I've shot extensively videos on numerous projects with the GH2 over the past few years, from commercials to independent films to music videos and more. This amazing little camera gave me incredible images that I sometimes cut seamlessly with RED and Alexa footage. Getting out of a $ 700 body is pretty amazing. That's not to say the GH2 doesn't have any quirks – in fact, it has many. But all in all, it was a workhorse.
My GH3 arrived on Friday and I've already used it in a TV commercial where I exceeded its limits quite a bit. Especially the 1080 / 60p mode. All in all, my experiences so far have been mostly positive. There has been a lot of hype about this camera and that type of hype is rarely met, but in this case the GH3 really exceeded my expectations.
Since many current GH2 users are likely to be GH3 users later on, 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.
It's important to note that this comparison is currently based on video functionality only. I rarely take still pictures and my primary use with this camera is video, as many who purchase this product will. With that in mind, I'd also like to add a still image comparison across the board.
I took a few small test shots and they are embedded in this post. These videos will likely be updated over the weeks and I'll have time to add more footage. It was pretty rainy today and I couldn't get some of the shots I was looking for (especially slow motion with people). At the moment, however, they have already given valuable insights into the new camera and how it works for the GH2.
For the test shots, the GH3 was set to the standard color profile with all settings to -5, with the exception of the saturation to 0. The GH2 (which is hacked with Flowmotion v2) was set to smooth with all settings to -2.
I'll break down some of the camera's basics and key features first. There is a lot to talk about, so some details and features are likely to be left out. If anyone has specific questions about the camera that are not presented here, please post a comment and I'll be happy to answer any questions.
Unpacking the GH3 reveals a camera that feels really nifty, more professional, and more rugged. The magnesium alloy camera's exterior and larger size make it feel strong in your hands. The body is weatherproof, which is a big deal for many shooters who need to take this camera with them when they are on site. I also really like how clean everything looks. It's all black. No chrome trim. Not a tricky "Full HD" badge. Just black metal, rubber and plastic in an ergonomically perfect package.
The metal dial and on-off switch feel solid and require a small amount of pressure to set them just right. This is good because it prevents you from accidentally turning the camera on or off or changing other important settings. Many other minor details also go a long way. One example is the locking function on the battery compartment. Small changes like these are important as they allow this camera to function a bit more safely when shooting professional-quality. The GH2 often had issues with the battery compartment popping open (especially on rigs) so this change was a nice addition.
One of the biggest issues I had with the GH2 was the build quality. The camera feels a bit dinky, and since it's not weatherproof, it's difficult to trust 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 worry when the camera is used in certain environments. When I took pictures with the GH3 all day yesterday in the freezing season, the camera worked perfectly. This would not be the case with the GH2. Every time I tried to shoot with it in the cold, the screen lagged and did not work properly.
The GH3 is obviously a massive improvement over the GH2 in this department. Does this mean a better picture directly? Of course not. But it's very important to a lot of Sagittarius – especially if you use it day in and day out. Only time will tell, but I can only assume that these cameras have a longer average lifespan than the GH2.
There's a new battery in the GH3, which wasn't a big surprise. At first I was hoping for the same battery as the GH2 as that would mean I would already have some spare parts. In the end, I'm glad Panasonic changed it.
The new battery is better. Hands down. It charges around the same time as the previous battery but appears to have a much longer lasting charge. I didn't specify how long it would take from start to finish, nor would it be an accurate test if I compared it to my current GH2 battery as it has been used many times. Even so, the battery life has improved to a certain extent. When I first got the camera, the battery was 1/3 charged. I let it pick up continuously to drain it, and even that took a couple of hours.
Another improvement in this department, but not necessarily the most important change compared to some other updates.
The GH3's menu is clearer than that of the GH2, although the GH2's menu wasn't all that terrible at first.
My main problem with the GH2 menu was that the terminology and shorthand used to describe the resolution and quality settings didn't make sense. You have to switch to different menu items if you want 720 / 60p or 1080 / 24p for example, and when you are there you will be presented by “FSH”, “FH” etc. Just wanted the camera to say: 1080 / 24p – high quality, 720 / 60p, etc.
On the GH3, that's exactly what it does. All frame rate and quality options are clear and it even states what Mbit / s the camera will record at. This is great as there is no room for confusion. Also on the subject of changing the frame rates – it is not possible on the GH2 to monitor videos with 720 / 60p externally. On the GH3, you can monitor video using an external monitor with any setting.
The rest of the menu is just as functional. It's really intuitive and looks clean. It's a pleasure to work with compared to the old menu and compared to most other cameras. Panasonic really seemed to be doing everything right this time.
EVF / LCD / OLED
On the GH2, the EVF is very nice and crisp. The LCD not so much. I always found the GH2's LCD to be very soft (low resolution) and with inaccurate colors. With the GH3, the OLED has again been significantly improved. It has a glossy finish that I was initially concerned about – but it seems to be more visible in daylight than the GH2's matte LCD. The touch sensitivity of the new OLED has also been improved. It is extremely accurate and perfectly sensitive.
A really great feature is the focus / zoom area. You can enlarge an area of the image that you want to focus on using one of the function keys or by touching the screen. While the GH2 has this functionality, it is much more primitive. With the GH2, your only option is to fill the entire screen with the cut-out image. When this function is connected to an external monitor, it is disabled. With the GH3 you have the option of either punching completely or just showing a small zoom window that is placed over the normal-sized image.
Most important to me, however, is that the die-cut image on the GH3 is displayed on an external monitor exactly as it is on the camera. This is great as I often use an external monitor as a frame reference, but their low resolution makes it not ideal to use them for pulling focus (at least the specific monitors I own).
The EVF is also very crisp on the GH3. Side by side with the GH2, there wouldn't be a huge difference in quality, but there is an improvement here too.
The GH2 has a well-documented flaw that makes certain ISO values very grainy unless they are picked from a higher ISO value. For example, ISO 320 is very grainy if you select it right away when you turn on the camera. However, if you resort to it from ISO 400, then that's fine. Panasonic seems to have avoided this problem with the GH2 by defaulting to ISO multiples for video recording.
By default, the GH3's ISO options are: 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200. Only 5 of them. However, if you dive deeper into the photo menu, you can enable 1/3 steps for ISO values to open up all the intermediate areas.
Personally, I mainly like to stick to the 5 basic ISOs. They all work as they should. No bugs and no workarounds. And I've rarely (if ever) used non-base ISOs on the GH2 anyway. With that in mind, it's good to know that the 1/3 step steps are there when you need them in a pinch. I would love to do a full ISO test later and see how the non-base ISO values compare to the base ISO values, but in my opinion there doesn't seem to be a bug like there was in the GH2 is a nice relief.
Frame rates & image quality
If I had to name the only reason I was forced to buy the GH3 it would have to be the ability to shoot 1080 / 60p. With the exception of a few other DSLRs, for the most part you will only get 720 / 60p from most DSLRs.
On the GH2, the 720 / 60p mode is quite nice. In fact, I've found that 720p on the GH2 is just as sharp at 1080p as some other cameras. Still, the 1080 / 60p on the GH3 is a welcome addition and a feature that I will certainly use often. I was hoping for 720 / 120fps mode, but that didn't happen – maybe down the line with a firmware hack. Just yesterday I was shooting with the GH3 in 1080 / 60p mode all day and the footage that comes out of the camera was really excellent. Here is a very rough edit of some of the recordings. It's all 60p except for the first shot which is 24:
Here is also a quick comparison test between the two cameras in 60p (GH3 in 1080 and GH2 in 720). Of course, as you can imagine, the 1080 is sharper, but the 720p is still holding up quite well. I recorded a lot of 720p on the GH2 in my last feature and I don't regret it. It all looks fine.
Plus, the GH3 can now record in All-I (Intra Frame), which means every frame is created from scratch. With the exception of the 5D MKIII on every other DSLR as far as I know (without the hacked GH2), you can't record in All-I. This allows for a much higher quality final image as the motion is rendered more fluidly and other variations in the shot are more in keeping with the shape.
The bit rates have also been increased significantly. The GH2 share shoots a maximum of 24 Mbit / s at 1080p (without hack). The GH3 shoots 72 Mbit / s. A big leap. I recorded with chopped GH2 to allow for a higher bitrate, but the image quality of the unhacked GH3 is better. There is no difference between day and night, but the difference is there. And compared to the hacked GH2, the file sizes are actually smaller while the image quality is better.
Here is a wide angle comparison of the two cameras. Notice the more specific details on the trees when they are entered 400%. There is definitely a difference here. Not gigantic and frankly no reason to switch the camera in my opinion. But it's there, and it's nice to know that there's at least a small step up in this department.
The other discovery I had while watching much of today's footage was the fact that I had gotten used to the shade of green the GH2 put on everything. I manually calibrated both cameras to 3200 or 5600, but the GH3 is much more neutral when it comes off the card. I noticed this a long time ago, but I've never bothered to dig into it too much as it can be easily undone by color grading it. However, it will be a nice change to not have to take this into account anymore.
As for moiré, this has never been a major issue for me as I've rarely had problems with moiré on the GH2 unless I look for it. Even so, the GH3 actually seems to show a bit more moiré in certain scenarios, but not in others. I need to test more closely, but right now here is a side-by-side test. It should be noted that I couldn't get a camera to show moiré with any of my usual lenses. The only problem I had a problem with was the Panasonic lens, and even then I really had to look for it. Nevertheless, I still believe that the GH2 has the edge here:
Here is a side-by-side comparison. As expected, the roller shutter is noticeable and does not differ much from that of the GH2, although I feel a slight reduction in its effect. Where I really seem to notice a positive difference in the GH3 is in the micro jitter. Here is a comparison between the two:
Ex. Tele conversion
I didn't spend much time with this feature as I never actually used it with the GH2. It never seemed to look right to me and was always grainy even at low ISOs. Still, I did a test comparing it to the GH3, and the GH3 is back ahead. There were some issues with the GH2 during this test as the micro jitter when shooting on such a long lens (I had a Nikon 300mm telephoto lens) really had a bad impact on the GH2's footage. It's hard to say if the Ex. The GH3's tele conversion function is all the better, or if it's more of a combination of better IQ / resolution and a little less rolling shutter. Here's the comparison:
As you can see in the image below, I was able to get very tight with a 300mm lens. These are the scenarios where the harvest factor is large. The car I photographed was on the roof of the building to the left of this picture.
The low light intensity of the GH3 exceeds that of the GH2.
With the GH2, ISO 800 is the max I'll be using unless I plan on doing some heavy noise cancellation in the post. With the GH3, even ISO 1600 material looks fantastic. In my opinion it has about the same amount of grain as ISO 800 which is very low. According to ISO 3200, the grain is in full force and I would rarely, if ever, use it at this setting.
The grain of this camera is very pleasant. It is similar to film grain that is refined and gives the image a nice character and texture. It looks almost like the grain you see when 4K sensors are downsampled to 1080p (as in the case of the Canon c300).
I've actually now found that I've cranked the ISO up to 800 and paused the iris a little to bring some of that grain into shots that might otherwise look almost too clean. On the GH2, this isn't a technique I'd use as a grit (although it's better than many other DSLRs), but it still didn't look right to me.
What I found interesting when testing the high ISO values on both cameras was the low compression of the GH3 footage. Even at ISO 6400, which is quite grainy, the grain structure is easy to remove with a clean video. Since the GH2 has a greater reduction in camera noise, it becomes quite blotchy even with hack effects at high ISO values. It also seems to show a large amount of color shift when shooting at high ISO. Here is a little comparison video:
Perhaps the biggest problem most GH2 users have with the camera is its lack of dynamic range. The camera is known to produce fairly high contrast images that blow out fairly easily. As long as you light for it and bypass the restrictions, things are always fine – but sometimes there are scenarios where you just don't have the time to light the way you need it and additional DR is essential.
With the GH3, the DR is a step up. I'm sure there will be more "scientific" tests going on in the near future that should provide specific numbers on how many DR stops we're actually getting with this camera, but for now here's a little comparison clip of the two. Same lens, same settings, etc .:
It's pretty obvious that the GH3 retains more highlight and shadow detail. While it's still in the DSLR category and won't have the DR of a Blackmagic camera or an Alexa, it's definitely still nice to have the extra stretch that it gives us.
Both GH3 and GH2 have similar types of picture profiles, although they have different names. The GH3 doesn't have a cinestyle or log setting that I was hoping for. Regardless, you get more granular control over the contrast, saturation, and noise reduction settings. For example, if the GH2 only allows you to adjust the contrast from -2 to +2, the GH3 ranges from -5 to +5. This is helpful as the user has more control over their own custom settings.
I've always felt that the GH2 had more movement noise when panning in 24p mode compared to most other DSLRs. This was one of my biggest disappointments with the camera. The problem has never been so bad that it prevented me from getting a shot that I needed, but it was just something else to look out for on a shoot. After comparing the two panning cameras, it looks like they both have a very similar amount of jerking, which was a bit of a disappointment.
The GH3 has a headphone jack. Enough said! This alone makes the camera a worthwhile investment for many shooters who want to do without a dual system.
The audio input is a standard 3.5mm size versus the 2.5mm size on the GH2. I appreciate this little detail again as 2.5mm is a much rarer size and therefore requires a small adapter with a full sized 3.5mm input. Not a big deal, but it's nice not to worry about it.
Another improved feature of the GH3 is the ability to set audio input levels in much more detail than the GH2.
Wireless Internet access
This has to be one of the best features of the GH3 (not available on the GH2).
You can now control your camera remotely from your tablet or smartphone. When you download the Lumix Link app on your mobile device and broadcast a Wi-Fi signal from your GH3, you can instantly use your phone, tablet, etc. as a wireless monitor, press the record button and tap focus (on electronic lenses) change) and much more! I will soon be personally using this feature for an underwater shoot where I will operate the camera from above. When the required app is working properly.
Currently, the Lumix Link app (which is required to connect to the camera on your smartphone) is pretty buggy and it doesn't yet have functionality. But I'm sure this will be a big selling point for some people once it gets where it needs to be.
With the Wi-Fi function, you can also wirelessly transfer your files from the card to your device.
I found that there are a lot of little hidden functions in the GH3 that are really useful:
The new layout of the buttons is more user-friendly and speeds up the operation of the camera.
The camera is now recording the timecode, which is a huge plus for many users.
While you're on the touchscreen, you can bring up a small menu on the right side of the screen that lets you toggle a histogram and virtual layer on or off. I find the level particularly useful, especially if you are using a tripod without a built-in level.
The GH2 has a large color shift as soon as you press the record button. This can sometimes make it difficult to set up the right lighting unless you do it while the camera is recording and using the live recording as a preview. Fortunately, this was completely eliminated with the GH3!
There are many other small improvements too. It's only my second day with the camera and I'm still discovering new things, but it really feels like so much has been packed and added into this camera.
All in all, the GH3 is an incredible successor to the GH2 and a better camera in many ways – even compared to a hacked GH2. Even so, it may suffer from more moiré than the GH2, and the jump in image quality isn't drastically different.
The biggest and most notable improvements are: a stronger body, a slightly better picture all around, 1080 / 60p, the ability to record the correct timecode, better audio control and ease of use, additional dynamic range and a Wi-Fi remote control.
It feels like Panasonic actually listened to what their customers wanted and created a great product. The camera isn't perfect, but it's not a camera.
The price of the camera is significantly higher than that of the GH2. Currently, you can buy a GH2 body with a kit lens online for just $ 600-700, which is an absolute bargain. The body of the GH3 alone costs $ 1,299.
So is it for anyone who owns a GH2? I do not believe that. While the camera is a huge improvement over the GH2 in many ways, the GH2 is still a remarkable little camera that produces beautiful images. For those who prefer the slightly smaller body, lower cost, and other positives on the GH2 side, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people still cling to the GH2. Many of the noticeable improvements in the GH3 relate to the design and functionality of the camera. The differences in image quality are there, but not mostly different from the GH2. A well-composed shot looks great on both cameras and both do the job well.
I wouldn't be surprised at the drop in GH2 costs. Many choose to buy two GH2s instead of a single GH3 body (at the same cost). For some, it may be more beneficial to have two cameras for events or a low budget narration with multiple cameras, etc. than the added quality of a single camera.
As a long-term investment, I think the GH3 will have a longer lifespan, especially with new features like Wi-Fi that it really incorporates into the next generation of cameras. It really feels like Panasonic has officially taken this one step and understands who they are doing it for.
If you're in the market for a DSLR that takes 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 filmmaker from Los Angeles and founder of the boutique production house Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television and in various publications around the world. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!