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Leica S1 vs Nikon D850

The Leica S1 Pro and the Nikon D850 are two professional cameras that were revealed to the public, respectively, in August 1996 and July 2017. The S1 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, while the D850 is a DSLR. The cameras are based on a medium format (S1) and a full frame (D850) sensor. The Leica has a resolution of 26.4 megapixels, whereas the Nikon provides 45.4 MP.

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

Headline Specifications
Leica S1 versus Nikon D850
Leica S1 Nikon D850
Mirrorless system camera Digital single lens reflex
Leica R mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
26.4 MP, Medium Format Sensor 45.4 MP, Full Frame Sensor
no Video 4K/30p Video
ISO 50-1,600 ISO 64-25,600 (32 - 102,400)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
no LCD 3.2 LCD, 2359k dots
no rear screen Tilting touchscreen
0.01 shutter flaps per second 9 shutter flaps per second
not weather sealedWeathersealed body
339 x 214 x 119 mm, 2500 g 146 x 124 x 79 mm, 1005 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Leica S1 Pro and the Nikon D850? 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 physical size and weight of the Leica S1 and the Nikon D850 are illustrated in the side-by-side display below. The two cameras are presented according to their relative size. Three consecutive perspectives from the front, the top, and the back are available. All width, height and depth dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Leica S1 vs Nikon D850
Compare S1 versus D850 top
Comparison S1 or D850 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Nikon D850 is considerably smaller (75 percent) than the Leica S1. Moreover, the D850 is substantially lighter (60 percent) than the S1. It is noteworthy in this context that the D850 is splash and dust-proof, while the S1 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. A larger imaging sensor will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, although exceptions exist. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Leica R Lens Catalog (S1) and the Nikon Lens Catalog (D850). Mirrorless cameras, such as the Leica S1, have moreover the advantage that they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance and can thus use many lenses from other systems via adapters.

The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, you can move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons there.

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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
 
Leica S1 13.3 in 8.4 in 4.7 in 88.2 oz .. n Aug 1996 21,490i
 
Nikon D850 5.7 in 4.9 in 3.1 in 35.5 oz 1840 Y Jul 2017 3,299 i
 
Canon RP 5.2 in 3.3 in 2.8 in 17.1 oz 250 n Feb 2019 1,299 i
 
Canon SL3 4.8 in 3.7 in 2.8 in 15.8 oz 1070 n Apr 2019 599 i
 
Canon 5DS 6.0 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 32.8 oz 700 Y Feb 2015 3,699 i
 
Canon 5DS R 6.0 in 4.6 in 3.0 in 32.8 oz 700 Y Feb 2015 3,699 i
 
Fujifilm X-T30 4.6 in 3.3 in 1.9 in 13.5 oz 380 n Feb 2019 899 i
 
Leica M-E Typ 240 5.5 in 3.1 in 1.7 in 24.0 oz .. Y Jun 2019 3,999 i
 
Leica CL 5.2 in 3.1 in 1.8 in 14.2 oz 220 n Nov 2017 2,795 i
 
Leica TL2 5.3 in 2.7 in 1.3 in 14.1 oz 250 n Jul 2017 1,950 i
 
Leica Q Typ 116 5.1 in 3.1 in 3.7 in 22.6 oz 300 n Jun 2015 4,249i
 
Leica S2 6.3 in 4.7 in 3.1 in 49.7 oz .. Y Sep 2008 22,995i
 
Nikon D5 6.3 in 6.3 in 3.6 in 49.9 oz 3780 Y Jan 2016 6,499i
 
Nikon D810 5.7 in 4.8 in 3.2 in 34.6 oz 1200 Y Jun 2014 3,299i
 
Nikon D610 5.6 in 4.4 in 3.2 in 30.0 oz 900 Y Oct 2013 1,999 i
 
Sony A6400 4.7 in 2.6 in 2.0 in 14.2 oz 410 n Jan 2019 899 i
 
Sony A6100 4.7 in 2.6 in 2.3 in 14.0 oz 420 n Aug 2019 749 i
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or 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 D850 was launched at a markedly lower price (by 85 percent) than the S1, 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.

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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 Leica S1 features a medium format sensor and the Nikon D850 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the D850 is 34 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 0.85 and 1.0. The sensor in the S1 has a native 1:1 aspect ratio, while the one in the D850 offers a 3:2 aspect.

Leica S1 and Nikon D850 sensor measures

Despite having a smaller sensor, the D850 offers a higher resolution of 45.4 megapixels, compared with 26.4 MP of the S1. 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 4.35μm versus 7.01μm for the S1). However, it should be noted that the D850 is much more recent (by 20 years and 10 months) than the S1, and its sensor will have benefitted from technological advances during this time that make it possible to gather light more efficiently. Coming back to sensor resolution, it should be mentioned that neither of the two cameras has an anti-alias filter installed, so they are able to capture all the detail the sensor resolves.

The resolution advantage of the Nikon D850 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the D850 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 41.3 x 27.5 inches or 104.9 x 69.9 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 33 x 22 inches or 83.9 x 55.9 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 27.5 x 18.3 inches or 69.9 x 46.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Leica S1 are 25.7 x 25.7 inches or 65.3 x 65.3 cm for good quality, 20.6 x 20.6 inches or 52.2 x 52.2 cm for very good quality, and 17.1 x 17.1 inches or 43.5 x 43.5 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Leica S1 Pro has a native sensitivity range from ISO 50 to ISO 1600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Nikon D850 are ISO 64 to ISO 25600, with the possibility to increase the ISO range to 32-102400.

S1 versus D850 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
 
Leica S1 Medium Format 26.4 5140 5140none........
 
Nikon D850 Full Frame 45.4 8256 55044K/30p26.414.82660100
 
Canon RP Full Frame 26.2 6240 41604K/30p........
 
Canon SL3 APS-C 24.0 6000 40004K/25p........
 
Canon 5DS Full Frame 50.3 8688 57921080/30p24.712.4238187
 
Canon 5DS R Full Frame 50.3 8688 57921080/30p24.612.4230886
 
Fujifilm X-T30 APS-C 26.0 6240 41604K/30p........
 
Leica M-E Typ 240 Full Frame 23.7 5952 39761080/25p........
 
Leica CL APS-C 24.1 6014 40144K/30p........
 
Leica TL2 APS-C 24.1 6014 40144K/30p........
 
Leica Q Typ 116 Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.312.7222185
 
Leica S2 Medium Format 37.5 7500 5000none........
 
Nikon D5 Full Frame 20.7 5588 37124K/30p25.112.3234388
 
Nikon D810 Full Frame 36.2 7360 49121080/60p25.714.8285397
 
Nikon D610 Full Frame 24.2 6016 40161080/30p25.114.4292594
 
Sony A6400 APS-C 24.0 6000 40004K/30p2413.6143183
 
Sony A6100 APS-C 24.0 6000 40004K/30p........

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The D850 indeed provides for movie recording, while the S1 does not. The highest resolution format that the D850 can use is 4K/30p.

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Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. The S1 and the D850 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 adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Leica S1 and Nikon D850 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
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
 
Leica S1optical n none none none n .. 0.01 n n
 
Nikon D850optical Y 3.2 2359 tilting Y 1/8000s 9.0 n n
 
Canon RP2360 n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 1/4000s 5.0 n n
 
Canon SL3optical n 3.0 1040 swivel Y 1/4000s 5.0 Y n
 
Canon 5DSoptical Y 3.2 1040 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n n
 
Canon 5DS Roptical Y 3.2 1040 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n n
 
Fujifilm X-T302360 n 3.0 1040 tilting Y 1/4000s 8.0 Y n
 
Leica M-E Typ 240optical n 3.0 920 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 n n
 
Leica CL2360 Y 3.0 1040 fixed Y 1/8000s 10.0 n n
 
Leica TL2optional n 3.7 1230 fixed Y 1/4000s 7.0 n n
 
Leica Q Typ 1163680 n 3.0 1040 fixed Y 1/2000s 10.0 n Y
 
Leica S2optical Y 3.0 460 fixed n 1/4000s 1.5 n n
 
Nikon D5optical Y 3.2 2359 fixed Y 1/8000s 14.0 n n
 
Nikon D810optical Y 3.2 1229 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 Y n
 
Nikon D610optical Y 3.2 921 fixed n 1/4000s 6.0 Y n
 
Sony A64002359 n 3.0 922 tilting Y 1/4000s 11.0 Y n
 
Sony A61001440 n 3.0 922 tilting Y 1/4000s 11.0 Y n

One feature that is present on the D850, but is missing on the S1 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 Nikon D850 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.

The S1 writes its imaging data to external storage, while the D850 uses SDHC or XQD cards.

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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 S1 Pro and Nikon D850 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
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
 
Leica S1----------
 
Nikon D850YstereomonoYYmini3.0YYY
 
Canon RPYstereomonoYYmicro2.0Y-Y
 
Canon SL3YstereomonoY-mini2.0Y-Y
 
Canon 5DSYmonomonoY-mini3.0---
 
Canon 5DS RYmonomonoY-mini3.0---
 
Fujifilm X-T30YstereomonoY-micro3.1Y-Y
 
Leica M-E Typ 240Ymono----2.0---
 
Leica CLYstereomono----Y--
 
Leica TL2Ystereomono--micro3.0Y--
 
Leica Q Typ 116Ystereomono--micro2.0YY-
 
Leica S2Y----mini2.0---
 
Nikon D5YstereomonoYYmini3.0---
 
Nikon D810YstereomonoYYmini3.0Y--
 
Nikon D610YmonomonoYYmini2.0---
 
Sony A6400YstereomonoY-micro2.0YYY
 
Sony A6100YstereomonoY-micro2.0YYY

It is notable that the D850 offers wifi support, which can be a very convenient means to transfer image data to an off-camera location. In contrast, the S1 does not provide wifi capability.

Studio photographers will appreciate that the Nikon D850 (unlike the S1) features a PC Sync socket, so that professional strobe lights can be controlled by the camera.

The D850 is a recent model that features in the current product line-up of Nikon. In contrast, the S1 has been discontinued (but can be found pre-owned on eBay). As a replacement in the same line of cameras, the S1 was succeeded by the Leica S2. Further information on the two cameras (e.g. user guides, manuals), as well as related accessories, can be found on the official Leica and Nikon websites.

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Review summary

So how do things add up? Is there a clear favorite between the Leica S1 and the Nikon D850? Which camera is better? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.

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Arguments in favor of the Leica S1 Pro:

  • More legacy lens friendly: Can take a broad range of non-native lenses via adapters.
  • More prestigious: Has the Leica luxury appeal, which ensures a high resale price.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been available for much longer (launched in August 1996).

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Advantages of the Nikon D850:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (45.4 vs 26.4MP), which boosts linear resolution by 36%.
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 4K/30p video.
  • Easier setting verification: Features a control panel on top to check shooting parameters.
  • Rear screen: Has a backside LCD (3.2") for image review and settings control.
  • Fewer buttons to press: Has a touchscreen to facilitate handling and shooting adjustments.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (9 vs 0.01 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
  • More compact: Is smaller (146x124mm vs 339x214mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 1495g or 60 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • Better sealing: Is splash and dust sealed for shooting in inclement weather conditions.
  • Better lighting: Features a hotshoe and can thus hold and trigger an external flash gun.
  • Easier file upload: Has wifi built in for automatic backup or image transfer to the web.
  • Easier device pairing: Supports NFC for fast wireless image transfer over short distances.
  • Easier wireless transfer: Supports Bluetooth for image sharing without cables.
  • Better studio light control: Has a PC Sync socket to connect to professional strobe lights.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced category (85 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More modern: Reflects 20 years and 10 months of technical progress since the S1 launch.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D850 is the clear winner of the contest (17 : 3 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 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.

S1 03:17 D850

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Leica S1 and the Nikon D850 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera and Best DSLR Camera listings 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 incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the S1 or the D850 perform in practice. 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 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 (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.

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Review Scores
  Camera
Model
camera
  labs  
dp
review  
ephoto
  zine  
imaging
resource
photography
  blog  
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
 
Leica S1.......... Aug 1996 21,490i
 
Nikon D850+ +89/1004.5/55/55/5 Jul 2017 3,299 i
 
Canon RP+..4.5/54.5/54/5 Feb 2019 1,299 i
 
Canon SL3o79/1004/5..4/5 Apr 2019 599 i
 
Canon 5DS+83/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2015 3,699 i
 
Canon 5DS R+83/1005/55/54.5/5 Feb 2015 3,699 i
 
Fujifilm X-T30+ +84/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2019 899 i
 
Leica M-E Typ 240.......... Jun 2019 3,999 i
 
Leica CL........4/5 Nov 2017 2,795 i
 
Leica TL2....4/5..4/5 Jul 2017 1,950 i
 
Leica Q Typ 116..80/1004.5/5..4.5/5 Jun 2015 4,249i
 
Leica S2.......... Sep 2008 22,995i
 
Nikon D5..89/1004.5/55/55/5 Jan 2016 6,499i
 
Nikon D810..86/1005/54.5/54.5/5 Jun 2014 3,299i
 
Nikon D610+ +87/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Oct 2013 1,999 i
 
Sony A6400+85/1004.5/5..4/5 Jan 2019 899 i
 
Sony A6100..82/1004/5..5/5 Aug 2019 749 i
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

Care should be taken when interpreting the review scores above, though. The ratings are only valid when referring to cameras in the same category and of the same age. A score, therefore, has to be seen in close connection to the price and market introduction time of the camera, and comparisons of ratings among very different cameras or across long time periods have little meaning. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

Leica S1:
Check Ebay offers
Nikon D850:
Check Amazon price

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: Leica S1 vs Nikon D850

    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 S1 Nikon D850
    Camera Type Mirrorless system camera Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Leica R mount lenses Nikon F mount lenses
    Launch Date August 1996 July 2017
    Launch Price USD 21,490 USD 3,299
    Sensor Specs Leica S1 Nikon D850
    Sensor Technology CCD BSI-CMOS
    Sensor Format Medium Format Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 36.0 x 36.0 mm 35.9 x 23.9 mm
    Sensor Area 1296 mm2 858.01 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 50.9 mm 43.1 mm
    Crop Factor 0.85x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 26.4 Megapixels 45.4 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 5140 x 5140 pixels 8256 x 5504 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 7.01 μm 4.35 μm
    Pixel Density 2.04 MP/cm2 5.30 MP/cm2
    Moiré control no AA filter no AA filter
    Movie Capability no Video 4K/30p Video
    ISO Setting 50 - 1,600 ISO 64 - 25,600 ISO
    ISO Boost no Enhancement 32 - 102,400 ISO
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) .. 100
    DXO Color Depth (bits) .. 26.4
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) .. 14.8
    DXO Low Light (ISO) .. 2660
    Screen Specs Leica S1 Nikon D850
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 100%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.75x
    Top-Level Screen no Top Display Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View
    Rear LCD Size 3.2inch
    LCD Resolution no LCD 2359k dots
    LCD Attachment Tilting screen
    Touch Input no Touchscreen Touchscreen
    Shooting Specs Leica S1 Nikon D850
    Focus System Manual Focus Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 0.01 shutter flaps/s 9 shutter flaps/s
    Time-Lapse Photographyno IntervalometerIntervalometer built-in
    Fill Flash no On-Board Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium external SDXC or XQD cards
    Second Storage Option Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Leica S1 Nikon D850
    External Flash no Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash no PC Sync PC Sync socket
    USB Connector no USB USB 3.0
    HDMI Port no HDMI mini HDMI
    Microphone Port no MIC socket External MIC port
    Headphone Socket no Headphone port Headphone port
    Wifi Support no Wifi Wifi built-in
    Near-Field Communication no NFC NFC built-in
    Bluetooth Support no Bluetooth Bluetooth built-in
    Body Specs Leica S1 Nikon D850
    Environmental Sealingnot weather sealedWeathersealed body
    Battery Type external EN-EL15a
    Body Dimensions 339 x 214 x 119 mm
    (13.3 x 8.4 x 4.7 in)
    146 x 124 x 79 mm
    (5.7 x 4.9 x 3.1 in)
    Camera Weight 2500 g (88.2 oz) 1005 g (35.5 oz)

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