Operation and Menus
As I mentioned on the first page, Panasonic has outfitted the GH3 with a huge array of direct controls, which makes changing settings very easy. The rear of the camera has four function buttons, and there is a fifth function button on the top of the camera. While I found the default settings for these buttons to be very nice, they can all be customized to a huge variety of functions. Having five programmable function buttons gives you tremendous amounts of control over how you choose to operate the camera.
The nicest thing is that the top of the camera also features three additional buttons that are fixed to control ISO, white balance and exposure compensation (though I used the rear dial for exposure compensation). The only negative here is that I wish the ISO button was swapped in position with the white balance button, as the white balance button is far easier to reach, and I have a greater need to change ISO often. In addition to the front dial, there is a rear thumb dial and a rear wheel surrounding the menu button, plus a mode dial and drive mode dial (which includes timer and exposure bracketing). Then, of course, there’s the excellent touch screen capabilities as well.
Needless to say, the GH3 allows for a crazy amount of direct control and customization, which makes it easy to set up to your liking regardless of how you like to shoot. Compared to the OM-D, which often buries some controls so deep in menus you need a map, the GH3 is truly a photographer’s camera.
The menu system for the GH3 is, as you might expect, also rather extensive, with several main sections that are then divided into multiple pages. The menus are well laid out and logical to use. If you use the traditional buttons to navigate the menus, it can take a long time to navigate to a specific option simply based on the sheer number of options available. This is where the touch screen comes in very handy, as there are page up and down buttons that can be easily manipulated by touch to speed things up.
The touch screen can be positioned in nearly any angle and position, allowing you to easily shoot from any height or angle. You can easily set focus points by touch, and there is a swipe out menu that allows easy access to other functions without generally clogging the display.
While overall, the GH3 is a wonderful camera from a usability standpoint, there are still a few things that are somewhat annoying. First, while previous Panasonic bodies have made the rear dial a push button as well, which allows for easy viewfinder magnification when using adapted lenses, the GH3 removes this capability. Viewfinder magnification has to be done by pressing a few buttons in the AF point selection, or by touching the screen. Also, the rear wheel (that also functions as a four-way controller) is recessed on the right side. This is both good and bad. It’s good because it prevents the heel of your hand from accidentally operating it, but bad because it impedes the usage when quickly moving the wheel.
Also, a minor nitpick, but potentially problematic if shooting in the rain: the SD card door, which is on the right hand side, opens far too easily. I accidentally had the door spring open on me multiple times in the week I shot with the camera, just from shifting my camera position. I like the side position of this door, but it needs to be firmer and harder to open, much like the one of the Olympus OM-D.
The GH3 is a quick and responsive camera in most every way. Startup is quick, shutter delay is minimal, the camera isn’t impeded in any way when it’s writing to a card, and can shoot 6 frames per second in RAW, up to 18 RAW images in a burst. If you are willing to shoot JPEG, you can use the electronic shutter and capture 20 frames per second for up to four seconds.
Autofocus performance is outstanding in single shot mode. You can select a focus point anywhere on the screen, in any position, with large or super small focus points, and the camera will lock on to your subject nearly instantly with a fast focusing lens. It is alarmingly fast and critically accurate autofocus, and, in my opinion, is the best single-shot autofocus available in ANY camera on the market today.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for continuous autofocus, as it is still hamstrung by the same limitations as previous models due to the way contrast-detect autofocus works. There are occasions where the AF is quick enough to nab you a few sharp frames in a burst when a subject is running towards you, but it’s going to be a very low percentage of in-focus shots. It does fine when shooting moving subjects moving side to side, as there minimal focus adjustment needed there.
All in all, with the exception of continuous autofocus, the GH3 feels truly pro-level in its responsiveness and performance. I was never waiting on the camera…the camera was waiting on me.
The GH3 has a built-in pop-up flash that is built a little more robustly than previous models. Flash exposure was generally good and even, but it’s still a pop-up flash, and so delivers that harsh light that direct flash gives. Unlike the less sturdy, but more functional flash in the Panasonic GX1 or Fuji X-E1, the GH3’s flash can’t be tilted up to provide bounced flash.