Panasonic's top-line still camera is also designed for high-quality video—and is one of the most customizable cameras available. We take a closer look at the Panasonic Lumix GH3.
Learn about the accessories you need that will help you get the most out of this camera: Read our exclusive Panasonic Lumix GH3 Buying Guide!
If you bought the Panasonic Lumix GH3, you have in your hands the most advanced Panasonic camera currently available. It offers high-end video recording capabilities, plenty of scene modes and creative filters for snapshooters and enthusiasts alike who want to stretch their visual sense, and plenty of customization possibilities including reassigning functions to specific buttons and creating custom sets of functions that can be called up as quickly as turning a dial.
In this Guided Tour, I'll help you understand how this camera works, point out some of its coolest and most practical features, and suggest additional accessories that can enhance your picture-taking experience with this camera.
The EVF (electronic viewfinder) offers very high resolution, and in good lighting conditions the view it provides can rival that of an optical finder. While the finder can get a bit “jaggy” as you move the camera in lower light, the trade-off is that the image is brighter than what you'd get with an optical finder; in fact, in low lighting you may find you have a clearer view in the finder than when looking with our naked eyes.
Panasonic has created this camera for both still photography and video enthusiasts, offering multiple frame rate and resolution options, as well as outlets for both headphones and external microphones so audio quality can match that of the video. Let's take a deep dive into the Panasonic GH3's features so you can get the most out of this outstanding camera.
Unboxing: What Does and Doesn't Come With The Camera
In the box when you buy the Panasonic GH3 you will find the battery and charger, AC and USB connector cables, a shoulder strap, body cap, hot shoe cover, and two CD ROMs. One CD includes the beginner and advanced owner's manuals, and the other includes software for image editing and organization. If you don't have the ability to read a CD ROM, the owner's manuals are available for download as PDFs from the Panasonic web site.
Interesting to note: The Advanced manual, which is written for knowledgeable photo and video enthusiasts is a whopping 319 pages long! That's a lot of information.
Setting Up The Panasonic GH3: 8 Things to Do First
The first thing you'll be prompted to do when you turn on the GH3 for the first time is to set the date and time. Once you've done that (highly recommended since it will time-stamp your photo and video EXIF data for future reference), let's explore some of the most frequently used features.
1. Charge the battery: Panasonic says it should take about 220 minutes to fully charge the battery. Do it first.
2. Insert a memory card: Be sure to insert a memory card such as the Lexar Platinum II 32GB Class 10 card in the memory card port, which is located on the right side of the camera.
3. Mount the lens: Whether a lens is included with the camera as part of the kit or sold separately, you can't operate this camera without one. Take off the rear cap from the lens and body cap from the camera, and line up the red dot on the base of the lens with the dot on the camera lens mount, then turn the lens clockwise until it clicks in.
4. Explore the touchscreen LCD: The LCD is touchscreen, and the functions you can control this way changes depending on which exposure option you've chosen. IA (intelligent auto), for example, gives you a more limited selection since it selects many of the settings itself. The settings appear in icons along the right side of the screen. Touch each and see what it does!
5. Q Menu: There's a button on the camera back that says FN-2 on it, and Q MENU immediately below. Press it to access the controls that appear on the top of the LCD monitor.
6. Navigation tools: You can navigate through either the Q Menu or the main menu several ways. You can either use your fingers on the LCD touch screen, or turn the various dials. The thumb and forefinger dials move you through the on-screen functions but you could also spin the main control dial which surrounds the Menu/Set button. Press that dial up, down or sideways to move through the menu options.
7. The Main Control Dial (get the name) atop the camera. Depending on your level of experience you may choose one of the PASM exposure modes for full control over aperture and shutter speed. Alternatively, you may choose iA, creative filters or scene modes, or switch to one of three Custom modes. Finally, you can access video functions by moving to the Movie Camera icon.
8. Re-assign function buttons. Each of the GH3's five external and two on-screen only programmable Fn buttons are assigned default functions which you can change. Fn1 activates WiFi, Fn2 turns on the Q MENU, Fn3 activates autofocus, Fn4 activates depth-of-field preview, and Fn5 toggles between live view and the EVF. The two on-screen controls are Fn6, which activates the on-screen electronic level, and Fn7, which turns the histogram display on and off. The great news is that each of these buttons can be assigned another function. There are a total of 40 functions to choose from. To access the Function assign feature, go to the Q menu. Click on the Fn button (lower right part of the monitor) and you can start exploring.
3 Easy Shortcuts for Snapshooters
While this camera has many options for advanced shooters, it is also snapshooter friendly. Here's all you need to know in order to pick up this camera and just start shooting.
1. Set it to iA (intelligent auto) mode. The camera will compare the scene to a database of images and do its best to match it to similar situations for the best typical exposure.
2. If the scene is dark, flip on the flash. The flash won't work (even in iA) unless you flip it up. There's a button on the left side of the viewfinder housing with a flash icon. Press it and the flash flips on, and will trigger only when needed.
3. To shoot video, press the button with the red dot. There's more you can do with this camera's video mode, but if you just want to quickly grab some footage, press the red dot button, located near the upper right corner of the LCD monitor, to start recording. Press the same button again to stop.
Now, let's dig deeper into this camera's functions.
Since this camera was designed to meet the needs of budding videographers, it has an impressive array of video controls for pro-level results. I won't get into every function (for that, refer to the extremely useful advanced user's manual, which is included on the DVD) but do want to point out some important features you may use often.
Choosing your video file format: The GH3 lets you choose AVCHD, MP4 or MOV format movies. Each has advantages and disadvantages and which one you choose depends on how you plan to view the movie, and whether or not you plan to edit it. AVCHD is good for playback on an HDTV using an HDMI connection. MP4 is well suited for playback on a computer or to share on YouTube. If you plan on editing your footage, the best format to record in is MOV.
Setting focus: You can choose to focus manually (also known as “pull focus”) during or before exposure. This is a tricky technique used by pro videographers but tends to be very precise when done well. Alternatively, you can choose Continuous AF, where the camera focuses continuously during recording, or you can turn Continuous AF off and lock in focus before shooting. This will eliminate internal focusing noise, which the microphone might pick up.
Fine-Tuning the Sound: It is important to monitor audio when you're recording video, which is why it's great that this camera has ports for headphones and an external microphone. In the Movie menus, choose Real Time to hear the actual sounds being recorded. Choose Mic Level to adjust the sound, and using to the Mic Level display to be certain the sound is neither too low nor too loud in the red zone. To avoid picking up internal focusing and handling sounds, I highly recommend investing in an external microphone. Consider a shotgun mic that fits on the flash shoe such as the Panasonic DMW-MS1 Stereo Microphone. I also recommend a good set of headphones such as the Panasonic RP-HC200.
Slow Mo/Fast Motion Video: To control record speed—which affects how slow or fast the video plays back—go to the Motion Picture menu and look for Frame Rate. You will be presented with 40%, 48%, 80%, 160%, 200% and 300%. The higher the percentage, the faster the playback and the lower the percentage, the slower the playback.
Use the Right SD Memory Card: Panasonic recommends using at least a Class 4 memory card but I suggest going for Class 10 so you will get the best possible performance when shooting video. The price difference between the two is minimal so you might as well go for the maximum. Also if you plan to shoot lots of video footage, get at least 32GB cards—maybe even 64GB—and make sure you have several cards so you can shoot HD footage without worrying about running out of memory.
What Do The External Controls Do?
Now, let's take a tour around the camera's external buttons, dials and switches, starting with the top, from the left.
The first dial atop the GH3 is the drive mode dial. Use it to select single shot, burst rate, auto exposure compensation bracketing, and self-timer.
Tip: Auto bracketing shoots three, five or seven photos in sequence—over, under and correct exposure—and the increments and number of bracket shots can be changed from 1/3 stop to as much as + or – 3 full stops by going to the Q Menu and selecting BKT (second row from bottom on left).
Moving across the top to the right, atop the viewfinder housing is a flash/accessory shoe. However, in addition to adding flashes such as TK, you could also mount a separate microphone or continuous light for video here. Right and left microphones are on either side of the flash/accessory shoe.
To the right of the viewfinder housing is the heart of the camera: The mode dial. Here you can dial in the snapshooter-oriented iA mode and Scene modes, as well as the creative art filters, PASM manual/programmable exposure options for more advanced users, movie mode, and three programmable custom settings. (More about using C1, C2 and C3 later.)
The White Balance, ISO and Exposure Compensation buttons are located on the handle, as is the front dial, which is used to navigate through menu features and select exposure parameters. When you select any of the three buttons, you can either navigate by using the touch screen or the dials atop or on the back of the camera.
Hint: To quickly select white balance, choose one of the manual WB settings, aim at a pure white, grey or black object in the scene, and press Select White Set on screen. Then hit the Menu/OK button, and your white balance is set.
The front of the camera: To switch lenses, press the oval-ish button and rotate the lens clockwise. The only other thing of note on the front is a good old-fashioned PC outlet for off-camera flash and flash slave transmitters such as the PocketWizard Plus III.
The left side of the camera has three rubberized doors. The top one is for an external microphone jack, and the headphone jack is below it. The bottom door opens up to reveal ports to connect the camera to your TV via either HDMI or A/V Out cables.
Finally there's the back of the camera. When you first take the camera out of the box the LCD is flipped inward, facing the camera. Flip it out. Also notice that it can flip and turn out for easier low and high angle viewing. This is especially helpful when shooting videos. You can also flip the finder so it is open and facing front, so you can shoot self-portraits. Selfies never looked this good!
Above and to the left of the LCD panel is the green Replay button. This will allow you to view stills and videos. Use the Front Dial to go through your image files and the rear dial to enlarge them on screen to make sure focus is sharp. Above and to the right of that button is the Fn5 button, which by default lets you switch between using the LCD Live View and the eye-level electronic viewfinder. You can also switch from LCD to EVF by bringing the camera up to your eye. It automatically senses you're there and switches.
Hint: If you're handling the camera and the image in the LCD abruptly goes off, you may be holding something close to the EVF sensor, and the camera thinks you're looking into it.
Above and to the right of the viewfinder is a small dial. This is the diopter control; use it to make sure the EVF itself is in focus. Set the camera to AF, focus on something sharp, then move the diopter control until you can see the scene clearly.
Immediately to the right of the finder is the AF/AE lock, which locks in exposure or focus so you can recompose. The AF engine is controlled by the ring surrounding this button. Choose single or continuous focus, or switch to manual focus here. To focus manually, turn the outer ring on your Panasonic lens. Moving to the right there is the red dot movie button that I discussed above. The Rear Dial is moved via your thumb and works in tandem with the Front Dial on top of the handgrip to set exposure and navigate the menus.
The Fn2/Q Menu button activates the Q Menu, which appears differently on screen depending on how you've set the DISP (display) button. The DISP button is located to the right; keep pressing it and you'll see different displays in the LCD and/or EVF. The Fn3 button by default accesses the AF mode. The default is to activate the entire 23-area AF sensor array, but you can choose face recognition, AF tracking (recommended for sports photography), 1-area central AF, or a smaller AF area that you choose by pressing “AF Area” and then touching the part of the screen that you want in focus.
The Menu/Set button, surrounded by the control dial and cursor buttons, accesses all of the camera's menu items, of which there are many. This is for serious users and gives you the most control over the widest selection of features.
Did You Know...
You can Connect to the Internet with this camera?
Actually, there are four remote features available with this camera: You can operate the camera remotely via your smart phone or tablet and save the image on your mobile device, you can play them back on a compatible TV, send images to a specified location while recording, or send recorded images to a mobile device, web service or printer if you're in a Hot Spot. You can learn more on P. 57 of the Basic Manual.
The Electronic Viewfinder rocks?
At 1.74 million pixels, the GH3's viewfinder is one of the highest resolution EVFs on the market. If you're used to SLR viewfinders, you may actually like this.
This camera has 23 scene modes?
Designed to provide ideal exposures for specific shooting situations, the camera offers specialized scene modes with some rather creative names: Clear Portrait, Silky Skin, Backlit Softness, Clear in Backlight, Relaxing Tone, Sweet Child's Face, Distinct Scenery, Bright Blue Sky, Romantic Sunset Glow, Vivid Sunset Glow, Glistening Water, Clear Nightscape, Cool Night Sky, Warm Glowing Nightscape, Artistic Nightscape, Glittering Iluminations, Clear Night Portrait, Soft Image of a Flower, Appetizing Food, Cute Dessert,Freeze Animation Motion, Clear Sports Shot, Monochrome. The thumbnail images should help you figure out what each of these means, but if you still aren't getting it, press the DISP button and a short explanation will appear on screen.
There are 14 creative filters?
The GH3's creative filters apply affects that you would otherwise have to add in post production. They are: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Low Key, Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, High Dynamic, Cross Process, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Star Filter, and One-Point color. As with the scene modes, the thumbnails should help you figure out each filter setting, but the DISP button will display a short explanation. Experiment!
Hint: When you shoot RAW+JPEG, the effect is applied to the JPEG, but the RAW image stores the original (non-filtered) image so if you don't like the effect after the fact, you can call up the RAW file and start from scratch in post-production.
This is one of the most customizable mirrorless digital cameras available?
You can customize some three dozen camera controls by changing default settings so you can really make the camera your own. You can choose up to three sets of custom settings via the C1, C2 and C3 positions. Choose any of these three settings, then use the Menu OK button to get to the Custom Setup menu. There are 9 pages of customizable settings which you can change; in addition, you can change white balance, default ISO, color or black and white, etc. When you've made all of your changes, select Custom Set Mem and register them to C1, C2 or C3. Now whenever you are on the chosen Custom menu setting all of your registered settings are activated.
As mentioned before, you can also assign new functions to any of the 5 external and two virtual Fn controls. To do this, open the Custom menu and scroll down to page 6 and select Fn Button Set. This brings up a diagram of the camera with callouts for each of the Fn buttons showing what each one is set to do. Use the touch screen to select the relevant Fn button and a new menu—10 pages long—appears with nearly 40 other options. Press the one you want and reassign the buttons to give you quick access to your most used controls. For instance, Fn1 is by default assigned to activate WiFi, but let's say you would rather have it turn on the digital level tool. That's the fourth item on page 2 of the Fn1 Button Set Menu. Select that and voila, you can now turn on the digital level by pressing Fn1!
9 Menu Items You Should Know
While I won't go into ever menu item (after all, there are over 100 of them, and many branch off into multiple sub-choices) I do want to highlight these. As you get more experienced as a photographer, you'll grow to appreciate them.
1. Rec > Quality: Controls resolution, lets you choose either JPEG or RAW, or both simultaneously.
2. Rec > Metering Mode (you may want to assign this to a Fn button): Lets you select center weighted, partial center weighted, or spot metering.
3. Rec > iDynamic: Automatically corrects contrast and exposure.
4. Rec > iResolution: Improves clarity in images.
5. Rec > Electronic Shutter: Disables mechanical shutter, which can reduce camera blur and lets the camera operate more quietly.
6. Rec > Flash: Sets how you want the camera to work, lets you use TTL and/or Wireless flash and select 1st/2nd curtain as well as control Flash intensity
7. Setup > Sensor Cleaning: shakes dirt particles off sensor to avoid spots on photos.
8. 3D: Records 3D images via special 3D lens to be played back on 3D-compatible TV monitors.
9. Setup > Format: Use this when using a new memory card.
Feel free to explore the many menu items available and if get stuck or don't understand, check out the Advanced User Manual.
Want to get more out of your camera? Here's a buying guide specifically for owners of the Panasonic GH3!