Nikon Z6, Canon EOS R, or Sony A7 III? Basic full-frame mirrorless models compared

A month ago, choosing a full frame mirrorless was a matter of choosing which Sony you wanted (unless, of course, you could afford a Leica). But with major DSLR players Canon and Nikon now stepping into the full-frame mirrorless game, photographers looking for a smaller camera to sling around their neck without sacrificing image quality now have several options to choose from. The new Nikon Z6 and Canon EOS R, alongside the third generation Sony A7 III, are the most “basic” options of the bunch. The term basic is a loose one since all three are full-featured cameras — they just don’t have as much brute force as their big siblings in the 45-megapixel range like the Sony A7R III or Nikon Z7.

So how do the new Canon EOS R and Nikon Z6 compare to Sony’s third-generation A7 camera? While we have yet to review the Canon and Nikon, we’ve pored over spec sheets to pit the cameras against each other. The EOS R isn’t expected until October and the Z6 in November, but here’s how the cameras compare on paper.

Sony A7 III

sony a7 iii

Nikon Z6

nikon z6

Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R

Sensor 24.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor with optical low pass filter 24.5 megapixel full-frame CMOS with optical low pass filter  30.3 megapixel full-frame CMOS with optical low pass filter
Burst Speed 10 fps with continuous autofocus or 8 fps with live view 12 fps in extended mode or 5.5 fps with live view 8 fps or 5 fps with continuous AF
Shutter Speed 30 sec. to 1/8000, bulb 30 sec. to 1/8000, bulb 30 sec. to 1/8000, bulb
ISO 100-51,200 (50-204,800 extended) 100 – 51,2000 (50 – 204,800 extended) 200 – 40,000
Autofocus 693-point hybrid phase-detection contrast AF, Eye AF 273-point hybrid phase-detection contrast AF 5,655-point Dual Pixel autofocus, eye-detection AF
Image Stabilization 5-axis sensor shift 5-axis sensor shift None, available in some lenses
Video 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 120 fps 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 120 fps 4K at 30 fps, 1080p at 60 fps
EVF .5 inch 2.35 million dot EVF with .91 inch eye point .5 inch 3.69 million dot EVF with 21mm eye point .5 inch 3.69 million dot EVF with 23mm eye point
LCD 2.95 inch, 921,00 dot tilting touchscreen 3.2 inch, 2.10 million dot tilting touchscreen 3.15 inch, 2.10 million dots tilting touchscreen
Media Slots Dual card slots (1 SD, 1 Memory Stick Duo or SD) Single XQD card slot Single SD card slot
Battery 610 shots 310 shots 330 shots
Dimensions (WxHxD) 5 x 3.87 x 3 inches 5.3 x 4 x 2.7 inches 5.35 x 3.87 x 3.32 inches
Weight 1.43 lbs. (battery and memory card included) 1.29 lbs. (body only) 1.28 lbs. (body only)
Price $2,000 $2,000 $2,299
Read more Sony A7 III hands-on review Nikon Z6 hands-on preview
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Sensor

On paper, the difference between the full frame sensors is a matter of a few megapixels. Both the Sony and the Nikon have virtually the same resolution, with Sony at 24.2 and Nikon at 24.5. The Canon offers 30.3 megapixels, but should make only a small real world difference. All three use an optical low pass filter and all three are the same physical size. While there are likely subtle differences in image quality coming from all three, it’s not something that can be measured in the tech specs alone. We know the A7 III is a great performer, and we fully expect the Nikon and Canon will compare favorably based on our experience with their DSLR counterparts.

Winner: To be determined

Speed

Without a mirror to move out of the way, mirrorless cameras have the possibility of faster performance. The Z6 takes the top spot here with its 12 fps burst shooting, but note that this is in “extended” mode — impressively, this still allows for continous autofocus, but the viewfinder won’t keep up with live view and the exposure is locked on the first frame. The Z6’s burst speed without those limitations is 5.5 fps, which is a bit slower than the A7 III’s 8. Canon’s burst speed is 5 fps if you want continuous autofocus or 8 fps with the focus locked on the first frame, which would seem to put it in last place. Sony doesn’t have as much fine print with the a7 III’s burst speeds, but it’s 10 fps with continuous autofocus but drops to 8 with live view.

Winner: Nikon

Autofocus

Canon’s slightly higher resolution sensor has another perk — Dual Pixel autofocus (DPAF). The autofocus system uses more of the sensor, which is where those whopping 5,655 autofocus points come from. DPAF has been well-received on Canon’s DSLRs and EOS M cameras, and this is the most advanced version we’ve seen to date. Both Sony and Nikon use hybrid phase-detection and contrast detection, but Sony has a lot more autofocus points and a better reputation with three generations of the A7 now out in the hands of photographers. The autofocus in the A7 III is the same one from the speedy A9 and we found it both quick and accurate. Nikon could be a wildcard here — the specs look decent, and Nikon has produced great viewfinder-based AF systems on its DSLRs, but it hasn’t yet wowed us with a live view autofocus system. Both the Sony and the Canon also feature eye-detection AF, while Nikon only has face detection. We’ll hold our final verdict for in-depth experience with the cameras, but if we had to go on specs alone, we’d let Canon and Sony duke it out for the top spot.

Winner: Canon and Sony

Stabilization

Canon and Nikon introduced lens-based optical image stabilization years ago, but mirrorless cameras have tended to favor sensor-based stabilization and Sony uses an impressive 5-axis stabilization system in the A7 III. Nikon has followed suit with its own 5-axis system in the Z6, but Canon is sticking with the lens-based stabilization — and not every lens will have it.

Winner: Sony and Nikon

Design

Sony has been designing full-frame mirrorless bodies for years, but Nikon and Canon are trying to bring some of their experience from DSLRs to their new mirrorless options. All three have decent electronic viewfinders and tilting touchscreens, but both are higher resolution on the Z6 and EOS R. We rather like the fact that the Nikon Z6 and Canon EOS R have a second screen at the top to display all the vital shooting details, much like their DSLR cousins. The Z6 and EOS R also have a substantial grip, a truce flag waved to the DSLR users that don’t always agree that smaller is better. Canon deserves kudos for originality too — the R mount lenses have another control ring that can be set to control settings like aperture or ISO. But Sony’s experience shows — the a7 III has the smallest dimensions of the bunch and yet still manages to include dual media slots, a feature that already some professionals are saying disqualifies the Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras. Here, the design comes down to whether a robust grip, dual card slots, or a top LCD screen is more vital to you.

Winner: Tie

Battery life

The first-generation Sony mirrorless cameras were, frankly, pathetic when it came to battery life. Now, Sony has more than doubled that battery life — and no question, the Sony a7 III comes out the winner for longevity. The Nikon and Canon have almost half the battery life at a little over 300 shots. However, we do expect real world performance will be much better than the CIPA ratings. Still, there’s no denying that Sony is the clear victor here.

Winner: Sony

So, which is best?

Sony’s first full-frame mirrorless camera, the A7, launched in 2013 and easily earned our 2013 camera of the year title. Sony has since made huge improvements across the board to everything from the autofocus to video features to battery life. Whereas Canon and Nikon were afraid of what a full-frame mirrorless camera would do to DSLR sales, Sony had nothing to lose — and that attitude has lead to an excellent camera series that has been readily adopted by enthusiasts and professionals alike.

Nikon and Canon are five years late to the party — but they have made a grand entrance. Nikon gave us its first sensor-based image stabilization, on-chip phase detection AF, and 10-bit 4K video. Canon borrowed heavily from the 5D Mark IV’s tried-and-true wardrobe, but added its own flair with a revamped DPAF system. Both Nikon and Canon will let photographers use existing DSLR lenses via adapters, but Sony obviously has the most native mirrorless lenses available at this time.

The truth is, any of these cameras could come out on top depending on what you need and how you shoot. It’s worth mentioning that the EOS R is the most expensive of the group, coming in $300 higher than the other two, but it’s not a huge difference. We’ll reserve our final judgement for when we have a chance to fully review the Z6 and EOS R, but we fully expect all of these systems to be capable performers.

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