maandag 24 maart 2014

At the museum with the Panasonic GH-3

With the GH-4 coming out I feel it’s the perfect time to put out my GH-3 review.
The GH-3 is priced at € 899,- here in Holland and soon every GH-3 owner will sell second hand so they can get there gready hands on the GH-4, Like I said, the perfect time to rush to the stores or look on E-bay but first, read my review.
 This review is really about the photographic side and not about the video quality.
The GH-3 was announced at the Photokina in September 2012 as the successor of the GH-2. The Panasonic GH-2 was very popular with videographers and with that success Panasonic decided to pack a lot of videopower in the GH-3.  Panasonic decided to upgrade not just the video possiblities but there is enough to make the still photographer happy.
I thought that the GH-2 and other Panasonic camera’s at that time had very bad skin tone colors. In the GH-3 this is all dealt with and now the skin tones and colors in general look fine. Even at high ISO the colors remain very neutral and close to the subject.
First we will talk ergonomics

The lay-out of the buttons is not great because these small camera’s are not the best hold for my big hand’s.  The grip is fine but I keep pushing the display button accidently, which is quite annoying because it shut’s of the display and then you have to push it a few time’s to get it where you want it. Another thing is that I find it hard to get the display out when it’s on a tripod. The bottom of the LCD is level with the bottom of the camera so it gets stuck on the tripod plate. get the LCD out before you put it on A tripod. Or just put a big knob on there so I don’t have to fiddle with it.

The backwheel cannot be turned 360 degrees in one swoop but you have to turn it a bit and then another bit and then another bit. It’s not like the Canon back wheel. Luckily there are three wheels so this is better than Canon. Other wheels work great and are tight enough so you will not turn them accidently. Other buttons are well placed but can be pushed accidently but that’s what you get when you want to put a lot of physical controls on a camera with a small body.

The display is great and the EVF is oké.
The EVF is not that great because of the fact that you have to turn your eyeball to see 100% of the image that you’re about to shoot. The whole point about the 100% view is that you can see what you want in the picture and what you want to avoid being there. For interior shots you will probably use the back display when on a tripod anyway so it won’t be a big problem. 

With all swivel display’s, it feels like it can break off with every turn and it’s always a question when the flexible print board that connects the display to the camera will break. The rest of the camera feels solid and I have no doubt that it will service your needs for a long time.

The touch sensitive display is very user friendly and has enough resolution for judging your images. The menu system is easy to get used to but the camera has a lot off settings and gadgets to choose from so it’s quite extensive and finding your way may take some time in the beginning.

The wheels on top for exposure and drive modes are tight enough not to bump them accidentally. Buttons for WB, ISO and exposure compensation are well placed and the settings are easy to change with the top-back wheel and I don’t feel the need for a separate ISO or exposure compensation wheel like on the fuji XT-1.  

The kind of work we do at the museum, mostly dead stuff, doesn’t urge us to change settings fast so we hardly use the function buttons but you can assign the 5 Fn buttons to a number of functions, so take an hour or two to find the best way to set up the camera to your own liking. For me personally I can never remember which Fn button I set for which setting so I end up searching in the menu or push all the Fn buttons anyway.
The camera feels solid but not as solid as a big pro Dslr but that also has to do with the small weight of the camera. You do have the feeling though that the Olympus EM-5 can take a lot more abuse. The 12-35 does feel very solid . Experience learns us that Panasonic makes great camera’s and have good quality control so no worries.
When we started looking around for a camera to use for video productions at the museum where I work. The experts said, buy the Eos 5D mark III with a bunch of lenses.

I opted for the Panasonic GH-3 because after all the review’s I read and being on a budget as a museum always is, this seemed like a great idea.  So we got the GH-3 with the battery grip, extra battery and a AC- adapter for long videos. For lenses we chose the Lumix 12-35 2.8 for video and stills and the cheapo Panasonic Lumix G 45-150mm f/4-5.6 OIS which is fast, quiet, stabilized and very sharp, for outside shooting. The museum bought it at the store where I also work so all-in-all a great deal for the museum and my boss at the store.
We mostly use it for video but we use it for stills more and more because it’s a modern camera with great picture quality and usability. The problem is that we have different people using the camera for a lot of different subject, macro, portraits, interior shots, all kinds of studio shoots for paintings, ancient cloths, skulls, dinosaur skeletons, stuffed animals and little insects. Great variety and great work but the settings of the camera change a lot and you have to go through this whole menu to check the settings for the next shoot. Long gone are the days of my Nikon FM which is actually full frame and the same size as this “small” GH-3 and way simpler to use, but these are just mumblings of an old man.

I will not talk much about the video quality because I don’t know enough about it, but it works great with sharp full HD videoquality, good sound control, easy editing and it doesn’t break your back doing it, financially nor physically. We are not professional filmers but we learn every day. We use the sony bluetooth microphone ECM-AW3 with excellent sound and ease of use. A nice Manfrotto Tripod an two great Lupo LED panels wich are also slowly but surely taking over our studioflash system for stills.
For our purposes the whole setup works great.
I shot some stills from the inside of the museum so you can check the sharpness and high ISO performance. Most of the shot’s are from a tripod and other’s are handheld to check the stabilizer.

The quality of the files are great until ISO 1600. the colors are great for just about every subject and sharpness is also good because of the thinner AA filter but with a little moiré problem. The impression of sharpness and overall filequality is there because of the great Panasonic and Olympus lenses which are a major part of the attraction of the system. with great stabilization and jpeg correction of vignetting, lensdistortion and chromatic abberation. 
White balance and exposure is no problem when on auto and also easy accesible if you want to change the settings on the fly.
For this review I used the Lumix 12-35 f/2.8 so you will get an idea of the depth of field from a system like Micro four thirds. The autofocus of this combination is very good and more important for me very accurate. Under darker conditions it hasitates a bit more but locks on when there is more contrast in the scene. Manual focus is also good with great damping of the lens and a big viewfinder. continous focus is not something I often but I feel it’s way behind’s. This is already better in the new camera’s like the Sony A-6000, Fuji XT-1 and the new GH-4.The focusbutton on the back is great for keeping focus and shutter seperate.

Another function that’s great is the silent electronic shutter. The problem with this is that it doesn’t work slower then 1 second shutterspeed. So when you don’t want any shaken picture’s whith the camera on a tripod you would want to use the electronic shutter accept you can’t on longer exposures. I’m sure there must be a good technical reason for that but it’s to bad.

The electronic shutter is great for streetphotography and theater though.
Batterylife is great for such a small camera. According to Panasonic it’s 540 shots. This maybe not Dslr great, from my Nikon D 7000 I got about A 1000 shot’s,  but with the batterygrip on the GH-3 batterylife is doubled and it’s still a small camera. It also gives the camera a much better grip with long lenses. Because the GH-3 has only a single SD card slot isn’t it an idea to put an extra card slot ,maybe micro-SD, in the battery grip somewhere. This way they would sell more grip’s and you have two card slots but i’m not a camera designer so it’s just an idea.
For a more detailed info on specs you know wich sites you have to visit.

To view the pictures in original resolution, right click, open in new tab. To view normal just click on the photo en then use the 'back' button of your browser. 

The complete picture with the great small flash and the X-contact without the cover of course because that was lost after the first day of shooting.

The SD card slot that opens to easily and it opens just far enough.
On this side there is also a remote socket.

All the buttons on the back with the display button on exactly the wrong place and the back wheel that you can only turn a bit.

Swivel display, great for video and tripod shots

There are enough things you can stick into the GH-3
3,5 mm socket for headphones and microphone
HDMI mini and USB/AV socket all on one side.
There is A seperate charger for the battery. So no charging in camera that’s a good thing.

There are a lot of buttons on the back of the GH-3 for direct control so that you are not dependend on the touch screen and you don't have to dive into the menu as much.

Now let's take a look at the different ISO settings and quality of the 16 MP sensor 

ISO 125
The files are nice and clean and this is a great iso setting for controlled studio and product, interior and landscape photography. Highlights are cut of a little sooner then woth ISO 200.

ISO 200

ISO 400

ISO 800

ISO 1600

No real problem with colors and noise. No mirrorless or Dslr these days has real problems with high ISO. everthing is better then my old Canon 20D or my Sony A-700. Because here at the museum we mostly shoot dead stuff on a tripod (the camera on a tripod not the dead animals) we don’t shoot high iso but if you want there are no big problems till ISO 1600 and with a little RAW magic ISO 3200 is also fine.

Interior shots are good. With good sharpness and colors. The lens doesn’t have a lot of problems with flare so  the bright spot lights were not a big problem.
You can see the effect of the smaller sensor because although this is only apeture f/5.6 everything is in focus.

This is not a bad thing, because at f/5.6 there is no problem with diffraction and everything is sharp.

The great thing about micro four/thirds lenses is that you can always use them wide open knowing that the sharpness is absolutely no problem.
Fine details are of course not as good as from the full frame 36 MP camera’s so the GH-3 is not for the architecteral or landscape photographer who need big prints. For wildlife photographers however the camera’s resolution is good enough. As long as you are OK with the single autofocus because the continous autofocus is really not great. The weight of the camera is wonderfull for the travelling photographer. The camera is light and small so from a medical perspective the GH-3 will be greatly appreciated. Your back and knees will thank you.
Below you can see the depth of field from a lens like the 12-35 2.8 on a  high quality micro four thirds camera. The bokeh looks fine and smooth but like all zooms, there not as good as primes.
Good enough for reportage and street, not so good for portrait.
Autofocus is very fast even in dim light conditions. I usually get some mis focussed shots but overall it’s spot-on with no back or front focus issues. that’s was what was the problem with most of my Dslr’s. You take a lot of pictures and a whole series could be back or front focussed. No problem’s like that with mirrorless camera’s because of the focussing system which is now as quick as most Dslr’s with much better hitrate. I tried A cheap Panasonic GF-3 and it focussed better, more accurate and in darker condition’s then my canon 40D.

Here @ 2.8

 @ 4.0

@ 5.6

@ 8.0

@ 11

The dynamic range of the GH-3 sensor is very good.
In this exteme situation there is a bright spotlight on the head of the extremely bald woolly mammoth. but there is still information to see on the head. the shadows still show a lot of detail.

The  stabilizer in the lens works good and certainly helps with slower shutterspeeds and statue-esque (is this a word?) subjects.
1/10 second exposure

0,8 second exposure
1 second exposure
The camera has a weak AA filter and you can see some moiré under extreme circumstances. I’ve done some sharpening to the picture below to bring out the moiré a bit more. It’s not bad and won’t be visible in normal day to day shots.
Here are some more shots taken with the GH-3 and a link to the museum. 
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 Thanks for reading and please leave a comment.