Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 review

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is an excellent camera for video enthusiast, but it's not the best all-around Micro Four Thirds camera that we've tested.
Photo of Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 ($1,299.99 direct, body only) is Panasonic’s top-end Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s a 16-megapixel design that is quite popular for videographers, but at its heart it’s a very capable still camera. It focuses quickly, offers a very respectable burst shooting rate, and packs a sharp vari-angle display and an EVF. It’s not quite on the same level as our Editors’ Choice Olympus OM-D E-M1, which shoots faster, is a bit more rugged, and offers in-body image stabilization. But if video capture is your primary concern, the GH3 is likely a better choice.

Design and Features
Large for a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GH3 is more along the lines of a compact SLR, measuring 3.7 by 5.2 by 3.2 inches (HWD) and weighing 1.2 pounds. It’s just a little bit bigger than the OM-D E-M1, which is also designed in a form factor that’s reminiscent of an SLR. The E-M1 measures 37 by 5.1 by 2.5 inches and weighs just a bit less, 1.1 pounds.  Like the E-M1, the GH3 is protected against dust and splashes, and its chassis is constructed from magnesium alloy.

There are enough controls squeezed onto the body to satisfy demanding shooters, and several of the buttons can be customized via the camera menu. On the top plate you’ll find a dial to adjust the drive mode—it has settings for single shooting, continuous drive, bracketing, and the self-timer. There’s also a mode dial, with an integrated power switch, and buttons to directly adjust white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. Also up top is the shutter release, one of the camera’s dual control dials, and the programmable Fn1 button; that, by default, activates the camera’s Wi-Fi system.

Aside from the lens release there are no front controls. On the rear you’ll find image playback buttons, Fn2 through Fn5, each of which can be adjusted via the menu, a toggle switch to adjust the focus mode, the AF/AE Lock control, a movie record button, a control dial, and a jog control for menu navigation. The control layout is not that far off from advanced SLR bodies, and is a stark contrast to the more minimalist approach taken by Sony with the Alpha NEX-7, which utilizes three control dials and several programmable buttons.

The LCD is a vari-angle design—it can swing out from the body, rotate all the way forward, and lie flat against the back of the camera. It’s 3-inch OLED with 614k-dot resolution. It doesn’t pack as many pixels as the 1,037k-dot display that’s used by the Olympus PEN E-P5, but it appears quite sharp to my eye. The touch input is responsive; it can be used to adjust the focus point or fire the shutter, and navigate through on-screen menus. The feature that sets this touch interface apart from others is one that is only active when you’re shooting at eye-level using the built-in EVF. The rear screen is dark in this situation, but you can move your finger across the touch-sensitive panel to change the focus point. It’s a quick and intuitive way to control the autofocus area, and one that we’d like to see implemented in other cameras with EVFs and touch-sensitive displays.

The EVF is an OLED design with a 1,744k-dot resolution. It’s a good size, and when it’s coupled with the magnification feature, it’s sharp enough for precise manual focus. It’s not the equal of the best EVF we’ve seen in a mirrorless camera, the larger, sharper LCD EVF that Olympus squeezed into its OM-D E-M1. That EVF holds up better in dim light (the GH3 gets very choppy when things get dark), and manual focus is a bit quicker using the E-M1 thanks to its focus peaking feature. Given the GH3′s video-first design it’s a surprise that peaking is absent; it’s a feature that has migrated from video to still cameras, and one that’s useful in serious video work where manual focus is a must.

The Wi-Fi interface goes beyond simply transferring images to your iOS or Android device. In addition, the free Lumix Link app includes a robust remote control application that gives you full control of the camera, right from your portable device. The Live View feed streams to your phone or tablet, and is remarkably smooth. You can touch a part of the frame to focus, take full control over manual shooting settings, and fire off a shot or start a video recording. It’s also possible to transmit images directly to a PC or Mac, either after they’ve been shot, or automatically as you’re shooting.

The GH3 can connect to your home network or a hotspot. When working in this mode, you can also push images to Panasonic’s cloud service for online storage, or to post images and videos to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Picasa, and Flickr. To access any of these you’ll need to set up a Lumix Club account; you can do this right from the camera. Once the Lumix Club account is configured, you’ll need to log in to the Web interface to set up individual logins for each of your social networks. It’s a clunky way to do things—if the camera can store your login and password for the Lumix Club, it could do the same for your social networks. It’s great to have the ability to push photos from the GH3 to your online profiles, but I would have preferred that the camera work in the same way as Samsung mirrorless bodies like the NX20, which lets you configure each supported service from within the camera. One note, you’ll need to shoot in JPG or Raw+JPG to post images online; there’s no on-the-fly conversion of Raw files for transfer like we’ve seen in other cameras, and there’s no in-camera Raw development available.

Performance and Conclusions
The GH3 is on par with similar bodies in terms of speed. It requires 1.1 second to start and capture a photo and manages a short 0.1-second shutter lag. The GH3 shoots at up to 6.2 frames per second, with a pace it can keep for 19 Raw+JPG, 23 Raw, or 30 JPG shots. When using a SanDisk 95MBps memory card the recovery time is about 22 seconds for Raw+JPG, and 11 seconds for Raw or JPG shooting. The Sony NEX-7 is a similar performer; it starts and shoots in 1.3 seconds and manages a 0.15-second shutter lag. The NEX-7 is a bit faster in burst mode at 10fps, but it’s limited to 11 Raw+JPG, 14 Raw, or 17 JPG images at a time. There’s also a JPG-only burst mode that uses the electronic shutter to capture images at a reduced resolution; it hits 20 frames per second with a maximum 80-shot burst, but the images are limited to 4 megapixels.

Focus speed is impressive in low light. The GH3 locks and fires in 0.8-second on average. It compares well with the Fujifilm X-E1, which takes 2 full seconds to lock focus in very dim light.

The GH3 ships as a body only, but we did use Imatest to check the sharpness of a few of Panasonic’s top-end lenses when paired with the body. You can see how the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm F2.8 ASPH., Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm F2.8 ASPH., and Lumix G Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm F2.8 ASPH. perform in their respective reviews.

Imatest evaluates photos for noise, which can reduce sharpness and introduce unwanted grain as the sensitivity to light (ISO) is increased. The GH3 keeps JPG noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 800; noise jumps to about 2 percent at ISO 1600. This isn’t the best result we’ve seen; the Samsung NX20 controls noise through ISO 6400. But we look at more than a simple score when evaluating image noise. Images are viewed on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W in order to determine just how well the images hold up. Despite scoring well on the test, the NX20 struggles with image quality when pushed to ISO 3200 or higher. To its credit, the GH3 takes a very hands-off approach to noise reduction. Detail is excellent through ISO 3200, with tight grain that doesn’t detract from the image. We started to notice some smudging of detail in JPGs at ISO 6400; Raw images at that setting are noticeably grainy, but fine detail is preserved. You should avoid the top ISO setting of 12800 if possible; JPGs are a mess there, and Raw images show a lot of noise.

The GH series has been a favorite for video since its introduction, and the GH3 builds on that. The camera records footage at 1080p resolution at 24, 30, or 60 frames per second. There are a few file formats available, including AVCHD Progressive, QuickTime MOV, and MP4. Panasonic recommends that you use AVCHD for home movies that will viewed on an HDTV, MP4 for web output, and MOV for pro work that’s destined for an editing bay. The QuickTime videos are recorded in a high bitrate—50Mbps for 60p footage, and 72Mbps for 30p or 24p footage using an All-Intra codec. The video looks great; it’s sharp and crisp, with excellent colors and no sign of the rolling shutter effect. You’ll have access to manual controls during recording, so you can change the aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation in the middle of a shot.

The internal stereo mic delivers good quality audio for casual use, but pros will want to connect an external mic. There’s a standard 3.5mm input, as well as a headphone jack, so you can monitor the audio as it’s being recorded. There’s also a mini HDMI port to connect to an HDTV, and a proprietary USB port. The camera also features a connector for a wired remote control and a PC Sync socket for studio lights or an off-camera flash. SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards are supported.

The Pansonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is an all-star video camera, and a very capable still shooter. Its SLR-like design is a comfortable one for many photographers, and it is quick to focus and manages a respectable 6.2fps burst shooting rate. But it’s not the best Micro Four Thirds camera that we’ve shot with; that honor goes to our Editors’ Choice Olympus OM-D E-M1, which delivers faster burst capture, more controls, and a larger, sharper EVF. If you don’t like the SLR design, you may opt for another top-end mirrorless camera like the Olympus PEN E-P5, Sony NEX-7, or Fujifilm X-E1, all of which opt for slimmer designs. But if you’re serious about video and feel that a mirrorless camera is the right choice for you, the GH3 is the one to get.

Specifications
Dimensions 3.7 x 5.2 x 3.2 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI, Mic, Remote, Headphone, PC Sync
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.16 seconds
LCD dots 610000
LCD size 3 inches
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
GPS No
Boot time 1.1 seconds
Sensor Type CMOS
Weight 1.2 lbs
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video Resolution 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization None
Shutter Lag 0.1 seconds
Sensor Size Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13mm) mm
EVF Resolution 1744000 dpi
Viewfinder Type EVF

Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is an excellent camera for video enthusiast, but it's not the best all-around Micro Four Thirds camera that we've tested.
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