With all the attention paid to Canon and Nikon DSLRs that shoot video, the average consumer tends to forget that Panasonic has its own line of Micro Four Thirds cameras with strong video credentials. And that's exactly where the new Lumix GH3 comes into play. The GH3 is the successor to the Lumix GH2, which—thanks to its solid video controls and smooth continual autofocus—was (and still is) a favorite camera among videophiles. With the GH3, however, Panasonic went ahead and crammed in even more video functions to entice budding filmmakers, and these new functions come in the form of bar-setting compression and frame rate options.
Using the MOV container and H.264 compression format, the GH3 offers an absurdly-high 72Mbps bitrate (ALL-Intra) for shooting Full HD video with 30p or 24p frame rates, or 720/60p video. Making use of the camera's 50Mbps (IPB) bitrate allows you to shoot 1080/60p video, and it's equipped a whole set of conventional AVCHD compression options as well (including another Full HD 1080/60p setting with a 28Mbps bitrate). Further expanding recording versatility, the GH3 has the ability to shoot video using the MPEG-4 format, with options for Full HD, 720p, or standard-definition recording. Three slow motion modes (80%, 48%, and 40%), a reliable autofocus system, time code output, and an external mic and headphone jack round out the GH3's important video features.
Oh, and the GH3 can also shoot 16-megapixel still images too. It is a camera after all. Sporting a new iteration of the company's 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine processor, it can shoot stills at up to roughly 6fps. Sadly, unlike the GH2, the GH3 doesn't have a true "multi-aspect" sensor, which would maximize the imaging circle to get the most out of alternative aspect ratios. Nevertheless, you can shoot in standard 4:3, as well as slightly cropped 3:2, 1:1, or 16:9. Standard sensitivities range from ISO 200-12800, and can be extended to 125 on the low and and 25600 on the high end. As usual for a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds body, image stabilization is the duty of the lens (Olympus, in contrast, uses in-body stabilization). A nice addition for stills shooters is compatibility with the new DMW-BGGH3 detachable battery grip—a first for Panasonic.
Panasonic originally told us they were planning to sell the Lumix GH3 for around $2000 without a lens, which was already quite a bit cheaper than, say, the Canon 5D Mark III. a camera that's cherished by many filmmakers. Today, the GH3 is up for preorder at $1299 from most major camera retailers. At that price, it certainly represents an incredible value to videographers on a budget. As the priciest Micro Four Thirds camera ever, it might not offer quite the same value proposition for stills shooters, but we'll have to see how it does in the lab before we pass final judgment.
Are Panasonic's high bitrates and flexible recording options enough to lure in Canon video loyalists? We're not sure, but that's clearly what Panasonic is hoping with the Lumix GH3.
Note: We mention in the video that the GH3 is a "video DSLR." It is, of course, technically a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with a Micro Four Thirds lens mount, but Panasonic is designing it with the video DSLR user in mind. We also mistakenly mention the camera's Zebra controls, but it doesn't include that feature at this time.