First impressions of the Panasonic DMC-GH3
On saturday, October 20, 2012, I was invited by Focus Media and Panasonic Netherlands for a brief informal ‘test-meeting’ of the Panasonic DMC-GH3 camera.
It was just an introduction, so this report and the video should therefore not be interpreted as a real test. These are purely my personal observations based on a non-scientific way of getting to know the camera a bit. The GH3 we used was a pre-production model in which both the firmware (v 0.5) and body were is not definitive.
I was particularly interested in two key issues, namely
1) Has the body compared to the GH2 improved in both construction and durability. In other words, can I get a better grip on the thing and will it work reliable in harsh weather conditions?
2) Has panasonic listened to its userbase (partly as a result of the many hacks) and thus implemented substantial improvements on the codec?
Body and construction
I can be brief about the construction of the camera: it has significantly improved when compared to the GH2 .The 'plastic' feel has gone (the body is built from titanium) and the overall layout of the camera is also greatly improved. I accidentally keep activating functions on the GH2 when operating, because of the ‘cluttered’ layout of buttons on the back of the body (especially the right side where the handgrip is located) The slightly wider and higher body of the GH 3 has more room for your hand without the danger of accidentally activate unwanted functions. The essential (and most used) buttons are better placed (WB, ISO buttons have moved to the top of the body) and there are (great improvement!) 5 user-programmable function keys placed on the backside of the body. The play (playback) button has also been moved to a better place. What I miss is a kind of 'lock all' button that disables all buttons temporarily, so that you do not have to worry about touching the buttons while shooting.
The OLED display is truly amazing, it has a very high resolution and even in daylight it is still good to use. The EVF has also improved significantly in resolution, so you can now actually use the EVF for focusing. Both strong improvements over the GH2.
I’m also pretty excited by the quality of the codecs. First of all there is the possibility to record directly in a QuickTime (. Mov) wrapper , this makes (for me at least) the post production process somewhat easier.
The clip contains footage which was shot quickly in a uncontrolled situation and this resembles in no way a real test. I just made a test drive with the camera, but I didn’t test all the aspects in which you as the reader might be interested in. I cannot stress enough that this is a personal review based on a short period of time in which I could work with the camera.
My first impression is that the footage has a lot more to offer than the GH2-footage. Both in terms of latitude and color depth. In the clip you can see a number of ‘tests’ with various color corrections. These settings were not made solely for esthetical reasons; I tried to reach the limits of the footage.
I’m not sure, but I think the GH3 doesn’t have the same picture profiles as the GH2 (vivid, nostalgic etc) and therefore I couldn’t work with my familiar settings. I used all settings on neutral, and I find that the GH3 1080p25 at 72Mbps Intra all i frame H264 codec (all footage was shot with this setting) is very noise free and has plenty of room for extensive grading, albeit a 4:2:0 codec.
When you check out the part in which I lifted the black level from 0 to 70 in the 3-way CC in FCP and the part in which set I the mid-level to 170, you’ll notice almost no noise. (sensitivity at 200 ASA, other values I didn’t use)
Also I didn’t find any compression blocks or other artifacts, which I sometimes notice in the black areas of the GH2 footage. In short, a strong improvement, and I must say that the All-Intra does resemble the professional DVCPRO or AVCIntra codecs of the broadcast cameras from Panasonic which I often work with
In short further improvements and innovations
- WIFI connection via private network to iPad/iPhone or Android, which means live monitoring of the signal and the possibility to change settings remotely through your app on tablet or Smartphone
- A battery grip (with 1 extra battery) is available!
- A very fast Quad core image processor, so future firmware improvements could be implemented.
Well, the (video) ASA range of 200 to 3200 was somewhat disappointing, especially with the GH2 hack that allows the value to go up to 12,800. This might be a limitation in this preliminary firmware, which hopefully will be lifted in the final firmware of the GH3. In the photography setting ASA values range from 125 to 25600. Maybe it also depends on the codec used, I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Furthermore, I noticed that the gamma shift that you see on the GH2 as the camera live view switches to record, is also still present in the GH3. Hopefully this will be resolved in the final firmware. It’s really crucial in setting up a shot that you can rely on the image you see on the screen, thus enabling you to make a correct aperture. Especially with these codec and their limited latitude a correct aperture is essential!
Will I get one? Yes, I certainly will ! Especially with the battery grip, because that adds more weight and stability, which is very important for me as a filmmaker. Apart from the fact that it also doubles the runtime.
If you really want to review the material up close, please download the film through Vimeo. I tried to use the highest possible bit rate (70 Mbps) upload to Vimeo. Still there is of course a deterioration, but it gives a better impression than the online version shown here, which goes through the vimeo encoding and thus shows extra encoding artifacts.
By John Twigt