Monday, September 17, 2012

After more leaks than a sieve, the Panasonic GH3 is revealed

Perhaps it was the multiple leaks of specifications to photo websites, or Panasonic itself posting a promotional video on YouTube and then taking it down, or yesterday, Samy's Photo posting specifications and pictures, but today's announcement of Panasonic's new GH3 seems like an anti-climax. It shouldn't, since Digital Photography Review writes that only the Canon 5D Mark III has a higher 2K video bitrate than the the GH3, and the Canon DSLR is priced more than $2,000 (U.S.) higher. The GH2 was a firmware hacker's dream, with the video bitrate taken all the way to 176Mbps in AVCHD with All I-frames, while the maximum video ISO was increased from 3200 to 12,800. The problem was that the some GH2s became unstable when run at this insane bitrate (most users chose to use a more reasonable 44Mbps, which is still much faster than the maximum 28Mbps of AVCHD 2.0 at 1080p60.)

Panasonic has taken the hackers' improvements to heart, and has implemented a maximum bitrate of 50Mbps in 1080p60, or 72 to 80Mbps in All-I Frame at 1080/24p or 30p, both using H.264 compression. (All the frame and bit rates of AVCHD 2.0 are also supported.) Its maximum ISO, in both still and video mode, is now 12,800. This gives the GH3 virtually the same performance as the GH2 with hacked firmware, without requiring hacking or voiding the camera's warranty. In order to provide better performance while maintaining the camera's reliability and stability, the GH3 has a new three-core Venus 7 CPU.

The GH3 also supports timecode in H.264 and AVCHD modes, and it has a headphone jack for audio monitoring, in addition to a microphone jack and manual control over audio levels. The HDMI out can be configured with overlays on or off, so it can be used for monitoring and with an external recorder. (It's not clear whether the GH2's HDMI quirks, which made it unusable in many cases with external recorders, have been fixed in the GH3.)

The GH3 is no slouch as a still camera, either:
  • 16 Megapixel sensor
  • 1.7 million dot OLED viewfinder
  • 614K dot 3" OLED touchscreen display
  • Autofocus speed of .07 seconds
  • 6 fps maximum continuous frame rate
  • Memory card slot for SD, SDHC and SDXC cards
  • A fully sealed magnesium alloy frame
  • Built-in Wi-Fi
The U.S. price of the GH3, $1,300 for body only, is comparable to the price of the GH2 when it was first launched, but the GH3 is much more camera. The GH2 became the budget "go-to" DSLR-style camera for many cinematographers, even though its Micro Four-Thirds sensor is smaller than APS-C or full-frame. With its faster native bitrate, and a faster CPU that hackers may well be able to tune for even more outrageous performance, the GH3 is likely to supplant the GH2 as the bargain camera of choice for cinematographers.

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