Epic Shootout Review: Sony a9 vs. Canon 1DX II vs. Nikon D5

There will always be a lot of heated debate between photographers regarding who manufactures the best camera. While Sony, Canon, and Nikon all have their pros and cons, which of their flagship models actually takes the crown?

It's been a long time since I've watched such a thorough unbiased comparison between cameras. Thanks to Michael Andrew over on his YouTube channel we can now see a detailed look at how the Sony a9, Canon 1DX II, and Nikon D5 all perform side by side in various conditions. To his credit, Andrew tries to keep the test conditions as fair as possible and presents his findings for us to decide which results we think are best.

Even if none of the camera bodies featured are of interest to you, the video is a great example of how to test your camera to find what its limitations are. If you ever wondered how to accurately test low-light focusing speed, a camera's image buffer, or see the effect of rolling shutter, this video shows you how to test for these things.

One incredibly interesting feature was a portrait image quality test which blindly shows us 12 different portraits from all 3 cameras in question. Andrew encourages us to score all 36 images and the results are shown at the end of the segment. Being a Canon man for the last 15 years I was surprised to find that after I added up my scores my personal preference was unanimously for the Nikon.

As the video is so detailed, you'll need 45 minutes to fully digest it all. If you're short of time or would prefer to jump to a specific section this is what Andrew covers:

Andrew concludes that he personally prefers the Sony a9 and after watching the video I have to agree with him. I think once Sony has brought out a few more lenses and ironed out a few of the creases, both Canon and Nikon will be sure to lose a lot of loyal customers.

How did you perform in the portrait image quality test? Tempted to buy any of these cameras? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

[via ISO 1200]

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28 Comments

Jonathan Reid's picture

As an owner of the 1DX Mark II, I'm the first to admit that I don't actually have a dog in this fight.

Paul Adshead's picture

That's very honest of you to say so Jonathan, the video still pips the other two currently IMO...

Jonathan Reid's picture

If quality is the only measurement - maybe, but in terms of usability, motionJPEG and 1.3 crop kill it for me.

Paul Adshead's picture

I hear what you say, let's hope Canon learn before it's too late...

Fritz John Asuro's picture

Still on a 1DX MkII? - buy a second hand 5DM3! My first camera I got from our company was a 1D MkIII and dang I can't believe I used that camera for every assignment.

[EDIT]: OOPS! Didn't see the X on the 1DX LOL!!!

Paul Adshead's picture

What did you make of the video? First time I've thought about leaving Canon for something else...

Jonathan Reid's picture

I think you're a bit confused. There is no 1dx mark iii and the 1dx mark II is relatively new.

Paul Adshead's picture

yeah maybe he's thinking 1ds, I have a 1ds as a paperweight somewhere...

Fritz John Asuro's picture

Oh yeah... didn't see the X SORRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY

Campbell Sinclair's picture

If you just take video then buy a video camera.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Obviously. Who buys a hybrid to just shoot video?

David Bolender's picture

All through this well presented and thought out video, I couldn't help wonder how the Sony A99ii would have compared to the 1DXii and the D5. (yah, I know Sony has designated the A9 as the flagship)

Paul Adshead's picture

I would really be interested to know that too!

How many batteries did the A9 go through before the tests were over vs. the other two?

Paul Adshead's picture

Are batteries really that big of a deal breaker for you Trevor? Genuinely interested.

Yes, it's something I would take into consideration. Not that it's an insurmountable issue, but it's a resource to manage. I wouldn't want to go back to carrying five 2GB memory cards.

Everardo Keeme's picture

I agree with Trevor, any weight savings I would have gained by the body are now made up by having to carry extra batteries. As a professional who moves around and covers a lot of events, I'm trying to minimize the amount of gear I have to keep track of and carry

Anonymous's picture

I don't know much about Sony or Canon's lineup but I don't know a lot of people using the Nikon D5 over the D810 or D750 for portraits. I think a better test would have been sports and/or wildlife and/or photojournalism. :-/

Paul Adshead's picture

Now I'm warming to Nikon I'd be interested to see those 3 Nikon bodies in a shootout. A few more real world tests would help for sure...

Anonymous's picture

Three different cameras for three different purposes. Each would win in the categories for which they were made. jmo

Paul Adshead's picture

I have no idea with Nikon! I'm sure there must be some crossover with the 3. Maybe some might be surprised with the gray areas between the models...

Anonymous's picture

I'm sure there's a lot of crossover, especially between the D810 and D750. It'll be interesting to see how much crossover there is between the upcoming D850 and pretty much everything else.

Ben Pearse's picture

I think Michael does a really honest job with these comparative tests.

Brandon Silvera's picture

The buffer on the A9 is too long. Played with it the other day. It's cool.

Paul Adshead's picture

Did the buffer really bother you? What was you shooting at the time?

Campbell Sinclair's picture

All 3 take great photos. Just go with the one you like , cant go wrong with any 3.

Tim Driman's picture

Hi Michael: You mention that the A9 didn't track so well when zooming.... I shoot the Canon 1DX MKii and have also purchased an A 9 which I am learning more every day..... I shoot wildlife and actionsports ( Surfing ) I had the same trouble as you , but then switched over to ZONE and a sensitivity of 1.... Now it's like a Rottweiler on a bone! While shooting surfing , a Yellow-bill Kite ( Hawk ) frew over and I whipped up to track and photograph it with the same settings...Bang-on and held on fantastically...I even tried moving the lens around to see if I could shift the focal cluster off target....Nope! Not at all...... Please try using ZONE tracking on sensitivity 1 and let us know how you go please... timdrimanphotography.com

Paul Adshead's picture

Hi Tim, this sounds like excellent advice. Michael didn't write this article so if you want to reach out to him directly you can find him here:

https://twitter.com/MichaelTheMaven
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCFIdYs7n4i8FKEb0aYhOucA
michaelthemaven.com