Why the Sony A1 Actually Shows How Canon Is Winning the Mirrorless Game

Why the Sony A1 Actually Shows How Canon Is Winning the Mirrorless Game

The Sony a1 was just announced, and it is, without question, a remarkable camera. So, why is it good news for Canon?

I, like I'm sure most other people, salivated while reading the Sony a1's specs sheet: 50 megapixels, 8K video, 30 fps burst mode, and more. There is no doubt that Sony has blown the doors off the industry with its latest release. So, why is it good for Canon, specifically in reference to the EOS R5? Let's dive in.

The Sony a1 Is Mostly the Better Camera on Paper 

I am certainly not arguing that the specs of the EOS R5 somehow outperform those of the Sony a1. The Sony is either comparable to or outperforms the Canon in pretty much all major aspects. It outpaces it slightly in resolution (50 megapixels to 45 megapixels), and its sensor is backside-illuminated. Its burst rate is 10 fps faster (though the Canon's mechanical shutter burst rate is 2 fps faster than the Sony) with no viewfinder blackout. More importantly, its sensor readout speed is about 1/240 s, about four times faster than the EOS R5, meaning Sony's electronic shutter burst mode is far more usable for fast action than the Canon's, with far less rolling shutter. Its viewfinder has a higher magnification (0.9x to 0.76x), with almost double the resolution of Canon's and a faster refresh rate. It also offers a higher flash sync speed, doubly fast as the EOS R5. 

This is an incredible camera.

Canon's in-body image stabilization does outpace Sony when paired with comparable lenses, at 8 stops to 5.5 stops. The Canon does offer a fully articulating screen, while the Sony's is fixed. Canon has a top screen, which many pros use, while Sony doesn't. Both cameras offer 8K video at 30 fps, with the Canon offering internal raw video, albeit with overheating issues. Both offer 4K video at 120 fps. 

The Sony offers a pixel-shift mode that outputs a 199-megapixel file. It has built-in Ethernet. It likely edges out the Canon in dynamic range (though Canon has made major strides). Sony claims it offers better heat management, but we'll see how that pans out in the real world. 

Altogether, real-world usage aside, yes, a1 is mostly the better camera when we look purely at the specs. 

But Is It Twice as Good?

So yes, the a1 is the (mostly) the technically superior camera. But the a1 is $6,500. The EOS R5 is $3,900. The EOS R5 is 60% the price of the a1. So then, the question becomes: are you willing to spend $2,600 extra for the gains you'll get? Do you absolutely need 30 fps, or is 20 fps (or 12 fps if you don't trust the rolling shutter) enough? How about those 5 extra megapixels? A somewhat better viewfinder (the EOS R5's is already great)? Built-in Ethernet?

For some people, the answer is yes, absolutely. And I'm not writing this to disparage that decision. Perhaps those extra features are indeed worth $2,600 to you. Perhaps you simply need to have a feature the a1 has that the R5 doesn't, regardless of the price difference. But my point is that Canon has made a camera that is probably 85% the Sony at about half the price. 

This is an absolutely fantastic camera too.

Sure, we are getting into diminishing returns a bit here, and you can argue that it is reasonable that doubling the price only gets you maybe 15-20% more camera, but the important extra variable here is where the baseline of technology is at the moment. Ten or even only five years ago, there were pros who absolutely needed the jump in specs between the flagship level and the next level down. Nowadays, cameras like the EOS R5 have brought huge technological capabilities down to the second tier, and those capabilities mean that the second tier satisfies the needs of more pros than it did years ago. Sure, there is still a portion of photographers who need (or simply want and are willing to spend for) the absolute best, but the relative proportions have likely changed a bit.

What About Lenses?

And then, we come to lenses. Sony has built out their library quite a bit, for sure. They now have a 400mm f/2.8 and a 600mm f/4, crucial lenses for the type of photographers who are likely to shoot this camera. But there are still some notable absences, such as a 200mm f/2 and 300mm f/2.8.

You might be thinking: "wait, Canon does not have a mirrorless 200mm f/2 or 300mm f/2.8. In fact, they don't have a mirrorless 400mm f/2.8 or 600mm f/4, but Sony does." And you would be right. But that actually brings me to my next point: inertia. 

What Canon does have is a deep, well-established library of professional quality DSLR lenses, including a 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, and 600mm f/4, and more importantly, they have a seamless adapter experience that unlike most other adapters, allows for equal (and sometimes even better) autofocus performance and equal image quality. This has allowed the company to explore more esoteric lenses (like the 600mm f/11 and 800mm f/11) in the meantime, as they know that professional users who need such optics already have deep investments in their lenses and are covered by the adapter experience (I recently spoke with one longtime sports photographers who has raved about his experience with the R5 and adapted lenses). 

And What About the R1?

One crucially important thing to remember is that the Sony a1 is the company's flagship camera, meaning it should be compared to Canon's 1 series of cameras. So far, we have been comparing it to the EOS R5, which is analogous to the company's 5D series of DSLRs. You can expect the upcoming R1's capabilities to clearly separate it from the R5, just as the 1D has always been a distinct jump in capabilities from the 5D. And that being said, I expect it to directly compete with (and perhaps surpass in some areas) the Sony a1. 

What will we see from the R1?

The only variable that's really in question in regards to the R1's ability to compete with the a1 is sensor resolution. The a1 departs from traditional flagship design in a major way: sensor resolution. Up until now, flagship sensor resolution has hovered around 18-24 megapixels (The Nikon D6, the Canon 1D X Mark III, and the Sony a9) as photojournalists and sports photographers need speed, not resolution, and given their frequent need to quickly edit and transmit files, additional resolution can actually be a hindrance. 

But now, with faster computers and connections and cheaper storage, an argument can be made that keeping the resolution low isn't as necessary as it once was. Still though, the Nikon D6 and 1D X Mark III follow the older model. Will the R1 continue in that vein, or will it embrace the high-resolution model? Canon has shown they can handle the high-speed pipeline required, with the R5 pumping out 45-megapixel raw files at 20 fps and 8K raw video at 30 fps (essentially 33-megapixel stills). I wouldn't be surprised to see a significant resolution jump in the R1 over the 1D X Mark III.

Conclusion

The Sony a1 is a spectacular camera, and it is currently enjoying the limelight, which frankly, it deserves. However, it also makes the Canon EOS R5 an even better value by comparison, and given that that camera fills the needs of the vast majority of photographers and that the R1 is waiting in the wings for the few who need more, Canon looks to be in a very good position going forward. 

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116 Comments

sam dasso's picture

By the same logic two year old A7R4 is winning over R5 because it is cheaper and has much higher resolution and most people do not need birds eye AF or 8K video. There are no winners or losers between different brands. Sony shooter or Canon shooter with bunch of expensive lenses will not switch brands regardless of niche features that manufacturer offers in latest release.

Alex Cooke's picture

The a7R IV is behind both the a1 and R5 in several ways. For example, its sensor readout speed is somewhere around 1/15 s. Its video capabilities are also significantly different.

sam dasso's picture

Of course it is behind. It is two years old But my point here was that if you don't need extra features of A1 you also don't need extra features of R5. And if you do need these features, then $500 or $2500 in price makes no difference.

Grant Cline's picture

The author is totally right, the R5 is a good value for what you get.

Across the board it isn't as good as an A1, but it is at least 60% as good. That being said, comparably, the A6400 can be had for about 25% of the cost of an R5, so it is a tremendous value, and the existence of the R5 really makes the A6400 more valuable.

Of course, the A6400 can't be used as a space heater, but every camera has its limits.

On a serious note, that A1 just put the proverbial bitch slap on Canon and Nikon.

John Rus's picture

Not really, the R5 is most of what a Sony A1 is for nearly half the money. Both are brand new tech, you cannot compare yesteryears tech to the present.

Not to knock the A1, is a hell of a camera. But it's not really that different from the R5 for nearly double the price.

Gelner Tivadar's picture

"the R5 is most of what a Sony A1 is for nearly half the money"
Sorry, but this statement is a pure lie...
Canon's 20fps with conventional e-shutter is completly useless for anything what moves faster than a walking person, or anything under artifical light, can't be use with strobes, and it has blackout. Doesn't matter the EVF shows you previously captured still images instead of black frame, it doesn't help at all, to follow the subject. Actually R5 is a 12fps camera with 1/200 mx sync speed instead of 1/400. R5 can't do 120 Af calculations per second, doesn't have industry leading EVF, with industry leading refresh rate. Can't record 8k or 4k video simultaneously to two card, moreover the video capabilitys is ruined by overheating and recovery times, completly unreliable for any serious work. R5 Doesn't have 2 CFExpress card, has almost half battery life than A1 has, doesn't have pixel shift modes, ethernet connection, full size HDMI or a 5G modul.

Pat Gir's picture

« Sorry, but this statement is a pure lie...
Canon's 20fps with conventional e-shutter is completly useless for anything what moves faster than a walking person »

Do you own personality a R5 or is it some BS you read somewhere and you repeat like a robot? Because THIS a pure lie. I use a lot the eshutter and you can take nice action shots. It will not succeed with very fast moves like balls but many others situations are ok. The R5 has one of the best low rolling shutter of the market, A9 apart.

Elias Rosario's picture

Great reply and well said. My biggest thing is ease of use, speed, and redundancy. As a Sony shooter the Canon misses the mark for me over the A1 because of the flip screen being slower to use in the field, and the lack of redundant recording.

Dan Donovan's picture

Competition is good for the consumer!

Carlos Dacosta's picture

(Alex Cooke), your article missed the point entirely and you wrote it Alex. A1 competes with the canon 1dx and nikon d6 only! Its features are designed for sports professionsls. One example is the need for the ethernet connection. Also, the 50MP in A1 is not a problem, if you watched the Sony video and read the specs. The A1 can down sample jpg's to 21MPs which transmits just as fast over the web to clients as these other 2 cameras.

Alex Cooke's picture

Err, this is Fstoppers, not DPR. But yes, everything you just said was my point, especially regarding the upcoming R1 and the relative price differences. Anyway, the editor in chief here is kind of a jerk; I’m sure he’ll yell at me soon. Maybe even slash my tires. 😞

Matthew Lacy's picture

That editor-in-chief is pretty unstable . . .

Dan Jefferies's picture

I dunno Alex. Be careful. Cross dressing ax murderers (with ATROCIOUS fashion sense btw) (not that there's anything wrong with that) don't like to be made fun of.

Mike Dixon's picture

Maybe you should look him up and message him. LOL

Adam Rubinstein's picture

Sorry Carlos, but this article is very well reasoned and presented. I owned both the a9 and a7riv. Both were really good cameras but paled in comparison to my R5. Add in that I can use my extensive library of EF lenses and avoid the missing Sony elements or astronomical price(s) for the a1 and Sony lenses and the R5 is even that much better.

John Kelsey's picture

The Sony 200-600mm e mount is less than $2K which is far less than anything Canon offers at that range or speed....Astronomical??.... Nice try

Adam Rubinstein's picture

That is the only Sony miracle though it doesn’t work well on the a7riv. How much is a new Sony 600 f/4? How about the Sony 500 f/4, 400 f/5.6 do, 300 f/2.8...

Dan Jefferies's picture

Yea. We tried out the Sony A7III and did a hard pass. Wasn't magic at all. The Canon R6 just stomps it.

Christian Fiore's picture

3 year old products are like that in this industry. Wait for the A7 IV, which is on scheduled to launch soon.

Carlos Dacosta's picture

Funny, the price for the canon and nikon are .....$6500. Oh look, the same as the A1

Daniel Lee's picture

I’m not sure if Canon are winning, but they certainly are changing the game. The A9’s selling feature was its 20fps with zero blackout which Canon went and put on their mid and lower tier bodies.

Now if Sony release and A7IV and A7RV and they don’t have 20fps with zero blackout it will seem cheap compared to the competition.

I’m very curious about what the R1 will be able to do as well. If it can do 30fps as well but in uncompressed RAW and all the same ES advancements as the A1, then it will be huge.

Bartosch Salmanski's picture

Canon went in severall years after the release of the A9.. remember the beginings of the R line. But it's good to see that the R5/6 are finally fairly reasonnably priced for the specs they offer, even while they not yet widely aviable due to shortages especially here in Europe.

But the A7III and the A9II are now pretty "old" tech compared what Sony delivered with the A7S III and A1, the next version will be better as always and probably beat Canon again. But the point is as those tools are better and better in the end it ends up to the skill of the photographer, those tools make only life easier.

Daniel Lee's picture

Funny enough I recently switched from the A7III to the R6 and although I feel the A7III is a bit dated in some features, the A9II doesn’t feel as dated. In saying that I’m purely stills and do 0 video so any upgrades in the A7IV that are video related wouldn’t mean anything to me 😅

Christian Fiore's picture

Canon's idea of "no blackout" isn't the same. They claimed the original R had it, too, but all it did is show you a 5fps slideshow, instead of blacking out the viewfinder. Canon even added blackout back in some cameras, because it helped the view.

Sony, OTOH, presents a live video stream through the EVF without any hiccups. The view is exactly thr same, just as smooth, when viewing and shooting. Infinitely superior in usability.

Canon's sensors just arent there yet. They have a patent for a similar stacked sensor as Sony, but Sony's already on their 2nd generation. Canon will continue to play catch up for quite some time.

Francisco Eduardo de Camargo's picture

Alex Cooke: I have been following your website and your work with FStoppers for years.
You always seemed like a Canon fan boy, since you write all the time talking about Canon, showing the favorable aspects of Canon.
You make a big mistake when you say that the R5 has no blackout in the shots and the Sony a1 cannot do that, but my friend can.
You never mentioned mechanical and electronic flash timing. He did not look at the absence of fliker technology in the images. Didn't mention the new focusing system ...
Anyway, a completely biased narrative by a Canon fan boy.
At no time did you compare the best dynamic range and image quality (we know of Canon's cheats to eliminate noise in processing at low ISOs).
You will say: we don't know anything about autofocus. We don't know anything about the quality of the images. So my dear, you should at least quote that. Or rather, don't make this article completely biased by Canon fan boy. I should have waited and then tried to say something about any aspect of the cameras.

Alex Cooke's picture

I never said the R5 has no blackout. I mentioned the faster sync speed. Both cameras have anti-flicker, so that’s a push. I said Sony edges Canon in DR. I’m not a Canon fanboy; happy to link you articles I’ve written about them that were critical.

Alex Stevens's picture

While we're clearly talking about super-high-spec cameras here, I think your 15-20% comparison is underselling the a1.

It's 50% faster in its FPS (at higher resolution), has AF that is twice as fast as the a9II (which was already class-leading), 2 high-speed / hybrid card slots, 80% longer battery life, higher-res/faster refresh EVF, anti-flicker AND higher flash sync in electronic shutter (R5 has neither in electronic), usable 8k, 16-bit RAW output (though not internal, as you note) and probably some I'm forgetting.

So in every core spec it is notably better - resolution, FPS, AF, speed (cards), battery life, EVF. Add this up, and it may not be worth it to any given photographer, but it's more than 15-20%.

Christian Fiore's picture

Anti-flicker only times the shutter release with the cycling of the light. It keeps WB somewhat consistent, and helps catch artificial light at its peak. It is NOT the same as preventing banding. The R5's readout speed is pretty slow, as evidenced by the terrible rolling shutter it experiences in electronic shutter. This slow speee passes on to create banding under artificial lighting.as well.

Sony, OTOH, has prevented banding for the most part since the A9. And the A1 has an even faster readout speed. Fast enough, in fact, to support flash at 1/200 in electronic shutter mode. The R5 is consumer camera level in comparison.

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