Design and features
More than any other Panasonic interchangeable lens camera (ILC) that has come before, the GH3 truly feels like a powerful SLR shrunken down. This camera demands attention — not from its outward appearance, but from its presence. Plonk it down on a desk or atop a tripod, and no one would be in any doubt about its professional nature. Micro Four Thirds has come a long way since 2009, that's for sure.
This camera's predecessor, the GH2, already had a chunky grip. The GH3 makes this protrude even further. The redesigned body also features a new heat-dispersing design, which means it should be able to withstand even the heaviest video use. Made of magnesium alloy, the chassis means business.
Two dials for adjusting exposure parameters sit at the front and the back, while dotted across the body are more customisable function buttons than you can poke a stick at. Straight out of the box, these buttons are assigned to set functions, but can easily be altered from within the menu system.
The mode dial carries on this customisation theme, with three user-selectable notches alongside the standard PASM control, intelligent auto, scene, movie and filter modes. On the other side, a switch to change between single, continuous, bracketing or self-timer sits neatly atop the camera. As well as a hotshoe, the GH3 comes with a built-in stereo mic and pop-up flash. To befit the GH3's calling as a video workhorse, it also comes with a 3.5mm mic jack and headphone jack to monitor audio during recording.
Around the AF/AE Lock button at the rear is a switch that cleverly changes between focus modes. AF-S and AF-F share the same slot, while AF-C (continuous) and MF (manual) are to the side. Like earlier GH models, this camera also has a flip-out screen. On this model, it gets upgraded to OLED with touch capabilities. The electronic viewfinder is also an OLED model, boasting a resolution of 1.77 million dots.
Other cameras of its ilk often don't come with as many connectivity options as the GH3. Built-in Wi-Fi is the big drawcard here, offering the ability to send photos and videos from the camera to a mobile device without an intermediate step.
Setting up the wireless connection is not as easy as other Panasonic cameras that come with near-field communication (NFC) for a one-tap solution. The GH3 requires you to enter a cumbersome password — though it can be changed to something more manageable — in order to use any of the wireless functions. These include remote shooting, TV playback, image transfer during recording and image transfer from the camera's memory card.
Using a smartphone as a remote viewfinder with the GH3.
To get started, the Lumix Link app (Android or iOS) is required. The connection between camera and smartphone takes some time to establish initially, and it told us that the connection failed on our first attempt. However, switching between playback and camera mode in the app started the remote viewfinder without the error message. Once you are using your mobile device as a remote viewfinder, there is minimal lag. The app shows you battery life, and gives you touch shutter features and the ability to start and stop video recording. What would normally be used as a zoom rocker in the app instead serves as a manual focus override.
All the time while the Wi-Fi connection is active, a blue light at the top of the camera shines brightly — and doesn't seem to turn off, even after you stop using the Wi-Fi functionality. The Fn1 button is set as a Wi-Fi-on button by default, though it can be assigned to any of the other function buttons you desire.
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Start-up to first shot
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
Panasonic Lumix GH3
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Continuous shooting speed (in frames per second)
Panasonic Lumix GH3
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
The GH3 has three shooting speeds, selectable from the menu: high, medium or low.
The GH3 uses a contrast AF system, which ensures smooth and very quick autofocus. During our review period, we didn't experience any situation where the GH3 didn't lock on to focus accurately. The ability to select AF zones on the screen itself also helps you lock on to the exact point you want. AF modes include face detection, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area or pinpoint AF.
Panasonic rates the battery at 540 images with the 12-35mm lens, or 500 images with the 14-140mm lens.
Without doubt, the GH3 produces the best images seen yet from a Panasonic G-series camera. On default picture settings, images have vibrant and accurate colours. The 12-35mm lens is an excellent partner to the camera, being able to resolve plenty of detail from the 16-megapixel sensor.
Images stay clean up to and including ISO 800, with a small degree of noise starting to creep in at ISO 1600. It's more of a fine grain reminiscent of film, but it is noticeable on images at reduced resolutions. At the higher end of the sensitivity spectrum, such as ISO 6400, detail starts to become smeared as the camera struggles to render its JPEG images. The GH3 does a much better job of retaining detail in its RAW files, which also provide a good degree of latitude in terms of dynamic range.
A comparison of the GH3's rendering of RAW and JPEG files. As you can see, the exposure is far more even on the RAW file, while detail is retained much better on the 100 per cent crop. The best results from this camera are obtained when shooting RAW and converting in post, especially for detail recovery.
For detail recovery in highlight areas in particular, the GH3 is an excellent performer. Blown out highlights, while possible when using evaluative metering and automatic modes, can be recovered without fuss. Shadow areas are good, but not as clean as highlights when trying to bring back detail in post-processing.
While both the OLED viewfinder and screen are comfortable to use, there does appear to be a slight difference in colour rendition between the two.
The GH3 does not disappoint when it comes to video output. There is plenty of latitude for tweaking and grading footage in post-production. Selectable options for video recording include formats of AVCHD, MP4 or MOV. From there, users can select 1080/50p or i, 1080/25p, 1080/24p (AVCHD); 1080/25p, 720/25p, 480/25p (MP4); 1080/50p, 1080/25p, 1080/24p with All-I options or 720/50p All-I (MOV). Timecode support is available in AVCHD or MOV recording. The GH3 also supports continuous autofocus, manual exposure and picture styles. Microphone levels can be set in a 19-step increment, while the headphone jack can be customised to output sound directly from the mic in real time, or to output the sound that will be recorded on video.
Exposure: 1/320, f/3.5, ISO 400
Exposure: 1/3200, f/3.5, ISO 200
Exposure: 1/200, f/3.5, ISO 1600
Exposure: 1/5, f/3.5, ISO 1600
Offering a robust shooting design and features to suit indie film-makers and photographers alike, the Panasonic GH3 is an excellent device that fully realises the potential of interchangeable lens cameras. If you are only ever going to take stills and not touch the video options of this camera, there are better alternatives out there. However, the GH3 offers the best compromise for both use cases in a smaller form factor to traditional SLRs.
The GH3 itself will be available in three kit configurations: as body only for AU$1599; as a single lens kit with the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens for AU$2999; and as a twin lens kit with the 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lenses for AU$4999.