A Real-World Comparison Between the Sony a7R III, Nikon D850, and the Canon 5D Mark IV

Some cameras with amazing specs and features seem to have the edge on paper, but that doesn't always translate to real-world performance and with stellar experiences. So how does the latest Canon 5D Mark IV, Nikon D850, and the Sony a7R III hold up against each other in the field?

Coming from Dan Watson along with his wife Sally Watson, they head out to do some real-world comparisons to see how each camera fairs when they are pitted against each other in the same situation. While all three camera choices are amazing, some excel in certain areas that may be more beneficial for you.

I have been looking at possibly leaving Canon, like many others, to join Sony. But I have been holding off for hands-on testing and some more reviews that do not have the intent to sway you in a specific direction. I wanted a more honest comparison which it looks like the Watsons did in this video. I like that they put the cameras through a few different scenarios to show how each system holds up, as well as touch on pros and cons of each system. If you have been interested in seeing how these systems fair against one another, check this video out.

If you are interested in comparing the raw files yourself between the three cameras, they have uploaded the files to Google Drive for downloading here.

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Great review by the Dan and wife . All three cameras are excellent machines . Hope Nikon comes out with a good mirrorless solution that’s a little bigger than the Sony .

Stephen Holmes's picture

The great thing about all the cameras is that you can make equally crap images across all of them. And when you do actually make a great image, the brand becomes irrelevant, and you're simply buying into an aesthetic. "I LOVE that image, it must have been made on a Sony", said nobody, ever.

Great review - practical, real world. Nice!

user-103480's picture

I am wondering what the hell is Canon doing?! They have probably the best lenses in the market but it seems like they can't compete with brand like nikon and even sony!! I mean why?! To me they are going to close their company exactly as nokia did with smartphones...

They still hold a lion share of the camera market so it is not really hurting them as much as one may think. They are definitely banking on past success and brand recognition but rumor has it they will have the FF mirrorless out soon enough so we shall see.

David Love's picture

So to sum it up, don't use the crappiest cards when you want to shoot fast or you get buffer delays. If you're not strong, get the lightest camera, if you're short, get the camera with live view (and deal with some focus problems through flowers and paying more money) and no matter what you shoot, you're shooting in raw so everything can be adjusted in post. Nikon is an awesome camera but too heavy. Canon, just hate them because it's trendy right now.

And none of the images shown here made me go either way and nothing they said made me want to switch. But hey, I lift bro.

Lee L's picture

David, do you realize the difference between the D850 and A7r III is .5 lbs. Add the extra two NP-FZ100 batteries you have to carry to equal the Nikon battery life and you are talking about a different of .25 lbs.

The weight issue is a myth and continues to be repeated but is not true. A FULL FRAME lens on a Sony is the same size and weight of a Nikon or Canon. The only way to go down in weight is Fuji or Micro 4/3s.

I was looking up the numbers just for fun and I got the difference between the D850 and A7rIII body is 0.8 lbs instead and with a popular lens like a 24-70mm f2.8, the difference is another 0.4 lbs, since A7rIII doesn't need stabilization. It all adds up.

David Love's picture

I was summing up her reasons for picking one of the cameras.

My take away was D850 doesn't do Video and Live View well, if those are required than A7rIII is the best choice. The weakest for the A7rIII is accidental button push & EyeAF doesn't work if other stuff are in front of the eye but remarkable otherwise and lens are expensive. Both reviewer liked the Sony as the best all a rounder and per comments on youtube, Sally has since purchased the A7RIII.

David Love's picture

"I'm an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I'll bring you something out of it." John Lennon

Sean Gibson's picture

I actually don't care about the weight, it's the size that counts (as always j/k). I fit my 2 Sony's into a bag that would only fit one D850.

Johnny Burbano's picture

A completely unfair comparison, why didn’t you do this test when the 5D Mark IV was a few months old? Probably because the Sony and Nikon had not been created yet, in this fast moving world of electronics I’m sure the Canon will have a much better camera in the future and it’s just a matter of time before the competition surpasses that technology and so on and so on

If they have done that review in early 17' instead, the 5D Mk4 could been benched against the closest model in the Sony range then which was the A9, an even better camera than the A7III. They used the closest model from the 3 makers currently available for the comparison, I don't think they should be blamed for Canon's slow release cycle and minimal upgrade between models, which is long time coming for the 5D line up.

David Love's picture

True but though not having the features we'd all like, the mark 4 is still a bad ass camera.

Sean Gibson's picture

It really doesn't matter, each Canon upgrade has 1 out of every 10 features people actually want, and the image quality never really improves. Before you ask... I've owned 5D 2, 3, 4 , and my Sony a9 and a7Riii both kill the 5D4 in every way, especially image quality.

David Love's picture

I don't like that the video takes longer to dump because of the codec than the actual shoot took. Or no focus peaking. But the auto-focus is amazing, image quality gives me what I need, etc. Oh and I love the easy menu system that saves me time. I just need a camera to get the information I need to create an image, I don't need it to do the dishes for me.

Daniel Shortt's picture

Not a great review. When you do a review like this you need to pick your words or you end up looking daft.
"The canon was flat, and the Sony brought in some pretty beautiful dynamic range and contrast"
flat means more dynamic range, contrast means less... so that makes no sense. Even if you mean micro-contrast that's the lens not the camera.

Shooting into the sun is a great way to wash out shadows and give you meaningless dynamic rage tests.

Also, and this is big, you need to show unedited shots, once you edit something the quality of the shot is meaningless, colours can be changed, contrast added that makes dynamic range near impossible to gauge. Sure post up a "this is what I could do with this file", but show the out of camera shot before that.

The Nikon is too heavy argument is stupid, it's 115 grams heavier than the mk4... that's about what an iPhone weighs. it's too small to notice. If I blind fold you and put them in a box and ask you which weighs more, you'd be guessing.
Then once you add full frame glass the weight (even on the sony) comes out about the same. you can't escape the physics of light.

If you click on the video to go to youtube, they have the RAW files posted for download.

Also, since A7RIII has sensor stabilization, you can use lens without, and in the case of a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, the difference between the Nikon (AF-S) offer and Sony (EF) equivalent is another 0.4 lbs which is not even a big lens.

The link is also posted on the bottom of this article ;)

Daniel Shortt's picture

So they posted the raws, ok, why not show that in the video? (how many people want to go download 800mb of raw files just to see what should be in the video) My point still stands because the idea of a comparison video is to compare, not produce overly edited shots that you have to stop watching the video to actually compare, it defeats the point.

As for weigh
the A7rIII and 24-70 2.8 is 1.5 KG
the D850 and 24-70 VR is 2Kg
Yes I looked it up.

Half a kilo is a small difference. If you suddenly struggle because something is half a kilo more, (and it not a pen) then you have bigger issues in your life, like seriously. I'm sick of the weight argument with Sony, I can take a D750 and put a 50 1.8 on it and make it 900grams. That proves nothing. You want to use 2.8 zooms on a 35mm sensor, it will weigh about the same regardless of brand, you want a small light prime kit, you can do that too with any brand.

David Love's picture

Was just reading this: "Sony’s Camera Firmware Updater is a Major Security Risk, Expert Warns
If you use Sony cameras, here's something you should be aware of: a computer security expert is warning that Sony's camera firmware update process has serious security risks that could put your computer and data in danger."

Watch out.

Daniel Shortt's picture

that's like saying I could be a mass murderer because I can drive a car. Potential is not reality.

David Love's picture

Until it happens that is.

Daniel Shortt's picture

I'm not sure how technical you are, but as someone with 11 years in IT. The software works by installing a driver to access the camera on a base level. To do so requires root access on a mac. Think of it like taking a prescription drug, it's only dangerous if you can't trust it, but if you get it from a reputable source like a chemist, (the Sony website) it's not dangerous. The potential of giving a unknown application root IS. but this is trusted software. Not a dodgy pill you are dropping from the guy you ran into behind a bar.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

I'm a Canon shooter and I don't care. I don't even own a 5D Mark IV. I have a Mark III. What I need it to do, it does well. Does it have the best dynamic range or best video? No. Does it have the biggest buffer? No, and I don't care.

What is does do, it does so reliably, and when I need to get around on the camera, I can do so quickly. For my type of shooting, these are the most important aspects. I don't need an extra stop of dynamic range, I don't (yet) need 4K, and I don't need 45MP. Some photographers do, and so they should get a camera that does what they need it to.

But there are shooter that wants all you said and all the better stuff too and for that it sounds like D850 fits the bill.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

So they should buy a D850, then. That is what I am saying. For me, I'm happy with what I have. Others should make their own decisions. At the same time, I think there's way too much "which camera is best?" when there should be a lot more "which camera is best for me?"

Anonymous's picture

I'll put money on the Nikon & Canon lasting a great deal longer than the Sony...as for which is best there all capable and it's down to the individual, if you want a camera that is small and light with image stabilisation to help you avoid camera shake and eye auto focus to help you get an image sharp then go for the Sony, (could mention stop down focus issues but it'll go over their heads:). If your skills as a photographer mean your not over reliant on these features, (and your not a total wimp when it comes to carrying around a provern weather sealed camera), go for the Canon or Nikon.

You didn't do any on tripod landscape photography, so this review is vey limiting for me. Do a part II: Landscape and cityscape.