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 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 Model||Release Date||List Price (body only)|
|Canon 1D X||March 2012||$6,799|
|Canon 5D Mark III||March 2012||$3,499|
|Canon 6D||September 2012||$2,099|
|Canon 5DS||June 2015||$3,699|
|Canon 5DS R||June 2015||$3,899|
|Canon 1D X Mark II||April 2016||$5,999|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||September 2016||$3,499|
|Canon 6D Mark II||July 2017||$1,999|
|Sony A7||November 2013||$999.99|
|Sony A7R||November 2013||$1,899.99|
|Sony A7S||June 2014||$1,999.99|
|Sony A7 II||January 2015||$1,699.99|
|Sony A7R II||June 2015||$2,999.99|
|Sony A7S II||November 2015||$2,799.99|
|Sony A9||May 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.
- Lens selection
- Weather sealing
- Menu system
- Battery life
- Availability of parts for repairs
- No 4K in most cameras
- Slow to innovate
- Lighter (camera bodies)
- Generally smaller
- ISO invariance
- Low-light focusing
- Video AF
- Electronic viewfinder
- Shorter battery life
- fewer lenses (but growing)
- Menu system
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.
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.
|Camera Model||Dimensions (W x H x D, in inches)||Weight (grams, body only)|
|Canon 6D||5.7 x 4.4 x 2.8||680|
|Canon 6D Mark II||5.67 x 4.34 x 2.94||685|
|Canon 5D Mark III||6.0 x 4.6 x 3.0||860|
|Canon 5D Mark IV||5.93 x 4.58 x 2.99||800|
|Canon 5DS||5.98 x 4.58 x 3.01||845|
|Canon 5DS R||5.98 x 4.58 x 3.01||845|
|Canon 1Dx||6.2 x 6.4 x 3.3||1,530|
|Canon 1Dx Mark II||6.22 x 6.6 x 3.25||1,340|
|Sony A7||5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9||415|
|Sony A7 II||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4||556|
|Sony A7R||5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9||407|
|Sony A7R II||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.4||625|
|Sony A7S||5.0 x 3.7 x 1.9||489|
|Sony A7S II||4.6 x 2.7 x 1.5||627|
|Sony A9||5.0 x 3.8 x 2.5||673|
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?)
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)
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).
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.