It's been interesting to re-visit these four cameras, now they've all received a bit of a post-launch polish and the lens lineups are a little more extensive.

In their current states, all four are quite useable for a very broad range of photographic styles. The Canon falls behind in terms of video, but in general, you get a very capable camera, whichever you choose.

At this point, we believe there are three main factors on which to base a decision: ergonomics and handling, autofocus control and performance, and lens choice.

Ergonomics and handling

Camera handling and interface design is an inherently subjective issue. Most people can find a way to make any camera usable, but some cameras are easier to operate and are more readily configurable than others.

In terms of general shooting, the Nikon is probably our favorite, with a comfortable grip, well-positioned dials and a decent amount of leeway in terms of which button does what. We like the degree to which you can configure the movie mode to maintain its own exposure, color and white balance settings, though feel the autofocus implementation still lags behind the Canon and Sony.

It's a very similar story with the Panasonic: it's a bigger camera than the Nikon but again comfortable to actually use, with a strong degree of customization available.

The Sony still has probably the steepest learning curve, but it's also one of the most reconfigurable, once you've made that effort. The menus require a greater degree of memorizing than the Nikon or Panasonic, but between the Fn menu and My Menu, it's possible to set up quick access to the things you regularly access. There's a significant disconnect in AF behavior and performance between stills and video, which has been partially rectified on newer models, highlighting the weakness here.

The revised ergonomics of the Sony a7R IV and improved AF of company's latest cameras (right) highlight that there's room to improve the a7 III (left)

The Canon is the camera we've found it hardest to relate to. Its menus share some of the drawbacks of the Sony layout (insufficient navigation cues within sections and horizontal tab layout) though mitigate these by containing fewer options and making the menus touch operable. The downside of this is that the EOS R offers some of the least flexible customization of any of these cameras (though, unusually, you can save whole sets of button customization options in the C1-C3 banks).

We've not found a way to use the innovative but perhaps esoteric M-Fn Bar on the back of the camera that gives any real benefit over a standard button and in many respects is less useful. An AF point joystick or 1D X III-style optical AF point/AF-On control would have been more obviously valuable.

Autofocus control and performance

Nikon's AF implementation is among the weakest here, with face/eye detection and subject tracking both added independently on top of the 'Auto' area mode, rather than being designed to work together. Eye detection does work well and tracking is easier to initiate than before, but the tracking performance isn't as dependable as the best cameras here.

Panasonic's AF works better than its general reputation may lead you to believe. It's not about to become the first choice for pro sports shooters, but if you can learn not to worry about the visible focus fluctuations as it finds focus, you'll find it produces an impressive hit rate. That said, the system is a bit clunky in that you must manually swap between tracking and face-detection modes and it can struggle to keep up with fast action.

ISO 320 | 1/640 sec | F10 | Sony a7 III and Sony FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS
Photo by Dale Baskin

Canon's AF interface (especially if set so that you specify its initial AF point for Face/Tracking mode) is one of the best here. When it works, it does a good job of selecting a face or general subject tracking, reducing the need to switch between modes. The performance is good, rather than great, though.

The a7 III doesn't hold quite the lead over its rivals that it did when they were launched. Its eye AF system is still the quickest to respond to an eye appearing (or re-appearing) in the frame, and its tracking system the most dependable, but the margins are smaller than they once were. Unlike newer Sony cameras (and the EOS R), it doesn't integrate its AF features as well as it could.

Lenses

Bringing us full-circle is a reminder that deciding between these cameras isn't just a question of which camera body is currently best, but one of buying into a system that you'll be more committed to with every lens you buy.

Sony's FE mount has the widest range of native lenses available, partly because it was established five years before most of the others, but also because of Sony's decision to disclose its mount specifications to other companies to encourage support from other lens makers.

Click here to see how the mirrorless lineups currently compare

The different mounts have different levels of third-party support. For instance, Sigma makes the rather charming 45mm F2.8 for both L and E mounts.
ISO 160 | 1/100 sec | F4.0 | Sigma fp and Sigma 45mm F2.8 DG DN C
Photo by Carey Rose

However, both Canon and Nikon have been working furiously to build out their respective lens ranges. Both have released lenses that appear to support their insistence that wider lens mounts provide scope for more advanced lens designs. They are also well-placed to promise backward compatibility with their respective DSLR lens ranges.

Finally Panasonic, by partnering with Leica and Sigma in the 'L-mount Alliance' have chosen a route more like that of Sony, meaning that a wide selection of lenses is already available (though not all are optimized for the Panasonic's autofocus system).

We'll be looking a little more closely at where each of these lens ranges stands, and the technology each manufacturer is using, in an article to be published in the next few days.

Overall conclusion

Having considered all these factors, and looked at how they apply to different types of photography, there is no clear, overall 'winner.' It's certainly not as simple as adding up how many times we've recommended each model, since it's unlikely any one person is going use their camera for every one of these types of shooting.

With that critical caveat, the Sony a7 III remains our generic recommendation, simply because it's good at just about everything. But it's a much narrower margin over the Nikon Z6 than when we last pondered this question, and they're close enough that one of the others may be better for you.

The Sony a7 III remains our overall recommendation but that doesn't mean its necessarily the best for you.

In an ideal world, you'd be able to try them out in a store somewhere, to check whether our assumptions jibe with your own experiences. But where that isn't possible, we hope you're able to recognize your own needs and interests in the use-cases we've discussed, so that you can try to narrow down which of these cameras is right for you.