Sony has long been leading the way in the mirrorless market, but over the last year, Canon and Nikon have been trying to scratch and claw their way to the top. Today, Sony has sealed their fate.
In a recent article, I asked the question “is lack of competition slowing camera innovation?”. And for a brief overview, I think that Sony has dominated the mirrorless market so heavily, that it has essentially stalled innovation. I feel this has to do with the competition spending all their R&D money trying to play catchup which simultaneously leads to Sony not needing to release any sort of crazy innovations. Instead, they released features that I view as more iterative rather than innovative. Things like slightly better and faster AF or slightly higher megapixel sensors. In the article, I said, “why release a race car that can go 300 miles per hour when the competition is still racing go-karts”. But recently, Canon and Nikon have begun to take the mirrorless market seriously. So Sony just dropped their 300 mile per hour car into the market.
The Sony a1
With the new Sony a1 camera release, Sony has pushed the barrier of numerous technologies as well as brought us technology that has previously been impossible. The first of these innovations come with the sensor. The new Sony a1 now has a 50.1MP sensor paired with a new BIONZ XR imaging processor that is eight times more powerful. What this allows is for the Sony a1 to shoot at a blistering and blackout-free 30fps. You can literally shoot full-resolution raw images at a higher speed than traditionally used video frame rates. This is all done completely silently using the electronic shutter and the buffer can hold up to 155 compressed raws or 165 JPEGS.
The electronic shutter on the Sony a1 is also similar to that of the Sony A9 in the sense that it has a minimal rolling shutter. In fact, on my Sony a9, I have never noticed any rolling shutter when taking stills and this new Sony a1 reduces any rolling shutter by 1.5 times. All while giving you better autofocus.
For the AF, the camera features 759 phase-detection points that cover 92% of the image sensor. The real-time AF tracking has also seen a performance increase of 30% over the previous a9 II and also features eye-AF for humans, animals, and birds. With the new image processor, the camera will actually take 120 AF/AE calculations per second which is double that of the a9 II and it will still work when shooting at 30FPS.
One area where the Sony a1 is making leaps in innovation is in terms of using flash. Most cameras are limited to flash sync speeds of 1/250th of a second or lower. Not only that, but you can’t use flash at all when using the silent shutter. But the Sony a1 can achieve a world's first for mechanical shutters and get you 1/400th of a second sync speed. It can also get you 1/200th of a second sync speed when using the electronic shutter. That means you can get the same sync speed using the silent shutter as the new Canon R5/R6 and Nikon Z 7II mechanical shutters. If you use the mechanical shutter on the a1, you'll get double that of the competition.
What About Video?
The Sony a1 offers an impressive 8k/30p in 10-bit along with the ability to shoot 4k/120p in 10-bit with 15+ stops of dynamic range (15 stops for stills). It also features the same S-Cinetone color matrix as seen on the FX9 and FX6 to give you that amazing cinematic look everyone always wants. You can also record using the built-in image stabilization that will give you 5 axis stabilization with a 5.5 step shutter speed advantage. The Sony a1 also features a unique heat dissipating structure that allows the camera to shoot 8K/30p for up to 30-minutes while maintaining the small body form found with the other Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras in their lineup.
A few other features worth noting. The Sony a1 has an electronic viewfinder that is a 0.64-type 9.44 million dot OLED Quad-XGA that gives you the world's first 240fps refresh rate. The camera also gives you the world's first anti-flicker shooting with both the mechanical shutter and Electronic shutter. And for those that need fast access to their images, the a1 also features the industry's fastest built-in Wi-Fi, SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, and 1000BASE-T Ethernet. There is also a revised menu system, diverse image output (compressed, lossless, HEIF, “Light” JPEG/HEIF, and more), an improved dust removal feature, and it’s dust and moisture resistant. There is also a new feature that closes the mechanical shutter when the power is off to help protect the sensor from dust when changing lenses.
You can pre-order the Sony a1 now for $6,500. Which may give a lot of photographers sticker shock. But given the mass amount of innovations and “world's firsts”, I think they have more than justified the price tag.