I have spent quite a bit of time in the mountains, now in summer and winter, with the Panasonic GH3 and the Canon 5D MarkIII. I have gotten to know the limitations of both. More importantly, I have gotten to know when one camera’s benefits outweigh those relative limitations. After a winter of carrying both cameras, occasionally at the same time, while ski touring in the Austrian Alps, I found myself convinced that the GH3 was for video and the 5D MarkIII is for still photography. They each offer the beauty of doing both when needed, but clearly have different primary purposes in my hands.
In early July I was invited to follow Stephan Haase, a Red Bull X-Alps athlete, on his bid to complete the 1031km paragliding/hiking event from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco. For a week, I ran and walked up and down the mountains carrying both cameras as a one man multimedia outfit. I used both cameras constantly during that week for both photography and videography. Nearly every waking moment was goal directed movement with only one chance to get my shot. I came away from the experience much more adept at handling both cameras. It strengthened my resolve regarding the still image capabilities of the 5D MarkIII. You can see the shots on my Red Bull X-Alps gallery. However, the GH3 closed the gap by maintaining its superiority in regards to video, while at the same time producing some fantastic images like this on on the Zugspitze in Germany. The timelapse function turned out to be amazing and required no fuss. My video, “Turn Point”, will be released in September 2013 for you to further see the capabilities of the GH3 for video.
I got inspired to post this follow-up after receiving an email from Bjarne Salén. He is a notable film maker in the world of extreme skiing, especially for his work with ski mountaineer Andreas Fransson. He is going into extremely difficult and/or remote terrain to capture his imagery; places that require a careful balance between quality and portability. We communicated a couple of years ago when I launched my Backcountry Ski Stash website, a source for guides, services, and film makers to reach their audience. Here is his email which he kindly agreed to have posted. You owe it to yourself to check out the links to his videos. I follow it with my reply specifically to him, but hope it will also be useful to others.
My name is Bjarne Salén and I am working as a professional film maker. I produce web episodes, documentaries etc for brands like Salomon, Oakley, The North Face, and Haglöfs. These are a couple of my films:
TEMPTING FEAR: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ixcFL8hOzGc
REACHING MY LIMIT: https://vimeo.com/55676773
I’m looking to buy the Canon 5D Mark III or the Panasonic Gh3.
Whats your opinion on these cameras?
I do mostly filming in difficult environment as you can see on the films above.
Filming 90%. Photo 10%.
Having a some canon lenses that I love!
Looking forward to hearing from you as soon as you can answer this, need to invest in a new camera on monday or tuesday before I leave for next trip.
All the best, Bjarne
Thanks for your question. I recently finished a piece for Five Ten covering the Red Bull X-Alps. I was lucky enough to work with Stephan Haase. He is an athlete like Andreas, in that he is a good writer and a great narrator. Those traits set videos like yours apart from many extreme sports videos. Your work is great and displays a high level of commitment to telling difficult stories in the world’s biggest mountains.
Given your comment regarding Canon lenses, I assume you are currently using a Canon DSLR and question abandoning that glass. It is not important in answering your question, because for the cost of the 5D MarkIII you can get a GH3 and a nice set of lenses for it. I do get this question pretty often as you can imagine. Most of the time I go into the standard “it all depends” conversation. In your case, there is only one answer if you are looking for one camera. The GH3 is amazing for the work that you do. The video quality is on par or better than the 5D Mark III with a weight and size that is amazing. You clearly depend on telephoto to capture Andreas Fransson in action. You are almost always outside, so you could forgo the weight of the 70-200 f2.8 and get the lighter weight f4. That on the 5D MarkIII comes to 1620g and 25cm long. The GH3 with equivalent lense is 910g and 18cm! The real difference starts to come in as you add more lenses, with the GH3 being at least half the weight on average. You could add the 200-600 35mm equivalent to the GH3 with 70-200mm equivalent and still be under the 5D MarkIII weight.
These numbers are easy enough to find, but after many days in the mountains, I find it is worth mentioning what a huge benefit the size and weight are. At a 90/10 video to photo ratio, you would essentially be getting these bonuses with absolutely no sacrifice in image quality. I just do not see how you could justify any other camera if you were taking only one. It is packed with usable features. Two of the most notable for your purposes is the Extended Telephoto and built-in timelapse. The former takes advantage of sensor size to create more reach without sacrifice to image quality. The latter is an extremely simply, clean, and effective interface to creating fantastic timelapses, especially in difficult places. See my recent post about the fantastic time-lapse function compared to the 5D MarkIII: Panasonic GH3 Test #4: Timelapse
There are several things that you should know about the GH3:
- As I already mentioned, the still image quality does not compare to the 5D MarkIII, especially for action photography. Images of a quality for commercial use are difficult to achieve. However, the images from the GH3 still excellent for documentation and web platforms. One could also argue that you are more likely to have it on difficult journeys and thus get spectacular composition.
- I have only had one disappointed with the video of the GH3. It has several gimmicks like fast and slow motion frame rates that I stay away from. One the I have come to like is the auto focus during video in special situations. My one disappointment was in the snow. While using AF, everytime I would hit record the exposure would completely blow out before coming back to normal. It is very odd and the workaround is to start recording well before your subject enters the frame; suboptimal in that you need the subject to set the AF point. Not a deal breaker for me.
- There is a definite magenta bias coming off of the sensor. It is fairly easy to correct, but makes getting rich blues a bit more of a challenge than with the 5D MarkIII.
- While it may get it, for now RAW video is not available on the GH3. RAW may do a lot for your very distant skier footage.
- Not important for video, but major for photography. The flash solution from Panasonic is simply horrible, while Canon’s is amazing (but the same cost as a GH3).
Best Regards, Tracy
Please comment one and all with any specific questions you might have regarding the difference between the GH3 and 5D MarkIII and how those difference related to your specific needs.