Sony A9 versus Nikon D850
The Sony Alpha A9 and the Nikon D850 are two professional cameras that were announced, respectively, in April 2017 and July 2017. The A9 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, while the D850 is a DSLR. Both cameras are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Sony has a resolution of 24 megapixel, whereas the Nikon provides 45.4 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.
Body comparison: Sony A9 vs Nikon D850
The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Sony A9 and the Nikon D850. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left side – the A9 – represents the basis for the calculations across all the size and weight measures).
If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D850 is considerably larger (48 percent) than the Sony A9. Moreover, the D850 is substantially heavier (49 percent) than the A9. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.
The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Both cameras have similarly sized sensors, but DSLRs have a larger flange-to-focal plane distance than mirrorless cameras, which imposes contraints on the optical engineering process and generally leads to bigger and heavier lenses. You can find an overview of optics for the two cameras in the Sony FE Lens Catalog (A9) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D850). Mirrorless cameras, such as the Sony A9, have moreover the advantage that they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance and can thus use many lenses from other systems via adapters.
The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.
|Camera Body Specifications
|Sony A9 (⇒ rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||63 mm||673 g||650||YES||2017||4,499||latest||check|
|Nikon D850 (⇒ lft)||146 mm||124 mm||79 mm||1005 g||1840||YES||2017||3,299||latest||check|
|Nikon D5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||160 mm||159 mm||92 mm||1415 g||3780||YES||2016||6,499||latest||check|
|Nikon D500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||147 mm||115 mm||81 mm||860 g||1240||YES||2016||1,999||latest||check|
|Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt)||146 mm||123 mm||82 mm||980 g||1200||YES||2014||3,299||discont.||check|
|Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt)||141 mm||113 mm||82 mm||850 g||900||YES||2013||1,999||latest||check|
|Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt)||144 mm||110 mm||67 mm||760 g||1400||YES||2013||2,749||latest||check|
|Olympus E-M1 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||134 mm||91 mm||67 mm||574 g||440||YES||2016||1,999||latest||check|
|Panasonic GH5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||139 mm||98 mm||87 mm||725 g||410||YES||2017||1,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7 III (⇒ lft | rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||74 mm||650 g||610||YES||2018||1,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7R III (⇒ lft | rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||74 mm||650 g||650||YES||2017||3,199||latest||check|
|Sony A6500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||120 mm||67 mm||53 mm||453 g||350||YES||2016||1,399||latest||check|
|Sony A7R II (⇒ lft | rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||625 g||290||YES||2015||3,199||discont.||check|
|Sony A7S II (⇒ lft | rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||627 g||370||YES||2015||2,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||127 mm||96 mm||60 mm||599 g||350||YES||2014||1,999||discont.||check|
|Sony A99 (⇒ lft | rgt)||147 mm||111 mm||78 mm||812 g||500||YES||2012||2,799||discont.||check|
|Sony A77 (⇒ lft | rgt)||143 mm||104 mm||81 mm||732 g||470||YES||2011||1,999||discont.||check|
The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 27 percent) than the A9, which puts it into a different market segment. Usually, retail prices stay at first close to the launch price, but after several months, discounts become available. Later in the product cycle and, in particular, when the replacement model is about to appear, further discounting and stock clearance sales often push the camera price considerably down. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.
Sensor comparison: Sony A9 vs Nikon D850
The size of the sensor inside a digital camera is one of the key determinants of image quality. A large sensor will tend to have larger individual pixels that provide better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color depth than smaller pixel-units in a sensor of the same technological generation. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors tend to be associated with larger, more expensive camera bodies and lenses.
Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. The sensor area in the D850 is 1 percent bigger. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.
With 45.4MP, the D850 offers a higher resolution than the A9 (24MP), but the D850 has smaller individual pixels (pixel pitch of 4.35μm versus 5.94μm for the A9). Yet, the D850 is a somewhat more recent model (by 3 months) than the A9, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixel-units. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the D850 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.
For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the D850 has a markedly higher DXO score than the A9 (overall score 8 points higher), which will translate into better image quality. The advantage is based on 1.5 bits higher color depth, 1.5 EV in additional dynamic range, 0.4 stops of reduced low light sensitivity. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-cameras.
|Sony A9 (⇒ rgt)||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||24.9||13.3||3517||92|
|Nikon D850 (⇒ lft)||Full Frame||45.4||8256||5504||4K/30p||26.4||14.8||2660||100|
|Nikon D5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||20.7||5588||3712||4K/30p||25.1||12.3||2343||88|
|Nikon D500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||APS-C||20.7||5568||3712||4K/30p||24.0||14.0||1324||83|
|Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||36.2||7360||4912||1080/60p||25.7||14.8||2853||97|
|Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||24.2||6016||4016||1080/30p||25.1||14.4||2925||94|
|Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||16.2||4928||3280||no||24.6||13.1||3279||89|
|Olympus E-M1 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Four Thirds||20.2||5184||3888||4K/30p||23.7||12.8||1312||80|
|Panasonic GH5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||Four Thirds||20.2||5184||3888||4K/60p||23.9||13.0||807||77|
|Sony A7 III (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||25.0||14.7||3730||96|
|Sony A7R III (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||42.2||7952||5304||4K/30p||26.0||14.7||3523||100|
|Sony A6500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||APS-C||24.0||6000||4000||4K/30p||24.5||13.7||1405||85|
|Sony A7R II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||42.2||7952||5304||4K/30p||26.0||13.9||3434||98|
|Sony A7S II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||12.0||4240||2832||4K/30p||23.6||13.3||2993||85|
|Sony A7 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24.9||13.6||2449||90|
|Sony A99 (⇒ lft | rgt)||Full Frame||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||25.0||14.0||1555||89|
|Sony A77 (⇒ lft | rgt)||APS-C||24.0||6000||4000||1080/60p||24||13.2||801||78|
Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, and both provide the same movie specifications (4K/30p).
Feature comparison: Sony A9 vs Nikon D850
Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the A9 has an electronic viewfinder (3686k dots), while the D850 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Sony A9, the Nikon D850, and comparable cameras. The full specs-sheets can be found in the camera manual or, for example, in the dpreview camera hub.
|Sony A9 (⇒ rgt)||3686||no||3.0||1440||tilting||YES||8000||20.0||no||YES|
|Nikon D850 (⇒ lft)||optical||YES||3.2||2359||tilting||YES||8000||9.0||no||no|
|Nikon D5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||optical||YES||3.2||2359||fixed||YES||8000||14.0||no||no|
|Nikon D500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||optical||YES||3.2||2359||tilting||YES||8000||10.0||no||no|
|Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt)||optical||YES||3.2||1229||fixed||no||4000||5.0||12||no|
|Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt)||optical||YES||3.2||921||fixed||no||4000||6.0||12||no|
|Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt)||optical||YES||3.2||921||fixed||no||4000||5.5||no||no|
|Olympus E-M1 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||2360||no||3.0||1037||swivel||YES||8000||18.0||no||YES|
|Panasonic GH5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||3680||no||3.2||1620||swivel||YES||8000||12.0||no||YES|
|Sony A7 III (⇒ lft | rgt)||2359||no||3.0||922||tilting||YES||8000||10||no||YES|
|Sony A7R III (⇒ lft | rgt)||3686||no||3.0||1440||tilting||YES||8000||10.0||no||YES|
|Sony A6500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||2300||no||3.0||922||tilting||YES||4000||11.0||6||YES|
|Sony A7R II (⇒ lft | rgt)||2400||no||3.0||1229||tilting||no||8000||5.0||no||YES|
|Sony A7S II (⇒ lft | rgt)||2400||no||3.0||1229||tilting||no||8000||5.0||no||YES|
|Sony A7 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||2400||no||3.0||1230||tilting||no||8000||5.0||no||YES|
|Sony A99 (⇒ lft | rgt)||2359||YES||3.0||1229||full-flex||no||8000||6.0||no||YES|
|Sony A77 (⇒ lft | rgt)||2359||YES||3.0||921||full-flex||no||8000||12.0||12||YES|
Both the A9 and the D850 are current models that good online retailers will have in stock. You can check the latest prices, for example, at amazon. The D850 replaced the earlier Nikon D810, while the A9 does not have a direct predecessor.
Review summary: Sony A9 vs Nikon D850
So how do things add up? Is the Sony A9 better than the Nikon D850 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.
Reasons to prefer the Sony Alpha A9:
- Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
- Better low-light sensitivity: Requires less light for good images (0.4 stops ISO advantage).
- More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
- Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (20 vs 9 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
- More compact: Is smaller (127x96mm vs 146x124mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
- Less heavy: Is lighter (by 332g or 33 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
- More legacy lens friendly: Can take a broad range of non-native lenses via adapters.
- Sharper images: Has hand-shake reducing image stabilization build-in.
- More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in April 2017).
Arguments in favor of the Nikon D850:
- More detail: Has more megapixels (45.4 vs 24MP), which boosts linear resolution by 38%.
- Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
- Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (8 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
- Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.5 bits more color depth).
- More dynamic range: Captures a broader range of light and dark details (1.5 EV of extra DR).
- Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
- Easier setting verification: Has a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
- Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.2" vs 3.0") for image review and settings control.
- More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (2359k vs 1440k dots).
- Longer lasting: Gets more shots (1840 versus 650) out of a single battery charge.
- More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (27 percent cheaper at launch).
- More modern: Was introduced somewhat (3 months) more recently.
If the count of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a measure, the D850 emerges as the winner of the match-up (12 : 9 points). However, the relative importance of the various individual camera aspects will vary according to personal preferences and needs, so that you might like to apply corresponding weights to the particular features before making a decision on a new camera.
In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the A9 or the D850 handle or perform in practice. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate. This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites. The detailed reviews can be accessed, respectively, on the websites of cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.
|Sony A9 (⇒ rgt)||HiRec||89/100 Gold||5/5||5/5||5/5||2017||4,499||latest||check|
|Nikon D850 (⇒ lft)||HiRec||89/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2017||3,299||latest||check|
|Nikon D5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||-||89/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2016||6,499||latest||check|
|Nikon D500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||91/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2016||1,999||latest||check|
|Nikon D810 (⇒ lft | rgt)||-||86/100 Gold||5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||2014||3,299||discont.||check|
|Nikon D610 (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||87/100 Gold||4.5/5||4.5/5||4.5/5||2013||1,999||latest||check|
|Nikon Df (⇒ lft | rgt)||-||81/100||4/5||4/5||4/5||2013||2,749||latest||check|
|Olympus E-M1 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||85/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||2016||1,999||latest||check|
|Panasonic GH5 (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||85/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2017||1,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7 III (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||89/100 Gold||5/5||..||5/5||2018||1,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7R III (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||90/100 Gold||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2017||3,199||latest||check|
|Sony A6500 (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||85/100 Silver||4.5/5||5/5||4.5/5||2016||1,399||latest||check|
|Sony A7R II (⇒ lft | rgt)||HiRec||90/100 Gold||5/5||4.5/5||5/5||2015||3,199||discont.||check|
|Sony A7S II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Rec||-||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2015||2,999||latest||check|
|Sony A7 II (⇒ lft | rgt)||Rec||82/100 Silver||4.5/5||5/5||5/5||2014||1,999||discont.||check|
|Sony A99 (⇒ lft | rgt)||-||84/100 Gold||4.5/5||reviewed||4.5/5||2012||2,799||discont.||check|
|Sony A77 (⇒ lft | rgt)||91/100||81/100 Silver||-||4.5/5||5/5||2011||1,999||discont.||check|
Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings were established in reference to similarly priced cameras that were available in the market at the time of the review. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.
Other camera comparisons
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