The GH3 couldn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, be described as a small or indeed ‘compact’ camera. Compared side-by-side with its predecessor the GH3 is noticeably taller and wider, and with a deeper hand grip too. This larger hand grip does have a spin-off benefit though in that it allows the newer model to accommodate a larger battery than its predecessor, with the GH3’s rechargeable 1860mAh Li-ion battery good for up to 540 shots – a fairly significant improvement over the 340-odd shots facilitated by the GH2’s 1200mAh Li-ion power pack.
While it might have a bit more around the waist and shoulders there’s no faulting the overall build quality, which is superb. With its magnesium alloy die-cast body the GH3 is by far the most solid Lumix interchangeable lens camera we’ve yet seen. Panasonic has even gone so far as to weather seal the camera against dust and moisture, enabling it to be used in all kinds of inclement weather. At 855g with a battery, SD card and 12-35mm lens attached the GH3 isn’t particularly light though, which could well put some people off. Despite this, the camera does feel very well balanced in the hand though. The tactile rubber grip that stretches all the way around to the rear of the camera also helps to make it comfortable and secure to hold.
Button placement has undergone a fairly radical re-think from what was found on the GH2. For example, the GH3 now sports dual control dials in the same way that many top-end DSLRs do – especially handy if your regularly shoot in Manual mode. The dedicated access buttons for White Balance, ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons have also been shifted from the D-pad to the top plate where you’ll find them neatly arranged in a line within easy reach of your forefinger.
The back of the camera sees plenty of change too, with the Playback button shifted over to the left of the viewfinder in order to make way for a dedicated AF mode toggle switch that can be used to switch directly between AF-S, AF-C and MF using your thumb. The one-touch movie-record button that was found on the top-plate of the GH2 now sits alongside this AF mode control. There are also four Function buttons that can be variously ascribed as you see fit. One of these doubles up as the Quick Menu button, which can be used to call up a stripped back menu of all the main shooting settings for quick changes on the go
In terms of performance, the thing that immediately strikes you is just how good the GH3’s touchscreen is. Whereas many camera touchscreens in the past have felt somewhat clunky and unresponsive, the GH3’s is on a par with the very best smartphone and tablet screens. Using the screen to set a focus point with Touch AF we found the camera registered our subtle finger jabs with considerable ease. The combination of Touch-AF and a super sensitive touchscreen vastly improves AF operation too. The GH3 benefits from Panasonic’s Light-Speed AF technology, which more than lives up to its name with almost instantaneous focus lock. Using a variety of Panasonic lenses we experienced very little in the way of focus hunting, either in single or continuous AF modes.
One performance issue we did experience related to the camera occasionally locking up while in playback mode. An odd occurrence and something we were only able to fix by removing and then reinserting the battery. Our sample came with the latest firmware, however Panasonic have told us that a further firmware update will be released in the near future to fix this. The only other criticism we have is that the electronic viewfinder seems slightly smaller than the GH2’s and the far corners didn’t appear as sharp as the centre of the frame. We tried using the dioptre control to correct this but it didn’t seem to have any effect.
Loaded with a Class 10 SanDisk Extreme Pro SDHC card and with the camera set to the 20fps Super-High continuous drive mode we were able to reel off a very impressive 80 JPEGs at full resolution. The Super-High drive mode is JPEG-only and so when we switched to Raw recording the camera automatically selected 6fps instead. At this setting we managed to record 20 individual Raw images before the memory filled and the frame rate dropped. Shooting Raw and JPEG simultaneously the GH3 managed 19 frames before locking up.