The Sony a1 flagship remains at the top of many photographers’ wish lists. His initial debut was met with enthusiasm and admiration. It was obvious that Sony had returned to its quest for innovation. On paper, the technical specifications were a marvel. In real-world testing, the a1 performed as everyone expected. How should it be improved?
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The recent June firmware update aims to improve eye AF, white balance stability, and overall camera stability. Firmware V1.30 also offers lossless compression for still images.
Additional updates include:
- adds 4:2:2 10-bit selection when shooting XAVC HS 8K
- Allows proxy recording when connecting to a remote computer
- Addresses an issue where remote shooting may not work with Imaging Edge Desktop (Remote)
Sony a1 review update
I’ve added the following to our Sony a1 review along with some additional sample images:
I received an a1 with the update already installed. This was great news after the havoc of installing new firmware on the a7 IV last month. However, after going through the manufacturer’s page, the steps remain the same. If you have a Mac with an M1 chip, I suggest restarting your computer after each step.
Sony’s flagship camera is an impressive workhorse that many photographers dream of owning. Its most recent June 2022 firmware adds raw lossless compression for stills and slightly improves eye autofocus. I tested eye AF, lossless compression, and auto white balance stability with a Sony a1 and Sony FE 85mm f1.4 GM lens from Lensrentals. The video capabilities of the firmware update have not been tested.
We encountered a few cases of mixed focus and soft focus. The a1 excelled with fast shutter speed and ideal light with human face detection when subjects were moving at a moderate pace. He struggles when the subject leaves the frame and then reenters it. The best option is to untrack and start over. Using the single shot mode with a single focal point and eye af turns out to be the best.
Animal detection and animal eye af sufficiently track animals that have a moderate cadence. He fights with other animals than dogs or cats. This is especially true when using wide area tracking in AF-C and AF-S modes. Surprisingly, bird settings worked best when photographing mountain goats. It would be great if Sony added a multi-subject tracking feature.
Raw lossless compression works best for images that will not be cropped. This is not ideal if you are planning f. Plus, auto white balance is accurate and consistent. The overall stability of the camera is impressive.
Animal Eye AF is best for cats and dogs
Sony’s animal eye AF has always been impressive and I was excited to play it. I took the camera to Beartooth Pass, hoping to encounter some wildlife. My trip to the mountains was not in vain. I first encountered a group of horses resting at the top of the pass and changed my settings to photograph the animals. With permission, I captured an image of the horses in AF-C mode with wide tracking. The Sony a1 picked a horse and did a decent job of keeping up with it. It would be cool if they added the ability to track multiple animals simultaneously.
I then continued up the pass until I encountered a herd of mountain goats in an open field. The Sony a1 struggled to track and focus in wide tracking mode. It performed better when using a single focal point in AF-S mode. The camera often focused on the animal’s body instead of its eyes.
Mountain goats have very different eyes than cats and dogs. They are not as distinctive. Out of curiosity, I changed my settings as if I was planning to photograph birds. Results in AF-C and AF-S were much more accurate when shooting continuously with tracking enabled.
Again, a single initial focus point produced fewer misfires than wide tracking.
The next day, I called my frisky feline for cooperation. Bubby is an excellent test subject for contact lenses. Similar to the a7 IV, I encountered some hiccups in wide-area AF with AF-C and AF-S modes. The combination of AF-S mode and single-point shooting produces the best results.
On the left is what the camera produced with wide tracking in AF-C mode and animal-eye AF. The right is with a single focus point in AF-S mode.
The human eye’s AF isn’t always accurate
I called on the always expressive Zak to test the latest firmware. The a1 confused the contrast of Zak’s glasses with his eyes as I experienced with the a7 IV. I often watched the green square fluctuate between the two areas.
I then switched to high speed continuous mode at f1.4 with a shutter speed of 1/200s. The a1 did a poor job of following Zak as he ate his ice cream and slowly spun around in his chair. The slightly soft results are perfectly usable, but nothing special. And auto white balance is noticeably consistent across all images.
Zak said one of the things he struggles with the most as a wedding photographer is focusing with a spotlight behind his subject. We turned on an Arri constant light and placed it directly behind him. The Sony a1 had a few hiccups in all the different modes as it moved around the light source. It produced the fewest misfires in single-shot mode with a single focal point in AF-S mode.
The Sony a1 does a wonderful job tracking the subject in soft, diffused light. That’s until they go out of frame. He struggled to focus and follow Zak when he entered the frame. This happened in both AF-S and AF-C modes with a variety of tracking settings. I ended up untracking and starting over. The a1 did a superb job tracking Zak as he quickly moved in and out of frame in direct sunlight. He quickly focused on his eyes and followed him when his face was in bright light and dark shadow.
Raw lossless compression
Bigger isn’t always better, especially with today’s inflation. The a1’s large files eat up valuable hard drive space, which quickly becomes expensive. Sony’s addition of lossless compression images is a great alternative.
Here is an image captured in medium raw with lossless compression.
This is the detail when magnified to 100%. It’s more than enough.
Improved camera stability
I was impressed with the a1. It never froze or malfunctioned, and the electronic shutter is lovely. Make sure you have a fast SD card with plenty of storage to keep up with Sony’s first a1.