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Nikon D90 versus Panasonic GH1

The Nikon D90 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1 are two enthusiast cameras that were officially introduced, respectively, in August 2008 and March 2009. The D90 is a DSLR, while the GH1 is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. The cameras are based on an APS-C (D90) and a Four Thirds (GH1) sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 12.2 megapixel, whereas the Panasonic provides 12 MP. Read on to find out how these two cameras compare with respect to their size, their sensors, their features, and their reception by expert reviewers.

Body comparison: Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1

An illustration of the physical size and weight of the Nikon D90 and the Panasonic GH1 is provided in the side-by-side display below. Three successive views from the front, the top, and the rear are shown. All width, height and depth measures are rounded to the nearest millimeter. You can also use the toggle button to switch to a percentage comparison if you prefer that the measures are being expressed in relative terms (in this case, the camera on the left – the D90 – represents the basis or 100 percent across all the size and weight measures).

Snapsort Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1
Compare D90 versus GH1 top
Compare D90 and GH1 rear

If the front view area (width x height) of the cameras is taken as an aggregate measure of their size, the Panasonic GH1 is notably smaller (18 percent) than the Nikon D90. Moreover, the GH1 is substantially lighter (45 percent) than the D90. In this context, it is worth noting that neither the D90 nor the GH1 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. A larger imaging sensor will tend to go along with bigger and heavier lenses, although exceptions exist. You can find an overview of optics for the two cameras in the Nikon Lens Catalog (D90) and the Micro Four Thirds Lens Catalog (GH1). Mirrorless cameras, such as the GH1, 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.

Concerning battery life, the D90 gets 850 shots out of its EN-EL3e battery, while the GH1 can take 300 images on a single charge of its DMW-BLB13 power pack.

The table below summarizes the key physical specs of the two cameras alongside a broader set of comparators. If you want to switch the focus of the display and review another camera pair, just select a new right or left comparator from among the camera models in the table. Alternatively, you can also move across to the CAM-parator tool and choose from the broad selection of possible camera comparisons 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)
Used
Price
(USD)
Nikon D90» 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 24.8 oz 850 n Aug 2008 1,299- i
Panasonic GH1« 4.9 in 3.5 in 1.8 in 13.6 oz 300 n Mar 2009 1,499- i
Canon 40D« » 5.7 in 4.3 in 2.9 in 29.0 oz 750 n Aug 2007 1,299- i
Nikon D7500« » 5.4 in 4.1 in 2.9 in 25.4 oz 950 Y Apr 2017 1,299 i i
Nikon D7200« » 5.4 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 27.0 oz 1110 Y Mar 2015 1,199- i
Nikon D7100« » 5.4 in 4.2 in 3.0 in 27.0 oz 950 Y Feb 2013 1,199- i
Nikon D7000« » 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 27.5 oz 1050 Y Sep 2010 1,499- i
Nikon D3000« » 5.0 in 3.8 in 2.5 in 18.9 oz 500 n Jul 2009 599- i
Nikon D5000« » 5.0 in 4.1 in 3.1 in 20.8 oz 510 n Apr 2009 749- i
Nikon D60« » 5.0 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 18.4 oz 500 n Jan 2008 629- i
Nikon D40X« » 4.9 in 3.7 in 2.5 in 18.4 oz 520 n Mar 2007 729- i
Nikon D80« » 5.2 in 4.1 in 3.0 in 23.6 oz 600 n Aug 2006 999- i
Panasonic GF2« » 4.4 in 2.7 in 1.3 in 10.9 oz 300 n Nov 2010 549- i
Panasonic GH2« » 4.9 in 3.5 in 3.0 in 15.6 oz 330 n Sep 2010 1,499- i
Panasonic G2« » 4.9 in 3.3 in 2.9 in 15.1 oz 360 n Mar 2010 599- i
Panasonic GF1« » 4.7 in 2.8 in 1.4 in 13.6 oz 380 n Sep 2009 749- i
Panasonic G1« » 4.9 in 3.3 in 1.8 in 12.7 oz 410 n Sep 2008 599- i

The price is, of course, an important factor in any camera decision. The listed launch prices provide an indication of the market segment that the manufacturer of the cameras have been targeting. The D90 was launched at a somewhat lower price (by 13 percent) than the GH1, which makes it more attractive for photographers on a tight budget. 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.

 

Sensor comparison: Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1

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. 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.

Of the two cameras under consideration, the Nikon D90 features an APS-C sensor and the Panasonic GH1 a Four Thirds sensor. The sensor area in the GH1 is 40 percent smaller. As a result of these sensor size differences, the cameras have a format factor of, respectively, 1.5 and 2.0. The sensor in the D90 has a native 3:2 aspect ratio, while the one in the GH1 offers a 4:3 aspect.

Nikon D90 and Panasonic GH1 sensor measures

With 12.2MP, the D90 offers a slightly higher resolution than the GH1 (12MP), but the D90 nevertheless has larger individual pixels (pixel pitch of 5.53μm versus 4.33μm for the GH1) due to its larger sensor. However, the GH1 is a somewhat more recent model (by 6 months) than the D90, and its sensor might have benefitted from technological advances during this time that enhance the light gathering capacity of its pixels.

D90 versus GH1 MP

For most cameras, data on sensor performance has been reported by DXO Mark. 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"). Of the two cameras under review, the D90 has a notably higher overall DXO score than the GH1 (overall score 9 points higher), which gives it an advantage in terms of imaging quality. This advantage is based on 1.1 bits higher color depth, 0.9 EV in additional dynamic range, and 0.3 stops in additional low light sensitivity. The table below summarizes the physical sensor characteristics and sensor quality findings and compares them across a set of similar cameras.

Sensor Characteristics
  Camera Sensor
Class
Resolution
(MP)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Nikon D90» APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.597773
Panasonic GH1« Four Thirds 12.0 4000 30001080/24p21.611.677264
Canon 40D« » APS-C 10.1 3888 2592-22.111.370364
Nikon D7500« » APS-C 20.7 5568 37124K/30p24.314.0148386
Nikon D7200« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.514.6133387
Nikon D7100« » APS-C 24.0 6000 40001080/60p24.213.7125683
Nikon D7000« » APS-C 16.1 4928 326410800/24p23.513.9116780
Nikon D3000« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.311.156362
Nikon D5000« » APS-C 12.2 4288 2848720/24p22.712.586872
Nikon D60« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.511.456265
Nikon D40X« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.411.451663
Nikon D80« » APS-C 10.0 3872 2592-22.111.252461
Panasonic GF2« » Four Thirds 12.0 4000 30001080/60i21.210.350654
Panasonic GH2« » Four Thirds 15.9 4608 34561080/60i21.211.365560
Panasonic G2« » Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000720/30p21.210.349353
Panasonic GF1« » Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000720/30p21.210.351354
Panasonic G1« » Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000-21.110.346353

Many modern cameras are not only capable of taking still images, but can also record movies. Both cameras under consideration are equipped with sensors that have a sufficiently high read-out speed for moving images, but the GH1 provides a better video resolution than the D90. It can shoot movie footage at 1080/24p, while the Nikon is limited to 720/24p.

 

Feature comparison: Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1

Beyond body and sensor, cameras can and do differ across a range of features. For example, the GH1 has an electronic viewfinder (1440k dots), while the D90 has an optical one. Both systems have their advantages, with the electronic viewfinder making it possible to project supplementary shooting information into the framing view, whereas the optical viewfinder offers lag-free viewing and a very clear framing image. The table below summarizes some of the other core capabilities of the Nikon D90 and Panasonic GH1 in connection with corresponding information for a sample of similar cameras. If needed, the dpreview camera hub, for example, contains further detail on the cameras' specs.

Core Features
  Camera Viewfinder
(Type or
'000 dots)
Control
Panel
(yes/no)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(yes/no)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(yes/no)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Nikon D90»optical Y 3.0 920 fixed n 4000 4.5 Y n
Panasonic GH1«1440 n 3.0 460 swivel n 4000 3.0 Y n
Canon 40D« »optical Y 3.0 230 fixed n 8000 6.5 Y n
Nikon D7500« »optical Y 3.2 922 tilting Y 8000 8.0 Y n
Nikon D7200« »optical Y 3.2 1229 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n
Nikon D7100« »optical Y 3.2 1229 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n
Nikon D7000« »optical Y 3.0 921 fixed n 8000 6.0 Y n
Nikon D3000« »optical n 3.0 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n
Nikon D5000« »optical n 2.7 230 full-flex n 4000 4.0 Y n
Nikon D60« »optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n
Nikon D40X« »optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n
Nikon D80« »optical n 2.5 230 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n
Panasonic GF2« »- n 3.0 460 fixed Y 4000 2.6 Y n
Panasonic GH2« »1534 n 3.0 460 swivel n 4000 3.0 Y n
Panasonic G2« »1440 n 3.0 460 swivel Y 4000 2.6 Y n
Panasonic GF1« »- n 3.0 460 fixed n 4000 3.0 Y n
Panasonic G1« »1440 n 3.0 460 swivel n 4001 3.0 Y n

Both the D90 and the GH1 have been discontinued, but can regularly be found used on eBay. The D90 was replaced by the Nikon D7000, while the GH1 was followed by the Panasonic GH2.

Review summary: Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1

So what is the bottom line? Which of the two cameras – the Nikon D90 or the Panasonic GH1 – has the upper hand? The listing below highlights the relative strengths of the two models.

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Reasons to prefer the Nikon D90:

  • Better image quality: Scores markedly higher (9 points) in the DXO overall assessment.
  • Richer colors: Generates images with noticeably better colors (1.1 bits more color depth).
  • More dynamic range: Captures a larger spectrum of light and dark details (0.9 EV of extra DR).
  • Better low-light sensitivity: Requires less light for good images (0.3 stops ISO advantage).
  • Brighter framing: Features an optical viewfinder for clear, lag-free composition.
  • Easier setting verification: Has an LCD display on top to control shooting parameters.
  • More detailed LCD: Has a higher resolution rear screen (920k vs 460k dots).
  • Faster burst: Shoots at higher frequency (4.5 vs 3 flaps/sec) to capture the decisive moment.
  • Longer lasting: Can take more shots (850 versus 300) on a single battery charge.
  • More affordable: Was introduced into a lower priced segment (13 percent cheaper at launch).
  • More heavily discounted: Has been on the market for longer (launched in August 2008).

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Advantages of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH1:

  • Better video: Provides higher definition movie capture (1080/24p vs 720/24p).
  • More framing info: Has an electronic viewfinder that displays shooting data.
  • More flexible LCD: Has swivel screen for odd-angle shots in portrait or landscape orientation.
  • More compact: Is smaller (124x90mm vs 132x103mm) and will fit more readily into a bag.
  • Less heavy: Has a lower weight (by 318g or 45 percent) and is thus easier to take along.
  • More legacy lens friendly: Can use many non-native lenses via adapters.
  • More modern: Was introduced somewhat (6 months) more recently.

If the number of relative strengths (bullet points above) is taken as a guide, the D90 is the clear winner of the match-up (11 : 7 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.

D90 11:07 GH1

In any case, while the specs-based evaluation of cameras is instructive in revealing their potential as photographic tools, it remains incomplete and does no justice, for example, to the way the D90 or the GH1 handle or perform in practice. User reviews, such as those found at amazon, can sometimes inform about these issues, but such feedback is often incomplete, inconsistent, and biased. This is why expert reviews are important. The following table reports the overall rankings of the cameras as published by some of the major camera review sites (cameralabs, dpreview, ephotozine, imaging-resource, photographyblog). The detailed reviews can be accessed by clicking on the site logo in the table header.

Review scores
  Camera cameralabs dpreview ephotozine imaging-resource photographyblog Camera
Launch
(announced)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(USD)
Used
Price
(USD)
Nikon D90»HiRecHiRec4/55/54.5/5 Aug 2008 1,299- i
Panasonic GH1«HiRec72/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Mar 2009 1,499- i
Canon 40D« »HiRecHiRec4.5/5rev4.5/5 Aug 2007 1,299- i
Nikon D7500« »HiRec86/1005/54.5/54.5/5 Apr 2017 1,299 i i
Nikon D7200« »HiRec84/1004.5/54/54.5/5 Mar 2015 1,199- i
Nikon D7100« »HiRec85/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Feb 2013 1,199- i
Nikon D7000« »-80/1004.5/55/54.5/5 Sep 2010 1,499- i
Nikon D3000« »Rec72/1004/53.5/54.5/5 Jul 2009 599- i
Nikon D5000« »HiRec75/1004/55/54.5/5 Apr 2009 749- i
Nikon D60« »80/100HiRec4/5rev4.5/5 Jan 2008 629- i
Nikon D40X« »79/100HiRec4/5rev4/5 Mar 2007 729- i
Nikon D80« »RecHiRecrev4.5/54.5/5 Aug 2006 999- i
Panasonic GF2« »82/10070/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Nov 2010 549- i
Panasonic GH2« »HiRec79/1004.5/54.5/55/5 Sep 2010 1,499- i
Panasonic G2« »-72/1004/54/54.5/5 Mar 2010 599- i
Panasonic GF1« »85/10069/1004.5/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2009 749- i
Panasonic G1« »HiRec70/1004/54.5/54.5/5 Sep 2008 599- i

The review scores listed above should be treated with care, though. The ratings are only valid when refering to cameras in the same category and of the same age. Hence, a score should always be seen in the context of the camera's market launch date and its price, and rating-comparisons among cameras that span long time periods or concern very differently equipped models make little sense. It should also be noted that some of the review sites have over time altered the way they render their verdicts.

 

Other camera comparisons

Did this review help to inform your camera decision process? In case you would like to check on the differences and similarities of other camera models, just make your choice using the following search menu. There is also a set of direct links to comparison reviews that other users of the CAM-parator app explored. If the camera you are interested in is not available, kindly get in touch, and I will try to update the database with the necessary infos.

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