Conclusion

What we like What we don't
  • Excellent image quality with high resolution and good dynamic range
  • Good range of 8K and 4K video modes with great quality and feature set
  • Fast electronic shutter provides silent shooting with no IQ compromises
  • Truly excellent autofocus performance
  • Big, high-res electronic viewfinder
  • Solid ergonomics; good balance of external controls and compact size
  • Excellent menus and responsive touchscreen interface
  • Highly customizable separation of stills and video settings
  • Dual UHS-II SD, CFexpress Type A slots
  • Lossless compressed Raw capture at up to 20fps shooting
  • 1/400 flash sync with mechanical shutter; 1/200 with e-shutter
  • Extensive wired and wireless connectivity options for pros and non-pros alike
  • HEIF (and HLG) shooting for realistic HDR imagery on compatible displays
  • Rear screen a bit small, low-res against similarly priced competitors
  • 30fps bursts only available in JPEG/HEIF/lossy compressed Raw
  • 30fps bursts are lens-dependent
  • High-res shot modes require desktop software to combine images; no motion correction yet available
  • EVF drops in resolution during C-AF, or if you choose high FPS modes
  • Users must manually select between human, animal or birds for Eye AF
  • Battery life is just okay compared to other flagships

Overall conclusion

By Carey Rose

So, have they done it? Have the engineers at Sony, in making the Alpha 1, created a single camera model that could fulfill the needs of just about any professional photographer?

We'd say so.

Does that mean you should immediately sell off all your gear, your car, or a kidney (or all of the above) to get one? Well, let's dig into this a bit.

I suspect many people will want a Sony a1 almost as much as I want my very own Belvedere. Processed from Raw.
ISO 1250 | 1/250 sec | F1.4 | Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM
Photo by Dan Bracaglia

From our testing, it's clear that the Sony a1 is an incredibly effective photographic tool. The 50MP of resolution is plenty for most people not reproducing artwork (and the 200MP high-res mode is plenty if you are). The 30fps max burst speed and impressive autofocus should allow you to capture just the right moment of a player in a sports match or of a bird as it alights upon a branch. The 8K video capture means not only that you can have super-high resolution footage, but you can create lower resolution footage that looks stellar. The ultra-fast electronic shutter means you can shoot silently in almost any situation without any negative impact on image quality.

The ultra-fast electronic shutter means you can shoot silently in almost any situation without any negative impact on image quality

Perhaps most significantly, thanks to a lack of interface lag that has plagued many previous Sony cameras, the a1 gets out of your way and lets you get on with taking photographs. And it does so while inspiring the sort of confidence in terms of focus and exposure that we've come to expect from Sony's latest cameras and indeed, from existing sports-oriented DSLRs. To be certain, the experience of shooting such high speeds with zero blackout will be an adjustment to those coming from said DSLRs, but it quickly becomes revelatory: with an interrupted live feed, it's incredibly easy to follow the action.

Aside from the headline-stealing specs, there are lots of other aspects of the a1 worth mentioning. The mechanical shutter, topping out at 1/400 sec for flash sync (most competitors top out at 1/320), also makes a lovely sound and is well-dampened. The menus are now spectacularly well organized and touch sensitive. The redesigned autofocus and drive mode dials are welcome.

Even if you don't need 30fps bursts, the a1 will provide you with files full of detail. Processed from Raw, cropped slightly.
ISO 100 | 1/250 sec | F9 | Sony FE 24-105mm F4 @ 24mm
Photo by Carey Rose

In all, the usability and capability built into the a1 justify its flagship status and price, placing it solidly in line with (or perhaps, given its higher resolution and speed, above) the existing Nikon D6 and Canon EOS-1D X Mark III flagship DSLRs. To be fair, we still have to wait a little longer to see what the forthcoming Nikon Z9 and Canon EOS R3 mirrorless models can do, as they may also arrive with broadly similar abilities to the a1.

To be frank though, most people who consider themselves more casual users are likely going to be able to get by just fine with less expensive options such as Sony's own a7R IV, a9 II or Canon's R5; respectively, these give you either plenty of resolution, plenty of speed, or both. But the Sony a1 offers you a combination of speed, resolution, reliability, and overall image quality that is just a step above the rest.

And so, for professionals and advanced amateurs who stand to benefit from the combination of high resolution and high speed in a single body with almost zero compromise, the Sony a1 is simply the camera to beat right now.


Compared to...

First up is Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III, the company's flagship camera (we've been assured that the forthcoming EOS R3 sits below it). The Canon weighs in with incomparable battery life, excellent ergonomics and a fantastic shooting experience for users that might prefer an optical viewfinder. The Sony a1, though, is more compact (though you lose the integrated dual grip), offers much higher resolution for both stills and video, and faster burst shooting for action photography. With the Canon in live view mode, it gives the a1 a run for its autofocus money – but we find the Sony is more reliable if you're primarily using the viewfinder for shooting.

Next is the Nikon D6. We've not yet fully tested one, but based on our experience with the previous D5, we expect the viewfinder autofocus system to be truly excellent in terms of tracking and accuracy despite a smaller coverage area and less precision thanks to having fewer autofocus points than the a1 offers. Again, battery life will be head-and-shoulders above the a1, and some will prefer the feel of the Nikon's controls and its options for customization. Where the Nikon will fall down though is in its live-view mode. It offers no phase-detection autofocus on its imaging sensor, so shooting video and stills will in live view will be a bit of a clunky experience in comparison. Lastly, its 21MP sensor should give great image quality, but is no match for the a1's resolution.

This brings us to what is perhaps the most compelling option the Sony a1 is up against at the time of this writing – the Canon EOS R5. It's fairly compact like the a1, has excellent ergonomics (though is a bit less customizable), has nearly the same resolution and can shoot 8K video and 20fps full-resolution bursts via electronic shutter. At the time of our review, we found the EOS R5 to be almost without fault, save for its propensity to overheat when shooting 8K or high-quality 4K video (later firmware has addressed this somewhat, but not entirely). Autofocus also is nearly a match for the a1. But the Sony a1 offers even faster bursts depending on your Raw / JPEG modes (and at least slightly better image quality at 20fps modes than the Canon) and more reliable high-resolution video capture. But these incremental updates do come at a serious price; as mentioned, if you have the need and the cash for a top of the line camera and aren't locked into a lens ecosystem yet, it may be best to consider the Sony a1 over Canon's EOS R5.


Sample galleries

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DPReview TV sample gallery


DPReview TV

Check out what Chris and Jordan of DPReview TV make of the all-new Sony a1.


Scoring

Sony a1
Category: Professional Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Build quality
Ergonomics & handling
Features
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Performance
Movie / video mode
Connectivity
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Sony a1 is the most refined Alpha-series interchangeable lens camera yet. Its combination of speed and resolution for both stills and video set it apart in a crowded field of excellent options, though that combination is also responsible for the price it commands. But the fact remains, most any professional photographer will be able to use the a1 for most anything they'd think to shoot.
Good for
Photographers capturing fast action, landscapes, weddings and events, portraiture and studio work or high-quality video.
Not so good for
Photographers that don't need (or won't benefit from) the a1's combination of abilities. Those that need maximum resolution and dynamic range.
93%
Overall score