It’s taken awhile, but full-frame mirrorless cameras are finally being produced by companies other than Sony.
It’s taken awhile, but full-frame mirrorless cameras are finally being produced by companies other than Sony. We put the latest oﬀerings from Sony, Nikon and Canon to the test to see which one is best.
Photography by Phyllicia Wang Art Direction & Digital imaging by Ashruddin Sani
CANON EOS R
The first full-frame mirrorless oﬀering from Canon, the EOS R introduces a brand new mount, the RF Mount, to go with a new series of RF lenses. Canon says the new RF mount is shorter, which allows them to design smaller lenses than what’s currently possible with EF Mount.
At the heart of things is a 30MP full-frame sensor with Dual Pixel autofocus capabilities, setting up the camera for faster focusing with both stills and video. The EOS R actually has a total of 5,655 AF points spread across the frame, and can achieve focus as quick as 0.05s. However, the only group AF mode in which all AF points can be used automatically is face detect mode. The two Large Zone AF modes only cover about 1/3 the frame horizontally or vertically.
At first glance, the EOS R looks very much like EOS cameras of old, with a deep handgrip on the right and an information panel on top. However, the power switch is now a knurled dial. A small change that really doesn’t work well in practice, as trying to quickly turn on the camera to get a picture now takes more eﬀort than necessary. The vertical orientation of the front dial didn’t sit right either, nor was it the most responsive.
We do like the implementation of a new Multi-function Bar though. This is a bar that sits just beneath the top information panel that you can slide your thumb across or tap on either side to activate diﬀerent settings. You can assign a good number of settings to this bar, so we think you will definitely find a way to add this into your work flow.
PICTURE 123RF, CANON
The power switch is now a dial.
Of all the cameras in this shootout, the 24.5 MP Nikon Z6 feels most like a traditional SLR. The handgrip is nicely proportioned, and the controls are well laid-out, so points to Nikon for maintaining consistency there.
It uses an entirely new Z-mount, which is much shallower and wider. Nikon says the new design makes it easier to direct light into the corners of the sensor, which in turn lets them develop lenses with wider apertures, like the upcoming 58mm f/0.95 Noct. Also new, is a customizable control ring that replaces the usual focus ring on your lens. You can use this to manually adjust focus as usual, or set it to adjust other functions to best fit your shooting style.
There’s also a new FZ-mount adapter introduced. This has a mechanical aperture lever built in, so you can use AF-S and AF-I lenses with full aperture control on the new Z-series cameras. Older AF-D lenses will only get auto exposure, and AI lenses will only get full metering, but this means that practically all current Nikon users will be able to continue using their existing lenses. As of right now, there’s no option to buy any Z-series camera without the FZ adapter bundled in. This may be fine for current Nikon users, but certainly seems like an additional cost involved to purchase the camera if you don’t have any Nikon lenses to begin with.
Like the EOS-R, the Z6 has also integrated full touch into their menu system, making it easy to dive into menus, get to settings and review images. What’s diﬀerent is that the Z6 also comes with an AFselector joystick (much like the D500), which makes it easier to set focus. Something worth noting though, is that the Z6 only takes a single XQD slot, so you’ll need a completely new set of memory cards if you’ve been using SD or CF thus far.
SONY A7 III
The “oldest” camera in this line-up, Sony’s A7 III picks up from where the A7 II left oﬀ , and takes innovations from the both A9 and A7R III, with a back-illuminated 24.2MP Exmor R CMOS sensor that uses copper wires and front-end LSI for faster readout speed, just like the A9.
This new sensor is also paired with a new image processing system that Sony says allows for a 1.5 stop increase in image quality, with upgraded detail reproduction and up to 15-bit dynamic range at low sensitivity settings. The camera has a total of 693 AF points, covering about 93% of the viewfinder. It also gets Sony’s 4D focus-tracking technology, making it great for capturing action.
The A7III has also gained two memory card slots, so you immediately backup captures, or separate videos and stills onto diﬀerent cards for easier selection later. It’s worth noting that one of the card slots supports the faster UHS-II type memory cards, letting the camera achieve a maximum continuous shooting rate of up to 10fps. That’s certainly fast enough for most purposes, making the A7 III a more well-rounded camera than the A7 II before it.
As with the other two cameras, touch controls are available via the rear LCD. However, this is limited to focus operations and not the menus. So, you can either tap the screen to set the AF point, or use the LCD as a touch pad and drag your finger across the screen to move it when your eye is to the EVF, basically replicating what the multi-selector does.
Thankfully, an improved layout of controls and the addition of a Custom Menu setting option make it easier for you to get to the settings most relevant to your shooting style. Like the A9 and the A7R III, the A7 III also moves to the higher capacity NP-FZ100 battery, giving it a longer battery life of approximately 610 shots per charge.
"At ISO 12,800, there’s a lot of detail loss due to the noise reduction applied to the image."
CANON EOS R
With the large number of focus points available, you’d expect there to be an option to use all the focus points on the sensor and have the camera intelligently pick up the best focus for the scene. Sadly, that option doesn’t exist other than in Face-tracking Mode, so we found ourselves having to switch between the Large Zone AF modes to best fit our subjects.
Not the most convenient if you’re trying to get images of anything that doesn’t have a moving human face. Still, face-tracking works fairly well, as the camera picked up on our human subjects fairly quickly with a large number of points activated. We found that changes in luminance of the subject would tend to throw the camera oﬀ though (moving into shade for example), and it would take a split second to reacquire focus.
Curiously, images from the EOS R didn’t exhibit the best detail despite the camera having the sensor with the highest resolution count. Images also tended to be a little warmer in terms of colors, but the camera adjusted fairly well for diﬀerent lighting conditions overall.
4K video capture is possible, but this is done with pixel binning, so there is quite a severe crop (1.8x in fact) when you’re recording this way. This means you’re going to need much wider lenses to get the same equivalent field of view if you want to use the camera for 4K video. You’re also limited to shooting in 720p resolution if you want to capture 120fps slow motion video, so it appears Canon has limited the camera’s ability to try and maximize the capabilities of the sensor somewhat.
While there is supposed to be a Combination IS system in play that takes Electronic IS from the camera and matches it with Optical IS in the lenses to compensate for shake, the EOS R performed worst in our testing for shake. It is also prone to rolling shutter eﬀ ect, which can be diﬃcult to fix in post.
"The Z6 keeps color noise under control, but highlights are prone to being blown out."
Just like how Nikon has maintained consistency in handling with the Z6, it’s also maintained consistency with the imaging performance compared to cameras like the D500 and D850, giving exposures that are close to what the eye sees. We found that the Z6 gave the best automatic correction for color balance in instances where there was just one light source, but can tend to overcompensate if there are multiple light sources, leading to images that are either too warm or too cold.
Likewise, the camera will give you exposures that are fairly true to what your eyes see, even at the risk of blowing highlights, so if preserving highlight detail is a priority, you’ll want to shoot in RAW or use the Highlight Priority metering option. Images captured have a pretty good amount of detail even at the higher ISO settings, though color noise is reduced at the expense of detail.
Focusing is fairly fast, and the focus tracking was also fairly accurate, with one caveat. To get the best results, you had to manually set the focus point via Pin-point mode on your subject before hand. The camera does implement face detection as a first priority for focusing, but we found this doesn’t work that well if your subjects aren’t at least half-facing the camera.
For example, we tried taking photographs of people climbing an indoor rock wall during our testing, and the camera would lose tracking when the climbers faced the wall. It didn’t seem as prone to losing focus due to changes in luminance as the EOS R though, thus holding its own despite having less autofocus points.
The inclusion of IBIS in the Z6 is definitely a plus, and we have to note that the Z6 oﬀers the option of 4:2:2 log video output to an external recorder, which gives you better dynamic range to work with in post production. While the Z6 will do 1080 120fps slow-motion capture, this only works if you crop down to APS-C format, thus giving you similar issues as the EOS R with 4K capture.
"The A7 III manages to maintain focus over the climber even with an arm over the face."
SONY A7 III
The one thing that really stands out with the A7 III in this shootout is how accurate the focus is; specifically the eye-detection AF capabilities. In our testing, the camera was always the fastest to pick up on eyes and faces, ensuring that portraits were always in focus.
This held true even with changes in lighting conditions, and was even more impressive when we were trying to do subject tracking as you literally see the large group of AF points activated track the movements of our selected subject. This group of AF points would switch to a single point over the eye when visible, and switch back when not, so you could really see the system’s emphasis on the human face.
This accuracy of focus coupled with the camera’s frame rate of 10fps, means you can even consider using it for capturing wildlife and sports, making it a better all-rounder.
It’s worth noting that the A7 III has the deepest buﬀer of the three cameras; with the ability to shoot in JPG at the full rate of 10fps without slowing down until your card fills up; not something the other cameras could match for sure.
As we noted earlier, the A7 III’s auto exposure system seems to expose for highlights by default, which may leave images looking slightly darker than to be true to life. It’s an easy fix in post, but ensures that you’ll generally retain all the information in the scene.
Video captured with the camera holds good detail, and the audio pick up from the inbuilt microphone is very good. Sony’s experience with IBIS does show a slight edge in the footage we captured too, and we do think the camera produces slightly better footage in lowlight.
AND THE BEST FULLFRAME MIRRORLESS CAMERA IS…
SONY A7 III
It may be curious to think of Sony having a historical advantage over DSLR heavyweights Nikon and Canon, but that’s where we find ourselves with the Alpha series. Sony has a much wider range of native full-frame lenses for mirrorless, and the series as a whole is just more mature.
With the A7 III, you get dual card slots, 4K recording without pixel binning, excellent IBIS, and autofocus that’s both fast and accurate. This last point is especially evident when you take face detection performance into account. Once the A7 III locks on to a face, it holds focus for much longer than the other two cameras. Battery life is a strong suit for the A7 III too; Sony has managed to fit in a bigger battery in a form factor that’s not much larger than the competition.
All this, plus a lower price makes the Sony A7 III an easy winner.