Initial impressions

By Carey Rose

The Sony a1 is one of those cameras that's become a rare breed these days. Namely, it's a camera capable of doing things that we just haven't seen before. And Sony kept all the details of the camera so close to the chest that, if you watched the live stream on launch day, well, you learned about all of it in real time, just like us.

In fact, in the short time between the live stream and our virtual (and, thankfully, very detailed) press briefing, I was only able to muster the simplest of Facebook posts:

Eloquent, I know.

There's so much technology packed into the a1, that it's hard to know where to begin. But I knew I was hopeful for one thing in particular: usability enhancements. After all, I wrote in some detail about using the Sony a9 II on a road trip, and in that article is a perfect summation of how I feel about most Sony cameras: 'It may not be a camera that I fully enjoy the experience of using, but the confidence it inspires is hard to overstate.'

The a1 changes the enjoyment bit of that. Here's why.

Interface lag? What interface lag?

Even the rapid-fire, sports-shooting a9 and a9 II cameras exhibit the same sort of disconnecting interface lag I'd observed on the likes of the consumer-targeted RX100-series of compact cameras. If I rapidly turn the front dial three clicks on a $4500 sports camera, I want to see that instantly. Especially during, you know, sports shooting.

It looks like the Sony a1 offers plenty of dynamic range.
ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | ISO 100 | Sony 24-105mm F4 G @ 24mm

And on the a1, that's exactly what you get: instantaneous feedback. Interacting with the camera in every way, including the Fn and main menus, and in playback. No longer do you turn the aperture dial three clicks, only to see the camera has stopped down the aperture only two-thirds of a stop. The menus are now genuinely hard to get lost in, and most of the options have useful tool tips to further guide you. The electronic viewfinder is the best I've ever looked through, and as an additional plus, the touchscreen no longer feels more limited than the LG Xenon slider phone I used in undergrad.

In short, the a1 addresses just about every qualm I had with the experience of using Sony cameras, and it does so while also bringing about a truly remarkable step forward in sensor technology that has impacts beyond the headline feature of '30 fps bursts.'

A pro camera for, potentially, everything

I don't think it's unlikely that the a1 will find a home with documentary photographers and journalists (remembering the AP collaboration); after all, silent, unobtrusive shooting and precise autofocus make for a powerful combination. And yes, we'll get some sports images into the gallery when we can find some people playing sports again.
Raw image processed through Imaging Edge Desktop with no adjustments.
ISO 640 | 1/50 sec | F6.3 | Sony 24-105mm F4 G @ 42mm

We still have a quite a bit more testing to do, but the implication here that professionals now have a high-resolution body capable of silently shooting at speeds even higher than those traditionally reserved for low-resolution bodies is significant, to say the least.

It's a not wholly unfamiliar concept, as the Canon EOS R5 looks to have similar ambitions, but some of the incremental features the a1 has over it – including faster sensor readout, super-high transfer speeds, blackout-free bursts and one of the largest viewfinders we've yet seen on a digital camera – will be enough for some people to justify the price difference (investments in lens ecosystems aside, of course).

Bird Eye AF works well, but you'll need to remember to enable it in the menus.
ISO 125 | 1/250 sec | F4 | Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G @ 105mm
Photo by Carey Rose

So stay tuned as we press on with our full review and find out if the Alpha 1 really does clear the high bar Sony has placed in front of it: That it could be the one camera that fulfills the needs of just about any professional photographer, regardless of specialty.