Sony A1 first verdict: Canon's AF is better, "30fps failure", standard 8K lasts 16 mins

Sony A1 first verdict: Canon's AF is better, "30fps failure", standard 8K lasts 16 mins
(Image credit: YouTube: Tony & Chelsea Northrup)

The first verdict of the Sony A1 is in – and the big takeaways are that the autofocus isn't as good as Canon's, and the camera doesn't always live up to its promises of 30fps burst shooting and 30 minutes of 8K video. 

The Sony A1 was announced with plenty of pomp in January, with specs that on paper looked to outclass the mighty Canon EOS R5. However, paper and practice are two different things – and the first hands-on test of the new camera paints a much more grounded picture.

 Read more: Sony A1 vs Canon EOS R5

Popular photography YouTuber Tony Northrup gave his early verdict on the Sony A1 and many of its features compared to the R5. And while he came away largely impressed, it was notable that the body fell short of expectations in a number of key areas.

First and foremost, the autofocus is not as good as that found in the R5 and Canon EOS R6. While Northrup noted that the real-time tracking is better than any other camera made by Sony – including the Sony A9 II sports camera and 61MP Sony A7R IV – "it will inevitably wander onto the foreground or background, even with a completely still subject". 

In particular, the human eye AF is still more like "eyelash AF", animal eye AF still suffers from front-focusing issues, and the highly touted bird eye AF is "not great" and very inconsistent. "Some birds, it never finds the eye; other birds it seems to find it all the time… but it's not reliable enough to use." This is compounded by overactive hunting, when shooting at 600mm, pulling focus in the wrong direction about half the time.

Regarding the headline 30fps burst shooting feature, Northrup's tests revealed that the Sony A1 could hit that target – provided that the subject was perfectly still. However, when shooting birds at 600mm, the best Northrup could achieve was 19fps – which is actually below the consistent 20fps advertised and achieved by the Canon EOS R5. 

Moreover, if using a non-Sony lens (such as a Sigma or Tamron optic) the A1 is "hard-coded to drop down to lower frame-rates – specifically, the best it's going to do is 15 frames per second". 

When it comes to 8K video overheating, in 'standard' mode the Sony A1 shut down after 16 minutes – far short of the claimed 30 minutes shooting time. However, in 'high' mode it could record for about 80 minutes in total. Clearly that's an enormous difference, in terms of how the camera behaves out of the box and how it handles overheating in the adjusted mode. We're very intrigued to learn what measures or compromises are involved with the higher heat tolerance… 

The full video covers plenty of other A1 features, such as the brilliant EVF, improved flash sync speed and near-elimination of rolling shutter. We look forward to bringing you our own verdict of the Sony A1 when we publish our full review soon. 

Read more: 

Sony A1 vs Sony A9 II vs Sony A7R IV
Best Sony camera
Canon EOS R5 review

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.