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Review: Panasonic GH3

by Chris Gampat on 07/01/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (1 of 12)ISO 4001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The Panasonic GH3 is currently the company’s flagship mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. With the form factor of a DSLR, it will appeal to many serious pros for many serious reasons. The Panasonic GH3 can be boasted as the most serious camera in the Micro Four Thirds lineup with complimentary features such as a PC Sync port, weather sealing, uncompressed video out, Wifi transferring to get your clients images at a faster pace, and loads more including some really speedy autofocusing.

Complete with a 16MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, 4-CPU Venus engine, 3 inch 614K OLED screen, a magnesium alloy body, weather sealing, and a 1744 dot OLED electronic viewfinder, there are loads of features that make the GH3 quite a formidable camera–though not as highly spoken about as its cousin the Olympus OMD EM5.

But is it too much for you to handle?

 

Pros and Cons

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (2 of 12)ISO 4001-200 sec at f - 5.6

Pros

- Fantastic image quality

- Super fast focusing that is about on par with the OMD EM5 when using Panasonic’s top of the line glass

- Weather sealing

- Excellent video quality (more than we’d really need)

- Timelapse feature is really cool but sometimes confusing to use. They should take a page out of Nikon’s book

- Ergonomic layout will appeal to Canon, Nikon, and Sony users alike.

- Loads of controls at your fingertips

- Battery life is pretty darned good with one battery lasting us over eight hours of shooting

- Positively love the positioning of the ISO and White Balance buttons

Cons

- Too much detail loss at ISO 3200 and above

- A bit too bulky for my personal tastes as I prefer the smaller and more retro feel of the OMD

- Flash sync speed is only 1/160th

- Placement of the video record button is a tad awkward

Gear Used

For this review we used the Panasonic GH3 with the 12-35mm f2.8 OS, 35-100mm f2.8 OS, 7-14mm f4, Yongnuo 560 III, Paul C Buff Einstein E640, Westcott 7 foot parabolic umbrella, Pocket Wizard Plus III, Panasonic 8mm f3.5 fisheye, and Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95.

Tech Specs

Taken from the B&H Photo listing of the camera.

  • 16.05MP Digital Live MOS Sensor
  • 4-CPU Venus Engine
  • Micro Four Thirds System
  • 3.0″ 614k-Dot Free-Angle OLED Monitor
  • 1744k-Dot OLED Live View Finder
  • Full HD 1080p Video at 60fps
  • 20fps Continuous Shooting
  • Built-In Wi-Fi to Link to Smart Devices
  • Full-Area Auto Focus System, Pinpoint AF
  • Magnesium Alloy, Weather-Sealed Body

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (3 of 12)ISO 4001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The Panasonic GH3 is one heck of a formidable looking mirrorless camera. If you think about a high end DSLR and put it in a significantly smaller body, you’d have the GH3–of course after you remove the mirror and pentaprism and then replace them with an OLED viewfinder.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (4 of 12)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The front of the GH3 doesn’t sport much in terms of controls with the exception of the shutter release, exposure control dial, and a PC Sync port–the latter being my favorite as it means that Panasonic actually spent time caring about still photographers with this camera despite how marketed it is towards the video crowd.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (10 of 12)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The Pansaonic GH3 takes SD cards on the right hand side of the camera by the grip. It can also work with Eye-Fi, but there is wifi already built into the camera.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (9 of 12)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

On the left of they camera, you’ll find more ports. Here is where you’ll connect your external microphone, headphone jack, HDMI out port, and AV Out/USB port. These ports are protected by rubber flaps.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (8 of 12)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The bottom of the GH3 houses the battery port and the vertical grip connection area. The rubber flap in the middle comes off and gets stored in the grip.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (7 of 12)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The back of the GH3 is where you’ll commandeer the ship, Captain! Here you’ll find the electronic viewfinder, the rotating LCD screen, playback button, loads of function buttons, menu button, two control dials, record button, menu, and loads more. Seriously, there are more buttons here than we thought possible on a mirrorless camera.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (6 of 12)ISO 4001-125 sec at f - 5.6

And last but not least is the top of the GH3. Here you’ll find the mode dial, white balance button, hot shoe, drive mode selector, wifi indicator, and more. Oh, and there is a pop-up flash–don’t ask why.

Build Quality

The GH3 is tied with the Olympus OMD EM5 as the most durable and toughest camera that we’ve used in the mirrorless interchangeable lens category. Nothing about it feels cheap and it all oozes with quality and reassurance that it will get you through that tough gig no matter what it may be.

The GH3 is weather sealed–and to test this we took it out during a single extremely rainy week in NYC. The camera shrugged off the rain like a dog shakes off saturation after coming inside the house from running around.

Ease of Use

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (11 of 12)ISO 1001-10 sec at f - 5.6

As a Canon DSLR user, the GH3 feels very Canon like in some way but also like a Sony and Nikon DSLR. And I believe that Panasonic may have done that on purpose to appeal to many different users. Even the back menu looks like Canon’s!

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 product images (12 of 12)ISO 1001-13 sec at f - 5.6

Panasonic used to have very simple menus, and we have to admit that they’ve fallen a tad behind here. The menus are packing loads more options, but in all honesty they’re still easier than Canon’s new system and Nikon’s new one. They’re far ahead of Sony’s Alpha line and only slightly ahead of their NEX lineup.

Memorizing what all the buttons do will also take some time to conquer, though to be quite honest, I never used all of them nor have I ever needed to.

Wifi Transferring Abilities

The Panasonic GH3 has the ability to shoot images and transfer them straight over to a mobile device via its own built in wifi router. Panasonic gets some major brownie points for the design of the app: which allows for remote control and viewing. It’s alos quite fast. However, the only thing that really irks me is the fact that it won’t automatically convert the RAW files to JPEGs upon sending them over to the device. That is a feature that really annoys me.

Samsung, Canon and Sony have this down perfectly. And perhaps Panasonic could learn something from them about this. Otherwise, the workflow is extremely straightforward.

Autofocus

The GH3′s autofocusing with their high grade lenses is top notch and super speedy. You seriously couldn’t ask for a faster system and we’re not sure that anyone else except for Olympus could build one. Once you put third party lenses like those from Sigma on though you’ll start to see the system start to slow down a bit.

Olympus lenses are only a tad slower than Panasonic’s on this camera, and the vice versa with Panasonic lenses on Olympus bodies.

This camera was designed for professionals. We sometimes found that the best way to use the focusing was to use the center point, focus, and recompose after stopping down the lens to f5.6. But if that isn’t an option, then the touch to focus feature on the touch screen is the best alternative by far since it gives you immediate and exact results. The Panasonic GH3′s autofocus system, though fast, isn’t the smartest based on your composition of a scene. And that could stop a professional dead cold in their tracks sometimes.

Panasonic would do well with implementing a joystick for focus selection the way that Canon, Nikon and Sony do. And if they placed it right where the recording button currently is then they’d have a killer setup providing that they made it function in the same way that said systems set their up.

For news videographers and indie filmmakers, it would be beyond awesome if Panasonic had thrown in a focus peaking feature in the camera while manually focusing, but alas we were let down. My Voigtlander glass would have been that much more effective.

Metering

In a Sunny 16 metering test, we found the GH3 to meter accordingly with the standards, but we also generally felt like we needed to overexpose our images by a stop–meaning that we didn’t feel that the images were quite as well balanced.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 review images (1 of 2)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 4.5

Overall image quality from the Panasonic GH3 is quite solid. In fact, we think that this is one of the best sensors that Panasonic has put out. Users of this camera will be very impressed with the image quality, but we urge them to spring for the higher end lenses or the fast primes to take full advantage of the sensor’s capabilities. When they do this, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. We found the high ISO image quality to be a tad behind that of the Olympus OMD EM5–which could be considered this camera’s biggest competitor.

Correction: this is a Sony made sensor. The same one in the OMD

That also means, quite obviously, that Sony’s and Fujifilm’s comparable offerings also best this camera in image quality. But where we found the image quality to be positively stellar is with the video output. Out of the camera and without hacks, it beats anything Canon has put out thus forth in a comparable arena.

High ISO Images

ISO 3200

ISO 3200

The Panasonic GH3 has some excellent noise processing capabilities. Any noise that one might see looks like film. We’re happy to say that we didn’t see very much color noise, but we did see noise in the shadows–that’s typical of most camera sensors though.

Beyond ISO 3200, we found detail smudging to be a bit too strong for our personal liking.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 7-14mm f4 OS extra photos (19 of 22)ISO 32001-30 sec at f - 4.0

ISO 3200

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic 7-14mm f4 OS extra photos (20 of 22)ISO 32001-20 sec at f - 4.0

ISO 3200

RAW File Versatility

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic raw file original (1 of 1)ISO 2001-400 sec at f - 4.0

Original

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic raw file versatile (1 of 1)ISO 2001-400 sec at f - 4.0

Edited

The raw file versatility of the Panasonic GH3 is good enough. When you purchase this camera, don’t expect to get results as good as those from Sony’s other sensors (including the one in the Olympus OMD EM5) and Fujifilm’s sensors. But instead, expect it be comparable to Samsung’s NX series camera sensors.

If you learn to work with its metering, you’ll eventually figure out its strengths and weaknesses, and with that said you’ll eventually learn to make better use of the sensor. This can also be done with simple chimping of the LCD screen.

Video Capabilities

We have been using the GH3 to create many of our videos so far on our brand new YouTube Channel. Honestly, we have nary a complaint. The video image quality is sharp, doesn’t suffer from loads of compression and is really beautiful looking. We didn’t test the uncompressed HD video footage ability, but we’ve seen it and have used it in previous videos.

It’s really quite a thing of art. And the video capabilities make this camera much more of a camcorder than a camera.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 extra review photos (2 of 2)ISO 2001-80 sec at f - 6.3

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Eyefi Mobi review product image (1 of 1)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (1 of 12)ISO 2001-1250 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (2 of 12)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (3 of 12)ISO 2001-500 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (4 of 12)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (5 of 12)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (6 of 12)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (7 of 12)ISO 2001-1250 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (8 of 12)ISO 2001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (9 of 12)ISO 2001-800 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (10 of 12)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (11 of 12)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 at the Mermaid Day Parade (12 of 12)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 even more photos (2 of 6)ISO 2001-1000 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 even more photos (3 of 6)ISO 2001-2000 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 even more photos (4 of 6)ISO 2001-250 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 even more photos (5 of 6)ISO 2001-80 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 even more photos (6 of 6)ISO 2001-640 sec at f - 6.3

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH3 extra review photos (1 of 2)ISO 2001-160 sec at f - 3.5

Conclusions

This is the part of the review that I was dreading getting to. Over my three weeks of time with the camera, I chatted with Panasonic, Phil Ryan from Pop Photo, staffers, and creatives about this camera. We’ve all got very different opinions. On a personal note, I couldn’t be happier to send this camera back to Panasonic. That’s not to say that this is a terrible camera–in fact it’s almost shy of winning an Editor’s Choice. But the point of a mirrorless camera is to keep the size down and the GH3 makes it the size of a DSLR. Additionally, they tried to jam pack a ton of buttons on the camera which didn’t totally work out for the ergonomics. Seriously, there are around five custom function buttons all over the place. Additionally, coming from the OMD and working with Leicas before, I really missed the feeling of those classical knobs and dials in just the right places. This felt a lot more like a DSLR–and may therefore also appeal to a whole nother level of customer. I’m obviously not that person.

Is the GH3 a great picture taker? Heck yes. I remember when Panasonic’s Vivid color mode was more like a painting that had lost its colors over the years, but Panasonic has quite improved it with the GH3. The colors are punchy and vibrant, but could still be more so if they just raised the saturation a tad straight out of the camera.

The way that they designed the card port was also a bit weird. It kept popping open at all times. My roommate, who owns a GH3, told me to be sure to mention this in my review. And it’s frankly unacceptable–especially if they’re touting the weather sealing abilities. What if the door pops open in a storm? The way around it is to put some gaffers tape over it to hold it shut.

What I really appreciate though is the fact that Panasonic put a PC Sync port on the camera, which means that they really cared about photographers when they developed it. Unfortunately, we feel that it is much better suited for the videographer. Are you a news shooter? This camera is totally for you.

Shooting an event? Set the camera to have a flat color profile and then get to work.

The GH3 is a great camera overall, but misses the mark in some areas and isn’t a camera for everyone either.

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