Now that Nikon’s Z9 has launched into the mirrorless world, the biggest question is how it stacks up against the competition. And while it’s a seriously impressive camera, the same can be said about other cameras on the market today. Perhaps the biggest competitor to the Nikon Z9 is the Sony A1.
How do these two cameras compare? It’s a back-and-forth battle in many ways, and it might simply come down to whether you prefer Nikon or Sony as a system. But before I get ahead of myself, let’s take a look at the specifications of the Z9 versus the A1 and how they compare head to head.
|Camera Feature||Nikon Z9||Sony A1|
|Announced||October 2021||January 2021|
|Sensor Resolution||45.4 megapixels||49.8 megapixels|
|Sensor Type||Stacked CMOS||Stacked CMOS|
|Sensor Size||35.9 × 23.9mm||35.9 × 24mm|
|Sensor Pixel Size||4.35µ||4.16µ|
|Image Size||8256 × 5504 pixels||8640 × 5760 pixels|
|High-Res Sensor Shift||No||Yes; up to 200 megapixels|
|Focus Stacking Shift||Yes||No|
|Base ISO||ISO 64||ISO 100|
|Highest Native ISO||25,600||32,000|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 32-102,400||ISO 50-102,400|
|Image Processor||EXPEED 7||BIONZ XR|
|Viewfinder Type||Electronic Viewfinder||Electronic Viewfinder|
|Viewfinder Resolution||3.69 million dots||9.44 million dots|
|Viewfinder Refresh Rate||60 Hz||120 Hz at full resolution (up to 240 Hz at lower resolution)|
|Viewfinder Resolution Drops When Focusing||No||Yes|
|Viewfinder Jolt When Focusing||No||Yes|
|Flash Sync Speed||1/200 (Auto FP high speed sync up to 1/8000)||1/400 (high speed sync up to 1/8000)|
|Storage Media||2× CF Express Type B (with XQD compatibility)||2× CF Express Type A (with SD compatibility)|
|Continuous Shooting Speed||20 FPS raw; 30 FPS JPEG; 120 FPS with 11 megapixel JPEGs||30 FPS (lossy compressed raw); 20 FPS (uncompressed and lossless compressed raw)|
|Buffer Size (RAW)||Over 1000 (high efficiency raw, which Nikon claims has no loss of image quality); 80 frames (lossless compressed raw)||155 frames at 30 FPS; 238 frames at 20 FPS|
|Continuous Shooting||Over 50 seconds||5.2 seconds at 30 FPS; 11.9 seconds at 20 FPS|
|Shutter Speed Range||1/32,000 to 900 seconds||1/32,000 to 30 seconds|
|Shutter Type||Electronic shutter only||Mechanical and electronic|
|Shutter Durability||Unlimited (since there is no mechanical shutter)||500,000 cycles, mechanical shutter|
|Exposure Metering Sensor||TTL exposure metering using main image sensor||1200-zone evaluative metering|
|Autofocus System||Hybrid phase/contrast detect AF with 493 points||Hybrid phase/contrast detect AF with 759 points|
|AF Area Mode||Single point AF; Pinpoint AF; dynamic AF (S, M, L), wide-area AF (S, L); Auto Area AF; 3D-Tracking||Wide; Zone; Center; Flexible Spot; Expanded Flexible Spot; Tracking|
|AF Detection Range (f/2 lens, ISO 100)||-5 to 21.5 EV; -7 to 21.5 EV with Low-Light AF enabled||-4 to 20 EV|
|Video Compression||Apple ProRes 422 HQ (10-bit); H.265 / HEVC (8-bit / 10-bit); H.264 / AVC (8-bit)||10-bit with 4:2:2 chroma sampling; XAVC S: MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, XAVC HS: MPEG-H HEVC/H.265|
|Log Video||Yes, internal||Yes, internal|
|Video Maximum Resolution||7680 × 4320 (8K) up to 30p||7680 × 4320 (8K) up to 30p|
|Slow Motion Video||4K up to 120p; 1080p up to 120p||4K up to 120p; 1080p up to 240p|
|LCD Size||3.2″ diagonal||3″ diagonal|
|LCD Resolution||2.1 million dots||1.4 million dots|
|LCD Tilt||Vertical and horizontal axis||Vertical axis only|
|Built-in Wired LAN||1000 Base-T Support||1000 Base-T Support|
|Battery||EN-EL18d (backwards compatible with all EN-EL18 type batteries)||NP-FZ100|
|Battery Life||700 shots (viewfinder), 740 shots (LCD)||430 shots (viewfinder), 530 shots (LCD)|
|Weight (with battery and card)||1340 g (2.95 pounds)||737 g (1.62 pounds)|
|Dimensions (excludes protruding eyepiece)||149 × 149.5 × 90.5 mm (5.87 × 5.89 × 3.56 inches)||128.9 × 96.9 × 69.7 mm (5.13 × 3.88 × 2.75 inches)|
|Price at Launch||$5500 (check current price)||$6500 (check current price)|
As you can see, both of these cameras have truly remarkable specifications. They’re each capable of shooting rapid bursts of high-resolution images with a minimum of hundreds of shots before the buffer fills. My only warning against getting either of these cameras is that you’ll no longer have an excuse: If your photos don’t turn out well, it’s not because of the camera.
Between the two, the better choice isn’t immediately obvious. Sony has advantages in maximum frame rate (30 FPS raw rather than 20), high resolution sensor shift, and much smaller size/weight. Nikon has a bigger buffer, a lower base ISO, and a dual-axis tilting rear LCD. It’s also less expensive by $1000. (Nikon’s large buffer is only achievable in their new “high efficiency raw,” but Nikon claims it has “the same level of high image quality as the conventional uncompressed RAW,” so there’s no image quality penalty.)
Even at the same price, I’d say the decision – if you’re completely ambivalent about the brands – comes down to this: Do you want a big camera or a small camera?
The Sony A1 has a traditional mirrorless design, weighing 500 grams (1.1 pounds) less than the Nikon Z9 and taking up less than half the volume. In turn, it has a more cramped button layout, shorter battery life, and worse heat dissipation. By comparison, the Nikon Z9 is a hulking camera bigger than most DSLRs, but the layout with the integrated vertical grip is one that sports and wildlife professionals have gravitated toward for a reason.
The price difference obviously favors Nikon, but even then, I know plenty of photographers who would rule out a 3.0 lb mirrorless camera (or a 3.0 lb camera of any type) and it doesn’t matter that it’s less expensive than the Sony. So, start your decision with the camera size and weight in mind. Only after that should you start comparing the other features of the cameras.
For landscape photography and especially backcountry hiking, the Sony A1 is probably the way to go. In general, its sensor-shift mode and light weight are going to make a bigger difference than the Nikon Z9’s base ISO of 64 and dual-axis tilting LCD. The one issue is with extended shutter speeds (since Nikon goes up to 900 seconds), meaning that you’ll want to remember to bring along a remote release when shooting with the Sony after dark.
For sports and wildlife photography, I’d go with the Nikon Z9 even though the Sony has 30 FPS raw shooting rather than 20. First off, 20 FPS is more than enough for 99% of needs. Remember, 24 frames per second is video. The Z9’s nearly unlimited buffer is a bigger factor. On top of that, the Z9’s form factor and button layout are optimized for sports shooting, whereas you’ll probably want to spend more money to get the battery grip for the A1 if that’s your genre of photography.
Videographers should be happy either way. The two cameras both offer log video recording, 8K, 4K 120p, and 10-bit recording with 4:2:2 sampling. The biggest differences are that the Sony A1 shoots 240 FPS at 1080p (rather than 120 FPS), while the Nikon Z9 has a longer maximum recording time of 125 minutes and is capable of ProRes 422 HQ. Eventually, Nikon has said they’ll release a firmware update with 12-bit raw video recorded internally (including ProRes raw if shooting 4K), which may push it over the edge.
In terms of broader considerations, Sony has the larger lens lineup at the moment, although Nikon is swiftly catching up in the supertelephoto department with their 400mm f/2.8, 400mm f/4.5, and 800mm f/6.3, among others. Nikon also has plenty of F-mount gear available from years of making SLR and DSLR lenses, and supertelephotos are some of the lenses that work best on Nikon Z cameras with the FTZ adapter. So, even though the size of the lens lineup favors Sony, it may not matter to the Z9’s target audience.
Overall, both of these cameras are amazing and at the peak of what a modern mirrorless camera can do. Rather than saying, “You can’t go wrong either way,” I’ll say this instead: “You will go right either way.”
Take a long look at the specifications above, and don’t forget the form factors of the two cameras. Then, once you’ve filled your wall with charts and strings like in a detective movie, feel free to flip a coin :)