Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III

Tips & Techniques

Without a doubt, the announcement of the Sony A1 is one of the most significant events in the photography industry, as this is the first time a mirrorless camera is truly set to challenge the top-of-the-line offerings from both Canon and Nikon, who have dominated the action photography genre for decades. The Sony A1 has very impressive features and specifications, but how do they compare to the Nikon D6 and Canon 1D X Mark III flagship DSLRs? In this article, we will take a look at these three cameras and compare them side-by-side both in terms of their ergonomics and specifications.

Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III

First, we will compare the physical appearance and ergonomics of the three cameras.

Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Ergonomics

The above image is a clear example of the drastic departure of the mirrorless system compared to traditional top-of-the-line DSLRs, and this is the message Sony is trying to send with its A1 camera – a high-end photographic tool does not have to be large and heavy. In fact, Sony stuck with a similar footprint as its A9 II camera, featuring a similar ergonomic design with some modifications. For those photographers who are used to the big and bulky D6 and 1D X Mark III camera, this might potentially look like a disadvantage, but Sony has a solution that comes in a form of a battery grip that extends the size of the camera, boosts battery capacity and offers a grip for vertical orientation shooting.

In terms of overall ergonomics, both Nikon and Canon have been refining their DSLRs for many years and they offer exceptional handling experience in the field. Both D6 and 1D X Mark III have very smooth and curvy appearances, with deeply recessed rubber grips for exceptional handling. Sony is relatively new to the high-end game, and while its cameras offer insane customizability options, it certainly lacks in the ergonomics and menu design for now, in my opinion.

Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Back

When looking at the back button layout and design, it is clear that the flagship cameras from Nikon and Canon offer a vastly different experience. Nikon has a total of 17 buttons (and that’s not including the D-pad, switches, dials, and joysticks), while Canon is not far behind with a total of 16 buttons. Sony, on the other hand, only has 9 buttons in comparison (11 with the vertical grip). While on one hand, one might argue that more buttons make it easier to access some settings quicker, others might argue that they only clutter up cameras, making them more confusing to use. I would say that it is up to each individual to decide what they like better.

Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Top View

When looking at the top view of each camera, both Nikon and Canon once again have more buttons for quick access to camera settings, whereas the A1 is dial-heavy – it has a total of 4 round dials, one of which has a sub-dial underneath it. Note that the A1 does not have a top LCD either.

Personally, I wish Sony went with a whole new design and button layout with its A1, but Sony shooters who are already used to cameras like the A9 II might disagree with me. I would love to see a curvier, more comfortable design with a nice grip and more spaced out, illuminated buttons that make it easier to use the camera with larger gloves. For example, the top C1 and C2 buttons could be moved to the front of the camera, similar to what Nikon and Canon have done with their D6 and 1D X Mark III cameras. The exposure compensation dial is not necessary – a simple button would do. This would provide plenty of space for adding a top LCD, which I find to be hugely convenient when shooting in the field.

Sony A1 vs Nikon D6 vs Canon 1D X Mark III Specification Comparison

Let’s now take a look at how these cameras compare in terms of specifications:

Camera Feature Sony A1 Nikon D6 Canon 1D X Mark III
Sensor Resolution 50.1 MP 20.8 MP 20.1 MP
Sensor Type Stacked BSI CMOS CMOS CMOS
Sensor Size 35.9×24.0mm 35.9×23.9mm 36.0×24.0mm
Sensor Pixel Size 4.16µ 6.45µ 6.58µ
Sensor Dust Reduction Yes Yes Yes
Image Size 8640 x 5760 5568 x 3712 5472 x 3648
In-Body Image Stabilization Yes No No
Image Formats RAW, JPEG, HEIF RAW, JPEG RAW, JPEG, HEIF
Native ISO Sensitivity ISO 100-32000 ISO 100-102400 ISO 100-102400
Boosted ISO Sensitivity ISO 50, 51200-102400 ISO 50, 204800-3280000 ISO 50, 204800-819200
Image Processor 2x BIONZ XR EXPEED 6 DIGIX X
Illuminated Buttons No Yes Yes
Viewfinder Type 9.44M-dot OLED EVF Pentaprism OVF Pentaprism OVF
Viewfinder Coverage 100% 100% 100%
Viewfinder Magnification 0.9x 0.72x 0.76x
Built-in Flash No No No
Flash Sync Speed 1/400 1/250 1/250
Storage Media 2x CFe Type A 2x CFe Type B 2x CFe Type B
Shooting Speed (M Shutter) 10 FPS 14 FPS 16 FPS
Shooting Speed (E Shutter) 30 FPS 10.5 FPS 20 FPS
Buffer Size (Max FPS) 155 shots 200 shots 1000 shots
Max Shutter Speed 1/8000 to 30 sec 1/8000 to 900 sec 1/8000 to 30 sec
Shutter Durability 500,000 cycles 400,000 cycles 500,000 cycles
Autofocus System Hybrid PDAF Hybrid (in Live View)
Autofocus Points 759 (PDAF), 425 (CDAF) 105, 105 cross-type 191, 90 cross-type
AF Detection Range -4 to +20 EV -4.5 to +20 EV -4 to +21 EV
On-Sensor PDAF Yes No Yes
Video Compression MPEG-4 H.264 / H.265 MPEG-4 H.264 MPEG-4 H.264 / H.265
Video Maximum Resolution 7680 x 4320 (8K) up to 30p 3840×2160 (4K) up to 30p 5472×2886 (5.5K) up to 60p
4K DCI Yes No Yes
RAW Video Recording Yes No Yes
10-bit HDMI Output Yes, 10-bit 4:2:2 No, 8-bit 4:2:2 Yes, 10-bit 4:2:2
Video Autofocus Phase-Detect AF Contrast-Detect AF Phase-Detect AF
LCD Size 3.0″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD 3.2″ diagonal TFT-LCD
LCD Resolution 1.44-Million Dots 2.36-Million Dots 2.1-Million Dots
LCD Touchscreen Yes Yes Yes
Built-in GPS No Yes Yes
Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Yes Yes Yes
Built-in Wired LAN 1000 Base-T 1000 Base-T 1000 Base-T
Battery NP-FZ100 EN-EL18c LP-E19
Battery Life (Shots, per CIPA) 430 (EVF), 530 (LCD) 3,580 2,850
USB Type USB 3.2, Type C USB 3.1, Type C USB 3.1, Type C
Weight 737g (Inc Battery) 1,270g (Body Only) 1,250g (Body Only)
Dimensions 128.9 x 96.9 x 69.7mm 160.0 x 163.0 x 92.0mm 158.0 x 167.6 x 82.6mm
MSRP Price $6,499 $6,499 $6,499

Wow, how quickly the high-end game has changed. If just a few years back the Nikon D6 and Canon 1D X Mark III were in the “untouchable” category, the Sony A1 shows the true potential of the latest mirrorless technology. With Sony featuring 50.1 MP stacked BSI CMOS sensor with IBIS and crazy 30 FPS shooting speed, both Nikon and Canon are far behind – it is not even a contest here. Aside from small weaknesses here and there, the Sony A1 simply dominates in almost every category, with Canon following as the close second and Nikon being the last.

The biggest weakness of the Sony A1 is its battery life. With Nikon being able to push up to 3580 shots on a single battery charge and Canon getting 2850 shots, the A1 can manage 430 shots when using the EVF and 530 shots when using the LCD. At the same time, Sony’s strength is in its small footprint and very lightweight construction, so if battery life becomes an issue, one could add an additional battery when using a vertical grip, or simply pack more batteries in the bag – the weight savings are still significant.

It will probably take a few years for Nikon and Canon to be able to come up with high-end cameras that can match such capabilities. And by then, Sony will already be showing off its A1 Mark II…

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