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Olympus E-420 vs E-PL1

The Olympus E-420 and the Olympus PEN E-PL1 are two digital cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in March 2008 and February 2010. The E-420 is a DSLR, while the E-PL1 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Both cameras are equipped with a Four Thirds sensor. The E-420 has a resolution of 10 megapixels, whereas the E-PL1 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
Olympus E-420 versus Olympus E-PL1
Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
Digital single lens reflex Mirrorless system camera
Four Thirds lenses Micro Four Thirds lenses
10 MP, Four Thirds Sensor 12.2 MP, Four Thirds Sensor
no Video 720/30p Video
ISO 100-1,600 ISO 200-3,200
Optical viewfinder Viewfinder optional
2.7 LCD, 215k dots 2.7 LCD, 230k dots
Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive) Fixed screen (not touch-sensitive)
3.5 shutter flaps per second 3 shutter flaps per second
Lens stabilization onlyIn-body stabilization
500 shots per battery charge290 shots per battery charge
130 x 91 x 53 mm, 440 g 115 x 72 x 42 mm, 334 g

Going beyond this snapshot of core features and characteristics, what are the differences between the Olympus E-420 and the Olympus PEN E-PL1? 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 Olympus E-420 and the Olympus E-PL1 are illustrated 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 E-PL1 can be obtained in four different colors (black, blue, yellow, white), while the E-420 is only available in black.

Size Olympus E-420 vs Olympus E-PL1
Compare E-420 versus E-PL1 top
Comparison E-420 or E-PL1 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Olympus E-PL1 is considerably smaller (30 percent) than the Olympus E-420. Moreover, the E-PL1 is markedly lighter (24 percent) than the E-420. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the E-420 nor the E-PL1 are weather-sealed.

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. Both cameras have similarly sized sensors, but DSLRs have a larger flange-to-focal plane distance than mirrorless cameras, which imposes contraints on the optical engineering process and generally leads to bigger and heavier lenses. You can compare the optics available for the two cameras in the Four Thirds Lens Catalog (E-420) and the Micro Four Thirds Lens Catalog (E-PL1). Mirrorless cameras, such as the E-PL1, have moreover the advantage that they can use many lenses from other systems via adapters, as they have a relatively short flange to focal plane distance.

The following table provides a synthesis of the main physical specifications of the two cameras and other similar ones. 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.
 
Olympus E-420 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2008 599i
2.
 
Olympus E-PL1 115 mm 72 mm 42 mm 334 g 290 n Feb 2010 599i
3.
 
Nikon D3000 126 mm 97 mm 64 mm 536 g 500 n Jul 2009 599i
4.
 
Nikon D60 126 mm 94 mm 64 mm 522 g 500 n Jan 2008 629i
5.
 
Nikon D40X 124 mm 94 mm 64 mm 522 g 520 n Mar 2007 729i
6.
 
Olympus E-P3 122 mm 69 mm 34 mm 369 g 330 n Jun 2011 799i
7.
 
Olympus E-PL2 114 mm 72 mm 42 mm 362 g 280 n Jan 2011 599i
8.
 
Olympus E-PL3 110 mm 64 mm 37 mm 313 g 300 n Jun 2011 599i
9.
 
Olympus E-450 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 n Mar 2009 499i
10.
 
Olympus E-600 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 535 g 500 n Aug 2009 449i
11.
 
Olympus E-620 130 mm 94 mm 60 mm 521 g 500 n Feb 2009 699i
12.
 
Olympus E-P1 121 mm 70 mm 36 mm 355 g 300 n Jun 2009 799i
13.
 
Olympus E-P2 121 mm 70 mm 36 mm 355 g 300 n Nov 2009 799i
14.
 
Olympus E-520 136 mm 92 mm 68 mm 535 g 750 n May 2008 699i
15.
 
Olympus E-410 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Mar 2007 699i
16.
 
Olympus E-400 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 435 g 500 n Sep 2006 699i
17.
 
Panasonic L10 135 mm 96 mm 78 mm 556 g 450 n Aug 2007 599i
Notes: Measurements and pricing do not include easily detachable parts, such as add-on or interchangeable lenses or optional viewfinders.

Any camera decision will obviously take relative prices into account. The retail prices at the time of the camera’s release place the model in the market relative to other models in the producer’s line-up and the competition. The two cameras under review were launched at the same price and fall into the same market segment. 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 imaging sensor is at the core of digital cameras and its size is one of the main determining factors of image quality. A large sensor will generally have larger individual pixels that offer better low-light sensitivity, provide wider dynamic range, and have richer color-depth than smaller pixels in a sensor of the same technological generation. Furthermore, a large sensor camera will give the photographer more possibilities to use shallow depth-of-field in order to 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 Four Thirds sensor and have a format factor (sometimes also referred to as "crop factor") of 2.0. Within the spectrum of camera sensors, this places the review cameras among the medium-sized sensor cameras that aim to strike a balance between image quality and portability. Both cameras feature a native aspect ratio (sensor width to sensor height) of 4:3.

Technology-wise, the E-PL1 uses a more advanced image processing engine (Truepic V) than the E-420 (TruePic III), with benefits for noise reduction, color accuracy, and processing speed.

Olympus E-420 and Olympus E-PL1 sensor measures

While the two cameras under review share the same sensor size, the E-PL1 offers a higher resolution of 12.2 megapixels, compared with 10 MP of the E-420. This megapixels advantage translates into a 11 percent gain in linear resolution. On the other hand, these sensor specs imply that the E-PL1 has a higher pixel density and a smaller size of the individual pixel (with a pixel pitch of 4.29μm versus 4.74μm for the E-420). However, it should be noted that the E-PL1 is a somewhat more recent model (by 1 year and 11 months) than the E-420, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that at least partly compensate for the smaller pixel size.

The resolution advantage of the Olympus E-PL1 implies greater flexibility for cropping images or the possibility to print larger pictures. The maximum print size of the E-PL1 for good quality output (200 dots per inch) amounts to 20.2 x 15.1 inches or 51.2 x 38.4 cm, for very good quality (250 dpi) 16.1 x 12.1 inches or 41 x 30.7 cm, and for excellent quality (300 dpi) 13.4 x 10.1 inches or 34.1 x 25.6 cm. The corresponding values for the Olympus E-420 are 18.2 x 13.7 inches or 46.3 x 34.7 cm for good quality, 14.6 x 10.9 inches or 37.1 x 27.8 cm for very good quality, and 12.2 x 9.1 inches or 30.9 x 23.2 cm for excellent quality prints.

The Olympus E-420 has a native sensitivity range from ISO 100 to ISO 1600. The corresponding ISO settings for the Olympus PEN E-PL1 are ISO 200 to ISO 3200 (no boost).

E-420 versus E-PL1 MP

Since 2007, DXO Mark has published sensor performance measurements that have been derived using a consistent methodology. This service determines an overall sensor rating, as well as sub-scores for low-light sensitivity ("DXO Sports"), dynamic range ("DXO Landscape"), and color depth ("DXO Portrait"). The Overall DXO ratings for the two cameras under consideration are close, suggesting that they provide similar imaging performance. The adjacent table reports on the physical sensor characteristics and the outcomes of the DXO sensor quality tests for a sample of comparator-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.
 
Olympus E-420 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.452756
2.
 
Olympus E-PL1 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.510.148754
3.
 
Nikon D3000 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.311.156362
4.
 
Nikon D60 APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.511.456265
5.
 
Nikon D40X APS-C 10.0 3872 2592none22.411.451663
6.
 
Olympus E-P3 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 30241080/60i20.810.153651
7.
 
Olympus E-PL2 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.410.257355
8.
 
Olympus E-PL3 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 30241080/60i20.910.349952
9.
 
Olympus E-450 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.510.551256
10.
 
Olympus E-600 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.510.354155
11.
 
Olympus E-620 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024none21.310.353655
12.
 
Olympus E-P1 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.410.453655
13.
 
Olympus E-P2 Four Thirds 12.2 4032 3024720/30p21.510.450556
14.
 
Olympus E-520 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.410.454855
15.
 
Olympus E-410 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.110.049451
16.
 
Olympus E-400 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none........
17.
 
Panasonic L10 Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736none21.310.842955

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. The E-PL1 indeed provides for movie recording, while the E-420 does not. The highest resolution format that the E-PL1 can use is 720/30p.

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Feature comparison

Apart from body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a variety of features. For example, the E-420 has an optical viewfinder, which can be very useful when shooting in bright sunlight. In contrast, the E-PL1 relies on live view and the rear LCD for framing. That said, the E-PL1 can be equipped with an optional viewfinder – the VF-2. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Olympus E-420 and Olympus E-PL1 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras.

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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.
 
Olympus E-420optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y n
2.
 
Olympus E-PL1optional n 2.7 230 fixed n 1/2000s 3.0 Y Y
3.
 
Nikon D3000optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
4.
 
Nikon D60optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
5.
 
Nikon D40Xoptical n 2.5 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
6.
 
Olympus E-P3optional n 3.0 614 fixed Y 1/4000s 3.0 Y Y
7.
 
Olympus E-PL2optional n 3.0 460 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y Y
8.
 
Olympus E-PL3optional n 3.0 460 tilting n 1/4000s 5.5 n Y
9.
 
Olympus E-450optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y n
10.
 
Olympus E-600optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0 Y Y
11.
 
Olympus E-620optical n 2.7 230 swivel n 1/4000s 4.0 Y Y
12.
 
Olympus E-P1none n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 n Y
13.
 
Olympus E-P2optional n 3.0 230 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 n Y
14.
 
Olympus E-520optical n 2.7 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.5 Y Y
15.
 
Olympus E-410optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
16.
 
Olympus E-400optical n 2.5 215 fixed n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n
17.
 
Panasonic L10optical n 2.5 207 swivel n 1/4000s 3.0 Y n

One feature that differentiates the E-PL1 and the E-420 is in-body image stabilization (IBIS). The E-PL1 reduces the risk of handshake-induced blur with all attached lenses, while the E-420 offers no blur reduction with lenses that themselves do not provide optical image stabilization.

The E-420 writes its imaging data to Compact Flash or xD Picture cards, while the E-PL1 uses SDHC cards. The E-420 features dual card slots, which can be very useful in case a memory card fails. In contrast, the E-PL1 only has one slot.

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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 Olympus E-420 and Olympus PEN E-PL1 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.
 
Olympus E-420Y-----2.0---
2.
 
Olympus E-PL1Ystereo---mini2.0---
3.
 
Nikon D3000Y-----2.0---
4.
 
Nikon D60Y-----2.0---
5.
 
Nikon D40XY-----2.0---
6.
 
Olympus E-P3Ystereo---mini2.0---
7.
 
Olympus E-PL2Ystereo---mini2.0---
8.
 
Olympus E-PL3Ystereo---mini2.0---
9.
 
Olympus E-450Y-----2.0---
10.
 
Olympus E-600Y-----2.0---
11.
 
Olympus E-620Y-----2.0---
12.
 
Olympus E-P1Ystereo---mini2.0---
13.
 
Olympus E-P2Ystereo---mini2.0---
14.
 
Olympus E-520Y-----2.0---
15.
 
Olympus E-410Y-----2.0---
16.
 
Olympus E-400Y-----2.0---
17.
 
Panasonic L10Y-----2.0---

Both the E-420 and the E-PL1 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The E-PL1 was replaced by the Olympus E-PL2, while the E-420 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 Olympus website.

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Review summary

So how do things add up? Is there a clear favorite between the Olympus E-420 and the Olympus E-PL1? Which camera is better? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.


Advantages of the Olympus E-420:

  • Easier framing: Has an optical viewfinder for image composition and settings control.
  • Faster shutter: Has higher mechanical shutter speed (1/4000s vs 1/2000s) to freeze action.
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (3.5 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Longer lasting: Can take more shots (500 versus 290) on a single battery charge.
  • Greater peace of mind: Features a second card slot as a backup in case of memory card failure.
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in March 2008).


Reasons to prefer the Olympus PEN E-PL1:

  • More detail: Has more megapixels (12.2 vs 10MP), which boosts linear resolution by 11%.
  • Better jpgs: Has a more modern image processing engine (Truepic V vs TruePic III).
  • Broader imaging potential: Can capture not only stills but also 720/30p video.
  • More compact: Is smaller (115x72mm vs 130x91mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 106g or 24 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • Sharper images: Has stabilization technology built-in to reduce the impact of hand-shake.
  • More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
  • More modern: Was introduced somewhat (1 year and 11 months) more recently.

If the count of individual advantages (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the E-PL1 emerges as the winner of the match-up (8 : 6 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 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.

E-420 06:08 E-PL1

How about other alternatives? Do the specifications of the Olympus E-420 and the Olympus E-PL1 place the cameras among the top in their class? Find out in the latest Best DSLR Camera and Best Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens 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 remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the E-420 or the E-PL1 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 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.
 
Olympus E-420..85/100+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2008 599i
2.
 
Olympus E-PL1..86/10069/1004/54.5/5 Feb 2010 599i
3.
 
Nikon D3000..+72/1004/54.5/5 Jul 2009 599i
4.
 
Nikon D60..80/100+ +4/54.5/5 Jan 2008 629i
5.
 
Nikon D40X..79/100+ +4/54/5 Mar 2007 729i
6.
 
Olympus E-P3..83/10074/1004.5/54.5/5 Jun 2011 799i
7.
 
Olympus E-PL23/583/10071/1004.5/54.5/5 Jan 2011 599i
8.
 
Olympus E-PL33/5+ +72/1004.5/54/5 Jun 2011 599i
9.
 
Olympus E-450......4/54/5 Mar 2009 499i
10.
 
Olympus E-600........4.5/5 Aug 2009 449i
11.
 
Olympus E-6203/588/10072/1004.5/55/5 Feb 2009 699i
12.
 
Olympus E-P1..+66/1004/54.5/5 Jun 2009 799i
13.
 
Olympus E-P23/5+69/1004/54.5/5 Nov 2009 799i
14.
 
Olympus E-520..87/100+ +4.5/54.5/5 May 2008 699i
15.
 
Olympus E-410..86/100+ +4/54.5/5 Mar 2007 699i
16.
 
Olympus E-400..85/100..4/54/5 Sep 2006 699i
17.
 
Panasonic L10..85/100+3.5/54/5 Aug 2007 599i
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. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, 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.

Olympus E-420:
Check Ebay offers
Olympus E-PL1:
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 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: Olympus E-420 vs Olympus E-PL1

    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 Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    Camera Type Digital single lens reflex Mirrorless system camera
    Camera Lens Four Thirds lenses Micro Four Thirds lenses
    Launch Date March 2008 February 2010
    Launch Price USD 599 USD 599
    Sensor Specs Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    Sensor Technology CMOS CMOS
    Sensor Format Four Thirds Sensor Four Thirds Sensor
    Sensor Size 17.3 x 13.0 mm 17.3 x 13.0 mm
    Sensor Area 224.9 mm2 224.9 mm2
    Sensor Diagonal 21.6 mm 21.6 mm
    Crop Factor 2.0x 2.0x
    Sensor Resolution 10 Megapixels 12.2 Megapixels
    Image Resolution 3648 x 2736 pixels 4032 x 3024 pixels
    Pixel Pitch 4.74 μm 4.29 μm
    Pixel Density 4.44 MP/cm2 5.42 MP/cm2
    Moiré control Anti-Alias filter Anti-Alias filter
    Movie Capability no Video 720/30p Video
    ISO Setting 100 - 1,600 ISO 200 - 3,200 ISO
    Image Processor TruePic III Truepic V
    DXO Sensor Quality (score) 56 54
    DXO Color Depth (bits) 21.5 21.5
    DXO Dynamic Range (EV) 10.4 10.1
    DXO Low Light (ISO) 527 487
    Screen Specs Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    Viewfinder Type Optical viewfinder Viewfinder optional
    Viewfinder Field of View 95%
    Viewfinder Magnification 0.46x
    LCD Framing Live View Live View
    Rear LCD Size 2.7inch 2.7inch
    LCD Resolution 215k dots 230k dots
    LCD Attachment Fixed screen Fixed screen
    Shooting Specs Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    Focus System Phase-detect AF Contrast-detect AF
    Continuous Shooting 3.5 shutter flaps/s 3 shutter flaps/s
    Image StabilizationLens stabilization onlyIn-body stabilization
    Fill Flash Build-in Flash Build-in Flash
    Storage Medium CF or XD cards SDHC cards
    Second Storage Option Dual card slots Single card slot
    Connectivity Specs Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    External Flash Hotshoe Hotshoe
    USB Connector USB 2.0 USB 2.0
    HDMI Port no HDMI mini HDMI
    Wifi Support no Wifi no Wifi
    Body Specs Olympus E-420 Olympus E-PL1
    Battery Type BLS-1 BLS-1
    Battery Life (CIPA)500 shots per charge290 shots per charge
    Body Dimensions 130 x 91 x 53 mm
    (5.1 x 3.6 x 2.1 in)
    115 x 72 x 42 mm
    (4.5 x 2.8 x 1.7 in)
    Camera Weight 440 g (15.5 oz) 334 g (11.8 oz)

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