Sony Alpha 1 review: everything nice at an expensive price

Terry Barentsen, pro cyclist, YouTuber, and Twitch streamer, kneeling down in the middle of 42nd Street in New York City while trying to shoot Terry Barentsen, pro cyclist, YouTuber, and Twitch streamer, I was completely off the beaten track. I’ve never shot a cyclist before, and certainly no one was as fast as Terry. But Sony’s new flagship camera, the $6,499 Alpha 1 (A1), made this task as easy as shooting a flower growing outside of my torso. The Alpha 1 consists of a 501 megapixel stacked CMOS sensor, an OLED viewfinder with a refresh rate of 240 fps, and a mechanical shutter flash sync of up to 1/400 sec. It is very different from other Sony full frame mirrorless cameras. It can shoot 8K video at up to 30fps, perform 120 autofocus calculations per second, and shoot 50 megapixel images up to 30 times per second with autofocus and autoexposure. There’s very little Alpha 1 can’t do. Good Stuff High resolution, high dynamic range sensor Excellent autofocus system Burst mode can take 30 images every second. Crisp, fast EVF Excellent controls 8K video without overheating Bad item menu system still bad Battery life is worse than other alpha models. , the Sony Alpha 1 is fast. But in reality it somehow feels faster. A feature that stands out to me is the 30fps burst mode. To reach these high capture rates, you need to set your camera to 1/250 shutter speed or higher, use electronic shutter mode, and shoot only in RAW compression or JPEG format. This burst mode also works best with Sony’s newest lenses, which can move the focus element within the lens very quickly. To test this, I had Terry ride down the busy Midtown streets of Manhattan very quickly. I shot Terry with the 100-400mm Sony G Master lens, which has the latest and greatest linear XD focusing motor. The Grid View Alpha 1’s high-speed autofocus system found Terry from more than 200 feet away and had no problems keeping Terry in focus despite shaky hands, moving traffic, and Terry’s high speed. It almost felt like cheating when my only job was to press the shutter and keep my subject in frame. Even when Terry was headed straight for the camera, few photos were out of focus, and I was able to take more than 100 photos before buffering got in the way. And since the OLED EVF can refresh up to 240 times per second, my vision was not interrupted or delayed. Instead of a shutter sound or screen blackout, a white box appears on the screen whenever an image is captured. The A1’s 50.1 megapixel images are sharp, rich in contrast and vivid. There are so many resolutions to work with, I wish I could shoot wider and cropped after the fact. There is almost no loss of quality. The dynamic range you still have in a compressed RAW file is better. Sony claims the A1 has 15 stops of dynamic range, which was easy to do when trying to bring back a shadowy figure. Low-light photos retain dark blacks without making the image overly grainy. This deep black gives me much less dynamic range in post, but I was able to shoot at 10,000 ISO before I noticed too much grain in the shadows. Alpha 1’s Grid View Video is top-notch with a very impressive 8K 30fps in 10-bit 4:2:0 H.265. Canon’s R5 beats the Alpha 1 on its specs, but Sony shoots better because it doesn’t overheat easily. The camera did get warm to the touch, but overheating didn’t stop the recording, especially on a very hot day in New York recently when I set the heat tolerance setting high. Gerald Undone has done a lot of testing on long term 8K video, and in short, this camera doesn’t have the Canon R5’s overheating problems. Instead, it has fast recovery times and no record limits, and can run for hours in a row by plugging a dummy battery into a power source. The Sony Alpha 1 has a variety of ports, including Ethernet, HDMI A, USB Type-C, Micro USB, and 3.5mm headphone and microphone ports. The Alpha 1’s button layout is similar to Sony’s other high-end models. Video can be recorded with a very flat and malleable S-log setup and Sony’s S-Cinetone profile to make it look cinematic right out of the camera. This profile is limited compared to log shooting, but overall it’s great for those just starting out with video, intimidated by scopes, LUTs, and want a color grading training wheel. And even better for lazy people who don’t want to color the footage. Sony has also made some improvements to the rolling shutter issue of existing mirrorless cameras. The car no longer appears to be made of jello, but at high speeds it still has this unwanted effect on the train. Sony also added a variable shutter option that fine-tunes the shutter speed to avoid flickering lights (or flickering phone screens in my case). Finally, fans of flash photography will be very pleased with the mechanical shutter’s ability to synchronize with flash up to 1/400 second. I don’t use flash much, but 1/250 seconds has been the industry standard for a while, and it’s two-thirds faster than this, so this is a big deal. Other reviewers have pointed to the A1’s EVF outage issues since launch, which I also observed in my tests. When trying to use the EVF in bright sunlight, the camera sometimes fails to switch from the monitor to the viewfinder, and instead all the screen goes black. During 14 days of use, EVF in the A1 was not activated once under bright sunlight. Then I had to turn the camera off and on again to get the view back. For a camera that is sold for speed and has a price tag like this, this slowdown is unacceptable. The Alpha 1 is surprisingly light at 1.6 pounds even without a battery. Physically, the Alpha 1 is nothing new, and if you’ve ever used Sony’s Alpha camera, the A1 will feel very familiar. It’s compact and lightweight, feels snug in the hand, and offers ample physical buttons and dials to reduce the need to navigate to menus. It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still a very time-consuming, labyrinthine tycoon. get used to it The A1 also uses the same Sony NP-FZ100 battery as other newer Alpha cameras. But it definitely draws more power than most other models, and the A1 only lets you use it for about half a day to take pictures. A bigger sensor, a more powerful EVF, and an incredibly fast burst mode check battery usage. We recommend that you use the A1 with extended battery grip or bring additional batteries. Sony batteries can drain quickly depending on how you use the camera, but adding the optional $348 vertical battery grip helps. Since this is Sony’s top-of-the-line model aimed at professionals, it has a plethora of ports on the left side of the camera, including an Ethernet port and full-size HDMI. All are covered with hard-feeling plastic doors that close with a reassuring click. On the right, there is a dual SD card slot that supports both SD or CF Express Type A cards. It looks like Sony is trying to make the CF Express Type AA Thing, but with the Type B they would have offered more options in terms of price and brand, not to mention that Type B cards are twice as fast. The articulated screen that doesn’t stick out 180 degrees was also disappointing. Fully refracting screens are great for video blogs and are also very useful for narrow angle or self-portrait setups. Instead, I shot it myself using Sony’s “Imaging Edge Mobile” app. The design is basic, but sufficient for remote shooting and image transfer. Still, it would be nice if I didn’t have to re-pair the camera and the app every time I quit the app. The Alpha 1 is like all other Sony cameras put together. At $6,500, the Alpha 1 is a professional tool with a professional price tag. It certainly isn’t cheap, especially when compared to the same professional Canon R5 that sits comfortably at under $4,000. But the A1 gets its price tag with a huge sensor, high-end video, all the dials and buttons you need, a great AF system, and a fast burst mode. From professional video work to studio, strobe work and action photography, all these features allow you to work in multiple fields. It’s as if Sony took all the best features of the A9 Mark II, A7S Mark III, A7R Mark IV, added the ability to shoot 8K video, and then put it all in a single camera. For professionals in Sony systems looking for the ultimate all-in-one tool. The rest can buy a few extra lenses as needed and choose a cheaper camera from the lineup. Still, I hope to get my hands on the Alpha 1 next time I get a chance to shoot a pro cyclist. Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge


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