Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Sensational video quality
- Good stills image quality
- Solid, sealed metal construction without the camera becoming too heavy
- Lots of external control points
- Plenty of customization
- Caters well to both videographers and stills shooters
- Good choice of framerates, bitrates and codecs
- Comprehensive Wi-Fi settings and extensive control
- Big battery with the option of battery grip for long shoots
- Fast autofocus system for stills
- Useful autofocus modes for video shooting
Conclusion - Cons
- No focus aids available when shooting video
- Electronic viewfinder has distinct color cast and disappointing optics
- Noise reduction at high ISO rather clumsy
- JPEG color response a little underwhelming
- Wi-Fi can be awkward to set up
The GH3 is an important camera for Panasonic - it's one that needs to retrench the company's position in the market for filmmakers on a budget or for whom size is a concern at a time where the big DSLR makers are starting to take video seriously. It's also a camera that needs to act as a flagship for the company's Micro Four Thirds offerings - lending extra credibility to the rest of a lineup that risk being eclipsed by the work of Olympus and its other mirrorless rivals.
By foregoing the GH2's size advantage, Panasonic has pitched the GH3 against some seriously capable cameras - not least the D7100. And, while the improved ergonomics and added external controls make the GH3 a more pleasant camera to use than its predecessor, when considered from a stills photography perspective, it doesn't stand out against that competition. And, of course, it also has to stand up to its Micro Four Thirds peers, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and it simply doesn't have the JPEGs or outright charisma to do that, either.
Which isn't to say it's a bad stills camera - it's actually rather good - but there are some excellent stills shooters around for the money. However, the GH3 isn't simply a stills camera and, if you have any interest in shooting video at all, its quality and feature set help it stand apart from the competition.
The GH3 offers a step up in image quality over the GH2 and is certainly competitive, when lined-up next to its peers. The JPEG engine does a good job of rendering the sensor's detail - there's little more to gain in terms of detail or sharpness by processing the Raw files. There is something to be gained in terms of color, though. The GH3 produces likeable images but some people may find the yellow response a little green.
In terms of Raw capability the images it produces are sharp and have reasonably low noise levels. There's not a tremendous amount of additional dynamic range to be had out of the files, but they're reasonable malleable. The JPEG noise reduction isn't quite as impressive - with higher ISO images losing all their fine detail.
The GH3 is a nicer camera to use than the GH2, from a stills point of view. The proliferation of extra buttons really does put most key settings at your fingertips - to a degree usually only found on pro-grade models. After using the camera for a while you'll rarely find yourself needing the Q.Menu, let alone the main menus. There's enough customization of buttons to allow you to tailor the camera's behavior to your liking.
Anyone who found the OM-D's handling too fiddly will love the GH3's substantial grip, while its magnesium-alloy build strikes a good balance between offering a feeling of solidity, without adding excessive weight. The smaller Micro Four Thirds lenses also mean the GH3 can still present a more portable package than its APS-C DSLR peers (albeit with the usual caveats about depth-of-field).
The viewfinder is something of a disappointment. The OLED design avoids the 'tearing' that the field sequential designs used in previous Panasonics gave - making it much more enjoyable to use. Sadly the optics let it down (you'll rarely see the whole screen as sharp if you wear glasses), and we're not alone in finding the color calibration of the EVF dramatically different to that of the rear screen - to a degree that's unacceptable for anyone with any concerns about color.
The GH3 also has some of the most comprehensive wireless control we've yet seen on a camera of this type, with full control over exposure, focus and the majority of camera settings. Wi-Fi can also be used to automatically download files to your computer or upload them to the web. Maddeningly, though, its real weak-point is video shooting, where the only option is to trigger three minutes of footage and the expectation that shorter clips can only be stopped early by pressing buttons on the camera. We certainly hope this gets improved or third-party software becomes available to make the whole process a little more slick.
Video quality and handling (by Andrew Reid from EOSHD)
The Panasonic GH3 is the new standard bearer for video on a consumer stills camera.
At the time of writing no other camera at a similar price point offers so much for video shooters and filmmakers. Whilst the Nikon D5200 / D7100 and Canon 5D Mark III perform better in low light, neither have the range of video features and frame rates the GH3 offers for $1299 - nor quite the crispness of detail at 1080p. The mirrorless mount is also an advantage for video on the GH3 as it allows a wider range of lenses to be used and an active electronic viewfinder whilst recording.
However there's some competition from Blackmagic's forthcoming range of dedicated cinema cameras. Although the $995 Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera has a smaller Super 16mm sensor and no stills mode, it promises very high quality ProRes 4:2:2 and raw video with 13 stops dynamic range in a smaller body. Such capabilities in a small consumer camera were unheard of until now but the Pocket Cinema Camera won't be available until July 2013 at the earliest and file sizes will be huge compared to the GH3. There are also plenty of options above the $3500 mark, such as the Sony NEX-FS100 or $6000 Canon C100 but even this lacks some of the GH3's features. In reality the difference in terms of the image alone is smaller than the inflated prices would suggest.
Though I had expected a larger leap in image quality over the GH2, the GH3 is by far the better all-round camera. The image is much cleaner when shooting high contrast scenes with a lot of shade and it's better in low light. While it no longer offers the slightly wider 1.86x crop sensor of the GH2 or such bullet-proof performance in terms of moiré & aliasing, it extends the already attractive feature set to new levels. 1080/60p gives you the creative freedom of smooth slow-motion at the highest resolution. 72Mbit ALL-I and 1080/60p in the same camera are missing from the $15,000 Canon EOS C300, let alone the GH3's full-frame DSLR rivals.
Panasonic should be applauded for offering all this for $1299 along with so much else on the stills side. Many of the improvements that Panasonic have made with the GH3 over the GH2 covered elsewhere in this review are as useful for video shooters and filmmakers as they are for photographers. The articulated screen allows for an upright posture when shooting video on a tripod for hours on end, which is very important for comfort. The semi-pro, weather-sealed body is welcome at this price, as is the hugely extended battery run-time. Both the rear screen and EVF are much improved over the GH2 for video due to OLED technology - they're sharper, higher-contrast and there's no longer a noticeable shift in exposure on the live view display when the camera begins recording.
Perhaps key for me is the issue of lenses on the Micro Four Thirds mount. Adapters which allow full compatibility with Canon EF and EFS lenses are on the way and novel technology like the Metabones Speed Booster will give the GH3 a further 1-stop boost in low light as well as effectively enlarging the sensor to APS-C, meaning it falls perfectly in-line with the cinema standard of Super 35mm.
The Final Word
The GH3 arrives into a market much more competitive than its predecessor did - it's far from the only camera in town with extensive video features. For us the GH3's stills capabilities, while good, are not enough to make it stand out - Olympus' more compact E-M5 produces nicer JPEGs, while the likes of Nikon's D7100 offer an edge in stills image quality. As a result, it remains a camera that stands and falls on its video capabilities. However, as Andrew says above, that video quality is currently unmatched.
The lack of focus confirmation tools while shooting footage substantially increases the challenge of consistently getting the best results out of the camera, which takes a little of the gloss off this capability. However, the touch-focus system will allow beginners to tap into the GH3's impressive video quality, and dedicated video shooters will find their way 'round these limitations, so it doesn't completely undermine the camera's prowess in this area.
So, while it probably wouldn't quite gain a Gold Award if viewed purely as a stills camera, it gains that title for putting the highest quality footage currently available at this price within reach of anyone with even a passing interest in video.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The GH3 offers the best video quality of any camera we've ever seen and does a pretty good job of making it available to a wide range of users. This footage is available without external recorders, making it ideal for in-the-field shooting as well as more formal rigged-up setups. It's also a pretty handy stills camera with plenty of external controls, making it an impressively flexible package, overall.
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