The term ‘compact system camera’ is a handy umbrella term that, over the past few years, has been used to describe an increasingly broad range of cameras – not all of which are actually that compact. On the one hand you have those CSCs that come without electronic viewfinders, which generally live up to their ‘compact’ billing. However, there are also plenty of CSC’s that sport not only electronic viewfinders but also deep, DSLR-like handgrips and big, chunky controls. If truth be told it can be somewhat misleading to describe these models as ‘compact’.
As one of the originators of the CSC genre Panasonic has had a foot in both camps. In terms of current models, both the GF5 and GX1 are great examples of how CSC technology can be applied to produce genuinely compact and easy-to-carry cameras. The G5 and the GH3, however, with their EVFs and handgrips are undoubtedly closer in both size and appearance to DSLRs than they are to compacts. No doubt aware of this growing anomaly Panasonic has recently taken the decision to re-brand all of its CSCs as Digital Single Lens Mirrorless cameras – or DSLM for short.
The GH3 takes over from the GH2 as the flagship model within Panasonic’s DSLM range. At its heart the GH3 employs a 16MP Live MOS sensor – 16MP being the same resolution that’s offered by the two-year-old GH2. The two sensors are quite different however, with the newer chip having been modified to allow for a wider dynamic range to be captured. In practical terms this equates to a standard sensitivity range of between ISO 200-12,800 – which can be further expanded to the equivalent of ISO 125-25,600 via the extended settings.
Meanwhile the GH3’s image processer has been updated to the latest Venus 7 FHD chip and this allows the GH3 to reach some impressively quick continuous shooting speeds, the fastest of which is the 20fps Super High speed mode, although it should be noted that this is only available for JPEG capture. Should you want to shoot in Raw or even Raw+JPEG then the rate drops to 6fps. This still isn’t bad though, especially when you consider that some DSLRs at this price point aren’t able to shoot this fast. If you don’t need to shoot as fast as 6fps, then there are further options to shoot continuously at 2fps or 4fps.
Exposure modes include the standard 'manual' quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and Manual (PASM) modes, along with a fully automatic intelligent Auto (iA) mode, a range of 24 individually selectable Scene modes and 14 Creative Control digital filter effects that can be used to give your images anything from a miniaturised to a cross-processed look. Rounding things off are three Custom settings that you can set up as you like and then recall in an instant simply by turning the exposure mode dial to the saved Custom slot.
In addition to its still image capabilities, the GH3 also builds on the reputation of its predecessor for excellent – not to mention extensive – video capture options with the addition of even more movie formats and bit rates including 1920 x 1080 Full HD settings at 50p, 50i, 25p and 24p. Furthermore, you can opt to record movie files in the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format, or to use the more computer friendly MP4 and MOV recording formats. The GH3 also comes with not one but two 3.5mm jacks: one for an external microphone and one for a set of headphones, which enables you to record audio while simultaneously monitoring the sound.
On the back of the GH3 is a side-hinged 3in, 614k-dot vari-angle LCD monitor that can be pulled away from the camera body by 180° and then rotated through 270, which is really useful for self-portraits and when shooting from extreme angles.
Should you prefer to hold the camera to eye level then the built-in OLED electronic viewfinder offers an impressive 1.7million-dot resolution and a 100% field of view making it one of the better EVFs on the market.
Autofocus is taken care of by Panasonic’s proprietary Light-Speed contrast-detect AF system, which is one of the fastest AF modules on the market. Autofocus options extend to single-area AF and multi-point AF modes alongside AF tracking and Face Detection options. In addition to compositional and playback duties the GH3’s rear screen also offers touchscreen functionality, which includes Touch AF whereby you can set your focus point simply by tapping on the point of the screen you want the camera to focus on. Touch Shutter takes this a stage further by automatically taking a shot once focus has been attained.
Last but not least, the GH3 is also the first Lumix interchangeable lens camera to come with integrated Wi-fi connectivity. This is quickly becoming a must-have feature on recent digital camera launches, so it’s good to see the GH3 future-proofing itself with its inclusion, even it it hasn't gone quite so far as the Samsung Galaxy Camera by including 3G and an Android, mobile phone-like interface. The GH3’s built-in Wi-Fi allows you to send images directly to your PC, or to back them up to the cloud without the need for any leads. In addition, by downloading the Lumix Link app (free from the Apple App Store and Google Play) you can also use your smartphone to control your camera remotely.