The recently-announced Nikon Z9 immediately drew comparisons with Canon’s high-end EOS R3, another mirrorless camera geared toward sports and wildlife photography. While the two cameras have plenty of differences, they’re targeted at similar photographers and both cameras bring a lot of features to the table. I’ll compare them below.
Before I begin, I want to note that this is primarily a comparison of specifications. We will add more detailed information to this comparison like dynamic range, high ISO performance, and focusing performance after our copy of the Z9 ships later this year or early 2022.
The biggest difference between these two cameras is resolution, with the Nikon Z9 having a 45-megapixel sensor compared to the Canon EOS R3’s 24 megapixels. A big win on Nikon’s part is that so many of the other specifications – maximum FPS, buffer, and continuous shooting time – still manage to remain competitive or even ahead of the R3. It’s also the less expensive camera by $500.
But the EOS R3 certainly isn’t out of the running. While the Nikon Z9 maxes out at 20 FPS when shooting raw, the R3 goes up to 30 FPS. The R3 also has a feature that detects where the photographer is looking and places the initial focus point at that location. Both of these features are considerable advantages for sports and wildlife photography where every millisecond counts.
Something interesting about the Nikon Z9 and EOS R3 is that they are the first two full-frame mirrorless cameras on the market with an integrated grip:
This means both of them are substantially bigger and heavier than most mirrorless cameras, but it also provides better battery life, better balance with long lenses, and more comfortable vertical shooting. Those pros and cons are important to note if you’re considering the Sony A1 as well, since the A1 doesn’t have an integrated grip (though you can buy one as an add-on).
Even though the form factors are similar, the EOS R3 does manage to be about 325 grams / 0.72 pounds lighter than the Nikon Z9, which I consider a meaningful difference, especially if you’re handholding the camera for hours on end. Under the hood, the EOS R3 also has a higher resolution viewfinder with a faster refresh rate.
In terms of video, the two cameras are trading blows, and the better one depends on your priorities. It’s nice that the Nikon can shoot 8K video if you need extreme resolution (or cropping capabilities), but the EOS R3 is no slouch at 6K. The Canon also shoots raw video and has HDR video capabilities. Nikon has said that the Z9 will add raw video in a 2022 firmware update, however, so take that into consideration if you don’t mind waiting a few months.
Because the two cameras are from different brands, you should also take into account their lens lineups when deciding which one to purchase. At the time I’m publishing this comparison, Canon’s mirrorless lens lineup has more telephotos and super-telephotos than Nikon’s, while Nikon has more prime lens choices in the wide-to-normal focal lengths. Since these cameras are largely meant for sports and wildlife photography needs, Nikon users at the moment are more likely to need to adapt DSLR glass.
Both of these cameras are remarkable technological achievements. That said, they are geared toward different needs, and my recommendations follow from that.
For landscape photography, it isn’t even close. The Nikon Z9 not only has a higher resolution sensor, but also a lower base ISO of 64 and built-in extended shutter speeds up to 900 seconds. It’s a bit heavier, but these features are worth the weight.
For wildlife and sports photography, it’s an even matchup that depends on your priorities. Photographers who don’t need maximum resolution will probably be better-suited for the EOS R3 thanks to its 30 FPS shooting and photographer’s-eye-sensing AF activation. On the other hand, the Nikon Z9 is still capable of shooting 30 FPS if you don’t mind JPEG rather than raw (plus up to 120 FPS for 11-megapixel JPEGs). The Z9 also has a bigger buffer – though the R3’s buffer is certainly no slouch – and, of course, the higher resolution.
One use case where I might give the Canon EOS R3 the advantage is wedding photography. With the sheer volume of photos taken during a wedding, 24 megapixels is often preferable to 45, and it’s still enough for big prints. The lighter weight of the EOS R3 will be nice over the course of the day, and for really critical moments, having 30 FPS is a bit better than 20 FPS. Still, we’re really splitting hairs; both of these cameras will breeze through a wedding unlike almost anything else on the market.
Overall, I consider the Nikon Z9 to be ahead of the EOS R3, mainly because it manages similar feats at a higher resolution and slightly lower price. But there are enough advantages for the Canon EOS R3 that it’s not a slam dunk. If you want native mirrorless telephoto lenses, Canon’s lineup is more substantial at the moment. It may also come down to focus performance and high ISO image quality, which are two things we’ll test side-by-side once our copy of the Nikon Z9 arrives.
In short, you can’t go wrong either way. If you’re an existing Canon or Nikon shooter, I’d stick with the brand you know and love; if you’re new to the game, take a look at the chart above and figure out which differences are the most meaningful to you.