The Sony Alpha 1 is the Most ‘Pro’ Camera of the Mirrorless Age

The new Sony Alpha 1 is undoubtedly impressive. It’s the culmination of years of technology advancements across multiple camera lines that have converged into a single, outrageously powerful capture device. It also is a return to the idea that the best camera a company can make is not for the masses.

Time was, the most advanced camera that a company could develop was not one that would be for everyone. Back in the DSLR age, the Canon 1D and Nikon D1 (and other single-digit D series cameras) lines were cameras that showed the most of what could be done in technology to support the most high-end, discerning, working pros. And for the most part, that meant sports, wildlife photographers, journalists, and some studio photographers who preferred the larger, boxier form factor. That also meant at the same time that they were not the cameras for many professional photographers.

In the case of Canon, that’s what the 5D series was for. It filled that gap.

You probably didn’t need these cameras either: They weren’t made for you.

These top tier devices were so capable that their prices would be well beyond the average person and even many professional shooters. It wasn’t unheard of to expect to pay between $6,000 and $10,000 for one of these cameras. That was the norm. And that was ok because what those cameras excelled at were not made for nearly anyone. The average photographer did not need 10+ frames per second and robust weather sealing of those DSLRs, for example (and arguably most still do not).

However, as the market has gotten more compressed and the only camera segment that has remained somewhat constant is that of the higher-end, interchangeable lens body, manufacturers making mirrorless bodies have generally shied away from blowing the doors off the high-price cameras in lieu of trying to maintain or even increase sales volume.

While most standalone camera sales have collapsed, the interchangeable lens market, driven by pro-level bodies, has steadied. via

Mirrorless cameras are the only cameras that can achieve decently high volume and also a higher average price. Naturally, this is what a company looking out for its bottom line is going to want to target.

While the Sony a9 and a9 II both touch on the idea of a pro-level mirrorless, the Alpha 1 is the first mirrorless camera to truly stand apart: this is a professional’s camera and not even a camera for most professionals. It is as niche as niche can be, and most who watched the live stream today won’t purchase it because they have absolutely no need for what it can do.

Two years ago, advertising photographer Blair Bunting wrote a contentious article asking why cameras weren’t more expensive. It ended with this paragraph:

What wonders could be bestowed upon us if we were willing to pay for the technological creativity that would improve our creativity as we know it? We who call ourselves true professionals should demand true professional cameras with all the bells and whistles. Using prosumer equipment may work for vloggers and Instagram “influencers,” where less resolution is needed (and may actually be beneficial). However, isn’t it time we saw a flagship platform that elevated the art, inspired us, and opened our eyes the way that the legends of the past once did?

Many in the comments understandably took offense to what he says here. However, Sony has done just what Bunting asked for. The company has made that truly professional camera with all the bells and whistles that would actually hurt the productivity of many vloggers and influencers and even many working professionals because it’s just too much camera. It might hurt to hear it, but this isn’t a camera for the majority of us.

The Sony Alpha 1 is a return to a true “pyramid” structure of devices. At the very top is the premium, most expensive, most powerful device a company can make that really only a few thousand people around the world have any need for. Below that is the a7R IV and the a9 II: cameras that are incredible in what they can achieve and still outperform much of what many successful photographers will need. Below that, the a7 III and the a7c, and so on down the pyramid.

The Alpha 1 is designed to show us the absolute best so that consumers have faith in a brand, and who will seek the product further down the pyramid that is best suited to them. It really makes no sense to sell the top of the line camera to the masses like Canon and Nikon currently do, so I fully expect both of them to come out with mirrorless cameras that exceed what the EOS R5 and the Z7 II both do. If we don’t have a camera like the Alpha 1, we don’t get to see what else is possible. The next great innovation from Canon or Nikon only comes because each of these companies keep pushing each other. We got the Sony Alpha 1 because the EOS R5 exists, and so on, and so forth.

So for those who are complaining that the Sony Alpha 1 is too expensive, I’m sorry: it’s not. It’s priced exactly where it has to be, and if you think that’s too much to ask, then it isn’t for you.

And that’s ok.