Sony Netherlands gave me a Sony a1 for a review. During two weeks, I dove into this amazing camera, learning about all the things that make the Sony a1 the top of the Alpha line-up. I shot a lot of pictures and learned a lot of things about this camera. These are my thoughts.
I got the FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master and the FE 12-24mm f/2.8 G Master together with the Sony a1 — two great lenses that made photographing a lot of fun. I used the Sony a1 next to the Canon EOS R5, also with a 50mm f/1.2 lens. To my own surprise, both cameras are very much alike, not only in possibilities but also in size and weight. Instead of writing a traditional review, I decided to write down the good things about Sony a1, the bad things, and also the ugly things.
Let's start with the newly designed menu. It is more logical and much friendlier to use. Navigating is almost intuitive, and you are able to find the right function quite easily. It took years of complaints from users and critics before Sony decided to change it, but it is finally there.
The dynamic range of the Sony a1 is amazing. It lets you lift the shadows without ending up with too much noise. It is perfect for situations when HDR won't work or filters are not practical. If you need to capture the scenery with just one exposure, the Sony a1 won't let you down. Just be sure to not clip the highlights.
The autofocus works as well as you may expect from a modern Sony Alpha series camera. It's accurate and quick, and you have the opportunity the focus on the eyes of humans, animals, and birds. On top of that, the camera can distinguish faces. If you have programmed it for one person, it will choose that one over the others.
The dials, wheels, and buttons will make it easy to set your camera to your own needs. But it also helps to adjust settings very quickly. The design is based on the Sony a9 and a9 II, which is a good choice.
The Sony a1 has a 50-megapixel sensor, allowing you to crop the image without losing too much resolution. Although many won't need this amount of pixels, it's nice to have. If you need even more pixels, just activate the pixel shift function which increases the resolution by a factor of four.
The buffer can store somewhere in the vicinity of 500 images before it runs out. When shooting 30 frames per second, this buffer is filled in about 17 seconds. This is enough for almost any action you can imagine.
Although the new menu is a big plus, Sony hasn't made it as good as possible. That's a pity. It still has strange and cryptic abbreviations, and even though every menu function offers a help page, it won't help you that much.
Sony says the a1 can shoot up to 30 frames per second. But it only reaches these speeds under very strict conditions. You have to choose the right file format (JPEG or lossless raw), and it's limited to a certain range of lenses. On a lot of occasions, the camera won't go beyond 20 frames per second. But to be honest, on most occasions, that's more than enough.
The flash synchronization speed can go up to 1/400 sec with the mechanical shutter. It is great to see these shutter speeds for flash. But unfortunately, this sync time is restricted. You need to tick all the boxes before you are able to reach these speeds.
The projected menu information on the screen can be difficult to read at times. Although it depends on the subject in your frame, the red color of the chosen function is almost unreadable in some situations. Especially when the icon is relatively small or when words and abbreviations are used, you need to look closely to decipher the meaning. Fortunately, you will get used to it, and you will be able to recognize it to compensate for the unreadable information.
The Sony a1 offers high-resolution functionality for those who want more than the 50 megapixels available. With pixel shift, the Sony a1 makes it possible to shoot an almost 200-megapixel image. You can choose between 4 or 16 images. But it isn't possible to process these images in the camera. You need to do this in your post-production. If you know how it works, you can do it yourself. But if you don't have the skills, you need to use the Sony software for the pixel shift high-resolution images.
The camera is very fast, and the amount of images that can be stored in the memory is amazing. But it takes almost a minute before the buffer is cleared. During this time, you can't use the functions in the menu. You have to wait until the buffer is cleared. I have to mention this was tested with a fast SD card. I don't know how fast it is with a CF Express Type A card.
The autofocus may work well under normal conditions, but when the situation gets more challenging, it may become much more difficult to use it the way you like. The camera isn't measuring the light and autofocus with the maximum lens opening, but it's closing the physical lens opening if you turn towards a smaller aperture. This way, the autofocus won't have the maximum amount of light available, which can make it difficult.
If you run into a situation when you need to focus in a dark environment with a small aperture, the camera will sometimes fail to recognize faces or eyes. You may even get in a situation when the camera is hunting for focus. I have run into situations when the autofocus fails to focus at all.
Most of the time, you will open the aperture when the environment is dark. But if you need a small aperture and the light is bad, be prepared for possibly failed autofocus.
More About the Sony a1
There are more things to tell about the Sony a1. It shoots video in 8K, and there are lots of settings available for video-oriented enthusiasts and professionals. I don't know enough about video capabilities to give an opinion about the Sony a1. But I do know the fast readout speed of the sensor makes the camera less subjective to the rolling shutter effect. This is perfect for video shooters who love to shoot a lot of action.
About the Price of the Sony a1
The Sony a1 offers a lot of functions and possibilities. It is a great camera with an improved ergonomic design and a larger grip compared to its predecessors. I do believe it is the best photographic-oriented Sony camera on the market today. But you will pay a lot of money for this top-of-the-line model. Even though some specifications make it a very luxurious camera with amazing capabilities, I think it is overpriced.
My Conclusion After Using the Sony a1
I must admit, the Sony a1 is the best Sony Alpha series camera I have ever used. It ticks a lot of boxes that were missing with the previous models. It's a pity Sony didn't introduce these improvements in previous models. The menu is one example, but the size and ergonomics are also something they could have taken care of a long time ago.
Even with the improvements, I believe there is still room for more. I wonder why Sony didn't make a lot of these changes as perfect as possible. Some are just not ready. It wouldn't surprise me if the next camera will introduce just another set of minor improvements.
The Sony a1 is a great camera with amazing capabilities. I enjoyed shooting with this model a lot, more than any previous Sony camera. I want to thank Sony from the Netherlands for the opportunity to review this camera.
What is your opinion about the Sony a1? Do you have one, or are you planning to acquire one soon? I love to read your thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly in the comments below.
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