Hands-On Camera Review with the Panasonic GH3 — [Side By Side Comparos + Can it Beat a $250 eBay Bargain?]

Given the response and discussion around last week’s post on the D600, I invited pal Ben Pitt back to share another hands on review of a camera that has been competing for eyeballs: the GH3. Since the introduction of the Lumix DMC-GH1 back in 2009, the GH-series’ has been gobbling up mindshare for photographers looking for some great technology in a tightly sized and affordable package. I’m a big ol’ fan of the mirrorless category of cameras of late…seems that all the manufacturers are making massive leaps to give us astounding quality in small packages (I’m currently playing with the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and loving it…and did a run-down on the mirrorless category — Sony, Olympus, Panasonic, Leica, Fuji — a few weeks ago here). But now, let’s let Ben do a deep dive on the Panasonic GH3 below. Take it away… -Chase

Thanks Chase. Panasonic has long been the maverick outsider of digital cameras – consumers have long been not quite sure where it fits into their lexicon – but with the GH3 it looks like it’s lining up to join the establishment. Reviewers have been falling over each other to heap praise on this camera, and it’s easy to see why.

The GH3 is bristling with the right sockets, buttons, levers and dials, an articulated screen and a large, high-resolution electronic viewfinder. Autofocus is startlingly quick, and being able to place the autofocus point anywhere in the frame via the touchscreen is a major advantage that conventional SLRs can’t match. There’s 4fps burst shooting with continuous autofocus, rising to 5.6fps with fixed focus, and a large buffer for sustained quick-fire operation. A PC sync socket and optional battery grip demonstrate that this is a reasonably serious photographer’s tool.

Image quality is a big improvement over previous Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, and broadly on a par with the Nikon D7000 for noise and details. However, it’s the video mode that really shines. Its videos are incredibly sharp, and there’s less moiré interference than from Canon and Nikon’s SLRs. They can’t match the GH3′s smooth video autofocus, either. With full exposure control while recording, bit rates up to 72Mbit/s and frame rates up to 60p (50p in Europe), nothing else at this price comes close for video.

Nothing, that is, except its predecessor, the GH2. The GH3 makes big strides for photo quality and ergonomics, but a lot of reviewers have found that improvements in video quality compared to the GH2 are relatively subtle. That’s not a criticism of the GH3 but praise for the GH2, which has been a big hit among independent filmmakers.

I’ve been using the original GH1 since June 2009. I’ve reviewed a wide range of cameras since then, but I haven’t used anything that has tempted me to upgrade. Admittedly, the GH1 is showing its age for photo quality, particularly for noise levels. But for video, it’s very similar to the GH2 and more capable than anything else I’ve used.

However, I’ve recently been shooting with the GH3 (on loan from Panasonic), and I’m seriously tempted to upgrade. But then, the GH3 costs around $1,300 (€1,200, £1,200) and the GH1 is only fetching around $250 (€200, £170) on eBay.

That got me thinking… the GH1 is currently a phenomenal bargain for video producers. Glass tends to keep its value much longer than cameras, so are video producers who are considering the GH3 better off picking up a GH1 and spending the rest on lenses? And should I stop pining over the latest model and be content with what I’ve got?

Frustratingly, the answer isn’t as clear cut as I’d hoped.

In many of my tests, the GH1 and GH3′s videos were hard to tell apart. The GH3 had a slight advantage for sharpness and its colours were a little punchier, but there wasn’t much in it. Here’s a frame from each camera’s 1080p output, split into three to show the GH3, GH1 and Sony’s NEX-5N – another excellent camera for video, but clearly trailing here for sharpness and colour response (click the image to enlarge it and type F to expand to actual size).

 

Next, here’s the GH1 and GH3 again, this time set to minimum contrast in an attempt to capture as much dynamic range as possible. Both cameras excel for detail but neither of them have managed to capture anything in this over-exposed sky. Having said that, the GH1′s murky grey sky isn’t much to look at – I’d prefer to settle for the GH3′s bleached out white.

 

The GH1′s handling of skin tones has always bugged me, with a strange habit of vein-like bands of desaturated colours along the edge of highlighted areas. It’s pretty subtle, but having noticed it, I keep spotting it again and again. It’s just about visible in the example below, but there was no sign of it in the GH3′s output. Otherwise, there’s not much to choose between them here. If anything, the GH1′s colours are generally more flattering and noise is less pronounced.

 

The GH3 really starts to prove its worth in this high-contrast shot. The sky is well exposed in both cameras’ output but the GH3 has captured lots more detail in the gloomy foreground.

 

Boosting the shadows in editing software shows just how much more detail there is in the GH3′s output. There’s no contest.

 

Finally, here’s one more example, with the Nikon D600 thrown in for good measure. The D600 trails slightly for detail in the rushes at the bottom of the frame. However, the GH1′s lack of detail in the dark trees on the other side of the lake brings it to third place here. Then again, I wouldn’t consider the D600 for video because of its moiré problems, fixed aperture while recording and lousy video autofocus.

 

So what’s it to be? I think it’s clear that the GH3 is worth the extra for those who want the best. No other mirrorless or SLR camera can touch it for video quality. As for me, I think I’ll stick with the GH1 for now. It may struggle in high-contrast scenes but it still packs an incredible bang for its buck. And that new Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens is pretty tempting too.

You can buy the GH3 at B&H Photo here
You can rent the GH3 at Borrowlenses.com here

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25 Responses to Hands-On Camera Review with the Panasonic GH3 — [Side By Side Comparos + Can it Beat a $250 eBay Bargain?]

  1. Craig Murphy January 22, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I wonder how the hacked version of the GH2 would perform in your test.

    • Ben Pitt January 24, 2013 at 1:45 am #

      Me too… sadly I didn’t have the GH2 available for testing. When I reviewed the GH2 back in 2010 I found video quality between the GH1 and GH2 to be virtually identical. Judging by what I’ve seen in other online comparisons, the GH3′s improved dynamic range holds true compared to the GH2 too.

  2. HoMan Cheung January 22, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    I assume you have hacked your GH1 for the testing here?

    but really great article!

    • Ben Pitt January 24, 2013 at 1:50 am #

      Yes, my GH1 is hacked. Doing so gave a massive boost to picture quality (the out-of-the-box 14Mbit/s encoding is way too low).

      As bad luck would have it, since I wrote this blog post I’ve been having problems with the hacked GH1 exceeding its buffer/data throughput when shooting very complex scenes such as falling snow. That’s something I’ve not encountered before, but I generally shoot much cleaner, simpler scenes. That’s yet another reason to tempt me to upgrade to the GH3. It’s much more reassuring to be able to get the best quality picture without having to resort to unofficial hacks.

  3. Anonymous January 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Good stuff…moving up camera-body wise is always a tough call. I love the GH1. Here’s a piece shot in South Africa – Motherwell Township in 2009:

    http://youtu.be/K-mP7zOPWYY

  4. faisal January 23, 2013 at 6:25 am #

    Seems to perform very well according to your standards.

  5. Why January 23, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    I don’t care about the GH1 or GH2 or any other rubbish opinion on other cameras. We have used the others thats why I sold my GH2. I didn’t want waste my time reading an article on the others… Fuck the comparisons off and talk about the GH3. Shit review it you might as well used Fro to do the sniff test.

    • Anonymous March 16, 2013 at 9:16 am #

      You appear to be an incredibly rude person. Let me ask you would you speak like this to someone’s face – pf course not. You are a sad and rather pathetic individual hiding away behind the Internet. Grow up and ask yourself why you would want to come across as such a ignorant, rude and childish individual.

  6. Ron Parida January 24, 2013 at 12:43 am #

    I’m a hacked GH2 user and I’m honestly surprised at how the GH1 stood up on tighter shots. However on wider detail shots you can really see the difference!

    I’ve heard the GH3 is worth the extra dynamic range and better low light performance than the hacked GH2, and if the GH3 gets hacked then I think that’ll make the decision to upgrade quite easy :)

    Thanks for the insight!

    – RON PARIDA AUTOMOTIVE COMMERCIAL DIRECTOR

    • Ben Pitt January 24, 2013 at 1:52 am #

      True, although I’m not sure that the GH3 requires a hack. The hacks addressed the low bit rates on the GH1 and GH2, but the GH3 doesn’t have that problem.

  7. Anonymous January 26, 2013 at 1:28 am #

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  8. Creger January 30, 2013 at 8:03 am #

    @Why. Please refrain from posting until you can actually put together a legible sentence.

  9. Dada, February 2, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

    How is the 60p on the gh1?

    • Ben Pitt February 14, 2013 at 2:24 am #

      The GH1 drops down to 720p at 60fps (50fps in Europe) – the GH3 has an obvious advantage here with its 1080/60p shooting.

  10. ken February 13, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    Some reviewers have said the hacked GH2 has higher actual resolution than a 5DmkIII and D800 and is comparable to Canon’s C300. I was hoping you’d cover that when reviewing the GH3 :-(
    Also, what moire problems w/ the D600? The GH1-3 don’t have moire? And how’s the jello shutter?

    • Ben Pitt February 14, 2013 at 2:36 am #

      This isn’t a full review, hence why I’ve concentrated on comparing the GH3 and GH1. I didn’t have the 5D Mark III in for testing at the same time as the GH3 so I couldn’t make side-by-side comparisons, but when I reviewed the 5D Mark III a few months ago, I found that it lagged behind the GH1 and Nikon D800 for detail in videos – see http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/gallery/reviews/1294075/canon-eos-5d-mark-iii/172195

      It’s fair to say that the GH2 and GH3 will beat the 5D Mark III for video detail too.

      (I’ve also written a full review of the GH3 at http://tinyurl.com/GH3rev, if you’re interested.)

      No camera is totally immune to moiré but I found that the D800, D600 and EOS 6D are worse than the GH1/GH2/GH3 and the 5D Mark III. Jello shutter: I’m afraid I didn’t do controlled tests, but AFAIK it’s a problem for all CMOS-based cameras.

  11. Paul Monaghan February 13, 2013 at 4:25 pm #

    One advantage the gh1 and gh2 has over the gh3 is the muti aspect ratio sensor making the lens that little bit wider when shooting in 16:9 and a crop of around 1.83x instead of 2x

  12. Eileen O'Sullivan February 13, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    Thank you Chase !! Good ! Now that I have read all the following! I will go check in to a few camera stores. Started first class interesting to. I am very great full for information. eBay $250 Lumix GH3. I don’t like buying on line. Think I have seen today @ store/ Blacks around similar price. Thx.

  13. Leroy March 9, 2013 at 9:39 am #

    I’d like to see the GH3 vs NEX 6.

  14. GH3 March 25, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Any chance to get some detailed info on what creative style + custom profile settings were used on the GH3? (contrast, sharpness, saturation etc) I bought one for video use and am enjoying it a lot however I am an amateur and still learning how to get the most out of it for video.

  15. Linh Monestime March 27, 2013 at 9:19 pm #

    My husband and that i ended up being so contented when Emmanuel managed to do his preliminary research out with the tips he came throughout by means of the weblog. It is really not in any respect simplistic just to select to become providing freely ideas that quite a few many people may well have been advertising. And now we acknowledge we now have the web page owner to be grateful to due to that. The particular illustrations you manufactured, the uncomplicated webpage menu, the associations your internet site enable to engender – it is all awesome, and it can be main our son additionally to us think that the theme is pleasurable, which is undoubtedly pretty essential. Thanks for the whole matter!

  16. Lisa Regina April 5, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    I’m a NYC acting coach and i’ve always used very inexpensive hand held camcorders for recording actors scenes and playing back. I’m now looking to shoot ‘quality ‘ scenes so the actors have footage for their reels.

    The GH3 was highly recommended and I’m looking for some guidance and feedback. Would this be a good camera for video for my acting classes and for my actors reels?

    thanks ! Lisa Regina

  17. stryker rejuvenate lawsuits May 25, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Thanks for this excellent set of files!

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