Panasonic Lumix GH3 Review

 
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Panasonic GH3 Video Recording

GH3 with external mic

The Panasonic GH2 turned out to be a powerhouse of a camera or video recording, and the updated GH3 takes Panasonic's flagship Micro Four Thirds compact system camera to the next level. The GH3 includes many features normally found only on higher-end video cameras such as very high bitrate recording formats (up to 72 Mbps for ALL-Intra), unlimited continuous recording time* and full 1080/60p video (at 50 Mbps IPB).

Unlike a number of other video-capable interchangeable lens cameras, which tended to feel as if their video features were a tacked-on afterthought, Panasonic designed the GH3 with video recording as a top priority. The GH3 has a special heat-dispersing design to enable longer recording times (overheating while recording video was a issue that plagued earlier HD-DSLRs like the 5D Mark II and 7D), as well as SMPTE-compliant Time Code for more professional editing capabilities.

The GH3 offers up to 1920 x 1080 resolution video with frame rates up to 60 frames per seconds. Users get other advanced video features, such as three video formats, full-time autofocus and AF tracking, manual audio control with a 3.5mm external microphone jack and full manual exposure controls. Overall, the Panasonic GH3 is an impressive camera for video recording that stands out among its competitors, with features and capabilities that make it a great choice for beginner, advanced and professional users alike.

*For users in PAL countries, continuous video recording time is limited to 29 minutes, 59 seconds. The GH3 comes in two models, PAL or NTSC versions, depending on where they're sold.

Panasonic GH3 Basic Video Specs

  • Full HD 1,920 x 1,080 Progressive recording at 60p (50p for PAL).
  • 1080i (1,920 x 1,080), 60 fields/second HD recording, derived from 60 fps sensor output (50 fields/second in PAL, derived from 50 fps sensor output) .
  • 720p (1,280 x 720), 60/50p HD recording, also derived from 60/50 fps sensor output.
  • 640 x 480 VGA at 30p SD recording.
  • Three video formats: AVCHD (.MTS), MPEG-4 (.MP4), H.264 (.MOV).
  • H.264 includes ALL-Intra (ALL-I) options for ultra-high bit rate recording, with no inter-frame compression.
  • SMPTE-compliant time code for syncing multiple video or sound recordings in post production.
  • Seamless File Generation: in MOV, AVCHD Progressive and AVCHD formats, new video files are created seamlessly for longer continuous recording capability.
  • Full-time Autofocus in video, including AF tracking, Face Recognition AF and Touch AF (refocus by touching the screen at desired point of focus).
  • Manual focus with 1x, 4x, 5x and 10x magnification to check focus.
  • True aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and full-manual video exposure options.
  • Full ISO control in all Movie exposure modes.
  • Exposure compensation adjustment is available in all movie recording modes, and can be adjusted during recording.
  • Extra Tele Conversion digital zoom supported (magnification available depends on video resolution and aspect ratio).
  • Dolby Digital stereo audio recording via built-in microphone, plus external stereo input via 3.5mm mic jack. (Dolby Digital in AVCHD mode, AAC in MP4 mode, and LPCM for MOV format.)
  • Microphone level adjustment with monitoring ability via 3.5mm headphone jack.
  • Uncompressed, clean HDMI output for use with an external capture device or monitor.
  • Available "Silent Operation" mode: zoom (with compatible lens), aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO and mic adjustment are touch-controlled.
  • Up to 40 two-megapixel resolution still images can be captured during each video recording session, without pausing the recording (when recording is started from a still-image capture mode) in Motion Picture Priorities Mode.
  • Up to 10 full-resolution still images can be captured per video recording session, but the video is paused briefly for each (also available only when recording is begun from a still-image capture mode) in Still Picture Priorities Mode.
  • Slow-motion recording at 0.4x (60 fps), 0.48x (50 fps) and 0.8x (30 fps) normal speed, played back at 24 fps; fast-motion recording at 1.6x (15 fps), 2x (12 fps) and 3x (8 fps) normal speed, played back at 24 fps. (24p mode only; camera will switch to this frame rate regardless of prior setting).
  • Creative Control mode for special effects and image styles.
  • Video divide is the only in-camera editing feature.

Panasonic GH3 Video: Image Size, Frame Rate, and Encoding

Expanding upon the video capabilities of the much-loved GH2, the Panasonic GH3 records at a variety of resolutions, frame rates, bit rates and recording file formats. Users can record video in either the more space-efficient AVCHD format or the more broadly compatible MP4 file formats. For better video editing, shooters also have the option of recording in H.264 (.MOV) format. New for the GH3, the H.264 format gives users the choice of ALL-Intra and IPB bitrate modes, giving you ultra high bit rate video for increased image quality and much better flexibility when editing and color correcting or grading footage. All-Intra mode has a bitrate of 72 Mbps, while IPB mode is 50 Mbps. The ALL-Intra data compression scheme compresses each frame individually, rather than trying to eliminate redundant information from one frame to the next. This improves image quality, but file sizes for this format are much larger than for others, so you need to use large memory cards with fast write speeds.

GH3 video menu

Video capability. The Panasonic GH3's video options are well-suited to both consumer and advanced use.

Depending on where you're buying your GH3, it can record in either NTSC or PAL frame rates (NTSC being 30p and 60p, and PAL being 25p and 50p) as well as 1080p 24p. Note that, while the frame rate for the AVCHD interlaced recording at 17Mbps is 60 or 50 fields per second in the files, the sensor is capturing at 60 or 50 frames per second respectively (60p/50p). There is also an AVCHD 30p format at 24Mbps that is recorded at 60i with the sensor output of 30 frames per second (30p).

There's some confusion in the market in what "60i" actually means in camera specs, thanks to some companies stretching the truth a little in its definition. Some cameras claim 1080/60i output, but they're only reading fresh data from the sensor 30 times per second. While the output is encoded and output as 60 fields per second, the content of both fields are essentially identical, having been captured as a single frame every 1/30 of a second. (For PAL countries, just substitute 50/25 fps for the 60/30 being referred to here.)

Panasonic is careful to explain the output data and timing properly, but there might still be a little confusion, because the 1080/30p mode actually outputs as 60i, with the sensor data updated every 1/30 of a second, as just described. There are thus the following output options at 1080 resolution:

  • 60p, with data being read from the sensor 60 times/second
  • 60i, with data being read from the sensor 60 times/second
  • "30p", which is actually output as two 60i interlaced fields, but with data only coming from the sensor every 1/30 second
  • 24p, output as true 24 progressively scanned frames per second, with data coming from the sensor every 1/24 second

There is also a special variable frame rate mode that lets you record at 0.4x, 0.48x and 0.8x slower frame rates and 1.6x, 2.0x, and 3.0x faster frame rates. When using this variable speed frame rate setting, the video file format and underlying frame rate is automatically switched to the 1080p/24p IPB recording format, at a lower bit rate of 24 Mbps.

A new feature for the GH3 is that video can be recorded for an unlimited time* rather than the 29 minute 59 second restriction that the GH2 and many other video-capable interchangeable lens cameras impose. This allows the GH3 to function much closer to a camcorder, in that you can record for as long as your memory card has space or battery has juice. *Note that in PAL recording formats, the GH3 still has a 29 minute 59 second video recording limit.

The GH3 also features seamless file creation, for the AVCHD and MOV file formats, which automatically creates new files for seamless recording as needed. This was a problem for early video-still cameras like the Canon 5D Mark II that would stop recording at around 12 minutes, when it reached its 4GB file size limit.

The table below shows the specs for various video recording options:

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Video Options
AVCHD Format (.MTS files)
Menu Designation
Resolution
NTSC Frame Rate
FHD/60p*
1080p
1,920 x 1,080
60 fps
(sensor output is 60 fps)
(28 Mbps)
FHD/24p
1080p
1,920 x 1,080
24 fps
(24 Mbps)
FHD/30p
1080i
1,920 x 1,080
60 fields/s
(sensor output is 30 fps)
(24 Mbps)
FHD/60i
1080i
1,920 x 1,080
60 fields/s
(sensor output is 60 fps)
(17 Mbps)
MP4 Format (.MP4 files)
Menu Designation
Resolution
NTSC Frame Rate
FHD/60p**
1080p
(1,920 x 1,080)
60p
FHD/30p
30p
HD/30p
720p
(1,280 x 720)
VGA/30p
640 x 480
(4:3 aspect ratio)
H.264 Format (.MOV files)
Menu Designation
Resolution
NTSC Frame Rate
FHD/60p
1080p
1,920 x 1,080
60 fps
(IPB - 50 Mbps)
FHD/30p/I
30 fps
(ALL-Intra -72 Mbps)
FHD/30p
30 fps
(IPB - 50 Mbps)
FHD/24p/I
24 fps
(ALL-Intra -72 Mbps)
FHD/24p/I***
24 fps
(IPB - 50 Mbps)
HD/60p/I
720p
(1,280 x 720)
60 fps
(ALL-Intra -72 Mbps)

* Uses AVCHD Progressive format.
** MP4 1080p 60p format available only on updated firmware version 1.1 - download here
*** When recording fast- or slow-motion, the 24p/IPB bitrate drops to 24 Mbps

Panasonic GH3 Video: Image Quality

The GH3 provides a plethora of video recording formats, resolutions and bit rate levels, and overall produces very impressive video quality. Notably, the high bitrate ALL-I MOV format videos are very sharp with crisp detail and a high dynamic range, with plenty of shadow details. Both the MOV and MP4 sample videos we shot displayed nice, accurate colors with low contrast. The AVCHD videos still had great image quality, but more contrast, while while stopping short of being too contrasty. The low contrast images and high dynamic range of the GH3 footage is great for video editors looking to use color correction and grading tools in post production.

Moiré and aliasing artifacts were noticeable in problem areas like roofing and window blinds, even on the ALL-I MOV videos. The moiré patterns were more of the jaggy line patterns; we didn't seen any color moiré patterns. Overall, moiré was not severe, but something to watch out for when filming.

In our night videos, shot at ISO 6400, the GH3 did a decent job. While high ISO noise was quite visible, the images were unusually crisp, showing lots of fine detail. Dynamic range was really great as well, with lots of details in the shadows. (This is perhaps an example of the GH3's moderate contrast helping to preserve detail.) While we don't show any below, as they were rather dark, shots at ISO 3200 were considerably cleaner.

It's interesting to compare the GH3's video output with some much higher-priced full-frame cameras. Taking the Canon 5D Mark III as a particular example, the full-frame 5D Mark III delivered cleaner-looking video, with noticeably less image noise, but the GH3 wins hands-down when it comes to crispness and better handling of the very contrasty night-time illumination, with greatly improved shadow detail. (See our Canon 5D Mark III video page for a full set of videos to compare against those from the GH3.)

Here are some examples of video shot with our test sample of the Panasonic DMC-GH3:

Panasonic GH3: Video Samples
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 60 frames per second, MOV
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 60 frames per second, AVCHD, O.I.S. Enabled
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 60 frames per second, AVCHD
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second, MP4
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second, AVCHD
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second, MOV, ALL-I
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Night, Progressive, 60 frames per second, AVCHD, ISO 6400
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Night, Progressive, 30 frames per second, AVCHD, ISO 6400
Download Original

1,920 x 1,080
Night, Progressive, 30 frames per second, MOV, ISO 6400
Download Original

1,280 x 720
Night Progressive, 30 frames per second, MP4, ISO 6400
Download Original

Panasonic GH3 Video: Focusing

The GH3 like many recent video-capable still cameras features full-time autofocus capabilities. The GH3 also features subject tracking and face recognition AF, as well as manual focusing. Panasonic warns that depending on the lens used, the AF operation noise may be picked up by the built-in microphones. The Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 and 12-35mm f/2.8 lenses we tested with the GH3 were extremely quiet. Even with an ear pressed up next to the lenses, the auto-focusing operation was nearly silent. Nevertheless, if you are filming with critical audio, particularly in a quiet environment, either use manual focusing or turn off Continuous AF so autofocus won't continue during recording.

  • Full-time continuous autofocus - AFS/AFF/AFC
    • The camera will autofocus automatically in both AFS/AFF and AFC modes.
    • If "Continuous AF" is set to OFF in the menu settings then the focus will be locked before recording, otherwise the camera will focus continually during recording.
    • Focus can be adjusted with a half-press of the shutter button.
    • Touch-screen display is also capable of touch-AF, to move the focus point around the frame.
  • AF area mode options:
    • Pinpoint (AFS mode only)
    • 1-Area
    • 23-Area
    • AF Tracking (Half-press shutter button to lock AF point on target before recording. To reset, tap on icon on the display or press the Fn.3 button.)
    • Face Detection
  • Manual focus is also available during movie recording.
  • Magnified focus-assist display for manual focus can be positioned anywhere within the ~60% central area of the frame. (Nice!)
  • AF+MF option allows for manual focus override while holding the shutter button half-way.

Panasonic GH3 Video: Exposure Control

GH3 movie exposure modes menu

Like most cameras in this class, the GH3 provides the full array of manual exposure settings. The GH3 allows you to begin recording video in any stills shooting mode, however even in P, A, S and M modes, the exposure settings cannot be changed during recording nor are current still-image exposure settings used for video recording in these modes. The GH3 features a dedicated Motion Picture mode, which allows for full manual control of the exposure.

  • Video-specific P, A, S, and M exposure modes:
    • Select PASM modes from Motion Picture menu
  • Metering can be selected, just as in stills mode:
    • Multiple (whole frame evaluative metering)
    • Center-Weighted
    • Spot Metering
  • Full ISO sensitivity control, ISO can be adjusted during recording
    • Auto ISO is available, but ISO Limit Set value from still-capture mode does not apply will.
  • Photo Style adjustments
    • Standard
    • Vivid
    • Natural
    • Monochrome
    • Scenery
    • Portrait
    • Custom
  • Record Highlight - display blown/over-exposed highlights overlays (blinking black/white)
  • Flicker Decrease - shutter speed can be adjusted to reduce flickering or stuttering associated with certain video frame rates when shooting under fluorescent lighting with old-style magnetic ballasts that run at line frequency.
    • Shutter speed settings are preset to: 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, 1/120

Panasonic GH3 Video: Audio recording

GH3 ports

No detailed specifications are provided for the sampling rate of the GH3's audio track during movie recording, though video players report 16-bit PCM audio with a 48K sampling rate for MOV, MPEG AAC with a 48 KHz sample rate for MP4 video, and Dolby Digital AC3 audio at 48 KHz sample rate and 192 Kbps bit rate for AVCHD.

  • Built-in stereo microphone
  • External, 3.5mm microphone input jack
  • Headphone jack for monitoring audio
    • Real Time: Actual live sound coming through microphone.
    • Record Sound: The earphone audio is delayed very slightly, so it synchronizes with the live display in the viewfinder or OLED screen. (This avoids the annoying lag you'll hear in the audio with some cameras when watching the viewfinder display.)
    • Note: Panasonic warns not to use headphone cables longer than 3 meters (9.8 feet).
  • Audio recording level is adjustable (19 steps)
  • Silent Operation feature that enables touch icons for various exposure settings (aperture, ISO, shutter speed), mic level adj., and zoom (when using a power-zoom compatible lens) to prevent the sounds of pressing buttons or scrolling wheels being recorded by microphones.
    • Great for video when using built-in mic, as operational sounds are very prone to audible noises.
  • Time Code
    • SMPTE-compliant time code for easy syncing of multiple cameras and/or audio recorded with external recording devices.
    • Rec Run or Free Run options (advance time code only while shooting, or be counting up all the time)
    • Reset time code to zero, manually set to any value, or set to current time
    • Drop frame (to equalize time code and frame rate) or non-drop frame options
    • Optionally display time code in viewfinder/OLED monitor

Panasonic GH3 Video: Rolling Shutter Artifacts

Pretty much every video-capable still camera on the market distorts moving objects, or the entire scene, if the camera is being panned quickly or the subject is moving rapidly. The technical term for this is "rolling shutter artifacts," but many users simply call it the "Jello effect," because the image can jiggle and sway like Jello as the camera is moved. This occurs because the image is captured and read out line by line, so the bottom of an object may no longer be underneath the top of it by the time the camera gets around to capturing that part of the frame.

The GH3 is impressive when it comes to handling rolling shutter artifacts, although the artifacts are not avoided completely. At the slower frame rates of 30p and 24p, rolling shutter is noticeable but quite low compared to other cameras we've seen. At the faster 60p frame rate, rolling shutter artifacts are very minimal.

There are plug-ins out there to fix rolling shutter when editing your footage on the computer, but software correction is not a surefire solution. It's simply something that you must keep in mind when moving the camera while recording video. If you just pan slowly while filming, you're not likely to notice it much at all.

Panasonic GH3: Rolling Shutter Artifacts
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 60 frames per second, AVCHD
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 60 frames per second, MOV
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 30 frames per second, MP4
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second, AVCHD
Download Original
1,920 x 1,080
Progressive, 24 frames per second, MOV, ALL-I
Download Original

Panasonic GH3 Video: Image Stabilization

Panasonic's image stabilization technology is lens-based, so IS effectiveness and impact on the audio track will depend entirely on the lens you're using. The GH3 features two settings in their Optical Image Stabilizer system, "Normal" and "Panning." Normal mode compensates for vertical and horizontal vibrations, while Panning only compensates for vertical vibrations. For video recording, however, the GH3 will automatically set to Normal mode; Panning O.I.S. mode is not available. Of course, you also have the option of disabling image stabilization either on the lens or via the camera menus when using a lens without an external switch.

Panasonic GH3 Video: HDMI Output

The Panasonic GH3 provides uncompressed, clean HDMI output at up to 1080p/60p for use with either an external HD monitor or an HD video capture/recording device. Users have the option of selecting the output resolution as well as disabling the graphical information overlays normally shown on the camera's display. Disabling the graphical overlays (hence the use of the term "clean") is essential for capturing usable footage via an HDMI video capture/recording device. There are no specifications in the GH3 manual as to the quality level of the uncompressed HDMI signal, however we've seen reports stating that it is an 8-bit 4:2:0 signal, which is not as high quality as 4:2:2, which many professional videographers and filmmakers prefer. Nevertheless, the output is still uncompressed, which should give users much higher quality video than the standard recording formats used when recording to the internal memory card.

There are a few caveats regarding HDMI output with the GH3 that are noted in the user manual. First, if you are recording video at 24 frames per second, you must set the HDMI output resolution to AUTO and not a manual resolution option. Also, note that the OLED monitor on the back of the GH3 will turn off during recording while outputting an HDMI signal to an external device.

Panasonic GH3 Video Mode: The Bottom Line

All in all, the Panasonic GH3 is a unique camera that blurs the line between a still camera and a dedicated video camera more than anything that has preceded it. It incorporates a host of advanced features normally not found on a camera of this price or size, such as very high bitrate recording formats, industry-standard SMTPE time code, and unlimited video recording time. The GH3 is also quite flexible when it comes to lenses, with many third-party manufacturers producing lens adapters allowing for a wide range of new and vintage glass to be used with the GH3 (Panasonic themselves make lens adapters to use Four-Thirds, Leica M and Leica R lenses). With great image quality (and super-high bit rates), advanced video formats, frame rates up to 1080/60p plus rich audio recording capabilities, all for around $1000, the GH3 is an outstanding choice for still photographers transitioning or experimenting with video as well as seasoned video professionals. There's really nothing like it on the market, anywhere near its price. When you add its compact size to the equation, nothing else matches it, period.

Panasonic GH3 Video: Cool Videos

While our test shots reveal a lot about the Panasonic GH3's performance, they're hardly representative of what talented videographers, cinematographers, and editors can do with the camera and its footage. There are a multitude of examples of creative work created with the GH3 over on Vimeo. Here's a small handful of outstanding work shot on the GH3 (be sure to search further on Vimeo for "GH3"):

Panasonic GH3: Creative videos
"Genesis" - Panasonic GH3 launch film, by Philip Bloom
Professionally produced by director/cinematographer Philip Bloom, this was one of the launch films for the GH3 camera when it was announced by Panasonic on the 17th September before Photokina 2012. View on Vimeo

"GH3 meets funfair", by pilpop
"Small private shooting at the "Christmas Market" at Alexanderplatz in Berlin." Shot using the GH3, Voigtländer 25mm f0.95 & SLR Magic 12mm F1.6 lenses. A great piece that shows the low-light capabilities of the GH3 with bright, fast lenses. There was no color correction used on this video. View on Vimeo

"Beautiful Decay [Panasonic Lumix GH3]", by Martin Wallgren
This short video was shot with a pre-production version of the GH3 running firmware v0.4. Nevertheless, the images are outstanding with great color and detail. View on Vimeo
Every Lost Breath - GH3 Middle East launch film, by Sherif Mokbel
Produced for Panasonic for the Middle East launch of the GH3, this short piece by Sherif Mokbel was shot with no budget, this piece really showcases the low-light performance of the GH3. View on Vimeo

 

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