What's new

Key takeaways

  • Impressive 30 fps shooting, but only in lossy compressed Raw, JPEG or HEIF
  • Lossless compressed Raw offered for first time on a Sony ILC (up to 20fps bursts)
  • Fast electronic shutter reduces rolling shutter and allows 1/200 sec flash sync speed
  • 8K (10-bit 4:2:0) video capture using the full sensor, 4K/120p (10-bit 4:2:2) capture with a slight crop
  • 200MP multi-shot mode, but requires desktop software to combine images
  • Oversampled 21MP stills capture mode to keep file sizes down as necessary
  • Impressively large and detailed blackout-free viewfinder

30 fps shooting

One of the most eye-catching features of the a1 is its ability to shoot at 30 frames per second with full autofocus and autoexposure despite also being a 50MP high resolution camera.

30 fps shooting is possible in JPEG or HEIF modes, but lossy compression is the only Raw option at this speed. The good news is there's no sign of the readout bit-depth dropping to provide this fast readout, and we've found only a minimal impact on dynamic range, beyond the impact of the lossy compression.

There are a series of other caveats around 30 fps shooting. It can be lens-dependent, as focus and actuation speed can prevent 30 fps shooting. You also need to maintain a shutter speed of at least 1/125 sec to get the maximum speed from the camera (Sony says this needs to be 1/250 sec if you want AF-C and 30 fps, though we've seen some lenses deliver 30 fps and AF-C at slower speeds). Drop below 1/125 sec, switch to a different type of Raw or use the wrong lens and the Hi+ mode will drop down to around 20 fps.

Lossless compressed Raw

The Sony a1 is the first Sony alpha series camera to offer lossless compressed Raw. As you'd expect, this produces files that aren't as consistently small as the ones that utilize Sony's damagingly lossy compression, but they're always smaller than the vast uncompressed Raws that were previously your only alternative.

Fast-readout E-shutter

The super-fast readout that enables 30 fps shooting is also key to the camera's electronic shutter being usable for almost all applications. At a measured 1/260s, the e-shutter is just as fast as many mechanical shutters, fast enough that it can sync with flashes at up to 1/200 sec exposures. You'll need to use a Sony TTL-compatible flash or flash trigger to reach this maximum speed, but it shows how quick the sensor is able to operate. If you crop in to APS-C mode, it takes even less time to read out the active area of the sensor, allowing a sync speed of 1/250 sec.

In effect, the silent shutter is fast enough to leave on for almost any situation, making the a1 the first camera to have almost no downsides to this mode. An additional plus is that if you're shooting wide apertures at fast shutter speeds, the e-shutter avoids bokeh issues associated with the mechanical shutter's default use of an electronic first curtain.

On the a1's drive mode dial, 'H+' denotes the maximum frame rate available given other parameters (shutter type, Raw capture), and the other options are customizable via the menus.

This fast readout also decreases the likelihood of artificial light flickering appearing as bands in your images. To improve the performance under low light, the a1 gains an option to synchronize the exposures with the measured flicker rate of the lighting (a common feature used with mechanical shutters in high-end cameras used for indoor sports), so that the camera takes photos at the brightest point in the flicker cycle.

For situations with lights flicking at unusual frequencies (as can happen with LEDs), there's variable shutter option that lets you fractionally adjust your shutter speed to avoid clashing with those flicker frequencies. If that still isn't sufficient, you can use the mechanical shutter to shoot at up to 10 fps. The mechanical shutter can sync with flashes at up to 1/400 sec (1/500 sec in APS-C mode), thanks to a faster travel speed than most focal plane shutters.

Video

The a1 matches many of the specs of the video-focused a7S III, but its higher resolution sensor means it's able to capture 8K footage.

The 8K video is shot in the 16:9 format (7680 x 4320) and captured using the full width of the sensor (an 8640 x 4860 pixel region). It can be captured internally as 10-bit 4:2:0 H.265 footage, at bit rates of either 200 or 400Mbps. Alternatively, it can be output over HDMI as an 8-bit 4:2:0 stream.

With ports galore, including full-size HDMI and 3.5mm headphone and mic ports, the a1 is well-suited as a run-and-gun video camera that can also be rigged up with an external recorder if need be.

The full-width 4K is taken from pixel-binned capture (merged neighboring pixels), not by downsampling the 8K capture. This means it won't be as detailed as the Canon EOS R5's 'High Quality' 4K output, but should still have the noise performance of a full-frame sensor, since it's using all the camera's pixels (and therefore all the available light). This approach allows the a1 to offer 4K/60p, rather than being limited to the 30p limit of 8K capture.

Like the a7S III, the a1 can shoot 4K/120p with a 1.13x crop. This is almost certainly binned footage from the 8K UHD (7680x4320) region of the sensor.

The a1 can also shoot oversampled 4K footage in Super35 mode. This is taken from a 5.8K region.

Frame rates Capture region Max Bit-depth/ chroma Codecs
8K 24, 30 8.6K FF 10-bit 4:2:0
  • XAVC HS
4K
(FF)
24, 30, 60 4.3K (binned)
FF
10-bit 4:2:2
  • XAVC HS
  • XAVC S-I
  • XAVC S
4K 120 3.8K (binned)
1.13x crop
10-bit 4:2:2
  • XAVC HS
  • XAVC S
4K
(Super 35)
24, 30, 60 5.8K
1.5x crop
10-bit 4:2:2
  • XAVC HS
  • XAVC S-I
  • XAVC S

V60 cards cannot be used for 4K All-I capture or bitrates about 280Mbps. All video modes can be recorded to V90-rated SD cards.

Sony also promises 16-bit 4.3K Raw output over HDMI at up to 60p. There's not currently any support for this stream, but we'd be surprised if Atomos doesn't issue a firmware update so that its Ninja V recorder can encode this output into the ProRes RAW format. The 4.3K figure (i.e. half of 8.6K) suggests it'll be the same 4:1 pixel-binned capture that the internal full-frame 4K is derived from.

Multi-shot mode

Like the a7R IV before it, the a1 can shoot 4 or 16-shot high-resolution images. The four-shot versions move the sensor by one pixel between each shot, to ensure at least one red, green and blue sample is taken for every position of the sensor. This allows the creation of 50MP images with full color at each pixel without the need for the interpolation that the demosaicing process usually brings.

This 200MP image was lightly edited in Imaging Edge Desktop. Click-or-tap-through if you dare – the JPEG image alone is 180 megabytes.
ISO 100 | 1/10 sec | F10 | Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM
Photo by Richard Butler

The sixteen shot process does the same thing, four times, with a half-pixel horizontal or vertical offset between each four images. This results in files that can combined into 200MP images.

The good news is that the fast electronic shutter means you can now shoot these images with flash (and a delay between shots to allow the flash to recycle). The bad news is you still need to combine the Raw results using desktop software, which can force you into the resource-intensive Imagine Edge Desktop application. Our experience so far is that this software doesn't provide enough control to correct for subtle motion between frames, leaving cross-hatched artifacts. LibRaw has said it will be adding a1 support to its PixelShift2DNG software, which lets you combine images as DNG files, and we expect Adobe to add support for the merged 'ARQ' files.

Viewfinder

The a1 uses a 9.44 million-dot OLED viewfinder, giving a maximum resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. This combines with the viewfinder optics to give an impressive 0.9x magnification. The electronic shutter means it's able to offer continuous shooting with no blackout as the shots are taken.

There are a series of viewfinder options letting you prioritize resolution or speed (you can't have both). For instance, it drops somewhat in resolution in 120 fps mode, and Sony says the finder drops to using a 1600 x 1200 pixel region in its fastest 240 fps mode, which sees the magnification drop to nearer 0.7x.

One of the viewfinder's other modes is a 'Low Frame Rate Limit' option that allows you to maintain a 60 fps refresh rate even when you're expecting to shoot at shutter speeds lower than 1/60 sec. This gives a fast-enough refresh when you're trying to follow your subject then slows back down to your chosen shutter speed (and blacks-out the finder) when you take your shot.


How it compares

The Alpha 1 is a difficult camera to draw comparisons to, simply because high speed and high resolution cameras have historically been different things, with both Canon and Nikon previously producing distinct speed and resolution versions of their pro-grade 1D and Dx series, respectively.

What should be obvious, though, is that the a1 isn't Sony's attempt to get enthusiasts to pay $6500 to replace their existing a7R: it's an unabashedly pro-targeted flagship model. The expensive high-speed sensor that makes the camera possible is also the thing that will mean it'll remain an unattainable aspiration for a lot of non-pros, just like Canon's 1D X III or Nikon's D6.

The a1's speed and price makes it a clear competitor to those pro DSLRs, and we've also included Sony's sports-orientated a9 II. But we've also put the a7R IV, as the current highest-res full-frame camera in, and one with solid AF and 10fps shooting, to let us compare the capabilities of a dedicated high-res model that should still acquit itself well in a lot of situations.

Sony a1 Canon EOS 1D X Mark III Nikon D6 Sony a9 II Sony a7R IV
MSRP at launch $6500 $6500 $6500 $4500 $3500
Pixel count 50MP 20MP 21MP 24MP 60MP
Maximum frame rate

30 fps (lossy Raw)
20 fps (lossless Raw)

20 fps (live view)
16 fps (viewfinder)

14 fps (viewfinder) 20 fps (e-shutter) 10 fps (12-bit lossy Raw)
E-shutter rate 1/260 s 1/60 s N/A 1/160 s 1/10 s
AF sensitivity1 -4 EV -4.5 EV -4.5 EV (center) -3 EV -3 EV
HDR image format 10-bit HLG HEIF 10-bit PQ HEIF
Viewfinder 9.4M-dot
0.90x
Optical
0.76x
Optical
0.72x
3.68M-dot
0.78x
5.76M-dot
0.78x
Viewfinder refresh rate up to 240 fps2 N/A N/A Up to 120 fps Up to 120 fps
Video 8K/30p
4K/60p3

5.5K/60p
DCI 4K/60p

4K/30p 4K/30p 4K/30p
Bit depth 10-bit internal
16-bit Raw over HDMI
12-bit Raw or
10-bit internal
8-bit internal 8-bit internal 8-bit internal
Rear screen 3.0" 1.44M- dot tilting touchscreen 3.2" 2.1M-dot fixed touchscreen 3.2" 2.36M-dot fixed touchscreen 3.0" 1.44M-dot tilting touchscreen 3.0" 1.44M-dot tilting touchscreen
Media formats 2x Dual CFe Type A / UHS-II 2x CFe Type B 2x CFe Type B / XQD 2x UHS-II 2x UHS-II
Wi-Fi 2.4GHz and MIMO 5GHz 2.4GHz4 2.4GHz and 5GHz 2.4GHz and 5GHz 2.4GHz and 5GHz
Ethernet Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Battery life (CIPA) LCD/VF5 530 / 430 610 / 2850 – / 3850 690 / 500 670 / 530
Weight 737g 1440g 1450g 678g 665g
Dimensions 129 x 97 x 81mm 158 x 168 x 83mm 160 x 163 x 92mm 129 x 96 x 76mm 129 x 96 x 76mm

1 Lowest light level at which phase-detect AF functions with an F2.0 lens attached. The Canon figure has been adjusted from its -6EV rating with F1.2 lens, for ease of comparison.
2 Viewfinder resolution and magnification reduced at 240 fps

3 4K footage is pixel-binned. Pixel-binned 4K/120p available with 1.12x crop
4 5GHz and MIMO Wi-Fi available using WFT-E9 accessory

5 OVF and EVF battery figures are not directly comparable