Panasonic GH3 - more thoughts

All images Panasonic GH3 14-140mm Zoom

One of the things I've grown to like about the Panasonic GH3 is that its a "no-fuss" camera. Its exactly what I like, a picture-taking device that lets me concentrate on taking pictures rather than constantly fiddling with the camera. I've always thought that there is an obvious difference between professional photographers and (some) amateur / hobbyist photographers. Though by no means always the case, and I'm sure I'll get some reaction to the following, it goes like this.

Professional photographers are concerned about whats in the image, some amateur / hobbyists are more concerned about how they took the image. By this I mean that a professional prioritises composition, making who and what they photograph look good, making sure the image will reproduce well and perhaps most importantly of all, making sure that the client or the person who buys the image is happy. Camera and lens used, camera settings etc. are just a consequence of what needs to be done. To some amateur / hobbyist the camera and lens used and the settings employed can be the point of taking the picture, and what is actually in the picture is secondary.

Am I being unfair and arrogant? Well maybe I am, but think about all the pictures you see posted that are pretty dull but have copious detail about what they are taken with, how they were taken and the various settings used. Whenever you read a professionals take on one their images its usually about what their intentions were, how they proposed to get what they envisaged, what it took to get the image and usually scant detail about what they used. With some amateurs / hobbyists its all about the camera, the lens, the shutter speed, the aperture etc. I remember a well-know photographer many years ago in a photographic magazine putting this somewhat more brutally. "I'll tell you the difference between amateurs and professionals, if their house was on fire, the professional goes back and saves their pictures, the amateur saves their camera!"

I am of course convinced that the readers of this blog, would like me, go back to save their pictures. Though I won't deny a wistful look at my melting cameras. So whats this got to do with with the GH3? Well, its a camera I don't have to fight, a camera that doesn't require my constant attention. A camera I don't have to fiddle with. To me it works like a Nikon. Once its set up right, I just switch it on and start taking pictures. I like cameras that I don't have to think about, that just do the job. Its simple things like the GH3 has a long lasting battery that I don't have to worry about and I don't have to carry spares. The viewfinder and screen work with my polarised sunglasses, important for me since I spend all my time working in sunshine. It just gets on with the job.

It is a different camera to other m4/3 models, and though I like the Olympus very much, it is for me a step on from the OM-D, in that it tries to give photographers more of what they need in a more accessible way. There is the little irritation of the battery meter not showing what % of charge is left, but generally it's sensibly laid out, there are manual controls on the body to adjust the most commonly used settings and in the main it doesn't require hampster sized fingers to operate. To a large extent it gives me what I would expect from a DSLR without the bulk and weight. Its not perfect of course, nothing is, and I'm sure other users will have their complaints, but its pretty much the best compromise I've ever used. 

So is the GH3 therefore a "professional" camera? Well taking into consideration all the value judgements and problems involved in using terms like that, for the purposes of this article and assuming that we all know that this is shorthand for a whole series of considerations, I would argue that yes it is. Simply because of its "non-fiddly" nature. Sure there is a lot "under the hood" but thats the same with Nikons, Canons etc. What I like is that all that versatility doesn't get in the way. I am, for example, perfectly happy to use the camera in programme mode and let the AF work pretty much automatically too. Now thats not something I would trust a lot a cameras to do. But the GH3 seems to agree with me on settings. When I was first working with the camera I looked at what the programme settings were coming up with and I thought in virtually all cases, thats what I would have selected, so it syncs very nicely with my way of working, and thats good to see and inspires confidence.

Despite all of this enthusiasm, today is the day I find out my final tax bill for the year,(N.B. This piece was written 31-01-2013 and because of internet problems is only published today) and whether I keep it or not depends on how much I have to come up with. If its more than expected then because of the cost of the camera, and the OM-D and the m4/3 lenses I have, then I may have to spend next year with a system that doesn't involve having so much money tied up it in, and that will be my NEX cameras. However if possible it is my intention to go with m4/3, with the GH3 as my primary camera. Probably with the OM-D as backup, because it is a lovely camera.

But whether I keep it or not, there is no doubt in my mind that the GH3 is something special. A camera that will change a lot of attitudes I'm sure. I haven't even started on the video yet, but just seen as a stills camera it is pretty impressive. By no means for everyone and every photographic situation, but a very real alternative for many of us, who can use it without feeling that we are making some kind of compromise. It is now getting to the stage of rather than saying "Can my mirrorless camera do what my DSLR does?" to "Can my DSLR do what my mirrorless camera can do?" and there are now numerous examples of these smaller cameras outperforming DSLR's in many areas. AF and Live View being obvious examples.

Personally I think its good to see. Its obvious that there has been (still is?) a good deal of complacency in the Canon and Nikon camps and their underwhelming mirrorless offerings seem to suggest that both still think that DSLR's are still the ultimate photographic tools. And of course when a camera like the D800E appears it can seem hard to argue with that. But my GH3 is a lot faster and easier to operate than my Nikon in most situations and its also a lot more versatile in what it can offer. The Nikon will always have all those pixels, but in many ways its a camera that can seem somewhat out of date when compared to the GH3. Electronic spirit level in the viewfinder, pinpoint focus, silent electronic shutter, constant live view and flexible screen positioning are all useful photographic tools in the GH3 that make the job of getting the picture easier. These are not gimmicks or gadget-head fodder, these are the real deal and are features that once used are very difficult to give up. And it is of course because of the nature of mirrorless cameras that these things are possible. 

It is difficult, if not impossible to shoehorn some of this into a DSLR and I'm sure that Nikon and Canon will realise as Sony have, that its not possible to take the DSLR forward without some radical rethinking. I'm not sure Sony's fixed mirror is the long-term answer and I can see CaNikon eventually coming up with heavy-duty 35mm sized sensor mirrorless cameras. There is of course the possibility that this may leave m4/3 high and dry because of the smaller sensor, though recent improvements do show what can be done.

However I think that this is for the future and its usually the case that things move slower than we anticipate. For the next few years I can see m4/3, which is still easily the most complete mirrorless system, with the most choice in terms of cameras and lenses, having a significant role in advancing what cameras are capable of. It is a system that appeals to many of us and gives us more of what we want than any other system. The GH3, like the OM-D before it, has taken this to another level and I for one am glad I bought one.

N.B. to see more on the cameras and lenses featured in this post click on the relevant labels (tags and keywords) below.

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