Is there any justification for calling the Panasonic GH3 "Pro m4/3" ?


Well its got a battery grip. Must be a "Pro" Camera.

Before I can in any way come to a conclusion about the question in the title, there has to be some sort of definition as to what constitutes a "Pro" camera.

Reliability and Build quality must be one, right?

Well the only two pieces of gear I've ever had replaced under warranty are a Nikon F4 film camera on which the shutter button stopped working after a few hundred pictures. The problem was I was in the Pyrenees on a 2-week shooting trip and it went the first day.

The second was a Leica 90mm f/2.5 where the aperture ring became detached.

I did once drop a Panasonic GH2 onto a pavement from 4 feet. Scuffed it up a bit, but it still worked fine.

Speed of use.

Well my OM-D and GH3 focus pretty fast. Way faster than my Nikon D800E and the D600 I had.  Live view changes really rapidly and of course is on all the time. I've probably shot the first few seconds of my movie before live view actually appears on my Nikon.

Range of lens options.

Nikon and Canon still have this covered for native AF and MF lenses. But the Panasonic / Olympus range isn't that shoddy either. Plus of course there are the 1000's of lenses you can add via adapters. 

Good high ISO performance.

The DSLR's win out here. m4/3 sensor and processing performance are improving all the time, but equal to a D4 or GX1? No way.

Looks professional.

Well, CaNikon DSLR's are still the business for size, weight and "Mines bigger than yours" situations. However would someone sack you on the spot if you turned up with the outfit at the top of page? Maybe, Probably not.

So the question becomes a bit more difficult to answer. But as you read this are 1000's of pro photographers putting their Nikons, Canons and Leicas onto ebay and ordering GH3's? Well no they are not. And they won't be doing that anytime soon either. "Stick with what you know. What works. Whats been tried and tested and you can get fixed and spares for anywhere in the world." Can Panasonic compete with that, no they can't. 

But can the GH3 do some things better than a DSLR, well yes it can. But the question a pro would ask is has it been doing it for the last 10 years at least? And in many ways thats the problem. There is no track record for Panasonic, whereas Nikon, Canon and Leica have been taking the world most famous photographs for decades. A lot of professionals I know wouldn't risk a system thats been around for such a short time. They might try one out and go and shoot some "personal work", but risk it on a well-paid shoot with a demanding client, I think not. Give the system another 10 years and some of them might think about considering it. One camera doesn't make a system either. There would have to be more that just a GH3. Where are the backups, the next level down, the Panasonic equivalents of the 5D range, the 1D range, the 1Ds range? Now I'm not saying any of this is right, or has any basis in fact or is justified. But its what a professional photographer would want to see, to be prepared to invest in a new system that they were going to rely on to earn a living.

So in many ways its a perception of longevity and trust. "Can I count on a Panasonic?" is a legitimate question, and to be honest I don't know how to answer that. If I was still shooting weddings, would I use a Panasonic GH3? well yes now I probably would. However ask me if I'm prepared to take just the GH3 and the answer is no. Whereas if I took just a Canon 5D Mk III for example, then I'd feel a lot more secure. It may well be that the Canon is just as likely to break down, but I've got a history of using Canon 5D Mk II's and they have never put a foot wrong once. Never. 

So can we call the GH3 "Pro m4/3?" Well yes we can. We can call it anything we like. But will it become a camera of choice for people who earn their living from photography? Well not yet. But will it give you a "professional" type handling and shooting experience? Well yes it will, and thats a real move forward. I'm still not convinced I'd go with a GH3 in a critical, earn my mortgage situation, but after a few months of trouble-free shooting I might be inclined to give it a try. And would I have said that about the G1? No of course I wouldn't.

I just think back the summer. I had a couple of trips to Sussex and the South Downs. It is an area I didn't know well at all and in many cases was viewing for the first time. For the most part I didn't know what to expect. And so for the vast majority of my pictures I used a Nikon D800E and a huge zoom lens. Its not an area of the country I will be returning to soon, so in order to make sure I "got the shots" I went with something I've trusted over the years, something I know from experience I can rely on. And no, I've not had any trouble with any m4/3 cameras apart from a tendency to run out of battery power somewhat quicker than I'm used to, but with Nikon i've got 22 years of experience using them, in all sorts of situations, and they have never let me down. But hang on didn't I say the opposite earlier on?

At the top of the page I did indeed write about how a Nikon film camera had a shutter button that stopped working. What I didn't mention was that because the F4 had a socket to accept a mechanical cable release built into the camera I could in fact continue using it. Yes the camera had to be replaced when I returned to the UK, but there was enough of a backup system in place for me to carry on taking pictures. 

People have been saying how DSLR's are out of date for some time now. The mirror system in not the best way to go, and when you think about it it does seem somewhat cumbersome and clunky. But because its been around for so long and Nikon and Canon have experience of making it and making sure it works and works well under the most demanding of conditions, its still part of the cameras that are built to handle anything that gets thrown at them.

So ultimately in many circles, Panasonic are very much "newcomers" and in order for Panasonic to be considered a "Pro" company, with "Pro" cameras then there has to be a worldwide support system in place. Some professionals put there cameras through hell and they expect to keep on doing that. They expect them either to keep working or be able to get them fixed easily and quickly. I once sold a Canon 1Ds Mk II to a Formula 1 photographer, who told me he wouldn't use anything else because at every Grand Prix there was a mobile Canon repair shop that followed the whole entourage around the circuit. they would repair any accredited photographers cameras for free and even clean their sensors on demand, 24 hours a day. Nikon apparently do the same. So how do Panasonic come up with something like that?

And yes I'm talking about extremes here. But working photographers see those extreme cases and rightly or wrongly feel that when they invest in a Nikon or Canon DSLR system they are investing in something thats been around for years, and will still be around in years to come. And its this perception of a history and an infrastructure that gives some camera brands a reputation that a photographer feels they can trust. Panasonic are making noises that this is a direction in which they want to go, and thats a good thing, but it is going to be a while before they can establish themselves in the way that Nikon and / or Canon have. It is going to take more than one camera to give them this gravitas and give demanding photographers the confidence to say "Yes, this is a system I'm prepared to trust my livelihood to."



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