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Canon SX40 vs Nikon D90

The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and the Nikon D90 are two digital cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in September 2011 and August 2008. The SX40 is a fixed lens compact, while the D90 is a DSLR. The cameras are based on a 1/2.3-inch (SX40) and an APS-C (D90) sensor. The Canon has a resolution of 12 megapixels, whereas the Nikon provides 12.2 MP.

Below is an overview of the main specs of the two cameras as a starting point for the comparison.

Headline Specifications
Canon SX40
versus
Nikon D90
Canon SX40   Nikon D90
Fixed lens compact camera Digital single lens reflex
24-840mm f/2.7-5.8 Nikon F mount lenses
12 MP – 1/2.3" sensor 12.2 MP – APS-C sensor
1080/24p Video 720/24p Video
ISO 100-3,200 ISO 200-3,200 (200 - 6,400)
Electronic viewfinder (202k dots) Optical viewfinder
2.7" LCD – 230k dots 3.0" LCD – 920k dots
Swivel screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
10.3 shutter flaps per second 4.5 shutter flaps per second
380 shots per battery charge850 shots per battery charge
123 x 92 x 108 mm, 600 g 132 x 103 x 77 mm, 703 g
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Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and the Nikon D90? Which one should you buy? Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their body size, their imaging sensors, their shooting features, their input-output connections, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison

The side-by-side display below illustrates the physical size and weight of the Canon SX40 and the Nikon D90. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All size dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Canon SX40 vs Nikon D90
Compare SX40 versus D90 top
Comparison SX40 or D90 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D90 is notably larger (20 percent) than the Canon SX40. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the SX40 nor the D90 are weather-sealed.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete and possibly misleading, as the SX40 has a lens built in, whereas the D90 is an interchangeable lens camera that requires a separate lens. Attaching the latter will add extra weight and bulk to the setup. You can compare the optics available for the D90 and their specifications in the Nikon Lens Catalog.

Concerning battery life, the SX40 gets 380 shots out of its NB-10L battery, while the D90 can take 850 images on a single charge of its EN-EL3e power pack.

The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. In case you want to display and compare another camera duo, you can use the CAM-parator app to select your camera combination among a large number of options.

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Body Specifications
    Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
Weather
Sealing
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Canon SX40 123 mm 92 mm 108 mm 600 g 380 n Sep 2011 429ebay.com
2.
 
Nikon D90 132 mm 103 mm 77 mm 703 g 850 n Aug 2008 1,299ebay.com
3.
 
Canon G1 X 117 mm 81 mm 65 mm 534 g 250 n Jan 2012 799ebay.com
4.
 
Canon G15 107 mm 76 mm 40 mm 352 g 350 n Sep 2012 499ebay.com
5.
 
Canon SX50 123 mm 87 mm 106 mm 595 g 315 n Sep 2012 429ebay.com
6.
 
Canon 1100D 130 mm 100 mm 78 mm 495 g 700 n Feb 2011 449ebay.com
7.
 
Canon SX30 123 mm 92 mm 108 mm 601 g 370 n Sep 2010 429ebay.com
8.
 
Canon G12 112 mm 76 mm 48 mm 401 g 370 n Sep 2010 499ebay.com
9.
 
Canon SX20 123 mm 88 mm 87 mm 600 g .. n Aug 2009 399ebay.com
10.
 
Canon SX10 123 mm 88 mm 87 mm 600 g .. n Sep 2008 399ebay.com
11.
 
Canon 40D 146 mm 108 mm 74 mm 822 g 750 n Aug 2007 1,299ebay.com
12.
 
Nikon D7000 132 mm 105 mm 77 mm 780 g 1050 Y Sep 2010 1,499ebay.com
13.
 
Nikon D3000 126 mm 97 mm 64 mm 536 g 500 n Jul 2009 599ebay.com
14.
 
Nikon D5000 127 mm 104 mm 80 mm 590 g 510 n Apr 2009 749ebay.com
15.
 
Nikon D80 132 mm 103 mm 77 mm 668 g 600 n Aug 2006 999ebay.com
16.
 
Panasonic FZ150 124 mm 82 mm 92 mm 528 g 410 n Aug 2011 499ebay.com
17.
 
Panasonic FZ100 124 mm 82 mm 92 mm 540 g 410 n Jul 2010 499ebay.com
Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The SX40 was launched at a lower price than the D90, despite having a lens built in. 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.

Sensor comparison

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. Moreover, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more control over depth-of-field in the image and, thus, the ability to better isolate a subject from the background. On the downside, larger sensors are more costly to manufacture and tend to lead to bigger and heavier cameras and lenses.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Canon SX40 features a 1/2.3-inch sensor and the Nikon D90 an APS-C sensor. The sensor area in the D90 is 1232 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 5.6 and 1.5. The sensor in the SX40 has a native 4:3 aspect ratio, while the one in the D90 offers a 3:2 aspect.

Canon SX40 and Nikon D90 sensor measures

With 12.2MP, the D90 offers a higher resolution than the SX40 (12MP), but the D90 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 5.53μm versus 1.53μm for the SX40) due to its larger sensor. However, the SX40 is a much more recent model (by 3 years) than the D90, and its sensor will 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 SX40 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.

The Canon PowerShot SX40 HS has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 3200. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D90 are ISO 200 to ISO 3200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 200-6400.

In terms of underlying technology, the SX40 is build around a BSI-CMOS sensor, while the D90 uses a CMOS imager. Both cameras use a Bayer filter for capturing RGB colors on a square grid of photosensors. This arrangement is found in most digital cameras.

SX40 versus D90 MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service is based on lab testing and assigns an overall score to each camera sensor, as well as ratings for dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), color depth ("DXO Portrait"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"). The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

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Sensor Characteristics
    Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
1.
 
Canon SX40 1/2.3 12.0 4000 30001080/24p19.610.940941
2.
 
Nikon D90 APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.597773
3.
 
Canon G1 X 1.5-inch 14.2 4352 32641080/24p21.710.864460
4.
 
Canon G15 1/1.7 12.0 4000 30001080/24p19.911.516546
5.
 
Canon SX50 1/2.3 12.0 4000 30001080/24p20.311.217947
6.
 
Canon 1100D APS-C 12.2 4272 2848720/30p21.911.075562
7.
 
Canon SX30 1/2.3 14.0 4320 3240720/30p19.410.732039
8.
 
Canon G12 1/1.7 10.0 3648 2736720/24p20.411.216147
9.
 
Canon SX20 1/2.3 12.0 4000 3000720/30p19.210.522537
10.
 
Canon SX10 1/2.3 10.0 3648 2736480/30p19.010.314435
11.
 
Canon 40D APS-C 10.1 3888 2592none22.111.370364
12.
 
Nikon D7000 APS-C 16.1 4928 32641080/24p23.513.9116780
13.
 
Nikon D3000 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.311.156362
14.
 
Nikon D5000 APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.586872
15.
 
Nikon D80 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.111.252461
16.
 
Panasonic FZ150 1/2.3 12.0 4000 30001080/60p19.410.913240
17.
 
Panasonic FZ100 1/2.3 14.0 4320 32401080/60i19.410.730639
Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.

Many modern cameras cannot only take still pictures, but also record videos. The two cameras under consideration both have sensors whose read-out speed is fast enough to capture moving pictures, but the SX40 provides a higher video resolution than the D90. It can shoot video footage at 1080/24p, while the Nikon is limited to 720/24p.

Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the SX40 has an electronic viewfinder (202k dots), while the D90 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 adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Canon SX40 and Nikon D90 along with similar information for a selection of comparators.

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Core Features
    Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Specifications
(inch/000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Max
Shutter
Speed *
Max
Shutter
Flaps *
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Built-in
Image
Stab
1.
 
Canon SX40202 n2.7 / 230 swivel n 1/3200s 10.3/s Y Y
2.
 
Nikon D90optical Y3.0 / 920 fixed n 1/4000s 4.5/s Y n
3.
 
Canon G1 Xoptical n3.0 / 922 swivel n 1/4000s 1.9/s Y Y
4.
 
Canon G15optical n3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/4000s 2.1/s Y Y
5.
 
Canon SX50202 n3.0 / 461 swivel n 1/2000s 2.2/s Y Y
6.
 
Canon 1100Doptical n2.7 / 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
7.
 
Canon SX30202 n2.7 / 230 swivel n 1/3200s 0.6/s Y Y
8.
 
Canon G12optical n2.8 / 461 swivel n 1/4000s 1.1/s Y Y
9.
 
Canon SX20202 n2.5 / 230 swivel n 1/3200s 0.7/s Y Y
10.
 
Canon SX10202 n2.5 / 230 swivel n 1/3200s 0.7/s Y Y
11.
 
Canon 40Doptical Y3.0 / 230 fixed n 1/8000s 6.5/s Y n
12.
 
Nikon D7000optical Y3.0 / 921 fixed n 1/8000s 6.0/s Y n
13.
 
Nikon D3000optical n3.0 / 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
14.
 
Nikon D5000optical n2.7 / 230 full-flex n 1/4000s 4.0/s Y n
15.
 
Nikon D80optical n2.5 / 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s Y n
16.
 
Panasonic FZ150202 n3.0 / 460 swivel n 1/2000s 12.0/s Y Y
17.
 
Panasonic FZ100202 n3.0 / 460 swivel n 1/2000s 11.0/s Y Y
Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.

One feature that is present on the D90, but is missing on the SX40 is a top-level LCD. While being, of course, smaller than the rear screen, the control panel conveys some of the essential shooting information and can be convenient for quick and easy settings verification.

The SX40 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the D90 uses SDHC cards.

Connectivity comparison

For some imaging applications, the extent to which a camera can communicate with its environment can be an important aspect in the camera decision process. The table below provides an overview of the connectivity of the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS and Nikon D90 and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.

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Input-Output Connections
    Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Mic / Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
1.
 
Canon SX40Ystereo / mono--YES2.0---
2.
 
Nikon D90Ymono / mono--mini2.0---
3.
 
Canon G1 XYstereo / mono--mini2.0---
4.
 
Canon G15Ystereo / mono--mini2.0---
5.
 
Canon SX50Ystereo / mono--mini2.0---
6.
 
Canon 1100DYstereo / mono--mini2.0---
7.
 
Canon SX30Ystereo / mono--YES2.0---
8.
 
Canon G12Ystereo / mono--mini2.0---
9.
 
Canon SX20Ystereo / mono--YES2.0---
10.
 
Canon SX10Ystereo / mono---2.0---
11.
 
Canon 40DY- / ----2.0---
12.
 
Nikon D7000Ymono / monoY-mini2.0---
13.
 
Nikon D3000Y- / ----2.0---
14.
 
Nikon D5000Ymono / mono--mini2.0---
15.
 
Nikon D80Y- / ----2.0---
16.
 
Panasonic FZ150Ystereo / ---mini2.0---
17.
 
Panasonic FZ100Ystereo / mono--mini2.0---

Both the SX40 and the D90 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on ebay. The D90 was replaced by the Nikon D7000, while the SX40 was followed by the Canon SX50. Further information on the features and operation of the SX40 and D90 can be found, respectively, in the Canon SX40 Manual (free pdf) or the online Nikon D90 Manual.

Review summary

So what is the bottom line? Is the Canon SX40 better than the Nikon D90 or vice versa? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.

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Advantages of the Canon PowerShot SX40 HS:

  • Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
  • Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (1080/24p vs 720/24p).
  • More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
  • More flexible LCD: Has a swivel screen for odd-angle shots in portrait or landscape orientation.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (10.3 vs 4.5 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Ready to shoot: Comes with a built-in lens, while the D90 requires a separate lens.
  • More compact: Is smaller (123x92mm vs 132x103mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter even though it comes with a built-in lens (unlike the D90).
  • Sharper images: Has hand-shake reducing image stabilization built-in.
  • More affordable: Was introduced at a lower price, despite coming with a built-in lens.
  • More modern: Reflects 3 years of technical progress since the D90 launch.

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Arguments in favor of the Nikon D90:

  • Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
  • Better image quality: Features bigger pixels on a larger sensor for higher quality imaging.
  • Richer colors: The pixel size advantage translates into images with better, more accurate colors.
  • More dynamic range: Larger pixels capture a wider spectrum of light and dark details.
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Larger pixels means good image quality even under poor lighting.
  • Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
  • Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.0" vs 2.7") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (920k vs 230k dots).
  • Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/4000s vs 1/3200s) to freeze action.
  • More flexible: Makes it possible to change lenses and thus to use specialty optics.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (850 versus 380) out of a single battery charge.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been around for much longer (launched in August 2008).

If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D90 emerges as the winner of the match-up (13 : 11 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. A professional wedding photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a travel photog, and a person interested in cityscapes has distinct needs from a macro shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.

SX40 11:13 D90

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Canon SX40 and the Nikon D90 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Superzoom Camera and Best DSLR Camera listings whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.

In any case, while the comparison of the spec-sheets of cameras can offer a general idea of their imaging potential, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the SX40 and the D90 in practical situations. At times, user reviews, such as those published at amazon, address these issues in a useful manner, but such feedback is on many occasions incomplete, inconsistent, and unreliable.

Expert reviews

This is why expert reviews are important. The table below provides a synthesis of the camera assessments of some of the best known photo-gear review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], digitalcameraworld [DCW], dpreview [DPR], ephotozine [EPZ], photographyblog [PB]). As can be seen, the professional reviewers agree in many cases on the quality of different cameras, but sometimes their assessments diverge, reinforcing the earlier point that a camera decision is often a very personal choice.

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Expert Camera Reviews
     Camera 
 Model 
 AP 
 score 
 CL 
 score 
 DCW 
 score 
 DPR 
 score 
 EPZ 
 score 
 PB 
 score 
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Canon SX40..+....4.5/54/5 Sep 2011 429ebay.com
2.
 
Nikon D90..+ +..+ +4/54.5/5 Aug 2008 1,299ebay.com
3.
 
Canon G1 X5/5+..76/1004/54.5/5 Jan 2012 799ebay.com
4.
 
Canon G154/5+..76/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2012 499ebay.com
5.
 
Canon SX503/5+ +..72/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2012 429ebay.com
6.
 
Canon 1100D..80/100..69/1004/54.5/5 Feb 2011 449ebay.com
7.
 
Canon SX303/5+ +....3.5/54/5 Sep 2010 429ebay.com
8.
 
Canon G124/5+..73/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2010 499ebay.com
9.
 
Canon SX20..+ +..73/100..4/5 Aug 2009 399ebay.com
10.
 
Canon SX10..+ +......4/5 Sep 2008 399ebay.com
11.
 
Canon 40D..+ +..+ +4.5/54.5/5 Aug 2007 1,299ebay.com
12.
 
Nikon D70004/5....80/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,499ebay.com
13.
 
Nikon D3000..+..72/1004/54.5/5 Jul 2009 599ebay.com
14.
 
Nikon D5000..+ +..75/1004/54.5/5 Apr 2009 749ebay.com
15.
 
Nikon D80..+..+ +o4.5/5 Aug 2006 999ebay.com
16.
 
Panasonic FZ1503/5+ +..76/1004/54.5/5 Aug 2011 499ebay.com
17.
 
Panasonic FZ100..+....4.5/54.5/5 Jul 2010 499ebay.com
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

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. Thus, a score needs to be put into the context of the launch date and the launch price of the camera, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. Also, please note that some of the review sites have changed their methodology and reporting over time.

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Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? If you would like to see a different side-by-side camera review, just use the search menu below. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored.

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    Specifications: Canon SX40 vs Nikon D90

    Below is a side-by-side comparison of the specs of the two cameras to facilitate a quick review of their differences and common features.

    Camera Specifications
    Camera Model Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    Camera Type Fixed lens compact camera Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens 24-840mm f/2.7-5.8 Nikon F mount lenses
    Launch Date September 2011 August 2008
    Launch Price USD 429 USD 1,299
    Sensor Specs Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    Sensor Technology BSI-CMOS CMOS
    Sensor Format 1/2.3" Sensor APS-C Sensor
    Sensor Size 6.17 x 4.55 mm 23.6 x 15.8 mm
    Sensor Area 28.0735 mm2 372.88 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 7.7 mm 28.4 mm
    Crop Factor 5.6x 1.5x
    Sensor Resolution 12 Megapixels 12.2 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 4000 x 3000 pixels 4288 x 2848 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 1.53 μm 5.53 μm
    Pixel Density 42.74 MP/cm2 3.28 MP/cm2
    Moiré control no AA filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability 1080/24p Video 720/24p Video
    ISO Setting 100 - 3,200 ISO 200 - 3,200 ISO
    ISO Boost no Enhancement 200 - 6,400 ISO
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) .. 73
    DXO Color Depth (bits) .. 22.7
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) .. 12.5
    DXO Low Light (ISO) .. 977
    Screen Specs Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    Viewfinder Type Electronic viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 96%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.63x
    Viewfinder Resolution 202k dots
    Top-Level Screen no Top Display Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View Live View
    Rear LCD Size 2.7inch 3.0inch
    LCD Resolution 230k dots 920k dots
    LCD Attachment Swivel screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    Focus System Contrast-detect AF Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 10.3 shutter flaps/s 4.5 shutter flaps/s
    Fill Flash Built-in Flash Built-in Flash
    Storage Medium SDXC cards SDHC cards
    Single or Dual Card Slots Single card slot Single card slot
    UHS card support no no
    Connectivity Specs Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 2.0
    HDMI Port YES HDMI mini HDMI
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Canon SX40 Nikon D90
    Battery Type NB-10L EN-EL3e
    Battery Life (CIPA)380 shots per charge850 shots per charge
    Body Dimensions 123 x 92 x 108 mm
    (4.8 x 3.6 x 4.3 in)
    132 x 103 x 77 mm
    (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in)
    Camera Weight 600 g (21.2 oz) 703 g (24.8 oz)
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