Sony introduces high-end camera Alpha 1 – the new alpha animal in the DSLM enclosure?

Japan: The “Westeros” of the camera industry. Almost all camera manufacturers that are still significant today come from the land of the rising sun and play the game of the iron throne of the most powerful player in the field of digital image recording for photography and video. Canon, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, Fujifilm, Pentax …


Availability March 2021

In the eternal battle with numerous main and secondary scenes, Canon has so far occupied the throne undisputed, with Nikon as an eternal rival. But in the past few years, Sony, another power, has climbed the ladder of success and ousted Nikon as the most promising candidate for the throne at times. Nikon’s guns have become blunt. Thanks to their wealth of experience, the former DSLR heroes have not yet finally disappeared from the battlefield, but they had to give up a lot. The Nikonians only recently cleared their forge beyond the Great Wall (China). A sign of weakness? On smaller side theaters (APS-C, Four Thirds …) there were also lost battles and other playgrounds could soon disappear into insignificance, while the situation near the throne seems to come to a head …

In the free economy, away from all fantasy and real theaters of war, such scenarios are soberly called “market consolidation”.

The most exciting battle is currently being fought between Canon and Sony. After the long-standing and so far undefeated market leader Canon got through a lengthy thirst for innovation and was able to make up for recently lost ground and generate new momentum with the EOS R5 and R6, Sony is now getting ready with the new Alpha 1, at least in terms of technology to regain leadership that has already been achieved. The Sony Alpha 1 is not a moon base, but an impressive mirrorless system camera for sports, news, nature, portrait and many commercial applications. A real jack of all trades. But an expensive one. Sony will charge a whopping 7,300 euros for the body when it goes on sale in March. That is almost 3,000 euros more than the original list price of the Canon EOS R5. What does the Alpha 1 have to offer?

Quite a lot. But after reviewing the specs, the advantages of the A1 don’t seem as huge as the price difference would suggest.

See the full description from Sony here. In the following I will only summarize the most important features.

Externally, there are no major changes to be seen. The body of the A1 is only for those who are familiar with Sony DSLMs like the A7S III to distinguish. At 50 MP, the brand new sensor in the A1 even has a lower resolution than the one built into the A7R IV, but twice as many pixels as compared to the previous top model A9 II. The goal is not only maximum resolution, but above all high readout speed. In this regard, the A1 is one and a half times as fast as the A9 II, despite the significantly higher resolution. The result is a lower rolling shutter, a short flash sync time of 1 / 200s with an electronic shutter (1/400 with a mechanical one) and up to 30 frames per second with full resolution with 14 bits. At least with an electronic lock and thus without a viewfinder blackout. With a mechanical shutter, 10 fps is the maximum.

New for Sony is the introduction of a losslessly compressed RAW format, which saves 20-50% storage space per image. In this format however “only” with a maximum of 20 fps.

The previously excellent autofocus has been supplemented by automatic eye recognition for birds. Thanks to the high readout rate of the sensor, the camera should be able to carry out 120 AE and AF measurements per second, which should lead to a correspondingly higher reliability. 759 phase measuring points distributed over 92% of the image area can be selected.

The electronic viewfinder works with 0.9x magnification (at 25 mm eyepoint) and, as in the A7R IV, with 9.44 Mdots (2048 x 1536 pixels) at a refresh rate of up to 120 fps. Even 240 fps are possible, but then with a reduced resolution (5.76 Mdots, 1600 x 1200). Great resolution, great features. It is all the more incomprehensible why Sony uses a 3 “economy model with only 1.44 mdots that can only be folded up / down. Very mysterious.

What Canon has missed to integrate despite its impressive sensor image stabilizer, the Sony A1 brings with it: a sensor shift recording mode for images with a resolution of up to 199 MP. This function, which is very useful in some situations, can also be found at various other providers such as Olympus. Canon has some catching up to do here. However, there is a catch: The sensor shift recordings have to be put together in the external Sony image processing software afterwards, which makes the matter far less practical. Sony also has to leave feathers in terms of effectiveness, as their IBIS (In Body Image Stabilizer) only offers a maximum of 5.5 f-stops for shake compensation. Canon creates up to 8 levels thanks to the faster data connection of the R-Mount in combination with IS lenses.