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Nikon D300S vs Sony A850

The Nikon D300S and the Sony Alpha A850 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in July 2009 and August 2009. Both are DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras that are based on an APS-C (D300S) and a full frame (A850) sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 12.2 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
Nikon D300S versus Sony A850
Nikon D300S Sony A850
Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
Nikon F mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
12.2 MP, APS-C Sensor 24.4 MP, Full Frame Sensor
720/24p Video no Video
ISO 200-3,200 (100 - 6,400) ISO 200-3,200 (100 - 6,400)
Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
3.0 LCD, 920k dots 3.0 LCD, 922k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
7 shutter flaps per second 3 shutter flaps per second
Lens stabilization onlyIn-body stabilization
Weathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
950 shots per battery charge880 shots per battery charge
147 x 115 x 81 mm, 938 g 156 x 117 x 82 mm, 895 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Nikon D300S 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 Nikon D300S 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 dimensions are rounded to the nearest millimeter.

Size Nikon D300S vs Sony A850
Compare D300S versus A850 top
Comparison D300S 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 notably larger (8 percent) than the Nikon D300S. However, the A850 is markedly lighter (5 percent) than the D300S. In this context, it is worth noting that both cameras are splash and dust-proof and can, hence, be used in inclement weather conditions or harsh environments.

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.

Concerning battery life, the D300S gets 950 shots out of its EN-EL3e battery, while the A850 can take 880 images on a single charge of its NP-FM500H power pack.

The adjacent table lists the principal physical characteristics of the two cameras alongside a wider set of alternatives. If you would like to visualize and compare a different camera combination, you can navigate to the CAM-parator app and make your selection from a broad list of cameras 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
1.
 
Nikon D300S 147 mm 115 mm 81 mm 938 g 950 Y Jul 2009 1,799i
2.
 
Sony A850 156 mm 117 mm 82 mm 895 g 880 Y Aug 2009 1,999i
3.
 
Canon 7D 148 mm 111 mm 74 mm 860 g 800 Y Sep 2009 1,699i
4.
 
Nikon D500 147 mm 115 mm 81 mm 860 g 1240 Y Jan 2016 1,999 i
5.
 
Nikon D7000 132 mm 105 mm 77 mm 780 g 1050 Y Sep 2010 1,499i
6.
 
Nikon D3100 124 mm 96 mm 75 mm 505 g 550 n Aug 2010 599i
7.
 
Nikon D3S 160 mm 157 mm 88 mm 1240 g 4200 Y Oct 2009 5,199i
8.
 
Nikon D3000 126 mm 97 mm 64 mm 536 g 500 n Jul 2009 599i
9.
 
Nikon D90 132 mm 103 mm 77 mm 703 g 850 n Aug 2008 1,299i
10.
 
Nikon D700 147 mm 123 mm 77 mm 1074 g 1000 Y Jul 2008 2,999i
11.
 
Nikon D300 147 mm 114 mm 74 mm 925 g 1000 Y Aug 2007 1,799i
12.
 
Nikon D200 147 mm 113 mm 74 mm 920 g 400 Y Nov 2005 1,699i
13.
 
Sony A99 II 143 mm 104 mm 76 mm 849 g 490 Y Sep 2016 3,199 i
14.
 
Sony A7 II 127 mm 96 mm 60 mm 599 g 350 Y Nov 2014 1,999i
15.
 
Sony A99 147 mm 111 mm 78 mm 812 g 500 Y Sep 2012 2,799i
16.
 
Sony A77 143 mm 104 mm 81 mm 732 g 470 Y Aug 2011 1,399i
17.
 
Sony A900 156 mm 117 mm 82 mm 895 g 880 Y Sep 2008 2,999i
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 manufacturer’s suggested retail prices give an idea on the placement of the camera in the maker’s lineup and the broader market. The D300S was somewhat cheaper (by 10 percent) than the A850 at launch, but both cameras fall into the same price category. 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. 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 imaging sensor is a crucial determinant of image quality. All other things equal, a large sensor will have larger individual pixel-units that offer better low-light sensitivity, wider dynamic range, and richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Further, a large sensor camera will give the photographer additional creative options when using shallow depth-of-field to isolate a subject from its 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 Nikon D300S features an APS-C sensor and the Sony A850 a full frame sensor. The sensor area in the A850 is 131 percent bigger. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.5 and 1.0. Both cameras have a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 3:2.

Technology-wise, both cameras are equipped with CMOS (Complementary Metal–Oxide–Semiconductor) sensors.

Nikon D300S and Sony A850 sensor measures

With 24.4MP, the A850 offers a higher resolution than the D300S (12.2MP), but the A850 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 5.94μm versus 5.53μm for the D300S) due to its larger sensor. 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.

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 Nikon D300S are 21.4 x 14.2 inches or 54.5 x 36.2 cm for good quality, 17.2 x 11.4 inches or 43.6 x 28.9 cm for very good quality, and 14.3 x 9.5 inches or 36.3 x 24.1 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Nikon D300S has a native sensitivity range from ISO 200 to ISO 3200, which can be extended to ISO 100-6400. The Sony Alpha A850 offers exactly the same ISO settings.

D300S versus A850 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"). Of the two cameras under consideration, the A850 has a markedly higher DXO score than the D300S (overall score 9 points higher), which will translate into better image quality. The advantage is based on 1.3 bits higher color depth, and 0.8 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.
 
Nikon D300S APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.512.278770
2.
 
Sony A850 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.812.2141579
3.
 
Canon 7D APS-C 17.9 5184 34561080/30p22.011.785466
4.
 
Nikon D500 APS-C 20.7 5568 37124K/30p24.014.0132483
5.
 
Nikon D7000 APS-C 16.1 4928 326410800/24p23.513.9116780
6.
 
Nikon D3100 APS-C 14.2 4608 30721080/24p22.511.391967
7.
 
Nikon D3S Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832720/24p23.512.0325382
8.
 
Nikon D3000 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.311.156362
9.
 
Nikon D90 APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.597773
10.
 
Nikon D700 Full Frame 12.1 4256 2832none23.512.2230380
11.
 
Nikon D300 APS-C 12.2 4288 2848none22.112.067967
12.
 
Nikon D200 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.311.558364
13.
 
Sony A99 II Full Frame 42.2 7952 53044K/30p25.413.4231792
14.
 
Sony A7 II Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.913.6244990
15.
 
Sony A99 Full Frame 24.0 6000 40001080/60p25.014.0155589
16.
 
Sony A77 APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.013.280178
17.
 
Sony A900 Full Frame 24.4 6048 4032none23.712.3143179

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but also of capturing video footage. The D300S indeed provides movie recording capabilities, while the A850 does not. The highest resolution format that the D300S can use is 720/24p.

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Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. The D300S 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 D300S 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 0.63x), so that the size of the image transmitted appears closer to the size seen with the naked human eye. The adjacent table lists some of the other core features of the Nikon D300S and Sony A850 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
1.
 
Nikon D300Soptical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 1/8000s 7.0 Y n
2.
 
Sony A850optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 3.0 n Y
3.
 
Canon 7Doptical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 1/8000s 8.0 Y n
4.
 
Nikon D500optical Y 3.2 2359 tilting Y 1/8000s 10.0 n n
5.
 
Nikon D7000optical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 1/8000s 6.0 Y n
6.
 
Nikon D3100optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
7.
 
Nikon D3Soptical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 1/8000s 11.0 n n
8.
 
Nikon D3000optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
9.
 
Nikon D90optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 1/4000s 4.5 Y n
10.
 
Nikon D700optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 8.0 Y n
11.
 
Nikon D300optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 6.0 Y n
12.
 
Nikon D200optical Y 2.5 230 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 Y n
13.
 
Sony A99 II2400 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 1/8000s 12.0 n Y
14.
 
Sony A7 II2400 n 3.0 1230 tilting n 1/8000s 5.0 n Y
15.
 
Sony A992359 Y 3.0 1229 full-flex n 1/8000s 6.0 n Y
16.
 
Sony A772359 Y 3.0 921 full-flex n 1/8000s 12.0 Y Y
17.
 
Sony A900optical Y 3.0 922 fixed n 1/8000s 5.0 n Y

One difference between the cameras concerns the presence of an on-board flash. The D300S has one, while the A850 does not. While the built-in flash of the D300S is not very powerful, it can at times be useful as a fill-in light.

The Nikon D300S 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 D300S writes its imaging data to Compact Flash or SDXC cards, while the A850 uses Compact Flash or Memory Stick PRO Duo cards. Both cameras feature dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails.

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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 Nikon D300S 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
Microphone
Internal
Speaker
Microphone
Port
Headphone
Port
HDMI
Port
USB
Port
WiFi
Support
NFC
Support
Bluetooth
Support
1.
 
Nikon D300SYstereomonoY-mini2.0---
2.
 
Sony A850Y----mini2.0---
3.
 
Canon 7DYmono-Y-mini2.0---
4.
 
Nikon D500YstereomonoYYmini3.0YYY
5.
 
Nikon D7000YmonomonoY-mini2.0---
6.
 
Nikon D3100Ymonomono--mini2.0---
7.
 
Nikon D3SYstereo---mini2.0---
8.
 
Nikon D3000Y-----2.0---
9.
 
Nikon D90Ymonomono--mini2.0---
10.
 
Nikon D700Y----mini2.0---
11.
 
Nikon D300Y----mini2.0---
12.
 
Nikon D200Y-----2.0---
13.
 
Sony A99 IIYstereomonoYYmicro2.0YYY
14.
 
Sony A7 IIYstereomonoYYmicro2.0YY-
15.
 
Sony A99YstereomonoYYmini2.0---
16.
 
Sony A77YstereomonoY-mini2.0---
17.
 
Sony A900Y----mini2.0---

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

Both the D300S and the A850 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D300S was replaced by the Nikon D500, 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 Nikon and Sony websites.

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Review summary

So what conclusions can be drawn? Is the Nikon D300S better than the Sony A850 or vice versa? Below is a summary of the relative strengths of each of the two contestants.

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Arguments in favor of the Nikon D300S:

  • Broader imaging potential: Can record not only still images but also 720/24p movies.
  • More complete view: Has a viewfinder with a larger field of view (100% vs 98%).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (7 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Easier time-lapse photography: Has an intervalometer built-in for low frequency shooting.
  • Easier fill-in: Is equipped with a small onboard flash to brighten deep shadow areas.

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Advantages of the Sony Alpha A850:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (24.4 vs 12.2MP), which boosts linear resolution by 41%.
  • Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (9 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 (0.8 stops ISO advantage).
  • Larger viewfinder image: Features a viewfinder with a higher magnification (0.74x vs 0.63x).
  • Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the A850 comes out slightly ahead of the D300S (6 : 5 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 sports photographer will view the differences between cameras in a way that diverges from the perspective of a street photog, and a person interested in family portraits has distinct needs from a landscape shooter. Hence, the decision which camera is best and worth buying is often a very personal one.

D300S 05:06 A850

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Nikon D300S and the Sony A850 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 comparison of technical specifications can provide a useful overview of the capabilities of different cameras, it says little about, for example, the shooting experience and imaging performance of the D300S and the A850 in practical situations. 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 expert reviews are important. The adjacent summary-table relays the overall verdicts of several of the most popular camera review sites (amateurphotographer [AP], cameralabs [CL], 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 
 DPR 
 score 
 EPZ 
 score 
 PB 
 score 
Camera
Launch
Launch
Price (USD)
Street
Price
1.
 
Nikon D300S5/5+ +82/1004/54.5/5 Jul 2009 1,799i
2.
 
Sony A8503/5..75/100..4.5/5 Aug 2009 1,999i
3.
 
Canon 7D5/5+ +84/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2009 1,699i
4.
 
Nikon D5005/5+ +91/1004.5/55/5 Jan 2016 1,999 i
5.
 
Nikon D70004/5..80/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,499i
6.
 
Nikon D31005/5+ +72/1004.5/54.5/5 Aug 2010 599i
7.
 
Nikon D3S5/5..89/1004.5/55/5 Oct 2009 5,199i
8.
 
Nikon D3000..+72/1004/54.5/5 Jul 2009 599i
9.
 
Nikon D90..+ ++ +4/54.5/5 Aug 2008 1,299i
10.
 
Nikon D700..89/100+ +4.5/54.5/5 Jul 2008 2,999i
11.
 
Nikon D300..+ ++ +5/54.5/5 Aug 2007 1,799i
12.
 
Nikon D200..+ ++ +o.. Nov 2005 1,699i
13.
 
Sony A99 II....85/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2016 3,199 i
14.
 
Sony A7 II5/5+82/1004.5/55/5 Nov 2014 1,999i
15.
 
Sony A995/5..84/1004.5/54.5/5 Sep 2012 2,799i
16.
 
Sony A775/591/10081/100..5/5 Aug 2011 1,399i
17.
 
Sony A900..+ ++ +4.5/55/5 Sep 2008 2,999i
Notes: (+ +) highly recommended; (+) recommended; (o) reviewed; (..) not available.

The review scores listed above should be treated with care, 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 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.

Nikon D300S:
Check Ebay offers
Sony A850:
Check Ebay offers

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 make a corresponding selection in the search boxes below. Alternatively, you can follow any of the listed hyperlinks for comparisons that others found interesting.

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    Specifications: Nikon D300S 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 Nikon D300S Sony A850
    Camera Type Digital single lens reflex Digital single lens reflex
    Camera Lens Nikon F mount lenses Sony A mount lenses
    Launch Date July 2009 August 2009
    Launch Price USD 1,799 USD 1,999
    Sensor Specs Nikon D300S Sony A850
    Sensor Technology CMOS CMOS
    Sensor Format APS-C Sensor Full Frame Sensor
    Sensor Size 23.6 x 15.8 mm 35.9 x 24.0 mm
    Sensor Area 372.88 mm2 861.6 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 28.4 mm 43.2 mm
    Crop Factor 1.5x 1.0x
    Sensor Resolution 12.2 Megapixels 24.4 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 4288 x 2848 pixels 6048 x 4032 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 5.53 μm 5.94 μm
    Pixel Density 3.28 MP/cm2 2.83 MP/cm2
    Moiré control Anti-Alias filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability 720/24p Video no Video
    ISO Setting 200 - 3,200 ISO 200 - 3,200 ISO
    ISO Boost 100 - 6,400 ISO 100 - 6,400 ISO
    Image Processor EXPEED BIONZ
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) 70 79
    DXO Color Depth (bits) 22.5 23.8
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) 12.2 12.2
    DXO Low Light (ISO) 787 1415
    Screen Specs Nikon D300S Sony A850
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Optical viewfinder
    Viewfinder Field of View 100% 98%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.63x 0.74x
    Top-Level Screen Control Panel Control Panel
    LCD Framing Live View
    Rear LCD Size 3.0inch 3.0inch
    LCD Resolution 920k dots 922k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Nikon D300S Sony A850
    Focus System Phase-detect AF Phase-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 7 shutter flaps/s 3 shutter flaps/s
    Time-Lapse PhotographyIntervalometer built-inno Intervalometer
    Image StabilizationLens stabilization onlyIn-body stabilization
    Fill Flash Build-in Flash no On-Board Flash
    Storage Medium CF or SDXC cards CF or MS cards
    Second Storage Option Dual card slots Dual card slots
    Connectivity Specs Nikon D300S Sony A850
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    Studio Flash PC Sync socket PC Sync socket
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 2.0
    HDMI Port mini HDMI mini HDMI
    Microphone Port External MIC port no MIC socket
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Nikon D300S Sony A850
    Environmental SealingWeathersealed bodyWeathersealed body
    Battery Type EN-EL3e NP-FM500H
    Battery Life (CIPA)950 shots per charge880 shots per charge
    Body Dimensions 147 x 115 x 81 mm
    (5.8 x 4.5 x 3.2 in)
    156 x 117 x 82 mm
    (6.1 x 4.6 x 3.2 in)
    Camera Weight 938 g (33.1 oz) 895 g (31.6 oz)

    Did you notice an error on this page? If so, please get in touch, so that we can correct the information.

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