Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
|Panasonic’s DMC-GH3 is the third model in a ‘flagship’ series of interchangeable-lens cameras designed for use in challenging conditions, which focus on providing a wide variety of functions for shooting video. Following the enthusiastic adoption by professional videographers of its predecessor, the GH2 (which we reviewed in February 2011), many keen video shooters will be interested in how the new camera compares with its predecessor.
We received the GH3 with the recently-released G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH OIS and G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 ASPH premium-quality, fast zoom lenses, which have dust- and moisture-proof sealing to match the GH3 body. Despite a desire to provide a smaller-than-DSLR kit, the GH3 and these lenses are actually as large as (or larger than) most entry-level DSLR kits. They are also heavier than many.
The GH3 will be sold in Australia with the Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH/Power O.I.S lens for $2999.00. A special Pro kit containing the camera body with the 12-35mm lens and Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 ASPH/Power O.I.S lens plus battery grip and spare battery will be offered for $4999.
Who’s It For?
The Micro Four Thirds system (M4/3) is the most mature of the mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera systems, with almost 40 lenses available to date, covering most photographers’ requirements. Currently, the main deficiencies are a lack of fast, high power telephoto primes and tilt/shift lenses.
The former will limit M4/3 cameras’ capabilities for taking close-up shots of distant, easily-spooked wildlife, while the latter will apply some restrictions to architectural and interior photography. Outside of these limitations, there are few subjects that can’t be tackled effectively with a camera like the GH3.
But the main reason photographers will be drawn to this camera is for its distinctly superior video capabilities. Although there’s more to the GH3 than its video capabilities, Panasonic has put a great deal of effort into making this camera a serious movie production tool, as outlined in our overview below.
The 2.5 year gap between the release of the GH2 and the GH3 has given Panasonic plenty of time to evaluate the needs of potential purchasers. Accordingly, the new camera includes the following new features:
The main improvements include:
Fourteen filters are available in the Creative Control sub-menu: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter and One Point Colour. Most are usable for both stills and movies.
The new GUI and menu tabs make it easy to switch filter effects and you can preview adjustments in Live View. Effect parameters, defocusing area and exposure compensation are also adjustable. (Examples of some of these filters can be found in our review of the Panasonic DMC-G5.)
The Extra Tele Converter function carries over from the GH2 but performs better in the new camera. It provides a 2x magnification for stills (2.4x for movies) by cropping the centre of the frame but reduces the image size to 4M. The end results are quite impressive.
Digital zoom is also available, with 2x and 4x magnification, using interpolation to maintain the set image size. Some loss of image quality can be seen with the 4x setting.
Sensor and Image Processing
The sensor appears to be very similar to the one in the DMC-G5, as does the image processor. Both are covered in detail in our review.
Playback and Software
Nothing much has changed in either area. Playback settings for still pictures are essentially the same as in other G-series cameras and include the same touch-screen capabilities.
The supplied software is also unchanged and includes the latest versions of PhotoFun Studio and Silkypix Developer Studio plus a 30-day trial version of Super LoiLoScope (a Windows-only video editing program with a game-like GUI).
Raw files were converted with Adobe Camera Raw, rather than the inferior Silkyix-based bundled software. The resulting 16-bit TIFF files had plenty of depth and showed very good colour accuracy plus well-controlled saturation.
JPEGs were a bit more subdued’ when viewed on a computer monitor or TV screen than files from the G5 we reviewed. Saturation in reds and blues was slightly elevated but easy to control at the editing stage.
Imatest showed resolution performance matched well with subjective assessments of test shots across the camera’s ISO range. Both JPEGs and RW2.RAW files exceeded expectations for a 16-megapixel camera, with the raw files producing the expected, higher figures in the tests. Resolution held up very well with both file types across the camera’s sensitivity range, as shown in the graph of our Imatest results below.
Long exposures taken in dim lighting showed little visible noise right up to ISO 6400, even without noise reduction processing. Colour rendition appeared to be close to the natural hues we found with the G5 and this accuracy was maintained at high ISO settings.
Noise became evident at by ISO 12800 and quite obvious at ISO 25600, although shots taken at both settings were printable at output sizes of A5 or smaller and usable at small sizes on computer screens.
Flash exposures were evenly balanced throughout the camera’s ISO range and colour reproduction was reasonably faithful at settings up to ISO 3200. After that, the influence of ambient lighting could be seen and images were a little soft.
Auto white balance performance was similar to the G5’s under incandescent lighting. Like the G5, the GH3 produced neutral colours under fluorescent lights. Both pre-sets over-corrected slightly, pushing colours towards purple. Manual measurement produced neutral colours under both types of lighting and there’s plenty of scope for fine-tuning colour rendition via the touch screen.
Autofocusing was also very fast and usually accurate and hunting was minimal in low light levels. Focus tracking was also very efficient, both when capturing bursts of shots of moving subjects and while recording movie clips.
Video quality was excellent. Clips recorded in all movie formats were sharp and clear at all resolution and frame rate settings. Autofocusing was generally fast and the continuous AF mode kept pace with moderately fast pans and moving subjects. Soundtracks were clear and free of extraneous noise, thanks to the use of power-zoom lenses. The wind filter did a reasonably good job of suppressing wind noise.
Our timing tests were carried out with an 8GB SanDisk Ultra SDHC UHS-1card, which boasts a transfer speed of 30MB/second. The review camera powered up almost instantaneously and capture lag was less than 0.1 seconds on average. It was totally eliminated when the camera was pre-focused.
Shot-to shot times averaged 0.5 seconds without flash and 0.85 seconds with when the full power of the flash was not utilised. Flash recycling times averaged 5.25 seconds when fully discharged. It took 3.1 seconds on average to process each image file, regardless of whether it was in JPEG or RW2.RAW format or an RAW+JPEG pair.
In the continuous shooting mode, the review camera was able to record at 10 frames/second with the super high-speed setting. It took 6.2 seconds to process a burst of 10 shots.
With continuous raw shooting at the highest frame rate, the review camera was able to record 11 RW2.RAW frames in 1.6 seconds with no sign of capture rates slowing. It took 19.5 seconds to process this burst. Eleven RAW+JPEG pairs were also recorded in 1.6 seconds but the camera took 25.8 seconds to process this burst.
The GH3 also provides a High, Medium and Low-speed continuous shooting modes. The High-speed mode captured 10 JPEG frames in 1.5 seconds, while the Medium-speed mode recorded at one frame/second. In both cases, it took just over seven seconds to process the burst. The Low speed mode recorded at a little over half a frame/second. Each frame is processed as it’s recorded in this mode.
Footnote: Panasonic has posted a firmware update (Version 1.1) for the GH3, which includes several bug fixes and a number of performance improvements. Among the latter are the ability to shoot 1080p/60 fps footage in MP4 format and the ability to connect to a computer via Wi-Fi by entering the computer name. Updates for the 45-150mm, 14-42mm and 45-175mm lenses provide faster focusing with the GH3. Click here to download the latest firmware
Not so good for:
RRP: n/a; MSRP: AU$1599, US$1300 (body only)