Sunday, March 3, 2013

Panasonic DMC-GH3 vs Olympus E-5

While I'm waiting for the next Olympus dSLR, I've punted and got the Panasonic GH3.

It's strangely similar to the E-5 but of course, totally different in use.  I've had it since Thursday and I'm facing an uphill battle to learn how to use it best.

One of the pet peeves of most Olympus E-1 users is that the E-3 and E-5 are so uncomfortable in so many ways.  Rather than the mode (PASM) dial, you hold the Mode button and use a generic dial.  The same happens with auto focus.  In fact, much of what Olympus learned and re-started themselves in the E-10, they dismissed for the E-3 and E-5.  Supposedly, they were going after Nikon and Canon, but it just proved odd.  The GH3 also has a load of buttons and a mode dial, etc.  They use another button for Drive (single, burst, self-timer) mode, and that doesn't seem nearly as logical.  Why not have a switch away from your nose on the back--for the (auto) focus?

In any case, it's nice to have a smaller body.  It's not really much different in size when you compare it to the E-1.  However, the 35-100mm I got with it is extra tiny, almost too small for my hand.  I've almost put a finger on the front element, while looking for the focus ring.  We all have to adjust when using new equipment.  When I first opened the packages, I was pretty close to sending it back before I tried it.  The 45-200mm isn't big either, but then, it has a f/4.0-5.6 maximum aperture range. The ZD 50-200mm is quite a bit smaller than the ZD 35-100mm, though.

GH3 with 12-40mm f/2.8 and E-5 with 14-35mm f/2.0

GH3 and 35-100mm f/2.8 vs. E-5 and 35-100 f/2.0
The good thing is that it delivers great image quality.  What does that mean?  I was printing on Super A3/A3+/13x19 inch paper way back with the E-1 and I had no fear in displaying my work.  I got no comments about fuzzy photos.  However, 9 years after my E-1 purchase, we've gone from 5.1 effective Megapixels to 16.05. In 2004, I had no problem putting my photos up against the 6.3MP APS-C sensors of the other brands.  At 16MP, the equivalent density yields 24MP for APS-C, I believe, and at the 12MP of the E-5, we were equivalent to the 18MP on APS-C sized sensors.

I wasn't happy with the moderate light image quality from the E-5.  Studio lighting made the E-5 look impressive, moreso than most other bodies but for daily use, a day without sunshine was a day with so-so image quality, and my E-1 still looked good.

The GH3 erases all that.  I've shot around 1000 photos with it so far, some of them while also using the E-5.  The difference is amazing.  The E-5 tops out its automatic range at ISO 1600.  I had over 900 basketball photos today and several wrestling photos Saturday where the GH3 picked ISO 3200 vs. the E-5's ISO 1600.  The difference was amazing.  The E-5 photos were yellow-ish and warm-ish with moderate to a lot of noise, while the GH3 generated very clean photos with some noise in the shadow detail, which is not surprising but the seats are too blue (they're dark green), making the gym look like it's newer than it is.

GH3 at ISO 3200

E-5 at ISO 1600
Everything I've read about this newer sensor says that it's very much equivalent to what's going into the latest APS-C bodies, and that you'd have to go to 135 format-sized sensors to get easily distinguishable differences in image quality.  I believe that.  Now, I'm not exactly sure about how the GH3 assigns ISO sensitivity values.  I've seen a few photos where it's stepped down to ISO 2000 or 2500 and the photos look a bit yellow.  In fact, I'm not completely sure about the colour and that's something that Panasonic has been adjusting since their first jump into serious photography with the DMC-L1.  Skin tones, however, are good.  It's just that sometimes, the photos seem a bit surreal because of the colour.  I've found the same thing with Nikon and Canon at ISO sensitivity values over 1600.  Can a photo look better than real life?  Perhaps, but that shouldn't be the product.  My money says that the photo should look exactly like real life.

I'm adjusting to the electronic viewfinder and it's freezing while the body is writing files.  (It comes with Auto Review set to ON, which mostly causes the problem. I also have faster, more capacious cards on order.)  I still seem to be able to shoot, so I can take a hybrid approach and watch the game with the other eye while I'm photographing it.  It worked well today.  However, electronic viewfinders will have to improve a lot before they're mainstream devices.  I can put up with it now because it's fairly new and mirror-less bodies are fairly new but in 3 or 4 years, new mirror-less bodies with an EVF better be good.  Of course, the freezing may be minimized by a faster SD card.  What I read in reviews was that a faster card didn't help the GH2, but I'm not sure it supported UHS-I cards fully anyway.  Buying a class 10 SD card is so painful.  A wide variety of performance fits into the category.  I'm using a couple of Sony cards with read speeds of 94 MB/second but the write speeds don't seem to be important enough to be listed.  I suspect they are 45 MB/second, while there are cards with 94 MB/sec on both.  Getting them into the computer quickly isn't really important if I couldn't take them in the first place.  (Faster SanDisk Extreme Pro cards should arrive Thursday with the Four-Thirds lens adapter.)

In any case, camera handling is mostly good, given the size.  I'm not sure why there was such a backlash about the GH3 being larger than the GH1/GH2.  I don't have huge hands but I find the GH3 a good size that could have been too small.  I really want my Olympus ZD SHG (Super High Grade) lenses to have an equivalent on micro Four-Thirds.  The GH3 would be almost perfect with such glass.

I still need to try some movie-making.

Update 2013.04.05: I used both today for a baseball game.  The Panasonic 35-100mm was attached to the GH3 and the 50-200mm was attached to the E-5.  Since I was using both, auto focus was enabled on both.  Auto focus on the GH3 was better than on the E-5 but not necessarily faster.  The E-5 had a problem where it would go out of focus after auto focus locked.  Out of 1081 photos, it happened on, maybe, 12 photos.  The GH3 showed its very electronic side by having a bigger delay from power saving mode, and the display seemed to be blacked out a few times, causing me just to point at where I thought the action was happening.  Could it have been my sunglasses at an angle?  I'm not sure.  I have not worked with enough LED/LCD displays to know.  The great thing is that they both worked and for my first baseball game shoot, I might have got some good photos.

Update 2013.10.15: I've used the GH3 for track and cross country and it's absolutely horrible for photographing runners.  It's not completely surprising, but it's very annoying.

Part of the problem is that a runner will come almost straight at me and the auto focus can't handle that because Contrast Detection Auto Focus is almost worthless for quickly moving subjects.  To compound the problem, manual focusing does not work very well with either the magnified view getting in the way of seeing everyone or the normal view not having enough pixels to focus accurately. 

Update 2013.12.09: I'm looking back at this and at a later date, I managed to use the GH3 for cross country at a specific location where I was having trouble with the E-1 and E-5 because of the dark area where runners emerge from the woods.  The GH3 was better here, but I really had to modify my technique for focus.  Manual focus wasn't really an option, but continuous auto focus doesn't really work.  Similar to getting racing cars in focus, I settled on a fixed point, and used burst mode to shoot a few extra shots at the location next to the woods.  At the finish line, it wasn't too much of a problem to get a quick half-press on the shutter release and with the bright light, focus was instantaneous.

The GH3 and I have come a long way together.  I still don't like the menus and the Quick Menu isn't as helpful to me as the Olympus Super Control Panel, but the Custom settings are--turn the dial and you have a different setup.  The Panasonic 35-100mm has been okay mostly, but has a terrible problem with lens flare and since I use the lens hood every time I use the lens, it could be even worse.  I need to send the lens to Panasonic for repair.  (They weren't any help.  They said that the lens flare was normal.)  The GH3 has been a trustworthy tool, though.  If the image quality was better and the EVF as good as the Olympus E-M1 or an optical viewfinder, I'd be really pleased.  Messing with video has been interesting. 

Update 2014.03.12:  The Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 has changed my thoughts about the GH3 image quality with native lenses.  It is quite good, something I never really saw with the 35-100mm f/2.8 and never with the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6.  Up until this point, most of my casual GH3 shots were taken with the MMF-3 adapter and Olympus lenses or the Four-Thirds Leica/Panasonic 25mm f/1.4 lens.

Having shot three basketball games on January 31st and February 1st, I was really disappointed with the GH3 and the 35-100mm f/2.8 lens.  None of the photos from Friday's game looked quite right.  The next evening, I switched to the E-5 and 35-100mm f/2.0 and they looked much better.  It's likely I lost more of the E-5 photos due to lighting, but those that remained had good color.  The 35-100mm f/2.8 from Panasonic just isn't very good and I sent it for repair because of the lens flare and they returned it to me, telling me that it was typical.  The GH3 is a remarkable camera body.  It's just too bad that Panasonic doesn't do as well with lenses.

Prior to the basketball game, I took some photos with the E-5 and 14-35mm f/2.0 and they were stunning.  That's not bad for a camera body that had specifications that would have been great in 2007.

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