Podcast Episode

The Lensrentals Podcast Episode #55 – Battle of the Flagships: Canon R3 vs. Nikon Z9 vs. Sony A1

Each week Roger Cicala, founder of Lensrentals.com, hosts conversations about the art and science of capturing images. From photography to videography, film, history, and technology, the show covers a wide range of topics to educate and inspire creators of all kinds.

Battle of the Flagships: Canon R3 vs. Nikon Z9 vs. Sony A1

The Lensrentals Podcast is finally back, and today we’re tackling questions that many people have been wondering about – comparing the three latest flagships from the Canon, Nikon, and Sony. Join Ryan Hill, Joey Miller, and Zach Sutton as they walk through all the features of each camera, to determine which one is best for each use case.

Though the Canon R3 was released in late November, the Nikon Z9 was released in December, and the Sony A1 was released in early 2021, supply has been incredibly limited on all three systems. As such, many people haven’t had the opportunity to get the cameras in their hands, leaving us with a lot of questions. In this episode of the Lensrentals Podcast, listen in as we try to answer all your questions, and share our opinions on which one is our personal favorite.

In this slightly longer-than-usual episode, we cover a lot of topics on each of these cameras, and a lot of features. And while we deduct many of the specialties of each camera, such as Eye AF on the Canon R3, we can’t cover everything. So below is a table with some of the features worth highlighting.

 Canon R3Nikon Z9Sony A1
Sensor Resolution (Effective Pixels)24 megapixels 46 megapixels50 megapixels
ISO RangeISO 50-204800ISO 32-102400ISO 50-102400
CIPA image stabilization rating8 Stops6 Stops5.5 Stops
Number of focus points1053 Points493 Points759 Points
Back Screen Resolution4,150,0002,088,9601,440,000
Viewfinder Resolution5,760,0003,686,4009,437,184
Maximum Shutter Speed1/64000 sec (electronic)1/32000 sec (electronic)1/32000 sec (electronic)
Flash X sync speed1/250 sec1/200 sec1/400 sec
Continuous drive30.0 fps30.0 fps30.0 fps
Max Video Resolution6K RAW up to 60p8K 10-bit 4:2:2 up to 30p8K 10-bit 4:2:0 up to 30p
Battery Life (CIPA)760 Shots740 Shots530 Shots

Among some of the more interesting features discussed in this episode is Nikon’s use of an electronic shutter through its entire shutter speed range. Does this mean that its flash sync speed could be increased with a firmware update? Theoretically, yes…but it would also be dependent on the flash duration of each specific flash brand. We also discuss Canon’s incredible Eye AF system. Not to be confused with autofocus which detects the eye of your subject, Eye AF actually reads where your eye is looking in the viewfinder and tracks your eye to focus on specific objects and subjects. We can’t help but think this would be incredibly valuable when shooting high-speed subjects like sports or birding.

Gear Mentioned In this Episode:


00:42 – Welcome back! We’ve been on a break for a while, so we’re worried we might be rusty.
3:15 – Joey has gotten some customer complaints about battery life on the R3, and he has some theories as to why that might be.
4:15 – The Nikon Z9 has some quirks as well, most notably a fully-electronic shutter. Later we’ll cover some of the differences between an electronic shutter and a mechanical shutter.
7:00 – The Canon R3 features a lower resolution than either the Nikon Z9 or the Sony A1. Joey talks about why that might be a pro rather than a con.
9:45 – Zach noticed that one of the major differences between these three cameras is the flash sync speed and discusses why that might be a deciding factor for photographers who use frequently use strobes.
12:15 – Joey and Zach cover the functional differences between a mechanical shutter and an electronic shutter.
15:15 – This is the first time in history that the flagship cameras from all three of these major manufacturers have been mirrorless. What does that mean for camera design in the future? Is there a reason at this point to invest in a traditional DSLR?
18:20 – Ryan was very impressed by the eye-controlled AF on the Canon R3, which could end up being the defining feature of that camera.
20:55 – Break
21:40 – All three of these cameras are at the absolute cutting edge of technology. All of them are incredibly capable, and they’re actually remarkably similar. Joey and Zach try to identify the standout characteristics that differentiate each model from the others.
26:35 – Which manufacturer currently has the best native lens lineup? And what lenses do we want to see released next?
34:50 – Ryan covers some of the video features on each of these three cameras. For many users, 8K might not actually be the most important spec.
37:00 – All of these cameras are so impressive and feature-rich that it’s tough to imagine where things go from here. What do we expect to see out of these kinds of flagship camera models in the coming years?
43:00 – Thanks for listening. The next episode of The Lensrentals Podcast will cover all the ins and outs of weather sealing. Roger and a special guest will talk about what works, what doesn’t, and what to avoid.

The Lensrentals Podcast is a production of Lensrentals, founded by Roger Cicala. Our production staff includes Drew Cicala, Ryan Hill, Sarah McAlexander, SJ Smith, Julian Harper, John Tucker, and Zach Sutton. Other contributors include Roger Cicala, Joey Miller, Ally Aycock Patterson, Joshua Richardson, and Philip Robertson.

Thanks to Jacques Granger for our theme song.

Submit a topic idea, question, or comment, leave us a voicemail at 901-609-LENS, or send us an email at podcast@lensrentals.com.


Author: Lensrentals

Articles written by the entire editorial and technical staff at LensRentals.com. These articles are for when there is more than one author for the entire post, and are written as a community effort.

Posted in Podcast Episode
  • achelseaphotographer

    First time and last time I listen to one of these. Comparing Autofocus based of off spec sheets? Never having shot with the Z9? Who are these nerds?!?

  • elbows2

    +1 C’mon — you can do better than this.

  • glennck

    Ditto… this was uniformed babble. Well below the high standards set by Roger and expected from Lensrentals.

  • saynotocoakley

    Thank you @Athanasius Kirchner et al. for saving me 43:57. I never liked podcasts anyway.

  • Kan

    I really liked the way you described all the things in detail.

  • Sean T

    Thank you for posting I was going to post. This is disgraceful.

  • Mike Jackson

    I think there was a misunderstanding on the flash sync speeds. The Sony does have the fastest sync, but that is because is it using an expensive and really fast mechanical shutter. The Nikon has the fastest sensor readout (approximately 1/270th) but is hampered by the lack of a fast mechanical shutter, as far as a flash sync. I believe the sensor readout is the limiting factor on the flash sync. So if everything was perfect, the Nikon would be limited to that 1/270th number (1/250th), however I think there is a margin needed in the timing slowing it down to 1/200th. The same occurs for the R3, with a sensor readout of approximately 1/200th, it has an e-shutter sync of 1/180th.

  • Stephen K Mack

    +1 here. I stopped listening a few minutes in as well. I really look forward to the in depth knowledge and experience of Lens Rentals for a perspective I can’t find elsewhere. This episode was shockingly thin on content.

  • Liam Kelley

    Agreed. If you’re just gonna read off of spec sheets, at least get the specs right.

  • Athanasius Kirchner

    You really, really dropped the ball here. I couldn’t finish listening to the podcast, because all three of you belched out so many imprecise, misleading, or simply incorrect statements that my blood pressure rose. Like Peter said, it’s a pretty useless ‘comparison’ if not one of you has actually used all three bodies.

    Nikon Z has more lenses available for it than Canon RF! Yes, I’m talking first party glass, there’s an even larger difference if we include Viltrox, Cosina and 7Artisans. Also, Nikon’s lineup is excellent, comprising both bread and butter pro lenses, as well as a lot of stuff for enthusiasts, whereas Canon’s approach is very scattered and inconsistent. That bit about the R3 being the camera for wildlife was ridiculous – wildlife shooters want more pixels, not less! Their needs are most certainly not the same as those of sports journalists. The great video advantages on the Z9, and the A1 to a lesser extent, went completely ignored. And so on.

    It was a mess. Please, inform yourselves better next time, or at least have someone nearby to fact-check you.

  • Peter Clayton

    Does anyone else think it a little odd to post this lengthy comparison when – if I remember correctly – only one of the trio involved had made extensive use of the Canon, there was not much use of the Sony, and they all cheerfully confessed they’d not been able to use the Nikon at all? Sure, they discussed the specs, but anyone can do that themselves.

    Surely it would have been better to wait a little longer till they had hands on experience.

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