Sony Alpha 1 Teardown: Inside a flagship mirrorless camera

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Sony’s flagship camera has arrived, the first in the full-frame mirrorless “holy trinity” of Sony, Canon and Nikon to be released. Sony announced this handsome beast back in January 2021, and today we’re going to take it apart, modify it into a full-spectrum camera, and (hopefully) put it back together.

This article is a full disassembly and disassembly of the Sony Alpha 1 and our thoughts on what we at Kolari Vision found inside.

Contents

Introducing the Sony Alpha 1

With 50 megapixel photos, 8K/30fps video and the revolutionary 30fps burst mode, the Sony Alpha 1 really does it all. It’s the a7S III, a7R IV and a9 II all in one. So naturally it also costs about as much as two of these cameras combined. It features a full-frame CMOS sensor, 9.44 million-dot OLED electronic viewfinder, and electronic and mechanical shutters.

Sony has come a long way since releasing the a7 in 2013.

Let’s look at the exterior first. The Alpha 1 is made in the familiar style of the a7 series and features the reinforced body and wider grip that Sony uses in its newer models, such as the a7R IV. Up front, alongside the focus assist light, we have the new visible light and IR sensor, which debuted on the a7S III. Sony promises to improve the camera’s white balance capabilities (in artificial light). It will be interesting to see how well this works for the camera once we convert it for infrared photography.

There’s a signature Alpha model badge designating this Alpha 1, but for their flagship Sony gave it a gold finish, just like they did on the a9. Another feature shared with the a9 is the drive mode dial on its left shoulder, with the new HI+ burst setting. But what sets the Alpha 1 apart is the new focus mode dial.

However, aside from the new drive/focus mode dial, the top is completely identical to the a9 II, which itself wasn’t all that different from the A9. Why fix what ain’t broke, I guess.

The back looks more like other Sony cameras of this generation. All the buttons are rounded and seem much more clickable. The joystick is wider, textured and works well. There are some minor changes, such as the removal of the driving mode icon next to the dial, due to its moving upwards. The video record button has changed from a red dot to a red circle, a small change but it’s a nice touch that makes it more visible.

An interesting choice they made was to give this screen a tilting screen rather than a fully articulating screen like they did with the a7C and a7S III, a decision that is sure to be a disappointment for some and a relief for others. I would have liked to see Sony try some sort of hybrid like the Nikon Z9 or the Fujifilm X-T3, or that weird Pentax K-1 II (oh Pentax), but maybe they wanted to play it safe for this one- this.

To note: Another change on the Alpha 1 is that Sony has moved from a metal construction inside the bracket to a plastic construction, so unfortunately this camera is not yet compatible with our Kolari Magnetic Filters for Sony E-Mount. Fortunately, we are working on creating a magnetic adapter plate to make our filters compatible with the Sony Alpha 1. Fortunately, other recent Sony cameras like the Sony a7 IV, a7R IV, a7S III are natively compatible!

Now let’s take it apart.

Camera opening

We’ll start by removing the screws at the bottom and removing the battery plate and cover.

We see a very open bottom frame that should provide good cooling. It’s the same one we saw in the a7R IV and a7S III, which was updated from the a7 III. The compartment fits Sony’s trusty FZ100 batteries, meaning if you’re upgrading from one of the recent a7 or a9 cameras, you’ll be able to use the same batteries.

The battery is another thing that sets it apart from other flagships. Sony has opted to stick with a compact body over the integrated battery grip like the Z9 and R3, resulting in a lighter body that’s half the weight of the Z9. Personally, I’ve always preferred to prioritize ergonomics and keep a few spare batteries in my bag or pocket. Let us know in the comments which option you think is best.

Next we will have to peel off the leathers of the handle, which will give us a glimpse of the NFC antenna.

And remove the bottom frame.

Next, we will remove the screws from the ports panel. Looks like they’re applying Loctite to their screws to give them some extra hold.

Then there is only one screw on the back, four on the viewfinder and one on the diopter.

Then we can remove the port panel and lift the back.

Looking closely at the edge we can see that they have added sealant under the seam.

Now that we’ve opened the hood, let’s take a look.

A camera with several layers

There’s a lot to unpack here, literally, Sony cameras always have so many layers.

The metal thermal frame is the first thing that catches my eye. We saw similar plaques in a7R II, but these were absent in III, R III and R IV. Now they have added an updated version for the Alpha 1, as well as the a7S III. It’s no surprise that they need to add more heat distribution considering the performance these cameras offer 4K 120FPS and 8K.

The general layout is similar to what we’ve seen with other a7 cameras. The two card readers are mounted side by side on top of the card. What’s new and interesting is how the HDMI port is connected; where it was once soldered to the board, it is now connected by a bent flex cable and held in place with a bracket. This will make repairing or replacing that part much easier. We’ll take a closer look at this shortly, but first, let’s open it up a bit more.

You will have to take out the viewfinder. In previous models, the thermal pad behind the viewfinder inadvertently stuck it to the back, making it difficult to remove, but here they added a plate that covers it.

Next, we remove the brackets from the audio port. Here we have a good look inside the ports.

Next, we need to remove some neatly hidden screws.

And remove the tape from the top. There are two new coaxial cables that come up to the top, sitting next to the antenna wire.

Now that everything is disconnected, let’s peel off the top.

Looking along the edge of the top piece, we can see more of the same weather sealant.

Now that that’s off, let’s take a look at that HDMI port connection. Once we removed the bracket holding it in place, it just drags. As you can see, the port block is just soldered onto the ribbon, which is connected to the board. This will make it super easy to replace.

Let’s remove the plate to see the table.

The main circuit board

In the center, we see the brain of the operation, the double Bionz XR processor.

Sony claims that the processor is 8 times more powerful than the Bionz X processor, and should be able to handle everything this camera can do.

As always, there’s a lot of ribbon on this. Interestingly, two of the sensor ribbons have changed from clips to snap connectors. There are pros and cons to these, it makes it easier to remove but can be difficult to put back on. It also means that it would be easier to accidentally disconnect it, but if that happens you’re less likely to damage it than if you forcibly remove a flex cable from its clip. Pins in general are less prone to damage and easier to repair.

Speaking of easy to accidentally damage, there are a few ribbons that connect to the underside of the board, such as the USB-C port connector. It’s something we’ve seen in many Sony cameras over the years. It would be easy for an inexperienced technician to miss them, but luckily this is not our first rodeo.

And with that, the painting comes out.

Beneath the board is another layer of a metal heatsink. This one feels more condensed than what we’ve seen in other models.

On the a7 III and a7R IV it extended to the battery compartment, and the a7 III’s heatsink had “feet” that extended down to attach to the front. Also, with the a7R IV, they went with a more skeletal design, leaving gaps in the plate to reduce weight. Here, however, they prioritized maintaining freshness to meet performance demands. They included a layer of heating pads in the middle. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have been as effective as they had hoped, as we’ve heard complaints of overheating, but nothing as bad as with the Canon R5.

Another nice little update is the NFC flex cable wings that hook onto the hot plate and hold it in place. It’s always tricky trying to tangle the various ribbons in place around the board, so this will make reassembly a bit easier.

They also added a transparent casing around the coaxial cable at the top, which should provide additional protection.

We remove the plate and there we have the sensor.

Reveal Image Sensor

Surrounding this beautiful piece of engineering are a few strips of thermal tape, for additional temperature control. Once we have peeled it off and removed the screws, we can remove the sensor.

We recently learned that the sensor used by this camera is the IMX610, a brand new sensor that Sony has developed exclusively for the Alpha 1. Here it is, in all its glory.

The Alpha 1 may look identical to its predecessors, but there are plenty of small changes inside and out that make it a very impressive camera.

That’s it for this lengthy Sony Alpha 1 mirrorless camera teardown. We hope it was interesting and informative for you. Thanks for reading!


About the Author: Alex Mirchuk is a technician at Kolari Vision, which offers infrared conversion and other digital camera modifications and products. The disassembly was carried out by the main technician Jared Barcelona. Learn more on the Kolari Vision website. This article was also published here.

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