Panasonic Lumix GH3 – The Fastest Touchscreen-Camera (Part 1)

2/15/2013 6:12:44 PM

The GH3 is the biggest mirrorless camera we have ever laid our hands on but is it really ready to challenge its DSLR competitors?

Say these words “Compact System Camera”, and some first thoughts that flash across most people’s minds are a more convenient, smaller and lighter alternative than a DSLR. Panasonic produces many examples of compact models in its Lumix series but the recent re-branding of its products as Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, or shorter as DSLM, shows that the size of its cameras isn’t the key focus. The release of the GH3 strengthens this point of view, and through the first glance, it is a camera that obviously looks like a DSLR in terms of the appearance.

Panasonic Lumix GH3

Panasonic Lumix GH3


Those who are familiar with the Lumix series will know that the GH3 is the leading model in Panasonic’s line-up. Like the GH2 that it has replaced, the GH3 is quipped with a 16MP Live MOS sensor that has been modified to provide a wide dynamic range and a 1EV gain at the high end of the sensitivity scale. The ISO range runs from 200 to 12,800; however, if you turn the extended ISO function on, it is possible for you to shoot at a setting that is similar to 125-25,600.

The Venus image-processing engine has also been renovated to achieve high-speed and high-quality signal-to-noise processing. Without a mirror to allow light to go through to the sensor, the GH3 can shoot at wonderful speeds. An impressive burst of 20fps can be attained in the Super High speed mode, as long as you shoot in the JPEG format. Switching to Raw or Raw+JPEG reduces the frame rate to 6fps and when you consider that some DSLRs with the similar prices can’t shoot this fast, the GH3 does a great job when it comes to the speed at which it shoots. Moreover, if you need a slower continuous burst rate, 2fps and 4fps settings are also available.

The GH2 has the reputation for being an excellent tool for video as well as images, and there are now more movie formats and bit rates to meet the needs of photographers. They include full HD (1920x1080) at 50p, 50i, 25p and 24p. There is the AVCHD format but there are also MP4 and MOV recording formats, too. One of the principal complaints about the GH2 is the non-standard 2.4mm mic port. The good news is that this problem has been solved by equipping it with not only one but two 3.5mm ports. They allow you to attach a microphone and headphone to record and monitor audio at the same time.

The GH3’s AF system is labelled High-Speed AF, and this contrast-detect AF system supports AF tracking, face recognition and Touch AF where you can tap any area of the screen to immediately set your focus point. The LCD touchscreen is 3 inches, swings out easily by 180 degrees and tilts by a maximum of 270 degrees – a feature suitable for self-portraits as well as high or low-angled shots. The resolution of the display has been improved from 460kk-dot to 614k-dot while the viewfinder now provides an impressive 1.7million-dot resolution. It offers a 100% field of view and is nowadays the OLED type, implying that it has a faster response rate than the GH2 with improved color and contrast.

Adopting the 144-zone multi-pattern metering system found in the G5, GH2 and GX1, the GH3 provides +/-5EV control of exposure compensation. Not too late, Panasonic has also integrated Wi-Fi connectivity for the first time on any interchangeable Lumix camera. This has swiftly become a regular feature on most of the newly released CSCs and it doesn’t only allow you to send images to mobile devices, but it also allows you to control your camera from a distance without a cable.


While the GH3 may share some common things with the GH2 about the features, its design is a different thing. First of all, the GH3’s size is significantly bigger, leading to it having a chunkier handgrip which is more like a DSLR. The body is rounder and the way the tactile rubber grip spreads around to the rear of the camera makes it feel like you are holding a more sophisticated set of kits. Another advantage of the chunky handgrip is that it gives more space to place a bigger battery. The new rechargeable Li-ion battery now prolongs the use for up to 540 images, which is an improvement to on the GH2’s 340 images previously.

There have been changes all around the body and apart from the mode dial and the positioning of the On/Off switch around the circumference, there aren’t many things similar to each other. The interesting thing is that Panasonic hasn’t chosen its usual single command dial to control the aperture and shutter speed. There’s now a twin command dial arrangement that allows you to set up exposure settings like what you do with a high-ranking DSLR. The independent White Balance, ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons are tidily arranged in a line for quick index finder operation, and instead of having to bend your index finger to fire the shutter. It now lies comfortably on the shutter button.

Changes at the rear of the camera have seen the playback button moves to the left of the viewfinder. In its place is a thumb switch to change AF mode between AFS, AFC and MF. The movie-record button has also been repositioned to the side, but the nature of the multi-angle screen and the way it protrudes just a little bit out of the body lead to your thumb touching the corner of the screen each time you record a video but it’s not a big problem.

As there are so many external buttons and a Quick Menu to immediately have access to the most commonly used settings, you will see that you won’t load the main menu so often. However, when you do so, it will be displayed well. The white text on black background is clear to read and current Panasonic users will be used to the taskbar layout on the left hand side.

If there is a word that can best describe the GH3’s design, it should be “superb”. It’s the most powerful Lumix model we have ever held and though the weight of the magnesium alloy die-cast body may frustrate those who are searching for a lightweight camera, it really contributes to a perfectly balanced camera in hand.

Along with the 12-35mm kit lens, it weighs 855g. Not pleased with making the GH3 feel great, the addition of waterproof seals enhances the design quality and encourages it to be used in demanding shooting environments.

Image quality

Tone and exposure

We were provided with excellent exposures when we went out to shoot with the GH3. The 144-zone metering system dealt with difficult scenes very well and wasn’t held back by an absolute contrast between bright highlights and dark shadows. The exposure was so accurate that the maximum amount of exposure compensation that we set was 0.7EV, but if you want to be creative with your own exposures, there is a dedicated button on the top plate that allows you to set it between -5EV and +5EV.

White balance and color

With our daylight-balanced laps shining on the Datacolor Spyder Checkr chart, we could understand more how precisely the GH3 renders color and white balance. Like the chart, our results between ISO 125 and 1600 were very vibrant and abundant in colors. There was no sign of saturation decreasing when we raised the ISO range to ISO 25,600 where the colors were slightly more muted in comparison with those at ISO 12,800.

Sharpness and detail

Using a physically smaller sensor than an APS-C sized chip, the GH3 has prepared in advance if it has to compete with the larger sensors usede by other CSC and DSLR manufacturers. Shooting our test chart showed that the 16MP sensor could render 32 lines per mm at ISO 100 when it went along with the 45mm f/2.8 Macro Leica D Vario-Elmarit lens. While this is very impressive for a Micro Four Thirds chip, APS-C sensors have higher scores than in the past.

Image noise

We began to test the ISO by expanding the GH3’s sensitivity to its maximum 125-25,600 equivalent range. Clear and noise-free images are made between ISO 125 and ISO 800, but as we noticed, noise starts to crawl in at ISO 1600. The results at this setting and at ISO 3200 are for sure usable, but if you intend to print your images at a large size, you need to know that it can be seen by naked eyes. Raise to ISO 6400 and noise starts to degrade image quality; therefore, try to avoid ISO 12,800 and 25,600.

We began to test the ISO by expanding the GH3’s sensitivity to its maximum 125-25,600 equivalent range

We began to test the ISO by expanding the GH3’s sensitivity to its maximum 125-25,600 equivalent range.


When using, the first and obvious improvement is the GH3’s touchscreen. Instead of having to press so hard the screen to change the position of the focus point, or tap many times to do what you want it to do, it proves to be more responsive to light touches. That responsiveness is so good that it’s now equal to smartphone and tablet touchscreens. Caught in a pouring rain, we knew the waterproof sealing would protect the camera’s internals, but we supposed that the droplets on the screen would destroy the screen operation. Surprisingly, it went on working just as when it was dry. Another advantage of havong a faster touchscreen is that you can change accurately the settings when using the Quick menu, and it’s also easier to swipe through images and use pinch and zoom gestures in playback mode.

The combination of Touch-AF and an excellent screen has significantly improved AF operation. AF speed catches up with our high expectations and just as you have half pressed the shutter button or touched any part of the screen, the AF beep confirms that focus has been made. Combined with a selection of Lumix lenses during our tests, we experienced breathtaking lock-on speeds, with little or no sign of hesitation in single or continuous AF modes. Setting AF to AFF allows the camera to often adjust focus in live view or video mode and again there are not any complaints to make. Being able to flip out the screen, tap it and focus with a superb speed leaves a very interesting and intuitive operational experience.

However, we noticed two shortages in our review sample. In playback mode, the camera sometimes froze – a fault that we could only fix by removing the battery before insert it in again. In spite of our sample being downloaded with the latest firmware, we have been told that there will be another firmware update to solve this problem. Another critism was the electronic viewfinder. It seems a bit smaller than that of the GH2 and the far corners don’t seem to be as sharp as the center of the frame. We used the diopter control to try to fix this but it didn’t seem to leave any effect.

Loaded with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 8GB SDHC and set to its fastest super-high continuous mode, the GH3 shot impressively 80 images at full resolution at 20fps. Afterwards, you can view them one by one or in a sequence in playback mode.

Switching the file format to will automatically select the high-speed burst mode (6fps) we were surprised by an impressive 20 frames before slowing down, one frame more than when the format was set to Raw+JPEG. Panasonic has produced the DMW-BGGH3 battery for the GH3, but unlike some DSLRs where it can increase the burst rate, it can just prolong battery capacity up to 1000 images.

Regarding the Wi-Fi function, you will have to install the Lumix Link application on your iOS or Android device. It doesn’t only allow you to word from a distance, but a live feed of what the camera sees is transmitted to your device with the option whether to shoot and even zoom  when the camera I sused with a powerful zoom lens. The layout of the app is very clear and concise. When you like to view images, you come to the playback menu and apart from this, you will find options to set up your wireless access settings. It sounds complicated but in reality, it is very easy to learn. Our iPhone connected to the camera without fault and refreshed the screen quite quickly as the lens was operating but just didn’t allow us to fire the shutter or playback the images. Talking with Panasonic, they admitted that the GH3’s Wi-Fi connectivity was not perfect on our review sample and by the time you read this, those Wi-Fi issues we have mentioned should all have been solved and fully operational.


The GH3 is not just a camera; it provides a variery of video outputs to make it a charming thing for moviemakers. It is a full HD 1920x1080 output at 60p, 50p, 30p, 25p and 24p. About the recording formats, you have AVCHD, MP4 and .MOV to choose. Settings are also supplied to control the contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. A microphone level display can also be opened from the motion picture menu to monitor sound.

Raw vs. JPEG

Comparing an unprocessed Raw file with a processed JPEG file reveals subtle differences. JPEG files are a bit brighter in dark shadowed areas while Raw files give more details in the highlights. Placed side by side, we saw that JPEG files have higher contrast applied and at 200%, in-camera sharpening was obvious while in JPEG files with image noise control applied.

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