Background: This study aimed to compare survival between standard lobectomy and surgeons' preference sublobar resection among patients with stage I non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Methods: Medical records of patients undergoing pulmonary resection between 2006 and 2016 were reviewed retrospectively. Differences in disease-free survival (DFS) and DFS-associated factors between patients receiving lobectomy and surgeons' preference sublobar resection were analyzed after 1-1 propensity score-matching (n = 119 per group). Results: In total, 1064 pathological stage I NSCLC patients were identified, including 816 (76.7%) who underwent lobectomy, 111 (10.4%) who underwent sublobar resection as a compromised procedure (medically unfit), and 137 (12.9%) who underwent surgeons' preference sublobar resection. Rates of five-year DFS for patients undergoing lobectomy, medically unfit, and surgeons' preference sublobar resection were 88.7%, 71.0%, and 93.4%, respectively (P < 0.001). Multivariable Cox regression analysis demonstrated that radiological solid-appearance (adjusted hazard [aHR] = 2.908, P = 0.003), PL2 invasion (aHR = 1.970, P = 0.024), and angiolymphatic invasion (aHR = 2.202, P = 0.005) were significantly associated with lower DFS after adjusting for surgeons' preference sublobar resection (aH = 1.031, P = 0.939). Subgroup analysis of all 403 solid-dominant patients demonstrated equivalent five-year DFS between surgeons' preference sublobar resection and lobectomy (87.7% and 84.1%, respectively, P = 0.721). Propensity-matched analysis showed no differences in five-year DFS in stage I NSCLC patients undergoing lobectomy or surgeons' preference sublobar resection (90.5% vs. 93.4% P = 0.510), and DFS for surgeons' preference sublobar resection remained an insignificant factor (aHR = 0.894, P = 0.834). Conclusions: Carefully selected patients who have undergone surgeons' preference sublobar resection have comparable outcomes to those receiving lobectomy for stage I NSCLC <3 cm. Key points: Significant findings of the study Intended sublobar resection has a good outcome. What this study adds Sublobar resection is applicable for stage I NSCLC <3 cm.