††††††††††† an amateurish comparison by Tad Boniecki Jan 2005
I expected this comparison to be like matching a crop duster against a fighter jet. The Nikon is a state of the art digital SLR, in the prosumer category. The Panasonic is a compromise between a high end camera and the pocket variety. It is too big for the pocket but looks like a small brother next to any SLR. The Panasonic does not offer true through the lens viewing nor interchangeable lenses. What it does have is a whopping 12x Leica zoom. The Nikon, as tested with the Tamron 28-200 zoom, cost about $2,700 AUS, the Panasonic cost me about $1,300 in February 2004. Both have since dropped in price.
So how did the two cameras compare? I took about 100 photos with each, trying to take the same shot with both cameras. The Nikon was fast and responsive (no annoying lens movement when turned on), whereas the Panasonic takes a while to switch on (one needs to conserve the battery, so it is best to switch it off if not in use for more than a minute or two). It was much easier to see the image in the Nikon viewfinder than on the indistinct screen at the back of the Panasonic. Can't argue with SLR viewing. The Panasonic is much lighter and handier. The Nikon battery lasts much longer.
Gripes: the Nikon has a slightly unfortunate format in that when pictures are viewed on a PC with 1024 x 768 resolution they have a black band at bottom and top. When I move the photos from the camera to the PC the camera starts again from DSC_0001 again. This is a minor point but very annoying - there is a setting one has to find.
The Nikon was unable to focus automatically on about half of the water reflections I attempted to photograph.† It seems that the Nikon tries to focus on the surface of the water rather than on the reflected image. The Panasonic does not have this problem, though it didnít always focus correctly either.
I should emphasize that this test has no scientific validity. The range of shots taken is unrepresentative. There are no people, mainly plants, flowers and above all water shots of a creek. I had previously taken about 10,000 shots with the Panasonic, and only about 20 with the Nikon, so it can rightly be argued that I don't know how to use the Nikon properly.
What was also unfair is that the Nikon was set to ISO 200, whereas the Panasonic was set to ISO 400. I did not play with any settings on either camera except for sunlit/shady on the Panasonic and switching to manual focus when the Nikon refused to auto-focus on reflections.
The Nikon does not offer macro nor movie capability, the Panasonic does. The Nikon as tested has a zoom range equivalent to 42 to 300 mm, as against the Panasonic's 35 to 420. Another advantage of the Panasonic is that you can photograph people at the 420 mm setting without their knowledge, as the lens does not look like a long telephoto.
Overall I preferred more of the Panasonic photos, mainly because they were sharper. I don't know why some of the Nikon shots were blurred - maybe I just didn't hold it still enough, but then I should have had a bigger problem with the other camera, which I did not hold against my head, as I did with the Nikon. Perhaps the greater ISO sensitivity also gave the Panasonic an unfair advantage here. The Nikon definitely had more realistic colours. I think the Nikon is less of a point-and-shoot camera than the Panasonic. Overall, I liked 15 of the Nikon shots and 23 of the Panasonic's. This probably says more about my technique and predilection for reflections than it does about the Nikon.
I borrowed the D70 to see whether I could expect a great increase in quality by switching from the Panasonic to the Nikon. The answer is "not really". The main advantage is that the photos are free of colour casts, unlike with my Lumix.
PS I did some more testing and came to the conclusion that when used carefully the Nikon images (still with the Tamron lens) were generally sharper than the Panasonicís, though not always. They contained less colour cast, had cleaner whites and less noise (usually). The Panasonic images were brighter and more vivid. Of course a great deal depends on settings and the Nikon 18-70 zoom lens may be much better than the Tamron. I think that the slightly better sharpness in some of the Lumix shots was due to the operation of its optical image stabilisation system.
PS2 Digital SLRs have much larger sensors than compact cameras. The consequence is that they give better low light performance, less noise and have a greater dynamic range (more shades of light and dark).
PS3 For a more professional and highly informative comparison of the Lumix with a dSLR have a look at: Lumix vs Canon dSLR.