Canon T3i vs Panasonic GH4: Which is better on image quality?

Posted by Valentina Vee on

While many may think it silly to compare the Canon Rebel T3i against the newest “it” camera on the block – the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4, I have my reasons. First of all – I own both cameras, therefore making this a valid concern for me. I knew that buying the GH4, which clocks in at a full $1200 more expensive than the T3i, would be an upgrade. But with a smaller sensor (the T3i’s APS-C 22.3×14.9mm vs the GH4’s Four thirds 17.3×13.0mm) and less megapixels (T3i’s 17.9 vs GH4’s 16.1), I had to make sure that my sensor sacrifice was compensated by overall image quality.

cameara vs

As someone who takes headshots and studio portraiture, I know I’ve always gotten great images with my T3i. Four years ago, when I had to chose between a Canon 5Dmkii and a Canon T3i, I chose the T3i because of three reasons. First off, I was able to afford a substantial set of lenses and lights for the same price as only the Canon 5Dmkii body would have cost. Secondly, the T3i had a flip-out screen, which I could use to my advantage when self-taping YouTube videos. Thirdly, and perhaps most importanlty – most of my clients couldn’t tell the difference in quality. They were happy to get an image with a “blurry background.” And with the T3i, I’ve done pretty well. Check out the images below for some of my favorite shots with it:

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.18.29 AM


Now: for the test. I kept the same lens (with a Fotodiox adapter on the GH4) and the same aperture/shutter speed/ISO settings on both cameras. Those particular settings do not matter on this test, which simply looks at image quality. The straight-from-camera results:

before color 1



The GH4 tends to skew a bit green no matter what setting it is on whereas the T3i skews pink/blue. I asked my model which image she preferred and she immediately went to the T3i’s image which, especially straight on the viewfinder, was noticeably better. I was starting to get worried. I color-corrected the T3i image first:

before and after color grading T3i - 1

I got my usual, nice, clean image. While a little bit more “dimensional” and “contrasty” than my current tastes, this works well as an image for almost any studio portraiture client. Secondly, I color-corrected the GH4’s image to match the colors of the T3i’s. However, it took about twice as long to get an image I was satisfied with:

before and after color grading GH4 - 1

I was totally amazed at the dynamic range coming from this camera! I know its crowning feature isn’t its still image capabilities, but wow – what a difference! To highlight the change in image quality, I put the two images side-by-side.

after color grading 1

The face is softer while still having dimension. The hair is crisper, with more defined lines. Perhaps the greatest comparison comes on a close-up inspection of details:

after color correction detail 1

Notice in particular how you can see every grain stand out on the shoulder fabric of her dress. The hair is also sharper and more in-focus. And no – this is not a focus error, as both times my focal spot was right in the model’s irises and I did not change the aperture of the lens in either case.

There are a lot more things I could do with the finished photo to make it ready for the customer: blemish reduction, frequency separation, dodging/burning certain areas for more dimension and greater angles. However, for this test, I think I’m satisfied in saying that I will NOT be using my T3i for portraiture any longer. Yes – it has a less severe crop because of its bigger sensor but the image quality of the Panasonic GH4 doesn’t match it one bit. I’ll just have to be aware that color-correction will take up a lot more time than usual.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 10.34.14 AM

THE QUESTION REMAINS: Which camera should YOU buy? If you’re not interested in 4K video recording and if you don’t care about the minute differences I went over in this blog, I suggest you buy a Canon T3i. After all, it’s the clear winner in Snapsort’s comparison of the these two bodies. It’s still an amazing camera that takes great photos and will last you a long time. You’ll be able to buy lots of lenses for it and invest money in other things, like lights. Make sure to also get Magic Lantern installed onto the camera for things like zebras and focus-peaking, like I did. However – if you want a powerhouse all-around camera and you’re done dealing with Canon, I can’t think of a better one than the Panasonic GH4.

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