So, you’re going mirrorless? Awesome, I think it’s a great idea. The best new cameras we see today are all mirrorless, and mirrorless is definitely the way the industry is trending.
In general, mirrorless cameras are smaller than traditional DSLRs and the newest mirrorless glass tends to be much better. It seems like going mirrorless is a win-win for photographs, and I think that’s true in most cases.
What if you’re a DSLR user looking to upgrade? Especially a APS-C DSLR where you aren’t too invested in pro grade glass? What do you get? I think it’s a really good question – and a tough one. I know the majority transitioning to mirrorless will stick with their system, but going mirrorless represents a good time to start fresh too.
So, what’s the best major system? Is it Sony? Canon? Or maybe Nikon?
We have previously discussed how the Sony a1 and Canon R5 were two of the best releases of 2020 – and the Nikon Z7 II is no slouch either. The decision on what system to go with is harder now than it ever has been. The three systems all have unique pros and cons. This is article should be of aid to you if you’re looking to go mirrorless. It is definitely a bit of an opinion piece, but I have spent enough time shooting with all three systems to get a good feel for each system.
Is it Sony?
Back in 2016, Sony released the a7 and a7R, the world’s first consumer focused mirrorless cameras. Little did we know at the time that the Alpha series would transform the camera industry.
But, they absolutely have. Sony showcased the power of the mirrorless system with the Alpha system – excellent sensors, IBIS, expanded sensor coverage for AF, great video features, and a small, portable body.
Today, Sony now makes some of the best and most popular cameras on the market. Those models including the Sony a1, a7R IV, a7 III, and a7s III. I think at a purely specifications level that the a1 is the best camera available today. I’ve shot with Sony a lot – so let’s talk about the benefits and cons to the system.
- Some of the best spec’d cameras on the market – the a1 is a 50 MP do-it-all beast with 8K video and 30 fps capabilities. The a7R IV has a 61 MP sensor – the highest resolution full-frame camera. The a7s III is built for high-quality 4K video, rivaling some lower tiered cinema cameras. And the A9 II features one of the best AF systems ever put into a camera.
- The lens selection – with the Alpha release in 2013, Sony has obviously had more time to release lenses versus Nikon and Canon with their relatively new mirrorless line. Sony has also opened up their mount to third-party manufacturers, like Tamron and Sigma. Sony boasts some of the best quality lenses out of the three. Their G-master line holds some of the best lenses ever made. Tamron and Sigma have also added to the selection with excellent options. Some of my favorites include, the unique 12-24mm f/2.8, the ideal landscape prime 14mm f/1.8, the best 24-105mm f/4 on the market, and the iconic 100-400mm f/4-5.6. Of course, there are away more, but Sony has the best lens selection right now.
- One of the best Autofocus systems – Canon is right on Sony’s tail, but many Alpha cameras have 90+% sensor coverage and an Eye-AF system that works flawlessly on humans and animals. When a body like the Sony a1 is paired with a G-master lens – wow!
- Very poor ergonomics – I’ve handled top end Nikon and Canon cameras, and they just blow the Sony’s way in terms of handling and comfort. The ergonomics are not good, but improvements have been made on the latest Sony bodies (a7r IV, a7s III, and a1). It’s possible they improve again for the best with the release of the Sony a7 IV. Ergonomics are not as important as camera performance, for sure, but Sony’s are definitely nowhere near Nikon or Canon in terms of handling.
- The Menu System – another thing that has haunted Sony is their complex menu system. When compared to Canon and Nikon, it is not as good. It’s confusing and options/feature can be hard to location. Sony implemented a new menu in the a1 and a7S III and it is much better so trending in the right direction.
- Color – I personally like Sony files and I think Sony’s colors have improved a lot. Many however curse Sony files as not being on the same level as Nikon and Canon. In my opinion, if you shoot RAW, you can make color adjustments if necessary.
Is it Canon?
Canon entered the mirrorless realm in 2018 with the EOS R and EOS RP. Both cameras are solid, but left a lot to be desired, especially with Nikon offering the excellent Z6 and Z7 at the same time.
But, Canon hit right back with the EOS R5 and the EOS R6. The R5 is our favorite camera available right now. It’s actually very similar the a1, but is priced about $2,500 less.
Canon has long controlled the digital camera market share and continues to do.
- The best of everything – the EOS R5/R6 and upcoming R3/R1 are just great all around cameras. They have excellent sensors (Canon finally caught up with dynamic range and noise), their somehow caught up to Sony’s AF prowess in just their second iteration of mirrorless models, and the EOS R models have great ergonomics.
- Innovative lenses – Canon and Nikon mirrorless lines have unique engineering that allows for extremely unique lens designs. With Canon, we’ve seen it put to use with the incredible 15-35mm f/2.8 and 14-35mm f/4, which offer 14mm/15mm with a front element that takes threaded filters. We have also seen the 100-500mm and Canon has many great lenses (unique ones too) on the way. The lens quality of Canon’s glass is also superb – perhaps industry leading.
- The ‘Canon colors’ – everyone goes bananas over Canon colors. They are great for sure, but like I said, if you shoot RAW, you should be able to get a file from Sony, Nikon, or Canon to look identical. But, Canon is especially known for its signature colors and it also means the last amount of work in post.
- Menu system – I love Canon’s menu system. Easy to navigate, features are easy to understand, and it’s just a breeze to work through. Much better than Sony and on par with Nikon.
- Video – the R5 and R6 have excellent video features. They have the ability to capture 4:2:2 10-bit footage (similar to RAW photos) internally, whereas only a few Sony cameras and no Nikon cameras have that capability.
- Price – honestly, the only major con for the Canon mirrorless system is price. But, it is something to consider. The R5 is priced at $3,899, whereas if you are only interested in landscapes, you can get a Nikon Z7 for over $1,000 less in some cases. And from a pure landscape point of view, the Z7 is arguably better. There’s no doubt the R5 is the better hybrid camera though, but it does come at a price. All of the new RF lenses are priced high as well, in my opinion. Canon has the market share and ability for high price marks, and I think we will see prices come down over time.
- Lens availability – the market for camera parts is in dire straits right now for sure. Canon has done a great job of releasing new RF lenses for the system, but the problem is a lot of them are impossible to find right now. Obviously, supply and stock will only improve with time.
Is it Nikon?
Nikon also entered the mirrorless market with Canon in 2018. Nikon released the Z6 and Z7, which are both excellent cameras. Nikon has recently updated both models with Mark II versions that have slight improvements over the first models.
Nikon is on the verge of released the Z9, which should be a top camera on the market (although more geared towards sports/wildlife shooters). But, a high resolution Z camera is also on the way.
Nikon simply makes great cameras, they really do. If you’re a landscape shooter, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a better system – for wildlife? Harder to say.
- Excellent image quality – The Z7 and Z7 II have incredible image quality. The dynamic range, noise handling, color quality, and detail are perhaps industry leading. Although Canon’s colors are excellent, many professionals will tell you Nikon has the best files.
- The best ergonomics – in my opinion, the Z series ergonomics are the best, with Canon right there. The Z bodies just handle incredibly well. They feel great in the hands and many settings can be easily changed in a logical manner (i.e. dials and buttons just feel natural to use).
- Price – The Z series offers great pricing. Although the Z series pro lenses are expensive, you can get a Z6 or a Z7 at a great price. Less than that of a a7R IV or a R5/R6. Nikon’s pricing on cameras is great.
- Lenses – this is a huge bummer for Nikon right now. They just don’t have the native lens selection and it’s causing users to switch. For instance, Nikon has no good telephoto option right now beyond 200mm. Sony has many. Canon even has the 100-500mm and a 70-300mm. Nikon is not supposed to release a new lens until 2022 at this point as well…
- Autofocus – Nikon has fallen behind with the AF system on their mirrorless line. It is great, it just isn’t at the level of Sony and Canon. If you’re shooting static landscapes, that doesn’t really matter, but birds in flight and fast-moving wildlife is a whole other story. Look for the Z9 to take a major leap in AF capabilities though.
- Video – video doesn’t matter to a ton of people, but fact is that mirrorless cameras are actually excellent hybrid cameras. We’ve seen Sony and Canon make cameras that can excel with stills and video. The Nikon downside is the inability for Z cameras to record 4:2:2 10-bit internally. Sony and Canon cameras can do that. The Z series is also pretty limited by frame rates, where the R5 can do 4K120. To unlock the video capabilities of the Z series you really need an external recorder.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image.
Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world.
As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals.
You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com