Battle of the big boys: Sony A1 vs Canon R3 vs Nikon Z 9! 

These mirrorless marvels are as pro as you can go in their respective mounts, but which has the best specs?

Z 9, R3, A1… no, it’s not a crossword clue, it’s a top-end shootout! With the recent arrival of Nikon’s flagship Z 9 mirrorless body, all the major players have now shown their cards. Going up against Canon’s EOS R3 and Sony’s A1, these three bodies are the pinnacle mirrorless tech as of now, and though Canon has hinted that there’s another top-end body coming in 2022, the glaring space marked ‘R1’ doesn’t mean we can’t let these great bodies battle it out in the meantime. 

So, how do they stack up? Obviously, this is just a comparison and there are few buyers who won’t be swayed by their existing gear, and soft factors, like personal preference in handling, but below we’ve picked out some main features, and stuck them head to head… to head. Let’s dive in…

1. Sensor & resolution 

All of these cameras start out doing something similar. Each has a ‘stacked’ full-frame CMOS sensor meaning they have increased speed, quality and versatility in how they capture light and process data – but also an uninterrupted view of the subject through the EVF. Of course, Sony has been doing this for years with the A9 and A9II, but along with the A1, the Z 9 and R3 can now do the same.  

Conversely, there’s a real divide in what the cameras offer in terms of resolution. Despite all offering great speed, the R3 has a 24.1-megapixel (6000×4000) output, while the Z 9 and A1 are much closer, at 45.7-megapixels (8256×5504) and 50.1-megapixels (8640×5760), respectively. There’s nothing wrong with the R3’s 24-megapixel chip – especially when you see how it benefits other areas – but the Z 9 and A1 certainly offer more options in print size and cropping.

Like the resolution differences, the camera’s ISO ranges are split. Ignoring expanded settings, the A1 spans 100-32,000 and the Z 9 64-25,600. The R3 certainly goes further with a broad  100-102,400 range, thanks to its sensor having fewer, and therefore larger photosites. 

2. Burst rate

A key feature for the pro sports and wildlife photographers these cameras are aimed at, none of them disappoint when it comes to frame rate. The Canon R3 offers 12fps using the mechanical shutter, or a whopping 30fps using the electronic shutter. Meanwhile, the Sony A1 offers up to 30fps shooting lossy Raw files and 20fps with lossless files. Nikon’s Z 9 uses only an electronic shutter and tops out at 20fps shooting full res Raws. But it also has a ‘High-speed frame capture’ mode where it can shoot at 120fps, albeit dropping to 11Mp Jpegs. Certainly they’re all fast enough. 

3. Weight & dimensions 

When it comes to pro-spec bodies, you expect an integrated vertical grip, but with the A1, Sony decided to give photographers the choice. So it comes in a compact 129x97x81mm and lightweight 737g, to which you can add the VG-C4EM grip if required, though it’ll add £400 to the price. If you’re looking for an advantage to this, it’s probably that the A1 can be used more easily on a gimbal, and is lighter as a package when twinned with big telephoto lenses.

More traditionally styled, but still smaller and somewhat lighter than their DSLR forebears, the Z 9 and EOS R3 use deep vertical grips and have mirrored controls and shutter buttons to aid shooting upright. The R3 measures 150x143x87mm and weighs 1015g, while the Z 9 is 1340g and 149×149.5×90.5mm. 

4. Viewfinder and LCD

As mirrorless cameras, the quality of electronic viewfinder is going to be a big factor in handling performance. You also expect a bright, clear and easy to use LCD. The EOS R3’s viewfinder has a resolution of 5.76m dot with a 120fps refresh rate and 0.76x magnification. It uses a large 3.2in, 4.15m dot LCD touchscreen which has a vari-angle design making high/low compositions easier, and can also be flipped around, if you plan to use this hugely expensive camera for vlogging or selfies. Hopefully not.

The Nikon Z 9 has a 3.69m dot EVF giving a 0.8x magnification and though its 60fps refresh rate is the lowest of the three, the finder is reckoned to be the brightest and suffers no drop in resolution as it focuses and shoots, unlike its competitors. Its 3.2in, 2.1m dot LCD touchscreen has a clever four-way tilt making vertical shooting a lot easier.

The Sony A1 EVF has a huge 9.44m dot resolution and up to a 240fps refresh rate, with 0.90x magnification, so it’s the best of the lot if you’re only looking at the spec sheet. It’s joined by a 3in, 1.44m dot touchscreen, which tilts up and down only. 

5. Video

All of these cameras have great spec for video, but they bring it in different ways. The Sony A1 can capture 8K/30p and 4K/120p video, the latter at a 1.12x crop, and offers 10-bit internal recording and 16-bit Raw over HDMI. The Canon R3 has 6K/60p and 4K 120p, the both in Raw, which along with 10-bit regular video it can record internally. The Z 9 offers 8K/30p and 4K/120p video with a promises 8K/60p and Raw coming via a firmware update. Out of the box it’ll record 10-bit internally. 

6. Autofocus

Also hugely important is AF performance. None of these cameras are lacking in that regard either. The Canon R3 delivers subject tracking for humans, animals and vehicles and uses Canon’s Dual Pixel AF II technology. It has 4779 selectable AF points that cover 100% of the frame and is rated in sensitivity down to -4.5EV. The Sony A1 includes Sony’s 4D Focus technology and has Real-Time Eye AF for humans and animals and with 759 AF points across the sensor it’s rated at -4EV.

Finally, the Z 9’s ‘deep learning’ hybrid AF that includes people, animals and vehicles, as well as an auto option – and for the first time, uses 3D Tracking which hadn’t previously been seen on the company’s mirrorless cameras. It has a sensitivity of -5EV, which can be boosted to -7EV in Starlight AF mode, and 493 points, again covering the whole frame.

Bonus round! Colour and smell

That’s right, pros also pick their cameras based on the blackness of the body. Sadly, there’s no difference here, with the A1’s livery coming in ‘Dusky Noir,’ the Canon R3’s in ‘Deep Coal,’ and Nikon’s Z 9 offering ‘Moonless-Night’, while all smell of freshly milled plastic and busy processors. Go figure.