide-angle tilting LCD touchscreen from the A7S Mark III. And also has a resolution of 1.44 million dots and an angle of 107 ° down and 41 ° up. The QXGA OLED Tru-Finder EVF is also from the A7S Mark III. Like the Mark III, it boasts a 9.44 million-dot resolution and 0.9x high magnification that rivals the human eye.

Unlike the A7S, this iteration has an additional 240Hz refresh rate, which is double the industry standard 120Hz. Thus, this viewfinder smooths motion much better, which is especially useful when tracking a subject at 30 frames per second. The revamped processor also significantly reduced blackout when shooting at higher frame rates.

User interface

The Sony ILCE 1 features a radically redesigned user interface and menu from the A7S Mark III. It no longer uses the two-tiered approach of other cameras in the Alpha series. Instead, the menu has a vertical split-screen interface that is fully touchscreen. And all the options are grouped in menu tabs, allowing you to see three levels at the same time.

 

Touch input also expands to a custom function (FN) menu. In general, they are intuitive and easy to use. The camera has a lot of settings, so it will take some time to learn everything. But the settings for photo and video are separate, making it easier to find them. So they shouldn’t seem too complicated for beginners.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Connections

The ILCE-1 camera has a wide range of switching capabilities. Replaced Micro HDMI with a full-size Type-A port. As with previous versions of the Alpha, there are Micro USB and USB-C ports, allowing you to use data transfer and charging at the same time. The USB-C port is version 3.2 and now operates at 10 Gbps, and also supports Power Delivery for faster charging or as an external power source.

Like the A9 II, there is a PC sync port for outdoor lighting, now with faster sync speeds, and a wired Gigabit Ethernet port. In fact, with Wi-Fi 2.4 and 5 GHz, the Alpha 1 now supports FTP over wired or wireless LANs, and compatible USB and Bluetooth phones. There is a microphone input and a headphone output.

Conclusion

Alpha ILCE-1 is Sony’s best full-frame camera ever. It is designed for professional photographers or videographers looking for best-in-class features. For a beginner, this is too expensive, impractical and too “niche”. You can buy a solid version for 1 / 10th the price of that camera. For example, the Sony A6100 APS-C or A7C camera .

But so far, the A1 is the best Sony hybrid camera ever released for photographers and vloggers. It rivals the FX6 in basic functions, but offers much better functionality. So, if you prefer a compact mirrorless form factor, this is the camera for you. All in all, if any camera deserves the title of “best camera,” the Sony Alpha 1 is undoubtedly one of the top contenders.