Shooting Video with the Panasonic GH3

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Since the release of their mirrorless G-Series in 2008, Panasonic has offered cameras that are true multimedia tools with a strong emphasis placed on video features. The Lumix DMC-GH2, in particular, developed a cult following in the video and HDSLR communities. The compact size, articulating screen, and unlimited clip length set the camera apart from many of its competitors. Add to that high-quality HD video and versatile lens support and you can see why the camera was a hit. With the introduction of the Lumix DMC-GH3, Panasonic builds on the reputation of the GH2 and offers several improved features for professional video use. The GH3 can record full HD 1920 x 1080 video at multiple frame rates, up to 60 frames per second, and offers improved color depth, dynamic range, and a 72Mbps ALL-INTRA codec. When used with an ever-increasing line of lenses and accessories, the GH3 makes a great choice for video shooters this holiday season.

It should be said that the Panasonic GH3 is not really an HDSLR. It is a mirrorless camera, meaning that it doesn’t use a mirror-and-prism system to allow users to view through the lens like digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras do. Instead, Panasonic coined the term Digital Single Lens Mirrorless, or DSLM. Throughout this article, the term "HDSLR" will be used loosely to include the GH3 and other compact, interchangeable-lens cameras capable of capturing HD video. Now, let’s take a closer look at the Panasonic GH3.

Featuring a 16.05-megapixel Live MOS sensor with a newly designed low-pass filter and 4-CPU Venus Engine, the Panasonic GH3 delivers excellent image quality for both still photos and videos. But the GH3 truly shines as a video camera. When you hold it, you’ll immediately notice the improved build quality the GH3 has over its predecessor. The plastic frame of the GH2 has been replaced by one built of magnesium alloy—a first for a Panasonic G-Series camera. The die-cast, magnesium-alloy frame keeps the camera lightweight, but adds durability. The camera is also splash proof and dust proof, making it suitable for run-and-gun shooting in the field. Shooters tend to appreciate the small dimensions of the GH series, allowing these cameras to be used in situations where larger video cameras wouldn’t be practical or even possible. The GH3 enables you to travel lighter and have more room in your camera bag for lenses and other accessories.

The GH3 offers a set of features typically found only on professional video cameras. Most notably, the camera gives you flexibility in terms of frame rates, data rates, and formats. Depending on your needs, the camera can record full HD 1920 x 1080 video at 24p, 30p, or 60p. For the highest-quality recording, an ALL-Intra codec is available at 24p and 30p, allowing you to capture video at an impressive 72Mbps. The All-Intra codec is better for editing as it has less compression and retains more data. This means that your footage will hold up better during post-production processes such as color-grading. For even more versatility in regard to editing and video output, the GH3 also gives you the option to record in the MOV (H.264) and AVCHD formats, or the Internet-friendly MP4 format. Both the MOV and AVCHD formats support the use of time codes for multi-camera setups.

A feature that shooters, especially event videographers, really appreciate is the camera’s continuous-recording ability. Many HDSLR cameras have time or file-size limits when recording video. Now this may not be a problem for narrative video work, where shot lengths tend to be shorter, but for live-event recording, longer-duration shots are needed. The GH3 will create multiple seamless files, enabling you to set the camera on a tripod, hit Record, and not have to worry about missing any of the action. Use the Battery Grip for the Lumix DMC-GH3 for extended battery life to take advantage of the seamless file-generation feature.

The GH3 also features a new OLED electronic viewfinder and 3.0” OLED touchscreen monitor, both providing 100% frame coverage. Like the GH2, the monitor has an articulating design, allowing it to be swung out from the body and tilted up and down for more comfortable shooting from low and high perspectives. Autofocus performance has also been improved. It is fast, silent, and adds face detection and automatic tracking of moving subjects when used with compatible Micro Four Thirds lenses. In manual focus mode, the touchscreen serves as a focus assist, letting you zoom in anywhere on the screen with 4x, 5x, or 10x magnification.

Lenses

The mirrorless Micro Four Thirds lens mount is really coming of age, with many high-quality lenses available. For shooters who like zoom lenses, the Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 and 35-100mm f/2.8 lenses are great options. Both lenses feature constant f/2.8 maximum apertures throughout the zoom range, Power O.I.S. image stabilization, and match the GH3’s splash and dust-proof design. When ultra-portability is required, the Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 and Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II lenses feature fast apertures and good optical performance in a compact, pancake-style construction. Another popular and high-quality lens offered by Panasonic is their Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4, which provides an angle of view similar to that of a 50mm on full-frame cameras, making it a "normal" focal length lens with superb image quality and a fast f/1.4 aperture for good low-light performance and pleasing, shallow depth of field.

Olympus also offers a handful of quality Micro Four Thirds lenses, including the M. ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8, M. ZUIKO Digital ED 45mm f/1.8, and the M. ZUIKO ED 75mm f/1.8. The 75mm f/1.8, in particular, is very sharp and makes a great portrait-length lens on the GH3. For shooters who seek the super-shallow depth of field and low-light performance of full-frame cameras, they need look no further than the Voigtlander Nokton lenses. The lenses are available in 17.5mm, 25mm, and 42.5mm focal lengths (35mm, 50mm, and 85mm full-frame equivalent) and feature ultra-fast maximum apertures of f/0.95 and solid-metal construction. When used wide-open, these lenses produce extremely shallow depth of field. The lenses are fully manual, so they will not support automatic focus or exposure control.

While there are plenty of Micro Four Thirds lenses available, the GH3 is not limited to just these lenses. The MFT lens mount is versatile, thanks to its short flange distance, allowing adapters to be used to accommodate a wide range of lens mounts including cinema PL, Leica M and R, Canon EF, and Nikon F—to name just a few. This allows you to use your existing lenses, professional-quality cinema lenses, or even older manual focus prime lenses (e.g., Canon FD, Nikon Ai-S) with the GH3. The B&H Used Department is a great place to find quality used interchangeable lenses.

The Micro Four Thirds lens mount does feature a 2x crop factor, so when adapting lenses designed for APS-C or full-frame sensors, you won’t be using the entire image circle of the lens. For shooters who wish to recover some of the angle of view of these lenses, the Metabones Speed Booster adapters for Micro Four Thirds mount cameras use specially designed optics to shrink the image circle down to better fit MFT-sized sensors. When used, the angle of view is increased by 0.71x. This effectively gives the GH3 an angle of view similar to that of Super 35mm sensor-sized cameras. The speed booster adapters also have the added benefit of increasing the brightness of the image by one stop. Speed Booster adapters are available for Nikon G, Contax Yashica, and Leica R mount lenses.

Audio Options

An area in which many HDSLR and compact mirrorless cameras fall short is audio features. The GH3, however, provides manual audio controls, onscreen audio levels, and a headphone jack for monitoring sound. A 3.5mm microphone input jack is available on the GH3 for synchronous sound recording with a variety of microphones. An on-camera compact shotgun microphone is a good option when filming run-and-gun style, or documentary style. The supercardioid pickup pattern captures clear audio in the direction in which the microphone is pointing while minimizing pickup from the side and rear.

The RØDE VideoMic Pro is a popular compact shotgun microphone that provides high-quality sound and features an integrated shockmount and windscreen. It also features a three-way level control that offers -10dB, 0dB, and +20dB modes for fine-tuning microphone sensitivity. It features a high pass filter as well which, when activated, helps to minimize the pickup of low-frequency hum and other camera noises. It easily attaches to the GH3’s shoe mount and operates using a single 9V battery. Other options include Panasonic’s DMW-MS2 Stereo Shotgun Microphone, designed for use with the GH3, and the Sennheiser MKE 400 Compact Video Camera Shotgun Microphone.

The Shure VP83F LensHopper is a compact shotgun microphone with an integrated flash recorder. Like the RØDE VideoMic Pro, it attaches to the GH3 via its shoe mount, but it can record higher-quality audio than the GH3 is capable of internally. The VP83F records 24-bit/48kHz WAV audio files to MicroSDHC cards, and supports card sizes up to 32GB. It features an integrated shockmount, a 60dB gain range that is adjustable in 1dB increments, and a low-cut filter. Its backlit LCD screen on the back of the microphone makes it easy to adjust settings and monitor audio levels. It also features two 3.5mm mini jacks, one for sending audio to your camera as a backup, and one for headphone monitoring. Because you’re recording sound to a separate device, you will have to sync the audio with the video from your GH3 during post production. This process can be done manually or with the assistance of software such as PluralEyes from Red Giant.

While on-camera microphones are great for run-and-gun style shooting, most HDSLR shooters know that a separate audio recorder is a must for getting the best-quality sound. Dedicated portable audio recorders have better preamps and converters than the GH3 and record high-quality audio files. Obtaining good sound also often means getting your microphone as close to your subject as possible, and when the mic is mounted to your camera, this isn’t always possible. Mounting the mic on a boompole allows you to get as close to the edge of frame as possible and, with a separate audio recorder, the camera is free to move without mic cables interfering with the camera movement.

The Tascam DR-40 is a popular recorder that features 4-track recording, built-in stereo microphones, and two XLR inputs for using professional microphones. The Zoom H6 Handy Recorder is another portable audio recorder that offers interchangeable microphone modules, has four XLR inputs, and can record up to six channels simultaneously. Both units record high-quality 24-bit/96kHz WAV files to SD cards. They can be mounted directly to your camera using camera shoe adapters for one-man or small-crew shoots, or can be handed off to a boom operator, allowing him to follow the action. For more insight into audio options, check out our three-part Audio for DSLR series.

Rigs and Support

Support rigs are very important for obtaining smooth, shake-free footage with smaller cameras such as the GH3. The lightweight, handheld nature of the DSLR-sized cameras makes camera shake inevitable. Zacuto offers highly customizable, modular-based rigs that introduce additional points of contact with the camera, helping to reduce these effects and providing you with a more stable, comfortable style of operation. Choose from a wide variety of handgrips, rail systems, and shoulder-mount assemblies to build the rig that is right for you.

For run-and-gun shooting, Zacuto’s Enforcer and Marauder rigs are great options and feature a foldable design for quick and easy setup and storage. An attached gunstock is pressed against your body to add stability to your shots and a Gorilla Plate V2 attaches to your camera for a quick-release connection. The Marauder adds an articulating handgrip for waist-level support. For modular versions of the rigs, the Target Shooter and Striker are available.

Another good way to add stability is to attach an optical viewfinder to the GH3’s OLED screen. When placed against your eye, the viewfinder adds an additional point of contact for increased stability. The Zacuto GH3 Z-Finder Pro Optical Viewfinder is designed specifically for the GH3. The Z-Finder also helps block out unwanted light when filming outside or in bright environments. The Z-Finder attaches to the GH3 via the included Gorilla Plate V2 and the GH3 Z-Finder Frame. Note that the frame will not work when a battery grip is attached to the GH3 or with the LCD screen articulated.

For the video professional who needs to add additional accessories such as a follow focus or external monitor to their GH3, Swedish Chameleon’s SC:GH3 Cage is a must-have item. It features a semi-cage that is lightweight at 0.47 pounds, and adds additional 1/4" and 3/8” threaded holes, NATO-style side rail, and three shoe mounts for attaching accessories. The semi-cage design doesn’t block the camera’s handgrip, controls, LCD, battery door, or memory card door. Use the SC:RAIL TO ROD CLAMP, which clamps onto the cage’s side rail, to attach a 15mm rod for mounting a follow focus unit. You can also attach the Viewfinder Frame for the SC:GH3 Cage for mounting a Kinotechnik LCDVF 3/2 LCD Viewfinder.

The GH3 is a versatile tool that offers a unique shooting experience and packs a lot of punch for its size and price. Whether you are a video enthusiast or seasoned pro, B&H is the perfect one-stop place to check the GH3 and GH3 accessories off your holiday shopping lists.

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There are still a few reasons the GH3 is still not superior to the GH2. Yes, it giveth with a better body, but then it taketh away:

1) UNLIKE THE GH2, IT HAS NOT YET BEEN HACKED... the 72 Mbps all-intra video mode sounds nice at first, but it is significantly bit starved for an all-intra MPEG-4 codec setting. The only usable mode in terms of relative compression quality is its 50 Mbps, long-GOP MOV mode. A hack would better balance all-intra video with a much higher bitrate to compensate. If it cannot be hacked, it's time to skip the GH3 and look elsewhere, or hope Panasonic learns its lesson with the next GH model.

2) Noticeable moire and aliasing patterning due to inferior pixel binning (many believe the sensor was outsourced to Sony or other brand and is not an in-house multi-aspect design like the GH2). This is another big knock against Panasonic: they knew the GH2 was popular in the DSLR shooter market, but instead of improving upon the strengths of its multi-aspect chip (like with much better high ISO settings, lower sensor noise, and greater low light performance), chose to save a buck and therefore some superior aspects of the GH2's sensor (little to none of these artifacts show up except under extreme conditions, which you cannot say for the Canon 5D line) were left on the cutting room floor.

3) The crop factor has increased over the GH2 due to using a different sized chip.

4) The new OLED flip screen seems to have a whole new set of visibility issues, especially shooting outdoors. Some say its fine, others are having issues... a quality control problem??

5) And this last part is a tremendous negative of all consumer and pro-sumer video devices to this day... it still only captures video in nasty 8 bit, 4:2:0.

I test about of high-resolution images with minimum noise. And the new Venus Engine attains high-speed, high-quality signal processing. These features combine to maximise shooting fun and operating ease. Another prominent feature of the Lumix GH3 is a tough body that is rugged enough to stand up to even professional use.

I am very keen on the Panasonic DMC-GH3.

I am principally a videoer and interested on your recommendation for a lens. The one I had identified was a Lumix G Vario 14-140mm. I do take landscape pans on holiday and use zooming.

Looking forward to your comments

Regards Graeme Boyd