Photographers are spoilt for choice when it comes to full-frame cameras these days but the biggest dilemma is often whether to go for a more traditional DSLR or to jump aboard the mirrorless ship. Well, we’re drilling down into the specifications of two great cameras to help you make a buying decision. In one corner, we have one of the most popular mirrorless cameras on the market – the Sony a7III, which was launched back in February 2018. In the other corner, we have Nikon’s newest DSLR – the D780 which was launched in early 2020. While the D780 is a DSLR, it shares a number of features with Nikon’s mirrorless bodies, so let’s see how it compares with the Sony…
One: Battery life
Battery life may not be as important to photographers as it used to be thanks to the availability of powerbank chargers, but if you are the sort of photographer that’s going to be in the field for extended periods of time without access to charging points then suddenly this feature becomes a big deal. What’s more, battery capacity is where there is some wide open clear water between the two cameras as while the Sony serves up 610 shots on a single charge, the newer Nikon blows this away with a whopping 2260 images from a single charge, which should be more than enough for even an intensive day of photography. Pack a couple of spares and Nikon shooters should be okay for day’s away with the camera.
Two: Burst rate
While full-frame cameras aren’t typically as speedy as crop-sensor versions, both these cameras offer very decent maximum burst rates, which should come as good news for photographers who like to shoot sports and wildlife imagery. Mirrorless cameras usually have the edge over DSLRs on speed, but in this case, it’s the Nikon that comes out on top, offering a max burst rate of 12 frames per second (in Silent Live View mode) over the a7III’s top rate of 10fps.
Three: LCD size
Many photographers prefer to compose images using the main LCD screen rather than a optical or electronic viewfinder, so it’s worth noting the differences between the Sony and Nikon screens. First up, let’s talk about size and the Nikon’s LCD is bigger at 3.2-inch compared to the Sony’s 3-inch version. What’s more, the Nikon LCD is higher resolution at 2359k-dot, compared to 921,600-dot for the Sony. Both LCD’s are touch-sensitive and feature a tilting design that will prove useful when recording video footage.
One of the most important considerations for travel photographers is how heavy the camera will be and how much precious room it will take up in your kit bag. Mirrorless cameras are known for being smaller and lighter than their DSLR rivals and this is exactly the case here with the Sony a7III tipping the scales at 650g (with battery and memory card), which is 190g lighter than the 840g D780. What’s more, the physical size of the Sony is more compact too, measuring 127x95x73mm compared to the larger Nikon (143x115x76mm). The Sony’s E-mount lenses are typically smaller than the larger F-mount glass, but this isn’t always the case. That said, if size really is a big factor, the Sony represents the more portable option.
Five: Focus points
When it comes to the autofocus systems, there’s some big difference between the two cameras. The newer D780 features a hybrid AF system, and this delivers 51 Phase-detection points and 273 Contrast Detection AF points. However, the Sony’s acclaimed AF system makes use of 693 phase-detection AF points and 425 contrast-detection AF points.
Six: Eye detection AF
The autofocus features continue to set the two cameras apart when you drill deeper down into the specifications. While both cameras offer Eye-Detection AF, which will be of great interest to portraiture photographers, the a7III goes further and features Sony’s Real Time Animal Eye AF technology, which will help lock onto dogs and cats, making pet portraiture a breeze.
One area where DSLRs are now playing catch up with their mirrorless rivals is image stabilisation. While many DSLR brands are happy to limit this technology to lenses, most mirrorless cameras feature IBIS (In Body Image Stabilisation) within the camera body itself. This is indeed the case with the Sony a7III, which features a 5-axis IBIS system that affords the photographer up to 5-stops of compensation. This feature will appeal to street photographers who often shoot handheld in low light conditions as it will help to ensure images stay sharp.
Both cameras use full-frame BSI-CMOS sensors without virtually the same effective megapixels (24.2-MP for the Sony and 24.5 for the Nikon). This means photographers can create big prints (easily up to A3 in size) and also crop without overly compromising image quality. The max file size from the a7III is 6000x4000pixels, while the Nikon’s is marginally larger at 6048x4024pixels.
Eight: ISO ranges
A vast ISO range enables a photographer to keep shooting in low light conditions and make impressive images when trying astrophotography or capturing images of the aurora. Both cameras offer impressive ISO ranges with each model serving up a native ISO of 100-51200 that can be extended up to 50-204800.
Nine: Video features
Along with being packed with impressive features to create stills, both cameras offer plenty to videographers looking to shoot movies. In fact, both cameras can capture ultra high-quality 4K video up to 30p. Additionally, there’s the option of a fast frame rate in Full HD to create epic slow motion sequences, too. Both cameras offer their brand’s profile option (S-Log for Sony, N-Log for Nikon) and also feature ports for headphones and an external microphone for enhanced audio can be captured and monitored. The Nikon D780 also offers a 4K timelapse movie mode, too.