The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 ($1,299.99 direct, body only) is Panasonic’s top-end Micro Four Thirds camera. It’s a 16-megapixel design that is quite popular for videographers, but at its heart it’s a very capable still camera. It focuses quickly, offers a very respectable burst shooting rate, and packs a sharp vari-angle display and an EVF. It’s not quite on the same level as our Editors’ Choice Olympus OM-D E-M1, which shoots faster, is a bit more rugged, and offers in-body image stabilization. But if video capture is your primary concern, the GH3 is likely a better choice.
Design and Features
Large for a Micro Four Thirds camera, the GH3 is more along the lines of a compact SLR, measuring 3.7 by 5.2 by 3.2 inches (HWD) and weighing 1.2 pounds. It’s just a little bit bigger than the OM-D E-M1, which is also designed in a form factor that’s reminiscent of an SLR. The E-M1 measures 37 by 5.1 by 2.5 inches and weighs just a bit less, 1.1 pounds. Like the E-M1, the GH3 is protected against dust and splashes, and its chassis is constructed from magnesium alloy.
There are enough controls squeezed onto the body to satisfy demanding shooters, and several of the buttons can be customized via the camera menu. On the top plate you’ll find a dial to adjust the drive mode—it has settings for single shooting, continuous drive, bracketing, and the self-timer. There’s also a mode dial, with an integrated power switch, and buttons to directly adjust white balance, ISO, and exposure compensation. Also up top is the shutter release, one of the camera’s dual control dials, and the programmable Fn1 button; that, by default, activates the camera’s Wi-Fi system.
Aside from the lens release there are no front controls. On the rear you’ll find image playback buttons, Fn2 through Fn5, each of which can be adjusted via the menu, a toggle switch to adjust the focus mode, the AF/AE Lock control, a movie record button, a control dial, and a jog control for menu navigation. The control layout is not that far off from advanced SLR bodies, and is a stark contrast to the more minimalist approach taken by Sony with the Alpha NEX-7, which utilizes three control dials and several programmable buttons.
The LCD is a vari-angle design—it can swing out from the body, rotate all the way forward, and lie flat against the back of the camera. It’s 3-inch OLED with 614k-dot resolution. It doesn’t pack as many pixels as the 1,037k-dot display that’s used by the Olympus PEN E-P5, but it appears quite sharp to my eye. The touch input is responsive; it can be used to adjust the focus point or fire the shutter, and navigate through on-screen menus. The feature that sets this touch interface apart from others is one that is only active when you’re shooting at eye-level using the built-in EVF. The rear screen is dark in this situation, but you can move your finger across the touch-sensitive panel to change the focus point. It’s a quick and intuitive way to control the autofocus area, and one that we’d like to see implemented in other cameras with EVFs and touch-sensitive displays.
The EVF is an OLED design with a 1,744k-dot resolution. It’s a good size, and when it’s coupled with the magnification feature, it’s sharp enough for precise manual focus. It’s not the equal of the best EVF we’ve seen in a mirrorless camera, the larger, sharper LCD EVF that Olympus squeezed into its OM-D E-M1. That EVF holds up better in dim light (the GH3 gets very choppy when things get dark), and manual focus is a bit quicker using the E-M1 thanks to its focus peaking feature. Given the GH3’s video-first design it’s a surprise that peaking is absent; it’s a feature that has migrated from video to still cameras, and one that’s useful in serious video work where manual focus is a must.
The Wi-Fi interface goes beyond simply transferring images to your iOS or Android device. In addition, the free Lumix Link app includes a robust remote control application that gives you full control of the camera, right from your portable device. The Live View feed streams to your phone or tablet, and is remarkably smooth. You can touch a part of the frame to focus, take full control over manual shooting settings, and fire off a shot or start a video recording. It’s also possible to transmit images directly to a PC or Mac, either after they’ve been shot, or automatically as you’re shooting.
The GH3 can connect to your home network or a hotspot. When working in this mode, you can also push images to Panasonic’s cloud service for online storage, or to post images and videos to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Picasa, and Flickr. To access any of these you’ll need to set up a Lumix Club account; you can do this right from the camera. Once the Lumix Club account is configured, you’ll need to log in to the Web interface to set up individual logins for each of your social networks. It’s a clunky way to do things—if the camera can store your login and password for the Lumix Club, it could do the same for your social networks. It’s great to have the ability to push photos from the GH3 to your online profiles, but I would have preferred that the camera work in the same way as Samsung mirrorless bodies like the NX20, which lets you configure each supported service from within the camera. One note, you’ll need to shoot in JPG or Raw+JPG to post images online; there’s no on-the-fly conversion of Raw files for transfer like we’ve seen in other cameras, and there’s no in-camera Raw development available.