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Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review

Sony's new Alpha 1 is Sony's flagship 50mp full-frame mirrorless camera, with high-speed continuous shooting, offering 30fps continuous shooting at 50mp, as well as 8K video at 30fps, and 4K video at 120fps. Sony says that this camera is the "one" camera you'll ever need, but how does it perform?

| Sony Alpha 1 in Mirrorless Cameras

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (2)

Quick Verdict

The Sony Alpha 1 offers a hell of a lot. Video users will be extremely happy with 8K 30fps / 4K 120fps footage, and this will be overkill for the average videographer. High-speed stills photographers will be impressed by the 30fps on offer, and even those looking for high-resolution shots will be impressed by the 50mp on offer.

However, the price seems to be at a real premium over the competition, putting the camera easily into Leica territory. For the professional photographer, the camera should be able to pay for itself over the years.

Many of the previous complaints made against Sony cameras, to do with handling, have been resolved with the A7S III and Alpha 1. If you want the best, and have the money, then, without a doubt, the Sony Alpha 1 is the best all-round digital camera currently available.

+ Pros

  • Large high-resolution electronic viewfinder
  • 30fps continuous shooting at 50mp with AF/AE
  • 8K 30/25fps video recording
  • 4K 120/100fps video recording
  • Improved menu system with touch-control
  • Excellent range of lenses available
  • USB power / charging

- Cons

  • High-price
  • Multi-shot high-res shots aren't auto-created in camera
  • No in-camera raw editing (just crop/rotate)
  • The screen feels like a budget choice, considering the camera price
  • Subject type must be manually selected (animals/human/birds)


Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (16)

The Sony Alpha 1 is Sony's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera and offers impressive specifications, with 8K video at 30fps, 4K video at 120fps, and 50mp stills shooting at 30fps with auto-focus and auto-exposure. It's also Sony's answer to the professional full-frame camera and has a price to match, being priced at £6499 body only.


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Sony Alpha 1 Features

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (4)

The Sony Alpha 1 is Sony's flagship full-frame mirrorless camera, with specifications that impress, thanks to a 50mp full-frame CMOS sensor, with an impressive high-speed performance, offering 30fps continuous shooting at the full 50mp resolution, with continuous AF/AE tracking. Thanks to having a high-resolution sensor, with a fast readout, the camera is also able to offer 8K video recording at 30/25fps, plus 4K video at 120/100fps.

One area where you might not be as impressed, is with the price, as the camera is priced at £6499 body only, which is considerably more expensive than an alternative camera, the Canon EOS R5, which has a 45mp sensor, 20fps continuous shooting, and also offers 8K video, and 4K 120fps video recording. Priced at £4199 body only, you may wonder if the Sony is worth the additional £2300!

However, if you think of the Alpha 1 as an alternative to professional DSLRs, such as the Nikon D6 (£6299 body only) and Canon EOS-1D X III (£6999), then the price is pretty much in line with this, although you will need to add the battery grip (£399) for the Alpha 1 to match these other cameras in look and style.

The Sony Alpha 1 offers faster continuous shooting than the competition, plus a higher resolution sensor, with a new full-frame stacked 50.1mp Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor. Sony's "stacked" CMOS sensors feature built-in memory to enable faster readout speeds, and in combination with dual BIONZ XR image processors, the camera is able to process image data at improved speeds.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha 1 Sensor And Processor |
Sony Alpha 1 Sensor And Processor | Image courtesy


It also has the professional connectivity needed, with 1000BASE-T Ethernet, SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps (USB 3.2) Type-C connector, Wi-Fi with 2x2 MIMO (high-speed), FTP connectivity over wireless LAN / wired LAN, and remote tethered shooting support. Bluetooth is built-in, and the camera also supports NFC.

Compared to other full-frame mirrorless cameras, Sony has a very good range of lenses available, with a range of E-Mount lenses that is still rapidly growing, as Sony has introduced 6 new lenses this year alone so far (Jan 2021 to April 2021). You'll also find that 3rd party lens companies like Samyang, Tamron, and Sigma are releasing new lenses in E-Mount at an impressive rate.

The Sony Alpha 1 benefits from the same high-resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the A7S III, with 9.44m dots, 0.90x magnification, and high refresh rates. You'll also find the new, updated menu system, which has colour coding and separate options for stills and video, which should make it a little bit easier to find options and settings. However, there are a lot of options, so it can still take some time to find the right setting. You can use the touch-screen to change settings.

The camera offers up to 1/8000s shutter speeds using the mechanical shutter, and up to 1/32000s using the electronic shutter. The mechanical shutter is rated up to 500,000 shots, although the fastest continuous shooting speed available is 10fps using this, and for the faster continuous shooting speeds you'll need to use the electronic shutter. There's also a flash sync speed of up to 1/500s (APS-C format), 1/400s using the mechanical shutter, or 1/200s using the electronic shutter.


Video features

The camera records 8K video (with 8.6K oversampling) at 30/25fps, at a resolution of 7680x4320, which gives high-resolution video, which can be used as is, or used for later video editing, for example to crop into the footage to produce different 4K content.

4K video (with 5.8K oversampling) gives high-resolution video footage, with high levels of detail, with full-frame readout, with no pixel binning (depending on settings), and you can use frame rates up to 120/100fps. 4K video (and below) gives you the option to use "Active Mode" image stabilisation for enhanced image stabilisation when recording video handheld.

Real-time Eye AF and real-time tracking are included for video recording, even when using 8K or 4K 120fps video resolutions.

10-bit 4:2:2 HLG (Hybrid Log-Gamma) support gives you high-dynamic-range recording which can be played back on an HDR (HLG) compatible TV so that you don't have to grade your footage before being able to see HDR video. There's also S-Log2 and S-Log3, as you'd expect with a Sony camera, said to give 15+ stops of dynamic range.

Video recording has a 30 minute recommended time limit, but you can use the High-Temperature setting to go beyond this.

16-bit raw output is supported over HDMI to an external recorder. You also get the S-Cinetone colour option from Sony's Cinema Line cameras, giving the same colour matrix as used on the Sony FX9, FX6 and other Cinema Line cameras.

The Alpha 1 features a heat-dissipating structure, like the A7S III, to prevent overheating during continuous recording.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (5)

Key Features

  • 50.1-megapixel full-frame stacked BSI CMOS sensor
  • BOINZ XR engine image processor
  • E-Mount
  • In-body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), 5-axis, up to 5.5stops
  • 3.0inch TFT touch-screen, tilting
  • 0.64type electronic viewfinder (EVF), 9.4m dots, 0.90x magnification
  • 759-point phase detection AF points, 425 contrast detection, 92% coverage
  • Face and eye detection, with new real-time eye-AF bird mode
  • 30fps continuous shooting with AF/AE (electronic shutter)
  • 10fps continuous shooting with mechanical shutter
  • ISO50 to ISO102400 (extended)
  • 8K video with 30/25fps, 4K video at 120/100fps
  • 430 / 530 shot battery life (EVF/LCD)
  • Dual SD (UHS-I/II) / CFexpress Type A card slots
  • Built-in Wi-Fi supports 2x2 MIMO

Sony Alpha 1 Handling

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (6)

Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras have been growing in size with each new model, due to additional features being added that increase the camera size. For example, the introduction of in-body image stabilisation added to the size of the camera, and the upgraded Z-series battery (another useful addition), also increased the camera size, whilst also giving the cameras improved battery life, and a larger grip.

However, if you think of the Sony Alpha 1 as a competitor to the full-frame, full-size professional DSLRs (such as the Nikon D6 and Canon 1DX series), then the Alpha 1 could be seen as a much smaller camera option, and whilst 737g (body only with battery and memory card) isn't light for a mirrorless camera, it is light compared to many full-frame DSLRs.

The camera body has a good-sized grip, that feels good in the hand, although it's worth noting that when you use larger lenses on the camera, the space between the grip and the lens can seem a little small, depending on the size of your fingers.

The camera is weather-sealed, and Sony say this is an "improved dust and moisture resistant design" with a durable magnesium alloy chassis. The camera feels extremely well built, although time will tell how long the camera lasts, and how well it weathers with use. We can't see any reason why it wouldn't last a very long time, as all parts of the camera feel well made, and the memory compartment has a double lock system, with a latch that you need to unlock before it will open, and there are also two contact points used to hold the compartment closed. The same applies to the battery compartment. These are also weather-sealed, with rubber parts.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (9)

The dials on top of the Alpha 1 feature locks, with the top, left drive-mode dial featuring a lock that must be pressed in order to turn the dial. Under this is another locking dial, which is where you can set your focus mode (AF-S, AF-C, DMF and MF).

The main mode dial is also locking in the same way and features 3 custom modes, as well as dedicated video and S&Q (slow and quick video) options.

The exposure compensation dial is locking but can be left locked or unlocked, depending on which you'd prefer. There is a front and rear command dial, as well as a scroll wheel at the back, which also acts as a four-way controller, with quicker access to ISO.

There are four C (Custom) buttons, C1, C2, C3, and C4 that can be customised, but you can also customise other buttons on the camera to get it setup up just how you'd like. Unlike other professional DSLRs and sports cameras, there are no front custom buttons, which is a shame, as to use the C1 and C2 custom buttons you have to take your finger off the shutter release button.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (10)

There's a large, grippy, joystick control to make it easy to move the focus point or to move around the image in playback. The controls on the back of the camera are well-placed to make it easy to use the camera with one hand, with most buttons easily reached with your thumb. The only two buttons that are more difficult to reach are the C3 and Menu buttons, on the left of the camera, next to the viewfinder.

Focus - There are 759 phase-detection AF points, with 92% coverage, and focus is sensitive down to -4EV, up to EV20.

Real-time Eye-AF works for humans, animals, and also birds, and you can prioritise the right or left eye if you want. Although you will need to set which subject you are shooting in the menus before shooting, choosing between humans, animals or birds, or you can set one of the custom buttons to let you more quickly change between these options. You can set up Face memory, which will give priority to your pre-set faces if you want.

There are multiple AF options, with options to adjust AF tracking sensitivity, pre-AF, AF area registration (so you can set a certain area as your preference, and switch this on/off with a custom key). Peaking display is available for manual focus. Surprisingly, there aren't any "cases" or "scenarios" provided for the AF setup, such as "Sports" or "High-speed cars" etc, which is what you'll find on professional sports cameras from Canon, and some other companies, however, this shouldn't be of huge concern, as the focus system is extremely rapid.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (11)

The Alpha 1 has the same impressive 0.64type (1.6cm) electronic viewfinder (EVF) as the A7S III, with 9.4m dots, 0.90x magnification, 60/120/240fps refresh rate options, 100% coverage, and -4.0- +3.0 dioptre adjustment. The viewfinder is designed to be blackout-free so that you can continue to see what you're shooting even when using the high-speed continuous shooting modes.

For the highest quality view you do need to adjust the settings, selecting the "Standard" refresh rate rather than "High" or "Higher", however, even without this adjustment the view through the viewfinder still looks very good. With the viewfinder quality set to High rather than Standard, the view is exceptional. You can also adjust the size of the view, in case it is too large.

There's a tilting 3inch screen, with 1.44m dots, it's a touch-screen, and it tilts down as well as up. The screen looks reasonably good, with good viewing angles and good colour, however, it doesn't match competitor's screens, which offer a higher resolution and a larger screen. It also can't compete with the view through the viewfinder. As the camera has a tilting screen, rather than a vari-angle screen, it may not be the best option for videographers, however, there is always the option of an external monitor, which will most likely be the choice of the professional video maker.

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (17)

Menus – The camera benefits from the re-designed menu system that was first introduced with the Sony Alpha A7S III, and gives you colour-coded menus, as well as separate stills and video settings. You can also use the touch-screen in the menus, which will make it easier for the "smartphone generation" to pick up and use this camera.

The menus give a wealth of options, including lossless compressed raw files, plus support for HEIF files, which gives 10-bit colour rather than 8-bit colour found on JPEGs - although software support for HEIF is still relatively low considering how long HEIF has been around. You can save your camera settings to a memory card, in case you need to transfer them to another camera. You'll also find the usual and thankfully now standard "My Menu" where you can add your favourite settings.

The Fn button gives quick access to settings on a rear screen overlay, and this can be customised to give you quicker access to your favourite settings if the default options don't suit. You'll also find this differ depending on whether you're in stills or video mode. The camera also lets you use the touch-screen to choose, select and change these settings as well!

Sony Alpha 1 ILCE-1 Review: Sony Alpha A1 (15)

Battery life - Battery life is rated at 530 shots using the screen or 430 shots when using the electronic viewfinder according to Sony / CIPA test results, which is good for a mirrorless camera, however, we'd recommend a spare battery just in case. You can also charge the battery in-camera, or use the camera whilst also powering the camera when using a suitable USB charger. The camera is compatible with the VG-C4EM battery grip which can hold 2 Z-series batteries, increasing battery life noticeably, although this will set you back £399.

Sony Alpha 1 Photos of Equipment

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Photographs taken using the Sony Alpha 1

Goosander HuddleBarn Owl In The RainMallard In FlightWhimbrel in Dalvik 7GoldfinchStealthHorned grebes in SuomenojaLanding Gear DeployedStealthLittle Egret just after take-off.Bengal tiger stands poking head past treeSidelightPoppy in sunlightShake of the Head

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