Panasonic GH3 £1549

16th May 2013 | 14:15

Panasonic GH3

Better image quality, handling and video features

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Responsive touchscreen; Quick and easy controls; Wi-Fi system; Remote control;

Dislike:

Social integration isn't great; No focus peaking; No image rating button;

Introduction

Panasonic's Michiharu Uematsu tells us that the company consulted around 100 Panasonic GH2 users, including professional filmmakers, post-production workers and broadcasters, to hear what they would like to see in its replacement - the Panasonic GH3.

Between them they managed to produce a fairly long list, and while Uematsu says the company hasn't been able to give them everything they asked for, he says that they will find 75-80% of their requirements have been met by the new compact system camera (CSC).

Panasonic's main aim for the GH3 was to give it greater appeal to serious photographers and videographers. It has attempted to do this with improved handling, better build quality, more direct controls, an upgraded touchscreen, bolstered video recording technology and Wi-Fi connectivity.

Panasonic GH3 review

Let's take a closer look.

Inside the Panasonic GH3 is a 16.05MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, which at 17.3 x 13mm is a little smaller than an APS-C format device.

This is coupled with a new Venus Engine FHD processor that enables better noise performance at high sensitivity values, especially in the shadows, thanks to its multi-stage noise reduction system.

Being a Micro Four Thirds (MFT) camera means that the Panasonic GH3 is compatible with a wide range of optics from the two main players in the MFT market, Panasonic and Olympus, as well as a handful from Sigma, Tokina and Voigtlander.

Panasonic GH3 review

Because the sensor is smaller than full-frame, the lenses are subject to a 2x focal length multiplication factor. This means that the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 Asph lens, which is available with the Panasonic GH3, gives a focal length range equivalent to a 24-70mm optic on a 35mm camera with a fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8.

Although it is aimed at experienced photographers and has the expected program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual exposure modes, the Panasonic GH3 also has a collection of automatic scene modes as well as Panasonic's Intelligent Auto (iA) mode that does most of the thinking for you.

So it can be used by less experienced photographers who want plenty of head-room.

Panasonic GH3 review

Panasonic has extended the GH3's video capability in comparison with the Panasonic GH2, so Full HD footage can be recorded in AVCHD, MP4 or MOV formats, at a range of frame rates including 50p, 50i, 25p and 24p. In addition, MOV and VCHD movies can be recorded with timecode to help with locating scenes or frames and synchronising with other devices.

Movies can be recorded in any of the available exposure modes, and a still image can be captured simultaneously, if required. Full exposure control is also available during recording when shooting movies in Creative Video mode. Slow and fast motion recording is also possible.

In response to feedback, Panasonic has also changed the microphone input port on the GH3 to the popular 3.5mm socket. A headphone port is provided to help with audio monitoring.

The Panasonic GH3 is currently priced at £1549/US$1298 (around AU$1230) online, for the body only.

Build quality and handling

Panasonic has tried to give the GH3 more appeal to serious photographers by improving the cameras build quality over the GH2's. While the GH2 has a plastic shell for example, the Panasonic GH3 has magnesium alloy body to make it more rugged.

In addition, the Panasonic GH3 is dust-proof and splash-proof, which means it can be used in harsher environments than the Panasonic GH2 can be - perhaps even a British summer.

The new model is also appreciably bigger than the camera it replaces. That's not to say that the Panasonic GH3 is an especially large camera, but it is taller and deeper than the GH2, and this gives it a much more robust appearance and feeling.

Panasonic GH3 review

It's a similar size to an entry-level DSLR, and photographers with small to medium sized hands will find that the grip provides just enough room for all the fingers on their right hand. Large-handed togs, however, will have to tuck their little fingers under the camera body.

Because it's larger than the Panasonic GH2, the Panasonic GH3 has room for a few extra buttons. While this may make it more intimidating to novice photographers, the more experienced target market will appreciate being able to make faster settings adjustments.

The most noticeable arrival is the large scroll-dial on the back of the camera around the navigation controls. This falls very conveniently within reach of the right thumb, and is useful for navigating the menu and setting options.

Panasonic GH3 review

A row of three buttons has also been added just behind the shutter release to enable you to access the white balance, sensitivity and exposure compensation options quickly. These are used instead of the navigation/short-cut buttons, which have a dual purpose on the GH2.

There are five physical buttons on the Panasonic GH3, labelled Fn1 to Fn5, plus two virtual buttons on the LCD (Fn6 and Fn7) that can be customised. All but one of these buttons can be set to access one of 39 features, giving an impressive level of customisation to the photographer's preferences. For some reason Fn4 'only' has 10 customisation options.

As before, the Panasonic GH3's 3-inch screen is touch-sensitive, but instead of being resistive it is now capacitive (like an iPhone screen) so it responds to a touch of the finger rather than a press. We found it very responsive.

Panasonic GH3 review

This touch-sensitivity makes some setting changes must faster than on other cameras. When customising the purpose of the seven Fn buttons, for example, the screen displays an image of the camera with the button locations and their functions. Touching any of the button icons brings up all the functions that can be assigned to it, arranged in a scrollable list. When you find the one you want, just touch it and it's set.

Panasonic has also given the GH3 the Touch Pad AF system first seen with the Panasonic G5. This enables you to set the position of the active AF point using your finger on the screen while the camera is held to the eye. It's very easy to use, and less fiddly than reaching for buttons or a joystick.

Left eye users, however, will find that your nose changes the AF point, so the screen must be flipped out to the side of the camera for use. Right-eyed photographers have a similar issue when shooting upright format images.

Panasonic GH3 review

At 610,000 dots, the Panasonic GH3's screen doesn't have the highest resolution available, but it is an OLED unit and it provides a decent view outside. In bright light it helps to turn the LCD brightness up, but we found we were able to compose images on the screen in most conditions.

Although the Panasonic GH3's screen is on an articulated hinge and provides a clear view of the scene, there are times when it just seems more natural to use the viewfinder. Being a compact system camera, the Panasonic GH3 has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) rather than an optical one.

With 1.74 million dots, it lags a little way behind the 2.36-million dot unit in the Sony NEX-7, but it is still capable of reproducing fine details. It also has an impressive 1000-1 contrast range, which is significantly up on the 150-1 range of the Panasonic GH2's EVF.

Panasonic GH3 review

On the whole, the view in the EVF is pretty good. You wouldn't mistake it for an optical viewfinder, but it has the benefit of showing the impact of exposure, colour and white balance changes. Warm scenes with quite high contrast can seem a little flat in the EVF, but the final images usually look better.

Panasonic also tells us that the EVF's response time has been dramatically cut to 16.7ms on the Panasonic GH3, which makes it easier to follow moving subjects than with the GH2.

Panasonic has built Wi-Fi technology into the Panasonic GH3 so that key features such as the exposure, powerzoom, focus point and shutter can be controlled remotely via a free app for iOS and Android.

Panasonic GH3 review

This makes it much more useful than similar apps from Sony and Samsung that offer very limited settings adjustments. That will be a popular feature with enthusiasts, especially wildlife photographers.

We found that the camera responds quickly to the commands given via the smart device, and images transfer reasonably quickly.

Once you have registered with Panasonic's Lumix Club and linked your accounts, you can upload images direct to Twitter and Facebook, but upright images aren't rotated and there's no option to add a comment - which is disappointing.

Panasonic GH3 review

Performance

There are no major surprises with the images from the Panasonic GH3. In most situations the camera correctly exposes the scene and records natural-looking colours.

Panasonic GH3 review

That said, we found that the automatic white balance setting produced rather cool looking images in warm sunlight. Turning to the Cloudy and Shade options warmed the scene up a little bit too far, and we preferred the results captured using the Sunny white balance setting.

Panasonic GH3 review

As usual there are three metering modes available on the Panasonic GH3 - Intelligent Multiple (making maximum use of the 144-zone system), Centreweighted and Spot. We found that the Multiple metering can be relied on in most situations, with the occasional need to dial in a little exposure compensation, for example to brighten the image when the scene contains large bright areas.

Panasonic GH3 review

In addition to Panasonic's iDynamic (intelligent dynamic range optimisation) system, which automatically brightens shadows, the Panasonic GH3 has an HDR mode. Unfortunately this only works when shooting JPEG files, and the composite image is the only one saved.

Panasonic GH3 review

Although there is an option to align images automatically, some of our handheld HDR shots are a little misaligned. Consequently, we think experienced photographers are better off bracketing their shots and creating HDR images themselves.

Panasonic GH3 review

However, where the images do align well the results are good, with a subtle increase in shadow and highlight detail.

Panasonic GH3 review

Although it uses contrast detection autofocusing, the Panasonic GH3 gets subjects sharp very quickly in most situations, even in quite low light. It only really struggles with fast moving subjects, and the AF-Tracking option can only keep up with objects moving at around a walking pace.

Panasonic GH3 review

Noise is generally well controlled in images from the Panasonic GH3, and they have plenty of sharp detail up to around ISO 3200. When the in-camera noise reduction is in its standard setting, JPEG files have very little sign of chroma noise, even in the shadows.

Panasonic GH3 review

Luminance noise is, however, visible in high-sensitivity images viewed at 100%. Where possible we recommend keeping the sensitivity setting below ISO 6400, because at this value the impact of the noise reduction system becomes more evident, with some smoothing and loss of detail.

Panasonic GH3 review

Naturally, better results are possible if you are prepared to process the raw files - and owners of a camera of this level are most likely to go down this route.

Panasonic GH3 review

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic GH3, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 125 the Panasonic GH3 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Panasonic GH3 review

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 125, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 12800, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 25600, score: 10 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 125, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 3200, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GH3 review

ISO 25600, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Panasonic GH3 with the Olympus OM-D, Sony NEX-7 and Fuji X-Pro1.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Panasonic GH3 review

These results show that the Panasonic GH3's JPEG files produce a stronger signal to noise ratio than those from the Sony NEX-7 at every sensitivity, though at ISO 800 the scores are very similar. The Panasonic's JPEGs also beat the Olympus OM-D's at most sensitivities, with the Olympus's images only displaying better signal to noise ratios at ISO 1600, 6400 and 25600. The Fuji X-Pro1, on the other hand, produces images with stronger SNR than the Panasonic's at every ISO except ISO 200 - though at ISO 400 and 12800 the scores are similar.

A strong signal to noise ratio indicates that images have less noise.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic GH3 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic GH3 fluctuate much less than those of the JPEG images, with the GH3 sitting above the Fuji X-Pro1 up until ISO 800, and above the Sony NEX-7 until ISO 1600. After this point, the other cameras' TIFFs have better signal to noise ratios, indicating that they are less noisy. The Olympus OM-D's TIFFs outperform the Panasonic's at every sensitivity setting.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonic GH3 review

As we can see from this chart, the Panasonic GH3's JPEG images show weaker dynamic range than all the other cameras' at lower sensitivities, but at ISO 3200 they overtake the Sony NEX-7, and stay ahead for the rest of the range. Also at ISO 3200, the Panasonic's JPEGs show almost identical levels of dynamic range as the Olympus OM-D, and Fuji X-Pro1's images. The Panasonic's JPEGs go on to beat the Fuji's for the rest of the range, and beat the Olympus's at ISO 6400, before falling behind again at ISO 12800 and 25600.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic GH3 review

Here we can see that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic GH3 produce weaker dynamic range than those from the Olympus OM-D and Sony NEX-7 at every sensitivity. The Panasonic's TIFFs also show weaker dynamic range than the Fuji X-Pro1, at every sensitivity but ISO 400. However, the low sensitivity results are good indicating that the GH3 can record a wide range of tones in one shot.

Sample images

These images were taken with a pre-production sample of the camera, and as-such, Panasonic has requested that the images be resized to 5 megapixels. You can still click the link to see a larger version of the image that currently appears on this page.

Panasonic GH3 sample image

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Focusing is quick and accurate with the Panasonic GH3. Panasonic claims that it has the fastest autofocus system in the world, something which is really useful when shooting wildlife.

Panasonic GH3 sample image

Click here to see a larger version.

A large variety of lenses is available for the Panasonic G system, including very long lenses. Although "only" a 45-200mm optic, because of the crop factor of Micro Four Thirds cameras, this translates to 400mm at the telephoto end, making it arguably more versatile for wildlife shooting than those cameras with larger sensors.

Panasonic GH3 sample image

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You can use either the LCD screen or the electronic viewfinder to compose images on the GH3. When using a long telephoto lens, it can be beneficial to use the larger screen to track quickly moving subjects.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

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Colours are represented well by the GH3, having lots of punch and clarity straight from the camera.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

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The GH3 copes well in dark conditions, still maintaining a quick autofocus speed, and producing images which show a good level of noise control while still maintaining detail.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

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Even though the sensor is smaller than those found in APS-C format cameras, the GH3 is still capable of producing pleasing shallow depth of field effects.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

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Several digital filters are available to use on the GH3. Handily, the images can be shot simultaneously in raw and jpeg, so, should you decide you don't want the filter at a later stage you can roll back to the raw image. This is the Impressive Art filter.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

Click here to see a larger version.

Another one of the filters in action, this time Dynamic Monochrome.

Panasonic GH3 sample images

Click here to see a larger version.

Cross Process is another filter which can be deployed. There are several options for using this filter, this image shows an emphasis of green tones, but you can also choose to emphasise blue, yellow, or red.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Panasonic GH3 review

Full ISO 125 JPEG image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic GH3 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 125

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 200

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 400

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 800

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 6400

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 12800

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 25600

Raw

Panasonic GH3 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 125

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 200

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 400

Panasonic GH3 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

ISO 800

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 1600

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 3200

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 6400

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 12800

Panasonic GH3 review

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ISO 25600

Verdict

Panasonic is clearly going for the serious filmmaker market with the Panasonic GH3. The compact system camera doesn't have a few key features, such as zebras to highlight over- and underexposure or focusing peaking to indicate the sharpest areas of the image. But it has much to attract videographers who want to capture HD footage with a relatively compact camera.

The company has also said that it may add such features at a later date with a firmware upgrade.

The Panasonic GH3 also feels and looks like a much more serious and robust camera than the Panasonic GH2, which will give it extra appeal to enthusiast stills photographers who are used to holding DSLR cameras.

There are direct controls to all the key features, and the touchscreen is very responsive.

We liked

The capacitive touchscreen is wonderfully responsive, and settings changes can be made quickly and easily via it or the healthy crop of direct controls. Although it's not perfect, the Wi-Fi system is a useful bonus, particularly the ability to control the camera remotely.

We disliked

Like Panasonic's other recent G-series cameras, the Panasonic GH3 has a customisable quick menu that gives quick access to key features. It would be helpful, however, if there was also a customisable screen for the main menu to enable speedy access to features such as memory card formatting and the Multiple Exposure controls.

The Wi-Fi system could also do with a little more polishing. The ability to upload images to Twitter and Facebook is nice, but it's annoying that they aren't correctly orientated and there's no option to provide a caption or comment.

Panasonic has said that focus peaking (highlights that show the sharpest areas of the scene) could be added with a firmware upgrade if there is enough demand for it. We think this would be a good move that would bring the Panasonic GH3 into line with offerings from Sony.

We'd also like to see a virtual button added to enable you to rate images as they are reviewed. This rating could then be stored in the image EXIF data to speed up image processing.

Final verdict

The Panasonic GH3 offers all modern conveniences we want in a digital compact system camera these days; a decent EVF, an articulating capacitive touchscreen, Wi-Fi connectivity and a fast autofocus system.

It may be a little larger than most compact system cameras, but it has a superb featureset in a very well-made body that is compatible with a wide variety of lenses. This makes it more versatile than most CSCs on the market and it turns out high quality images in most situations.

While it cannot compete with a top-end DSLR when it comes to shooting sport and action, it is more than a match for most other CSCs.

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