I’ve shot video with the GH2 extensively over the past few years on loads of projects ranging from commercials to independent films to music videos and more. This amazing little camera has given me incredible images that I have at times intercut seamlessly with RED and Alexa footage. Coming out of a $700 body that is pretty amazing. That’s not to say the GH2 doesn’t have its quirks – in fact it has many. But all in all it has been a workhorse.
On Friday, my GH3 arrived and I’ve already put it to use on a television commercial where I pushed its limits quite hard. Specifically the 1080/60p mode. All in all my experience so far has been overwhelmingly positive. There was a lot of hype surrounding this camera and that kind of hype is seldom lived up to, but in this case the GH3 truly exceeded my expectations.
Since many current GH2 users will likely be adopters of the GH3 down the line, I wanted to share my thoughts on how the cameras compare to each other. For some, the choice will be clear that the GH3 is a definite necessity, while for others – the GH2 may still be more than enough. It really comes down to what you want to use it for and what your needs are.
An important thing to note is that this comparison is currently only based on the video functionality. I rarely shoot stills and my primary usage with this camera is video as will be the case will many that purchase this product. With that said, down the line I would like to add a stills comparison as well.
I have shot a bunch of small test shots and they are embedded throughout this post. These videos will likely be updated as the weeks go on and I have time to shoot more footage. Today it was quite rainy and I was unable to get some of the shots I was looking for (specifically slow motion with people). But for now, these have provided some valuable insight already into the new camera and how it stacks up to the GH2.
For the test shots the GH3 was set to it’s Standard color profile with all settings at -5, except saturation which was at 0. The GH2 (which is hacked with Flowmotion v2), was set to Smooth with all settings at -2.
I’ll start by breaking down some of the basics and most relevant functionality of the camera. There is a lot to cover so some details and features will likely be left out. If anyone has specific questions about the camera that aren’t presented here, please add a comment and I will be happy to address any questions.
Unboxing the GH3 reveals a camera that feels truly refined, more professional and robust. The magnesium alloy exterior of the camera and larger size make it feel strong in your hands. The body is weather sealed which is a huge deal for many shooters that need to take this camera on location. I also really like how clean everything looks. It’s all black. No chrome trim. No gimmicky “Full HD” badge. Just black metal, rubber and plastic sealed together in an ergonomically sound package.
The metal dial and on off switch both feel solid and require a bit of a push to get them set just right. Which is good as it prevents you from accidentally turning on or off the camera or changing other important settings. A lot of other smaller details go a long way as well. One example is the locking function on the battery door. Little changes like this are important as they allow this camera to function that extra bit more securely on a professional shoot. The GH2 often (especially on rigs) would have issues with the battery door popping open, so this change was a nice added touch.
One of the biggest issues I had with the GH2 was it’s build quality. The camera feels a bit dinky and because it isn’t weather sealed, it is hard to trust it in sub-optimal weather conditions. The buttons and dials always felt a bit delicate for my taste. Not so much that it would be a deal breaker for anyone, but it does add a sense of worry when handling the camera in some on set environments. When shooting with the GH3 in the freezing cold all day yesterday, the camera was functioning perfectly. This wouldn’t be the case with the GH2. Any time I’ve tried to shoot with it in the cold the screen suffers from a delay and it doesn’t operate properly.
The GH3 is obviously a massive improvement over the GH2 in this department. Does this directly translate to a better image? Of course not. But it is very important for many shooters – especially if you are using it day in and day out. Only time will tell, but I can only assume these cameras will have a longer average lifespan than the GH2’s.
There is a new battery on the GH3 which was no big surprise. Initially, I had hoped for the same battery as the GH2 as that would mean I would already have a few spares. In the end I’m happy Panasonic changed it.
The new battery is better. Hands down. It charges in approximately the same time as the previous battery, but seems to have a much longer lasting charge. I haven’t timed how long it lasts from start to finish, nor would it be an accurate test if I compared with my current GH2 battery as those have been used many times. With that said though, the battery life has been improved to some degree. When I first got the camera there was a 1/3 charge on the battery. I let it continuously record to drain it and even that took a couple of hours.
Again, an improvement in this department but not necessarily the most important change in comparison to some of the other updates.
The menu on the GH3 is slicker than the GH2, although the GH2’s menu wasn’t too horrible to begin with.
My main problem with the GH2 menu was that the terminology and short form used to label resolution and quality settings didn’t really make any sense. You have to step into several different menu items if you want 720/60p vs 1080/24p for example, and once there you are presented by “FSH’, “FH”, etc. All I ever wanted was for the camera to say – 1080/24p – high quality, 720/60p, etc.
On the GH3 this is exactly what it does. All of the frame rate and quality options are clear and it even states what mbps the camera will record at. This is great as there is no room for confusion. Also on the topic of changing frame rates – on the GH2 it is not possible to monitor video externally at 720/60p. On the GH3 you can monitor video with an external monitor using any setting.
The rest of the menu is just as functional. It’s really intuitive and clean looking. A pleasure to work with in comparison to the old menu, and in fact in comparison to most other cameras. Panasonic really seemed to get it right this time.
On the GH2 the EVF is very nice and crisp. The LCD, not so much. I always found the LCD on the GH2 to be very soft (low resolution) and have inaccurate colours. On the GH3 the OLED is once again vastly improved. It has a glossy finish which I was initially worried about – but it somehow seems more visible in daylight than the GH2’s matte finished LCD. The touch sensitivity on the new OLED is also improved. It is extremely accurate and perfectly sensitive.
A really great feature is the focus/zoom area. Either by using one of the function keys or touching the screen you can magnify an area of the image to focus on. The GH2 does have this functionality as well but it is much more primitive. On the GH2, your only option is to fill the entire screen with the punched in image, and when plugged into an external monitor this function is disabled. On the GH3 you have the option of either punching in all the way or just displaying a small zoom window that is overlaid over the regular sized image.
Most importantly to me though, the punched in image on the GH3 appears on an external monitor just as it does on the camera. This is great as I often use an external monitor as a framing reference but due to their low-ish resolution it is not ideal to use them for pulling focus (at least the particular monitors I own).
The EVF is really crisp on the GH3 as well. Side by side with the GH2 there wouldn’t be a gigantic difference in quality, but again there is an improvement there.
The GH2 has a well documented bug that makes certain ISO’s very grainy, unless they are selected from an ISO value higher than them. For example, ISO 320 is very grainy if you select it right away when powering up the camera. But if you step down to it from ISO 400, it is okay. Panasonic seem to have avoided this problem with the GH2 by defaulting to base ISO multiples for shooting video.
Out of the box, the ISO options on the GH3 are: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200. Only 5 of them. But if you dig deeper into the photo menu, there is an option to turn on 1/3 increments for ISO’s that will open up all the intermediate ranges.
Personally, I am happy to mainly stick with the 5 base ISO’s. They all work as they should. No bugs and no workarounds. And I rarely (if ever) used any non base ISO’s on the GH2 anyways. With that said, it is good to know the 1/3 step increments are there if you need them in a pinch. I’d like to do a full ISO test down the road and see how the non-base ISO’s compare to the base ISO’s, but to my eye there doesn’t seem to be any sort of bug as there was in the GH2, which is a nice relief.
Frame Rates & Image Quality
If I had to name the single reason why I was compelled to purchase the GH3, it would have to be the ability to shoot 1080/60p. With the exception of a couple of other DSLR’s, for the most part you’re only going to get 720/60p from the majority of DSLR’s out there.
On the GH2, the 720/60p mode is quite nice. In fact I’ve always found 720p on the GH2 to be as sharp as some other cameras at 1080p. With that said though, the 1080/60p on the GH3 is a welcome addition and a feature that I will surely be utilizing often. I was hoping for a 720/120fps mode, but that didn’t happen – perhaps down the line with a firmware hack. Just yesterday I shot all day with the GH3 in 1080/60p mode and the footage coming out of the camera was truly excellent. Here is a very rough edit of a couple shots. It’s all 60p except for the first shot which is 24:
Also, here is a quick comparison test between the two cameras in 60p (GH3 in 1080 and GH2 in 720). As you would imagine, the 1080 is of course sharper, but the 720p still holds up quite well. I shot a lot of 720p on the GH2 on my recent feature and have no regrets. It all looks great.
Also, the GH3 now has the ability to shoot in All-I (Intra Frame), which means each frame is being created from scratch. With the exception of the 5D MKIII On any other DSLR as far as I know (not including the hacked GH2), you can not record in All-I. This allows for a much higher quality final image as the motion is rendered more smoothly and other variations in the shot are more true to form.
The bit rates have been upped significantly as well. The stock GH2 shoots a max of 24mbps at 1080p (without the hack). The GH3 shoots 72mbps. A huge jump. I have been shooting with my GH2 hacked to allow for a higher bit rate, but the image quality from the un-hacked GH3 is better. It isn’t a night and day difference, but the difference is there. And comparing to the hacked GH2, the file sizes are actually smaller while the image quality is better.
Here is a wide shot comparison of the two cameras. Note the more defined detail on the trees when punched in to 400%. There is definitely a difference here. Not gigantic, and in all honestly not a reason worth switching cameras over in my opinion. But it is there and it’s nice to know that there is at least a small step up in this department.
The other revelation I had when watching much of today’s footage was the fact that I had grown accustomed to the green cast the GH2 puts on everything. I white balanced both cameras manually to either 3200 or 5600, but the GH3 is much more neutral coming off the card. This is something I noticed long ago but was never too concerned with as it can be reversed easily by color correcting. It will be a nice change though to not have to take that into account anymore.
As far as moire goes, this has never been a huge concern for me as I rarely have had issues with moire on the GH2 unless I am looking for it. With that said, the GH3 actually seems to exhibit slightly more moire in certain scenarios but not in others. I will need to test in more depth, but for now here is a side by side test. It should be noted that I was completely unable to get either camera to exhibit moire with any of my usual lenses. It was only with the Panasonic lens that I had any issue, and even then I really had to look for it.With that said though, I do still believe the GH2 comes out on top here:
Here is a side by side comparison. As expected, the rolling shutter is noticeable and not much different from that of the GH2, although I sense a slight reduction in it’s effect. Where I really seem to notice a positive difference in the GH3 is in the micro jitters. Here is a comparison between the two:
Ex. Tele Conversion
I haven’t spent a great deal of time with this feature, as I never really used it with the GH2. It never seemed to look right to me and was always grainy, even at low ISO’s. Nevertheless, I did a test comparing it with the GH3 and the GH3 does again come out on top. There were some issues with the GH2 during this test in that the micro jitters really had a bad effect on the GH2’s footage when shooting on that long of a lens (I had on a Nikon 300mm telephoto). It is hard to tell if the Ex. Tele Conversion feature on the GH3 is that much better, or if it is more of a combination of better overall IQ/resolution and slightly less rolling shutter. Here is the comparison:
As you can see in the shot below, I was able to get in really tight on a 300mm lens. These are the scenarios where the crop factor is great. The car I was shooting was on the roof of the building on the left of this image.
The low light capability of the GH3 surpasses the GH2.
On the GH2, ISO 800 is the max that I will use unless I plan on doing some heavy noise reduction in post. With the GH3, even ISO 1600 material looks fantastic. In fact to my eye it seems like it has about the same amount of grain as it does at ISO 800, which is very minimal. By ISO 3200 the grain is there in full force and I would rarely, if ever use it at this setting.
The grain coming off of this camera is quite pleasing. It resembles a film grain that is refined and adds a beautiful character and texture to the image. It almost looks like the grain you see when 4K sensors are down sampled to 1080p Â (such as in the case of the Canon c300).
I’ve now actually found myself cranking up the ISO to 800 and stopping the iris down a bit to bring some of that grain into shots that otherwise may almost look too clean. On the GH2, this isn’t a technique I would employ as the grain (although better than many other DSLRs), still didn’t quite look right to me.
What I found interesting when testing the high ISO’s on both cameras was how little compression appears on the GH3 footage. Even at ISO 6400 which is quite grainy, the grain structure is quite easy to remove with neat video. Because the GH2 has more heavy in camera noise reduction, even with the hack it gets pretty blotchy at high ISO’s. It also seems to exhibit a lot of color shifting with high ISO shots. Here is a small comparison video:
Possibly the largest issue that most GH2 users have with the camera is the lack of Dynamic range. The camera is known to produce fairly contrasty images that blow out quite easily. As long as you light for it and work around its limitations, things are always fine – but there are sometimes those scenarios where you just don’t have the time to light the way you need to, and extra DR is essential.
On the GH3 the DR is a step up. I’m sure there will be some more “scientific” tests done in the near future that should yield some specific numbers in regards to how many stops of DR we are actually getting with this camera, but for now here is a small clip that compares the two. Same lens, settings, etc:
It is quite apparent that the GH3 maintains more highlight and shadow detail. While it’s still in the DSLR category and not going to have the DR of a Blackmagic Camera or an Alexa, it is certainly still nice to have that extra bit of stretch that it is giving us.
Both the GH3 and GH2 have similar types of image profiles, although they have different names. The GH3 does not have any sort of cinestyle or log setting, which I was hoping for. Regardless though, it does give you more detailed control over contrast, saturation and noise reduction settings. Where the GH2 would only let you set the contrast for example from – 2 to +2, the GH3 will range from -5 to + 5. This is nice as it gives the user more control over their own custom settings.
I’ve alway felt the GH2 had a more noticeable motion judder when panning in 24p mode as compared to most other DSLR’s. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the camera. The issue was never so bad that it prevented me from getting a shot I needed, but it was just something else to be aware of on a shoot. After comparing the two cameras panning it looks like they both have a very similar amount of judder, which was a bit of a let down.
The GH3 has a headphone jack. Enough said! This alone makes the camera a worthy investment for many shooters that want to avoid going to a dual system.
The audio input is a standard 3.5mm size as opposed to the GH2’s 2.5mm size. Again I appreciate this small detail as 2.5mm is a much rarer size and therefore requires a small adapter to be used with a regular sized 3.5mm input. Not a huge deal, but it’s nice to not worry about that.
Another improved feature on the GH3 is the ability to fine tune audio input levels in a much more detailed way than with the GH2.
This has to be one of the best features of the GH3 (not available on the GH2).
You can now remotely control your camera from your tablet or smartphone. By downloading the Lumix Link app on your mobile device and transmitting a Wi-Fi signal from your GH3, you can instantly use your phone, tablet, etc. as a wireless monitor, hit the record button, change focus by tapping (on electronic lenses) and much more! I will personally be using this function soon for an underwater shoot, where I will operate the camera from above ground… That is if the app that is required starts to work properly.
Currently, the Lumix Link app (which is required to connect to the camera on your smartphone) is quite buggy and the functionality is not there yet. But I’m certain once it does get where it needs to be that this will be a big selling point for some people.
The Wi-Fi function can also be used to transfer your files wirelessly from the card to your device, amongst other things.
I have found that there are a lot of little hidden features in the GH3 that are really useful:
The new layout of the buttons is more user friendly and makes the camera quicker to operate.
The camera now records timecode which is a huge plus for many users.
While on the touchscreen you can pull out a little menu from the right side of the screen that allows you to toggle on or off a histogram and virtual level. The level I find particularly useful, especially if you are using a tripod without a built in level.
On the GH2 there is a big color shift that appears once you hit the record button which sometimes can make it hard to get the right lighting set up unless you do it while the camera is recording and use the live recording as your preview. This has been completely eliminated with the GH3 thankfully!
There are loads of other small improvements too. It is only my second day with the camera and am still discovering new things, but it truly feels like so much has been packed in and added to this camera.
All in all the GH3 is an incredible successor to the GH2 and a better camera in most ways – even when compared to a hacked GH2. With that said it does potentially suffer from more moire than the GH2 and the jump in image quality isn’t drastically different.
The biggest and most notable improvements are: a stronger body, slightly better image all round, 1080/60p, ability to record proper timecode, better audio control and usability, added dynamic range, and Wi-Fi remote controlling.
It feels likePanasonic have actually listened to what their customers wanted and came through with a great product. The camera is not perfect, but no camera is.
The price of the camera is significantly higher than the GH2. Currently you can purchase a GH2 body with a kit lens for as low as $600 – $700 online, which is an absolute steal. The GH3’s body alone goes for $1299.
So is it for everyone that owns a GH2? I don’t think so. Although the camera is a great improvement over the GH2 in many ways, the GH2 is still a remarkable little camera that produces beautiful images. For those that may prefer the slightly smaller body, lower cost and other positives on the GH2 side, I wouldn’t be surprised if many people still stick with the GH2. Many of the noticeable improvements on the GH3 are in the construction and functionality of the camera. The differences in image quality are there, but they are not overwhelmingly different from the GH2. A well composed shot will look great on either camera and they will both do the job well.
I wouldn’t be surprised with the drop in GH2 cost, many opt to purchase two GH2’s rather than a single GH3 body ( for the same cost). For some, having two cameras for events or multi-cam low budget narrative, etc. may be more beneficial than the added quality from a single camera.
As a long term investment, I think the GH3 does have more longevity especially with new features such as Wi-Fi that really bring it into the next generation of cameras. It really feels like Panasonic have officially hit their stride with this one and understand who they are making it for.
If you’re in the market for a DSLR that shoots great video, but don’t know where to start – check out my article on the top 5 DSLRs for video today.
Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!