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Contax N Digital vs Nikon D3S

The Contax N Digital and the Nikon D3S are two professional cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in February 2002 and October 2009. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Contax has a resolution of 6.1 megapixels, whereas the Nikon provides 12.1 MP.

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

Headline Specifications
Contax N Digital VS Nikon D3S
Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
Contax N mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
6.1 MP, Full Frame Sensor 12.1 MP, Full Frame Sensor
no Video 720/24p Video
ISO 50-1600 ISO 200-12800 (100-102400)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
2.0" LCD, 200k dots 3.0" LCD, 921k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
4 shutter flaps per second 11 shutter flaps per second
Not weather sealedWeathersealed body
100 shots per battery charge4200 shots per battery charge
152 x 138 x 80 mm, 990 g 160 x 157 x 88 mm, 1240 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Contax N Digital and the Nikon D3S? 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

An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Contax N Digital and the Nikon D3S is provided in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive views from the front, the top, and the rear side are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Contax N Digital vs Nikon D3S
Compare N Digital versus D3S top
Comparison N Digital or D3S rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D3S is notably larger (20 percent) than the Contax N Digital. Moreover, the D3S is markedly heavier (25 percent) than the N Digital. It is noteworthy in this context that the D3S is splash and dust-proof, while the N Digital does not feature any corresponding weather-sealing.

The above size and weight comparisons are to some extent incomplete since they do not consider the interchangeable lenses that both of these cameras require. Hence, you might want to study and compare the specifications of available lenses in order to get the full picture of the size and weight of the two camera systems.

As can be seen in the images above, both cameras have a battery grip built in. This facilitates image-taking in portrait orientation and gives it additional battery power.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, just use the right or left arrows in the table to switch to the respective camera. Alternatively, you can also navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from the full list of cameras there.

Camera Body Specifications
  Camera
Model
Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(yes/no)
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
 
Contax N Digital» 6.0 in 5.4 in 3.1 in 34.9 oz 100 n Feb 2002 7,399iContax N Digital
 
Nikon D3S« 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.5 in 43.7 oz 4200 Y Oct 2009 5,199iNikon D3S
 
Canon 10D« » 5.9 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 30.0 oz 500 n Feb 2003 1,999iCanon 10D
 
Canon Rebel« » 5.6 in 3.9 in 2.8 in 22.9 oz 400 n Aug 2003 899iCanon Rebel
 
Canon 1Ds« » 6.1 in 6.2 in 3.1 in 44.6 oz 600 Y Sep 2002 8,999iCanon 1Ds
 
Canon D60« » 5.9 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 30.2 oz 620 n Feb 2002 2,999iCanon D60
 
Leica M10-P« » 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 23.3 oz 210 Y Aug 2018 7,995 iLeica M10-P
 
Leica M10« » 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 23.3 oz 210 Y Jan 2017 6,595 iLeica M10
 
Leica SL« » 5.8 in 4.1 in 1.5 in 29.9 oz 400 Y Oct 2015 7,450iLeica SL
 
Leica M9« » 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.5 in 20.6 oz .. n Sep 2009 7,999iLeica M9
 
Nikon D5« » 6.3 in 6.3 in 3.6 in 49.9 oz 3780 Y Jan 2016 6,499iNikon D5
 
Nikon D4« » 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.6 in 47.3 oz 2600 Y Jan 2012 5,999iNikon D4
 
Nikon D3X« » 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.5 in 44.4 oz 4400 Y Dec 2008 7,999iNikon D3X
 
Nikon D700« » 5.8 in 4.8 in 3.0 in 37.9 oz 1000 Y Jul 2008 2,999iNikon D700
 
Nikon D3« » 6.3 in 6.2 in 3.5 in 45.9 oz 4300 Y Aug 2007 4,999iNikon D3
 
Nikon D100« » 5.7 in 4.6 in 3.2 in 27.5 oz 370 n Feb 2002 1,999iNikon D100
 
Nikon D1X« » 6.2 in 6.0 in 3.3 in 38.8 oz 1200 Y Feb 2001 5,999iNikon D1X
Note: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

Any camera decision will naturally be influenced heavily by the price. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D3S was launched at a markedly lower price (by 30 percent) than the N Digital, which puts it into a different market segment. Normally, street prices remain initially close to the MSRP, but after a couple of months, the first discounts appear. 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. Then, after the new model is out, very good deals can frequently be found on the pre-owned market.

 

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.

Both cameras under consideration feature a full frame sensor, but their sensors differ slightly in size. They nevertheless have the same format factor of 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Contax N Digital and Nikon D3S sensor measures

Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the D3S offers a higher resolution of 12.1 megapixels, compared with 6.1 MP of the N Digital. This megapixels advantage comes at the cost of a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 8.43μm versus 11.90μm for the N Digital). However, it should be noted that the D3S is much more recent (by 7 years and 7 months) than the N Digital, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently.

The resolution advantage of the Nikon D3S implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D3S for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 21.3 x 14.2 inch or 54.1 x 36 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 17 x 11.3 inch or 43.2 x 28.8 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 14.2 x 9.4 inch or 36 x 24 cm. The corresponding values for the Contax N Digital are 15.2 x 10 inch or 38.6 x 25.5 cm for good quality, 12.2 x 8 inch or 30.9 x 20.4 cm for very good quality, and 10.1 x 6.7 inch or 25.7 x 17 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Contax N Digital has a native sensitivity range from ISO 50 to ISO 1600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D3S are ISO 200 to ISO 12800, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 100-102400.

N Digital versus D3S MP

Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. 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.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera
Model
Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Camera
Model
 
Contax N Digital Full Frame 6.1 3040 2008none........Contax N Digital
 
Nikon D3S Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832720/24p23.512.0325382Nikon D3S
 
Canon 10D APS-C 6.3 3072 2048none21.110.957157Canon 10D
 
Canon Rebel APS-C 6.3 3072 2048none21.010.854455Canon Rebel
 
Canon 1Ds Full Frame 11.0 4064 2704none21.811.095463Canon 1Ds
 
Canon D60 APS-C 6.3 3072 2048none........Canon D60
 
Leica M10-P Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none........Leica M10-P
 
Leica M10 Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none24.413.2213386Leica M10
 
Leica SL Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.013.4182188Leica SL
 
Leica M9 Full Frame 18.1 5212 3472none22.511.788469Leica M9
 
Nikon D5 Full Frame 20.7 5588 37124K/30p25.112.3234388Nikon D5
 
Nikon D4 Full Frame 16.2 4928 32801080/30p24.713.1296589Nikon D4
 
Nikon D3X Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none24.713.7199288Nikon D3X
 
Nikon D700 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.2230380Nikon D700
 
Nikon D3 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.2229081Nikon D3
 
Nikon D100 APS-C 6.0 3008 2000none........Nikon D100
 
Nikon D1X APS-C 5.9 3008 1960none........Nikon D1X

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The D3S indeed provides for movie recording, while the N Digital does not. The highest resolution format that the D3S can use is 720/24p.

 

Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The N Digital and the D3S are similar in the sense that both have an optical viewfinder. The latter is useful for getting a clear image for framing even in brightly lit environments. The viewfinder in the D3S offers a wider field of view (100%) than the one in the N Digital (95%), so that a larger proportion of the captured image is visible in the finder. On the other hand, the viewfinder of the N Digital has a higher magnification (0.73x vs 0.70x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The following table reports on some other key feature differences and similarities of the Contax N Digital, the Nikon D3S, and comparable cameras.

Core Features
  Camera
Model
Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Mech
Shutter
Speed
Shutter
Flaps
(1/sec)
Built-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Built-in
Image
Stab
Camera
Model
 
Contax N Digitaloptical Y 2.0 200 fixed n 1/8000s 4.0 n n Contax N Digital
 
Nikon D3Soptical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n Nikon D3S
 
Canon 10Doptical Y 1.8 118 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n Canon 10D
 
Canon Rebeloptical n 1.8 118 fixed n 1/4000s 2.5 Y n Canon Rebel
 
Canon 1Dsoptical Y 2.0 120 fixed n 1/8000s 3.0 n n Canon 1Ds
 
Canon D60optical Y 1.8 114 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n Canon D60
 
Leica M10-Poptical n 3.0 1037 fixed Y 1/4000s 5.0 n n Leica M10-P
 
Leica M10optical n 3.0 1037 fixed n 1/4000s 5.0 n n Leica M10
 
Leica SL4400 Y 3.0 1040 fixed Y 1/8000s 11.0 n n Leica SL
 
Leica M9optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 2.0 n n Leica M9
 
Nikon D5optical Y 3.2 2359 fixed Y 1/8000s 14.0 n n Nikon D5
 
Nikon D4optical Y 3.2 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n Nikon D4
 
Nikon D3Xoptical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n n Nikon D3X
 
Nikon D700optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 8.0 Y n Nikon D700
 
Nikon D3optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n Nikon D3
 
Nikon D100optical Y 1.8 118 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n Nikon D100
 
Nikon D1Xoptical Y 2.0 120 fixed n 1/16000s 3.0 n n Nikon D1X

The Nikon D3S has an intervalometer built-in. This enables the photographer to capture time lapse sequences, such as flower blooming, a sunset or moon rise, without purchasing an external camera trigger and related software.

Concerning the storage of imaging data, both the N Digital and the D3S write their files to Compact Flash cards. The D3S features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the N Digital only has one slot.

 

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 Contax N Digital and Nikon D3S and, in particular, the interfaces the cameras (and selected comparators) provide for accessory control and data transfer.

Input-Output Connections
  Camera
Model
Hotshoe
Port
Internal
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
Camera
Model
 
Contax N DigitalYnonenone--noneFW---Contax N Digital
 
Nikon D3SYstereonone--mini2.0---Nikon D3S
 
Canon 10DYnonenone--none1.1---Canon 10D
 
Canon RebelYnonenone--none1.1---Canon Rebel
 
Canon 1DsYnonenone--noneFW---Canon 1Ds
 
Canon D60Ynonenone--none1.1---Canon D60
 
Leica M10-PYnonenone--nonenoneY--Leica M10-P
 
Leica M10Ynonenone--nonenoneY--Leica M10
 
Leica SLYstereomonoYYfull3.0Y--Leica SL
 
Leica M9Ynonenone--none2.0---Leica M9
 
Nikon D5YstereomonoYYmini3.0---Nikon D5
 
Nikon D4YmonomonoYYmicro2.0---Nikon D4
 
Nikon D3XYnonenone--mini2.0---Nikon D3X
 
Nikon D700Ynonenone--mini2.0---Nikon D700
 
Nikon D3Ynonenone--mini2.0---Nikon D3
 
Nikon D100Ynonenone--none1.1---Nikon D100
 
Nikon D1XYnonenone--noneFW---Nikon D1X

Both cameras feature a PC Sync terminal to control professional strobe lights, which will be appreciated by studio photographers.

Both the N Digital and the D3S have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D3S was replaced by the Nikon D4, while the N Digital does not have a direct successor. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Contax and Nikon websites.

Review summary

So how do things add up? Which of the two cameras – the Contax N Digital or the Nikon D3S – has the upper hand? Is one clearly better than the other? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.

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Arguments in favor of the Contax N Digital:

  • Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.73x vs 0.70x).
  • More compact: Is smaller (152x138mm vs 160x157mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 250g or 20 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in February 2002).

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Reasons to prefer the Nikon D3S:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (12.1 vs 6.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 40%.
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 720/24p video.
  • More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (100% vs 95%).
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.0" vs 2.0") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (921k vs 200k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (11 vs 4 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
  • Longer lasting: Gets more shots (4200 versus 100) out of a single battery charge.
  • Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
  • Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (30 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 7 years and 7 months of technical progress since the N Digital launch.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D3S is the clear winner of the contest (12 : 4 points). However, the relevance of individual strengths will vary across photographers, so that you might want to apply your own weighing scheme to the summary points when reflecting and deciding 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.

N Digital 04:12 D3S

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Contax N Digital and the Nikon D3S place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera listing whether the two cameras rank among the cream of the crop.

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras can be instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains partial and cannot reveal, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance when actually working with the N Digital or the D3S. User reviews that are available, for instance, at amazon can sometimes shed light on these issues, but such feedback is all too often partial, inconsistent, and inaccurate.

Expert reviews

This is where reviews by experts come in. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, and photographyblog). 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.

Review Scores
  Camera
Model
cam
era
  labs  
dp
re
  view  
e
photo
  zine  
ima
ging
resource
photo
graphy
  blog  
Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Camera
Model
 
Contax N Digital.......... Feb 2002 7,399iContax N Digital
 
Nikon D3S..89/1004.5/55/55/5 Oct 2009 5,199iNikon D3S
 
Canon 10D..+ +..o.. Feb 2003 1,999iCanon 10D
 
Canon Rebel..+ +..o.. Aug 2003 899iCanon Rebel
 
Canon 1Ds..+ +...... Sep 2002 8,999iCanon 1Ds
 
Canon D60..+ +o.... Feb 2002 2,999iCanon D60
 
Leica M10-P........4/5 Aug 2018 7,995 iLeica M10-P
 
Leica M10....4/5..4.5/5 Jan 2017 6,595 iLeica M10
 
Leica SL..84/1004.5/54/54/5 Oct 2015 7,450iLeica SL
 
Leica M9....4.5/54.5/5.. Sep 2009 7,999iLeica M9
 
Nikon D5..89/1004.5/55/55/5 Jan 2016 6,499iNikon D5
 
Nikon D4....4.5/5..4.5/5 Jan 2012 5,999iNikon D4
 
Nikon D3X..86/1004/55/55/5 Dec 2008 7,999iNikon D3X
 
Nikon D70089/100+ +4.5/55/54.5/5 Jul 2008 2,999iNikon D700
 
Nikon D3..+ +5/5o4.5/5 Aug 2007 4,999iNikon D3
 
Nikon D100..+ +oo.. Feb 2002 1,999iNikon D100
 
Nikon D1X..+ +..o.. Feb 2001 5,999iNikon D1X
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 comparing ratings of very distinct cameras or ones that are far apart in terms of their release date have little meaning. Also, kindly note that some of the listed sites have over time developped their review approaches and their reporting style.

Contax N Digital:
Check Ebay offers
Nikon D3S:
Check Ebay offers

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you are interested in seeing how other cameras pair up, just make your choice using the following search menu. As an alternative, you can also directly jump to any one of the listed comparisons that were previously generated by the CAM-parator tool.

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    Specifications: Contax N Digital vs Nikon D3S

    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 Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    Camera Type Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Contax N mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
    Launch Date February 2002 October 2009
    Launch Price USD 7399 USD 5199
    Sensor Specs Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    Sensor Technology CCD CMOS
    Sensor Format Full Frame Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 36.0 x 24.0 mm 36.0 x 23.9 mm
    Sensor Area 864 mm2 860.4 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 43.3 mm 43.2 mm
    Crop Factor 1.0x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 6.1 Megapixels 12.1 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 3040 x 2008 pixels 4256 x 2832 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 11.90 μm 8.43 μm
    Pixel Density 0.71 MP/cm2 1.40 MP/cm2
    Moiré control Anti-Alias filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability no Video 720/24p Video
    ISO Setting 50-1600 ISO 200-12800 ISO
    ISO Boost no Enhancement 100-102400 ISO
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) .. 82
    DXO Color Depth (bits) .. 23.5
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) .. 12.0
    DXO Low Light (ISO) .. 3253
    Screen Specs Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 95% 100%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.73x 0.70x
    Top-Level Screen Control Panel Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View
    Rear LCD Size 2.0 inch 3.0 inch
    LCD Resolution 200k dots 921k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    Focus System Phase-detect AF Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 4 shutter flaps/s 11 shutter flaps/s
    Time-Lapse Photographyno IntervalometerIntervalometer built-in
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium CF cards CF cards
    Second Storage Option Single card slot Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash PC Sync socket PC Sync socket
    USB Connector Firewire USB 2.0
    HDMI Port no HDMI mini HDMI
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Contax N Digital Nikon D3S
    Environmental SealingNot weather sealedWeathersealed body
    Battery Type 4xAA EN-EL4a
    Battery Life (CIPA)100 shots per charge4200 shots per charge
    Body Dimensions 152 x 138 x 80 mm
    (6.0 x 5.4 x 3.1 in)
    160 x 157 x 88 mm
    (6.3 x 6.2 x 3.5 in)
    Camera Weight 990 g (34.9 oz) 1240 g (43.7 oz)

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