Yesterday marked a huge announcement for Sony as it introduced the 50MP Sony Alpha a1 to its mirrorless line of camera bodies.
My first thoughts were – wow! What an absolute beast of a camera! Shortly followed by, wow! And a price tag to match!
Regardless of the price, the Alpha a1 is a groundbreaking camera and will be the flagship Sony model. Sony has excelled with their Alpha mirrorless series, consistently setting the bar for specifications and performance. The Alpha a1 is no different, it really is the first of its kind, and Canon nor Nikon have an answer right now.
We’ll discuss the specs, but it’s priced like a flagship camera, it’s $6,500. Let’s get it out of the way, yes, that’s a lot of money.
With that said, it’s not unusual for high-end bodies to be priced in that range. The Canon 1D X Mark III and Nikon D6 are both around that price, and it can be argued that the Sony Alpha 1 is better than those two models in almost every way.
Sony Alpha a1 – $6,498
- 50MP Full-Frame Exmor RS BSI CMOS Sensor
- Up to 30 fps Shooting, ISO 50-102400
- 8K 30p and 4K 120p Video in 10-Bit
- 4.3K 16-Bit Raw Video Output, S-Cinetone
- 9.44m-Dot EVF with 240 fps Refresh Rate
- 759-Pt. Fast Hybrid AF, Real-time Eye AF
- 5-Axis SteadyShot Image Stabilization
- Dual Drive Mech. Shutter, 1/400 Sec Sync
- 5 GHz MIMO Wi-Fi, 1000BASE-T Ethernet
- Dual CFexpress Type A/SD Card Slots
The Alpha a1 is a culmination of Sony’s technological success – it features a new high-resolution sensor, which is capable of 30fps burst rates, and high-end 8K video.
The Alpha a1 has a 50.1 MP sensor with a new BIONZ XR sensor, which delivers 8x greater processing power. Sony says that this sensor does not suffer from increased noise (as some noticed with the A7r IV) and can capture an insane 15-stops of dynamic range.
50.1 MP resolution, great noise handling, incredible dynamic range – sounds like a fantastic landscape. BUT, it gets better. Its capable of an insane 30fps burst rate with blackout-free shooting, and AF/AE tracking with the electronic shutter enabled. So, it’s will be an absolute beast for wildlife photography.
To me, this is a huge win for Sony. They’ve managed to take the best aspects of a landscape camera and merge them with the best aspects of a wildlife camera.
Most flagship models, like the 1D X Mark III and D6, have industry-leading focusing systems and burst rates. The Alpha a1 has ALL of that, but it also has the resolution and sensor to make it an industry-leading landscape camera as well.
Sony’s autofocusing system is world-renown at this point, the A9 series really set the bar although the R5 has leveled the playing field. It looks like this AF system is even better than the A9 II though. There’s 92% sensor coverage and new tracking modes have been introduced – a real-time eye AF for bird photography (!!!) and a new improved overall real-time tracking system, meaning better tracking for wildlife.
The Alpha a1 has some new design features too, most notably a new electronic viewfinder (EVF). The EVF is an OLED 0.64-type 9.44 million-dot, which is the highest resolution and widest in its class. It’s also the world’s first electronic viewfinder to have a 240fps refresh rate for super-smooth performance. The a1 has a 5-axis optical in-body image stabilization system for 5.5 stops of stabilization, which was probably the least surprising spec that was unveiled.
Now, let’s take a step back, we currently have, in my opinion, the best hybrid camera on the market. An absolute beast for landscape and wildlife. Well, Sony went ahead and took some of the best aspects (and more) from the A7s III and threw in professional video capabilities.
The Alpha a1 can shoot 8K30p, 10-bit video internally, as well as 4K120p 4:2:2 internally. A heat-dissipating design allows for 30 minutes of continuous 8K recording. It can also output 16-bit RAW video to an external HDMI device. Sony says the a1, ‘includes the same S-Cinetone color matrix that produces beautiful color and skin tones in the VENICE, FX6, and other Cinema Line cameras.’ It has classic S-log3 and HLG modes for ultimate cinematic control too.
Along with being an incredible stills camera, it has the potential to be a professional video camera as well.
The a1 has two media slots that both support UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards and CFexpress Type A cards. CFexpress will undoubtedly be a great choice for the best performance with burst rate and video recording. You have options when it comes to storage, which is great.
Overall, what an exciting way to kick off the year. This is an awesome release from Sony. A strategic one as well. The market for interchangeable lens cameras is shrinking and smartphone cameras are becoming better and better. There is definitely a niche market for flagship-priced models and Sony has decided to go after that. I think Sony will be successful, as the a1 looks to be an incredible camera. Canon and Nikon have nothing to match it right now, but I’m sure both companies are working on new releases.
The a1 will come out this March and is priced at $6,498.
What do you think? If you are a Sony user, does this camera interest you? In my opinion, and with no concern for price, the Canon R5 and this a1 are the best cameras on the market. There is a large price discrepancy between the two though. The Canon R5 is 45MP, can do 20 fps, and has 8K and 4K120p capabilities. That seems like a huge value to me when it’s priced for about $3,000 less than the Sony a1.
We will have to wait and see until we get an a1 in our hands and can test it out. It does have more resolution, better dynamic range, a faster burst rate, professional video features, and the best electronic viewfinder available right now. I’m guessing the AF system will blow us away too…but again, if you’re in the market for a new camera, are those things worth an extra $3,000…and I’m sure Nikon is going to answer with a camera that competes with the R5 sometime this year. So, stay tuned it should be a wild 2021 for cameras!
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com
Don’t Miss the Next Session of BCJ “Live”
Backyard Bird Photography: Simple Techniques for Wildlife Close to Home
with Russell Graves
Tuesday, March 9th, 2021 at 11 am (Mountain)