The flagship Sony a1 remains at the top of many photographers’ wishlists. Its initial debut was met with excitement and awe. It was apparent that Sony had returned to its quest for innovation. On paper, the tech specs were a marvel. In real-world tests, the a1 performed as everyone hoped it would. How should it be improved?
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The recent firmware update from June aims to improve eye AF, white balance stability, and the overall stability of the camera. The V1.30 firmware also offers lossless compression for still images.
Additional updates include:
- dds the 4:2:2 10bit selection when shooting XAVC HS 8K
- Allows proxy recording during a remote computer connection
- Fixes an issue where the remote shooting may not work with Imaging Edge Desktop (Remote)
Sony a1 Review Update
I added the following to our Sony a1 review with a few extra 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 perusing the manufacturer’s page the steps remain the same. If you own a Mac with an M1 chip, I would 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 lossless raw compression for still images and marginally improves eye AF. I tested the 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 were not tested.
We encountered a few instances of mixed focus and soft focus. The a1 excelled with a fast shutter speed and ideal light with human face detection when subjects move at a moderate pace. It struggles when the subject exits the frame and then re-enters it. The best option is to cancel tracking and start over. Utilizing single-shooting mode with a single focal point and eye af proves to be the best.
The animal detection and animal eye af sufficiently track animals that have a moderate cadence. It does struggle with other animals than dogs or cats. This is especially true when utilizing wide-area tracking in AF-C modes and AF-S modes. Surprisingly, the bird settings worked best when photographing mountain goats. It would be great if Sony added multiple subject tracking functionality.
Lossless raw compression works best for images that will not be cropped. It is not ideal if you plan on f. Additionally, the auto white balance proves to be 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 around. I took the camera to the Beartooth Pass, hoping to encounter some wildlife. My trip to the mountains was not in vain. I first met a group of horses resting on top of the pass and switched my settings for photographing animals. With permission, I captured an image of the horses in AF-C mode with wide tracking. The Sony a1 picked one horse and did a decent job tracking it. It would be cool if they added the capability of tracking 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 achieve focus in wide tracking mode. It performed better when utilizing a single focal point in AF-S mode. The camera often focused on the body of the animal instead of its eyes.
Mountain goats have eyes that are very different from cats and dogs. They aren’t as distinctive. Out of curiosity, I switched my settings as if I were planning to photograph birds. The results in AF-C and AF-S were much more accurate when shooting continuously with tracking enabled.
Again, an initial single focus point produced fewer misses than wide tracking.
The following day I called on my frisky feline for his cooperation. Bubby is an excellent subject when testing lenses. Similar to the a7 IV, I encountered a few misses in wide-area AF with AF-C and AF-S modes. The combination of AF-S mode and single-shooting with a single focusing point 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.
Human Eye AF Isn’t Always Accurate
I called on the ever-expressive Zak to put the newest firmware to the test. The a1 did mistake the contrast of Zak’s glasses with his eyes like I experienced with the a7 IV. I would often watch 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 mediocre job tracking Zak as he ate his ice cream and slowly twirled in his chair. The slightly soft results are perfectly usable, but they aren’t anything special. And the auto white balance is noticeably consistent throughout the set of images.
Zak said that one of the things he struggles with most as a wedding photographer is achieving focus with a spotlight in the back of his subject. We turned on an Arri constant light and positioned it directly behind him. The Sony a1 had a few misses in all of the various modes as he moved around the light source. It produced the fewest misses in single-shooting mode with a single focal point in AF-S mode.
The Sony a1 does a beautiful job tracking the subject in soft, diffused light. That is until they exit the frame. It struggled to achieve focus and track Zak when he re-entered the frame. It happened in AF-S and AF-C modes with a variety of tracking settings. I wound up canceling the tracking and starting over. The a1 did a superb job tracking Zak as he quickly walked in and out of frame in bright sunlight. It promptly focused on his eyes and tracked him when his face was in bright light and dark shadow.
Lossless Compression Raw
Bigger isn’t always better, especially with today’s inflation. The a1’s large files consume precious hard drive space, which gets expensive fast. 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 zoomed in at 100%. It is more than sufficient.
Improved Camera Stability
I was impressed with the a1. It never once froze or malfunctioned, and the electronic shutter is lovely. Make sure to have a fast SD card with plenty of storage to keep up with the pace of Sony’s premier a1.