Sony Alpha 1: Arrival of the Alpha


Yet again, Sony has set a new benchmark with the introduction of their most advanced full frame camera to date, the Alpha 1. Nilofer Khan reports.

Sony has met the specific needs of their customers with the launch of varied models such as the Sony Alpha 7R series that offers high-resolution sensors, the Alpha 7S series is for videographers, and the Alpha 9 series has the fastest autofocus and continuous shooting speed. Last year, they decided to introduce the Alpha 1, which takes it a step further with its improved technologies. This flagship also won the Best Full Frame Professional Camera award at the Technical Image Press Association 2021.

Powered by a 50.1MP full frame stacked back-illuminated CMOS Exmor RS sensor that includes integral memory, the Alpha 1 has an A/D conversion system and BIONZ XR image processing engine.

The new dual-driven shutter system is augmented by an electromagnetic actuator, making it silent, vibration-free, and reducing the rolling shutter effect. As a result of the carbon fibre shutter curtain, for the very first time in the Alpha series, the camera offers electronic shutter flash sync up to 1/200sec. With the mechanical shutter, the flash synch in the full-frame mode is 1/400sec, as for the APS-C mode, it’s 1/500sec. These flash sync speeds can be achieved with compatible Sony external flashes. Moreover, synchronisation via the sync terminal is not available for the electronic shutter. Sony also provides anti-flicker shooting to prevent irregular exposure under fluorescent lighting. The shutter closes when the camera is switched off, but it has to be enabled from the menu.

There are two new file formats available—lossless compressed and light JPEG. The former reduces file size by 50 to 80%, while the latter is for photographers who need to transfer files quickly. The light JPEG has a resolution of 8640 x 5760 pixels when shooting at 50.1MP. The newer HEIF (High Efficiency Image File) format offers 10-bit gradations, and 4:2:2 or 4:2:0 colour sampling. Full frame ‘M’ size JPEG or HEIF images also retain approximately 21MP, oversampled from the 50.1MP output. The Alpha 1 captures 14-bit uncompressed RAW images.

The burst rate at 20fps with lossless compressed is pretty good to shoot action. I was constantly panning the camera while burst shooting and the EVF worked perfectly fine, with no lag or jitter. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/4 (ISO 1600) Photograph/Nilofer Khan

The camera also enables up to 120 autofocus and auto-exposure calculations per second, even while shooting at 30fps. 59 phase-detection points cover approximately 92% of the image area and 425-point contrast AF for a hybrid AF system. Along with human and animal Real-time Eye AF tracking, the camera can now track birds. However, the Eye AF tracking for birds and animals is limited to stills. It also shoots continuously with full AF tracking at apertures as small as f/22.

Perhaps the most talked-about feature is the camera’s ability to shoot at 30fps. It can capture 165 JPEGs or 155 compressed RAW files in one continuous 30fps burst and more than 1000 Fine JPEGs continuously at 15fps via Sony CFexpress Type A cards. To enable 30fps, you are required to use the electronic shutter. Secondly, the camera can only capture compressed RAW files at 30fps. If you switch to uncompressed or lossless compressed, it will automatically come down to 20fps. To enable 30fps, you have to choose ‘Hi+’ symbol on the top left dial.

The 9.44 million-dot OLED EVF now has the world’s first refresh rate of 240fps. It also has 0.90x magnification with a 41° FOV, and a 25mm high eyepoint structure. The Quad-XGA resolution will switch UXGA when you choose 240ps, making it easier to follow fast-moving subjects and reducing motion blur when panning or tilting.

The Alpha 1 also features a 16-shot Pixel Shift Shooting mode to create 199MP images, even with flash sync at 1/200 sec. The pictures will need to be stitched in the Imaging Edge software. It offers a 15-stop dynamic range at lower ISO, and its new Creative Style modes can be tweaked for Highlights, Shadows, Fade, Sharpness and Clarity.

Another significant update is the internal and external 8K 30fps XAVC HS recording with 8.6K oversampling. Users can select full frame and Super 35 formats for 4K recording. It can read out full pixels in the Super 35 mode, without the need for pixel binning. Bit rates up to 600MB/s can be used for 4K XAVC HS, XAVC S, and XAVC S-I recording. The Alpha 1 offers in-camera 4K recording at up to 120fps but with a 10% crop. Long GOP inter-frame or high-quality (All-I) intra-frame compression are available.

Like the Alpha 7S III, it allows 16-bit RAW output to an external recorder via its HDMI Type A connector. It is also possible to output RAW via HDMI while recording XAVC HS 4K, XAVC S 4K, or XAVC S-I 4K to internal card media. Like the A7 IV, it has a 5-axis optical in-body image stabilisation and includes Optical SteadyShot Active Mode for handheld shooting in 4K or lower resolutions.

The details captured by the Alpha 1 are spectacular. In this shot, you can notice the intricate texture of concrete, clothes, and the ruffled hair of the child, as well as the bridge and city in the background. Exposure: 1/640sec at f/5 (ISO 125) Photograph/Nilofer Khan

When recording S&Q footage, the XAVC S-I format at 60fps allows a maximum bit rate of 600MB/s (4:2:2 10-bit, H.264, All-I). Up to 10x slow motion with 1.5x oversampled Full HD resolution is possible at 240fps but with a 20% image crop. The XAVC HS format uses MPEG-H HEVC/H.265 coding. You can choose the AF transition speed and sensitivity for videos. The camera provides S-Log2 and S-Log3 gamma curves, as well as S-Log gamma, S-Gamut3 and S-Gamut3.Cine colour gamut settings.

There is no in-built GPS on the camera. Instead, a feature called Location Information obtains the location from your smartphone when you use the Imaging Edge Mobile. The devices need to be connected via Bluetooth.
For transfers, there is a USB Type-C and built-in 1000BASE-T LAN connectors. Alpha 1 has two media slots that both support UHS-I and UHS-II SDXC/SDHC cards and new CFexpress Type A cards. The CFexpress Type A cards are not bundled with the kit.

The Alpha 1 features a similar menu system like the Alpha 7S III, which has various colour-coded sections. While the segments make it convenient to understand the settings, it is a bit confusing with cryptic abbreviations. Sony has also incorporated info boxes but they don’t help much with the abbreviations. Users can assign 164 functions to 17 different custom buttons and dials. You can choose separate settings for stills and videos.

The battery door latch isn’t spring-loaded. You have to slide the lock manually to shut it. The card lid, too, requires pushing the slide down and then moving the door out to open. One can save settings to an SD card too.
Its NP-FZ100 battery drains quickly, especially when you are shooting videos. Some photographers who shoot a lot will need to carry additional batteries.

Even at higher ISO, the camera is able to control noise very well, as well as provide a good dynamic range. The details in the highlights were not completely blown out. Exposure: 1/30sec at f/2.8 (ISO 4000) Photograph/Nilofer Khan

The Alpha 1 is speedy, and precise and provides stellar image quality. Let’s first begin with the AF, which is excellent. I shot a variety of moving subjects such as children, cars and birds, and 9 of the 10 pictures were sharp. Even while panning, the camera performed splendidly well too. Its Face Recognition is spectacular, as the camera managed to track people who were wearing masks. Even in low light, the camera could recognise people and animals. Moreover, with the Tracking Expand Spot mode, I was able to shoot against complex backgrounds. The AF smoothly manoeuvred in crowded areas when the tracking sensitivity was set to 5. On the video front, the AF does a great job too. It quickly latches on to the next subject if the main subject walks out of the frame, and tracks them even when they turn away from the camera.

When you only shoot RAW with the electrical shutter, the camera captures 75 uncompressed, 80 lossless compressed, and 160 compressed RAWs. But if you also shoot Xtra Fine JPEG along with it, the camera captures 70 uncompressed, 72 lossless compressed, and 119 compressed RAWs. With the mechanical shutter, you can squeeze out a few more frames in one burst. It captured about 92 uncompressed, 118 lossless compressed, and 242 compressed RAWs, and with the Xtra Fine JPEGs, 77 uncompressed, about 88 lossless compressed and 148 compressed RAWs.

As expected, the low light performance of the camera is excellent. At up to ISO 12,800, noise is controlled really well. The details become smudgy if you push more than this. The dynamic range is great, enabling you to recover details from highlights and shadows.

The OLED EVF works smoothly, even when you’re panning or tilting. There are also no signs of flickering, dropped frames or distortion. Even with artificial lights indoors, particularly fluorescent lights, the flicker reduction kicks in very effectively, with no sign of banding or changes in exposure.

With the bird tracking mode, the AF latches on to one instantly. I used one of the Creative Styles here, and I like the distinct, rich tones of the photograph. Exposure: 1/1250sec at f/5 (ISO 125) Photograph/Nilofer Khan

Priced at Rs. 5,59,990 (body), the Sony Alpha 1 is the company’s finest camera to date. It is precise, reliable, speedy, and provides excellent quality. With the Alpha 1, Sony offers an array of excellent features, all rolled into one. With such high-end specifications, it’s targeted at both highly professional photographers and advanced enthusiasts. If your wallet permits it, go for it!

This article originally appeared in the April 2022 issue of Better Photography.

50.1MP resolution, excellent AF implementation, 16-shot Pixel Shift 199MP, 30fps, 8K videos
Superb details, AF tracking, low light performance
Build Quality
Magnesium alloy, good weathersealing
Good handling, customisable, confusing menu
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, good service network
MRP Rs 5,59,990 (body only)
Who should buy it? Very serious practitioners, especially photojournalists, landscape, fashion, portrait, wedding, event, wildlife, and sports photographers.
Why?  Best full frame high-resolution image quality, without compromising on speed or AF.