Panasonic GH1 vs. Canon 500D (and Nikon D90)

Yesterday I saw one of my favorite professors at Gabe’s beautiful wedding (renewal of vows). My professor is going to be taking a nice scenic trip in May and he’s looking for a new camera. I believe he has it narrowed down to the Panasonic GH1 or the Canon 500D. He wants an interchangeable lens camera for traveling and he wants good video (preferably 1080p). We talked shop a bit about which camera was best for his purposes.

I knew the rough specs on each camera, but there were a few things I wasn’t sure about. So today I did some research and I made a table to show the results:

May 6th, suggested retail price for the DMC-GH1 has been set at $1499.95,the camera is now available for  ordering at Amazon and should ship in June.
March 30th, added Nikon D90 to table after Syed  suggested it…
April 1st, added USA release date for GH-1.
April 26th, here is a sample video on Youtube from the GH1 using a variety of lenses. NOTE: motion lag is said to be from the Youtube conversion, not present in the original video???

Pansonic GH-1 Canon 500D Nikon D90
List Price $1500 w/lens $900 w/lens $1300 list, $1150 street price
Release date April 24th, 2009 (Japan) May 2009 (USA) ??? RELEASED

(Late 2008?)

Kits lens 14-140mm f/4-5.8 MEGA OIS (28-280mm, 35mm equivalent) EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (27.2–88mm, 35mm equivelant) 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR DX Nikkor (27-157.5 mm, 35mm equivelant)
1080p video? Yes, 1080p at 24fps* Yes, 1080p HD video recording at 20fps No
720p video? Yes, 720p at 60fps* Yes, 720p at 30fps Yes, 720p at 24fps*
Autofocus during video? Yes No No
Adjust aperature and exposure during video capture? Yes No No
Stereo or Mono audio? Stereo, microphone input Mono, no microphone input Mono
Dimensions 124 x 90 x 45 mm (4.9 x 3.5 x 1.8 in) 129 x 98 x 62 mm (5.1 x 3.9 x 2.4 in) 132 x 103 x 77 mm (5.2 x 4.1 x 3.0 in.)
Weight 385 g (13.6 oz) 520 g (18.3 oz) 703 g (24.8 oz)
LCD 3.0 inch articulated LCD 3.0 inch fixed LCD 3.0 inch fixed LCD
LCD resolution 460,000 dot resolution 920,000 dot resolution 920,000 dots resolution
Megapixels 12.1 15.1 12.3
Other advantages Designed for video Should have the best resolving detail at low ISOs. The best high ISO performance.
*1920 × 1080 movies are output by the image sensor at 24p, and recorded at 60i. 1280 × 720 movies are output and recorded at 60p. More info can be found here. This should theoretically result in smoother video than the 500D’s 20fps/30fps. *Rolling shutter problem with video.

Note: I own a Panasonic G1 (the precursor the the GH1) so I am perhaps biased. But realistically since neither camera is released yet, it is really impossible to say “x camera is better than y” or vice versa, and even upon release each camera will have its niche.

We can draw some generalizations based on previously released Panasonic and Canon cameras and what we know for sure about the new models:

G1H: Small Size, Nice Lens, 1920×1080 video at 24fps with autofocus

Like the G1, the G1H should be a splendid camera for someone desiring a small and easy to carry everywhere camera. The 14-140mm lens will go from wide angle to a decent amount of zooming. The icing on the cake is 1080 video at a nice framerate. Autofocus during video is something that no other interchangeable lens camera maker is offering. Plus, you simply can’t find a more compact camera body with interchangeable lenses.

The G1h wins for the photographer or videographer that is new to interchangeable lens cameras and that wants 1080p 24fps video capture in a compact package. The major drawback is price.

500D: Low Price, Likely Good Image Quality, Video?

The 500D should have good still-image quality and handling characteristics, with video being the wildcard. The 20fps spec seems a bit low and the lack of autofocus will require some care in filming. However, for a photographer that simply wants good still-image quality and access to a wide variety of lenses, Canon is always difficult to beat.

The 500D wins for the photographer that wants the best image quality at the lowest price (especially if you already have Canon lenses). The major drawback is unknown video performance and the lack of a video optimized lens that covers wide to telephoto.

Summary: two cool cameras, each with their own strengths!

If you have a different take on this matchup, feel free to comment below!


  • Ameer

    I dont know about the panasonic kit lens… but the canon kit lens (18-55) isnt that great.. So be ready to dish out some more for another one

  • 500D is going to be an awesome camera. I can see myself getting into one sometime in the future with at much video as I take with my car events as well as it being a really good SLR body. You know, autofocus on movies is nice, however if you have ever seen what a “pro” can do using manual focus and movie, it really brings an awesome natural feel to the movie. Check out some of these movies that were done using the cannon 5d mark II.

    Keep in mind these were all done totally manual.

  • J.D.

    Thanks for the info guys.

    Ameer: I think the Panasonic kit lens will be nice, it’s the only consumer-level interchangeable lens that I know of that is tailored for video.

    Neil: thanks for the videos, you make a good point about manual focus being more than enough for a dedicated videographer.

    I’m a confirmed camera nut, so to me an ideal photographic setup consists of three cameras:
    #1 a pocketable carry all camera
    +always with me
    +currently: Canon SD800 IS
    –wish it had a larger sensor [not resolution, but actual physical sensor size]

    #2 a small interchangeable lens camera
    +always in my backpack
    +currently: Panasonic G1*
    –I wish it had in-body IS

    #3 a full size DSLR
    +carried in a dedicated photo bag w/lenses, flashes
    +currently: Olympus E-510*
    –I wish it was capable of cleaner high ISO

    [*lenses are compatible between #2/#3]

    These are not top-of-the-line cameras but they are capable of doing what I want, when I want them to, and that makes me a very satisfied guy.

    My professor is really looking for a do-it-all travel solution with a minimum of fuss so I’ll be curious to see what he decides. I also hope that the camera that he wants is released in time for his trip!

  • The videos linked by Neil were pretty good, someone must have a pretty strong forearm. On the second one there is some artifacting/vertical tearing, not sure if it is a remnant of the video down conversion, or a problem with the image processor in the 5d mark II. What triggers/reveals it is the stage strobe.

    The 500D uses the same sensor as the 50D, which supposedly has too high of a pixel density, causing image quality problems at higher ISO levels (I’d assume that higher ISO levels than normal would be required for various “faster” shutter speeds as well (It’s a semiconductor physics thing, I could derive it for the 1D case)).

    I think the reason that the 500D will save 1080p at 20fps is due to speed limitations of the flash memory it is using. They’d probably have to require Class 6 SDHC to do 1080p@30fps (and 24fps is probably borderline or something, watch a firmware hack will allow it a few months after release), which while widely available, much of the SD out there is not Class 6.

    Video quality wise that Panasonic will have the best as long as it doesn’t save 720p as 720i like it does with the 1080p (again they’re running into a memory speed barrier, 1080i @ 30fps take much less bandwidth than 1080p @ 30fps or even 20fps). Order of quality wise will be: 720p @ 60fps > 1080p @ 20fps* > 1080i @ 30fps*.
    [*High motion scenes will see the 1080p @20fps fall behind the 1080i @ 30fps in picture quality unless digital smoothing techniques are employed.]

  • Nice post – really appreciate the work you and your commenters put into it… we’ve highlighted your post on our blog

  • Wil

    It’ll be great if you follow it up with another post when both cameras are out and reviewed.

    I’m in a similar position trying to decide which camera I should get. I mainly want to use it for videos, but the price point on the GH1 is so high in comparison to the Canon.

  • dua

    The GH1 kit lens is quite flexible. To get a comparable lens (or lenses) for the Canon can easily get you up into the same price range. Unless you already have a collection of Canon lenses, (at which point you’re already committed to Canon) I think the GH1 brings you alot more for your money.

    Auto-focus during video capture might not be critical for video “pro”, but it’s a feature that can be turned OFF on the GH1. For the rest of us, it’s better to have the option than to not.

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