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First Impressions of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3
Recently I picked up the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 while Panasonic was offering a $300 rebate. This is a camera I've been watching closely since it came out in September of 2012. By and large, the GH3 has gotten excellent reviews, especially for its video performance, although it's no slouch as a stills camera either. Since I'm more of a RAW stills shooter, that will be the primary focus of this first impressions article.
Upon getting the GH3 kitted out with the excellent Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 lens, the first thing that struck me was the size, or should I say, the lack of it. My DSLR kit is usually the Nikon D800 with the battery grip and the 24-70mm f/2.8 Nikon lens. That kit weighs in at just over 5-1/4 pounds. The GH3 with the 12-35mm lens weighs in at a delightfully light 2 pounds. This gets to the primary reason for my purchase of the GH3. Next summer we are planning a trekking excursion to far northern Sweden. Based on travel journals I've read, I knew I'd want a weather-sealed camera. I'd also like to be able to shoot video on this trip. With my Nikon gear, that moves me into the D800 with the 28-300mm VR lens, which weighs in at nearly 4-1/4 pounds, not including the battery pack. I am targeting a pack weight of no more than 30 pounds for this trek, so 2-1/4 pounds is a big deal.
Regarding ergonomics, one thing I noticed right off with the GH3 was how well the nice beefy grip fits my hands. I have large football lineman hands, so I do appreciate a healthy grip on my cameras. With the 12-35mm f/2.8 lens attached, the GH3 feels perfectly balanced to me. As far as the layout, it took me a little time to get accustomed to the top control wheel position, coming from the D800 and D700, which have the secondary control wheel on the front of the camera. The shutter release button is in a perfect location, and the red video button is in a good spot. The control dial on the GH3 is a bit awkward for me to get at since it is so close to the edge. I have to do a bit of wrist twisting to get my thumb over there. The AF/AE Lock button location took a little getting used to, but once I became accustomed to it I had not troubles finding it without removing my eye from the viewfinder. All in all, the controls are well thought out and are easy to access.
This is the first camera I have owned that has a fully articulating LCD panel, and I must say I really love it. It's a bit like heated seats in a car. Once you get used to it you never want to go back. The fully articulating LCD is really handy for getting shots from odd angles, whether high or low. I have found myself using it in ways that a tilting LCD would not have handled. The LCD itself has a beautiful display with excellent contrast. The electronic viewfinder is also quite good, but I do see some of the color accuracy issues that others have noted. I don't find it to be a big issue for me, as I am more concerned about composition and focus when looking through the EVF. I prefer doing image reviews on the LCD, and to my eye, the LCD colors are gorgeous.
Sunset at Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area
While I'm on the LCD, I have to say that the implementation of touchscreen controls is outstanding. Moving the focus point around is amazingly fast, way faster than on my GX1. When I press my finger on any point on the LCD, the focus immediately jumps to that spot. On my GX1, the touchscreen is a bit balky, so I was really pleased to see how fast and responsive it is on the GH3. When using the EVF, moving the focus point with the control dial is also quite fast. As with my D800, I can move the focus point without taking my eye away from the EVF. Unlike the D800, though, on the GH3 I can move the focus point anywhere on the screen. In video mode you can move the focus point by simply pointing to the location on the LCD. The fast AF system of the GH3 quickly dials in the new focus point.
Let's get on to shooting. This is where the GH3 really comes into its own. One thing I noticed right away was how accurate the auto white balance system is on the GH3. I gave it some tough lighting situations, including fluorescent and mixed lighting, and it handled them beautifully, frankly, better than my D800. The image quality from my GH3 is excellent. I shoot RAW pretty much exclusively, so my comparisons will be from that perspective. First, I can't and won't say that the GH3 images are as good as my D800. However, they are pretty darned good, and certainly better than my GX1. I have been impressed with the level of shadow detail and the ability of the GH3 to hold the highlights. This has always been a bit of a challenge with my GX1. True, the GH3 does not have the dynamic range of my D800, but it is up there with my D700 which is no slouch in that department.
100% Crop at ISO 3200 on GH3
The D800 and D700 are certainly better at high ISOs than the GH3, but at ISOs lower than 1600 I don't notice much difference. I should say though, that I am not much of a pixel peeper. When I see reviews where folks crop to 100% and look deep within a shadowy area of the image, I wonder why you would bother with it. I'm most concerned about chroma noise in the mid tones. On that account, the GH3 does a good job.
The shooting experience with the GH3 is a delight. The camera is responsive, with an outstanding autofocus system. My shooting situations to date with the GH3 have been nature and people, which are my two primary subjects. I used my GH3 at a church service last weekend and was quite pleased with the results. I've also taken it out for photo walks in the woods and found it to be a delight to shoot with in the field.
The GH3 was the first micro four-thirds camera to have built-in WiFi. Using the LumixLink iOS app you can wirelessly transfer files to your iOS device, both during and after shooting, as well as control the camera from your iOS device. You can either connect up through a known WiFi network or you can create a direct link between your GH3 and the device. While there are a few steps to getting this up and running, it's pretty easy and quite slick once you have it running. In particular, I could see some excellent uses for controlling the GH3 from an iPhone or iPad. Panasonic also makes an Android version of LumixLink. The GH3 also has the ability to connect up to a PC, but unfortunately, not a Mac, so I haven't tested that functionality. I suppose if I need that capability I could always use an EyeFi card.
Another feature I've played around with is the Time Lapse function. I was hoping this worked as it does on my D800, with the video being created right in the camera, but that is not the case. In reality, the Time Lapse function is more of an intervalometer. While it's nice to have that in camera, it would have been nice to have the movies created right in camera.
The last thing I'll mention is battery life. So far I've been pleased with the battery life on the GH3. The batteries are fairly beefy and are rated for over 500 images on a full charge. Based on my experience, I'd say that's about right, if not a bit conservative.
Sunset at Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area
My final assessment of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is that it is a fine camera, one that I will enjoy shooting for years to come. I can see that for shooting situations that don't warrant the resolution of the D800 or the speed of my D700, the GH3 will become my camera of choice. This is especially so when I'm looking to travel lighter, in a "Nimble Photographer" manner.
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