Nikon Z9 vs Sony A1: A Clash of the Titans

It is the clash of the all-powerful titans – Nikon Z9 vs Sony A1. These are indeed the two most powerful professional cameras in the current market. In this article, we will pit them face-to-face to judge which one you should invest in.

Nikon Z9 vs Sony A1

Nikon Z9Sony A1
Announcement date: 2021-10-29Announcement date: 2021-01-26
Weather resistant body profileWeather resistant body profile
Weight: 1,340 gramsWeight: 737 grams
Measurements: 149/150/91mmMeasurements: 129/97/81mm
46MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor50MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor
Built-in wireless and GPSBuilt-in wireless
ISO 100-32,000 expandable to 50-10,2400ISO 64-25,600 expandable to 32-10,2400
Nikon Z mountSony E mount
120 fps high speed video240 fps high speed video
Sensor shift image stabilizationSensor shift image stabilization
3.20" tilt display3" tilt display
3686k dot EVF9437k dot EVF
30 fps continuous shooting10 fps continuous shooting

Nikon Z9 vs Sony A1: The Battle of Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras

Comparison Factors

The Nikon Z9 has set the camera realm ablaze – but how does it measure up to the robust Sony A1?

The Nikon Z9 vs Sony A1 battle is a very contentious one. Both of these cameras are worthy enough to be hailed as the jewel of the best professional camera. Although the Sony A1 was the first to arrive in the market, the 10 month wait means that Nikon Z9 got ample time and a chance to outshine it in specific areas.

But before we get there, let’s go over the common features found in both models. These are as follows:

  • Packed with 5.5 stops of base image stabilization
  • Videography at 8K
  • 45 to 50MP of resolution
  • Burst shooting at 30 fps

And both are expensive. Now, let’s finally dissect each aspect and see how both cameras differ.

Sensor Resolution

Both cameras showcase a back illuminated, full-frame, stacked image sensor. The backit design keeps the wiring beneath the photosites, instead of in front of them, ending in better image quality and sensitivity. The stacked buildup views layers of circuitry and sensor “stacked” (ending in things like RAM being a part of the sensor) for unbelievably quick readout speeds.

Sony A1 Design

When it comes to Sony A1, it is a 50.1MP sensor, including 9.6% improved resolution than the 45.7MP sensor in Nikon Z9. But here’s the question – do these 4.4 million extra pixels create a big difference? In real time shooting, this is negligible – users are given a very small amount of extra breathing room for cropping or composing, but this is rarely sufficient to finalize a buying decision.

Nikon Z9 Resolution

Winner: Sony A1

Burst Shooting

Nikon Z9 completely destroys the continuous shooting speed of Sony A1, owing to its insane top speed of 120 fps. Yes, the camera shoots static photography at an unbelievable rate of 120 frames per second! On the other hand, the A1 tops out at a mere 30 fps shooting, but this is not that streamlined.

You see, users need to compromise on something. During shooting at 120 fps, the Nikon Z9 is only able to capture 11MP low resolution JPGs, even though they are uncropped and full readout. Nonetheless, it can match Sony A1’s 30 fps speed. However, it only captures high resolution JPGs rather than RAW files in this mode, as opposed to the A1, which is capable of shooting RAW files at 30 fps.

Matter of fact, in case you want to capture RAW files on Z9, users are restricted to 20 fps. In simple words, it completely boils down to your demands. For instance, if you only want low resolution pictures, but you have to shoot all tiny moments, the Nikon’s camera wins.

But on the other hand, if you want to capture RAW files at the most rapid speed, Sony A1 stands at the top, and so does the Canon EOS R3, if you want to search outside this specific comparison.

Winner: Nikon Z9

Video Quality

Both cameras are able to shoot 8K videos at 30p, but only Z9 is the one boasting 8K 60p videography. This is a feat no other professional camera can achieve in this category. In simple words, Nikon Z9 is the king of 8K.

But even if this is a serious accomplishment, remember that 8K 60p capability is only attainable through a firmware update. Nevertheless, the camera shoots 8K 30p from the first day. As compared to Sony A1, and to much extent the Canon EOS R5, it effectively discards the overheating problems and recording restrictions, with Nikon promising that it can shoot 125 minutes of 8K 30p videography prior to shutting down.

Both of the cameras shoot 4K videos up to 120 fps, in case you are hesitant to splurge on 8K. Sony presents 16-bit RAW through HDMI and 10-bit 4:2:0 internal capture. On the other hand, Nikon guarantees 8- or 10-bit H.265 as well as 12-bit in-camera ProRes RAW HQ or 10-bit Apple ProRes 4:2:2 HQ. However, keep in mind that the latter two are only available through the 2022 firmware update.

Winner: Nikon Z9

Autofocus

Although both cameras display a contrast and phase based focusing system, when it comes to sheet autofocus points, the winner is inarguably Sony. It boasts 425 contrast detection points and 759 phase detection autofocus points, as opposed to Z9’s 493 hybrid autofocus points.

Nikon Z 9 FX-Format Mirrorless Camera Body

And with regards to focusing in dim light conditions, the perk comes from Nikon Z9 as it can focus all the way down to -6.5EV as opposed to the -4EV given by the Sony A1.

When we talk about subject detection, the autofocus algorithms of both cameras are fueled by Deep Learning AF. This inspires Sony with the talent to execute eye detection in people, birds, and animals in static photography. However, for capturing videos, it is only able to execute eye detection autofocus on human subjects.

Sony Alpha 1 Full-frame Interchangeable Lens Mirrorless Camera

Meanwhile, Nikon displays 9 types of simultaneous subject detection. These are mentioned as follows:

  • Motorbikes
  • Human face
  • Animal heads
  • Human eye
  • Animal eye
  • Human head 
  • Animal eye
  • Trains
  • Airplanes
  • Cars 

Not only this, Nikon Z9 performs all of these during static and video capturing.

Winner: Nikon Z9

ISO Sensitivity

This is another obvious win for the Sony as it presents a native ISO sensitivity of 100-32,000, which is expandable to 50-102,400. On the other hand, the Nikon Z9 ISO sensitivity is 64-25,600, and can be stretched to 32-102,400. On paper, the Sony A1 boasts the advantage even prior to cranking up the expanded range.

Sony A1 LCD

Winner: Sony A1

Memory Format

This is an interesting aspect, because both cameras have adopted the traditional CFexpress except in two varying formats. For starters, Sony A1 has chosen the CFexpress Type A format, whose form factor proves that the camera displays hybrid card slots that also support traditional SD cards. However, Nikon Z9 goes for the bigger and more hyped up CFexpress Type B format.

Sony A1 Memory

In simple words, each one of the cameras comes with its perks. Most apparent for Sony A1 is how it supports current SD cards, which means that you won’t have to buy or invest in an expensive new format in order to employ the camera. But SD is just not quick enough to cope with the rigors of 30 fps shooting or 8K videography. This means that users will not get the most out of Sony A1 unless you splurge on the CFexpress plunge.

Nikon Z9 Memory

As for the Type A cards, these are smaller, but more expensive as compared to their Type B variant. What does this mean? It means that the outlay for the brand new memory will be greater, at least in the short-term. The Nikon Z9 opens the door to an affordable type of memory which is also famous for being compatible with the Type B format. In simple words, the cost will probably continue to be cheaper as opposed to its Type A variant, and also offers a bigger array of card sizes.

But here is the trade-off: it does not support SD cards, but it accepts XQD cards. And even though this is not a recommended metric, in case you already have XQDs for Nikon Z7 or Z6, you can keep the same ones for the Z9.

And in case you want to be able to employ SD cards, Sony A1 is a foolproof way. And if you desire the most affordable and biggest collection of high-quality memory, it will be Z9.

Winner: It is a draw

Body Profile

When it comes to camera body, you are looking at two totally unique takes on a professional camera. For starters, the Sony A1 adopts a standard non professional form factor, which simply means that it does not display a high capacity battery or an in-built vertical grip.

On the other hand, the Nikon Z9 embraces the professional DSLR style, similar to the Nikon D6, with the addition of control dials, mirrored joystick, autofocus button, and extra space for additional inputs and buttons.

Display

None of the cameras displays a fully articulating LCD screen, much to the annoyance of video shooters. On one hand, Sony comes with a standard 1.44 million dot vertical tilt design, while Nikon showcases a more diverse 1.04 million dot bidirectional display which can horizontally or vertically tilt at 90°.

EVF

When it comes to the electronic viewfinder, Sony A1 totally smokes the Nikon Z9 with its outstanding 240 fps, 9.44 million dot electronic viewfinder. This beast definitely eclipses the Nikon’s 3.69 million dot viewfinder, which has been reported to stay in the region of 60 fps.

Form Factor

Each one of the cameras are weather resistant, as anyone would expect, but the professional DSLR form factor of Nikon Z9 proves to have a better substantial body profile. Clearly the option of form factor is completely a personal choice, and arguably, the Sony A1 is more versatile because users can add a battery grip to a professional DSLR profile, while it is impossible to make the Nikon Z9 smaller.

Therefore, it is a tie in this department. But although both electronic viewfinders are critically blackout free, the Sony A1 is so superior to Nikon’s that this smells like a win for Sony.

Winner: Sony A1

In-camera Image Stabilization

Both Nikon Z9 and Sony A1 showcase 5-axis in-camera image stabilization which on paper, is decent enough for 5.5 stops of compensation. However, the IBIS systems of Nikon and Sony are obviously not made equally.

For starters, the IBIS system of Sony has always been the least satisfactory in the game, and the Sony A1 is sadly no different, particularly when it comes to capturing videos, which stays unstable irrespective of the supposed 5.5 stops of stability.

Although excellent stabilization can be added in Catalyst by employing gyro data in post production, this leads to an extra crop on the footage and is somehow still not as impressive as the best IBIS system.

The Z9 continues the brand’s top-rated stabilization tradition which is almost as good as in Lumix bodies, such as Panasonic S1. But although the camera’s base IBIS is great for 5.5 stops, when it is coupled with particular lenses, it can accomplish 6 stops of compensation.

Winner: Nikon Z9

Final Verdict

Sony A1 – 3 points

Nikon Z9 – 4 points

By purely basing on the above-mentioned categories, Nikon Z9 is the winner due to superior autofocus, burst shooting, image stabilization, and video performance. Whereas the Sony A1 takes the gongs for ISO sensitivity, resolution, and EVF.

It is clear how closely matched both of these cameras are and any one will offer best-in-class videos and pictures in a professional capacity, whether you are a photojournalist, wedding photographer, or wildlife photographer.

Ultimately though, both of the cameras are so evenly tied that the deciding factor is likely whether you desire a camera with a professional DSLR-like profile having a better battery life and an integrated vertical grip, or a model with a smaller form factor, which can eventually be made larger through a battery grip.

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