Canon R3 v Sony a9 II; battle of the speed kings

How does Canon’s new R3 compare against Sony’s own pro-level sport and wildlife camera?

Canon’s R3 has caused huge waves in the camera market offering impressive specifications for professional level sports and wildlife photographers who need rapid burst rates and fast autofocus all wrapped into a robust full-frame mirrorless body. But how exactly does the new R3 compare against a big rival like the Sony a9 II, which was launched in October 2019? Well, to help you make the right buying decision, we’re drilling down into the specification sheets to compare the two premium cameras…

Canon R3 v Sony a9 II

One – Resolution: 

Because both cameras are focused towards speed rather than huge resolution, it’s no surprise that the R3 and a9 II feature full-frame sensors that both fall below the 30-megapixel mark. In fact, both cameras serve up 24-megapixels with the Canon featuring a stacked CMOS sensor and the Sony using a stacked BSI-CMOS sensor. With the pixel count at 24-MP, this allows the cameras to achieve a balance between good low light performance, fast burst rate and high image quality.

Two – Burst rate:

This is the key feature that professional sports and wildlife photographers will look for and they won’t be disappointed in either camera. The Canon R3 offers 12 frames per second using the mechanical shutter, or a whopping 30 frames per second using the electronic shutter. Meanwhile, the Sony a9 II offers 10 frames per second with the mechanical shutter and 20 frames per second using the electronic shutter. In pro photography, every split second counts, so higher burst rates are preferred. 

Three – Weight and dimensions: 

The R3 is the first Canon from the full-frame mirrorless range to take on the more square for factor that has been previously associated with the 1DX range of DSLR cameras and the advantage of this design is that it accommodates a much higher capacity battery that offers longer shooting time and provides the juice for that rapid burst rate, along with offering a secondary shutter button when the time is rotated into portrait format. The cost for this extra size is that the R3 tips the scales at 1015g, which is still incredible light when compared to Canon’s 1 DX Mark III DSLR (1440g). The a9II however is much lighter and more compact, weighing just 678g and measuring 129 x 96 x 76 mm (compared to the 150 x 143 x 87 mm R3) and this may make a difference to photographers looking to travel light although it should be pointed out that a9 II shooters can achieve the square format shape by adding Sony’s optional VG-C4EM vertical-position grip, which will also extend shooting time too.

Four – Viewfinder and LCD

One of the biggest headlines from the launch of the Canon R3 was the presence of Eye Control AF, which allows the photographer to simply look through the Electronic Viewfinder to establish a focus point. The R3’s viewfinder is higher resolution than the a9 II’s (5760k dot v 3686k dot) and the R3 also features a larger LCD too (3.2-inch v 3-inch). What’s more, the R3’s LCD features a vari-angle design over the Sony’s tilting mechanism. Vari-angle screens are often more beneficial as they make awkward high/low compositions easier to set up and can also be flipped around, which helps with Vlogging operation.

Five – Video: 

While both the R3 and a9 II are predominantly seen as cameras for professional sports and wildlife photographers, both cameras also offer some incredible video specifications, too. First up, the Sony a9 II can capture 4K video with full pixel readout and no pixel binning up to 30p. However, the R3 goes even further, offering ultra high resolution 6K RAW up to 60p. What’s more, the R3 can also shoot 4K at 120p, enabling videographers to capture epic slow motion sequences in stunning detail. Both cameras feature ports for headphones and an external microphone so enhanced audio can be both captured and monitored and also feature the brand’s own Log profiles, giving videographers further options when editing footage in post processing.

Six – Lens mount:

The R3 uses Canon’s RF lens mount, but photographers who still have a bag full of EF glass can use these optics by pairing the lenses with a EF/R adaptor, including the EF-EOS R 0.71x, which is effectively a speedbooster adaptor. The RF lens series is expanding rapidly, but because it’s still relatively new, there aren’t as many native lenses available compared to Sony’s E-mount range of glass. What’s more, third-party manufacturers such as Sigma also offer a range of incredible optics for E-mount cameras such as the a9 II.

Seven – Autofocus:

After burst rate, this is the most important factor professional sports and wildlife photographers will look for when picking a pro-level full-frame mirrorless camera. As you’d expect, both cameras feature highly advanced systems that will help you capture split-second moments at high speed. The a9 II can make up to 60 AF calculations a second and includes Sony’s 4D Focus technology that boasts Real-Time Eye AF for Humans and animals, along with achieving focus down to -3 EV using the 693 AF points across the sensor.

The Canon R3 also delivers subject tracking for humans and animals and brings an extra benefit in the shape of Vehicle Tracking, which will make the lives of motorsport photographers a whole lot easier. Packing Canon’s Dual Pixel AF II technology, the R3 takes advantage of 4779 selectable AF points that cover 100% of the full-frame sensor, can lock on to subjects in as little as 0.03seconds and autofocus can be achieved down to -7 EV, which is astonishing.

Eight – Shutter speed:

As both cameras are targeted at professional sports and wildlife photographers, shutter speed is a big deal. For perspective, a typical DSLR like the Canon 5D Mark IV has a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000sec. The Sony a9 II features a max shutter speed of 1/32000sec, which on its alone is incredible, but then add in the fact that the Canon R3 can achieve a max shutter speed of 1/64000sec and you can see why there is so much buzz about this cutting edge new action-focused camera.