The Panasonic GH3 is the latest Panasonic DSLM camera (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) from the GH series, the top series of the Panasonic G cameras. The term DSLM may be confusing because mirrorless cameras are usually called CSC (Compact System Cameras). On the other hand, we are familiar with the concept of DSLR. And DSLM shows exactly where the main difference is: we are dealing with a mirrorless camera with the Panasonic GH3, which looks like an SLR. The Panasonic GH3 offers the same user friendliness and the same image quality as a DSLR, but with lower weight and lenses that are more compact. Because the AF motor of the Panasonic GH3 is controlled by the sensor signal instead of a separate unit outside the sensor, there is no back focus or front focus. Moreover, focusing with video is, unlike SLR cameras, as fast as when taking a picture.
Panasonic is aiming at the professional photographer with this camera, as evidenced by the aluminum body sealed against dust and splash water. Two of the three most obvious Panasonic lenses for this camera (the Panasonic 12-35 mm and the Panasonic 35-100mm), are also sealed against dust and splash water. Unfortunately, the Panasonic Lumix 7-14 mm is not yet.
The Panasonic GH3 is styled like a traditional SLR and in term of ergonomics, the camera will feel very familiar to anyone used to an SLR. The size of a camera is highly dependent on taste: the Panasonic GH3 is slightly larger than the Panasonic G5, but the Panasonic GH3 is still small and light compared to professional Canon and Nikon SLR cameras.
Panasonic GH3 versus Panasonic GH2
- Panasonic GH3 is additionally sealed against dust and splash water and has built-in Wi-Fi
- Panasonic GH3 has a bigger, brighter OLED viewfinder (vs LCD for GH2) and a display with a higher resolution
- Lumix GH3 has a wider ISO range (125-25,600) than the GH2 (160-12,800)
- Video quality is even better (bitrates up to 72 MB/s and 180p @ 60 fps)
- Panasonic GH2 is smaller and lighter than the GH3
- The Lumix GH3 has an electronic shutter, with which you can take pictures noiselessly (also during video recording!)
Panasonic GH3 versus Olympus OM-D EM-5 and Panasonic G5
The most obvious micro-43 cameras to compare the Panasonic GH3 to are the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and Panasonic G5. Both the OM-D and the G5 offer a very good image quality, but are more compact than the Panasonic GH3. The size of a camera is highly dependent on taste. Many professional photographers prefer a larger camera, with enough space for large, easily operated buttons on the camera. In terms of ergonomics and user friendliness, the Panasonic GH3 is the micro-43 camera coming closest to a professional SLR. If you adjusts the settings of your camera little and prefer a more compact camera with high image quality, you may choose an OM-D or a G5. When it comes to video, both the G5 and the OM-D are no alternative to the Panasonic GH3. Many seasoned videographers even prefer the Panasonic GH series to professional SLRs, because the Panasonic GH series is equivalent or better in terms of video quality while more compact.
Panasonic GH3 versus Nikon D3200, Canon 650D
- These three cameras are about the same size
- The Nikon D3200 has more megapixels with 24 MP than Canon 650D (18 MP) and GH3 (16 MP)
- Nikon D3200 and Canon 650D have no aluminum body and are not additionally sealed against dust and splash water
- Panasonic GH3 features videos with a much faster AF, better specifications (60p full HD) and HDMI output with real time image
- GH3 is the only one with built-in Wi-Fi, so you can share files wirelessly or operate your camera via a smartphone
- Like professional Canon and Nikon cameras, the Panasonic GH3 has two wheels with which you can set shutter speed and aperture separately. The D3200 and the 650D do not have this.
- The Panasonic GH3 is the most expensive of these three cameras and the only one having a completely silent electronic shutter (to ISO 1600)
Viewfinder, screen and menu
Both the viewfinder and the freely rotatable screen on the back of the LUMIX GH3 feature very nice OLED screens. The color of the viewfinder is not exactly the same as the final result. Our images shot in tungsten light looked better through the viewfinder than the final image, which showed the well known orange color cast. Below the viewfinder is a sensor ensuring that the camera switches to viewfinder when you bring the camera to your face. You can also turn off the sensor, so you can choose between the LCD or the viewfinder yourself. The viewfinder accuracy is 100%, the magnification is 1.34 and the crop factor of 2 makes the total magnification 0.67. This is larger than the viewfinder of camera’s with an APS-C sensor and equals the viewfinder of a full-frame Nikon D700 camera. The viewfinder is bright and the information in the viewfinder is extensive. The viewfinder can give a flickering image when you are in a room with a non-constant light source (such as fluorescent tubes). The viewfinder not being completely sharp from some angles troubled me as a spectacle wearer sometimes.
Mirrorless cameras use contrast detection rather than phase detection such as SLRs. The contrast AF also ensures, compared with SLRs, much faster AF during live view/video. Because the AF motor of the Panasonic GH3 is controlled by the sensor signal instead of a separate unit outside of the sensor, front focus and back focus are barred. Another advantage of the Panasonic GH3 is that the points of focus can be freely selected over the entire viewfinder image instead of a limited zone in the center of the image, such as in SLR cameras.
Sharpness: resolution Panasonic GH3
The Panasonic GH3 produces nice, sharp images, which are in terms of sharpness equivalent to images taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 or with a Canon 5D MK3. On the site of Panasonic are also a few good Panasonic GH3 sample images, with which you can assess the quality of this camera. Measurements for our Panasonic GH3 review have been carried out with the aid of Imatest. The measurement results are shown in the Panasonic GH3 review test report.
Dynamic range Panasonic GH3
Until recently, the dynamic range has been the Achilles heel of the micro-43 camera, but this is no longer the case since the introduction of the Olympus OM-D E-M5, especially at lower ISO settings. The Panasonic GH3 has the same high score for the dynamic range as the Olympus OM-D E-M5. In our measurements, the Panasonic GH3 did a tad better at ISO 125 than the Olympus OM-D E-M5 at 200 ISO. At ISO 6400, the roles were reversed. Both cameras have to acknowledge in terms of dynamic range above 400 ISO that cameras with a full frame sensor are better, but they are not inferior to a camera of a (larger) APS-C sensor either.
The DMC-GH3 also features HDR (High Dynamic Range) to handle the extreme contrast between light and dark that for instance occurs in backlit situations. HDR means that a number of consecutive shots are taken with different exposures. These are then superimposed on each other. The processing is done in the background, so you can just continue shooting. In our Panasonic G5 review, we present an example of the in-camera HDR Panasonic.
Some cameras do have a wide dynamic range, but with a poor signal-to-noise ratio, a much smaller usable dynamic range is left. At low ISO settings, the usable dynamic range is so great that you do not really need the HDR feature of the Panasonic GH3. The total dynamic range is very high with 11 stops at 125 ISO. In the picture of the tree between the flats there are, despite the very high contrast, no overexposed highlights or underexposed shadows. In the picture above the funny bird house on the tree is hardly visible due to the brightly lit sky. You can make a drastic operation with confidence with this kind of shots thanks to the large usable dynamic range of the Panasonic GH3, with no color noise visible.
Noise Panasonic GH3
In this section, the Panasonic GH3 shows good results, both for RAW files as jpg files. In terms of noise, the results of the Panasonic GH3 is approximately to the Imatest results for the Olympus OMD EM5 and the Nikon D3200. Our measurement results for the GH3 were slightly better than for the OMD EM5. And they were all good.
Starting at ISO 400 you can occasionally recognize noise in parts of your image. You will not notice it easily, and the noise even even reminds a bit of the grain from images shot in the analogue era. From ISO 800 and upwards you can encounter small jpg artifacts, as in the yellow feathers of this bird.
Color reproduction Panasonic GH3
The color reproduction of modern cameras is so good, that nothing is to note on the color reproduction in daylight. The Panasonic GH3 provides standard jpg files with natural colors that meet the requirements of the most critical user. The color reproduction is adjustable to the different picture styles to taste. In artificial light, the Panasonic GH3 showed an orange hue, just like 90% of the other cameras we have tested so far. If you shoot in RAW, the white balance can be adjusted properly afterwards. In Jpg images, that works less well.
The Panasonic GH3 has a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter / receiver, with which you can transmit files wirelessly to a mobile phone or computer. Thanks to this Wi-Fi connection, you can also add GPS locations to your shots or control the camera remotely using a smartphone. Panasonic has made the Lumix Link software that you install on your smartphone freely available. I expect that within a few years, all cameras come with built-in Wi-Fi, but now Panasonic is at the forefront.
Foregoing panorama is taken with a MegaView telescope photo mast and the Panasonic GH3 was at about 6 meters height. The built-in Wi-Fi enabled the camera to be operated from the ground via a simple menu (see right). If you use a Panasonic power zoom lens, you can also zoom in or zoom out remotely. With the tested version of the software for an Android phone, shutter speed and aperture could not be modified remotely yet. Meanwhile, Panasonic has released a new version of Lumix Link, making that possible.
Built-in and GN 36 flash
The Panasonic GH3 has a built-in flash with guide number 12. Additionally, Panasonic offers the new GN36 flash, which can also be controlled wirelessly. This makes it possible to flash several times during a shot (light painting). The LED lamp is especially suitable for video recording. The GN36 flash has a short charging time of about 2 seconds, which increases the convenience in making flash shots.
The video capabilities of the Panasonic GH2 have been widely praised. The Panasonic GH3 has been developed keeping in mind the professional videographer and offers more file formats and a higher file size and bitrate. The Panasonic GH3 features AVCHD video with 28 Mbps bitrate or MOV video with 72 Mbps bitrate and even the H.264 codec. Panasonic also offers an external plug-in-power microphone (Panasonic DMW-MS2) now, with windjammer for high quality recordings. Through the menu, the direction of the stereo-/shotgun microphone can be set. The microphone holder is equipped with a mechanism that absorbs vibrations. The sound of the camera motor and control sounds are suppressed, so that only the desired sound is recorded. The completely silent electronic shutter offers a unique advantage when you take a picture while filming: with SLR cameras, the folding up and down of the mirror and shutter sound is recorded through the microphone when you take a picture while recording a video. With the Panasonic GH3, you take a picture when using the electronic shutter while recording a video, without hearing anything.
Conclusion Panasonic GH3 review
- Good image quality, not only resolution and color reproduction, but also dynamic range at the lowest ISO settings
- Rugged construction, sealed against dust and splash water
- Clear and fast OLED display & viewfinder
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Silent when using electronic shutter
- Fast: 6 fps continuous and 20 fps in lower resolution
- Very high video quality
- Contrast AF is less suited for fast action photography than phase-detection AF
- Viewfinder is less sharp at the edges from some angles
- Dynamic range and noise at high settings
The size of a camera is highly dependent on taste: the Panasonic GH3 is large compared to micro-43 cameras such as the Panasonic G5 or the Olympus OM-D E-M5. And the GH3 is small and light compared to professional SLR cameras such as the Canon 1DX and the Nikon D4. For every ambitious photographer charmed by the good and compact micro-43 lenses or the excellent video quality, but finding the micro-43 cameras still slightly too small, the Panasonic GH3 is the ultimate candidate to still switch to micro-43.
The Panasonic GH3 is the first professional micro-43 camera for both video and photography, with a full range of accessories (battery grip, external flash, and microphone). The camera is designed as a compact SLR and the service is familiar to anyone familiar with an SLR. Both in terms of image quality and user friendliness, the Panasonic GH3 is significantly better than the Panasonic GH2. The electronic viewfinder of the GH3 is bigger and brighter than the viewfinder of the GH2 and the body is more robust and protected against dust and splash water. The image quality is just very good. Both the resolution and the color will meet the expectations of critical photographers. The dynamic range at the lowest ISO settings is not even inferior to that of some cameras with full-frame sensors. The built-in Wi-Fi and freely downloadable Lumix Link app make it possible to retrieve GPS data from your smartphone, wirelessly transfer files or to control the Panasonic GH3 remotely. What more could you want?