Would You Prefer the Canon EOS R5 or the Sony a1?

Would You Prefer the Canon EOS R5 or the Sony a1?

Both the Canon EOS R5 and the Sony a1 are amazing cameras. I have used both next to each other. If you could use one of these for one month with a 50mm f/1.2 lens, which camera would you choose and why?

In my previous article, I asked what kind of zoom lens you would choose. One zoom lens to rule them all. I received a lot of answers, for which I’m thankful. I find it interesting to hear about your ideas and preferences.

Now, I have another interesting question. I have the Canon EOS R5 with the Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the Sony a1 with the Sony FE 1.2/50mm GM sitting right next to each other. Both are amazing cameras with magnificent 50mm lenses. Although the cameras are very similar to each other, both are very different at the same time.

Two amazing cameras and lenses. 

In this article, I want you to make a difficult choice. Try to set your brand preference aside and look at the things I have found out about these two amazing cameras. The results these cameras produce with the 50mm lens are amazing. The minimum depth of field generated with the f/1.2 apertures gives a lovely bokeh, and the resolution of both the Canon and Sony produces a ton of details.

It is fun to use the f/1.2 aperture. The bokeh of both lenses looks great.

A Closer Look at the Canon EOS R5 and the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM

The Canon EOS R5 has the distinct curvature of the EOS lineup. There is no straight angle or corner to be found. The grip fits nicely in my hand with the shutter release button in a very natural position.

On top of the camera, an LCD screen shows the main settings of the camera. You can switch the information with a small button that also acts as a switch between a light background or a dark background for easy viewing.

The main power switch is located on the right shoulder of the camera body. The PASM settings can be found under the mode button. At the back of the camera, there is a large 3.15-inch, fully articulating touch screen. It enables you to flip the screen and use it from any angle.

One of the differences is the screens. Which do you prefer?

Both lenses are similar, although there is some weight difference. The Sony lens has a nice aperture ring, while the Canon lens has a very minimal design.

The camera has an M.Fn button that allows five different settings to be changed in a very easy and quick way. The Q menu gives access to 10 different settings. The camera does not have an extra set of programmable buttons.

The menu is the same as previous EOS models. It allows quick navigation through the functions, with a clear and logical distribution of functions across the tabs. A My Menu tab offers a maximum of 36 menus often used functions, divided across six pages.

The Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM has a very clean build, with a nice thick focus ring and the programmable control ring. It has two switches, a focus limiter and the AF/MF switch.

The 50mm focal length is perfect for portraits. The resolution of both cameras shows every single skin detail.

A Closer Look at the Sony a1 and the FE 50mm f/1.2 GM

The Sony a1 has the same angular shape as the alpha series. There are sharp corners, and only the grip is curved, with a pronounced area for the middle finger. The shutter release button is placed on top of the grip, surrounded by the main power switch.

The top plate of the camera has two main dials, one for the PASM settings, and one for setting the number of frames per second. There is a second ring that gives access to the autofocus modes, like AF-S, AF-C, and MF. There are two additional dials, one programmable and one for the EV compensation.

The grip and top plate are very different. I like the grip, LCD display, and shutter release button of the Canon. But I prefer the dials of the Sony.

Both cameras and lenses are very alike in size and weight. The difference is mainly in the operation of the cameras.

The Sony a1 has four custom buttons and the possibility to add four functions to the four directions of the rotating dial on the back. An Fn button gives access to twelve programmable functions on-screen.

The LCD screen can only be tilted up and down. But it has a fully functional touchscreen that also allows swiping the AF point while looking through the electronic viewfinder. The camera has a newly designed menu, which makes it a lot easier to navigate around. The My Menu offers four pages that can have six menu functions each.

The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM is a nicely designed lens, offering an aperture ring. The dial allows a 1/3 aperture increment with a click. The aperture ring has a lot of resistance, but not too much. With the switch on the lens, the clicks can be turned off, allowing noise-free rotation of the aperture dial. An AF/MF switch is also present, just like two AF buttons for operating the autofocus.

The Sony Eye-AF works better compared to the Canon, but only slightly. The Sony seems to have a tendency to focus on the eyebrows a lot. This is obvious when using f/1.2.

The Main Differences Between the Two

Using each next to each other, I learned how similar these cameras are. Both have great eye-AF systems that are very swift and accurate. Changing exposure is very similar, and the response of both cameras is excellent.

I do feel the Sony menu system has a longer learning curve. This is mainly due to the many customization options, many of which you need to change only once in a lifetime. But also the abbreviations are not always as obvious. Setting up the camera can feel overwhelming.

The My Menu and information screens next to each other. The new menu system of Sony works so much better, but it is still far from perfect.

I prefer the information overlay of the Canon. I find it is much more difficult to read the Sony information overlay in certain light situations.

Although the Canon offers less customization, it does not feel limited at all. The Canon menu is easier to use, even with the massive improvement Sony has made. I do feel Sony could improve the visibility of the information on the screen when changing settings. Depending on the contrast on the screen, the red-colored icons and white text can be difficult to read.

The tilting LCD screen, the layout of buttons, and the amount of customization are very different. The Sony is missing an LCD screen on top but has some dials that are missing on the Canon. What's best comes down to personal preferences.

Both cameras are very similar in size. There are differences, but these are very minimal. The difference in resolution is also negligible. But I do find the Eye-AF in the Sony a little bit better compared to the Canon. There is a slight tendency to lock on the eyelashes with the Sony, but it finds the eye more easily. Unfortunately, the Eye-AF needs to be set to the right subject with Sony. If it is set to birds or animals (aren’t birds also animals?), it won’t work on humans. 

Spot on. Eye focus with the Sony and the 50mm f/1.2. And fast also. You have to be nit-picking to find the differences between the two cameras regarding speed and accuracy if any difference even exist.

The speed of the Sony camera concerning frames per second depends on the lens you are using. The Canon offers 20 frames per second with full exposure and AF functionality, regardless of which lens you use. Sony offers 30 frames per second, but only with certain lenses. With the 50mm f/1.2, I can’t get it faster than 20 frames per second.

I haven’t looked at the video functions of the cameras. Both offer 8K recording and all the different 4K and FHD resolutions that are considered normal. Both cameras tend to get hot when filming, but the Sony also gets warmer when shooting photos continuously. It doesn't affect the use of photography.

Which Camera Would You Choose and Why?

When I look at all the similarities and differences, I think it all comes down to personal preferences. Sony users will obviously prefer the Sony, and Canon users, the Canon. Both are very capable machines, producing amazing results. These cameras also offer a lot of functionalities I haven’t covered in this article.

These two cameras are both amazing machines. I would be happy to use either. 

But if you would have a choice to shoot with this camera and the 50mm f/1.2 lens for say, a month, which one would you choose? Would you take the Sony a1 with the 50mm f/1.2 or the Canon EOS R5 with the 50mm f/1.2? Share your decision in the comment below, and tell me also why that particular camera.

Nando Harmsen's picture

Nando Harmsen is a Dutch photographer that is specialized in wedding and landscape photography. With his roots in the analog photo age he gained an extensive knowledge about photography techniques and equipment, and shares this through his personal blog and many workshops.

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Guessing sports or animals Sony but they only make a few lenses now that can AF at high burst rates and keep up so it’s buy and wait.
If portraits or weddings or life style possible Canon files command less post processing to get the right skin colors.
Either camera would work but a better offering between Sony or Canon would be A7R4 vs R5 because Canon has yet to release a body comparable to the A1 period.

I think the R5 is very similar to the A1. The Sony doesn't have that much more to offer. It has some extra options to play around with, but those things don't make it a more capable camera.
But that is my opinion.

Is there a reason the Nikon Z7 was left out of this article?

Yes, the Nikon Z 7 can't compete at this level. Not a criticism, it wasn't designed to. The Nikon camera that will compete with these will be the Z9 when it is released.

It is true that the Z7II "camera" can't compete at this level, but the images it produces for most shooting situations is equal or better.

Could that be because the sensor is so similar to the competition, even being manufactured by the same company.

The sensor is definitely the reason but the "processor" is also a big part of the final capture. Of course the feel and my familiarity with more advanced Nikon bodies is also part of the enjoyable experience. (I'm a serious amateur so feels matters.)

Yes. A good reason. I don't have a Nikon Z7 II at hand.

Canon R5 is much more professional camera and users are able to faster control

I’d take a R5 and R6 combo…

I don't own either of these two cameras, but I do own both a Sony mirrorless and a Canon mirrorless.
So my answer is both. I would love to have both cameras in my collection, with some of these great new lenses.
Both companies clearly have very respectable engineering teams, producing incredible products. Sony has an advantage in that they produce sensors for the mobile phone market, which funds/fuels R&D for both mirrorless and mobile devices. Canon seems to have a more esoteric and opaque product development path. Sony is working to integrate mobile devices and professional cameras, which can only be of great benefit to consumers as well as Sony. I would love to see Canon come out with a mirrorless camera that uses Android, for example, which would allow on-device loading of Adobe products (for example) to integrate into the workflow.

Neither. If I intended to buy one - that would be alpha 1 because I have about 30K worth of FE lenses. But I don't have any intention to buy either one of these cameras and I wouldn't waste my time playing with one of these cameras for 30 days.

I did have this choice, and the answer was pretty simple. With a budget of about 10k, I could get the Canon and two RF lenses, or the A1 and one lens. I bought the R5, 85mm 1.2, and the 15-35 2.8. I switched over from using a Nikon D800 for the past 7 years, and knew I'd be going with one of these two cameras. I rented both for about 4 days each, and after doing multiple shoots with each one, I couldn't justify the higher price of the Sony along with the inconvenience of only having one lens to use for everything I'm doing at the moment.

Interesting thought. I personally chose sony for the same reasons that you picked canon. I mostly shoot video so the crippled canon-log did the rest, but the uber-expensive Canon-Lenses were just too much for me. Kitting out a complete (!) system (2.8 zoom std. and uww + 2 1.4ish primes) meant canon were to be about 5k kore expensive overall. But then i didnt want the a1 but the a7siii, so the price of the bodys was similar. I feel that canon rf still lacks good third party zooms like tamron and sigma offer amazing value for sony shooters at a fraction of the price. Im sure, this will change in years to come, but i need the equipment this year...

Can you tell me a bit more about the crippled canon log?

Yeah, if you're doing video the Sony would win hands down. I've shot a bit of video with the R5, and it looks fantastic. But I'm in Florida, and while the camera hasn't shut down on me, I've gotten the overheating warning multiple times (only with video, not photos). That said, 98% of my work is photo based, so I went with Canon.

Canon they have more specialty glass and no first party fish eye make Sony a hard pass no matter the body

After years of shooting Sony mirrorless (and being fed up with it's quirks) and previously being a Canon 5D Mk 3 user with a lot of L - glass, I looked at upgrading my two remaining A9 bodies to a pair of A1's.
The cost of two A1's + battery grips and enough of the fast cards to shoot a whole day of sports or events was around $14K.
The Sony G-master zooms are in need of a refresh and they are kinda junk compared to Canon.
I dropped an A9 with 70-200 F2.8 GM from hip height onto soft grass and it bent the lens mount (2mm aluminum!).
That cost me $750 to repair.

Anyway, I decided to switch back to Canon and sold everything and bought 2x R5s, battery grips, extra batteries, chargers, the same lenses and it worked out cheaper than going the A1 route.
Not an apples to apples comparison, the R3 will be the true competitor for the A1, but I'm enjoying shooting with the R5s. The flip around touch screen is actually more usable than I thought it would be and the the touch menus are more like a smart phone in behavior.
I'd prefer a real mode dial rather than the Canon thing and not having fully customizable buttons or Quick Menu is a PITA, but I'm sure it will come.
Being able to set a button to switch between shutter modes or between crop modes is something the Sony can do, but Canon cannot.

People rant about how the ergonomics of Canon is better and the menus are the best.
I beg to differ on this point.
Things are just as hard to figure out with Canon, if not more complicated. The AF menu seems to have been kept from the 5D Mk 3 and it is still mind-boggling complex. Does anyone actually understand what it all means?
I bet most people leave it set it on the first setting.

The Canon glass is the real jewel.
The 85 F1.2 is the best lens next to APO Leica I've ever owned. Amazing.

Can the M.Fn button near the shutter button be considered a Quick Menu button? It's not dedicated but you can pick which functions you want - drive, ISO, white balance, etc. Alas, I found nothing that crop mode can be assigned to but if you switch between full and 1:6, those can be saved to one of the custom shooting modes.

I got the A1 because I was looking for something light weight. If I had opted for the Canon I would have bought all their glass and be even broker.

I would be happy with either camera lol.
If I had 2 pick I would go for the Sony because of all the 3th party lenses from Sigma and Tamron!
I never noticed that the Sony's don't have an top LCD!

Bedankt Nando!

Those 3rd party lenses are also available for the RF system, or am I mistaken?

I don't think so. At least not yet. The only brand other than Canon that I've seen making RF mount lenses is Rokinon, and there's only a couple of them. And while I personally haven't used that brand, their reputation isn't the best.

I switched back to Canon (R5) after 3 years Sony A9(II) , mainly because of just one Sony-issue you never read about : stopped down focussing, which I hate. Sony's are great wide open, but awful in dim lit studios at f16, despite a "focus priority" option that came later on.

Is r5 better stopped down in low light? This is HUGE flaw with Sony. If I want to shoot flash at night at f4-5.6 camera has trouble focusing even with aperture drive set to focus priority . My old DSLR can focus at f2.8 then fire flash at f5.6 with no focus issues. I hate shooting wide open but Sony only leaves you option of wide open or out of focus. Does A1 change this?

R5 aperture works like a DSLR, focusses wide open, only stops down during exposure.

I was looking for a answar to this question. So thanks. But Sony only focus stepped down in continuous mode. Does Canon keep the aperture wide open in continuous mode? Really? So the camera take some 20-30 images and manages to focus, step down and expose for each image? That must be a pretty wild sight?

Yin Ze and paul tolenaar
I just picked up both cameras (R5 and A1) and tried to focus in a dim lit living room. The R5 has no problems finding and tracking face and eye both with f/1.2 and f/11. The Sony however has definately a lot of difficulties with f/11. It keeps hunting, and has a lot of problems finding a focus point. With f/1.2 it works like a charm
Good to know.
It is something that is almost never talked about...

Mark Galer talks about this all the time.

Check the second point.

Where then? Wasn't planning to watch 1h 23 min.....

That is interesting. I didn't know about the stopped down focussing. Thanks for mentioning that.

Canon easily.
The R5 is third tier down with R3 and R1 above it.
Sony A1 is the best they can do and is only on par with the R5.
No brainer as to where to spend money.

That is something I noticed also. I don't feel the A1 to be better compared tot the R5. It does have some extra features, but not enough to justiify the high price.

I don't think that's quite a fair point. The 1DX for my purpose and uses would not be as good as the 5D IV (if I shot Canon). It's also not meant to be better, it's meant to be different. It's the same reason why an A9 III would be different, but not necessarily better in the ways you measure it as such.

I agree some cameras cannot be compared when it suits a specialized kind of photography.
But I find it difficult to answer the question what kind of camera the Sony A1 is. Is it a sportscamera since it can shoot 30fps (with selected lenses) and has a very good autofocus, is it a high resolution camera (together with the pixel shift), or is it for filming 8K?
I don't get the feeling it is a specialized camera just like the 1Dx mkIII or the Sony A9 II. But perhaps I miss something.
What is your opinion about that?

Anyone who owns one of these cameras has a phenomenal piece of gear in their hands. They'll both do everything and more than most of us will ever need. I have the R5 and cannot believe what a step up it is from the 5D series. I played with a Sony on Saturday that had the 35mm G lens and thought that camera was amazing too. For me it comes down to which one feels 'right' in your hand, which one can I quickly operate intuitively so my mind can focus on the shot?

I’ve had my R5 for two weeks now and feel like I am exactly where I need to be with my professional photography gear. I have a long history with Canon going back to my F1 35mm and several FTB’s. I looked into the Sony’s because of some great shots by a few photographers that I correspond with. But the final decision fell to Canon.
I also have an EOS RP that I still use for casual nature walks where I may be able to pic up a cool shot or two.
The auto-focus on the R5 is perfect for my applications and shows the shortcomings of the RP. Most of the time I have to resort to manual focus on the RP to get where I want to go with clarity and sharpness.
I have both the 24-105 STM and USM lenses. The USM is well worth the extra cost and will only go with USM’s in future gear expansions.
I have also switched to Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software for processing RAW files. It’s tuned to Canon files and has cut my processing time considerably. I don’t do any manipulations when processing, just want to output a good looking pic.

So I'm currently the fool who owns both Canon EOS R5 and Sony but only the A9 & A7R IV. Shot Canon fro 25 years but back in 2013 started shooting Sony along side it for Landscape and Architecture for the increased resolution that the D800 offered that at the time Canon did not have. Over the years mirrorless just appealed to me more so moved over to Sony completely but with the R series I am back in both camps. The Canon R5 with the f/2.8L holy trinity I think is better than Sony (just due to the older age of the Sony f/2.8 GM trinity). Sony though I prefer their primes from 14mm f/1.8 through to the 135/1.8 GM. Menu wise I guess I am adaptable and can get use to either one. Also a fan of Sony's FE 100-400 GM and FE 200-600 G. The RF 100-500 is trying to be a hybrid of the two I guess maybe so Canon doesn't have to do both? On the Canon side only the RF 85/1.2L seems to be better in the primes today but I think Sony might change that. Also Canon missing great 24/1.4, or 35/1.4 is limiting for me. So for now I'm in both camps but not sure how long that will last.

Great article! I'm constantly playing tug of war with my G.A.S. when it comes to Sony vs Canon. I was in the Canon world for years, but made the switch to Sony about three years ago. I am now fully in it, with the A1, A7sIII, A7C, and most recently the A7 IV. Have thought about getting rid of one of my Sony bodies, and replacing it with either a Canon R5 or R6, but the Canon system besides it superior ergonomics and easy to use menu system; doesn't offer me enough of a unique experience to own both systems at the same time. And with the improvements in color science on Sony, I don't see a major image quality or image characteristic difference. All these full frame mirrorless cameras have caught up with each other so it really does come down to what your personal preference is and you'll do very well with Canon, Sony, Nikon or even Fujiflm. The main reason I've been hesitating on going back to Canon is mainly the lens availability. They only offer expensive L lenses, and I have equivalent primes on the Sony that are inexpensive comparative to the Canon L line up, so for now I'm sticking with Sony.

Being a Canon shooter, it would be fun to try the Sony for a month and find out if my preconceptions match with reality. Reading the article , for the long run I think I would end up with the Canon, ergonomics, menu and displays would pull me to the canon side. And of almost no importance, I think the Canon looks better. If Sony gifted me an A1 with the 50 f1.2 I would be quite happy though.

At ISO 4000 and above R5 performs better than A1 at 60% price. For wildlife photography I found R5 a better camera in covering all scenarios including low light compared to A1.

In ideal light conditions there is not much to differentiate on picture quality. For videos R5 is not as good as A1.

I mainly do wildlife photography and more and more even with new technology and new generation cameras more Mega Pixels is not good for low light scenarios while on safari tours.

R5 is my take over A1 for my specific genre of photography.

Nothing to beat Canon 1Dx Mk iii and Sony D6 as yet. Waiting to test Canon R3 and Nikon Z9.