Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Review
The GH3 is arguably the most capable video camera we've seen as dpreview, so we asked EOSHD's Andrew Reid to assess its capabilities, its quality and the experience of shooting with the GH3 from a videographer's perspective.
As a filmmaker the unique attraction of the GH series for me relative to standard DSLRs is that the camera was designed from the very beginning to do video. Motion pictures aren't an add-on to the live view mode, but a key part of the design.
Another attraction is the value for money considering the feature-set and image quality relative to most dedicated digital cinema cameras at a much higher price point. The ALL-I, high-bitrate internal codec is more sophisticated than the AVCHD modes of the recent Canon EOS C100 and Sony NEX-FS100, both $6000 / £5000 at launch. The $1299 / £1100 price of the GH3 is closer to that of a high end consumer camcorder but the video quality is leagues above thanks to the large sensor and interchangeable lens mount.
Although the feature-set has grown considerably over the GH2, the image quality of its predecessor is a tougher act to follow. Primarily aimed at enthusiasts and the camcorder market the GH2 found favour with amateur filmmakers, indie filmmakers and professional film crews due to superb image quality for the price and size. The GH2's image was singled out for praise by Hollywood film director Francis Ford Coppola in a subjective test of cinema cameras screened at George Lucas's THX showcase theatre 'The Stag'.
The size benefit of the Micro Four Thirds system is of particular benefit when it comes to rigging the camera for motion picture capture. The GH2, for example, was recently used to shoot sequences on a RC multi-copter in remote central Africa for BBC TV show Top Gear - sweeping aerial shots that would have required a full sized helicopter and pilot for full-sized cinema cameras.
Can the GH3 improve on a camera that already performs well above its price point?
The current top performing DSLR and mirrorless cameras for video all have different strengths and weaknesses so the overall choice is more likely to be decided by personal needs rather than an overall tally of performance. Lenses also have a lot to do with the choice of camera - the mirrorless mount on the GH3 for example can take anything from Canon and Nikon to vintage M42 glass and 16mm c-mount whilst the Nikon D5200 is limited mainly to just Nikon glass.
Though preferences will vary, as a guide this is how I rate overall image quality for video under the $3500 / £3000 mark.
- Blackmagic Cinema Camera
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
- Canon EOS 5D Mark III
- =Nikon D5200
How video looks direct from the camera is not necessarily the optimal end result. Footage usually requires digital sharpening to be applied in post production. The GH2's output was a little over-sharpened, even with in-camera sharpening turned right down, meaning any further sharpening applied in post didn't resolve any extra detail - it just increased aliasing and sharpening artefacts, as well as emphasising compression and noise.
The GH3 is a different animal. Sharpness can be turned down to a greater degree than it can on the GH2. This gives you an image which is suitably soft for the skin tones and the faces of actors but one which can easily be sharpened in post for wide angle shots of landscapes, vistas and cityscapes where required.
Here's how resolution compares when treated optimally in post, on the GH3, GH2, 5D Mark III, Blackmagic Cinema Camera and higher end NEX-FS100 cinema camera:
The GH3 captures more detail than the 5D Mark III or the Nikons - even when substantially more sharpening is applied to their output. This slight difference is noticeable on wide-angle shots but not so much on close-ups and telephoto shots. In the end the difference can be considered small to all but the most strident pixel peeper!
Compared to the current APS-C Canon DSLRs such as the 700D, 7D and 60D the GH3 is far ahead for detail capture and resolves a much cleaner image without the distracting speckles of false detail all over the frame. The GH3 also has less aliasing and moire. When moire does occur on the GH3 it is nowhere near as destructive as it is on the Canon APS-C DSLRs and occurs far less regularly.
The GH3 now handles dimly lit areas of an image far less noisily than the GH2 and the new codec is superb, with very little problems with heavy compression. My comparison video above shows just how much cleaner the GH3 is with shadow areas - on the black & white luma channel shots take a look at how much clearer the GH3 renders the museum garden in the shade.
|GH2 luma channel, ISO 200, 100% Crop||GH3 luma channel, ISO 200, 100% Crop|
This is a separate issue to that of noise at high ISOs, where the GH3 cannot hold a candle to the 5D Mark III, D5200 and D7100 or the more expensive dedicated video cameras like the NEX-FS100 and EOS C100.
Here is a comparison at ISO 1600-3200 between the GH3 and Nikon D5200 in low light at F2.0. The Nikon D5200 is more richly saturated with more accurate colour and less muddy looking noise.
Whilst a good stop less noisy than its predecessor at ISO 1600, the GH3 has a more 'electronic looking' noise grain than the GH2. The high ISO noise pattern on that camera was finer and more like Super 16mm film but on the GH3 it is muddier at high ISOs.
The 5D Mark III is a high ISO king, with careful handling and bright exposure it operates reasonably cleanly at ISO 6400. However it is worth noting the more versatile mirrorless lens mount on the GH3 helps mitigate the problem, since there is a selection of bright lenses that can be used with the Panasonic but not the deeper EOS lens mount.
With fast glass the GH3 is capable of producing stunning results in low light at ISO 800-1600 with the wide apertures found on the SLR Magic 25mm T0.95 and Voigtlander 17.5mm F0.95.
Cleaner shadow areas on the GH3 result in more usable dynamic range than the GH2. The improvement is around 1 stop. You can expose for the highlights and boost the shadows in post. The GH3 lacks a flat picture profile like Technicolor CineStyle available on the 5D Mark III. This can be used to extract maximum dynamic range at the time of recording, at the expense of tonal range. This method isn't without drawbacks and, once contrast is added back to the image in post, dynamic range often falls back to the same number of stops as if shot with a normal picture profile.
It's only really cameras such as the Raw-shooting Blackmagic Cinema Camera that offer significantly more dynamic range. At around 3 stops more, its 13 stops come close to the fabled 15 stops of Super 35mm film.
Colour and gradation
All the DSLRs shoot 8bit 4-2-0 to the compressed H.264 format which is no match for Raw or Apple ProRes (Blackmagic Cinema Camera and forthcoming Pocket Cinema Camera) in terms of colour accuracy and smooth subtle steps between shades.
If doing heavy colour correction in post a noticeable stepping affect can be accidentally introduced to large areas of gentle gradation such as a blue sky because of compression and the 8bit colour space.
That said the GH3 holds up to colour correction in post better than the GH2 and almost all other DSLRs thanks to a better compression engine and codec. There's less banding over subtle graduated tones and it is on par with the much more expensive 5D Mark III in this regard.
Smooth colour gradations lend a very natural feel to the 12bit raw images on the Blackmagic Cinema Camera (almost like looking out of a window) but the raw video format is extremely demanding on storage space, computing power and editing expertise - often requiring hours of post production to get the most out of. At the time of writing the camera is almost impossible to order due to production capacity issues and the odd design of the camera won't win any prizes for ergonomics; therefore the GH3 is the next best thing under the $3000 / £2300 mark for projects involving a lot of colour grading, green screen 'keying' and visual effects work.
You can read more about Andrew Reid's findings over at EOSHD.com
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