Except for an optical viewfinder, the Panasonic GH3 offers much more in terms of handling than your standard DSLR camera. For example, the only DSLR today to come with a touch-screen is Canon's 650D. While the 650D's touch controls work well, the GH3's touch interface offers much more. A touch panel slides out with two Function buttons, and the GH3 focuses a lot faster in Live View than the 650D.
The GH3 also offers different ways to touch to focus, depending on which mode and AF focusing mode you're in. In PASM modes, selecting AF modes other than 23-area will engage a free, tracking AF point which you can tap to focus anywhere on the screen, even in the far corners. In 23-area AF mode tapping the screen will constrain AF to specific areas. In iA mode tapping will engage the same free, tracking AF point.
It's a convenient way to quickly dictate to the camera your focal point and easily one of the highlights of Panasonic's G cameras. What's even cooler, in theory at least, is a feature called Touch Pad AF. With your eye to the electronic viewfinder (EVF), you can still use the monitor as a touchpad to manipulate the AF points in the same way. But we found that in use, our nose would accidentally activate the Touch Pad easily, so after a while we turned this feature off.
And of course, the touch-screen monitor swivels to give you more freedom while shooting.
The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is an OLED finder with 1.7 million dots, which should make it very high resolution. But it suffers from what seem to be limited angles of view, shift your eye a little off-center and areas of the image appear fuzzy. It also looked a little dim to us, and there's no option to increase or decrease the screen's brightness. The diopter is also very stiff and small, making it hard to adjust. It's not the best EVF around, but neither is it the worst.
Instead of a single rear dial which you could push to rotate between functions, the GH3 comes with two dials, one on top and one on the rear. Both dictate shutter speed and aperture values in their respective priority modes, exposure compensation can be handled by either when the EC button is held down or by the rear control wheel, and in Manual they handle shutter speed and aperture each. It's a system that should feel immediately familiar to anyone who's ever handled a twin-dial DSLR camera.
There are three dedicated buttons on the top plate, below the top dial, for white balance, ISO and exposure compensation. It takes a little bit of muscle memory to dial them, Panasonic tries to help differentiate the buttons with a small ridge on the ISO one but it's too small to be noticeable. A combined AF/AE lock sits inside a switch for focus modes, and a top dial on the left determines shooting modes.
The best thing about the buttons and the touch-screen controls is how they complement each other – for example, you can change ISO by pressing the ISO button on top or by going into the Quick menu using the Fn2 button.
While the battery compartment seems firmly sealed against the elements, the SD card slot's cover appears more flimsy. We're not sure if this side of the camera will stand up to that many water droplets but it’s something to watch out for (in contrast, the rubber seals on the other side for the ports are quite tight). The single SD card slot also highlights a disappointment with the GH3, with the higher video bit-rates and bigger files they generate it would have been great if the GH3 had offered a secondary slot for more storage.
Panasonic offers an optional battery grip for the GH3, which effectively doubles its shooting capability from approximately 500 to 1000 shots. The battery grip also comes with the top three buttons and helps provide a good vertical grip. Using the GH3 with the battery makes it feel like you're holding a miniature Nikon D4 than a mirrorless system camera. Unlike the Olympus E-M5's battery grip however, the back of the grip only offers a single button (AF/AE lock) instead of two Function buttons – if the AF/AE lock button could have been customizable it would definitely have been a bonus.
The GH3 comes with built-in Wi-Fi, which lets you do a number of things. With the Lumix Link app for iOS and Android, you can use your smartphone or tablet as a wireless remote. You can also link up to the camera and transfer images over, so no more waiting till you're home to upload your latest images to Facebook.
The remote control feature displays a low-res preview of the shot, and the app gives you the ability to change settings like exposure, white balance, shutter speed and aperture (depending on the shooting mode you're in). The app is a little buggy, the aperture setting option disappears every once in a while and the app always has to reestablish a connection once you've locked the phone. The UI could also do with a bit of polish; the shutter speed and aperture controls are tiny while the sharing screen is a drag - literally, you have to drag the photos you want to share into the corner target. It's difficult and silly.
That said, the Wi-Fi option does open some interesting options – discounting the visual lag between what the camera sees and what your phone sees, if you turn the GH3's electronic shutter on, you then have a soundless camera which you can tap to shoot remotely, something perhaps a wildlife photographer or secret spy might appreciate.
With a DLNA compatible TV, you can also display images. There's also a feature to send images automatically to your smart device after they're taken, but we couldn't get it to work with our iPhone 4 and the Lumix Link app.