Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Three Months with the Panasonic GH3

So, it's been about three months since I ordered and received the Panasonic DMC-GH3.  It was a huge gamble at the time, and I've questioned my decision almost every day.

Since my recent background is with Four-Thirds--Olympus E-1 and E-5 bodies--it made sense to buy something that was somewhat compatible and somewhat familiar.  The Olympus E-M5 had the viewfinder and the capabilities.  It was also a familiar shape since I spent several years with an OM-1N body.  That history suggested to me that the E-M5 would be slippery at best with Four-Thirds lenses.  The GH3 had a good-sized grip and a form not unlike the E-5, but from the positioning of most everything, the GH3 was meant to appeal to Canon users.

What's good:

  • Image quality, up to ISO 3200
  • Body build
  • Flexibility
  • Video
  • External controls
  • Battery life
  • Electronic Viewfinder
  • Easily updated firmware
  • Lens adapters

What's not so good:

  • Comes configured as a consumer camera
  • Variable Auto White Balance between frames
  • SD Card door opens easily and there is only one slot
  • Rear horizontal dial (and aperture) is changed too easily
  • micro Four-Thirds lenses
  • Using the electronic Viewfinder with glasses or sunglasses

I'm finally starting to feel really comfortable with it and I'm getting acceptable photos.  I would say that they're all outstanding but it's not quite that good.  The variable white balance between frames could be an advantage but it's not.  Panasonic have come a long way in their default colour but it still needs tuning.  I'm also feeling that the sharpness isn't always there, but it looks fine with the Four-Thirds lenses.

It feels like a photographer's camera body but it doesn't exactly act like one.  I finally found the Auto Review setting, which was playing havoc with the viewfinder.  Almost magically, I was able to follow the action without the viewfinder.  Since I've changed the setting, the display is minimally delayed.  However, there is also the manual focus assist/pinpoint focus.  This magnifies the image, so that you can focus tiny details.  Unfortunately, this gets in the way of sports photography.  When runners are coming toward me, I need to focus on them quickly.  Yes, I use manual focus during cross country and track meets.  No matter how good auto focus is (Nikon, Canon, whatever), I still need a precision that doesn't seem to exist, except by my hand.

Also, in this case, I need zoom lenses.  I zoom and manually focus at the same time.  The 35-100mm f/2.8 I've got is a good lens, but it's overpriced.  If it's equal to Canon's 70-200mm f/2.8, I'd be surprised but that was Panasonic's goal.  I just don't see a US$1500 lens there, no matter how much R&D it took to reduce a 77mm filter size to 58mm.  Olympus' ZD 50-200mm is a much better lens, and it's less expensive.  The trouble is--the 35-100mm is the best telephoto zoom lens for micro Four-Thirds.  Other factors like a laggy continuous auto focus complicate sports photography.  Hopefully, these problems do not affect video work.

I'm pleased with the image quality up to ISO 3200, where it outshines my E-5 quite a bit, especially since I limit the E-5 to ISO 1600.  Anything above ISO 3200 with the GH3 should be a shot you needed regardless of image quality and not a preferred choice.  Judging from DPReview's comparisons, I think it's ahead of most dSLRs in detail up to ISO 3200, up through US$1500.  However, the Olympus E-M5 is extracting a bit more detail from what is apparently the same sensor.  Perhaps, the Nikon D600 should have been my choice but it's very much an economy camera (US$800 difference from the D800 isn't enough.) for those who have been chanting "Full Frame" as the fix for everything.  It's much a D7000 (not a D7100) for the 135 format lusting.  (I picked up a D600 today for the first time and it felt overly heavy.  I expect the D800 to be heavy, but not so much the D600.)  My research shows me that the D7100 is a better camera body and the 1.5x telephoto boost wouldn't hurt.

I really like the GH3's external controls but grrrrrr, the horizontal dial on the back is too easily turned, and then, so is my aperture changed.  The SD Card door is easily opened but thankfully, the card is held in place until you press it inward to engage the spring mechanism to release it.  However, there is only one card slot, so it seems that Panasonic was thinking consumer-ish when they designed the camera, and the same with the battery grip.

There are many good things and a few bad things.  I haven't gone through everything because I've been too focused on photographing sports.  I think the GH3 is a winner for Panasonic, and I think it's a definite threat to Canon, who seem to be attacked from all sides lately.  I'm sure that Olympus is interested in a similar camera body but they're concerned about being too focused with any product.  They want a broader appeal.  To me, micro Four-Thirds continues to improve and in a few years, there will probably be a select few dSLRs on the market, simply because mirror-less bodies have become so good, no matter the camera maker.

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