Panasonic Lumix GH3 Review by NE Explorers Mark & Cathy Pemberton

Posted Oct. 24th, 2013 by Daniel J. Cox

Just for the record this is a Guest Post. I like to get our Explorers involved on the Blog when possible. I feel like it’s a great way for real people to relate to real people. That might suggest us professional photographers are not the norm 🙂 I could go with that. No problem there. I’ve been accused of worse. So anyway, this evening I want to introduce to you two great folks that have done several trips with us, Mark and Cathy Pemberton. I’ll let Mark take it away with his Panasonic Lumix GH3 review first and then Cathy will follow up with a short evaluation of her experiences with the new camera.

Panasonic Lumix GH-3 Review-on Safari in South Africa.
By Mark Pemberton

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 7.53.03 PMOne of the strongest trends in photography equipment in the past 5 years has been the rise of high quality, interchangeable lens, mirrorless camera systems.  In some ways this is not a new trend. After all, Point-and-shoot cameras have been around for a long time and they are mirrorless lens cameras. The difference is that the emphasis has shifted from small, convenient and simple to use to high quality, flexible, pro quality systems. The new generation of mirrorless systems feature larger sensors than the old point-and-shoots. This allows for both better quality images and superior low light performance. Early leaders in the field included the Sony Nex, Olympus and Panasonic lines.

Another exciting advancement is the development of the Micro Four Thirds lens system. This system offers a number of technical advantages that allow the camera’s size and weight to be reduced. It is also a universal standard lens mount system. That is, any manufacturer’s micro four thirds lens will fit and operate on any other manufacturer’s micro four thirds body.

In the past when I wanted to do wildlife photography I used either my Nikon D700 full frame camera or a D7000 APS body with my 200-400 mm f4.0 zoom lens. I almost always used this combination on a tripod or a bean bag for support. When I signed up to go on Dan’s 2013 South Africa trip I learned that the style of Land Rover used in the camps there did not really allow for either. I would be forced to handhold my camera for most of the time. I knew that the D7000 / 200-400 mm combination was too heavy to hand hold for 8 hours a day and started looking for alternatives.

Getting close with the 100-300 zoom.

Getting close with the 100-300 zoom.

Dan has been speaking highly for years about the Panasonic Lumix micro four thirds cameras. In 2012 Panasonic came out with the Lumix GH-3, a pro-sumer quality body featuring a Magnesium frame, dust and water sealing and many advanced features. Dan reported on his experiences using the camera during his 2013 Kenya trip in his blog published on January 3, 2013. Equipped with Panasonic’s 100-300 mm zoom lens this combination is the 35 mm equivalent of a 200-600 mm lens. And the best part is that the weight of the GH-3 system at 40.5 oz is about ¼ the weight vs the Nikon D7000 / 200-400 mm weight of 146 oz. That is a system that would be easy to handhold.

South Africa had an amazing number of these beautiful Kudu's.

South Africa had an amazing number of these beautiful Kudu’s.

My wife Cathy and I bought the Lumix system and put it through a series of preliminary tests. These tests were published in our blog  on August 28th. The results that we obtained were very impressive and convinced us that we could leave our large, heavy lenses at home.

After 12 days of shooting out in the bush for 8 hours a day we returned home from South Africa and got our first real opportunity to examine our photos critically.  And we were astonished at the quality. The images were bright and sharp. I could not see any significant difference between the images that we shot on this trip with the GH-3 and our previous trip to Kenya when I used the D7000 and the 200-400 mm lens. The following is an image that I shot in Malamala of a leopard creeping through the brush at 8:47 in the morning.

The following is an image that I shot in Mala Mala of a leopard creeping through the brush at 8:47 in the morning.

The following is an image that I shot in Mala Mala of a leopard creeping through the brush at 8:47 in the morning.

I was also impressed by how well the GH-3 performed under low light conditions. We began our game drives each day before 6 am and our afternoon drive typically continued until dark. I found that the GH-3 gave perfectly acceptable images at ISO 1600. Even at 3200 the images were quite good with a little bit of noise adjustment in Lightroom. The following photograph, shot at 6:26 am, shows some lion cubs getting a drink. It was shot at ISO 6400!

The following photograph, shot at 6:26 am, shows some lion cubs getting a drink. It was shot at ISO 6400!

The following photograph, shot at 6:26 am, shows some lion cubs getting a drink. It was shot at ISO 6400!

In general I found the GH-3 very easy to use. The button layout on the GH-3 to be very convenient and well designed. One of the biggest delights for me was the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). The EVF provided a wealth of information that was well laid out, very bright and easy to read. The information displayed in the GH-3 is vastly superior to that in any of my Nikon DSLRs. The image display in the EVF, while very good, is not nearly as good or bright as the optical viewfinder in a DSLR. The contrast detection autofocus is very fast and accurate. I did, however, run into one situation where I tried to photograph Cape Town in the distance from Table Mountain, where haze and low contrast prevented the autofocus from locking on. And this leads to one of the major problems with the GH-3. Shooting stationary or slowly moving objects is no problem. However, trying to shoot rapidly moving objects is nearly impossible. When shooting in burst mode (3-6 fps) the image view to the EVF is blocked out as each image is processed and transferred to the buffer. Thus, your view of the subject is interrupted and a moving image is quickly lost after a few frames are shot. Until Panasonic finds a solution to this problem the GH-3 cannot be recommended for action photography, such as sports or birding.

Cathy's terrific eye saw the shape and form of just a part of this buffalo and made a beautiful picture.

Cathy’s terrific eye saw the shape and form of just a part of this buffalo and made a beautiful picture.

No review of the GH-3 would be complete without a discussion of its video capabilities. I won’t discuss this in detail since there are many excellent reviews of the GH-3’s video capabilities on the web. I will simply state that the video quality produced by this camera is stunning. An external microphone is essential, however.

We did experience a few problems over the course of the two weeks of shooting. I found it quite easy to bump some of the buttons and switches and accidentally change settings. This was especially true for the shutter speed setting, adjusted with the rear dial on the camera. I found on several occasions that I had accidentally rotated the dial with my thumb as I picked the camera up. This was somewhat annoying since I was shooting in shutter priority mode. In some cases we never did figure out how we accidentally changed settings.

This does point out one excellent feature of the GH-3, and that is the availability of Custom Modes. Using Custom Modes you can set all of the menu items and dials however you wish and then save those settings to one of five Custom Modes. (C1, C2, C3-1, C3-2, C3-3) By rotating the Mode dial to any of the Custom Mode positions, all of your programmed settings will be restored. When faced with rapidly moving action in the field this is a quick and easy way to assure that you have the camera setup the way you want.

Conclusion

The GH-3 is an easy to use camera that returns exceptional quality photographs and video. It also offers good low light capability. Its design makes it a good pro alternative in situations where weight and size may be a premium. When tested under the demanding conditions of a 2 week safari it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, the interruption of the image to the viewfinder during burst mode shooting makes the GH-3 unacceptable for rapid action photography. Otherwise it is a superior instrument.

See more of Mark and Cathy’s Fine Art Photography

Mark and Cathy on Facebook

A Complementary View

By Cathy Pemberton

We purchased the Panasonic GH-3 as a result of the type of vehicle we were going to ride in for our game drives in South Africa.  Tripods and bean bags were not going to be an option.  I knew that I would be unable to hand hold my large zoom lens but was reluctant and concerned about using a new camera, as it takes me quite a while to learn how to use a camera.

I only managed to use the GH-3 twice before the South Africa trip and the first couple days were very difficult as I had managed to change some of my custom settings without realizing it.  To be honest, very early on in the trip I threatened to smash the camera into a million pieces with a baseball bat because I wasn’t comfortable using the camera and was extremely frustrated when I previewed many of my images as they were all very underexposed.  These issues occurred at the very start of our trip and I was concerned that I would only have my Nikon with an 18-200mm lens to use, thereby preventing me from taking close-up photos of the wildlife.  However, thanks to help from Dan and Mark, they were able to quickly identify and resolve my problems so that I could focus on capturing the best images possible.

 

Cathy get close to a red-billed oxpecker with the 100-300mm zoom.

Cathy gets close to a red-billed oxpecker with the 100-300mm zoom.

Throughout the trip I still ended up changing some of my settings but learned to identify the problems and fix them.  The use of Custom Modes helped in this regard.  My confidence grew slowly with each day. When we returned home, and I started reviewing the images, I was happy that we made the purchase.  I got some really good images.  Although the GH-3 isn’t my favorite camera yet (I love my Nikon D300s), it is definitely giving my Nikon a good fight.  Now I find myself thinking more and more about using the GH-3 under certain conditions when planning for our future adventures.

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There are 6 comments on this post…
  1. Christine CrosbyOn Oct. 26th, 2013

    Thanks guys for your comments here. I appreciate having Mark and Cathy’s experiences and thoughts as serious non-pro shooters, as well as Dan and Fred’s thoughts too. I have the Lumix GX1, as well as Nikon D7000 and D600. I love my Nikon 200-400 but struggle to hand hold, especially since incurred neck and back injuries. I’ve been seriously thinking about the Lumix GH3 but have been concerned about its lack in the action department. Still undecided but all this info is great food for thought. Dan, like Fred, I’d love to know what your thoughts are about the GH3 for me when you have a chance!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 26th, 2013

      Christine,

      You’re situation is a bit different than Fred’s due to your past neck injury. I have to say I’ve watched you for several photo tours carry your very large, 200-400mm, around with all your gear, tripod etc. and I’ve wondered how you do it with with such an injury. That said, I’m still not confident the GH3 is right for you either due to it’s inability to really shoot fast moving action.

      When we were in Brazil and I watched you struggle with your 200-400mm I wanted to talk to you about the new Nikon 80-400mm. It’s so much smaller and lighter than the 200-400mm but I hesitated since I know it was me that convinced you to buy the 200-400mm. We all know that lens is expensive and I held my thoughts since I’m very aware we all have limited budgets. The upside to technology is that new and better products are being developed at a furious pace. The downside to technology is that new and better products are bing developed at a furious page. 🙂 I think you can understand what I’m saying. I try to make recommendations to our guests with as much honesty and thoughtfulness as possible regarding what is right, at that time, for that person. However, camera gear is now changing so fast I sometimes make recommendations that were great one week but maybe not so accurate the next. That’s the situation with the 200-400mm and the new 80-400mm. The 200-400mm has been my favorite lens and the one I used more than any other for almost eight years. It’s the lens that made me stick with Nikon when Canon was producing better low light digital sensors. But now that we have the new version of the 80-400mm my dependance on the 200-400mm has changed. I still have one, but I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying the new 80-400mm. It is so light and easy to work with comparatively and I’ve actually been keeping track of the number of specific shots I’ve captured that I honestly feel would not have been possible with the larger, more difficult to maneuver 200-400mm. So if it were me, my first thought would be to try the 80-400mm. You could certainly rent one for our next adventure.

      Finally, another thought would be to try the GH3 before making a total commitment away from the larger cameras. One of the positive attributes of the GH3 is how inexpensive it is. It was the inexpensive price that made me try my first Lumix camera. The GH3 is a bit more than the GF1 I started with but it is still extremely reasonable compared to almost all other cameras in the same category. Not only is the GH3 very affordable but, so are the lenses. The Lumix 100-300mm lens, actually a 200-600mm on the GH3, is only $499.00. That’s it. And I can tell you it is a terrific lens. The other lens I really like is the 45-175mm which multiplied X2 as we do with the Micro Four Third system, is a 90-350mm and it’s only $299.00. And talk about small? You hardly know it’s on the camera.

      So those are my honest thoughts. Could Nikon come out with a comparable system tomorrow? Yes, they could and if they did many of my recommendations may change. But taking into consideration what is currently available I think there are at least to reasonable options for you to consider. Give me a call if you want to go over this in more detail.

    • Portrait of Mark And Cathy Pemberton

      Mark PembertonOn Oct. 29th, 2013

      Christine, great to hear from you. The GH-3 is great and worked extremely well for us in South Africa. However, for fast action where the subject is moving out of frame it just doesn’t work. For instance, if I ever make it down to Bosque del Apache I won’t even consider using anything other than my Nikon 200-400 mounted on a Wimberly head.
      That said, we have purchased one of the new 80-400 mm lenses for Cathy. We haven’t used it yet but Cathy finds its light weight easy to hand hold.
      Best wishes and keep up the great shooting.

  2. Portrait of Fred Kurtz

    Fred KurtzOn Oct. 24th, 2013

    Thank you Dan. I value your input and recommendations very much. You have never steered me wrong. Yes I absolutely love my D4. It is an incredible camera and I am so happy I decided to get the best available. The new G7 and two pro lenses will be nice to play around with. Photography is such a fun and exciting field. I cannot wait to travel with you and Tanya again. Take Care.

  3. Portrait of Fred Kurtz

    Fred KurtzOn Oct. 24th, 2013

    Very nice blog post Mark and Cathy. Nice to know how this camera performed.

    I have a question for either you or Dan. I just purchased the brand new Panasonic GX7. Should I have gotten the GH3 instead? To be honest, when I saw the GX7 (I have the GX1) I got real excited and totally forgot about the GH3.

    Fred

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 24th, 2013

      Fred, I can’t say for sure since I don’t have a GX7. I’ve not bought the GX7 yet since it’s more in line with the GX1 with a built in viewfinder and I don’t have a dealer in town anymore to even be able to take a look. To be honest Fred I don’t think it’s quite time for you to move to the GH3. Just my honest opinion since I know how much you love your Nikons. The GH3 is more of a Nikon replacement and for the kind of work you really love (action, action, action) the GH3 just doesn’t perform to your standards at this point. I’m afraid you would be disappointed when you’ve been so happy with the D4. Panasonic just isn’t quite there yet. I’m hopeful Nikon gets on the band wagon sooner rather than later and gives us something like the GH3, only with Nikon’s superior High ISO capabilities, Nikon’s world class Predictive AF, their legendary optics etc. etc. etc. It’s going to be a tough call in the not so distant future if Nikon doesn’t step up. I’m sure hopping they do.

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