Without a doubt, the announcement of the Sony A1 is one of the most significant events in the photography industry, as this is the first time a mirrorless camera is truly set to challenge the top-of-the-line offerings from both Canon and Nikon, who have dominated the action photography genre for decades. The Sony A1 has very impressive features and specifications, but how do they compare to the Nikon D6 and Canon 1D X Mark III flagship DSLRs? In this article, we will take a look at these three cameras and compare them side-by-side both in terms of their ergonomics and specifications.
First, we will compare the physical appearance and ergonomics of the three cameras.
Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Ergonomics
The above image is a clear example of the drastic departure of the mirrorless system compared to traditional top-of-the-line DSLRs, and this is the message Sony is trying to send with its A1 camera – a high-end photographic tool does not have to be large and heavy. In fact, Sony stuck with a similar footprint as its A9 II camera, featuring a similar ergonomic design with some modifications. For those photographers who are used to the big and bulky D6 and 1D X Mark III camera, this might potentially look like a disadvantage, but Sony has a solution that comes in a form of a battery grip that extends the size of the camera, boosts battery capacity and offers a grip for vertical orientation shooting.
In terms of overall ergonomics, both Nikon and Canon have been refining their DSLRs for many years and they offer exceptional handling experience in the field. Both D6 and 1D X Mark III have very smooth and curvy appearances, with deeply recessed rubber grips for exceptional handling. Sony is relatively new to the high-end game, and while its cameras offer insane customizability options, it certainly lacks in the ergonomics and menu design for now, in my opinion.
When looking at the back button layout and design, it is clear that the flagship cameras from Nikon and Canon offer a vastly different experience. Nikon has a total of 17 buttons (and that’s not including the D-pad, switches, dials, and joysticks), while Canon is not far behind with a total of 16 buttons. Sony, on the other hand, only has 9 buttons in comparison (11 with the vertical grip). While on one hand, one might argue that more buttons make it easier to access some settings quicker, others might argue that they only clutter up cameras, making them more confusing to use. I would say that it is up to each individual to decide what they like better.
When looking at the top view of each camera, both Nikon and Canon once again have more buttons for quick access to camera settings, whereas the A1 is dial-heavy – it has a total of 4 round dials, one of which has a sub-dial underneath it. Note that the A1 does not have a top LCD either.
Personally, I wish Sony went with a whole new design and button layout with its A1, but Sony shooters who are already used to cameras like the A9 II might disagree with me. I would love to see a curvier, more comfortable design with a nice grip and more spaced out, illuminated buttons that make it easier to use the camera with larger gloves. For example, the top C1 and C2 buttons could be moved to the front of the camera, similar to what Nikon and Canon have done with their D6 and 1D X Mark III cameras. The exposure compensation dial is not necessary – a simple button would do. This would provide plenty of space for adding a top LCD, which I find to be hugely convenient when shooting in the field.
Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Specification Comparison
Let’s now take a look at how these cameras compare in terms of specifications:
|Camera Feature||Sony A1||Nikon D6||Canon 1D X Mark III|
|Sensor Resolution||50.1 MP||20.8 MP||20.1 MP|
|Sensor Type||Stacked BSI CMOS||CMOS||CMOS|
|Sensor Pixel Size||4.16µ||6.45µ||6.58µ|
|Sensor Dust Reduction||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Image Size||8640 x 5760||5568 x 3712||5472 x 3648|
|In-Body Image Stabilization||Yes||No||No|
|Image Formats||RAW, JPEG, HEIF||RAW, JPEG||RAW, JPEG, HEIF|
|Native ISO Sensitivity||ISO 100-32000||ISO 100-102400||ISO 100-102400|
|Boosted ISO Sensitivity||ISO 50, 51200-102400||ISO 50, 204800-3280000||ISO 50, 204800-819200|
|Image Processor||2x BIONZ XR||EXPEED 6||DIGIX X|
|Viewfinder Type||9.44M-dot OLED EVF||Pentaprism OVF||Pentaprism OVF|
|Flash Sync Speed||1/400||1/250||1/250|
|Storage Media||2x CFe Type A||2x CFe Type B||2x CFe Type B|
|Shooting Speed (M Shutter)||10 FPS||14 FPS||16 FPS|
|Shooting Speed (E Shutter)||30 FPS||10.5 FPS||20 FPS|
|Buffer Size (Max FPS)||155 shots||200 shots||1000 shots|
|Max Shutter Speed||1/8000 to 30 sec||1/8000 to 900 sec||1/8000 to 30 sec|
|Shutter Durability||500,000 cycles||400,000 cycles||500,000 cycles|
|Autofocus System||Hybrid||PDAF||Hybrid (in Live View)|
|Autofocus Points||759 (PDAF), 425 (CDAF)||105, 105 cross-type||191, 90 cross-type|
|AF Detection Range||-4 to +20 EV||-4.5 to +20 EV||-4 to +21 EV|
|Video Compression||MPEG-4 H.264 / H.265||MPEG-4 H.264||MPEG-4 H.264 / H.265|
|Video Maximum Resolution||7680 x 4320 (8K) up to 30p||3840×2160 (4K) up to 30p||5472×2886 (5.5K) up to 60p|
|RAW Video Recording||Yes||No||Yes|
|10-bit HDMI Output||Yes, 10-bit 4:2:2||No, 8-bit 4:2:2||Yes, 10-bit 4:2:2|
|Video Autofocus||Phase-Detect AF||Contrast-Detect AF||Phase-Detect AF|
|LCD Size||3.0″ diagonal TFT-LCD||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD||3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD|
|LCD Resolution||1.44-Million Dots||2.36-Million Dots||2.1-Million Dots|
|Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Built-in Wired LAN||1000 Base-T||1000 Base-T||1000 Base-T|
|Battery Life (Shots, per CIPA)||430 (EVF), 530 (LCD)||3,580||2,850|
|USB Type||USB 3.2, Type C||USB 3.1, Type C||USB 3.1, Type C|
|Weight||737g (Inc Battery)||1,270g (Body Only)||1,250g (Body Only)|
|Dimensions||128.9 x 96.9 x 69.7mm||160.0 x 163.0 x 92.0mm||158.0 x 167.6 x 82.6mm|
Wow, how quickly the high-end game has changed. If just a few years back the Nikon D6 and Canon 1D X Mark III were in the “untouchable” category, the Sony A1 shows the true potential of the latest mirrorless technology. With Sony featuring 50.1 MP stacked BSI CMOS sensor with IBIS and crazy 30 FPS shooting speed, both Nikon and Canon are far behind – it is not even a contest here. Aside from small weaknesses here and there, the Sony A1 simply dominates in almost every category, with Canon following as the close second and Nikon being the last.
The biggest weakness of the Sony A1 is its battery life. With Nikon being able to push up to 3580 shots on a single battery charge and Canon getting 2850 shots, the A1 can manage 430 shots when using the EVF and 530 shots when using the LCD. At the same time, Sony’s strength is in its small footprint and very lightweight construction, so if battery life becomes an issue, one could add an additional battery when using a vertical grip, or simply pack more batteries in the bag – the weight savings are still significant.
It will probably take a few years for Nikon and Canon to be able to come up with high-end cameras that can match such capabilities. And by then, Sony will already be showing off its A1 Mark II…
The article was awesome until the ending. No the Sony does not somehow win, just because it has better specs or whatever. A few small things or few small differences? Sony’s mount release is on the opposite side, even the A1 feels like toy next to the other two, etc., etc.! So no, Sony did not do so well for me personally. It could be alien or ET technology and I wouldn’t buy or use it lol, if it looked, felt or operated like a Sony A9/A1!!! Nope! I would not trade for 120fps at 50mp RAW! I do however wish Nikon made the D6 slightly closer to the Canon 1Dx Mark III’s upgrades! The Mark III feels completely justified, while the D6 vs. D5 is more like the 1D II vs. the 1D IIn or a D5s? Yeah Nikon did sorta disappoint us on launch day, the rumors were all wrong lol.
Nikon purposely and somewhat secretly didn’t add too much to the D6 though for a reason! The $1,000,000’s of dollars they were already invested into Z7 II or Z9! Nikon likely started the mirrorless stuff before the D6 and couldn’t foresee the future! If not for Tokyo being selected for the Olympics…there’s a chance we never see a D6! Maybe just a D5s and Z9? But the D6 is ever so slightly worthy of its single digit designation! It does have hardware improvements and other improvements over the D5! Newly developed and worlds best autofocus system in a DSLR or SLR is a huge accomplishment!
I’ve had the opportunity to shoot all three of these briefly and own the D6/D850 as of late. I’m hoping to eventually but another D6 and hope to get it soon. I don’t want or need mirrorless or EVF. The EVF in the Nikon and most other mirrorless cameras…bother me. I have some (ALL) severe TBI/CTE symptoms almost daily. So light sensitivity and other issues personal to me…make it hard to stare at a little TV screen for more than say an hour? Even 15minutes straight is too long for me! Period!
Lastly if you add it up…the Sony A1 cost $7500 or so with taxes and two CFEXPRESS Type A cards, grip, extra battery. Maybe more? $7900? In California or New York where sales taxes are high? Got my D6 for $4699 and it is a true flagship with built in vertical grip, much bigger and better battery, better weather sealing and durability, etc. The Sony CFO or whoever even admits in interviews that the A1 is not up to the same standards as Canon/Nikon flagships! So for me, and because I have so much invested in Nikon, I’ll keep buying D6’s or whatever is next for me. Who knows maybe the D6 will become a collector item sooner than later! The prices went up recently on the D6. So anything is possible, especially considering how few D6 bodies exist in the first place! I count 1500 or so for the entire USA market, which is well less than the 3000+ made so far for the (usually smaller), Japanese market.
Yes D6’s are already extremely rare compared to their Canon/Sony counterpart flagships! By at least power of 10x, so there’s a chance I’m right? Could a like new USA version Nikon D6 with only 25k or less (on its shutter) be worth a pretty penny? Could be someday or soon! Nikon already discussed or rather announced they were moving production of the D6 to Thailand. So the fact that they have not, and finished making them in Japan…shows they are no longer selling. I
Now I’m not saying nobody is buying them. I’m saying they will be extremely rare in a few years, especially if you take care of it and clean it, or keep the mileage down. I’m not worried either way, I’m going to lose money on almost everything I buy. I buy stuff because I need it or like it, nothing else. Mostly need it since I’m poor. I’m gear rich, wallet poor as I’m a photojournalist! So I am in a rare class of users, but this article should praise the D6 slightly more. I get all 14fps every time with 98% accuracy? Yeah the D6 absolutely has next level autofocus and even the Sony A1 gets a run for it’s money, in pure AF accuracy! There is no doubt in that. Plus you don’t always need or get 30fps in the A1 or others. Which is why I’m okay with my slow D6! If I was missing shots that much, I’d buy a Z9 no doubt yesterday! But I’m not missing shots, I’m nailing them.
nasim have u compared iso for 3 cameras 4 months back i hv purchased d6
Sony needs a cleanup at “ergonomics department”.
I can see the Sony taking a chunk of the advanced amateur market but I doubt they will put much of a dent in the professional market pretty much locked up by Nikon and Canon.
They all have their purpose.
If you go war to cover history – take the D6 or 1Dxiii with you. If you go to the park to photograph birds – bring the A1.
I have seen many pros on sidelines for football in EU and I can tell you they are in a different mode than your presentation here ( specifically SPORTS) . they shoot JPG , they do not have time for RAW and editing, they get 3 bodies, one on small tripod behind the goal triggered by remote with wide lens. ( mostly D3…or so) and one on monopod with Nikkor 400 2.8 or similar ( likely D5, now D6), one with 70-200 2.8 for closing action ( D4s or so) , and wide zoom 2.8 for pre and after game.
they scramble to upload images (JPG) after the shoot and most editing they do is cropping since they nail it right, and if hot game high stake …ethernet to feed the guy with the computer behind them or wifi high end.
Those Pros will not settle for Sony A1 for nothing…they cannot take the risk for the 50 mega you described, they want reliable bodies that is thrown, tossed around when they drop the 400 mm 2.8 with the d5 on the turf to run with their 70-200 to get the players celebration when scoring a goal……
One thing about the battery. If you use the rear screen on the big DSLRs their battery life drops below that of the mirrorless. If you put a battery grip on the mirrorless you can triple the battery life on the DSLR if you need to any of the huge list of EVF benefits, or video.
I think this is a fair comparison to make. The A1 could use a small RAW option for sure, but the speed and viewfinder improvements are amazing IMO over a DSLR. Also note that the max shutter on the A1 is 1/32000, only 1/8000 in mechanical, which you will almost never need to drop in to.
well, it depends on how you use the camera. Sony might take advantage off the mirrorless system but if Batterylife, ergonomics and possibly low light capability is high on your list ( Wildlifephotographers ? ) you might still end up with one of the DSLRs.
Interesting debate in the comments… I agree with Nasim partly that the “Croppability” with a FX camera is important for many wildlife situations. This is no matter how one strives to frame subjects optimally in-camera; they oblige too rarely :-)
On the other hand, the huge advantage of the Pro DSLRs is the superb IQ in lowlight ie compare D5 and D6 to the D850. Many of us try to keep the ISO under 3200, although 6400 is okay(ish). In contrast, the top top non-multiplication ISO of this new Sony’s sensor is 32000 and at 50mp with 4.16µ pixels (vs ISO 102400 and 6.45/6.58 µ pixels)
If not already, all Nikon shooters should read Thom Hogan’s ‘For Those With Sony Paranoia’…. Current rumours point to at least 3 new Nikon MILCs. Besides Hogan’s recent essays, these also showed up in the Italian Forum, Nikonland, which is well connected with official Nikon sources. The leak claimed to have its information about prototypes in field testing. And there are more lenses not on the Z Roadmap. More than anyone Nikon knows they have to follow up urgently. And they have been actively developing new sensors….