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Mar 02

Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

After a quite long two-year wait, Panasonic has updated their flagship Micro 4/3 camera, and they’ve upgraded almost every single item on the camera. This fall, the new DMC-GH3 was announced and cameras first started becoming available a few months ago. Panasonic is positioning the GH3 as the ultimate top end Micro 4/3 body, with a redesigned weathersealed body made of magnesium alloy, ultra-high bit rate video and a new sensor that promises improved dynamic range and overall image quality. They’ve thrown in most any feature you could imagine and have priced it accordingly, targeting the prosumer market with a $1,299 price tag. Let’s see how Panasonic’s new king of the hill stacks up.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

If you’re not familiar with my reviews, I review from a real world shooting perspective. You won’t find lens charts or resolution numbers here. There are plenty of other sites that cover those. I review products on how they act for me as a photographic tool. I am not a videographer, so my reviews concentrate on the still imaging capabilities of a camera. Also, I would like to thank my friends at LensRentals.com for providing the camera for this review. Please visit them whenever you need a lens for that once in a lifetime shoot, or just if you want to try a lens or camera out without having to buy it first.

Body and Ergonomics

Panasonic GH3 - Front

Panasonic GH3 – Front

The first thing that strikes you about the Panasonic Lumix GH3 is the size. If you are a veteran mirrorless camera shooter, it will look and feel rather huge. If you are coming from DSLRs, you will wonder where all this wonderful size reduction is with Micro 4/3. The GH3 is roughly the same size as an entry-level APS-C DSLR. It’s noticeably thicker, wider and heavier than something like the Olympus OM-D, and it absolutely dwarfs the small Micro 4/3 cameras like the Olympus Pen E-PM2.

Needless to say, it’s not a body that you use if you want to slip a camera in your jacket pocket. However, the lenses you will use on the GH3 are still a fair bit smaller than their DSLR counterparts, so for a system, you still get the benefit of a smaller camera system. One big benefit to the DSLR size of the GH3 is that it handles a lot like a DSLR. Button layouts are reminiscent of more recent Canon DSLRs, with tons of switches that are a little more spaced out and comfortable to reach than they were on the GH2.

The grip on the GH3 is wonderful. It is extremely comfortable to hold with a nice soft rubber coating. It honestly felt like it had been sculpted from a mold of my hand. Larger Micro 4/3 lenses like the Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 OIS feel very well-balanced and well controlled on the GH3.

The build quality of the camera is on a very high level. While the GH2 was made with high quality plastics, it felt somewhat cheap when you first picked it up. There is no such feeling with the GH3. It feels extremely solid, much like prosumer DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, such as the 7D or D7000. The fit and finish are on a high level, with everything fitting and feeling as it should. Well done, Panasonic.

Panasonic Lumix GH3 - Back

Panasonic Lumix GH3 – Back

The front of the camera features the lens release button, flash sync port (a first for a Micro 4/3 camera), shutter button and front dial. Turn the camera around, or look on top, and you’re met with an array of controls that will take a little time to get used to, but that are generally well laid out.

The rear of the camera is dominated by the 3″ capacitive touch display with 614,000 dots. This is an increase from previous Panasonic cameras, but still a little lower resolution then many other cameras. However, I thought the display was crisp, clear and had much better color and contrast than previous Panasonic rear displays. The rear panel can tilt and swivel to allow top down, bottom up or even self-portrait shooting. It’s quite handy, and the switch from the resistive touch screens of previous Panasonic cameras to the new capacitive display is welcome.

An optional battery grip is available for the GH3 at a price of $299 to add a vertical grip and extra battery. This can aid in long portrait shooting sessions and add some balance for larger lenses.

One minor handling nitpick is that the speaker for the camera is positioned right next to the right ear when shooting, so if you have focus confirmation beeps on, even at the lowest level, it’s annoyingly loud in your ear.

Viewfinder

The GH3 sports an all-new electronic viewfinder with a bump in resolution to 1.7 million dots and a switch to 16:9 aspect ratio. The viewfinder is sharp and clear and a visible improvement in resolution over previous Panasonic EVFs, but I don’t think it looks quite as good as the one in the Olympus OM-D. While nice, for some reason I just didn’t feel connected to the scene when using the EVF, while I do when shooting the OM-D. I think some of that has to do with the 16:9 aspect ratio.

Previous GH viewfinders were 3:2 aspect ratio, and this worked very well given the GH1 and GH2′s multi-aspect sensor, which could shoot 3:2, 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios natively, without cropping. However, the GH3′s sensor is a 4:3 aspect sensor, which is then cropped to 16:9 for movies and for other chosen aspect ratios for stills. As a result, when shooting stills at full resolution, there are black bars on either side of your view in the EVF. While the overall viewfinder magnification still provides a large view, the black bars reinforce the fact that you’re looking at an electronic display, and if feels like you’re viewing a TV rather than a live scene. When switching to movie view, the EVF shows the fully 16:9 image, which is frankly enormous in your field of vision (so much so that you need to move your eye around a bit to see it all), and this feels more natural than in stills mode. As I shoot a hundred times more still photographs than video, I was a little disappointed.

Next: Operation and Menus

About the author

Jordan Steele

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Admiring Light; Photographer; Electrical Engineer and Dad

12 comments

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  1. Libby

    It’s a great release Jordan and I appreciate your comments. I’m still making decisions on another m4/3 body, and the GH3 is in the running. The video crowd found a real gem in the little GH2, and Pansonic really brought it home for the cinema guys. Panasonic listened, and that’s part of the big difference here.

  2. lisandra

    beautiful samples here Jordan! DO you still have it? theres an option in the wireless flash menu that blew me away; full power wireless flash shooting! GOod read as always, the first sample blew my mind, its so surreal!

  3. Chuck

    I think you nailed this review. I have had a GH3 for three months and used it as a still camera constantly. Like you I am not much of a videographer and will probably never challenge it capabilities in that area. I also have an EM-5. I agree the images are for me impossible to tell apart and are the same to work in Lightroom. I find myself reaching for the GH3 more often because it fits my hand and the buttons fit my shooting style. The sized doesn’t bother me, because as you commented the system is smaller. I also like the swivel screen and controlling it from my iPhone. And I really like your accompanying images, especially, the winter tree.

  4. Wolfgang Lonien

    Yes, that winter tree is definitely a keeper. And thanks for the nice review as well.

  5. bousozoku

    I’ve had a GH3 since Thursday. I’ve been using the Olympus E-1 since April 2004 and the E-5 since November 2011.

    I’ve been adapting to the GH3 through about 1000 wrestling and basketball photos I’ve taken this weekend. I find that the continuous auto focus is much better than the E-5′s. I have fewer shots to delete because of focus issues.

    My main problem with the GH3 is that the display is frozen while shooting, Whether this is just something for burst mode or not, I don’t know. I can still shoot, as I’ve found today, while the files are being written, but I have to guess where I’m going with the camera to get the shots.

    Where I would normally have been at ISO 1600 on the E-5, the auto ISO sensitivity functionality is generally choosing 3200 and the image quality is much, much better, also without the yellow-ish tinge but colour changes drastically when it chooses ISO 2000 or 2500 and looks yellow-ish.

    I was hoping for Olympus innards in a Panasonic body, but it works well enough and I’ll adapt to the miseries of the mirror-less world eventually. Now, if Olympus would just release some SHG zooms for micro Four-Thirds, I’d be set.

  6. david moreno

    Nice review,
    I used a panasonic gh2 for a long time, when i first saw the gh3 i thought it was too big for m4/3 and bough a omd, but now i use all the time the omd with the part one of the hdl grip attach. Please you have use the two cameras, its there a big different in size and weights between omd+part 1 grip and gh3?

    Thanks for the answer and for this really nice review

    1. Jordan Steele

      There is still a fairly decent size difference. The height is equalized (and the weight is darn close) when you add the horizontal grip to the OM-D, but the GH3 is still a fair bit wider, and the grip is bigger and more comfortable than the OM-D with horizontal grip. The biggest way you notice this is with a large diameter lens like the 35-100mm f/2.8. On the OM-D+grip, there’s not a ton of room between the lens and the grip, so you are slightly cramped. It’s still comfortable, but a little tight. There’s plenty of room, though with the GH3.

      The size of the GH3 is only a detriment when putting the camera in your bag, where it takes up a good amount of room. In hand, it feels fantastic.

  7. John Rappold

    Great review. I bought the grip because I shoot lots of timelapse and video. While it adds an even better feel when held in landscape mode, for me it is rather poor if you want to use it in portrait mode looking through the evf. The ergonomics don’t work because you have to hold the cam higher because of the evf position, and it makes the grip feel awkward. Also, with my heaviest lens (14-140mm) attached with the grip, the GH3 is fairly wieghty…not a huge deal since the grip will mostly be used when mounted on a tripod.

    Also, if anyone is wondering, the GH3 still has a remote input if you need to shoot with an external intervalometer or timelapse motion control system.

    The Gh3 is a great cam. For the price, it offers a much better build and tons more features than the $1500 (w/ kit lens) I paid for my D90 in 2008.

  8. Mark Smith

    A very good, objective review of a great camera. I was impressed to see that you are the only reviewer that noticed the problem which caused me to return my GH3: the SD card door opens with little energy. Both copies of GH3 that I tried had the same problem so I concluded that this was by design. The door routinely popped open when I’d put it in my holster. Since I use my cameras in the out of doors and in wet conditions, I couldn’t live with the problem. It was a difficult decision given that the GH3 had so many pluses.

  9. Steffen Moestrup

    Great review. Thanks for that. I seriously consider purchasing a GH3 since I have both still and video needs in my job as a freelance journalist. However, do you know about the possibilities of using vintage lenses with the GH3? I have some Cosina lenses, for instance a macro 70-210 that was used on an Olympus OM 40 analogue – would that lens be usable with the GH3?

  10. Herbert H

    Has anyone tried a prime lens with a Lumix? Either GH3 or older (I have G3). I know Panasonic and Olympus make great ones…but anyone try others (Nikon)? With an adapter? Any loss of features such as autofocus or video capture issues? Thanks!

  11. Stephen Davies

    Little late on this reply –
    You will lose autofocus and auto-aperture control with an adapted Nikon lens.
    You will have metering and auto-exposure capability in aperture priority mode (aperture set manually).
    I’m not sure what you mean by video capture issues.
    IQ is excellent, as good as the Nikon lens you are using, and you are using the sharpest, center portion of the lens.

    Hope this helps.
    Aloha, Stephen

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