So what about the Panasonic GH3 then?

The above link is from the Kirk Tuck blog and the second half of the post is about using the Panasonic GH3. Its nice to see some positive feedback on the camera in the light of all the fawning reviews of the Olympus E-M1. It does seem that Olympus gets a lot of good press from the 'enthusiast' review sites and you could be forgiven for thinking that the E-M1 is some kind of 'wonder camera'. However as I've written before, for my uses, I prefer the GH3 over what the E-M1 offers and indeed the OM-D E-M5, of which I've owned two.

Now I'm not Olympus bashing, as regular readers will know I've bought a lot of Olympus cameras (some twice!) and have enjoyed using them, but the GH3 is a very competent, very fast and accomplished mirrorless camera, which seems to get ignored in the current 'Olympus fever' about the E-M1. Since the GH3 and E-M1 are virtually identical in image quality as far as I can see, high ISO performance as well, that's not an issue here. Incidentally I've looked at lots of E-M1 raw samples and I can't discern any advantage from the lack of an AA filter. My suspicion being that Olympus are just doing the same thing with software / firmware. In any case the images end up looking the same as the GH3 to me, so one camera isn't going to give me an advantage over the other for that. I'm also not going to discuss the AF differences. The GH3 is lightning fast and very accurate. If Olympus do have an advantage here, then it's so small as to be meaningless to me, and non-existent for the majority of my uses, particularly in the light of 3. below.

So differences are down to features and operation. It is obviously a personal choice, but for me there are five reasons why I prefer the GH3 and two where the E-M1 might have an advantage. So here are the reasons I prefer the GH3.

1. OLED viewfinder.

It's vital for me to be able to use the EVF with my polarised sunglasses. I sold my Leica X-Vario, a camera I loved in every other way because it had an EVF similar to the Olympus VF-2, and it gave me problems. I'm fully willing to concede that the Olympus EVF might be sharper, but if I have to change glasses for me to see it in my normal working environment then it's not a lot of use.

2. Fully articulating screen.

As I continually ask about moving screens like the ones that Olympus use on their OM-D and E-M1 cameras - WHAT ABOUT WHEN YOU USE THE CAMERA IN A VERTICAL POSITION??? It seems a nonsense that these screens that move up and down only, are totally useless when it comes to shooting in 'portrait' orientation. I can take a picture with my Panasonic low down or on the ground and move the view screen so I can see what I'm taking with the camera in both positions. With the Olympus, and indeed lot's of other camera including Sony's, I can't. Do Olympus think photographers only shoot in horizontal mode?

3. Electronic Shutter.

There are just so many shooting situations when a fast silent shutter is VERY useful. Wedding photographers in church, portrait sessions and street photography when the subject has no idea the picture is being taken, situations when you want the subject(s) to be relaxed and unaware of the camera, interiors like art galleries, theatres and historic buildings etc. etc. For me one the greatest advances in digital photography is the silent electronic shutter. It's liberating for me as a photographer allowing me to work quietly and unobtrusively, be inaudible and not annoy people. Like the fully articulating screen I think all mirrorless cameras should have this as standard.

It's also worth pointing out that the electronic shutter on the GH3 is instant. Even if the Olympus AF IS marginally faster then it's cancelled out by the clunky shutter action and the delay that creates. This then makes for lots of situations when the GH3 (and other Panasonic cameras) actually get the shot on the card quicker.

4. Video. 

If you are a working photographer these days, chances are that you have added video to what you offer. The GH3 is one of the best (if not the best) hybrid stills / video camera on the market. The Olympus range adds video but offers very few options. Olympus have been keen to market the E-M1 using the word 'professional' a lot. Well, I'm not the only 'professional' that thinks their video offerings leave a lot be desired. Panasonic have gone out of their way to state that the GH3 is not a 'professional' camera, yet for many videographers and hybrid stills / video shooters it is in fact exactly that. 

5. Battery Life.

Now Panasonic haven't always been good at this, but with the GH3 they have really got their act together. Kirk Tuck refers to it in the link at the top of the page. With the battery grip attached and two batteries installed I can shoot all day. Panasonic estimates 1000 shots from one battery charge, which for a camera running constant live view is remarkable. Plus you can see the advantage for video shooters. I am constantly frustrated by how unimportant some manufacturers think battery life is. Fuji as well as Olympus being obvious examples. Any notion of a 'professional' or 'serious enthusiast' camera with poor battery life is without foundation. To provide all sorts of bells and whistles with a 'snapshooters' battery is seriously slack and Olympus cameras have always had very poor battery life. It's sods law that the great pictures always appear when you are changing your battery, so the less you have to do that the better. Particularly since Olympus (and Panasonic for that matter) seem disinclined to put a way to view accurate battery power usage in their cameras.

So what supposed advantages would the Olympus have?

1. Focus peaking.

For someone who uses MF lenses a lot, this is an omission from the GH3. I've read somewhere that Panasonic says it's 'difficult' with this sensor (the same one as in the OM-D E-M5 of course which doesn't have FP either) I would really like to see this in the GH3 and it is a distinct disadvantage.

2. In body stabilisation.

Now this is touted as an advantage for the Olympus. But is it? I would point out that Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and Panasonic have gone for lens stabilisation, whereas only Olympus and Pentax of the big manufacturers use in-body stabilisation.(I know the GX7 has both, but unfortunately body IS is disabled for video in that camera.) Personally I prefer lens stabilisation as my experiences are that it works better. Why? Well, lens stabilisation can be adjusted individually for each lens, whereas in-body stabilisation is pretty much 'one size fits all'. With the sensor moving to compensate, there are also real problems with long lenses and how much the sensor is able to adjust to compensate for the extra shake. There is a limit to this, I imagine, and IS seems to kick in quicker and more usefully with a lens, some ultra-telephoto examples of which have very serious IS systems installed. I'm also not sure I really like the idea of my sensor moving about. The sensor in Pentax cameras that have in body IS actually rattles about!! What this means for the long term reliability of the camera does concern me. There is also the issue, some writers point out, that a stabilised image coming to the sensor from the lens enables faster and more accurate AF and metering. Finally, body image stabilisation produces some weird and not very attractive effects for video and has done so on all the Olympus and Pentax bodies I've used shooting video, particularly when panning the cameras.

So for me, I'll forego the 'advantages' of using image stabilised MF third-party lenses on my GH3. Firstly because when I have used similar lenses on Olympus cameras I'm not convinced that there is anywhere near as much IS going on as with my Panasonic IS lenses on Panasonic bodies and secondly a Panasonic lens with IS is usable on both m4/3 manufacturers bodies. I would point out that the most stable hand-held video I have ever used on any camera / lens combination are with the GH3 / G6 and the new 14-140mm zoom and somewhat surprisingly on my Fuji X-E2 with the 18-55mm zoom, with OIS, which is actually, again surprising to me, the best of the lot.

So there it is. 5-1 to the GH3, since I don't count in-body IS as a particular advantage for me. OK 5-1½  then.

Now I must make it clear that this is all related to what and how I shoot and this is not an Olympus bashing exercise. Realising that some Olympus fans can be like a pack of wolves on heat, I need to make this point. I'm sure the E-M1 is a fabulous camera and unless you have the issues above that I have then it will probably suit a lot of users very well. I'm just trying to redress the balance here and point out that Olympus really doesn't have all the answers as far a m4/3 goes and there are some issues that need to be seriously addressed. For example how long Olympus can 'get away' with treating video as an afterthought and putting 'mickey mouse' batteries in their cameras I don't know, but if they want to be taken seriously and justify the 'professional' tag that they (not me) are putting on cameras like the E-M1, then they will have to improve these deficiencies at some point. They make great looking sexy cameras, which I suspect is one reason for much of the enthusiasm they generate, but as well as being 'show ponies' they have to prove themselves as serious 'workhorses' as well. (And my apologies for the somewhat clumsy equestrian metaphor!!) 

All original material on this blog is © Soundimageplus

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

For comment and discussion join the Soundimageplus Blog Readers Group at Google+
about soundimageplus 
follow by email  
soundimageplus on Vimeo