Sony Full Frame vs Canon Full Frame: Pros and Cons

 

Few things spark a debate faster among photographers than the topic of which camera brand is best.  The debate rages on and on as manufacturers continue to develop and release new camera bodies with more features and better performance.  Canon and Sony are two of the major players in this game.  Although Canon has been producing cameras for decades, full frame DSLRs are relatively new on the scene.  Sony, on the other hand, has only been making cameras since the early 1980s.  However, the electronics giant has made some significant headway in the digital camera world in the last five years or so.

 

Canon's primary focus has been on DSLR cameras, while Sony shifted their camera lineup to mirrorless.  Both manufacturers produce amazing full frame camera bodies.  Choosing a “best” between the two is really a personal decision, depending on which works best for you and your style of photography.

 

The intent of this article is merely to summarize some of the pros and cons of the Canon and Sony full frame cameras currently in production.  It would be great if there was one camera that did everything perfectly, but that simply isn't the case.  While each of these cameras certainly excel in particular areas, there are always things that could be better.  This article will hopefully help to point out some of those things and provide some insight as to which camera may be right for you.  It should also be noted that although Sony does produce full frame DSLRs, the comparisons in this article will use only the mirrorless models.

 

The Cameras

The first Canon full frame DSLR was the EOS 1Ds, released in November 2002.  A lot has changed since the days of that $8,000, 11.1-megapixel camera.  Canon continued to up the ante with the release of the original 5D in 2005, the ground-breaking 5D Mark II in 2008, and the lightning fast 1Dx in 2012.  Sony didn't release the first mirrorless full frame camera (the Alpha a7) until November 2013.  With a lot of catching up to do, Sony has been rolling out updated camera bodies at an amazing pace.  Both manufacturers have recently released new full frame camera bodies that continue to push the technological boundaries.  The competition has been fierce, and that is good for all of us.

Camera ModelRelease DateList Price (body only)
Canon 1D XMarch 2012 $6,799
Canon 5D Mark IIIMarch 2012 $3,499
Canon 6DSeptember 2012 $2,099
Canon 5DSJune 2015 $3,699
Canon 5DS RJune 2015 $3,899
Canon 1D X Mark IIApril 2016 $5,999
Canon 5D Mark IVSeptember 2016 $3,499
Canon 6D Mark IIJuly 2017 $1,999
Sony A7November 2013 $999.99
Sony A7RNovember 2013 $1,899.99
Sony A7SJune 2014 $1,999.99
Sony A7 IIJanuary 2015 $1,699.99
Sony A7R IIJune 2015 $2,999.99
Sony A7S IINovember 2015 $2,799.99
Sony A9May 2017 $4,499.99

The Bottom Line

OK, so it's not at the bottom or the end of the article, but let's get this out of the way right now.  Below are the pros and cons of each camera system.  These are things that most photographers would look at when deciding whether or not to purchase a particular camera body or invest in a system.  Of course, certain aspects or features will be more important than others, depending on what you shoot, so use this list as you see fit.  More detailed discussion of the pros and cons follow in the subsequent sections.

Canon

Pros:

  • Lens selection
  • Weather sealing
  • Menu system
  • Battery life
  • Availability of parts for repairs

Cons:

  • Heavier
  • Bigger
  • No 4K in most cameras
  • Slow to innovate

Sony

Pros:

  • Lighter (camera bodies)
  • Generally smaller
  • ISO invariance
  • Low-light focusing
  • Video AF
  • Electronic viewfinder
  • Feature-packed

Cons:

  • Shorter battery life
  • fewer lenses (but growing)
  • Menu system

 

Lens Selection

One of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a camera bodies is the lenses that are available.  Canon full frame cameras use the EF mount lenses, as opposed to the EF-S mount, which are solely for use on APS-C (crop sensor) bodies.  Full frame (EF) lenses can be used on crop sensor cameras, but EF-S mount lenses are not compatible with full frame bodies.  All the Sony mirrorless camera bodies use an E-mount for their lenses, with the FE designation being given for full frame lenses.  All E-mount lenses are cross-compatible between the mirrorless camera bodies.

Lens selection has been the achilles heel for Sony, which isn't surprising given the short amount of time their mirrorless full frame cameras have been around.  Sony has made great strides in a short time, however, photographers looking for a great selection of super-telephoto zoom or prime lenses will be much better off with Canon, at least for now.  One thing to note is that although the number of native Sony lenses may not be up to par with Canon, adapters can be used on Sony bodies to use lenses from Canon and other lens manufacturers.  It may not be ideal, as some of the lens function and quality may be lost in the adaptation, but at least the option is available.

Advantage: Canon

 

Size and Weight

Size and weight may be more of a preference for some people.  There are some who prefer the larger footprint and heft of a DSLR.  Others will appreciate the smaller size and lighter weight of the mirrorless camera bodies.  The largest and heaviest Sony, the just-released Alpha A9 camera body weighs in at 673 grams, which is lighter than the lightest of the Canon full frame bodies – the just-announced 6D Mark II, with a weight of 685 grams.  The other Sony bodies are significantly lighter than their Canon counterparts.  The brand new Canon 5D Mark IV weighs 800 grams, whereas the Sony A7R II weighs in at 625 grams.  That equates to nearly one-half pound of weight difference.  For those of us who spend time out doing landscape photography and hiking, that difference could mean a lot over time.

Advantage: Sony

Camera ModelDimensions (W x H x D, in inches)Weight (grams, body only)
Canon 6D5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8680
Canon 6D Mark II5.67 x 4.34 x 2.94685
Canon 5D Mark III6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0860
Canon 5D Mark IV5.93 x 4.58 x 2.99800
Canon 5DS5.98 x 4.58 x 3.01845
Canon 5DS R5.98 x 4.58 x 3.01845
Canon 1Dx6.2 x 6.4 x 3.31,530
Canon 1Dx Mark II6.22 x 6.6 x 3.251,340
Sony A75.0 x 3.7 x 1.9415
Sony A7 II5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4556
Sony A7R5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9407
Sony A7R II5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4625
Sony A7S5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9489
Sony A7S II4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5627
Sony A95.0 x 3.8 x 2.5673

 

Weather Sealing

In general terms, weather sealing is what prevents or at least minimizes contamination of the internals of a camera body by dust or moisture.  This one is difficult to quantify because there is no universal standard for defining how “weather sealed” a camera body actually is.  All of the Canon and Sony full frame bodies on the list above claim some form of weather sealing or at least dust and moisture resistance.  Canon full frame cameras have proven to be rugged workhorses over the years.  On the other hand, some of the newer Sony releases may need a little more time in the field before making that determination.  Typically, higher end cameras will get a more robust build, so I would suspect the Canon 1DX and Sony A9 would be the more durable cameras on this list.  That is purely speculation on my part, and each user of all these particular cameras may have differing opinions based on personal experience.  One thing is for sure; if you drop any of these cameras into a river or lake, chances are pretty good that you will be looking to buy a new camera.

Advantage: Canon (maybe?)

 

Menu System

Judging which camera manufacturer has the better menu system is probably more a matter of user preference.  It also depends on what you are used to using.  No camera manufacturer seems to have come up with a menu system that is perfect and they all feel outdated compared to the user interface on our smartphones.  Based on opinions of some of my fellow photographers and friends, Canon menus are well-organized and relatively easy to navigate compared to the Sony.  Sony's are not difficult, but just slight edge to Canon here.

Advantage: Canon (just slightly)

 

Sensor Technology

Although the new sensor in the recently released Canon 5D Mark IV is by all accounts a vast improvement over its predecessors, it still lags behind the Sony sensors.  In fact, DXOMark rankings between Canon and Sony full frame cameras place only the Canon 5D Mark IV in the top ten while all other slots are occupied by Sony cameras.  The image quality and low light performance of the Sony sensors is amazing and dramatic improvements have been made in a short time.  That's not to say that you can't make great images with the Canon cameras, because you absolutely can.  However, Canon has some catching up to do in this department.

Another advantage of the Sony sensors is that they are ISO invariant.  Check out this article to read what ISO invariance is and how it can be useful.  The only Canon on the list that is ISO invariant is the 5D Mark IV (although I'm not sure about the 6D Mark II at this point).

Advantage: Sony

 

Battery Life

There is no contest with this one.  Canon has way better battery life than the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras.  For instance, the Canon 5D Mark IV may get up to 900 images on a single battery charge while the Sony A7R II will only get about 340.  This should come as no surprise. Mirrorless cameras are smaller, so their batteries are smaller.  Their batteries are also being continuously drained by the electronic viewfinder while the camera is turned on.  The new Sony A9 battery is reportedly much better, but still doesn't measure up to the larger DSLR cameras.  Any way you slice it, if you use one of the Sonys, plan on packing plenty of extra batteries.

Advantage: Canon

 

Video

Although many photographers don't shoot much (if any) video, it is still an important feature for some.  Canon brought video to into the DSLR world with their release of the 5D Mark II in 2008.  It was a groundbreaking camera.  Sony knows a thing or two about video as well.  Both manufacturers produce cameras that not only create great still photography, but also are very good at shooting video.  One problem is that video shooters have been let down time and again by the release of new Canon DSLRs that do not shoot 4K video.  Thankfully, the new 5D Mark IV has that capability, although it is limited.  Most of the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras shoot 4K and also have more of the video functionality that movie-makers desire.

Advantage: Sony

 

Auto-Focus Performance

Canon has been doing auto-focus very well for many years.  The 5D Mark III, 5D Mark IV, and 1Dx series of cameras are amazing performers when it comes to fast and accurate auto-focus and focus tracking.  These cameras have set the standard for fast action shooting situations, such as birds in flight or sports.  The Sony cameras have generally not been able to keep up with the Canons when it comes to fast action, but the gap is closing.  The new Sony A9 boasts some impressive auto-focus features and performance that may match or even better the Canons.  Like I mentioned before, competition between these and all camera manufacturers is good for all of us and will generate better and better products.

When it comes to low-light auto-focus, the advantage goes to the Sony cameras.  Not only will they focus in near dark conditions, but their overall performance in low-light situations is pretty incredible.

Advantage: Canon, although Sony is gaining ground quickly

 

Other Features

Sony has set the standard on releasing cameras that are packed with new and innovative features.  Their first full frame mirrorless camera was released less than four years ago, but there have been many new releases with lots of new features since that time.  Canon, on the other hand, seems to be much slower and methodical in their releases.  By all accounts, the Canon 5D Mark IV is a significant upgrade over its predecessor, but it came four and a half years after the 5D Mark III.  There are way too many features to include in a single article, but I'll hit on a few that I feel are important here.

Wifi

All of the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras have built-in wifi.  The 6D, 6D Mark II, and 5D Mark IV are the only Canon cameras on this list that have wifi built-in.  Wifi is a handy feature for not only downloading images directly from the camera to a mobile device, but also for the ability to remotely control the camera.

GPS

The Canon 1DX Mark II, 6D, 6D Mark II, and 5D Mark IV have built-in GPS.  None of the Sony full frame mirrorless cameras have this feature.  GPS is a great feature to have for geo-tagging photos to allow you to pinpoint them on a map for later reference.

Articulated LCD

Why don't all DSLRs and mirrorless cameras released today have articulating LCDs?  There seems to be no really good reason.  This is a feature that I love to use to get low-angle perspectives without laying on the ground.  After using a camera with this feature, I don't want one without it, but that's my personal opinion.  All of the Sonys have a tilting LCD.  The Canon 6D Mark II is the only Canon with this feature.  Bonus points for it being fully articulating, but come on Canon!

Electronic Viewfinder

Obviously, only the mirrorless Sonys have an electronic viewfinder (EVF), so I won't hold that against Canon.  An EVF is such a pleasure to use, though.  With improvements in EVF technology, the screens produce an amazing picture with little or no lag.  The EVF essentially allows you to see what the image will look like before the shutter button is pressed.  On-the-fly exposure adjustments can be made using the live histogram right inside the viewfinder.  Focus peaking also makes manual focusing a much easier and quicker task.

 

Wrap Up

Canon and Sony both make incredibly capable full frame cameras.  The cameras available to today's consumer are miles ahead of the cameras of just a few short years ago.  There are certainly some use cases for which some cameras are better suited.  However, for most all types of photography, you could choose either Canon or Sony and be just fine.  The more important factors are how the camera feels in your hand and that it be a joy to use.  Get the one that is right for you and you can't go wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

 

14 thoughts on “Sony Full Frame vs Canon Full Frame: Pros and Cons”

  1. Canon 70-200 L 2.8 IS mkII is the reason canon rulle them all!

    The professionals know why!

    The body’s come and go, the lens are here to stay! So… the lens is much more important.

  2. I like that Canon takes their time. I feel like the minute you buy a Sony, you’ll find out the next day that a replacement has been announced…

    1. I tend to agree, Matthew, at least to a degree. No one wants to buy a new camera, then feel like it is outdated within just a few months (Sony). On the other hand, Canon (in my opinion) really pushes the envelope a little far in making us wait for the next best thing. Somewhere in between the two would be ideal, I think.

      Thanks for reading!

  3. One aspect to take into consideration is the vast array of vintage lenses you can mount – using a cheap adaptor – on a mirrorless full frame. I know it’s a niche scene but on a full frame DSLR you can’t use some lenses because the rear part would hit the mirror.

    1. Good point, Mattia. I have a couple of vintage lenses (a Pentax and Nikon) that I use on my Fuji. Not only are the vintage lenses (typically) built very well, but they can also be found at a fraction of the cost of new. Plus, they are just cool!

  4. Size and weight: As soon as you attach pro lenses, the size and weight advantage leaves the room. In fact, large lens and light body is a problem.
    And attach a 40mm f2.8 to a Canon body, then see the advantage 🙂
    Weather sealing is definitely a con on Sony side. No question about it.
    Iso invariance? Really? I have used 5DIV and A7RII side by side, and believe it or not, the difference is very very small. At high ISO, Canon is absolutely better. Canon also has come a long way and improved their sensors a lot since 5DIII times.
    Video? Dual pixel and articulated touch screen is incredibly useful. 4K? Yes and no. If I need 4K video, I’d go with Panasonic anyway. I’ll choose Sony only and only if I need ISO12800 and higher all the time.
    Menu system: Canon, just slightly? Really? Sony is still way behind when it comes to menu system, even after their slight improvements in A9. I mean, way behind. Hell, Sony is the worst in industry.
    I have used Sony mirrorrless cameras since Nex-3. Now I have only Nex7 (after selling A7RII) and waiting for Sony to improve in topics I mentioned above.

    1. Thanks Ertan, and as I stated in the very first sentence, “Few things spark a debate faster….”

      You’re absolutely right about the pro lenses adding a ton of size and weight. I tried to be sure to clarify that I was only speaking of the camera bodies in that regard, but maybe should have discussed lenses as well.

      Right again about weather sealing, although I think Sony is making improvements.

      Yes, the 5DIV is also ISO invariant (finally), which I pointed out in the article. I can’t even begin to recover shadow/underexposed areas with my 5DIII the way I can with an ISO invariant sensor. Not sure I agree that Canon is “absolutely” better.

      I really don’t shoot much (hardly any) video, so my analysis was based on the opinions and observations of those that do. Neither one may be the best video camera, but I was only comparing the two.

      Yes, Canon’s menu system is still better. But, I thought Nikon’s was just fine too when I used their cameras. I get along just fine with the Fuji’s as well. It’s really what you get used to and is very subjective. In the end, they are all pretty badly dated.

      Thanks again for reading.

  5. Rusty Shakelford

    Very simplistic analysis here. I have both systems. And moved to Sony from Canon.
    As my experience has matured so has my expectations on features beyond what my Canons had to offer.

    Example : Electronics view finder on Sony : this really is an amazing tool to nail your desired exposure. What you see is what the sensor reflects on the picture. This leads to less chimping.

    You can also use your canon lenses using adapters to retain full electronic capabilities like aperture and focusing. In addition I use some amazing M lenses using M to EF adapters to keep it small. The variety of lenses you can use is vast.

    There’s also IBIS in some Sony bodies – in body image stabilization. This stabilizes pretty much all the lenses you put on the body. Canon DSLR – full frame or APC does not have this. Some might argue that lens based stabilization is more efficient but it’s nit picking.

    Cons :

    Yes my canon’s have travelled the world in all kinds of conditions (dust, ice, rain, heat, cold) without failing and I have come to expect that from my cameras. I am a little nervous about my Sony bodies.

    Canon has an established service system that has been excellent. Sony still uses a consumer electronics mentality where these products are treated as expensive disposable. They don’t have their own service and farm it out to a company in Connecticut that has a terrible reputation. Feedback of cameras and lenses serviced there whether in warranty or out off warranty has been terrible. The loose equipment sent to them, break cameras and lenses sent to them for simple cleaning and then blame the owners, while sending the equipment back in a disassembled state.

    That’s why I still use canon and Zeiss lenses on my Sony cameras to make sure these precision equipment is serviced properly.
    I am not sure Sony is interested in improving this situation till they actually open Sony Service centers like Canon has.

    1. Thanks, Rusty, for the thoughtful analysis. I really love the EVF and find it very difficult when I switch to a camera with an optical viewfinder. There’s is so much information in the EVF and I really like the WYSIWYG aspect. Maybe I’m being lazy, but I say we might as well use the tools that are available to make getting amazing photos easier.

      The ability to use so many other lenses on mirrorless cameras is definitely a great asset. Some of the vintage lenses are pretty amazing and the IBIS makes it possible to use them to even greater potential.

      True that the Canons have the distinct advantage of being known for reliability. They have the reputation of being very durable in a variety of weather conditions. I think Sony still has some work to do with their weather sealing, but is certainly taking some steps in the right direction.

  6. Can you produce an article or podcast about the Sony StarEater issue?
    It is a firmware bug (or un-documented feature) affecting astro and star photography.
    Your readers considering moving to a Sony camera system should be aware of this.
    And maybe the publicity will encourage Sony to prioritise a firmware update to remove this or give the user control over the feature.

    1. Hi Rich. I’ll see if someone wants to tackle that topic for an article. It is certainly a consideration for someone looking at Sony for astrophotography. This should have been fixed by now!

      Thanks for reading and for the comment.

      1. Thanks Rusty.
        Lucky I didn’t sell my Canon equipment straight away after getting the Sony. However the 5D Mark II is not the best camera for astrophotography either.

        1. So far, no one has jumped on the opportunity to write this article. If I shot Sony, I would do it myself, as this would be a major issue for me. I’ll keep trying….

          Crazy that a firmware update would fix it and they haven’t done it yet!

  7. This is overall a decent article, but you have ‘video AF’ as an advantage for the Sony. In fact, one of the game-changing features of Canon’s recent cameras is Dual Pixel AF for video, which is so good it can replace a focus puller on small productions. Sony’s video AF is perfectly OK, but genuinely not market leading like Canon DPAF.

    Having owned both systems, I’m keeping my Canon gear. The A7riii body is about 200g lighter than the 5D mark IV, but once you add a kit of full frame lenses to either there is essentially no size and weight difference at all.

    The Canon is ergonomically better, the video is actually on a par in real life use, but better when you factor in DPAF. Canon still has better colour in my experience, and the touch screen is more responsive.

    The biggest advantages to the Sony, in my experience, are the Eye-AF and IBIS. They really are very nice. Hoping Canon can implement them soon, hopefully on a nice full frame mirrorless body!

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