Review: The Panasonic Lumix GH3

The GH3 in the field

Setting up the GH3 to film video – we tested it both for an interview and documentary-style footage – shows where some of the extra money goes. The camera feels much more solid than the older model, and although it is heavier, at 550 grammes, it is not so much heavier that it is difficult to hand hold for reasonably long periods, although most video makers would be likely to use a tripod or rig in any case.

Setting up the Panasonic GH3
Setting up the Panasonic GH3. Picture: Audio Video Pro.

Small improvements, such as the move to a 3.5mm mic jack and adding a headphone socket, really do make a difference to its usability.

Compared to other DSLRs, the GH3 sits somewhere between the GH2, which makes extensive use of menu controls, and cameras from Nikon and Canon which have more conventional, camera-style buttons for shutter speed and aperture; Nikons of course work with older-style lenses with an aperture ring too.

The Panasonic now has wheels for both (although no Panasonic lenses have aperture rings), and the company’s X-series lenses include two units with power zoom levers, something regular DSLRs do not offer.

The larger camera body makes more space for these controls, as well as for adding accessories, such as external recorders, screens or a mic without making the camera top heavy. It is a minor point, perhaps, but one that adds to convenience.

We also tested the optional battery grip, and although this is really of most use for stills photographers, it is good to see Panasonic add to the power options. Although it is hard to make a like for like comparison using a camera for video in the field, the GH3’s battery stood up well to filming for over an hour, something the GH2 struggled to do. The manufacturer claims up to two hours’ filming time, depending on the lens, and this seems fairly realistic.

From a set up, controls and robustness point of view, this is a far more capable camera.

The GH3 does, though, have some ergonomic shortcomings. Although it feels tougher than the GH2 (and the GH2 was tougher than it looks) it does not quite feel up to the levels set by mid to top end DSLRs from Canon or Nikon or Sony’s SLT cameras. Some of the design choices look as if Panasonic has made a few compromises.

Without the battery grip, for example, it is hard to unfold the LCD screen with the GH3 on a tripod: there is not enough room to grip it from the sides or above, and there is little clearance to the bottom of the camera. The headphone and mic socket covers are tough enough, but the memory card slot cover is prone to fly open, especially when packing or unpacking the camera. The video button, by contrast, needed a very firm press to record.

The lack of any current, viable option for timecode sync, despite SMTPE timecode support, is a shame. But the inclusion of just one card slot is a real limitation. For the GH3’s price, it is reasonable to expect dual card slots, even if it is just two SD cards, either for backup or extended recording times. In its higher bitrate modes, the GH3 needs large cards, and dual slots would be a real bonus.

Another disappointment, although not all video makers will use it, is the auto focus. Compared to a DSLR the AF on the GH3 is not bad. But in our tests, it did not seem significantly better than on the GH2.

Features such as face detection, which work surprisingly well on some consumer camcorders, were rather hit and miss. And the camera, even coupled with the (expensive) Panasonic Leica 25mm, was prone to hunting and focusing on backdrops rather than even central subjects. Stills AF is good, though outclassed by Nikon DSLRs. But video AF has not moved on massively from the GH2.