The Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9 are the new flagship mirrorless cameras that continue to dig the grave for DSLRs.

Both cameras are intended for professional photographers who demand blazing fast burst performance, long battery life, vertical shots, and fast autofocus. Everything DSLRs had in previous generations of mirrorless cameras, in other words.

The Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9 have been announced as "in development". This means there's still a lot we don't know about dual cameras. Still, some features have been officially revealed and we know what they will look like, ahead of their full announcements later this year.

Which camera will be better? It's too early to be definitive, but it's also not premature to give some informed impressions. That's how we think the Canon EOS R3 and Nikon Z9 are shaping up in this great battle of traditional DSLR heavyweights.

Design

The Canon EOS R3 and the Nikon Z9 have one thing in common: they are both mirrorless cameras built in the mold of a professional DSLR.

They both have a vertical grip, which will also provide much better battery life than other mirrorless cameras, and are based on their DSLR counterparts.

The Canon EOS R3 looks a bit like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III (below). The plug model is different and appears to be much smaller, but the layout of the controls, as far as we can see, looks similar.

The Canon EOS 1D X Mark III (left) vs. Canon EOS R3 (right) (Image credit: Canon)

Canon EOS R3 vs Nikon Z9: How mirrorless flagships are shaping up? 1

Meanwhile the Nikon Z9 bears more than a passing resemblance to the Nikon D6 (below), with perhaps a greater divergence in the contours of the camera. However, the position of the visible knobs and buttons is similar, as are the locations of the remote and flash terminals.

These camera giants want the DSLR transition to be as seamless as possible because their professional fans depend on it.

Canon claims that the EOS R3 will have "professional" grade weather resistance. Nikon didn't mention it in its "in development" press release, but the Z9 will clearly have it, judging by the tough seals on the front ports. It would be strange if a camera like this didn't have full weather protection either.

nikon z9

(Image credit: Nikon)

Sensor

The Nikon Z9 and Canon EOS R3 will have stacked BSI (back-illuminated) CMOS sensors. This is the next step in sensor design after the BSI CMOS style used in, for example, the Nikon Z6 and Nikon Z7.

Vanilla CMOS sensors are wired above the photosensitive surface, while BSI sensors are wired underneath. The stacked CMOS chips have separate components for the photosensitive part and the wiring / memory. This makes it, in theory, the best design to use, but also the most expensive to manufacture.

Sony has already used a stacked CMOS arrangement on the Sony Alpha A9, Sony Alpha A9 II, and Sony Alpha A1, so it's not as dramatic a technological leap as it might seem at first glance.

However, this will allow rapid burst shooting. Canon has previously stated that the EOS R3 will shoot at 30 frames per second with autofocus.. However, despite rumors that it's a 45MP camera, we don't yet know its resolution, which will determine how impressed we are with this shooting speed.

Canon EOS R3 vs Nikon Z9

(Image credit: future)

Nikon approached its revelations from the other side. We don't know its burst speed, but we do know that it will have a high-resolution sensor. An absolute minimum of 39MP is needed to enable the 8K video capture that Nikon has already announced.

Sony has already shown that a burst of 30 frames per second at this kind of speed is entirely possible.. The Sony Alpha A1 can shoot just as fast and has a 50,1 MP sensor.

We wouldn't be surprised if the Nikon Z9 and Canon EOS R3 have similar sensor resolutions and similar burst speeds. After all, they have to keep up with Sony, and the stacked CMOS sensor design makes that possible.

Autofocus

Canon has talked more about autofocus than Nikon, and some fun things are happening here.

The Canon Canon has talked more about autofocus than Nikon, and there's some fun stuff going on here.EOS R3 will have eye-controlled autofocus when using the viewfinder. You are looking at an area in the preview image and will focus on that location. Crazy, right?

This should involve the use of some kind of camera that looks in the direction your student is pointing. Eye tracking like this isn't new, but it's a very ambitious feature. It's only worth using if it works well, and it's the kind of thing you can imagine not working well on day one.

(Image credit: Creative Commons)This is not the first time that Canon has implemented this type of functionality.. The 5 Canon EOS 1992 film camera had something similar. But this camera had five focus points, and we're used to a little more than that these days. The Canon EOS R5 has 5.940 AF points in photo mode, and the EOS R3 appears to do so as well.

Canon EOS 5

Canon also says the EOS R3 has a modified version of the EOS R5's Dual Pixel CMOS AF II autofocus system., and a pre-launch video suggests it will have modes to follow birds and puppies, as well as people, their eyes and their heads. That last bit, head tracking, is important, as it ensures the autofocus doesn't look for another focus point when someone turns their face away from the camera and loses control of their eyes.

We don't have any details on the Nikon Z9's AF, aside from a few rumors posted by Nikon Rumors making nebulous claims about "improved AF and amazing AF tracking (better than D6)".

Of course, even if Nikon told us more, it wouldn't tell us which camera is better. You need a test drive for this.

Video

It looks like Canon told us more about the EOS R3 here, but Nikon has at least announced that the Nikon Z9 will have 8K video capture, like the Sony Alpha A1.. It's not something you get on the Nikon Z6 II or Z7 II, and it would be a huge step forward for the brand.

Canon hasn't confirmed whether or not the EOS R3 shoots 8K video, but now it will look weird if you don't.

The Sony Alpha A1 offers equally fast burst shooting and can shoot in 8K. The Canon EOS R5 shoots 8K video and can already handle 20fps shots.

It could be argued that Canon could only afford to skip 8K video if it were able to explode at more than 30 frames per second, reducing the resolution to do so. And well, it can't.

Canon EOS R3 vs Nikon Z9

(Image credit: future)

Price range

We don't know how much the Canon EOS R3 or the Nikon Z9 will cost. This detail probably won't escape until the official announcement.

However, we can make predictions based on the current price of the DSLR alternatives and mirrorless models that will be found below these high-end cameras.

The Canon EOS R3 will sit above the Canon EOS R5 at $3,899 / €3,499 AU$6,899 and below or alongside the EOS-1D X Mark III at $6,499 / €6,499 / AU$9,999.

The Nikon Z9 will be above the €7 / €2,999 / AU$2,999 Nikon Z5,499 II and, again, will be similar to or lower than the $6 / €6,496 / AU$6,299 Nikon D10,378.

There is arguably little reason for Nikon and Canon to drop below these higher prices when the Sony Alpha A1 is already €6,499 / AU$10,499. Make no mistake, they will be expensive cameras.

nikon z9

(Image credit: Nikon)

Early verdict

Canon and Nikon have released information on different areas of their exciting flagship cameras. We wouldn't be surprised if the two end up converging on a similar point, where the main features are high-resolution burst shooting at 30fps, long battery life, and 8K video capture.

The Canon EOS R3 has autofocus control through its eyeballs, which is an eye-catching feature we probably won't see on the Z9. But it won't do any good unless it works better than our cynicism allows us to imagine.

We'll have to wait a bit longer to see how this one plays out, but one thing is for sure: the two cameras are shaping up to be Canon and Nikon's most powerful mirrorless beasts to date.

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