The Sony a9 and the Sony a1 are two flagships from different eras. At the time the Sony a9 came out in 2017, it was the fastest-focusing and most professional mirrorless camera on the market. Arguably, it was the camera that showed photographers that mirrorless could compete directly against DSLRs even for sports and wildlife photography. That said, 2017 was a long time ago. The Sony a1 arrived almost four years later in early 2021, and it brought with it a huge array of advanced features. No one is wondering if mirrorless can compete with DSLRs any more – mirrorless has clearly won that battle. Here’s what you need to know about the improvements in the Sony a1 and whether it’s worth upgrading from the original Sony a9.
Sony a9 vs Sony a1 Specifications Comparison
|Camera Feature||Sony a9||Sony a1|
|Announced||April 2017||January 2021|
|Sensor Type||Stacked CMOS||Stacked CMOS|
|Image Processor||BIONZ X||BIONZ XR|
|Resolution||24.2 MP||50.1 MP|
|Sensor Dimensions||35.6 x 23.8 mm (Full Frame)||35.9 x 24.0 mm (Full Frame)|
|Sensor Pixel Size||5.93µ||4.2µ|
|Low Pass Filter||Yes||No|
|IBIS (In-Body Image Stabilization)||Yes||Yes|
|Base ISO||ISO 100||ISO 100|
|Max Native ISO||ISO 51,200||ISO 32,000|
|Extended ISOs||ISO 50-204,800||ISO 50-102,400|
|High-Resolution Sensor Shift||No||Yes|
|Focus Stack Bracketing||No||No|
|Pre-Shoot Burst Mode||No||No|
|Fastest Shutter Speed||1/32000||1/32000|
|Longest Shutter Speed||30 seconds||30 seconds|
|Continuous Shooting (Mechanical Shutter)||5 FPS||10 FPS|
|Continuous Shooting (Electronic Shutter)||20 FPS||30 FPS|
|Notes for High FPS Shooting||Compressed 12-bit raw at 20 FPS (uncompressed 12-bit raw is available at 12 FPS)||Compressed raw at 30 FPS (uncompressed and lossless compressed raw at 20 FPS)|
|Buffer Size (Raw)||241 frames (20 FPS)||155 frames (30 FPS), 238 frames (20 FPS)|
|Autofocus System||Hybrid PDAF||Hybrid PDAF|
|Low-Light AF Sensitivity (f/2 Lens, ISO 100)||-3 EV||-4 EV|
|Standard Flash Sync Speed||1/250||1/400|
|Curtain to Protect Sensor at Shutdown||No||Yes|
|Maximum Video Bit Depth (Internal)||8 bits||10 bits|
|Maximum Video Bit Depth (External)||8 bits||12 bits|
|Raw Video||No||Yes, externally|
|8K Maximum Framerate||N/A||30 FPS|
|4K Maximum Framerate||30 FPS||120 FPS|
|1080P Maximum Framerate||120 FPS||240 FPS|
|Additional Video Crop Factor||1.2x crop at 4K 30p (4K 24/25p has no additional crop)||No|
|Chroma Subsampling||4:2:0, 4:2:2 (External)||4:2:2|
|Video Recording Limit||30 min||780 min|
Physical and Other Features
|Slot 1 Type||SD (UHS-II)||CFExpress Type A, or SD (UHS-II)|
|Slot 2 Type||SD (UHS-I)||CFExpress Type A, or SD (UHS-II)|
|Rear LCD Size (Diagonal)||3.0 in||3.0 in|
|Rear LCD Resolution||1.44 million dots||1.44 million dots|
|Articulating LCD||Single Axis||Single Axis|
|Viewfinder Resolution||3.69 million dots||9.44 million dots|
|USB Type||Type B 2.0||Type C 3.2 Gen 1|
|Battery Life (Viewfinder)||480 frames||430 frames|
|Battery Life (Rear LCD)||650 frames||530 frames|
|Weight (Body Only w/ Battery + Card)||588 g (1.30 lbs.)||737 g (1.62 lbs.)|
|Dimensions (LxHxD)||127 x 96 x 73 mm (5.0 x 3.8 x 2.9″)1||129 x 97 x 81 mm (5.1 x 3.9 x 3.3″)|
|MSRP, Body Only||$4500 (Discontinued)||$6500 (Check Current Price)|
|Used Prices||Sony a9 Used Prices||Sony a1 Used Prices|
|1The Sony a9’s official dimensions do not include the depth of the protruding viewfinder. To match typical standards today, 10mm were added to the a9’s depth measurement in this table.|
Clearly, the Sony a1 is ahead in almost every way. Pretty much the only advantages of the a9 are that it’s lighter, and it has a longer battery life. Otherwise the a1 easily leads this comparison.
Some of the biggest differences include resolution (the Sony a1 has more than twice as many pixels), video features, and processing power. The Sony a1 can shoot a remarkable 30 FPS at full resolution, and while the Sony a9 is no slouch at 20 FPS, keep in mind that the a1’s files are much larger because of the higher resolution! To manage 30 FPS at 50 megapixels, while maintaining a large buffer size, indicates remarkable processing power on the Sony a1.
Summary and Recommendations
For almost any genre of photography, the Sony a1 has some advantages over the Sony a9. Landscape photographers can appreciate the higher-resolution sensor and the ability to close the shutter curtain when changing lenses (great for preventing debris on the sensor in dusty environments). Sports and wildlife photographers will also appreciate the higher resolution, not to mention the faster frame rate and improved autofocus system. And don’t even get me started on video users, who can film up to 8K raw video on the Sony a1! (Granted, an external recorder is necessary to film in raw, but that’s a relatively small price to pay.)
The real question is price. The Sony a1 is a much more expensive camera, and because the a9 is relatively old, you can find it for extremely low prices on the used market. We’re not really comparing a $4500 camera against a $6500 camera, but a $1500 camera against a $6500 camera! If you’re an existing Sony a9 user, you won’t get much on the used market if you’re trying to sell your camera.
If you have the money, and/or you’re a professional photographer, I think it’s worth the money to upgrade. But if you’re on the fence, keep in mind that other Sony cameras like the a9 II or a7R V also represent a nice upgrade over the Sony a9, and they won’t put as much of a dent in your wallet.
What does the Sony a9 offer over the Sony a1?
- Lighter weight (149g lighter or about 1.3 times lighter)
- Much lower price, especially on the used market – you can buy a ton of lenses!
What does the Sony a1 offer over the Sony a9?
- 2.07 times more megapixels (24.2MP vs 50.1MP)
- Much better video features including 8K raw recording
- Faster processing power, allowing for a higher burst rate and better autofocus system
- Higher resolution electronic viewfinder, with about 2.6x more dots, making photography more enjoyable
Questions? Go to our forum, where you can start a conversation and talk to photographers about these two cameras!