I don’t want to make this a full review of the camera so I’m just going to state some of my initial observations and differences between this model and it’s predecessor.
I have used the GH2 extensively over the last two years and besides it’s rather poor low light performance always found it to be a pleasure to use as a lightweight travel photography camera. A lot of my images from Havana as well as from Japan have been taken with the GH2, including the occasional video clip. Being involved with moving computer graphics and vfx in my day job I don’t particularly find the video features that interesting even though they are nice to have.
1) The body is a little chunkier, heavier and feels a little bit more solid. The profile of the newly designed grip feels more comfortable in my hands and the camera is finally weather sealed which is a feature I find very important. The number of weather sealed lenses for the MTF system is still quite small, but it’s definitely a good direction for both panasonic and olympus to be taking.
2) The viewfinder appears to be smaller compared to the GH2. I’m not sure if this is just an optical illusion or not, but there is more of a tunnel feel compared to the previous model. The viewfinder quality itself is nicer due to the OLED technology and the display refresh rate is noticeably faster as well.
3) The articulated OLED touch screen is a lot nicer than the previous model and the touch response feels much more fluid. I would say it’s closer to a modern smart phone than what the previous screen felt like.
4) There are more buttons all over the camera, including more customizable function buttons (more on this later). The click wheel that the GH2 had is gone and the circular 4 button layout on the back of the camera has been replaced with a scroll wheel.
I find the lack of the click wheel somewhat annoying but maybe it’s something I will get used to over time. The buttons for ISO, exposure compensation and white balance are located at the top near the shutter release and are harder to locate without taking the eye off the viewfinder compared to the old arrangement.
5) The battery is bigger and panasonic claims 500+ shots per charge. When paired with the optional vertical grip which takes an additional battery this number doubles. So far I must say the battery performance is excellent.
6) The vertical grip feels nice and comfortable and includes an extra attachment point for hand straps.
7) The electronic shutter which is off by default is amazing and totally silent but for some reason is limited to 1600iso.
8) All the customizable function keys but one (fn4) have about 10 pages of options that can be mapped to the key. For some reason the function 4 button is limited to 3 pages and is the only button comfortably accessible when the camera is in a horizontal or vertical position while the optional grip is being used. I was hoping to map the manual focus assist function to this button so I can access it in both camera positions. I hope a firmware update fixes this as there is no reason for this button to have less options than the others.
9) The SD card slot door has a tendency to slide open when the hand moves off the camera with moderate friction.
10) The high iso performance is visibly better than the GH2 but obviously don’t expect the same performance as a full frame camera.
11) Still no auto iso in manual mode. This is a ridiculous omission of a feature that is present on the Olympus OMD EM-5 and countless other cameras. I want to be able to use a manual focus lens with an manual aperture, set my shutter speed to what I want and have the iso adjust itself automatically. I hope Panasonic will do something about this in a firmware update.
12) New pinpoint focus mode is awesome for precise auto focus on a particular point in the scene. The results are as good as manual focusing carefully on a set point in the scene.
13) The manual for the camera reads like an auto translate from Japanese to English. Many pages are wasted on useless features such as the various “creative effects” with amusing names like Impressive art, silky skin, sweet child’s face, cute dessert among many others.
I will be stress testing the camera a lot more over the next two weeks in Santiago de Cuba. Because the internet access in Cuba is rather spotty, I will be updating the blog upon my return.