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Leica M9 vs Sony A850

The Leica M9 and the Sony Alpha A850 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in September 2009 and August 2009. The M9 is a rangefinder-focusing mirrorless camera, while the A850 is a DSLR. Both cameras are equipped with a full frame sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 18.1 megapixels, whereas the Sony provides 24.4 MP.

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

Headline Specifications
Leica M9
versus
Sony A850
Leica M9   Sony A850
Rangefinder camera Digital single lens reflex
Leica M mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
18.1 MP – Full Frame sensor 24.4 MP – Full Frame sensor
no Video no Video
ISO 80-2,500 ISO 200-3,200 (100 - 6,400)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
2.5" LCD – 230k dots 2.5" LCD – 922k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
2 shutter flaps per second 3 shutter flaps per second
no shake reductionIn-body stabilization
not weather sealedWeathersealed body
139 x 80 x 37 mm, 585 g 156 x 117 x 82 mm, 895 g
Leica M9:
Check Ebay offers
Sony A850:
Check Ebay offers

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica M9 and the Sony Alpha A850? 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 Leica M9 and the Sony A850 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.

The M9 can be obtained in two different colors (black, silver), while the A850 is only available in black.

Size Leica M9 vs Sony A850
Compare M9 versus A850 top
Comparison M9 or A850 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Sony A850 is considerably larger (64 percent) than the Leica M9. Moreover, the A850 is substantially heavier (53 percent) than the M9. It is noteworthy in this context that the A850 is splash and dust-proof, while the M9 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.

The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. 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.
 
Leica M9 139 mm 80 mm 37 mm 585 g .. n Sep 2009 7,999i
2.
 
Sony A850 156 mm 117 mm 82 mm 895 g 880 Y Aug 2009 1,999i
3.
 
Canon T5i 133 mm 100 mm 79 mm 580 g 440 n Mar 2013 649i
4.
 
Canon T2i 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 530 g 440 n Feb 2010 699i
5.
 
Canon T1i 129 mm 98 mm 62 mm 520 g 400 n Mar 2009 799i
6.
 
Leica M10-R 139 mm 80 mm 39 mm 660 g 210 Y Jul 2020 8,295 i
7.
 
Leica M10-P 139 mm 80 mm 39 mm 660 g 210 Y Aug 2018 7,995 i
8.
 
Leica M10 139 mm 80 mm 39 mm 660 g 210 Y Jan 2017 6,595 i
9.
 
Leica X Typ 113 133 mm 73 mm 78 mm 486 g 350 n Sep 2014 2,295i
10.
 
Leica X Vario 133 mm 73 mm 95 mm 680 g 450 n Jun 2013 2,850i
11.
 
Leica M Typ 240 139 mm 80 mm 42 mm 680 g .. Y Sep 2012 6,950i
12.
 
Leica M8 139 mm 80 mm 37 mm 591 g .. n Sep 2006 5,499i
13.
 
Nikon D750 141 mm 113 mm 78 mm 750 g 1230 Y Sep 2014 2,299i
14.
 
Sony A7C 124 mm 71 mm 60 mm 509 g 740 Y Sep 2020 1,799 i
15.
 
Sony A7 III 127 mm 96 mm 74 mm 650 g 610 Y Feb 2018 1,999 i
16.
 
Sony A99 147 mm 111 mm 78 mm 812 g 500 Y Sep 2012 2,799i
17.
 
Sony A900 156 mm 117 mm 82 mm 895 g 880 Y Sep 2008 2,999i
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 A850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 75 percent) than the M9, 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.

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 tend to be more expensive and 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.

Leica M9 and Sony A850 sensor measures

Despite having a slightly smaller sensor, the A850 offers a higher resolution of 24.4 megapixels, compared with 18.1 MP of the M9. 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 5.94μm versus 6.91μm for the M9). It is noteworthy in this context that the two cameras were released in close succession, so that their sensors are from the same technological generation. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that the M9 has no anti-alias filter installed, so that it can capture all the detail its sensor resolves.

The resolution advantage of the Sony A850 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the A850 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 30.2 x 20.2 inches or 76.8 x 51.2 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 24.2 x 16.1 inches or 61.4 x 41 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 20.2 x 13.4 inches or 51.2 x 34.1 cm. The corresponding values for the Leica M9 are 26.1 x 17.4 inches or 66.2 x 44.1 cm for good quality, 20.8 x 13.9 inches or 53 x 35.3 cm for very good quality, and 17.4 x 11.6 inches or 44.1 x 29.4 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Leica M9 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 80 to ISO 2500. The corresponding ISO settings for the Sony Alpha A850 are ISO 200 to ISO 3200, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 100-6400.

M9 versus A850 MP

Consistent information on actual sensor performance is available from DXO Mark for many cameras. This service assesses and scores the color depth ("DXO Portrait"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports") of camera sensors, and also publishes an overall camera score. Of the two cameras under consideration, the A850 has a markedly higher DXO score than the M9 (overall score 10 points higher), which will translate into better image quality. The advantage is based on 1.3 bits higher color depth, 0.5 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.7 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The following table provides an overview of the physical sensor characteristics, as well as the sensor quality measurements for a selection of comparators.

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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.
 
Leica M9 Full Frame 18.1 5212 3472none22.511.788469
2.
 
Sony A850 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.812.2141579
3.
 
Canon T5i APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p21.711.268161
4.
 
Canon T2i APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.111.578466
5.
 
Canon T1i APS-C 15.1 4752 31681080/20p21.711.566363
6.
 
Leica M10-R Full Frame 40.9 7864 5200none25.314.3292495
7.
 
Leica M10-P Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none25.114.1273993
8.
 
Leica M10 Full Frame 23.8 5952 3992none24.413.2213386
9.
 
Leica X Typ 113 APS-C 16.1 4928 32641080/30p23.612.8149178
10.
 
Leica X Vario APS-C 16.1 4928 32721080/30p23.412.7132078
11.
 
Leica M Typ 240 Full Frame 23.7 5952 39761080/25p24.013.3186084
12.
 
Leica M8 APS-H 10.4 3936 2630none21.111.366359
13.
 
Nikon D750 Full Frame 24.2 6016 40161080/60p24.814.5295693
14.
 
Sony A7C Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.014.7340795
15.
 
Sony A7 III Full Frame 24.0 6000 40004K/30p25.014.7373096
16.
 
Sony A99 Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p25.014.0155589
17.
 
Sony A900 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.712.3143179
Note: DXO values in italics represent estimates based on sensor size and age.
Neither the M9 nor the A850 offer Live View, so that they cannot project the live image that the sensor receives onto the rear screen. Moreover, both cameras are still-image focused and cannot record videos.

Feature comparison

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The M9 and the A850 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 M9 offers a wider field of view (100%) than the one in the A850 (98%), so that a larger proportion of the captured image is visible in the finder. On the other hand, the viewfinder of the A850 has a higher magnification (0.74x vs 0.68x), 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 Leica M9, the Sony A850, and comparable cameras.

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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.
 
Leica M9optical n2.5 / 230 fixed n 1/4000s 2.0/s n n
2.
 
Sony A850optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/8000s 3.0/s n Y
3.
 
Canon T5ioptical n3.0 / 1040 swivel Y 1/4000s 5.0/s Y n
4.
 
Canon T2ioptical n3.0 / 1040 fixed n 1/4000s 3.7/s Y n
5.
 
Canon T1ioptical n3.0 / 920 fixed n 1/4000s 3.4/s Y n
6.
 
Leica M10-Roptical n3.0 / 1037 fixed Y 1/4000s 4.5/s n n
7.
 
Leica M10-Poptical n3.0 / 1037 fixed Y 1/4000s 5.0/s n n
8.
 
Leica M10optical n3.0 / 1037 fixed n 1/4000s 5.0/s n n
9.
 
Leica X Typ 113optional n3.0 / 920 fixed n 1/2000s 5.0/s Y n
10.
 
Leica X Variooptional n3.0 / 920 fixed n 1/2000s 5.0/s Y n
11.
 
Leica M Typ 240optical n3.0 / 920 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0/s n n
12.
 
Leica M8optical n2.5 / 230 fixed n 1/8000s 2.0/s n n
13.
 
Nikon D750optical Y3.2 / 1229 tilting n 1/4000s 6.0/s Y n
14.
 
Sony A7C2360 n3.0 / 922 swivel Y 1/4000s 10.0/s n Y
15.
 
Sony A7 III2359 n3.0 / 922 tilting Y 1/8000s 10.0/s n Y
16.
 
Sony A992359 Y3.0 / 1229 full-flex n 1/8000s 6.0/s n Y
17.
 
Sony A900optical Y3.0 / 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0/s n Y
Notes: *) Information refers to the mechanical shutter, unless the camera only has an electronic one.

One feature that is present on the A850, but is missing on the M9 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 M9 writes its imaging data to SDXC cards, while the A850 uses Compact Flash or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. The A850 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the M9 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 Leica M9 and Sony Alpha A850 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.
 
Leica M9Y- / ----2.0---
2.
 
Sony A850Y- / ---mini2.0---
3.
 
Canon T5iYstereo / monoY-mini2.0---
4.
 
Canon T2iYstereo / -Y-mini2.0---
5.
 
Canon T1iYmono / mono--mini2.0---
6.
 
Leica M10-RY- / -----Y--
7.
 
Leica M10-PY- / -----Y--
8.
 
Leica M10Y- / -----Y--
9.
 
Leica X Typ 113Ystereo / mono--mini2.0---
10.
 
Leica X VarioYstereo / mono--mini2.0---
11.
 
Leica M Typ 240Ystereo / mono---2.0---
12.
 
Leica M8Y- / ----2.0---
13.
 
Nikon D750Ystereo / monoYYmini2.0Y--
14.
 
Sony A7CYstereo / monoYYmicro3.2YYY
15.
 
Sony A7 IIIYstereo / monoYYmicro3.1YYY
16.
 
Sony A99Ystereo / monoYYmini2.0---
17.
 
Sony A900Y- / ---mini2.0---

Studio photographers will appreciate that the Sony A850 (unlike the M9) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.

Both the M9 and the A850 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The M9 was replaced by the Leica M Typ 240, while the A850 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 Leica and Sony websites.

Review summary

So what is the bottom line? Is the Leica M9 better than the Sony A850 or vice versa? A synthesis of the relative strong points of each of the models is listed below.

ilogo

Arguments in favor of the Leica M9:

  • Maximized detail: Lacks an anti-alias filter to exploit the sensor's full resolution potential.
  • More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (100% vs 98%).
  • More compact: Is smaller (139x80mm vs 156x117mm) and thus needs less room in the bag.
  • Less heavy: Is lighter (by 310g or 35 percent) and hence easier to carry around.
  • More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.

ilogo

Reasons to prefer the Sony Alpha A850:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (24.4 vs 18.1MP), which boosts linear resolution by 16%.
  • Better moiré control: Has an anti-alias filter to avoid artificial patterns to appear in images.
  • Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (10 points) in the DXO overall evaluation.
  • Richer colors: Generates noticeably more natural colors (1.3 bits more color depth).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Can shoot in dim conditions (0.7 stops ISO advantage).
  • Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.74x vs 0.68x).
  • Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
  • Larger screen: Has a bigger rear LCD (3.0" vs 2.5") for image review and settings control.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (922k vs 230k dots).
  • Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/8000s vs 1/4000s) to freeze action.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3 vs 2 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
  • Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
  • Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
  • 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 (75 percent cheaper at launch).

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the A850 is the clear winner of the contest (16 : 5 points). However, the pertinence of the various camera strengths will differ across photographers, so that you might want to weigh individual camera traits according to their importance for your own imaging needs before making a camera decision. A professional wildlife photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a family photog, and a person interested in architecture has distinct needs from a sports shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.

M9 05:16 A850

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 M9 and the A850 in practical situations. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased.

Expert reviews

This is why hands-on reviews by experts are important. The following table reports the overall ratings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera 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.
 
Leica M9........4.5/5.. Sep 2009 7,999i
2.
 
Sony A8503/5....75/100..4.5/5 Aug 2009 1,999i
3.
 
Canon T5i......76/1004.5/54.5/5 Mar 2013 649i
4.
 
Canon T2i..+ +..77/1004/54.5/5 Feb 2010 699i
5.
 
Canon T1i..+ +..74/1004.5/54.5/5 Mar 2009 799i
6.
 
Leica M10-R4.5/5..4/5....4/5 Jul 2020 8,295 i
7.
 
Leica M10-P....3/5....4/5 Aug 2018 7,995 i
8.
 
Leica M104.5/5......4/54.5/5 Jan 2017 6,595 i
9.
 
Leica X Typ 1133.5/5......3.5/54/5 Sep 2014 2,295i
10.
 
Leica X Vario3/5......4/54/5 Jun 2013 2,850i
11.
 
Leica M Typ 2404/5......4/5.. Sep 2012 6,950i
12.
 
Leica M8......+ +.... Sep 2006 5,499i
13.
 
Nikon D7505/5+ +4/590/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2014 2,299i
14.
 
Sony A7C3.5/5..3.5/586/1004/54/5 Sep 2020 1,799 i
15.
 
Sony A7 III..+ +4.5/589/1005/55/5 Feb 2018 1,999 i
16.
 
Sony A995/5....84/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2012 2,799i
17.
 
Sony A900..+ +..+ +4.5/55/5 Sep 2008 2,999i
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.

Leica M9:
Check Ebay offers
Sony A850:
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. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.

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    Specifications: Leica M9 vs Sony A850

    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 Leica M9 Sony A850
    Camera Type Rangefinder camera Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Leica M mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
    Launch Date September 2009 August 2009
    Launch Price USD 7,999 USD 1,999
    Sensor Specs Leica M9 Sony A850
    Sensor Technology CCD CMOS
    Sensor Format Full Frame Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 36.0 x 24.0 mm 35.9 x 24.0 mm
    Sensor Area 864 mm2 861.6 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 43.3 mm 43.2 mm
    Crop Factor 1.0x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 18.1 Megapixels 24.4 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 5212 x 3472 pixels 6048 x 4032 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 6.91 μm 5.94 μm
    Pixel Density 2.09 MP/cm2 2.83 MP/cm2
    Moiré control no AA filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability no Video no Video
    ISO Setting 80 - 2,500 ISO 200 - 3,200 ISO
    ISO Boost no Enhancement 100 - 6,400 ISO
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) 69 79
    DXO Color Depth (bits) 22.5 23.8
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) 11.7 12.2
    DXO Low Light (ISO) 884 1415
    Screen Specs Leica M9 Sony A850
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 98%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.68x 0.74x
    Top-Level Screen no Top Display Control Panel
    Rear LCD Size 2.5inch 3.0inch
    LCD Resolution 230k dots 922k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Leica M9 Sony A850
    Focus System Manual Focus Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 2 shutter flaps/s 3 shutter flaps/s
    Image Stabilizationno shake reductionIn-body stabilization
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium SDXC cards CF or MS cards
    Second Storage Option Single card slot Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Leica M9 Sony A850
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash no PC Sync PC Sync socket
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 2.0
    HDMI Port no HDMI mini HDMI
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Leica M9 Sony A850
    Environmental Sealingnot weather sealedWeathersealed body
    Battery Type BLI-312 NP-FM500H
    Body Dimensions 139 x 80 x 37 mm
    (5.5 x 3.1 x 1.5 in)
    156 x 117 x 82 mm
    (6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2 in)
    Camera Weight 585 g (20.6 oz) 895 g (31.6 oz)
    Leica M9:
    Check Ebay offers
    Sony A850:
    Check Ebay offers

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