The new year has started off with a big bang for Sony. They just announced their new flagship mirrorless camera, the Alpha 1. You can watch the official announcement here to get the full set of specs. I also took a few moments to watch a couple of live Q&A video sessions between Michael Bubolo and David Snyder, both from Sony Pro Support, along with a couple of Sony Artisans.
Sony is setting up the Alpha 1 as a true flagship camera. It offers the best of Sony’s feature sets from each camera line. The price point ($6500 US) reflects this as well. While its list of features is impressively long, I’d like to offer a summary of the stand out features from the standpoint of a working photographer/video creator, and if I would consider upgrading.
1) 50 Megapixels @ 30 fps
The headlining technological feat of the Sony Alpha 1 is the giant 50 MP full-frame sensor combined with an electronic shutter frame rate of 30 fps. The amount of pixels that this camera is pushing per second is insane!
According to Sony, they are able to make great leaps with their processing speed because every component they put into their cameras is developed in-house. This makes perfect sense when combined with how Sony developed their G-Master series of lenses to take advantage of the quick focusing as well as the high-resolution requirements for such a dense image sensor.
It’s worth mentioning that you’ll need to use the latest CF Express Type A cards to avoid any bottlenecks while shooting in bursts. I got an email from Glenn Weinfeld, a Sony Pro Support Rep in my area, where he recommended the new Sony CF Express Cards which cost $199 for 80GB and $399 for 160GB. I totally agree with him. These faster cards will be necessary to shoot the Alpha 1 at the highest frame rates in full resolution.
2) High-Density OLED, Zero Blackout Viewfinder
If you’ve ever tried any of the a9 cameras, then you are well aware that there is no match to a zero blackout viewfinder experience. Once you try it, there’s no going back to a regular ol’ viewfinder.
This new viewfinder is just as clear as the brilliant one found in the a7SIII, but has twice the refresh rate at 240fps. We’ve come a long way from the laggy, low-resolution viewfinder of the original a7. From using the a7SIII, it’s such a world of difference. Everything is much more life like with the newer viewfinders. I am sure the Alpha 1 will set the bar even higher.
3) Anti-Flicker Electronic Shutter with Flash Sync Capability
Sony addressed hi-frequency flicker issues with the v2 firmware for the a9II, but it comes standard in the Alpha 1. You’ll be able to manually adjust the shutter speed at finer increments which allows you to reduce the impact of flickering while shooting. But most importantly, Sony’s electronic shutter has finally caught up with the mechanical ones as they can now sync with flashes, which they couldn’t do before. The sync speed is at 1/200 sec. with the electronic shutter, but can go up to 1/500 (APS-C) when switched to mechanical (1/400 full-frame). This is a big step towards fully ditching the mechanical shutter in future cameras. When we get there, the only thing that will physically move inside the camera will be the image stabilization mechanism, which is also on its way out (due to digital stabilization). I think the less moving parts in a mirrorless camera, the better.
4) Real-Time Eye AF
This is one of those silent features that make a big difference in real world use. According to Sony, the Alpha 1 focuses at the rate of 120 calculations per second. This means that even at the highest frame rate, the on-board processor will have focused on the subject 4 times per image taken. I’m not sure if my math is correct, but that seems insane to me. When the Alpha 1 goes for sale, it will be the fastest focusing camera ever.
5) Amazing Video Features
This is where the Alpha 1 goes bananas. As if the stills photography features were not enough, they basically crammed the a7SIII into this body as well. It has all the movie capture features as the a7SIII but drops the hammer with 8K recording at 30fps. It also does it without any overheating issues, at least from what I’ve heard so far. This was undeniable shade thrown towards Canon’s R5 which included the same feature, but was troubled with reports of constant overheating in real world use. We will have to see it in real life when the Alpha 1 comes out, but according to Mike Bubolo from Sony Pro Support, he was able to capture over an hour of 8K footage without overheating, and that’s because he ran out battery and card space. For me though, even if it came 90% close to what the a7SIII can do video-wise, then it’s got my attention. The Alpha 1 will be a true hybrid camera.
The one flaw I see with the Alpha 1’s 8K is that it’s only available in 10-bit 4:2:0 in the highly compressed XAVC HS mode. This type of video file is very computer-exhaustive. While it packs the 8K footage into smaller file sizes due to the compression, it will be a pain to edit. Personally, if the camera can do 10-bit 4:2:2 4K 60p XAVC-S All-I (which creates larger files, but are easier to edit), and it seems like it does, then I’m a happy camper. For me, 8K is a bonus.
It’s worth mentioning that Sony has also added S-Cinetone color profile for video, which was only available in their cinema line of video cameras. Maybe they thought to throw us a bone since the camera costs almost twice as much as the a7SIII. This will make it suitable as a complimentary camera to an FX9 or FX6.
One other stand-out video feature is that the full-frame 4K is oversampled form 8.6K and the crop-mode 4K is oversampled from 5.8K. This should give us a better quality 4K image, maybe even better than the a7SIII, which now seems to only perform better in the higher ISOs than the Alpha 1. I am curious to see if the Alpha 1 will behave similarly to the a7SIII when switching to ISO 12,800, where the noise level suddenly resets and becomes cleaner.
6) Image Quality Improvements
We are finally getting lossless compressed RAW. The Sony reps claimed that this type of RAW file will yield the same quality as uncompressed RAW at half the file size. Because of the large megapixel count of this new sensor, you can switch to an APS-C crop, to get 50% longer focal length with the lens you’re using, while capturing a 21 megapixel RAW file. This is one of the more practical features of this camera. I think 21 MP images will be more than enough for most of what I shoot, so having this flexibility is very welcomed. I’ve also gathered that you can capture a full-frame image down-sampled to 21 MP (to match the APS-C crop image size), but I am not sure if this is only available in JPEG images or with RAW capture as well. If it’s available in RAW, then this will be a killer feature. I’ll have to dig further to find out.
7) Multiple Cameras In One Body
In my professional work, I’ve been able to use all of Sony’s mirrorless lineup. Since I work on a variety of genres — wedding, portraits, studio work, video creation, commercial, architectural, documentary and events — I’ve had to use different cameras depending on the assignment. With the Alpha 1, it looks like Sony combined all the best features of the a7SIII, the a7RIV, and the a9II into one camera body.
So, this is the big question. Will I upgrade to an Alpha 1? My short answer is “Heck yes!” The prospect of having all of my needs met in one camera feels like a dream set up (although I’m keen on keeping my a7SIII for strictly video work and as an extra angle for wedding films). Sony headlined their Alpha 1 announcement with the tagline “The One”. Judging by what they showed us that day, I would have to agree with them.