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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 sensor. The Nikon has a resolution of 12.2 megapixel, whereas the Panasonic provides 12 MP.

Body comparison

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).

Nikon D90 vs Panasonic GH1 front
D90 versus GH1 top view
D90 and GH1 rear side
Body view (D90 on the left)

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.

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 comparisons there.

Camera Body Specifications
Camera Camera
Width
Camera
Height
Camera
Depth
Camera
Weight
Battery
Life
(CIPA)
Weather
Sealing
(y/n)
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Nikon D90 (⇒ rgt) 132 mm 103 mm 77 mm 703 g 850 no 2008 1,299discont. check
Panasonic GH1 (⇒ lft) 124 mm 90 mm 45 mm 385 g .. no 2009 1,499discont. check
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) 146 mm 108 mm 74 mm 822 g 750 no 2007 1,299discont. check
Nikon D7500 (⇒ lft | rgt) 136 mm 104 mm 73 mm 720 g 950 YES 2017 1,299 latest check
Nikon D7200 (⇒ lft | rgt) 136 mm 107 mm 76 mm 765 g 1110 YES 2015 1,199discont. check
Nikon D7100 (⇒ lft | rgt) 136 mm 107 mm 76 mm 765 g 950 YES 2013 1,199discont. check
Nikon D7000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 132 mm 105 mm 77 mm 780 g 1050 YES 2010 1,499discont. check
Nikon D300S (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 115 mm 81 mm 938 g 950 YES 2009 1,799discont. check
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 126 mm 97 mm 64 mm 536 g 500 no 2009 599discont. check
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 127 mm 104 mm 80 mm 590 g 510 no 2009 749discont. check
Nikon D300 (⇒ lft | rgt) 147 mm 114 mm 74 mm 925 g 1000 YES 2007 1,799discont. check
Olympus E-450 (⇒ lft | rgt) 130 mm 91 mm 53 mm 440 g 500 no 2009 499discont. check
Panasonic GX1 (⇒ lft | rgt) 116 mm 68 mm 39 mm 318 g .. no 2011 949discont. check
Panasonic GH2 (⇒ lft | rgt) 124 mm 90 mm 76 mm 442 g 330 no 2010 1,499discont. check
Panasonic G2 (⇒ lft | rgt) 124 mm 84 mm 74 mm 428 g .. no 2010 599discont. check
Panasonic G1 (⇒ lft | rgt) 124 mm 84 mm 45 mm 360 g 410 no 2008 599discont. check

The listed 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

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, 1.52194470078621 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
Sensor size

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
Sensor resolution

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
(Megapixel)
Horiz.
Pixels
Vert.
Pixels
Video
Format
DXO
Portrait
DXO
Landscape
DXO
Sports
DXO
Overall
Nikon D90 (⇒ rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 720/24p 22.7 12.5 977 73
Panasonic GH1 (⇒ lft) Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000 1080/24p 21.6 11.6 772 64
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 10.1 3888 2592 no 22.1 11.3 703 64
Nikon D7500 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 20.7 5568 3712 4K/30p 24.8 13.9 1192 86
Nikon D7200 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 24.0 6000 4000 1080/60p 24.5 14.6 1333 87
Nikon D7100 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 24.0 6000 4000 1080/60p 24.2 13.7 1256 83
Nikon D7000 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 16.1 4928 3264 10800/24p 23.5 13.9 1167 80
Nikon D300S (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 720/24p 22.5 12.2 787 70
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 10.0 3872 2592 no 22.3 11.1 563 62
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 720/24p 22.7 12.5 868 72
Nikon D300 (⇒ lft | rgt) APS-C 12.2 4288 2848 no 22.1 12.0 679 67
Olympus E-450 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 10.0 3648 2736 no 21.5 10.5 512 56
Panasonic GX1 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 15.8 4592 3448 1080/60p 20.8 10.6 703 55
Panasonic GH2 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 15.9 4608 3456 1080/60i 21.2 11.3 655 60
Panasonic G2 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000 720/30p 21.2 10.3 493 53
Panasonic G1 (⇒ lft | rgt) Four Thirds 12.0 4000 3000 no 21.1 10.3 463 53

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

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
(Y/n)
LCD
Size
(inch)
LCD
Resolution
('000 dots)
LCD
Attach-
ment
Touch
Screen
(Y/n)
Shutter
speed
(1/sec)
Shutter
flaps
(1/sec))
Build-in
Flash
(GN)
Build-in
Image
Stab
Nikon D90 (⇒ rgt) optical YES 3 920 fixed no 4000 4.5 YES no
Panasonic GH1 (⇒ lft) 1440 no 3.0 460 swivel no 4000 3.0 10.5 no
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 230 fixed no 8000 6.5 12 no
Nikon D7500 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 922 tilting YES 8000 8.0 12 no
Nikon D7200 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1229 fixed no 8000 6.0 12 no
Nikon D7100 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.2 1229 fixed no 8000 6.0 12 no
Nikon D7000 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 921 fixed no 8000 6.0 12 no
Nikon D300S (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 920 fixed no 8000 7.0 12 no
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 3.0 230 fixed no 4000 3.0 YES no
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.7 230 full-flex no 4000 4.0 YES no
Nikon D300 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical YES 3.0 922 fixed no 8000 6.0 12 no
Olympus E-450 (⇒ lft | rgt) optical no 2.7 215 fixed no 4000 3.5 12 no
Panasonic GX1 (⇒ lft | rgt) no no 3.0 460 fixed YES 4000 4.2 7.6 no
Panasonic GH2 (⇒ lft | rgt) 1534 no 3.0 460 swivel no 4000 3.0 15.6 no
Panasonic G2 (⇒ lft | rgt) 1440 no 3.0 460 swivel YES 4000 2.6 11 no
Panasonic G1 (⇒ lft | rgt) 1440 no 3.0 460 swivel no 4001 3.0 10.5 no

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 .

Summary

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.
  • 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 emerges as the winner of the contest (10 : 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.

D90 10:07 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. The detailed reviews can be accessed, respectively, on the websites of cameralabs.com, dpreview.com, ephotozine.com, imaging-resource.com, and photographyblog.com.

Review scores
Camera camera
labs
dp
review
ephoto
zine
imaging
resource
photography
blog
Camera
Launch
(year)
Launch
Price
(USD)
Street
Price
(amazon)
Used
Price
(ebay)
Nikon D90 (⇒ rgt) 89/100 HiRec HiRec 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2008 1,299discont. check
Panasonic GH1 (⇒ lft) 89/100 HiRec 72/100 HiRec 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 1,499discont. check
Canon 40D (⇒ lft | rgt) 90/100 HiRec HiRec 4.5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 1,299discont. check
Nikon D7500 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 86/100 Silver 5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2017 1,299 latest check
Nikon D7200 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 84/100 Silver 4.5/5 4/5 4.5/5 2015 1,199discont. check
Nikon D7100 (⇒ lft | rgt) HiRec 85/100 Gold 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2013 1,199discont. check
Nikon D7000 (⇒ lft | rgt) - 80/100 Silver 4.5/5 5/5 4.5/5 2010 1,499discont. check
Nikon D300S (⇒ lft | rgt) 90/100 HiRec 82/100 HiRec 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 1,799discont. check
Nikon D3000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 80/100 Rec 72/100 HiRec 4/5 3.5/5 4.5/5 2009 599discont. check
Nikon D5000 (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec 75/100 HiRec 4/5 5/5 4.5/5 2009 749discont. check
Nikon D300 (⇒ lft | rgt) 90/100 HiRec HiRec 5/5 reviewed 4.5/5 2007 1,799discont. check
Olympus E-450 (⇒ lft | rgt) - - 4/5 - 4/5 2009 499discont. check
Panasonic GX1 (⇒ lft | rgt) 85/100 Rec 77/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2011 949discont. check
Panasonic GH2 (⇒ lft | rgt) 86/100 HiRec 79/100 Silver 4.5/5 4.5/5 5/5 2010 1,499discont. check
Panasonic G2 (⇒ lft | rgt) - 72/100 Silver 4/5 4/5 4.5/5 2010 599discont. check
Panasonic G1 (⇒ lft | rgt) 88/100 HiRec 70/100 HiRec 4/5 4.5/5 4.5/5 2008 599discont. check

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 comparisons

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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