Introduction

The Nikon Z5 is the second camera to be launched explicitly as an entry-level step into the world of full-frame mirrorless. Its launch price isn’t quite as low as that of the Canon EOS RP, but it’s clearly got a similar audience in its sights.

And, because Sony seems determined to leave all its previous models on the market, it’s also likely to sell at a price that’s roughly comparable with the a7 II. The Sony was originally aimed at a higher price point (and audience) but is available at entry-level prices now that nearly six years have elapsed.

Resolution/Sensor tech

The Nikon Z5 uses an 24MP FSI CMOS sensor: possibly the one used in the Sony a7 Mark II, though possibly a newer variant like the one in the D750.

The Nikon Z5 is based around a 24MP full-frame sensor. Nikon is clear that this isn’t the same chip used in the more expensive Z6 and is based on the older front-side illumination technology rather than the BSI tech that helps boost the Z6’s image quality.

Noticeably, this is the same distinction between the a7 II and the newer Mark III model, which helps get an impression of the maximum likely difference in performance difference between the Z5 and Z6. The Canon also uses conventional construction but utilizing an innovative dual pixel structure that underpins its autofocus system. The 26MP chip in the Canon isn’t a great performer in terms of dynamic range, so you’ll quickly encounter noise if you try to expand beyond what’s in the JPEGs.

Autofocus

We haven’t yet had a chance to test whether the Z5’s autofocus is an exact match for the Z6, but it possesses all the improvements Nikon has added to its Z cameras since their launch. That means eye detection AF and the easier-to-initiate subject tracking that came to the Z6 and 7 in mid-life firmware updates.

In previous testing we’ve found the Canon tracking and eye detection to be a little more precise than the Nikon (getting the focus exactly on the eye more often), but there’s not a lot in it. The Sony, although good when it was launched, looks much less impressive now: subject tracking tries to identify the subject as a whole, rather than letting you specify a part that you want to focus on, and eye detection requires that you hold down a custom button (the results are the most dependable of the three cameras, though).

Burst Speed

The Sony a7 II is the fastest shooting of the three cameras

None of these cameras are exactly speed demons. They all use older (slower readout) sensors and the RAM required to act as buffer is an obvious thing to skimp on, if you don’t want the entry-level model to completely cannibalize sales of the mid-range models.

As you might expect, then, the erstwhile mid-level Sony a7 II posts the highest figures, with 5.0 frames per second. This is going to be sufficient for a lot of day-to-day shooting but sports and wildlife enthusiasts will have to dig a little deeper to buy the next model up.

The Nikon isn’t far behind, with the promise of up to 4.5 fps bursts and the Canon claims four shots per second. It’s unlikely that difference is going to be meaningful for most photography.

Video

The EOS R has an AF system and articulating rear screen, which should be a bonus for video. Unfortunately, like the Nikon, it has a significant crop in 4K mode.

None of the cameras in this price is especially strong on the video front. The Nikon and Canon can only read out a small region of their sensors fast enough to capture high-res video. So, while the Nikon does enough to say 4K on the box, it has the same 1.7x crop that we criticized on the Canon.

This is still more than the Sony manages: it tops out at 1080/60p: a spec the Nikon will happily match. Likewise the Nikon matches the Sony in offering both mic and headphone sockets. We’ve not had a chance the Nikon’s autofocus yet, but we’d expect the Z5 to do a reasonable job in this regard.

Viewfinder/screen

The Z5 has a larger and higher resolution viewfinder than the EOS R (shown here) or the a7 II.

Despite being Nikon’s entry-level full-framer, it uses the same viewfinder panel as the company’s range-topping Z7. The 3.69M-dot OLED viewfinder is a distinct improvement over the 2.36M dot panels used in both the EOS RP and the Sony a7 II. Given how much of the Z5’s handling comes straight from Nikon’s DSLRs, the EVF is likely to be the primary way of interacting with the camera, so it’s nice to see Nikon resist the temptation to cut corners.

In terms of rear LCDs, the Z5 has a tilting 1.04M-dot touchscreen, which isn’t quite as flexible as the EOS RP’s fully articulating arrangement of a similar screen. However, there are plenty of photographers that prefer a screen that tilts on the optical axis, rather than flipping outward as the Canon’s does. The only objective disadvantage is that the Nikon’s screen can’t be turned in towards the camera for protection.

The Sony uses an older panel with a white dot at each location, so is fractionally lower in resolution (640 x 480 pixels, rather than 720 x 480) than the other two cameras. The more significant difference is that the Sony’s screen isn’t touch-sensitive, which has a significant impact on how quick and easy it is to do things such as set the AF point.

Battery life

The Z5 uses a new EN-EL15c battery that’s back-compatible with the EN-EL15b used in the Z6 and Z7 (pictured)

The Nikon comes out on top when it comes to battery life. It uses a new, higher capacity version of the EN-EL15 used in the mid-range Z6 and is able to squeeze a creditable 470 shots per charge out of it. The Canon uses a smaller battery and its endurance suffers accordingly: it’s probably our biggest gripe about the camera, as it quickly impacts on your shooting.

The Sony falls between the two: it uses the company’s older, smaller NP-FW50 battery to achieve a respectable 350 shot-per-charge rating using the LCD. All three cameras can be charged over USB but the Canon demands you use a high-current USB-C charger.

Kit lens

The 24-105mm F4 L IS is a lovely option for the Canon EOS RP, but it’s big and adds significantly to the cost. The Nikon has the smallest kit zoom of the three.

Another potential advantage for the Z5 is the availability of a kit zoom designed specifically for an entry-level audience. We’ve not had a chance to put it through its paces yet but a very compact, retractable, 24-50mm F4.0-6.3 zoom is a really handy companion to this camera. It’s unstabilized but the body has 5-axis stabilization to make up for it. There’s also a rather less-compact 24-200mm F4.0-6.3 zoom if you’re after a do-everything lens.

The Canon also offers a do-everything zoom in the shape of the RF 24-240mm F4.0-6.3, but there aren’t any small ‘kit’ zooms to pair with the RP’s smaller body: the RF 24-105 F4.0-7.1 is more versatile than the Nikon zoom but its size, while not unreasonable, it not nearly so slight. The Sony, belying its more enthusiast roots, makes fewer concessions to portability and is often kitted with the 28-70mm F3.5-5.6. It has a slightly brighter aperture range than the others but it bigger and doesn’t go as wide. It’s not exactly blessed with the best build quality.

Price

The Sony a7 II was once a $1700 camera, but it lacks a lot of the refinements made in the six years since its launch.

New cameras always look expensive, especially if they’re squaring up against competition that’s been on the market for a while. Both the Canon EOS RP and the Sony a7 II are now selling for around $1000, body only, it’s worth remembering that they were launched for a lot more than that, if you’re trying assess the Z5’s launch price.

Given it’s being launched at a price $100 higher than the EOS RP (the lowest launch price of any full-frame digital camera) and $300 lower than the a7 II, it looks likely to be competitive once it’s been on the shelves for a while. The Sony, now entering its dotage, is regularly sold for $1000 or less, but being the least expensive doesn’t necessarily make it the best value.

Summary

What should be clear is that you now have a choice of very capable full-frame cameras for under $1500. The Nikon will look more expensive at first but its MSRP suggests it’ll settle to a price around that of the EOS RP if you can be a little patient.

Our initial impression is that the Nikon looks like the strongest choice: unlike the Sony it benefits from all of Nikon’s latest UI and performance improvements, but its specs haven’t been quite as aggressively pared-back as those of the Canon.

That said, this is a decision that should hinge on lens systems rather than individual bodies. So it’s worth looking both at the lenses bundled with the cameras and the options available if you look beyond that before you make pick a team. Sony has the most extensive selection of lenses but what matters most is whether the lenses you want are available. Things will look even more competitive once Nikon introduces its promised ‘S-Line 24-105mm’ zoom, as these lenses can make excellent additions to entry and mid-level bodies.

There’s enough that’s familiar in the Nikon that we’re not expecting any nasty surprises, but we’ll look at this comparison again once we’ve had a chance to fully review the Z5.

Nikon Z5 Canon EOS RP Sony a7 II Sony a7 III
MSRP $1400 $1300 $1000
($1700 at launch)
$2000
Pixel count 24MP 26MP 24MP 24MP
Sensor tech FSI CMOS FSI Dual Pixel CMOS FSI CMOS BSI CMOS
Image stabilization In-body
(5.0 stops)
In-lens only In-body
(4.5 stops)
In-body
(5.0 stops)
Storage Dual UHS-II SD Single UHS-II SD Single UHS-I SD / Memory stick Dual SD (one UHS-I, one UHS-II)
Burst speed 4.5 fps 4.0 fps 5.0 fps 10 fps
Flash sync 1/200 1/180 1/200 1/200
Max shutter speed 1/8000 1/4000 1/8000 1/8000
Viewfinder
(Magnification)
3.69M-dot OLED
(x0.8)
2.36M-dot OLED
(0.7x)
2.36M-dot OLED
(0.71x)
2.36M dot OLED
(0.78x)
Rear screen

3.0″ 1.04M-dot
tilting touchscreen

3.0″ 1.04M-dot
fully articulating touchscreen
3.0″ 1.23M-dot tilting 3.0″ 0.92M dot tilting touchscreen
Video resolution UHD 4K/30p UHD 4K/24p 1080/60p UHD 4K/30p
Video crop 1.7x 1.7x 1.0x 1.2x 30p
1.0x 24p
Mic/Headphone? Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes Yes / Yes
Connectivity Wi-Fi + Bluetooth Wi-Fi + Bluetooth Wi-Fi (+NFC) Wi-Fi (+NFC)
Bluetooth*
Battery life
(CIPA)
470 / 390 250 / 250 350 710 / 610
Weight 675g 485g 600g 650g
Dimensions 134 x 101 x 70mm 133 x 85 x 70mm 127 x 96 x 60mm 127 x 96 x 74mm

*Sony uses Bluetooth only for syncing GPS data, not speeding up the connection process

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