Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 full review
Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GH3 is an interchangeable lens camera that’s aimed at the pro set. It’s solidly built, has a dazzling array of direct control buttons and dials, and there are plenty of accessories available for it so that it can be tailored to almost any situation. Importantly, the GH3 offers a bump in resolution compared to the GH2, and there are physical differences that make it a better camera overall. See Group test: what's the best interchangeable lens camera?
The DMC-GH3 now has a 16-megapixel sensor, which follows the same 2-megapixel bump in pixel power that we’ve seen in this series of cameras for each new model (the original had 12 megapixels, while the DMC-GH2 had 14 megapixels). The format remains the same, though: it’s still a Micro Four Thirds camera that’s supported by an ecosystem of no less than 20 lenses, and the image quality that it can produce is superb. Take a look at our review of the Panasonic DMC-G3 too.
Despite having a sensor that’s smaller than many on the market in the same price range, the DMC-GH3’s image quality is up there with the best we’ve seen. Photos in our tests were crystal clear, offering plenty of detail and dynamic range, even when we cropped them to a magnification level of 100 per cent. Chromatic aberration was non-existent, and colours looked natural when we used the default high-quality JPEG setting, though they ever so slightly leaned towards being too yellow. The best part is, you can modify settings to your liking, and you can shoot in RAW and play with the files on your computer instead. The glass you use will determine the quality of your images, too, and we used Panasonic’s 12-35mm lens in our tests.
Panasonic says that the new 16-megapixel sensor offers one major benefit for those of you who want to shoot video, and that is an unlimited recording time in Full HD. Much like the still image quality, video can be captured in very high detail, though lots of camera motion can introduce tearing so it’s best used in a stationary position. The integrated stereo microphone wasn’t great in our tests, but an external microphone plug is present on the left side of the camera body.
You can frame your photos using either the 3in OLED screen, or the built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF). The inclusion of a built-in EVF and a flash makes the DMC-GH3 a fully featured camera that’s a bit bulky for a mirrorless camera, but that’s not to say it’s oversized. It’s still compact for what it is and what it can do, and it feels well balanced and comfortable to hold. The body is made out of metal and it has some light ruggedness to it that makes it dustproof and splashproof.
A manual switch is available so that you can choose between the OLED display or the EVF to frame your shots, and there is also a sensor that picks the one you’re trying to use. However, this sensor is very sensitive, and it can be a problem. If you want to shoot from your hip while looking down at the LCD screen, for example, you’ll have to make sure not to put the camera too close to your body or the screen will switch off. That’s even with the sensitivity set to low. You might want to disable the sensor when using the camera for those types of shots.
Ease of use
As far as overall usability is concerned, though, the DMC-GH3 has plenty to like, including four function buttons that are spread out neatly across the body. These are useful for accessing your most-used settings in a quick manner. They are pre-set to perform the following tasks: one button brings up the virtual level, which is great when you don’t have a reference point for straightness, another brings up the focus mode and file settings, another is for Wi-Fi, and another gives you an exposure preview. These function buttons can be customised, so you’re not stuck with the defaults that Panasonic has chosen.
The video recording button has been moved from the top of the camera to the rear of the camera, which we find to be more convenient, and the rest of the layout is to our liking as well .There are dedicated buttons for ISO, white balance, and exposure across the top, and the rear now has a thumb dial for navigating the menu system, rather than just arrow buttons like on the last model. Exposure can be easily controlled by the dials that are positioned for your right index finger and thumb. The mode dial is large and fairly stiff, but there is no way to lock it in place. On the left side, there is a dedicated dial for changing the drive of the camera, putting it into timer mode, and using exposure bracketing.
In addition to all of these physical controls, the OLED screen has touch capability. This comes in handy when you want to set a focus point on the screen, and also when you want to tap on the screen to immediately take a shot. The screen is responsive enough and accurate enough to also allow you to change menu settings simply by tapping.
One thing that we still don’t like about Panasonic’s mirrorless cameras is the inaccuracy between the viewfinder and LCD screen, and the picture that’s eventually taken. Cameras such as the Olympus PEN and OM-D have a what-you-see-is-what-you-get screen that we’ve been going on and on about forever it seems -- it’s a feature that we absolutely love because there is no discrepancy between the screen and the captured shot when it comes to exposure. With the DMC-GH3, you have to rely on the light meter on the screen to let you know if the exposure is correct, and any resulting changes you make to the exposure can’t be seen unless you press the preview button (which is set as the fourth function button by default) or by actually taking the shot.
Like most cameras these days, the DMC-GH3 has a wireless capability. This can be enabled either by getting to the Wi-Fi Function entry in the settings menu, or by pressing the Fn1 button on the body that’s pre-programmed to enable it. This will then allow you to set up a new connection. You are given options as to how the Wi-Fi can be used: for remote shooting, for TV playback, for sending images while shooting, and for sending images off the SD card. Once that’s selected, you have to choose a destination, which can be your smartphone, PC, Panasonic’s cloud service, a printer, an AV device, or another Web service. The final step is to select the actual connection type: your existing Wi-Fi network or Wi-Fi Direct.
We wanted to transfer pictures from the camera to our smartphone, for which we had to download the Lumix Link app. When we tried going through our existing Wi-Fi network, we found the process to be cumbersome. This is mainly because the camera had trouble finding our wireless network, and also because we had to enter our password on the touchscreen, which took up to four taps per character. We didn’t have any success at connecting our smartphone to the camera and transferring pictures over our existing Wi-Fi network.
The transfer process worked much better using the Wi-Fi Direct mode, which was more reliable and didn’t require us to enter any passwords. It was a juggle to get the devices to connect, though, as we had to start the connection process on the camera, enable Wi-Fi Direct on the smartphone, connect to the camera, and then authenticate the devices with each other. After all that, we were able to transfer photos easily (be sure to select the file size that you want to transfer, it’s set to medium by default and we could only get the option to change it by initiating a new connection).
The Wi-Fi Direct feature can come in handy when you’re on the road or holidaying and you want to quickly share a high-quality photo that you’ve taken with the GH3. We don’t think it’s useful enough for home or office use, which are locations in which you’re likely to have a computer with an SD card slot available. Transferring photos from the camera to a computer can be done wirelessly, though, and the method we used was via our phone, which we’ve set to sync all photos to Dropbox. As soon as our Wi-Fi Direct session was over and the phone once again joined our regular network, the photos appeared in our synched Dropbox folder.
Wi-Fi still has a long way to go, though, not only on this camera, but on most that we’ve seen with this feature, and it will drain the battery quickly. With the DMC-GH3, it’s a clumsy feature. You have to set out from the beginning knowing what you want to do with the camera, be it to capture a live stream of photos, to transfer existing ones, or to use the remote shooting capability. We think it would be more beneficial to have an app that simply connects to the camera one time and allows you to select the function that you want to undertake. As it stands, there are too many steps involved to do anything with it.
What you get in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is a high-end mirrorless camera that’s fast, comfortable to hold and convenient to operate, and, above all, clear and highly-detailed image quality. It’s a worthy camera if you’re an enthusiast or professional with a need for a smaller-than-digital SLR camera, yet the features and options that are available for this camera are very much digital SLR-like. You can attach a second grip with a battery, an external flash, a wireless flash, and a shotgun microphone. It’s definitely a camera that can be adapted for almost any photography and video shooting need. We’re not all that impressed by its wireless functionality, though, and we also wish the camera handled on-the-fly exposure changes better, which would make it a lot more fun to use.
The price of $2999 is for the kit that includes the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens that we used for our tests. The body only costs $1599.
These are all straight out of the camera. The only editing we've done is to re-size them to fit this page. We've included a couple of 100 per cent crops so that you can see how good the image quality is at the pixel level.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3: Specs
- 16MP Live MOS sensor with three-core Venus 7 FHD engine
- Magnesium alloy body with weather sealing (dust and splash proof)
- ISO 200-12800 (extended range of ISO 125-25600)
- 6 fps continuous shooting
- AF speed of 0.07 seconds
- 1.7 million dot equiv. 16:9 ratio OLED viewfinder (873 x 500 pixels)
- 614k dot 3" OLED rear screen (640 x 480 pixels)
- Full HD 60p/50p video with 30p/25p option
- MOV (h.264), MP4 and AVCHD formats
- Video bit rates of 50Mbps in IPB and 72Mbps in All-I compression modes
- Timecode support in MOV(H.264) and AVCHD formats
- 3.5mm mic socket and headphone socket
- Four channel wireless control for the optional DMW-FL360L external flash
- PC socket
- iOS and Android app control via Wi-Fi