Sony A9 vs Nikon D5 – Which one to get?

Sony’s new A9 has been taking the industry by storm with its speedy specs and cutting edge technology. But the D5 has heritage on its side, so how does Nikon’s heavyweight sports and wildlife champion stack up against the greatest mirrorless on the block?

Design and ergonomics: When it comes to the build of the cameras, it really is a case of David and Goliath, though bigger may not necessarily be better for a range of photographers. While both cameras are weather sealed, the Nikon D5 weighs in at 1415g, while the A9 is significantly lighter at 693g. The larger build means the Nikon has a slightly larger LCD (2359k-dot) 3.2-inch display, although the Sony’s 3-inch (1,444k-dot) LCD is tiltable. The Nikon D5 also a bigger space for a larger capacity battery and is able to capture 3780 shots per charge vs the A9’s 650.

The A9 offers a much lighter option to the D5, but both cameras are weather sealed

The D5 of course uses Nikon’s tried and tested F mount, which takes Nikon FX lenses, of which there are plenty of own brand and third-party optical options. Sony’s A9 takes E-mount lenses, so there is less choice, but new lens are appearing as the system grows in popularity. The A9 certainly has the edge when it comes to autofocus, sporting 693 AF points versus the D5’s 153 system.

The D5 is built around a 21-megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor, while the A9 edges ahead in the resolution race with a full-frame 24-megapixel BSI-CMOS sensor. Of course, one of the major reasons photographers will hand over a significant amount of money for either of these cameras is their ability to shoot rapid sequences of images – essential when covering sports and action events or framing up wildlife. The Nikon D5 can fire off 14 frames per second, which is hugely impressive by any standards, but the Sony has well and truly stolen the speed king crown, firing up to 20 frames per second – 6 extra frames than the Nikon. On one hand, many may think 14 fps is more than enough, while others may feel losing out on six frames every second is a serious deal breaker.

Both cameras offer high-resolution and dual memory card slots

Image quality: One area where the D5 does blow away its A9 rival is ISO range. The D5 tops out at an incredible 3280000 (yes, that many zeroes!), while the A9 can manage 204800. The Sony strikes back by offering built-in image stabilisation, while D5 users will have to ensure they use VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses to keep things steady.

The D5 offers higher ISO, but the A9 has built-in stabilisation to help image quality

The Nikon can focus slightly better in lowered light condition (EV-4 compared to the Sony’s EV-3), but the Sony has slightly larger dynamic range to capture all those shadows and highlights from high-contrast scenes. Both cameras offer Face Detection Focus, touch-screen technology and dual memory card slots – the Nikon can take 2 XQD or 2 CF cards, while the Sony A9 takes two SD cards (or a Memory Stick Pro). Like most pro cameras, neither has an integral flash but both have microphone ports, which leads us nicely onto the video specs…

Both cameras can capture high quality 4K video, but the A9 has the edge on frame rates

Video: Along with the mic ports, both cameras feature a dedicated headphone port, but there are some big differences in the other specs. Both cameras shoot high-quality 4K footage (3840×2160), but the A9 is more flexible with frame rates and can capture footage at 120fps, which is excellent for creating slow-motion sequences. At launch, the D5 could only record 4K for a three-minute limit but this issue was fixed via a firmware upgrade.

Verdict: Both cameras represent significant investments with the Nikon costing £4,065 and the Sony priced at £3,599 – both those prices are for the body only. However, for the money you are getting the flagship model from each brand and an amazing amount of features and technology, too! The Nikon may lose out in terms of speed and autofocus, but its extended battery life and extra bulk may be preferred by wildlife photographers heading out into the wilderness where recharging points are few and far between. What’s more, at present, the Nikon has far more lenses available to users. But if it’s straight up speed you’re looking for, the Sony wins by a stretch and also will appeal more to videographers looking for a versatile camera that can shoot multiple frame rates.

Which of these speed kings is worthy of your money?