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Panasonic GH3 Review

By , Dave Etchells, Mike Tomkins, Dave Pardue and Shawn Barnett
Preview posted September 17, 2012
Review posted

Panasonic GH3 review -- Front quarter view

Panasonic's GH series of compact system cameras have had video recording as their main focus from day one. The GH1 saw good pickup among amateur video enthusiasts, and with the GH2, quite a few pros began using them as inexpensive alternatives to full-frame DSLRs. Now, the mirrorless Panasonic GH3 takes it to a whole new level, offering some of the richest video capabilities we've ever seen on a camera in its price range -- including bit rates as high as 72Mbps and speeds as fast as 60p. But maybe more importantly, the GH3 has improved its still photography chops, too, featuring a brand new 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and a three-core Venus FHD engine processor designed to deliver more detail and reduced noise.

In addition to what Panasonic claims as its best sensor yet, the Panasonic GH3 boasts a radically overhauled user interface, a gorgeous Organic LED rear screen and electronic viewfinder, a more powerful built-in flash (compatible with a new wireless external flash system), fairly advanced WiFi image sharing and remote control capabilities, and a rugged magnesium-alloy body with dust- and splash-proofing.

However, make no mistake, Panasonic has very explicitly addressed the needs of professional video shooters with the GH3, and in the process has thrown down the gauntlet to heavyweights Canon, Nikon and Sony. Previous background discussions with Panasonic product planners and engineers certainly showed us that this was a market Panasonic was interested in pursuing, but we have to admit we were happily surprised by just how much they managed to pack into the new GH3. This is truly a serious video production tool.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Motion picture menu

Video features. Many of the Panasonic GH3's video capabilities are significant improvements over those of the GH2, and many in fact represent significant advances over the competition, especially at the GH3's street price of around US$1,100.

Here's a quick rundown of the key video-oriented capabilities of the Panasonic GH3:

Panasonic GH3 review -- Top view

Other key GH3 upgrades. As we mentioned earlier, the Panasonic GH3 isn't just for shooting videos. It's also a very accomplished still photography tool, delivering image quality that's competitive with the best mirrorless cameras on the market, as well as with some prosumer DSLRs. Here's just a few of the features that make it stand out from the GH2 and other cameras in its class.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Rear view
Panasonic GH3 review -- Front view

 

Shooting with the Panasonic GH3

by Dan Havlik

Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo

At first glance, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 doesn't appear to be a heck of a lot different from its predecessors, the Panasonic GH1 and GH2. However, this compact system camera has been significantly upgraded from what's come before, and that's saying a lot. The GH2 earned a rave review from yours truly more than two years ago, separating itself from the pack for its blazing autofocus and serious video capabilities. In fact, its video features made it a darling among professional videographers looking for a lightweight, relatively inexpensive camera to use when bigger, bulkier, pricier cameras didn't fit the bill.

The GH3 further builds on its predecessors' accomplishments, offering features until now available only on much higher-end, video-oriented professional models. The GH3 can record full 1080p at 60fps from the sensor, use bit rates as high as 72 Mbps, and add a SMPTE time code option, and all for a fraction of the price of its rivals. However, it does offer a few conundrums for prospective buyers. For one, while it looks a lot like a DSLR and is even more durable than its predecessors -- with a magnesium alloy body and ample weather sealing -- it's not a DSLR at all. And while it's slightly smaller than most DSLRs, it's quite a bit bigger than other mirrorless CSCs.

And if you're considering the GH3 versus an HD-shooting DSLR, you're no doubt aware that Micro Four Thirds sensors are smaller than many DSLRs, with an assumed sacrifice in image quality -- especially in low light at high sensitivities. The GH3's completely new, 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor was designed to bridge the gap with these larger-sensored DSLRs, reducing noise levels and producing more details thanks to a specially designed low-pass filter. Can the drastically revamped Panasonic GH3 up the ante enough to compete with prosumer DSLRs by shooting crisp, high-resolution movies and still images? Let's take a look at Panasonic's latest flagship model and find out.

In the hand. While the Panasonic GH3 looks similar to the two models that have come before it, it feels discernibly different once you put it in your hand. The more durable, fully weatherized GH3 weighs about 2.8 ounces more than does the GH2: 16.6 ounces (body only without the battery) for the GH3, versus 13.8 ounces for its predecessor. Most of that added heft comes from the camera's new die-cast, magnesium alloy body. By way of comparison, the GH2's body consists of a plastic shell laid over a steel frame, which makes the older model feel a bit on the flimsy side.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Front quarter view with lens

The GH3, on the other hand, is serious and tough. I mainly shot with it using Panasonic's 12-35mm f/2.8 aspherical lens, and like the GH3 the lens is splash-proof and dust-proof, though not fully weather-sealed. Used in conjunction with the GH3, it's a solid shooting combo for either stills or video work. When placed side-by-side with the full-frame Canon 6D, which I also have in the office, the GH3 with its smaller Micro Four Thirds sensor was noticeably less wide and shorter, since this mirrorless model has no pentaprism on top, and no mirror box at its core.

At the same time though, while both body and lenses were smaller than those of competing DSLRs, the GH3 isn't as portable as many of its mirrorless rivals. I still needed some type of camera bag to stash it in, just as I did for the Canon 6D, although I could at least get away without using a heavy, professional pack. In terms of price, the difference is more clear: the GH3 retails for about US$1,000 less than the 6D, and that's a significant savings if you're on a budget.

The Panasonic GH3 features a fairly substantial handgrip for a compact system camera, and the grip, front, and sides of the body (including the SD card door) are covered in textured rubber for a comfortable, non-slip, tactile feel. The top and bottom portions of the camera, meanwhile, are matte, black polycarbonate. The GH3 is an attractive looking camera, though it does look like a miniaturized DSLR. I made the same observation about the more retro-looking -- and considerably smaller -- Olympus OM-D E-M5. After all, if you want a camera that's smaller than a DSLR, but looks and behaves like one, why not just make a smaller DSLR?

In the end though, the GH3's design definitely holds appeal for on-the-go photographers and videographers; it just depends on your point of view. It's either a lightweight, compact, serious pro camera or a larger, more substantial, high-end mirrorless model. I found it to be a comfortable -- if not particularly original -- camera body to shoot with.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Top deck controls

Controls. Along with making the GH3 a more durable camera, Panasonic has also redesigned the camera's exterior interface, giving photographers and videographer tons of options right at their fingertips. In a nutshell, there are more physical buttons on this camera than you'll find on many prosumer DSLRs. Some are dedicated for specific functions; others are fully customizable to match your shooting style. Panasonic is clearly bucking the trend of burying settings in the menu system. More buttons means more of a good thing, because they save precious time from having to dig through a camera's menus to make adjustments.

The most distinctive change to the GH3's physical controls is that Panasonic has done away with the four-way cluster of buttons on the lower right rear of the GH2. Instead, those buttons have been moved to various places on the camera, most of which make more logical sense. In particular, I like how the White Balance, ISO, and Exposure Compensation buttons have moved to the top deck of the camera behind the shutter release, for easier and more intuitive access.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Rear deck controls

Replacing the cluster of controls on back is a jog wheel, which makes it easy to scroll through settings or quickly review photos in playback. Panasonic has also scattered five, programmable function (Fn) buttons all over the camera body. Control freaks will love having these handy options. At the same time, those who don't want to spend a lot of time customizing all the buttons on their rig will appreciate the fact that each of these Fn buttons have a default setting. For instance, Fn4 is the trash button in Playback mode.

Another change to the button layout on the Panasonic GH3 that I liked was moving the red, dedicated Movie Recording button to the back of the camera, versus having it behind the shutter button on the previous model. (In the previous placement on the GH2, it was possible to accidentally trigger the video mode when you were trying to shoot a still.) Next to the Movie button on back, there's also a toggle switch to select autofocus options including full-time AF with face detection and tracking functions, which is a handy feature when shooting video.

Some of the other tweaks to the Panasonic GH3's control layout are more subtle. The Control dial, for instance, is less crammed with options. The standalone settings for Portrait, Landscape and Macro have been removed and placed in the menu. While it's more aesthetically appealing, I wish they had left the Macro option somewhere on the exterior of the camera.

Overall though, when more and more cameras are stripping away external controls and stowing them in menus, Panasonic deserves kudos for offering more button options for photographers who want to change settings on the fly.

OLED touchscreen and EVF in use. Panasonic has upgraded both the screen and the electronic viewfinder on the GH3 from the previous model, which really improves the user experience. The GH3 now has a 3-inch, Organic LED panel with touch control. Resolution has been ramped up to around 614,000 dots, which means the screen is a 640 x 320-pixel screen with each pixel comprised of separate RGB dots. My photos and videos looked wonderful in playback, and gave me a good sense of image and video quality so I didn't have to worry about reshooting.

The screen flips out to the side and rotates, letting you compose shots from variety of angles. You can even view it from in front of you for self-portraits, if that's your thing. I wasn't too keen on the touchscreen control features on the previous model but they've noticeably improved with the Panasonic GH3. The new display features capacitive touch technology, which is far more sensitive and responsive than the resistive technology of the old screen. In fact, it's the same technology that most smartphones use.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Articulated LCD monitor

The touchscreen on the predecessor GH2 was confounding, sometimes responding when I didn't want it to and other times not responding at all. Along with being more sensitive to your fingertips, the touch functions on the GH3 do a better job of getting out of the way when you don't need them. For instance, swiping through photos is a breeze on the GH3. While "pinch and enlarge" zooming in on images is not quite as easy as on a smartphone, it's also very handy in a pinch, if you'll excuse the pun.

The Panasonic GH3's revamped EVF is also OLED-based, and it's quite nice as well. In our testing, we found it offered a 100% field of view, giving us very accurate results when composing photos. There's rather generous dioptic correction on the EVF, so it can be adjusted to attune itself to most eyes.

The EVF offers 1,746,000 dots (873 x 500 pixels) of resolution (16:9 aspect ratio), and I generally saw a crisp live feed with much detail even in the highlights and shadows, which are traditionally the bugaboo for EVFs. It's still not going to make you forget the wonderful optical viewfinders on full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon 6D, but it's top-notch EVF technology. The one area where this EVF -- and all EVFs, for that matter -- lag behind their optical counterparts (literally), is in the GH3's proximity sensor. This turns on the viewfinder when you bring your eye to it, and while it's pretty quick to activate, there's still a split second blackout. This caused me to miss some fast action shots in a basketball game I was shooting. The EVF is fast, yes, but just not fast enough when you're trying to capture a decisive moment. The solution, of course, is to forgo the rear screen Live View and just leave the EVF on all the time, but that's not always practical.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo

Autofocus. To be honest, I was not a fan of most early compact system cameras, mainly because the contrast-detection-based autofocus systems on those models were slow as molasses. It's fair to say, though, that things have improved dramatically with more recent CSCs. Where I first really noticed the change to faster focusing speeds was with the Panasonic GH2. That model, which I reviewed for IR in 2011, was one of the first mirrorless CSCs not only to equal the AF speed of some digital SLRs -- which typically use faster Phase Detection-based autofocus systems -- but to surpass them.

The Panasonic GH3 is even quicker than the GH2 when it comes to focusing, which is another step in the right direction. According to our lab testing, the GH3's contrast-detect autofocus is very fast, and even quicker than most consumer DSLRs, though not as fast as most pro models. Our lab results showed that GH3's full-autofocus shutter lag (with the subject at a fixed distance) was 0.210 second using single-area (center) AF with the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens. When manually focused, the GH3's lag time dropped to 0.086 second. And the GH3's prefocused shutter lag time of 0.079 second is also speedy.

In real world use, this meant I could confidently use the Panasonic GH3 in a variety of shooting situations, including fast action sports and spur-of-the-moment, candid street photography, or when trying to capture the unpredictable behavior of animals and children. In most of these cases, autofocus lock took a split second, helping me get sharp results.

While I was pleased with these results from the Panasonic GH3, I wasn't that surprised, considering how well its predecessor fared. While the GH3 was several hundredths of a second faster at autofocusing across the board in our testing compared to the GH2, that difference isn't very noticeable in real-world shooting. However, what was more apparent was how well the GH3 focused in dark, low contrast situations, which should have been a challenge for its AF system. For example, while shooting basketball in an indoor gym under terrible, muddy lighting, the GH3 had no problem locking in on players shooting or dribbling to the hoop.

Find out more about the Panasonic GH3's autofocus and operational speed by clicking here to see our full battery of objective performance tests conducted in the IR Lab.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Side view

Operational performance. The Panasonic GH3 proved to be a fast performer in other areas, as well. During my field testing, I seldom felt like it was struggling to keep up with me. (Except, as mentioned earlier, when the camera auto switches from Live View on the rear OLED monitor to the EVF via the GH3's proximity sensor.)

The GH3 is powered by a newly developed Venus Engine processor, and along with improving image and video quality -- which I'll detail in the next few sections -- the processor kept the camera humming along. The GH3's start-up time to first shot is quite fast for a CSC -- we timed it at less than a second -- but shut down is a bit slower at 2.5 seconds.

For continuous shooting, the GH3 has a healthy burst rate of just over six frames per second when capturing full-resolution JPEGs. Oddly, that drops to about five fps when shooting raw images, but it's still not too bad.

If you're interested in using the GH3's burst mode to capture fast action, there is one drawback to this CSC versus a DSLR. When shooting high-speed bursts with the GH3, the camera's Live View is not available, so you won't be able to see the action you're photographing --just the shots as they're recorded. The same holds true for the camera's super-high-speed burst mode, which can capture 20 frames per second at a reduced resolution of 4 megapixels. I find this to be rather annoying when shooting sports because I can't follow along and anticipate the movement of the athletes to capture them at the decisive moment. You do get Live View if you drop continuous shooting down to the middle speed, which is about four frames per second, but there's a noticeable blackout time between each shot, and it's a lot longer than I've experienced with most DSLRs.

On the plus side, the Panasonic GH3 has great buffer depth when recording full resolution JPEGs, letting you shoot almost infinitely without the camera pausing to catch up. (Our lab testing surpassed 80 consecutive shots with no sign of slowing.) When it does finally come, that pause is relatively brief, too, lasting just a few seconds. The GH3 clears its buffer quickly, so long as you use a fast memory card such as the blazing fast SanDisk Extreme Pro 95MB/sec UHS-1 SDHC card we used in lab testing. Buffer depths with RAW files are also generous, at 24 raw frames and 20 Raw+JPEG frames in our tests.

Switching from mode to mode is also quite fast on the GH3, and the camera nimbly moved from shot to shot, with single-shot cycle times clocking in at 0.48 second for Large/Fine JPEGs, 0.48 second for RAW and 0.46 second for RAW+L/F JPEGs, according to our lab tests. Overall, the Panasonic is a very fast camera to use and should be able to keep up with most shooting situations.

One last note on performance: The GH3 boasts pretty good battery life. Panasonic rates the camera as good for up to 540 shots between charges depending on the lens used. Most prosumer DSLRs still hold a big advantage over compact system cameras here, but the GH3 is starting to bridge the gap. And it should, considering it's bigger than most CSCs, and has a bigger grip to hold a bigger battery! And if you need better endurance, consider purchasing the DMW-BGGH3 battery grip, which effectively doubles battery life with a second lithium-ion battery installed.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo

Image quality. The Panasonic GH3 and its redesigned, 16-megapixel Live MOS image sensor produced great image quality with a few exceptions. First, the good news. I like the fact that Panasonic kept the resolution of the GH3 at 16 megapixels while upgrading the imaging chip in other ways. One of the drawbacks to Micro Four Thirds-format sensors -- compared to, for instance, 35mm-sized, full-frame chips -- is that their smaller size simply doesn't allow as much space for large pixels. By not trying to cram in extra pixels, Panasonic is able to maintain a pixel size of approximately 3.74 microns. Again, not great by full-frame DSLR standards, but larger than if it had raised the resolution.

Where Panasonic aims to get the most out of those 16 megapixels is by adding a new optical low-pass filter over the sensor, which is designed to optimize the GH3's resolution while helping to control moiré. Meanwhile, Panasonic says its been able to control image noise -- which has often been a problem for Micro Four Thirds cameras -- by preventing sensor noise from entering the GH3's output signal.

Does it work? For the most part, yes. The Panasonic GH3 is aimed at more advanced photographers and it captures images for those with more discerning tastes. Where many consumer and even enthusiast cameras (including DSLRs) tend to default to overly bright JPEGs with pumped up colors and hues, the GH3 has a more sophisticated palette. Overall color saturation levels are about average, with some tendencies to push dark red, purples and dark green a bit while undersaturating yellow, aqua and cyan.

The GH3 does quite well in capturing skin tones, thanks to its slightly understated color. Caucasian skin tones looked natural with a slight -- but not overdone -- push to pink which made people in my images look healthy. Darker skin tones nudged toward red, but, again, it looked natural. Some consumer cameras can push too hard in these directions, occasionally making people look doll-like.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo
Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo
The GH3 takes great pictures, with a ton of detail and natural-looking colors that aren't too oversaturated.

The Panasonic GH3 produced slightly muted colors compared to some cameras, which I prefer. Most photographers interested in this camera are probably already quite familiar with Photoshop, and will find the more natural tones of the GH3's JPEGs to give you more editing latitude. Exposure accuracy was about average for outdoor shots, with some blown highlights and inky shadows.

I was pleasantly surprised with how much resolution and detail the Panasonic GH3 was able to capture, considering it's using a 16-megapixel chip. My shots out in the field were very rich in detail, even when I zoomed in to 200% and printed at 13x19 inches. Our lab tests also showed that the GH3 produced very high resolution images, with 2,300 lines of strong detail. There was very good sharpness overall, and the Panasonic 12-25mm f/2.8 lens I tested the GH3 with helped produce crisp images that rival anything you'd get from an enthusiast or prosumer-level DSLR.

In our lab testing we noticed a few minor issues. Some sharpening artifacts (or "halos") from edge enhancement, which create the illusion of sharpness by pumping up colors and tones at the edge of transitions in color or tone, were evident in high-contrast photo subjects, though the GH3 didn't sharpen as much as some competing models. But the camera offers a wide range of sharpening settings (11 steps), so you can always tweak sharpening to your liking (or shoot raw and sharpen yourself). Our testing also found that the GH3's noise reduction efforts already start to smudge detail a bit at low ISO -- most notably in the shadows -- and this smudging intensifies at higher ISOs, but that's no surprise. Still, the GH3 overall strikes a nice balance between noise and detail, with high ISO performance quite good for a Micro Four Thirds model, though not as good as the best APS-C cameras.

Panasonic GH3 - Images at ISO 800 and ISO 3200
Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo
f/2.8, 1/60s, 60mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, ISO 800
Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo
f/2.8, 1/50s, 60mm (35mm equivalent) focal length, ISO 3200

In terms of dynamic range, the GH3 scored very well for a Micro Four Thirds model in our testing, rating as good as (or in the case of raw files, slightly better than) the Olympus OM-D EM-5, one of our benchmark CSCs for image quality. And if the camera's normal dynamic range isn't enough, you can try out Panasonic's built-in i.Dynamic modes to pump up the drama even more. (See our comparison chart below.)

View the IR Lab's in-depth Panasonic GH3's image quality test results by clicking here, and read further on in the review for side-by-side comparisons against the GH3's top competitors.

Video. The Panasonic GH3 is a great still photo shooter, but where it really shines is as a video camera. Along with HD video image quality that I would place ahead of most larger-sensored prosumer DSLRs, the GH3 comes loaded with options and features to make the life of the videographer richer and easier.

Earlier in this review, we highlighted nearly a dozen features designed not just for weekend warriors looking to capture footage of their kids playing soccer, but also for professional videographers making feature-length videos. At the same time, the GH3's small size and inconspicuous looks make it ideal for shooting "run-and-gun" type footage in tricky situations. Also, the fact the camera is splashproof, dustproof and rugged opens up a variety shooting options that most compact system cameras (and many DSLRs) wouldn't be able to handle. It adapted easily to whatever video scenario we threw at it.

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1,920 x 1,080
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Frame Rate Effect: 300% Faster, MOV, 24p
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The HD video we shot looked sharp, full of rich color, and surprisingly steady despite shooting it primarily hand-held. The ability to quickly put the GH3 into full-time autofocus mode via a simple turn of the focus mode lever on the back of the camera was convenient. I particularly liked that the GH3 gives you full PASM (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual) control during video recording, with no minimum aperture requirements for any of the autofocus modes. Unfortunately, the GH3's small size and DSLR-style form factor aren't ideal for handholding for long periods of time. For that, you're going to want a tripod, monopod or steadicam-type device.

While I put the Panasonic GH3 through its paces and was impressed with the quality of the video -- and the audio that I captured with the camera's built-in stereo microphone -- I barely scratched the surface of what the GH3 can do as a motion picture camera. With premium video features, including full 1080 HD recording at 60 frames per second, superior video quality thanks to bit rates up to 72 Mbps, and All-I recording modes that makes editing much easier, the GH3 is simple enough for the amateur and advanced enough to keep video pros happy.

Want to know even more about the GH3's video skills? Click here to learn more about its features and see how it handles a variety of recording situations from night-time shooting to rolling shutter.

Wi-Fi. The Panasonic GH3's wireless feature set is one of the most robust we've ever tested on an interchangeable-lens camera, offering remote shooting and image transfer when you pair the GH3 with a smartphone or tablet equipped with the company's Lumix Link app (available for both Apple iOS and Android devices). You can connect your smart device via a direct connection with the camera, or via a wireless network.

Once connected and using the GH3's Remote Shooting mode, you can control most of the camera's still photography functionality via the Lumix Link app on your phone or tablet. That includes changing exposure settings, selecting the focus with a single tap on the screen and operating the power zoom if the lens supports it, as well as more subtle adjustments. We found it all fairly easy and intuitive to use, as long as you're familiar with setting Wi-Fi connections. Just be aware that some settings and menus are not available when using your smart device as a remote control.

For instance, you can record video remotely, but you have to use the timer recording function. You can't stop recording from your connected device -- you either have to wait for the timer to run out or stop it on the camera itself. And you won't see the video on your phone or tablet during filming.

As for file transferring, you can opt to either send your photos and videos to a connected device as they're being shot -- including your computer, a compatible TV or even a cloud sync service -- or you can transfer them after the shoot from the camera's storage. It's important to know that while JPEG files can be sent or shared to all kinds of connected devices or services (and MP4 videos to most), raw or raw+JPEGs stills and MOV or AVCHD movies can only be shared with a PC.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Sample photo

Summary. The Panasonic GH3 is an exceptional mirrorless camera that's not only a huge step above its predecessor, the GH2, in terms of image quality and functionality, but also a serious contender among high-end DSLRs -- especially when it comes to its video quality and feature set.

 

Panasonic GH3 - Additional Modes and Filters

by Dave Pardue

Creative shooting filters are becoming more refined these days, and I'm glad to see them included on high quality enthusiast cameras like the Panasonic GH3. Many photographers, including some of my esteemed colleagues here at IR, turn their noses up when I mention using creative filters, but I personally enjoy having them at my disposal. I chose my six favorites from the GH3 Creative Control Mode on the dial to display below, but there are a total of 14 filters for you to choose from (one of which is displayed in another table below). And while it is certainly true that many effects can be recreated after the fact in post-processing, I find it a great luxury not to have to wait or do the work myself!

After all, if you want to preserve the original you can shoot in raw+JPEG, and the raw file will be there unaltered for you to tweak all you want. Or if you prefer, you can shoot one shot with a filter and one without. Either way, you have several options at your disposal should you need them, be it for instant gratification or for creative inspiration in the moment.

Panasonic GH3 - Creative Filters
Panasonic GH3 review -- Expressive filter Panasonic GH3 review -- Retro filter
Expressive Retro
Panasonic GH3 review -- Dynamic Monochrome filter Panasonic GH3 review -- Cross Process filter
Dynamic Monochrome Cross Process
Panasonic GH3 review -- High Dynamic filter Panasonic GH3 review -- Impressive Art filter
High Dynamic Impressive Art
Panasonic does a great job of giving their users well thought out, high quality filters for their shooting preferences. Impressive Art appears to be directly inspired by Olympus' Dramatic Tone. In fact, they look almost identical. I love them both and use them often (but please don't tell my colleagues here at IR). Another filter of particular note is High Dynamic; see how much more of the treeline detail it renders visible, without the expense of blowing out the clouds too badly.
Panasonic GH3 review -- i-Dynamic menu

The GH3 also comes equipped with an i.Dynamic menu setting, or Intelligent Dynamic Range Control. This allows the camera to automatically adjust contrast and exposure across a shot in order to maximize the dynamic range. It can be set to high, standard, low or off, and is a useful control mode for difficult lighting and exposure situations.

Below are side-by-side comparisons showing each of the four available settings attempting to create optimal dynamic range for a fairly difficult shot.

Panasonic GH3 - i.Dynamic setting
Panasonic GH3 review -- i.Dynamic off Panasonic GH3 review -- i.Dynamic low
i.Dynamic (off) i.Dynamic (low)
Panasonic GH3 review -- i.Dynamic standard Panasonic GH3 review -- i.Dynamic high
i.Dynamic (standard) i.Dynamic (high)

As these images progress from zero dynamic range assistance all the way to high, you can see more and more detail in the tree in the foreground, as well as in the distant treeline, without blowing out any of the brighter areas. Many professional and enthusiast cameras have some form of this control available, and Panasonic's i.Dynamic mode has been available for some time now. If that's not enough, the GH3 also has a basic HDR setting that can be set to Auto or to custom EV ranges, but it's only accessible when shooting in JPEG-only mode.

And now for one of my favorite filter modes of all time: One Point Color. Selective color modes have been around for many years, but until I tried the GH3 I have found other cameras' take on it a bit limiting because you have to choose from a specific color as set by the camera (e.g. red, green or blue). With the GH3 you can select any color in the spectrum to be your selection by choosing an eyedropper tool on the OLED monitor and then tapping the area/color you wish to isolate.

Below are examples using somewhat non-standard colors to show the versatility of this mode. Also note, you can call up a slider on the touchscreen that allows you to dial in how much or little isolation you want. So you can go from total isolation of a color (such as the red flowers below) to just partial isolation (as with the yellow flowers allowing some green foliage to still come through). The GH3's One Point Color is a very clever and tweakable filter, indeed.

Panasonic GH3 - One Point Color
Panasonic GH3 review -- Partial Color filter Panasonic GH3 review -- Partial Color filter
Using the same subject I chose a different spot from the variegated leaves to achieve different results.
Panasonic GH3 review -- Partial Color filter
In this image I was able to select the cat's green eyes as my color choice, which allowed them to stand out for a slightly more dramatic effect. In the process, I also picked up some color from the herb garden.

 

Panasonic GH3 - Evening Scene Modes
Panasonic GH3 review -- Intelligent Auto Panasonic GH3 review -- Romantic Sunset Glow
Intelligent Auto Romantic Sunset Glow
Panasonic GH3 review -- Cool Night Sky Panasonic GH3 review -- Vivid Sunset Glow
Cool Night Sky Vivid Sunset Glow
Again, these could certainly be created in post-production from a standard non-filtered shot, but if you find a nice evening scene to shoot, why not shoot several options? Of the images above, I would certainly start the editing process using one of the filtered shots, as I find them far more appealing.
Panasonic GH3 review -- Burst-mode example

On the right is an example of the GH3's burst mode at the high speed (H) setting. (To see a larger version, click the image.)

As our reviewer, Dan, mentioned above, this setting doesn't allow you to see your shots as you take them in Live View, so if that is important to you, you'll need to set it to middle speed (M). You will go from 6 frames per second to four in order to access Live View.

I didn't have much problem foregoing Live View as I captured this pass of Charlotte on the first try, shooting 10 images across roughly two seconds-worth of frisbee catching action.

 

Panasonic GH3 Technical Info

by Mike Tomkins

Panasonic GH3 review -- Image sensor

Although Panasonic has developed a new Live MOS image sensor for the Lumix GH3 compact system camera, it hasn't boosted the resolution, suggesting it feels the existing 16.1 megapixels to be more than adequate. That's not to say the company hasn't paid attention to resolution, though. The sensor is overlaid by a newly-developed optical low-pass filter that it says is optimized to provide a better balance of resolution against moiré reduction.

Instead of continuing to cram in more megapixels, Panasonic says that it's worked to reduce the image sensor's noise levels, and on preventing sensor noise from entering the output signal.

A newly-developed Venus Engine image processor also has its part to play, as does the connectivity for both sensor and processor. The power supply and signal lines are designed to be as close to the same length as possible, which Panasonic says helps prevent noise entering the signal processing circuit, power supply line and grounding line. The latest-generation of Venus Engine uses both 3D Noise Reduction and Multi-process Noise Reduction algorithms in an attempt to further tame noise.

By default, the Panasonic GH3 offers a sensitivity range of ISO 200 to 12,800 equivalents, just slightly abbreviating the ISO 160 to 12,800 range of the GH2. You can now extend these in the new camera to encompass everything from ISO 125 to 25,600 equivalents, however.

Burst shooting performance has also improved a little, stepping from five to six frames per second at full resolution, and burst depth has more than doubled to 18 RAW+JPEG frames. If you change the resolution to 4 megapixels, you still get an impressive speed increase to 20 frames per second, but that's only half the rate offered by the GH2 at the same resolution. Burst depth in this high-speed mode is 80 JPEG frames, enough for a four second burst.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Magnesium alloy body
Panasonic GH3 review -- Lens mount

The new sensor and processor are housed inside a die-cast magnesium alloy body, quite a step forward from the GH2, which featured a plastic shell over a stamped steel frame.

The Panasonic GH3's body is also weather-sealed, providing both splash and dust-proofing that's not present in the earlier camera.

With a tilt-swivel display and a popup flash strobe in the design, we'd imagine it's quite a task to weather-seal a camera like this, but the effort will doubtless be appreciated by users who no longer need to bother with rain covers if they're shooting with a weather-sealed lens.

The Lumix GH3's Micro Four Thirds lens mount provides access to what Panasonic claims to be the largest lineup of interchangeable lenses for a mirrorless camera

Panasonic currently has 20 Lumix G and Leica DG-branded lenses.

Add in lenses made by Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds partners, and the GH3 has a tremendous range of optics available to it: everything from pancake primes to telephoto zooms.

And it doesn't hurt that a majority of these lenses also happen to be highly rated for sharpness and performance.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Lens
Panasonic GH3 review -- Focus mode controls

Note, though, that the only weather-sealed options in Panasonic's lineup are the Lumix G Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 and the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8.

The optional battery grip is also weather-sealed, completing the system.

The GH3 offers full-time autofocus with face detection and tracking functions. Like all Micro Four Thirds cameras -- and most mirrorless models -- the GH3 relies solely on contrast detection autofocus, with no phase detect sensor available. That's no longer the hindrance it once was, however.

Panasonic claims its AF system to offer both better accuracy and greater performance than the dedicated phase detection systems used by typical digital SLRs. To extract the maximum possible performance from the GH3's autofocus system, Panasonic has once again increased the speed at which data is clocked off the image sensor. Where recent models have had 120 fps readout, the Lumix GH3 reads out a whopping 240 frames per second, matching the speed used by partner Olympus' FAST-branded system in the OM-D E-M5.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Electronic viewfinder

The Panasonic GH3's electronic viewfinder is newly-developed, and has an eyepoint of 21mm, a 100% field of view, and 0.67x magnification. A generous +/-4.0m-1 of dioptric correction is available. An adjacent proximity sensor automatically enables the viewfinder when you bring the camera to your eye, and offers three sensitivity levels: high, low or off.

The viewfinder is based on a 16:9 aspect Organic LED panel with an RGBG Bayer filter array, and a resolution of 873 x 500 pixels (1,744,000 dots). Panasonic says the display has a contrast ratio of 10,000:1, and a response time of just 2.1 milliseconds. By contrast, the 800 x 600 pixel, field sequential (time-multiplexed) display in the GH2 had a contrast ratio of just 150:1, and a response time of 16.7 milliseconds.

Panasonic GH3 review -- LCD monitor
Panasonic GH3 review -- Popup flash

Panasonic has also overhauled the Lumix GH3's primary display, which is also now based on an Organic LED panel. It's still an articulated, 3:2-aspect, 3.0-inch monitor, but resolution has increased slightly to 614,000 dots. That roughly equates to a 640 x 320 panel, with each pixel comprised of separate RGB dots. The side-mounted articulation mechanism allows viewing from most directions, including in front of the camera.

The Panasonic GH3's OLED monitor also retains the touch panel introduced in the GH2, but it now uses capacitive rather than resistive technology. That is the same technique used on high-end smartphones, and translates to increased sensitivity.

Also new is the Lumix DMC-GH3's built-in popup flash, which now has slightly higher strength than that in the GH2, despite offering wider coverage.

Where that camera's strobe offered a guide number of 11 meters at ISO 100, the strobe in the Panasonic GH3 has an ISO 100 guide number of 12 meters.

(Note, though, that the GH3 doesn't actually offer an ISO 100 setting. At the default ISO 200 base sensitivity, the strobe has an equivalent guide number of 17 meters.)

Coverage is now 24mm equivalent, quite a bit wider than the 28mm coverage of the flash in the Lumix GH2.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Hot shoe
Panasonic GH3 review -- Mode dial

Another new addition in the Panasonic GH3 is support for wireless flash control, with a new DMW-FL360L flash strobe.

Of course, there's still a hot shoe for external strobes, but Panasonic has now supplemented this with a PC sync terminal, making it simpler to hook the GH3 up to studio strobes. X-sync is still at 1/160 second, and flash exposure compensation is available with a wider range of +/- 3 EV in 1/3 EV steps.

The Panasonic GH3's Mode dial is much less cluttered, with the standalone Portrait, Landscape and Macro positions removed.

Otherwise, the selection of modes is unchanged: Intelligent Auto, Scene, Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, Manual, three Custom settings positions, Movie and My Color.

There are now 23 still image and 20 movie scene modes, a significant increase from those in the GH2.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Level gauge
Panasonic GH3 review -- Metering modes

Another handy option added since the GH2 is the Lumix GH3's brand-new level gauge function.

It's a dual-axis type, which not only helps you get level horizons by balancing left-to-right roll, but also to prevent converging verticals by ensuring front-to-back pitch is neutralized too.

Metering and exposure compensation features are also unchanged.

The Panasonic GH3 determines exposures with a 144-zone multi-pattern metering system using information from the main image sensor, and provides a choice of Intelligent Multiple, Center-weighted, or Spot metering modes.

Exposure compensation is possible within a range of +/-5 EV in 1/3 EV steps, and three, five, or seven-frame bracketing is available with a step size of 1/3, 2/3, or 1 EV.

Shutter speeds for still imaging range from 1/4000 to 60 seconds, plus Bulb. As well as a mechanical shutter, the GH3 provides an electronic shutter function.

Although white balance is mostly unchanged -- Auto, five presets, Custom, and color temperature -- there are now only two Custom positions, where the Lumix GH2 offered a choice of four.

Panasonic has added quite a few creative options to the Lumix DMC-GH3 that weren't present in its predecessor. These include both multiple exposure and time lapse (interval) modes, as well as a high dynamic range mode. This last option captures multiple shots and merges them in-camera to create a single image with greater dynamic range than is possible in a single exposure. There's one very interesting difference between how Panasonic has implemented the function, and how it's done by basically of the company's rivals. When you capture an HDR image with the Panasonic GH3, the camera doesn't stop working while processing is performed. Instead, the camera multitasks, processing your HDR image in the background while allowing you to keep shooting should a photographic opportunity present itself. Very smart!

Other creative tools available in the Panasonic GH3 include Creative Controls and Photo Styles. The former provides a selection of 14 different filters such as Cross Process, Miniature Effect and Star Filter that can fairly radically alter the look of your images. The latter offers a choice of six different color "looks" that provide a more subtle difference. Each can be tweaked for contrast, saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction, with an 11-step range, and you can store the tweaked filters for later reuse.

There seems to be a surge of cameras providing for wireless connectivity with smartphones and tablets of late, and the Panasonic GH3 is the latest model to join the trend. A built-in Wi-Fi radio provides IEEE 802.11b/g/n wireless connectivity, and in concert with Panasonic's Lumix Link application on Android and iOS devices, allows both remote control and remote live view monitoring of the GH3 body. Remotely controllable options include shutter release, focus, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity, white balance, and photo style, among others. Of course, you can also simply transfer your data via Wi-Fi to the connected device, whether it's a JPEG or raw still image, or a movie (with limitations on file type). Once on the Internet-connected smartphone or tablet, you can send your artworks to Panasonic's Lumix Club cloud service, or to social networking and sharing sites such as Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also view your creations from a DLNA device.

While the Panasonic DMC-GH3 doesn't include a built-in GPS receiver, it is possible to geotag images as they're passed through your smartphone or location-aware tablet. The connected device's GPS or network location info is used to provide the necessary geotags.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Connectivity

Other connectivity includes both a 3.5mm microphone input and headphone output, a 2.5mm remote terminal, a high-definition HDMI video output (which can provide video monitoring with or without overlays), a standard-def NTSC/PAL video output (NTSC only for US cameras), and a USB 2.0 High Speed data connection. The remote terminal is compatible with Panasonic's DMW-RSL1 remote shutter release cable.

Power comes courtesy of a proprietary 7.2 volt, 1,860 mAh lithium ion rechargeable battery pack. Battery life is CIPA-rated at approximately 500 frames with the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 zoom lens, and 540 frames with the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 zoom lens.

Panasonic GH3 review -- Storage
Panasonic GH3 review -- Accessory grip

Images and movies are stored on Secure Digital cards, including both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, and the higher-speed UHS-I types.

We've already mentioned the weather-sealed DMW-BGGH3 detachable battery grip; here it is shown mounted on the DMC-GH3 camera body.

Panasonic offers a couple of other new accessories alongside the Lumix GH3. These include the DMW-FL360L flash strobe (guide number 36 meters @ ISO 100; two-second fast charge; bounce head; wireless-capable; includes LED video light function), and the DMW-MS2 stereo shotgun microphone (plug-in power type; stereo / shotgun directional control switchable in menu; has shock mount to suppress camera / handling noise; includes windjammer).

 

Panasonic GH3 Image Quality Comparison

Below are crops comparing the Panasonic GH3 with the Panasonic GH2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Fuji X-E1, Pentax K-5 II and Nikon D7100.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction. All cameras in this comparison were shot with our very sharp reference lenses.


Panasonic GH3 versus Panasonic GH2 at base ISO

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 125
Panasonic GH2 at ISO 160

Two years separate these two camera models, and it certainly shows in the first two crops above. The GH3 is sharper in most target areas, noticeably so in the mosaic tiles, as well as better at rendering accurate colors. A marked improvement in image quality. Note that ISO 200 is the GH3's native base ISO (ISO 125 is an extended ISO).


Panasonic GH3 versus Olympus OM-D EM-5 at base ISO

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 125
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 200

The E-M5 is super-sharp and crisp at base ISO, and turns in a stronger performance in most areas than the GH3, especially the mosaic tiles and the pink fabric swatch. The GH3 does resolve detail better in our tricky red swatch of fabric.


Panasonic GH3 versus Fuji X-E1 at base ISO

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 125
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 100

The GH3 shows slightly more detail in the first two images, but far outshines the X-E1 in the rendering of fine detail across all 3 fabric swatches. Note that ISO 200 is the X-E1's native base ISO (ISO 100 is an extended ISO).


Panasonic GH3 versus Pentax K-5 II at base ISO

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 125
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 100

The K-5 II pumps the yellows in the mosaic and the magenta in the lower pink swatch beyond what is actually on the target. The cameras are otherwise fairly similar in the ability to resolve fine detail.


Panasonic GH3 versus Nikon D7100 at base ISO

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 125
Nikon D7100 at ISO 100

The five previous cameras featured in our comparisons boast resolution of roughly 16 megapixels, so we decided to throw a 24.1 megapixel camera into the mix to see the comparison results. The detail in the D7100 is quite good, and generally superior to the GH3 as would be expected, although perhaps not quite as good in the pink fabric swatch.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1600, 3200, and 6400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.

Panasonic GH3 versus Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Panasonic GH2 at ISO 1600

Once again the much newer GH3 is far superior to its predecessor in the line, with better color, detail, and less noise processing artifacts.


Panasonic GH3 versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 1600

While the E-M5 outperformed at base ISO, here its aggressive noise processing starts to show unwanted signs of unnatural image blurring and distortion, especially noticeable in the first crop. The GH3's images are very reasonable for ISO 1600.


Panasonic GH3 versus Fuji X-E1 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 1600

The GH3 imparts noticeably more noise here than the X-E1, and a bit more softness in certain areas like the mosaic. We'll give the nod to the Fuji here.


Panasonic GH3 versus Pentax K-5 II at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 1600

The K-5 II again pumps certain color saturations to an artificial level, and loses all contrast in the red swatch. It does however slightly outperform the GH3 in the fine detail of the mosaic tiles.


Panasonic GH3 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 1600
Nikon D7100 at ISO 1600

The D7100 shows more apparent noise in the first crop, especially noticeable in the shadowy area. It again handles the red fabric swatch much better but doesn't perform nearly as well with the pink swatch.


These days, ISO 3200 is a very viable shooting option for most good cameras, so let's take a look at some comparisons there.

Panasonic GH3 versus Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Panasonic GH2 at ISO 3200

Similar results at ISO 3200 to those we saw before, with the GH3 far outperforming its predecessor, the GH2.


Panasonic GH3 versus Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Olympus OM-D E-M5 at ISO 3200

Interesting results here, as the two cameras show differing results while attempting noise suppression. The GH3 has noticeable artifacts in the first crop, and some softness and blotchiness in the mosaic, but does a good job with the pink fabric swatch. The E-M5 looks more crisp at first glance, especially with the bottle and mosaic, but it does demonstrate some blotchy areas due to noise suppression. It also has a hard time with the pink fabric swatch.


Panasonic GH3 versus Fuji X-E1 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Fuji X-E1 at ISO 3200

With the exception of the swatch of pink fabric at the bottom, the GH3 again loses this round to the X-E1, with more noise, blotchiness, and loss of detail in most other areas.


Panasonic GH3 versus Pentax K-5 II at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Pentax K-5 II at ISO 3200

As we've now said a few times, the K-5 II shows artificially pumped yellows in the mosaic and magentas in the pink fabric swatch. It does however turn in a better performance across the first two crops, except it shows more noise in the shadows.


Panasonic GH3 versus Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 at ISO 3200
Nikon D7100 at ISO 3200

As before, the D7100 has quite a bit more apparent noise in the first crop. It handles the mosaic detail and red swatch better, but loses most detail in the pink swatch.


Detail: Panasonic GH3 versus Panasonic GH2, Olympus OM-D E-M5, Fuji X-E1, Pentax K-5 II and Nikon D7100.

Panasonic GH3
ISO 125
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Panasonic GH2
ISO 160
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Olympus E-M5
ISO 200
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Fuji X-E1
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Pentax K-5 II
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Nikon D7100
ISO 100
ISO 3200
ISO 6400
Detail comparison. Anytime we put the E-M5 into this table it tends to outshine most any other camera in producing super-sharp detail, even as ISO rises. As we saw in the previous crop comparisons at ISO 3200 and 6400, the sharpening that is applied does have consequences, although not completely evident here. The GH3 certainly stacks up well against not only its predecessor, but also the X-E1 and the K-5 II, neither of which look as sharp as ISO rises. The higher resolution of the D7100 allows it to resolve detail in the lettering fairly well.

 

Panasonic GH3 Print Quality Analysis

Overall, very good 24 x 36 inch prints at ISOs 125 and 200; ISO 1600 capable of a nice 13 x 19; ISO 6400 prints a good 5 x 7.

ISO 125 and 200 images are excellent at 24 x 36 inches, with accurate colors and nice detail. 36 x 48 inch prints are also suitable for wall display purposes.

ISO 400 prints look quite good at 20 x 30 inches, with wall display prints possible up to 30 x 40 inches.

ISO 800 yields a nice 16 x 20 inch print. 20 x 30s are fine for less critical applications, but there is some minor luminance noise apparent in the shadowy areas of our test target, and some of the reds are a bit on the soft side.

ISO 1600 is capable of a good 13 x 19 inch print. There is some loss of contrast in our target red swatch here, but this is quite common for most cameras as ISO rises.

ISO 3200 prints are good at 8 x 10 inches, although most all contrast is lost in our red fabric swatch and there is some minor grain in the shadows. Colors are beginning to be slightly muted as well, but enough color detail is preserved for good prints.

ISO 6400 produces a nice 5 x 7, if just a bit muted in color. 8 x 10s are also OK here for less critical applications.

ISO 12,800 has a bit too much apparent grain across the image and a decline in overall color saturation to be called good at 4 x 6, but may still be usable in certain situations where an aged and grainy look is desired.

ISO 25,600 does not print a usable 4 x 6 and is best avoided.

The Panasonic GH3 certainly holds its own in the print quality department, yielding high quality 24 x 36 inch prints at base ISO and ISO 200. This quality is maintained nicely at ISO 800 with relatively large prints for its Micro Four Thirds sensor size, and allows for good 8 x 10 prints up to ISO 3200. This performance is not quite as high as many current APS-C cameras, and also not quite on par with one of its main high-end mirrorless rivals --the Olympus OM-D E-M5 -- but for the most part it only falls behind by a print size at some ISOs, so is still in the same general ballpark for overall image quality.

 

In the Box

The Panasonic GH3 retail box (body only) ships with the following items:

 

Recommended Accessories

 

Panasonic Lumix GH3 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Newly designed 16-megapixel Live MOS Micro Four Thirds sensor with new optical low pass filter delivers very good image quality with excellent detail for a mirrorless camera
  • Premium video features and quality in a compact body, including a range of professional tools with everything from Full HD (1080p) movies at 60fps; to bit rates as high as 72 Mbps; and an SMPTE Time Code option
  • Tough, rugged, and fully weatherized body built from a die-cast, magnesium alloy chassis with a large, comfortable DSLR-like grip
  • Excellent user interface, including five function buttons, three dials and other dedicated external controls for making changes on the fly without having to dive into electronic menus
  • Gorgeous, 3-inch, side-swivelling, articulating Organic LED touchscreen display with 614K dot resolution
  • Responsive, capacitive-touchscreen control on OLED screen for quick navigation and adjustments
  • Fast autofocus speeds from contrast detection-based AF system that rival many DSLRs
  • Focuses well in low light
  • Fast all-around performer with six frames per second burst shooting for full-resolution JPEGs and five fps for RAW images. 20 fps is possible in reduced 4-megapixel mode
  • Generous camera buffer lets you shoot sustained image bursts
  • Images had vibrant but natural looking color with accurate skin tones that did not look oversaturated
  • In-camera image settings give you a lot of latitude (saturation, contrast, noise reduction, etc.)
  • Good high ISO performance for an MFT model
  • Very good dynamic range
  • Excellent HD video, particularly when you shoot at the highest bit rate options
  • Good Wi-Fi connectivity with remote control from a smartphone / tablet plus ability to share images as you capture them
  • Powerful flash for a built-in strobe
  • Above average battery life (though still not as good as most prosumer DSLRs)
  • Optional battery grip
  • Value price for such a well-equipped video and still photography camera
  • DSLR-style camera design is larger than most mirrorless models, narrowing its portability advantages over DSLRs
  • High ISO performance and dynamic range not quite as good as the best APS-C models
  • Warm Auto and Incandescent white balance when shooting indoors
  • Mediocre hue accuracy in JPEGs
  • Live View not available during super high speed and high speed bursts which may cause you to miss some fast moving, candid shots
  • Lag when switching from LCD to viewfinder using proximity sensor
  • Full-res burst mode slows down to about 5.1 fps with RAW files

 

Panasonic's flagship GH-series cameras have been widely praised for their video capabilities, and have long been in demand from professional videographers and filmmakers. However, the product engineers behind the company's latest compact system camera, the Panasonic GH3, didn't focus solely on upgrading its movie mojo. They developed a brand new 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor, and added an advanced optical low-pass filter. Together, these help the GH3 deliver excellent image quality across the board. Both still photos and videos trump that of its predecessor, the acclaimed GH2. In fact, the camera's sharp and detailed images rival those of most mirrorless models on the market, and only fall short in terms of high ISO and dynamic range to the best APS-C-sensor-type CSCs.

But don't get us wrong. We know that where the Panasonic GH3 truly stands out from the competition is as a video camera. Its die-cast, magnesium alloy body is small and lightweight, but the GH3 is rugged and weatherized and suited for "run and gun" video shoots out in the field. The camera also comes loaded with a deep set of advanced video tools -- typically found on professional-level cameras -- that make it a more-than-capable option for videographers. Not only that, but it's also a bargain-priced one.

That said, the GH3 isn't intimidating. It's entirely approachable for enthusiast photographers, especially those serious about wanting to shoot more high quality video. The GH3's movies are astoundingly good, especially when you shoot at the highest bit rate of 72Mbps, which produces HD video with very low compression and top quality. What makes the Panasonic GH3 even more of a joy to use for all types of shooters is its fast autofocus system. It simply locks onto a subject and captures sharp still images and video faster than many DSLRs can.

While the Panasonic GH3 is a mirrorless, compact system camera, it's designed to look like a DSLR. And that's both good and bad. On the upside, it's comfortable and comforting to hold, with an excellent hand grip that's perfect for long shooting sessions. It also boasts a ton of external controls -- including five customizable function buttons -- that making taking pictures on the fly easier and more instinctive, rather than having to dive into electronic menus to change settings. On the downside, the GH3 is quite a bit bigger and heavier than most other CSCs, which many photographers often choose for their portability.

Overall, we found shooting both still images and video with the Panasonic GH3 to be a wholly rewarding experience. It's fun, fast and feature packed. For videographers looking for a pro-level camera that can capture fantastic HD footage at a third of the price of similarly-featured models, the GH3 is a no-brainer choice. For savvy amateur shutterbugs, it's an excellent all-around shooter that will allow you to explore new ground and greatly expand your skills. Of course, the Panasonic GH3 is a Dave's Pick. It's simply one of the best mirrorless cameras we've reviewed -- and not just this year.