The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 is the new successor to the Lumix DMC-GH2, a compact mirrorless stills camera which gained considerable following as a low cost large sensor HD video camera, not in the least because a) it shared the same mFT (micro Four Thirds) image sensor as used in the excellent AG-AF101 HD camcorder and b) it could be ‘firmware-hacked’ to shoot at very high frame rates (whilst simultaneously invalidating warranty and risking sensor meltdown!).
Whilst there’s no doubt that the AF101 offers more traditional video-centric ergonomics than the GH2 or even the GH3, the new GH3 sports a far newer and vastly improved 16.05-megapixel Live MOS image sensor that not only captures incredibly good still images but is capable of Full HD 1080p/50 (and 60) movie recording at 28Mb/s in AVCHD or 72Mb/s in .MOV (Quicktime) format onto low cost SDHC media cards – Yes, you read that correctly, the GH3 offers ‘Broadcaster-friendly’ recording at up to 72Mb/s onto SDHC cards! It’s worth noting that in common with all stills cameras that feature a movie mode, individual video clip length is restricted to 29m 59s. (It’s a duty avoidance thing!)When the AF101 was launched just over two years ago the mFT ‘format’ was little understood, however it has become increasingly popular of late, in part thanks to its adoption (and promotion) by Blackmagic Design in the latest version of their elusive Cinema Camera. There’s a wide range of lenses available with an mFT mount from manufacturers such as Panasonic, Olympus, Leica and Zeiss, so you can pop a Zeiss CP.2 Prime Lens or LWZ.2 Lightweight Zoom onto your GH3 for some serious movie making.
The GH3’s build quality is top-notch with a robust, high quality magnesium alloy chassis
Power it up and what immediately grabs your attention is the amazing 3inch OLED screen which is right up there with the best video cameras – It tilts, swivels and provides intuitive touchscreen control of all the camera’s setup menus as well as the ability to simply touch the image area you want the camera to focus on (Touch AF tracking). There’s focus assist, an exposure histogram and artificial horizon overlay, all available individually or simultaneously. The screen can even be flipped out to the left of the camera, making it perfect when using the GH3 on a shoulder-mount rig. Simply add a Zacuto Z-Finder and the GH3 begins to look and handle like a ‘proper’ video camera.
You can shoot video in a range of ‘point and shoot’ automatic modes, or there is full manual control with a separate rotary dial for both aperture and shutter speed handily located right by the main shutter release, although these dials ‘click’ loudly enough when turned to be picked up by the on-board microphone. This makes on-shot aperture adjustment something that’s best avoided unless you have the benefit of a lens with manual iris ring (eg. a Zeiss CP.2).
In movie mode the ISO can be adjusted between 200 and 3200, with video noise becoming evident (but not horrific) at the higher settings over 1600. This all translates to very good low light performance. MOS and CMOS equipped cameras are almost always plagued by their inherent ‘rolling shutter’ which can cause fast moving images to appear skewed. Panasonic have clearly been working on minimising this effect because even on whip-pans there is very little skew. In fact there’s less skew than the £3,000 Canon EOS 5D MkIII…
In addition to this, the GH3’s movie images appear to be significantly more detailed, perhaps in no small part a result of the whopping 72Mb/s data rate! The trade-off for the extra video resolution is that when shooting fine vertical or horizontal details such as fence railings or venetian blinds there is slightly (and I mean only slightly) more visible moire patterning from the GH3 when compared to clips originating from the Canon 5D mark III. I’m guessing that anyone reasonably adept in shot grading could easily reduce this in post though.
Of course, movie making on a stills camera places far more demand on the battery and in recognition of this Panasonic have created an optional DMW-BGGH3 horizontal battery grip which houses a second battery pack and therefore doubles running time.
Another option is the DMW-MS2 Stereo Shotgun Microphone which mounts directly onto the GH3’s accessory shoe and plugs straight into the camera’s dedicated 4-pole 3.5mm socket. The DMW-MS2 is supplied with a hairy windshield which is very effective at eliminating wind noise.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 arrives in November with a street price of around £1,200+VAT for the body only. For the money there’s quite simply nothing to touch it, so if you”re on a tight budget and want to dip your toes into the world of large sensor digital cinematography the GH3 is highly recommended.
For more information and more images (including frame grabs from the GH3) see the Iris magazine, 3rd issue of 2012. You can read back issues of the Iris magazine online at www.theirismag.com/irisonline.