Sony DSLR Review: How does Sony compare with Nikon and Canon?

Will Sony Ever Take the Number One Spot From Canon?

Canon has held its number one position within the photography industry for more than 30 years. During this time, the industry has experienced what could be described as a duopoly. With Nikon holding its number two position for much of this time, innovation may have suffered. This has changed since Sony developed its first full frame mirrorless camera.

A recent video from Tony and Chelsea Northrup discusses why Canon will remain the number one manufacturer in the photo industry. Although Sony has made some huge gains within the market, most notably taking the number two spot from Nikon, Canon may continue at the top. Over the last few years, we've seen massive changes in how companies operate. New cameras contain more innovative features than ever before. Even the speed at which these innovations arrive has been incredible.

For instance, many creatives were only just getting used to filming in 4K resolution. We now already have 8K raw capable full frame cameras such as the Canon EOS R5. This shift in mentality could be attributed to how Sony shook up the industry and forced the other manufacturers to start competing with greater vigor. The unfortunate side effect of this was that Nikon slipped to third place. However, the upside to this is that with three major manufacturers competing, it's less likely that companies will cooperate to create a triopoly.

Greater competition, in general, is better for consumers and over the last few years, we have definitely seen major improvements in cameras. There's a good chance that Canon may remain the number one manufacturer, however with Sony hot on its heels, it's probably a good thing.

DSLR vs. mirrorless cameras: Which is better for you?

Looking to buy a camera? Your first step is to settle the DSLR vs mirrorless system question. Here's how the two types compare.

The DSLR vs mirrorless camera debate is as old as time itself. Alright, it's not quite as old as that — but it has been raging for years, and it remains one of the key things to consider when you're buying a higher level camera.

There are many similarities between the two types of camera, but also some big differences. Both types allow you to swap out lenses and accessories, which makes them more versatile than point-and-shoot, bridge or instant cameras — but it also makes them more of an investment. You're not just buying a camera, but also buying into a lens ecosystem.

Mirrorless cameras were initially looked down on by some camera enthusiasts, but they've now advanced to the point where they're on a par with DSLRs in some areas, and better than them in many others. There are still some advantages to be found with DSLRs, too — but it's worth bearing in mind that very few new DSLRs are now being produced, so in the long-term, mirrorless may well be your only option.

So, which type of camera is best for you? Read this DSLR vs mirrorless guide to find out.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Price

When it comes to camera pricing in general, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are roughly analogous, with beginner models starting at around $500, and high-end professional rigs costing upwards of $2,000.

Cameras aimed at beginner and intermediate shooters will generally come with a "kit" lens — one that's pretty good for most purposes. Cameras aimed at pros will be sold "body only," without a lens, so you'll have to factor that into your budget, too. And lenses can cost a lot.

It's also worth noting that you'll often find the best deals on cameras a year or two old, as companies look to clear out stock for newer models. Don't be concerned by the fact that they're not the latest model — things don't move that quickly in the camera world, and these cameras will still be generally very good in most areas. They're definitely worth considering, especially if you're new to the market.

Winner: Draw

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Key differences

For the most part, DSLRs use the same design as the 35mm film cameras of days gone by, with an image sensor occupying the place where film would have resided.

A mirror inside the camera body reflects light coming in through the lens up to a prism (or additional mirrors) and into the viewfinder so you can preview your shot. When you press the shutter button, the mirror flips up, the shutter opens and the light hits the image sensor, which captures the final image.

Our top DSLR pick for beginners is the budget-friendly Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D, which costs around $550 depending on the lens that comes with the kit.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

In a mirrorless camera, light passes through the lens and right onto the image sensor, which captures a preview of the image to display on the rear screen — just as a smartphone camera does.

Some models also offer a second screen via an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that you can hold up to your eye for a better view when you're in bright sunlight. Our example of a mirrorless camera, one of our favorites, is the Fujifilm X-E4 (around $850 in body-only form).

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Size & weight

DSLR camera bodies are comparatively larger, as they need to fit in a mirror and optical viewfinder mechanism. The body of the Nikon D5600, for example, is a rather bulky 2.8 inches deep before you put the lens on the front. With the 18-55mm kit lens, the camera weighs about 1.4 pounds.

(Image credit: Sony)

A mirrorless camera body can be smaller than a DSLR, with simpler construction. The Sony a6100, for instance, has a body just 1.6 inches thick and weighs 1.3 pounds with its 16-50mm kit lens. That's compact enough to fit in a coat pocket or a small purse.

It should be noted, though, that some of the newer mirrorless cameras — especially those that have full-frame sensors — are nearly as large and heavy as some DSLR cameras, so the savings in size and weight is negligible.

Winner: Mirrorless camera

You can carry a mirrorless camera more easily and fit more gear, such as extra lenses, into a camera bag.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Autofocus speed

DSLRs used to have the advantage here, because they use a technology called phase detection, which quickly measures the convergence of two beams of light. Mirrorless cameras were restricted to a technology called contrast detection, which uses the image sensor to detect the highest contrast, which coincides with focus. Contrast detection is slower — especially in low light — than phase detection.

(Image credit: Nikon)

Those distinctions are essentially over now. Nearly all mirrorless cameras (as well as the best camera phones ) now have both phase- and contrast-detection sensors built into the image sensor. The Sony a6100, for instance, has 425 phase-detection autofocus points on its image sensor, along with 425 contrast-detection points. The Nikon D3500 has 11 large phase-detection sensors in its separate AF sensor and uses the entire image sensor for contrast detection. Newer Canon DSLRs (and the high-end Nikon D780) place phase-detection sensors right on the main image chip, along with the contrast-detection sensors, allowing them to function like a mirrorless camera with a live on-screen preview and fast autofocus.

DSLRs can mimic a mirrorless camera by raising the mirror and showing a live preview of the image (usually called Live View mode). Most low-cost DSLRs are slow to focus in this mode, though, as they don’t have the hybrid on-chip phase-detection sensors and have to use slower contrast detection to focus.

Winner: Draw

Both types offer speedy autofocus using ever more similar technologies. If you are shooting video with a DSLR, be sure to find a model that has on-chip phase-detection sensors.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Previewing images

With a DSLR, the through-the-lens optical viewfinder shows you exactly what the camera will capture. With a mirrorless camera, you get a digital preview of the image on-screen. Some mirrorless cameras offer an electronic viewfinder (EVF) — a small, high-resolution screen in an eyepiece that simulates the optical viewfinder of a DSLR.

(Image credit: Sony)

When you're in good light, the preview on the screen or EVF of a mirrorless camera will look close to the final image. But in situations where the camera is struggling (such as in low light or with fast-moving subjects), the preview will suffer, becoming dull, grainy and jerky. That’s because the mirrorless camera has to slow down the speed at which it captures images to grab more light, but still has to show you a moving preview. A DSLR, by contrast, reflects the light directly to your eye.

However, one benefit to EVFs on mirrorless cameras is that they can give you a preview of what the final image will look like before you actually take the picture. If you change the shutter speed or the aperture, for instance, what you see on the EVF will change accordingly. Meanwhile, since a DSLR's optical viewfinder reflects light without altering the image, you are more reliant on the camera's metering and your experience when it comes to predicting what your final results will look like.

So, if you are shooting mostly in good light, both types will perform well. If you are often shooting in low light or other challenging conditions, though, a DSLR will be easier to shoot with.

Winner: Draw

For many situations, both types of cameras provide you with very capable image previews.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Image stabilization

Shaky hands make for blurry pictures, and the effects are magnified the longer your shutter speed, or the more you zoom in. Both DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer image-stabilization systems: sensors measure camera movement, and the camera slightly shifts either part of the lens or the image sensor in a direction that's opposite to the shake.

(Image credit: Sony)

DSLRs and most mirrorless cameras are limited to the lens-shift method, which allows them to counteract shake along two axes: vertical (straight up or down) and horizontal (side to side). Some mirrorless cameras move both the lens element and the sensor along two axes in a synchronized pattern for even greater stability.

We have found that the differences between these approaches are minimal. The main advantage of sensor stabilization is that it works with all lenses, even older or cheaper lenses that don't provide their own stabilization. Either way, most modern cameras can deal with a small amount of camera shake to produce a sharper picture, but can't compensate for larger movements.

However, there are a few exceptions. Higher-end mirrorless cameras such as the Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark III, the Sony a6500 and Sony a6600 offer in-body five-axis image stabilization, which is a feature not yet found on most DSLRs — though the Pentax K1 series, does have it, as does last year's Pentax K-3 III. They shift the sensor to compensate for movement not only on the vertical and horizontal axes but also along three other axes: pitch (tilting up and down), yaw (turning side to side) and roll (rotating).

In-body five-axis stabilization is superior to other methods and extremely helpful when shooting from a moving position, such as a car, helicopter or boat. It also produces much steadier footage for handheld video shoots.

Winner: Mirrorless

Five-axis image stabilization gives mirrorless cameras the edge over most DSLRs — in the more expensive models that have it. But in entry-level cameras, both mirrorless and DSLRs tend to use similar in-lens stabilization.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Image quality

Both types of camera can take high-quality pictures, with similar resolutions and amounts of graininess, known as noise. Mirrorless cameras traditionally had smaller image sensors, which used to mean lower quality (as they couldn't capture as much light), but that is no longer the case. Camera manufacturers have learned to produce more sensitive chips and to better suppress noise from small sensors.

Furthermore, several mirrorless camera makers now use larger image sensors. Sony and Canon, for instance, make mirrorless cameras with the same APS-C size sensors found in the majority of DSLRs.

(Image credit: Sony)

There are also a number of full-frame mirrorless cameras that have the same size sensor (35mm) that's found in premium DSLR cameras. Sony's A7 line pioneered this, but now Canon and Nikon also have full-frame mirrorless models. Fujifilm even makes several mirrorless cameras, the GFX series, that have a bigger-than-full-frame Medium Format sensors — but these start at a pricey $3,500 and aren't aimed at beginners.

Winner: Draw

With equivalent sensors and image processors, both camera types can take great photos.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Video quality

Autofocus is the key differentiator for video. Typically, mirrorless cameras have had the advantage, since they were more likely to have on-chip phase-detection focus sensors. Most DSLRs still can't use phase detection with the mirror up while recording video, so they have to use the slower, less accurate, contrast-detection focus method. This leads more often to the familiar blurry look in the middle of a video, when the camera starts hunting for the right focus. However, Canon began changing the dynamic a few years ago by adding on-sensor phase detection, starting with the Canon 80D and the Canon EOS Rebel T7i. Nikon is now also including on-sensor phase detection in its higher end of cameras.

(Image credit: Sony)

Both camera types have also been making the move to 4K, or Ultra HD, video with four times the resolution of HD footage. Sony, for instance, now has 4K in its base mirrorless model, the a6100, and Canon has equipped its beginner-oriented Rebel T8i with 4K capture.

Winner: Mirrorless

With superior autofocus in more models, mirrorless cameras provide the best results for most filmmakers.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Shooting speed

Both camera technologies can shoot at very fast shutter speeds and capture a burst of images quickly. With the exception of high-end DSLRs, mirrorless cameras have an edge, though: the lack of a mirror makes it easier to take image after image. Although they don’t have mirrors, most mirrorless cameras still use a mechanical shutter that lifts to expose the image, as it produces better results. They also have the option of using an electronic shutter (just setting how long the sensor reads the light), which means they can shoot more quickly and silently.

Winner: Mirrorless

The simpler mechanics of mirrorless cameras allow them to shoot more photos per second.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Battery life

Generally, DSLRs offer longer battery life, as they can shoot without having to provide live view on an LCD screen or an electronic viewfinder, both of which consume a lot of power.

(Image credit: Nikon)

That said, mirrorless camera battery life is improving. For instance, the Sony a6000 , which debuted in 2014, is rated for 360 shots per charge (when using the LCD preview). Its successor, the a6100, is rated for 420 shots from the same battery.

But they still can't touch DSLRs. The entry-level Nikon D3500, for instance, is rated for a whopping 1,550 shots per charge. If you opt for a mirrorless camera, you might want to consider also buying a second battery.

Winner: DSLR

DSLRs offer the ability to shoot without using the LCD screen or EVF, which can extend the battery life considerably.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Lenses & accessories

Choosing a DSLR gives you access to a plethora of lenses from a number of manufacturers, ranging from cheap and satisfactory to professional and wildly expensive. Mirrorless models are more restricted, offering access to a small number of lenses from the camera maker, though the selection is growing. As they have been around longer, DSLRs tend to have a better selection of other accessories, such as speedlights (flashes).

(Image credit: Nikon)

The difference is especially stark among traditional camera makers. Canon has hundreds of lenses available for its DSLR cameras (as does Nikon). However, right now, Canon has only eight M-series lenses (opens in new tab) available for its lineup of mirrorless cameras, while Nikon has 29 lenses (opens in new tab) for its Z series of mirrorless models. Third-party lens makers such as Sigma and Tamron have also been making lenses for Canon and Nikon SRLs and DLSRs for many years. Keep in mind, though, that some of these SLR lens models are quite old and may not be ideal for a modern DSLR. Some may not support autofocus, for instance.

The mirrorless lens selection is better for companies that focus on the technology. Sony, for instance, now has about 50 E-mount lenses for its mirrorless models. Panasonic and Olympus, which share the Micro Four Thirds sensor format, each make about 40 lenses that can be used on cameras from either maker, and Fujifilm makes 34 lenses for its X system (opens in new tab) of mirrorless cameras. Third-party lens makers also produce a good selection for the Sony and the Olympus/Panasonic lens mounts.

In addition, you can generally purchase adapters to use DSLR-size lenses on a mirrorless camera that's made by the same manufacturer (such as for Canon or Sony). But that often comes at a price of altering the focal length and zoom characteristics and sometimes disabling or slowing functions such as autofocus.

Winner: DSLR

DSLRs still offer access to a wider range of lenses, but the gap between the two types is narrowing quickly as more mirrorless lenses become available.

DSLR vs. mirrorless: Durability

If you regularly venture off the beaten path, it's worth looking at a model that adds an extra level of protection. Entry-level cameras of either type often come with plastic bodies that are strong enough for casual use but may not hold up well if they get tossed around, say, for extended backcountry trips.

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

The next step up in durability is an alloy body that can better withstand bumps and scrapes. The Sony a6100, for instance, has a magnesium-alloy body. The Canon EOS 90D has an aluminum-alloy body.

Full weather sealing will keep out corrosive dust and even rain. You can get this in mirrorless cameras such as the Sony a6600 or the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III. DSLRs tend to reserve full weather sealing for their very high-end models, such as the Nikon D780. But there are some exceptions, like the plastic-body Nikon D7500 .

Winner: Draw

Both camera types offer models that are hardened against the elements, although mirrorless cameras tend to offer durability at lower entry prices.

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Bottom Line

DSLR vs. Mirrorless: Verdict

DSLR Mirrorless Size & Weight ✓ Autofocus Speed ✓ ✓ Previewing Images ✓ ✓ Image Stabilization ✓ Image Quality ✓ ✓ Video Quality ✓ Shooting Speed ✓ Battery Life ✓ Lenses & Accessories ✓ Durability ✓ ✓ Total 6 8

Mirrorless cameras have the advantage of usually being lighter, more compact, faster and better for video; but that comes at the cost of access to fewer lenses and accessories. For DSLRs, advantages include a wider selection of lenses, generally better optical viewfinders and much better battery life.

For beginners, mirrorless cameras are often a better choice due to their more compact size and simpler controls. Mirrorless cameras are also more likely than a similarly priced DSLR to have a touchscreen and thus are more like using a smartphone camera.

While mirrorless cameras come out ahead overall, user experience is a critical factor in picking a camera. DSLRs have a heft and solidity that some photographers find reassuring. And the ability to look straight through the lens could be the decisive factor for certain shooters (especially compared with some entry-level mirrorless cameras that don't have an electronic viewfinder). Before you buy, you should try out each type of camera; the one that feels best is the right choice for you. But whichever kind you purchase, you'll be able to capture great photos.

Be sure to check out all of our camera picks:

Best cameras | Best DSLR cameras | Best action cameras | Best waterproof cameras | Best point-and-shoot cameras | Best instant cameras | Best mirrorless cameras | Best cheap cameras | Best GoPro camera | Best GoPro accessories | Best drones | Best 360 cameras | Best iPhone lenses | Best iPhone tripods | Best Nikon accessories | Best Sony a6000 accessories

The best apps and software for editing, managing, and sharing your photos:

Best photo organizer apps | Best photo storage sites | Best photo editing software | Best photo editing apps | Best photo collage apps

Sony DSLR Review: How does Sony compare with Nikon and Canon?

Today's article is a review of Sony DSLR cameras. Every time I mention differences between Canon and Nikon DSLRs, I get (often angry) emails from readers (almost assuredly Sony shooters), who want an explanation as to why I do not talk more about Sony DSLRs. I don't want to start an interstellar war over petty differences between camera manufacturers, but I do think that we photographers should be knowledgeable about the real differences between the camera systems so that we can make informed decisions about which brand will earn our hard earned money.

I want to mention up-front that I would LOVE to see Sony succeed in the DSLR market–if for nothing else than to put some fire under the seat of Nikon and Canon. In my mind, competition is always a good thing. I'm rooting hard for Sony, but as you'll see below, there are some serious drawbacks to buying into the Sony system right now.

Many Sony DSLRs use what is called a “pellicle mirror” to show the image in the viewfinder. In contrast to a traditional DSLR mirror that is opaque, the pellicle mirror allows most of the light to go to the sensor while using some of the light to produce the electronic viewfinder image. This technology is new to popular DSLRs, but it has been used in cameras for years.

There are many advantages to using this technology in Sony DSLRs, and one of them is full-time autofocus for video. It also means that the viewfinder doesn't go dark when a picture is taken. Unfortunately, it also means that some of the light that could be sent to the sensor is soaked up in the mirror. You know what that means… worse low light performance. Sony claims to overcome this limitation with advanced noise reduction, but it always makes me think how good the camera could be if it used all of the light. Low light performance is the number one most important feature that I look for in a DSLR.

I have been asking for this feature for years and I'm so glad to see that Sony has put this feature in the Sony a77 DSLR. I love shooting in aperture priority mode whenever I can, but I have to keep watching my shutter speed so that it doesn't dip too low for shooting in the evening when the light is fading fast. Imagine if I could set my aperture and shutter speed, and then know that the ISO will automatically increase to allow for proper exposure up to a certain level where I know that the camera won't produce too much noise. Very useful for wildlife and sports photographers.

When you see the specs of Sony DSLRs, nothing will impress you more than the frame rates. It is truly remarkable. For example, the Sony a77 can capture 12 frames per second of 24 megapixel images. While I certainly want to use that every day, it would be INCREDIBLE for shooting sports, wildlife, or kids. I better stop writing about 12 frames per second before I can't hold myself back from It's begging me to buy one just for the times when I neeeeeed that kind of speed.

While the recent releases from Sony have not been overly price conscious, it has generally produced DSLRs that are slightly more affordable than their Canon and Nikon competitors.

Someone needs to send the message to Canon and Nikon that many or most of us would gladly pay $50 more to get GPS built into our DSLRs. Sony has apparently understood that message and has been better about including it in their cameras than Canon and Nikon.

Whereas Canon and Nikon have placed the image stabilization/vibration reduction feature inside each lens, Sony puts the image stabilization mechanism in the camera itself. While I have not seen any head-to-head comparisons of the two approaches to say which performs better, most people say that this is an advantage for Sony. Having the mechanism in the camera means you do not have to pay to have the technology put in each and every lens, which is a nice feature.

One of the things about Sony that really bothers me is their reluctance to embrace open standards. Canon and Nikon own so much of the market share that they can produce proprietary file formats and lens mounts and still know that there will be plenty of products available for their customers. On the other hand, Sony is tremendously proprietary even though they are the small fish in the DSLR pond.

For many years, Sony created its own memory cards (Memory Stick brand) that were the only memory cards that would work in their cameras. That means if you had a point-and-shoot from another company and switched to Sony, you'd have to buy a bunch of new Memory Sticks that were then useless when you switched brands. Also, their Memory Sticks were usually more expensive.

Sony has continued their proprietary regime with file formats. Their cameras shoot their own proprietary file format (like Canon and Nikon). Unfortunately, they are smaller than Canon and Nikon, so when you get a new Sony DSLR, you may find yourself unable to edit the RAW files with popular digital image editing programs until the companies update the software, which can take quite a bit longer than the updates for Canon and Nikon.

That's not it! Sony has recently released the NEX line of cameras. The 4/3 lens mount was an open standard followed by Panasonic and Olympus. Did they follow the open standard so that we could use the lenses from one manufacturer on the camera of another? No. This divided the market and made things tougher for photographers. They had an opportunity to follow the standard and chose not to. Unfortunately, Nikon has chosen to follow their lead with a proprietary lens mount on the V1 and J1.

But there's more! At least Canon and Nikon have stuck with the same hotshoe mount for flashes. Sony…. chose a different route. Ugh! That means the third party flashes like the YN-560 won't work with the Sony unless you buy the special YN-560 Sony version. That's all fine and dandy, but it means that Sony users also don't have access to the multiplicity of cheaper flash triggers and other flash goodies that their Nikon and Canon buddies can use. If you're interested in flash photography, this is a HUGE drawback in my opinion.

In short, Canon and Nikon are into the proprietary thing, but Sony is proprietary to the extreme. This problem is compounded by the fact that they are a smaller market and so third party manufacturers are less apt to design for them. This may not seem like a big deal until you're ready to get into flash photography, and then you'll hate yourself for buying into Sony's walled garden.

I know I'll draw comments on this one because Sony shooters love their Zeiss and Zuiko lenses. I'm NOT saying that Sony has no good glass available, but it would be absolutely impossible to argue that there is as much good glass available for Sony DSLRs as there is for Canon and Nikon cameras. It's simply not true.

Sony has worked quickly to make more lenses available, but it is still way behind the 8 ball. Also, many of the “Sony” lenses are simply re-branded lenses from other manufacturers such as Tamron.

The lens selection is a major drawback to moving to the Sony system.

I have taught dozens of in-person photography workshops and have taught photography through this website to hundreds of thousands of people. One thing I hear CONSTANTLY from people who purchase Sony DSLRs as their first camera is that they are frustrated that few learning resources are available to them. Photography bloggers simply cannot write articles that only apply to the 5% of the audience who use Sony DSLRs. It doesn't make sense.

While there are some learning resources available, it is much easier to find content on using Canon and Nikon cameras.

As I mentioned previously in the section on how proprietary Sony is, it is difficult to buy accessories for Sony cameras. If you want a battery grip for your Nikon D7000 or Canon 60D, it is simple to find one for $50 made by a third-party manufacturer on If you shoot Sony, it is much more difficult. In fact, even Sony doesn't produce battery grips for all of its cameras. Battery grips are only one example, but it can be a major headache. If you want to get into flash photography, I would strongly suggest staying away from Sony.

This is a personal preference, but I just can't stand electronic viewfinders. I do not like that they never seem to show the highlights accurately, which is a big deal for landscape photographers especially. The new AMOLED electronic viewfinders are a significant improvement, but they still don't compare to the traditional prism and mirror schemes in DSLRs from Canon, Nikon, or any other manufacturer.

For photographers who wish to go full frame, you will find a dramatically reduced set of options. Sony is coming out with another full frame camera in 2012 if all of the rumors are true, but the options are slim now.

So which should I buy? Canon vs. Nikon vs. Sony?

Again, I am glad to see Sony innovating and producing great features on their cameras. I sincerely hope that they continue to grow and eventually provide legitimate competition for Canon and Nikon. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend Sony as a first DSLR to my readers. There are simply too many drawbacks and I don't see them overcoming the advantages in most situations.

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