Video is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3's forte. In fact, early tests indicate that Panasonic's flagship is the best interchangeable-lens camera for shooting video, period. Up-to-the-minute features -- including a smartphone-like touch screen and built-in Wi-Fi -- likewise lead the class. But the GH3 is pretty bulky and heavy for a "compact" interchangeable-lens camera, and its photo quality can't quite match the top-rated Olympus OM-D E-M5 (*Est. $1,100 with kit lens) in reviews.
As of January 2013, the Panasonic GH3 is on backorder.
As big as a DSLR, with a fantastic touch screen. Unlike its rivals, the Panasonic GH3 isn't really a small camera. It's just as big as a compact digital SLR (single-lens reflex) camera, and almost as heavy. Still, testers find it easy to hold, with its hefty rubber grip. And the bigger body leaves plenty of room for controls, including a very good electronic viewfinder and a 3-inch OLED screen that tilts, swivels and (like the Olympus) is a touch screen to boot.
The touch screen is genuinely useful, experts say. You can tap your image to focus, drag to magnify it, swipe to review what you've shot, etc. It's just as responsive as a smartphone or tablet, WhatDigitalCamera.com's Mike Topham says. It even keeps working perfectly when he gets doused in an unexpected downpour.
Still, if you hate touch screens, "you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all," says Mark Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com.
Advanced users will appreciate the full, customizable manual controls, while beginners will like the smart Auto mode, which automatically "reads" the scene and picks the right settings. "It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera," Goldstein says.
Best video of any interchangeable-lens camera. Photos from the Panasonic GH3 look very nice, experts say -- but they can't quite match a DSLR's in low light. Testers agree that the 16-megapixel Panasonic starts to peter out around ISO 6400, with grainy noise degrading the image after that.
Snappy speed is a plus: "Focus speed, shutter response and shot to shot times are all excellent," says Joshua Waller at EPhotoZine.com. Startup time is quick, and the GH3 can shoot 6 full-resolution frames per second (fps).
Video is where the camera really shines. "The GH3 was designed for video and boy does it deliver," says T.J. Donegan at DigitalCameraInfo.com. A one-touch record button delivers sharp 1080p HD video, with good audio from the built-in stereo microphones. You can plug in an external mic, too, and headphones to monitor the sound. You get "all the options under the sun" for file formats, frame rates and bit rates, Donegan says, plus control over zoom, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, ISO sensitivity and mic level (the touch screen lets you adjust these silently, so the camera's mechanical noises don't pollute your audio). You can shoot a 12-megapixel photo while recording, or grab a single frame of your movie to save as a still image. Of course, if you don't want to fiddle with any of this, you can just set it on Intelligent Auto and film away. Experts agree that the GH3 offers the best video mode of any interchangeable-lens camera.
Battery life is rated at 540 shots per charge. In Waller's test, "we were able to take over 500 shots before the battery went flat." That beats smaller interchangeable-lens cameras, thanks to the GH3's larger battery.
Weather-sealed metal body. The Panasonic GH3's dustproof, splashproof metal body matches the Olympus OM-D E-M5 for ruggedness, reviews say. It's "the first LUMIX G camera to use a magnesium alloy frame, thereby signaling its intent as a more serious camera," says Goldstein at PhotographyBlog.com. Other testers agree that the build quality qualifies the GH3 for challenging conditions.
"If there's one word that's best to describe the GH3's build it's superb," says Topham at WhatDigitalCamera.com. "It's the most robust Lumix model we've ever held and though the weight of the magnesium alloy die cast body could put off those that are looking for a lightweight camera, it really does contribute to a superbly balanced camera in the hand ... Panasonic's inclusion of weather seals further enhances the build quality and sanctions it to be used in demanding shooting environments."
Built-in Wi-Fi leads a robust feature set. Besides its full-featured touch screen and video mode, the Panasonic GH3 boasts another feature you won't find on most rivals: built-in Wi-Fi. You can automatically and wirelessly back up your photos onto your tablet, use your smartphone's GPS data to geotag your images, or use your smartphone as a remote control to change camera settings and fire the shutter.
Panasonic sells the GH3 body-only. Since it's in the well-established Micro Four Thirds family, like the Olympus OM-D E-M5, experts say there are plenty of good lenses available.
Unlike most rivals, the GH3 can't shoot panoramic photos. It does have an in-camera High Dynamic Range feature (which combines several exposures for better depth) and an array of special effects (sepia, miniature, etc.).
1. What Digital Camera
Review Credibility: Very Good Mike Topham finds very few flaws with the Panasonic GH3. It's fantastic for video, with a responsive touch screen, sturdy build and pleasing photos. It earns this site's highest Gold Award.
Review: Panasonic Lumix GH3 Review, Mike Topham, Nov. 2, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good After a full test of the Panasonic GH3, Mark Goldstein finds very little to criticize. It's the best interchangeable-lens camera for video, with outstanding photos and loads of features. "Only that eye-watering price prevents us from awarding it our highest Essential rating," he says.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Review, Mark Goldstein, Oct. 25, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good Bringing everything together into one body -- great performance, control and video quality -- the Panasonic GH3 wins the title of Best Mid-Range System Camera here. Tester T.J. Donegan compares it very favorably with a pro-grade DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3, T.J. Donegan, Nov. 13, 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good This British site posts one of the earliest reviews of the new Panasonic GH3. Joshua Waller tests the camera's handling, speed, battery life, image quality and video, posting several sample photos and videos from both the lab and the field. Although it's expensive, Waller highly recommends the GH3 for excellent video and very good photos.
Review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Review, Joshua Waller, Oct. 19, 2012