When the Sony A1 was announced, the price tag spoke louder than any specification. This camera is $6,500! Six thousand, five hundred dollars. Such a price was reserved for “true” flagship cameras like the Canon 1DX Mark III, or the Nikon D6. (If anybody is old enough to remember, Canon and Nikon even charged $8,000 for flagship bodies, long ago!) Thus, it was with at least some skepticism that I began this Sony A1 review.
Why was I skeptical? Simply because the Sony A1 looks surprisingly identical to the Sony A9 II. That is, it does NOT have a built-in vertical grip. In fact, the A1 is ergonomically identical to cameras that cost thousands of dollars less.
Why Does The Sony A1 Cost $6,500?
So, you’re not alone if the first thing that came to mind was, “why does this camera cost so much more than anything else in the Sony lineup?” Is it the 8K video capability? Is it the 20-30 FPS stills? On paper, it is definitely one of the most powerful cameras ever made.
Personally, I had naively assumed that the Sony A9 series would be their highest-end flagship line. At around $4,500, the original Sony A9 was the most expensive full-frame mirrorless camera at the time. It also offered phenomenal speed and ground-breaking autofocus reliability. However, both 9-series cameras have a 24-megapixel sensor, whereas the A1 has double the resolution. Additionally, despite the resolution increase, the A1 is even faster.
With that being said, let’s dive into our official Sony A1 review! This flagship camera definitely offers unprecedented performance, even compared to the Canon EOS R3 and the Nikon Z9. We’ll go over every spec during the course of this review, but here’s the biggest difference of all, the one you really want to know about: the Sony A1 is the only camera that offers 50 megapixels at 30 FPS in RAW. (albeit with lossy compression) The R3 and Z9 have some tricks up their sleeves too, but there is no denying that the A1 is a beast of a speed champion, indeed deserving of the title “flagship”.
Sony A1 Specifications
- SENSOR: 50.1 megapixels, Exmor RS BSI stacked CMOS sensor
- LENS MOUNT: Sony E-mount (full-frame mirrorless)
- STILL IMAGES: 8640 x 5760 pixels
8K: 7680×4320, 30p, 400 Mbps, XAVC HS, H.265, Linear PCM
4K: 3840 x2160, 120p, 280 Mbps, XAVC HS, H.265, Linear PM
- ISO: 100-32000 Native, 50-102400 HI/LO
- AUTOFOCUS: 759-point Hybrid AF, Face, Eye, human/animal/bird detection, Real-Time Tracking
- SHOOTING SPEED: 30 FPS, (JPG, HEIF, compressed RAW) 20 FPS (uncompressed/lossless RAW)
- SHUTTER SPEEDS: 30 sec/bulb, up to 1/8000 sec mechanical, 1/32000 electronic
- STABILIZATION: 5-axis in-body stabilization
- VIEWFINDER: 9.43-MP, 0.9x magnification EVF
- LCD: 3-in 1.44-MP touchscreen
- CONNECTIVITY: USB 3.2/PD (type c) HDMI, (full-size) microphone, headphone, WIFI/Bluetooth,
- STORAGE: Dual CFexpress Type A & SD UHS-II slots
- BATTERY: NP-FZ100, USB-PD charging, 530 shot rating
- BODY CONSTRUCTION: Metal alloy, fully weather-sealed
- SIZE: 129x97x81 mm (5.08×3.82×3.19 in)
- WEIGHT: 737 g (1.62 lb / 26.00 oz)
- PRICE: $6,499
(B&H | Adorama | Amazon)
Sony A1 Review | Who Should Buy It?
Okay, let’s get to it! This camera is without a doubt a very serious investment. In fact, it’s the most serious (photography) camera that Sony has ever made. Therefore, you must make sure you are investing your hard-earned money correctly.
I say this because, depending on the type of photography you do, Sony’s E-mount full-frame mirrorless camera lineup is already so good, and you might be able to save thousands of dollars by getting a camera that is just as good or even better-suited to what you do!
Also, when the camera body costs this much, you might even be considering switching from (or to) Canon or Nikon, which is a whole new level of comparison. I’ll get into that later. The question right now is, who should consider buying the Sony A1?
Action Sports Photography
First and foremost, this camera is all about speed, and not just that, but speed WITH resolution. This is particularly important for telephoto shooters who are always either making huge prints with their images or cropping a lot. Either way, having 50 megapixels with this much speed was totally unprecedented at the time the A1 was released.
If you’re photographing athletes from the sidelines, whether it’s professional team sports or the Olympics, then you are shopping for sheer burst speed, plus focus tracking, and yes, resolution too. Simply put, the A1 offers literally the best specs in all three regards.
It’s almost crazy to think that the Sony A1 captures raw still images at 30 FPS. Gone are the days of capturing 4K video and pulling still frames from the video. (In JPG quality, yuck!) The A1’s stills are 8K raw.
The Sony A1 does capture 8K video, of course, at up to 30p, for those who shoot both. Either way, the bottom line is this: the A1’s primary purpose is high-speed action.
Wildlife photography is where resolution can become even more important, because you’re more likely to be making large prints, and you’re also likely to be restricted in how close you can get to certain subjects.
For this reason, I would rather have a Sony A1 instead of, say, the Sony A9 II or Sony A7R IV. (Why settle for speed or resolution, when you can have speed and resolution?
By the way, if you’re a wildlife photographer who also does landscapes and is therefore contemplating the 60-megapixel Sony A7R IV instead of the A1, I’ll save you all the trouble: don’t fall for those extra megapixels! The Sony A7R IV, despite offering a respectable 10 FPS, is definitely far behind the A1 when it comes to wildlife photography, especially if there is a lot of high-speed action involved. In order for me to recommend the A7R IV instead, you’d have to be doing mostly landscapes, and just a little bit of wildlife.
Wedding & Portrait Photography
Sony’s latest generation of face/eye autofocus is truly incredible. Wedding photographers have known this ever since the original Sony A9 came out and revolutionized the mirrorless market!
Having said that, how good is the Sony A1’s face/eye autofocus, compared to the performance of a Sony A7 IV or a Sony A7R IV? What about the A9 II?
Honestly, you don’t need an A1 for weddings, and you certainly don’t need it for portraits. If you want the resolution for printing portraits as huge canvases, then get a Sony A7R IV. If you want powerful low-light autofocus that just sticks to your subjects like glue, get a Sony A9 II.
By opting for one of those other Sony bodies for “only” $2.5-4.5K, you can retain thousands of dollars for potentially investing in your preferred workhorse Sony GM lens. Personally, I would absolutely rather have the incredible new Sony FE 35mm f/1.4 GM, Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM, or the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 II GM mounted on a Sony A9II. As opposed to an A1 with any of the older models of those lenses, that is.
Having said that, is the Sony A1 pretty much the *ultimate* wedding photography camera if you can afford it? Yes, absolutely. In fact, to Sony’s credit, I would almost rather have an A1 instead of a Nikon Z9 or a Canon EOS R3, for weddings in particular, because of how many hours a day I’m hand-holding (often one-handed) my camera. So, if you have the money, then yes, the Sony A1 is an incredible camera for wedding photography. I’d just rather spend that extra money on lenses, personally.
Candid & Street Photography
Honestly? Don’t be that parent who carries a $6,500 camera everywhere just to snap casual photos of daily life or a family vacation. That’s what the Sony A7IV or even the Sony A7C are for! Plus, again, you’ll have more money available to invest in lenses.
For candid, street journalism, everyday life, family vacations, and everything in between, the lens you carry is far more important than the camera body.
The Sony A1 has 50 megapixels, which of course is an incredibly high resolution that any landscape photographer would love to have. However, should you be spending $6.5K on a landscape camera? No, not really. The Sony A7R IV is even better for landscapes, and costs half as much!
Hands-down, the only reason to use the Sony A1 for landscape photography is if you also are a wildlife photographer, of course. I would go so far as to say that I wouldn’t buy the A1 (instead of the A7R IV) for landscapes unless I was also doing at least 50% wildlife, actually.
Nightscape & Astrophotography
The same logic as above will apply here: does the A1 have excellent high ISO performance? Yes, the 50 MP sensor is great, even at ISO 6400 and 12800. However, for nightscapes, in particular, I’d recommend virtually any of the other current-generation Sony cameras first. Once again, investing in excellent lenses first is way more beneficial for nightscape photography.
8K Video & Cinematography
It would be highly unfair of me to not mention that if you’re creating 8K video, the Sony A1 is one of the very few photography-oriented cameras to offer 8K video resolution.
With the latest firmware, at the time of writing this review, the Sony A1 offers 4:2:2 10-bit video. This is an impressive enough spec that you could use the A1 to make a low-budget feature film. It’s true that you could get 8K RAW out of the likes of the Canon EOS R5, but the sheer overall speed of the A1 is vastly superior to any other 8K video camera. (Besides the Nikon Z9, which I’ll get to soon!)
Sony A1 Review | Pros & Cons
Here’s a one-paragraph overview of how good the Sony A1 is, and where its drawbacks may lie: The autofocus is arguably the best on the market in terms of reliable precision, although the AF interface and controls could use some improvement. The sheer speed is superior to all other full-frame cameras, especially considering the resolution and various options for raw stills. The image quality, of course, is stunning for both stills and video. Last but not least, the physical build quality, although identical to other Sony bodies costing much less, is highly versatile and useful for any serious photographer who takes the time to master and customize it.
High-speed cameras used to always be a compromise in terms of maximum image quality, but not anymore! The Sony A1 offers impressive resolution and dynamic range, something that virtually all other flagship high-speed cameras couldn’t claim.
Whether you are working at ISO 100 or ISO 6400 or even 12800, you’ll be treated to gorgeous images with sharp fine detail, vibrant colors, and competitive highlight and shadow recovery potential.
There’s no other way to put this except to just say that the Sony A1 has some of the most amazing autofocus reliability that I’ve ever seen. It’s snappy and responsive. It locks focus with precision, and it does so consistently.
Indeed, for high-speed action sports and wildlife, you need all three: speed, precision, and reliability. Any one of these separate aspects of autofocus performance could be a huge deal-breaker if it falls short.
Even in extremely low light, where you’re barely able to hand-hold with sharp results on an f/1.4 prime, you’ll still be able to completely trust the A1’s autofocus to nail perfect focus virtually every time.
Features & Customizations
As I mentioned in my Sony A9 II review, picking up the Sony A1 feels like climbing into the cockpit of a fighter jet. It’s intimidating to say the least, and you absolutely must invest a serious amount of time in studying and customizing the controls, the quick menu, the custom menu tabs… and oh, if you do both photo and video, you can now customize the camera completely differently for both!
The A1 includes one physical feature/function that I consider to be highly valuable and am still annoyed that this isn’t included on the relatively pricey Sony A7R IV and Sony A7S III: The top-left dial set, which offers dedicated dials for both drive mode and focus mode. These functions normally must be programmed to various buttons elsewhere on most Sony cameras, and I still dislike even the best, most familiar configurations for those settings.
With these two very important settings getting their own dedicated dials, the rest of the camera’s customizable buttons are abundant. Although it is intimidating at first, I eventually found an important function to assign to literally every button on the camera. Without this effort, quite honestly, anyone who isn’t highly familiar with Sony controls will have a nightmarish experience, but once past the sheer cliff of a learning curve, the camera is actually a delight to work with because it is well-suited to even the most demanding conditions.
One final complaint that I have is regarding the mode dial and the EV comp dial. The EV comp dial, like the other latest-gen Sony bodies, now lets you unlock it full-time for easy adjustment. The mode dial, however, is still locked full-time. So, anyone coming from the Sony A7 III, for example, will find it annoying that they can’t easily change the mode dial. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it is an annoyance.
Design & Durability
Physically, the Sony A1’s ergonomics and hand-holding comfort levels are alright, but not the best. I have rather large hands, which is certainly a factor in how comfortable any camera grip is for me. It’s not downright uncomfortable or painful to hold the camera for 12+ hours straight, as was the case with the earliest Sony full-frame mirrorless bodies. However, there is certainly room for improvement.
What is even more important to many full-time professionals, of course, is the durability of the camera itself. How indestructible is it? It sounds reckless, but for $6,500, you almost want the camera to be capable of surviving being dropped on concrete.
I performed no such tests, of course, but I will definitely say that this is the most rock-solid Sony body I have ever held, and it feels more than ready to take a beating as a full-time professional tool. Don’t think twice about using this camera in the rain, snow, dust, or any other conditions.
Oh, by the way, speaking of dust: the Sony A1 finally adds sensor protection in the form of a closed mechanical shutter when the camera is turned off. After a half-dozen weddings and dozens or even hundreds of lens changes, I can honestly say that this did, in fact, significantly reduce the amount of dust accumulating on the sensor.
I could easily argue that the Sony A1 is an excellent value considering that its performance is unprecedented and class-leading. However, there are too many excellent alternatives, both from Sony and Canon & Nikon, for me to call $6,500 the best value.
Simply put, compared to the Sony A9 II, A7R IV, and A7 IV, the Sony A1 is just not providing the most “bang for your buck” unless you absolutely need its combination of speed and resolution. If you only need blinding speed or maximum resolution, not both, then there’s a better value in the A9 II or A7R IV. If you’re okay with compromising a bit on both speed and resolution, you can save a ton of money with the A7 IV.
Is the Sony A1 worth it, though? Yes, absolutely. It’s just not “right” for the average photographer.
Sony A1 vs Nikon Z9 vs Canon EOS R3
While the Sony full-frame mirrorless alternatives are all attractive, I absolutely must get more in-depth about the key difference between the Sony A1 and the other two most obvious flagship mirrorless camera bodies, the Canon EOS R3 (~$6,000) and the Nikon Z9 (~$5,500). These are just the highlights, the biggest similarities, and differences:
The Sony A1 has 50 megapixels, the Nikon Z9 has ~45 megapixels, and the Canon EOS R3 has 24 megapixels. Clearly, the Sony and Nikon are in a different class from the Canon, with approximately double the resolution.
Having said that, 24 megapixels is likely plenty of resolution for many types of high-speed action photography, so, if you’re eyeing some of the Canon RF lenses, you might not care.
Keep in mind that Canon historically loves using “1” to name their topmost flagship cameras. So, there’s a chance Canon has an “EOS R1” up their sleeves, and it could very well be a 45-50+ megapixel monster. If you’re a die-hard Canon shooter who somehow stumbled onto this Sony A1 review, and you DO care about resolution, you might want to keep saving because such a camera would likely cost closer to $7-8K. To be quite honest, it will also likely match or beat the Sony A1 in many ways, indeed. (It had better, for ~$8K!)
BURST SPEED (FRAMES PER SECOND / FPS):
The Sony A1 offers 30 FPS in raw, with lossy compression applied, and 20 FPS with lossless raw compression. The Nikon Z9 offers 30 FPS in JPG only, and 20 FPS raw with lossless compression. The Canon R3 offers 30 FPS in raw, lossless compression.
In other words, the Canon R3 is the only camera that offers the highest-quality raw files at 30 FPS. The Nikon Z9 “only” offers 20 FPS if you want to shoot raw instead of JPG. The Sony A1 offers 30 FPS with its ARW raw files, but only if you apply lossy compression.
Honestly? I’ve been shooting “lossy” raw for over a decade on my Nikons, and I’ve never had a problem. Sony’s lossy compression isn’t as good as Nikon’s, but I’d still rather have twice the resolution of the Canon R3 and 50% more speed than the Z9. Thus, for me, the A1 wins here.
Autofocus Speed, Accuracy, & Reliability
All of these flagship cameras have achieved an unprecedented level of AF precision, speed, and reliability. An experienced pro who spends the time to master any of these three cameras will find that they get a far better hit rate than if they simply look at lab tests and chose whichever camera body seems to be a small percentage “measurably superior”.
In other words, chose the camera that has the ergonomics and AF point control customizations that make the most sense to you. You want a camera where the operation feels effortless. This will always result in more in-focus shots than ever before. I’ll say it again: Just pick whichever camera suits your preferences, and then master that camera.
Video Resolution, FPS, & Quality:
Because of the massive difference in sensor resolution, the Sony A1 and Nikon Z9 offer 8K video, while the Canon EOS R3 can “only” capture 4K video.
For most photographers, this won’t be a deal-breaker. If you’re really interested in 8K video then you’re probably not looking at the Canon EOS R3, but the R5 or R5C instead.
While I was writing this Sony A1 review, Sony released a major firmware update that delivered 8K 10-bit 4:2:2 video, which really makes it a solid competitor in the realm of 8K video in general. This isn’t exactly a movie camera, of course; it’s more of a hybrid flagship. Exactly what we’d expect from Sony, the champion of hybrid photo+video cameras.
Design & Ergonomics
Last but not least, I have to poke fun at the Sony A1 for not having a built-in vertical grip. It’s a petty argument, admittedly, but it’s still worth noting that the A1 costs $6,500, which is $500 more than the Canon R3 and a whole $1,000 more than the Nikon Z9, …and yet it’s the one camera without a vertical grip. For that kind of money, it’s a controversial decision at best, and a real let-down for some.
Besides the comfort of hand-holding the camera in vertical orientation, cameras like the Z9 and R3 also feel more ergonomic even when hand-holding horizontal shots. Plus, there are a few additional buttons usually, and last but certainly not least, the giant battery they contain will last for literally thousands of clicks. (I don’t care what CIPA says, I have tested them myself!)
Having said that, I know that some photographers are actually happy to do away with the vertical grip, …and of course, you can always just buy a vertical grip for the Sony A1 if you really want one. I’m actually surprised that bundled kits with a free/discounted grip aren’t highly popular. I guess that says everything we need to know about this particular gripe of mine!
Sony A1 Review | Compared To The (Other) Competition
Now that I’ve compared the Sony A1 against its most direct competitors, I’ll cover the “other alternatives” you might consider. These are cameras that are either slower and/or lower resolution, and most notably, they’re much more affordable:
The Sony A9 II is definitely my top alternative. Not only does the Sony A9 series have virtually identical ergonomics as the A1 series, it also has the next-best (for Sony) autofocus system. Plus, it’s one of the few other cameras with that physical drive/focus mode dial that I like.
With that being said, the Sony A9 II is a ~$4,500 camera, so it still sits well above all of the more affordable options. Indeed, the Sony A7 IV is no slouch, and if you’re looking for an “all-around” camera that does everything very well, you’ll really appreciate that this camera looks and performs very similarly to the A1, yet costs “only” ~$2,500.
Last but not least, landscape photographers, just get the Sony A7R IV, or even the A7R III if you’re on a budget. Those 42-megapixel and 61-megapixel sensors are just perfect for landscapes, even astro-landscapes, actually.
Sony VS Canon & Nikon
Outside of the Sony E-mount full-frame mirrorless system, there are few options that will come close to performing like the Sony A1. If it’s 8K video you’re interested in, the Canon EOS R5 is clearly one of the only alternatives. The Canon R6 is an even more affordable alternative, of course, if you’re on a budget but still want blazing fast speed and solid autofocus performance. The Canon R6 sensor, however, is the least-desirable of all the possible alternatives, in my opinion.
The Nikon Z7 II, at 45 megapixels and 10 FPS, but no 8K video, is an absolute steal at just ~$2,900. The Nikon Z6 II, which is even cheaper at a mere $1,996, is still quite fast, but again the overall performance is far behind the high-speed flagships.
Sony A1 Review | Conclusion
The most surprising thing about the Sony A1 may not actually be its price, indeed. For the sheer performance it offers, it deserves a spot on the “flagship pro camera” shelf. In fact, it deserves this title for both photo and video shooters!
Having said that, at $6,498, this full-frame mirrorless camera is simply out of reach for most photographers, and there are some excellent alternatives that cost a thousand dollars less. (Up to $4,000 less!) For less than the price of the Sony A1, you could buy the excellent Sony A7 IV and one or two GM (or three or four G) lenses!
My final verdict is this: If you need 8K resolution for both stills and video, and you need 30 FPS raw stills, and you need the absolute best autofocus on the market, then this is literally the only option. However, if you’re willing to balance value, speed, and other specs, you still have a tough decision to make! Hopefully, this review has given you the final convincing details to help you.
Please leave a comment below if you have any other questions or thoughts!
Check Pricing & Availability
The Sony A1 is available for $6,498 as a body only. Alternately, you can get the A1 in a kit with the (older) Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, 70-200mm f/2.8 GM, 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, or the very new12-24mm f/2.8 GM. The kit price ranges from ~$8,500 to ~$9,500.
Alternately, you can get just the Sony A1 body with a vertical grip (and a high-speed CFe Type A 80GB card) …for $6,944.