Let’s take a look back at the last year and see just what strides Sony, Nikon, and Canon have made in the mirrorless game. One company has been on top for years now: Sony. Every time Sony releases a new mirrorless camera, they make improvements that really matter. For context, the very first a7 hit shelves back in 2013 with a 24.3 megapixel sensor, 25 autofocus points, a max continuous shooting speed of 5 frames per second, and a max video resolution of Full HD. Now we’ve got the powerful and extremely popular a7 III that made waves after its launch in 2018 with improved ergonomics, 693 autofocus points, 10 FPS continuous shooting, and 4K video – among other great improvements.
Special note: we didn’t include Panasonic in this particular round up. We focused on camera lines that had really strong DSLR histories – particularly Canon and Nikon – that are starting to focus almost entirely on mirrorless now. Be sure to check out our Panasonic S1 first impressions.
Sony in 2019
This past year, Sony gave us the a7R IV, a high resolution full frame beast. This photo-focused offering boasts 61 megapixels, 4K video at 30p, a hybrid 567 point autofocus system that covers 99.7% of the frame height and 74% of its width, and pixel shift shooting capabilities allowing you to create a 240 megapixel image – you know, for those times when 61 MP is just not enough. The a7R IV is a very prime example of the strides Sony made in mirrorless. Incredible image quality, excellent ergos without sacrificing size, and wonderful performance.
There’s also the new a9 II. The changes from the original a9 are subtle. Both cameras share a 24.2 megapixel sensor, 3.69 million-dot EVF, 1.44 million-dot rear LCD touchscreen, and the same 693 phase detect/425 contrast detect autofocus system. So, what’s different? Right off the bat, the design. The II’s got a deeper grip and a more adequately weatherproofed body design. The control layout is the same but with beefier buttons and a more reassuring tactile response. It maintained dual cards slots but now both slots are UHS-II compatible. The a9 II also features a 10 FPS-capable mechanical shutter, up from 5 FPS on the first a9 (electronic shutter is 20 FPS on either camera). Finally, and arguably most importantly, Sony made connectivity improvements. The a9 is meant for press and sports photographers where turnaround times can be very brief. To accommodate this rapid workflow, the a9 II’s LAN terminal now allows for file transfer over SSL or TLS encryption for bolstered security. The a9 II also has a gigabit Ethernet port in addition to 5 GHz wireless support.
In the crop sensor world Sony added to the confusingly-sequenced a6000 series by releasing an a6400, an a6100, and an a6600. The a6400 and a6600 are meant to replace the a6300 and a6500, respectively, while the a6100 is a huge upgrade from the aging a6000. Starting with the a6400, we get 24.2 megapixels, 4K video, and a tiltable touchscreen – a useful feature for vloggers. Sony, in subtle fashion, has beefed up the construction of the a6400 with a more rugged shutter rated for 200,000 cycles (double of what the 6300 offered). At a glance, it doesn’t seem so different but the autofocus is where this camera crushes its predecessor. The a6300 offered 25 contrast detect autofocus points. The a6400 has 425 contrast detect autofocus points and now uses Real-Time Tracking and Real-Time EyeAF technology. For the a6600, the successor to the very popular a6500, you’ll find that both models offer the same 24.2 sensor, 4K video, and 5-axis image stabilization. But the a6600 comes equipped with a shiny new BionZ X processor allowing for a wider ISO range. Design wise, the a6600 has a larger grip and a more flexible LCD. With the larger grip comes way better battery life due to the use of a different, larger battery. Expect 800 shots from a full charge as opposed to the mere 300 from the a6500. The a6100 improves on its predecessor with a revised sensor supporting expanded ISO, including enhanced circuit processing that specifically benefits low-light video recording.
Nikon Mirrorless in 2019
The Z7 is Nikon’s photo-focused mirrorless offering. To keep pace with Sony, Nikon had a lot to pack a lot of features in. The Z7 comes with a 45.7 megapixel sensor, 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 9 FPS continuous shooting speeds, 493 hybrid-autofocus points, 4K UHD up to 30FPS with 10-bit 4:2:2 external video recording and a 330-shot battery life. On paper, it’s off to a good start. The Z line of cameras is supported by a small – but high quality – offering of mostly prime lenses, with a wide zoom and a 24-70mm thrown in for good measure. The Z7 is a solid choice with good autofocus, great image quality, and, in my humble opinion, wonderful ergonomics.
We’ve found the Z6 to actually be more popular than its beefier sibling. Like the a7 III, the Z6 aims to fill the need for a versatile camera with solid photo and video capability. It shares the same body as the Z7 but has a 24.5 megapixel sensor, a slightly broader ISO range than the Z7 (to match the a7 III), 12 FPS continuous shooting, and a 273-point AF system with 90% frame coverage. For video, the Z6 will shoot 4K UHD video up to 30p, Full HD up to 60p, and for high speed 120 FPS footage, you get HD. But stay tuned because we’re having a few of our Z6 and Z7 cameras upgraded to Nikon’s exciting ProRes RAW firmware, which allows you to output 12-bit 4K UHD or Full HD Raw to a compatible Atomos recorder. Given its price point, the Z6 is rock solid and will cover a lot if you need it to. While it might not compare to the versatility of the Sony a7 III, you can very easily adapt F mount glass and have a much larger line of lenses at your disposal. That’s great if you’re well invested in Nikon’s ecosystem.
The Nikon Z50 is an APS-C (crop frame sensor) version of this line of cameras. I honestly haven’t spent much time with this camera yet but it’s well positioned for travel. It has a uniquely-extended electronic viewfinder that offers an easy and glare-free fit for your eye. The LCD touchscreen flips down for selfie/vlogging mode. It has a 3.5mm port for external microphones and you can shoot a clip and trim it right in the camera before sending to your phone to post online. It’s awfully cute and a great option for vloggers.
Canon Mirrorless in 2019 and 2020
At right around the same time Nikon released its Z line, Canon dropped its EOS R mirrorless camera and, in quick succession, the EOS RP – which is a very entry-level full frame camera. However, this is not Canon’s first time dipping their toe into mirrorless waters. The EOS M line entered the world with the M2 in late 2013 and was succeeded by the M3 and M10 in 2015 and then the M6 in 2017. While the M line of cameras has been around for a while, the EOS R is the very first full frame mirrorless camera from Canon and also uses an entirely new mount, the RF mount (Nikon did this, too, with their Z mount). The mounts on these new systems are both unique. They are larger and also sit closer to the sensor. Having very large optical elements very close to the sensor’s surface means fewer aberrations, greater light-gathering ability, and better image performance overall.
Canon’s EOS R rocks quintessential Canon styling with great ergonomics in a compact body. For specs, the EOS R has 30.3 megapixels, Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus with 5,655 selectable autofocus points, 8 FPS continuous shooting and 4K UHD up to 30p. Overall, the EOS falls behind Sony still. But in my opinion, this camera is bolstered by the outstanding RF lenses Canon has made for this new mount. We’ve tested quite a few of them and they’re outstanding. They’re fast to focus and extremely sharp wide open. Like the Z line, you can adapt EF lenses using one of Canon’s 3 purpose-built adapters and they’ll work near seamlessly with this new body.
At a glance, the RP seems a little unimpressive. But with this little camera, you need to consider the value. For a brand new full frame camera, you’d be hard pressed to find a less expensive body. For specs, the EOS RP gets you a 26.2 megapixel full frame sensor, Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus system with 4779 points, and it’s capable of 4K video (but at 25p, 8-bit 4:2:0 internally). The battery in this camera is good for about 250 shots. None of these specs are here to blow you away, but for an entry into full frame mirrorless, the RP is an economical choice. It’s well built, focuses quickly and accurately, and offers solid image quality.
Canon is not slowing down in 2020. Your perfect EOS camera might still be forthcoming. They are purportedly working on 3 new full frame mirrorless options, including an EOS RM which is supposed to be even cheaper than the RP.
Conclusion: Mirrorless is the Future
At the end of the day, all three of these powerhouse manufacturers have made pretty serious strides. Sony, the veteran mirrorless maker, continues to offer improved mirrorless cameras but has left the video folks holding out for an a7S III. Nikon isn’t beating Sony yet, but their entry into the full frame mirrorless game is strong. Canon so far has more photo-focused offerings but with great autofocus improvements. Stronger video capabilities from this giant are more than welcome but we’re sure they don’t want to impede on their Canon EOS Cinema camera line – so we’ll see.
Who do YOU think is on top? Give us your thoughts in a comment below. If you want to explore and try out the many mirrorless cameras we have available, you can rent them from BorrowLenses.com.