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This article was published on January 26, 2021

Sony’s $6,498 a1 is an overkill camera for photo and video pros

Sony’s $6,498 a1 is an overkill camera for photo and video pros
Napier Lopez
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Napier Lopez

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Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.

Sony has been dominating the mirrorless camera market for the past few years, but we always knew it intended to release a flagship camera lineup even more powerful than its popular a7 and a9 models. That new flagship arrived today: the Sony a1. At $6,498, it’s clearly aimed at professional photographers and videographers only — or those with big enough budgets.

Featuring a 50MP sensor with a pair of new Bionz XR processors, the camera is able to capture 30 frames per second. I’m not talking about video here: that’s a whopping 30 full-resolution RAW images per second. It’s practically like being able to shoot 50MP video in bursts, giving photographers ample flexibility for capturing the right moment. By comparison, 4K video is only about 8.3MP, while 8K video is about 33.2MP.

Speaking of video, the camera can record 4K at 120fps, allowing you to slow down high-resolution video more than normally possible. It also makes it relatively easy to smoothly resample that footage to a more cinematic 24fps, as well as 30 or 60fps.

The a1 captures 8K at 30p, which is neat on a spec sheet, but not nearly as useful given the scarcity of 8K TVs. Of course, shooting in 8K gives you some added wiggle room for cropping and panning video intended for lower resolution displays. In fact, the camera is actually capturing footage at 8.6K — using the full width of the sensor rather than cropping — and resizing it to 8K. That should actually improve the sharpness even more.

Despite the larger sensor, Sony claims it’s been able to reduce rolling shutter by 1.5x compared to prior models, leading to less wobbly video during panning or weird artifacts in photos. It also helps improve flash sync to up to 1/400 sec.

Some other notable features:

  • In-body image stabilization to 5.5 stops (not new, but still nice to have).
  • Sony rates dynamic range at 15 stops, which can be taken advantage of in video with the S-Log 3 curve.
  • 199MP images can be achieved by combining up to 16 images using Sony’s desktop software.
  • The viewfinder has a 0.9x magnification with a resolution of 9.44 million ‘dots,’ which translates to a resolution of about 2048×1526. That’s the best currently available, though if you drop down to 1600×1200 (5.76M dots), you are able to up the refresh rate to 240fps, providing a more lifelike display of motion.
  • The new AF system covers 92 percent of the sensor, calculates data 120 times per second, and can now track the eyes of birds in addition to other animals and people.
  • It supports 16-bit RAW video output via HDMI
  • The a1 has dual-band Wi-Fi for faster photo transfers.
  • It’s the first of Sony’s cameras to support lossless compressed RAW to offer the same quality in a smaller file size.

The camera is up for pre-order starting tomorrow for $6,498, in the US ($8,500 CAD, €7,300, £6,500). Units are expected to begin shipping around February 25 and wider availability in March.

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