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Photography Reviews

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH3 Digital Camera: Could this be the Four Thirds Camera to Bully the APS-C DSLRs?

One of the greatest achievements of digital camera technology that is taken for granted today is the inclusion of video recording capabilities, and often at 1080 Full-HD resolution. The technology has advanced so far that it is not uncommon to find relatively low-priced digital cameras that also record stereo sound.

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It’s easy to forget that it was only 2005, when Canon introduced the PowerShot S80, the first digital camera with XGA video. That’s right, a whopping 1024 x 768 resolution at 15 frames per second. It wasn’t until 2008 that DSLR cameras were being manufactured with HD video capabilities; and that was a Nikon D90, recording 720p at 24 fps.

Initially, professional photographers didn’t think much of video functionality in a DSLR, since many of them came from a still-photography background. Video production was the domain of videographers, using professional video equipment. The pros looked at video as a nice feature for the casual photographer who wanted to record vacation footage, a child’s birthday party or other family events. Fast-forward to approximately 2011, and definitely during 2012, and that attitude is changing, as more and more professional photographers are envisioning a broader creative opportunity as a multi-media producer. In fact, the comprehensive video capabilities of high-end DSLRs, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, have caught the attention of Hollywood and other motion picture producers, with a growing number of major releases being recorded on these cameras.

Amongst all these major advancements in DSLR video recording was a serendipitous occurrence that Panasonic never expected when it released the Lumix DMC-GH2 interchangeable lens camera system (ILS), or Micro Four Thirds camera, during October 2010. Its video technology caught the attention of professional videographers; and a sufficient number of them discovered it would deliver more-than-acceptable video for many client projects. Plus, an ILC system was even smaller and lighter (and much less expensive) than a high-end DSLR, which made video projects easier, with faster turnaround times.

Finally, we jump to the present (October 2012) and Panasonic has recently released the Lumix DMC-GH3. The company was certainly conscious of videographers’ surprising response to the GH2, so it moved one step farther onto the competitive board game by giving the GH3 video capabilities that should make the pros even happier and enthusiasts absolutely giddy. More than likely it will significantly broaden the “democratization” of video creativity, so amateurs with the eye and the vision will have more opportunities to become video pros, without all the education, career dues paying and expensive array of video camera and other equipment. Steven Spielberg may have given an appendage for such a camera when he was teenager!

BIG VIDEO

Many of the common features found on the better Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, contribute to the outstanding video functionality of this camera, but a number of video-specific improvements are nothing short of amazing.

  • If you’re an experienced videographer, then please read the following very carefully, even more than once: The GH3 offers timecode-supported broadcast quality video with bit rates as much as 72Mbps, bringing free run/rec run and drop frame choices to a camera at this size and price point. The exact specs are 50Mbps in 1080p60 and 72Mbps in 1080p30, utilizing All-I compression. This timecode support occurs in both the MOV and AVCHD formats.

You would need the Canon EOS 5D Mark III to achieve higher bit rates, and that DSLR is approximately two and a half times the cost of the GH3. Hopefully, it’s not overconfidence, but Panasonic is willing to state that the compression of video from the GH3 may produce a better quality image than what the 5D Mark III can generate.

  • Panasonic may not be overconfident, as its engineers had the smarts to appeal to pro videographers with an upgrade from AVCHD standard to MOV (h.264) format, plus including MP4. Suddenly, your creativity is set free, with both native 30p and 60i.

  • The GH3’s video functionality is now even more versatile with All-I or IPB compression.

  • For serious (or even fun) video, slow- and fast-motion recording modes are great creative tools. You can shoot 1080p/24 with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, and record video that plays back as slow as 40% or as fast as 300% of the record speed.

  • Panasonic sweetened what it’s serving in the DMC-GH3 with interval shooting, a headphone jack to monitor audio, a standard 3.5mm microphone socket for an external mic and the DMW-BGGH3 battery grip, which makes the longer hours you’ll be shooting with this camera much more comfortable. The camera has rather comprehensive audio functionality, with internal microphones for stereo and manual adjustment of recording levels.

  • The GH3’s remote functionality has also been enhanced with a choice of remote monitoring or an external HDMI recorder. You also have the option to add or remove information overlays on the HDMI monitor output.

IT’S STILL A STILL CAMERA

It’s easy for the mind to wander when bragging on the video capabilities of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3. After all, it’s very possible that Panasonic stumbled onto the “next big thing” with the GH2, and isn’t waiting for the competition to catch the change on the wind, and moved ahead quickly to develop and release the GH3.

It would be a mistake, however, to lose track of the fact that the GH3 is also (or maybe primarily) a digital camera for shooting still photos. With the capabilities onboard to capture excellent still images and the substantial expansion of video functionality, the GH3 also represents the continuing blurring of the lines between compacts, Four Thirds and DSLRs. The GH3 is the largest ILC camera Panasonic has ever manufactured. In fact, it is approximately the same size as the Sony a65 entry-level DSLR that was release during the fourth quarter of 2011.

WORK THAT BODY!

Take your first look at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 and you may find yourself blinking because it looks so much like a DSLR. It features the heavily pronounced grip around which you can wrap your fingers deeply and securely. The operational layout is superb, with the myriad of external dials, buttons and switches conveniently and comfortably positioned.

As mentioned above, the dimensions of the GH3 puts it very close to the lower end of the DSLR range; however, Panasonic was able to give it a magnesium alloy body and weather-sealing and make it lighter than most entry-level or mid-level DSLRs.

Digital Camera Size Comparisons

Camera

Dimensions

Weight

MSRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3

5.2x3.7x3.2” (133x93x82mm)

19.4 oz. (550g)

$1,299.00

Canon EOS Rebel T4i Kit w/lens

5.2x3.9x3.1” (133.1x99.8x78.8mm)

18.3 oz. (520g) (body only)

$1,149.00

Canon EOS 7D

.8x4.4x2.9” (148.2x110.7x73.5m)

28.9 oz. (820g)

$1,599.00

Nikon D3200

5x3.8x3.1” (125x96x76.5mm)

16 oz. (455g)

$699.95

Nikon D7000

5.2x4.1x3.0” (132x103x77mm)

24.3 oz. (690g)

$1,199.95

Sony a65

5.2x3.8x3.2” (132.1x97.5x80.7mm)

21.9 oz. (622g)

$799.99

Sony a77

5.75x4.1x3.2” (142.6x104x80.9mm)

27.8 oz. (732g)

$1,299.99

You may have as much camera in your hands as some DSLRs, but the great array of features of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 will make the additional size, but lighter weight, worth it.

  • 16-MP Live MOS sensor with three-core Venus 7 FHD engine.

  • Magnesium alloy body with weather sealing (dust and splash proof).

  • 1.7-million-dot 16:9 ratio OLED viewfinder.

  • ISO 200–12,800 (extended range of ISO 125–25,600).

  • 6 fps continuous shooting.

  • AF speed of .07 seconds.

  • 614,000-dot 3" OLED rear screen.

  • Full HD 60p/50p video with 30p/25p option.

  • MOV (h.264), MP4 and AVCHD formats.

  • Video bit rates of 50Mbps in IPB and 72Mbps in All-I compression modes.

  • Timecode support in MOV(H.264) and AVCHD formats.

  • 3.5mm mic socket and headphone socket.

  • Four-channel wireless control for the optional DMW-FL360L external flash.

  • PC socket.

  • iOS and Android app control via Wi-Fi.

Since the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 had been just released at the time of this PhotographyTalk article, there wasn’t yet any image quality or operational performance testing. Nevertheless, the GH3 is definitely Panasonic’s top-of-the-line Micro Four Thirds camera and, considering the reputation of the GH2, it’s very likely the GH3 will prove to be all that camera has offered, and so much more.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 digital camera is available from Amazon for $1,299.00 (body only)

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