Like the GF2, the GF3 has a combination touch screen and traditional button interface, but Panasonic has replaced the discrete four-way nav buttons and jog dial with a more point-and-shoot-like combination button/dial. To prevent accidentally scrolling your way into bizarre settings, the wheel ignores the first couple of turns before activation. I'm torn about the implementation. I think it's necessary to accident-proof the scroll wheel--heaven knows I have enough of them--but when you're trying to adjust shutter speed or aperture, that lag can get disorienting and make you overshoot.
Some people may find the GF3 a little too small, but it felt reasonably comfortable to me, thanks to the relatively thick body and small grip. You should definitely try before you buy, though, to make sure you like it.
The camera feels solid and well-built, even a bit heavy, though it's the lightest in its class thus far. It's substantially smaller than the GF2, and Panasonic achieved that primarily by dropping the hot shoe and EVF connector, and moving the pop-up flash to sit directly over the lens. The flash is cleverly designed; you can tilt it back (and hold it) to bounce or simply as a quick way to reduce the intensity.
|Olympus E-PL3||Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3||Samsung NX100||Sony Alpha NEX-C3||Sony Alpha NEX-5|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||12.3-megapixel Live MOS||12.1-megapixel Live MOS||14.6-megapixel CMOS||16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS||14.2-megapixel Exmor CMOS|
|17.3mm x 13mm||17.3 x 13.0mm||23.4mm x 15.6mm||23.5mm x 15.6mm||23.4mm x 15.6mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 200 - ISO 12,800||ISO 100 - ISO 6,400||ISO 100 - ISO 3,200/6,400 (expanded)||ISO 200 - ISO 12,800||ISO 200 - ISO 12,800|
|Continuous shooting||4.1 fps
(5.5fps without image stabilization)
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
18 JPEG/ 6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
unlimited JPEG/8 raw
(7fps with fixed exposure)
magnification/ effective magnification
|Optional||None||Optional plug-in EVF
(98 percent coverage)
|Autofocus||35-area contrast AF||23-area contrast AF||15-point contrast AF||25-point contrast AF||25-point contrast AF|
|Shutter speed||60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes; 1/4,000 FP sync||60-1/4,000 sec; 1/160 x-sync||30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes||30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync||30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync|
|Metering||324 area||144 zone||247 segment||49 zone||40 segment|
|Flash||Included optional||Yes||No||Included optional||Included optional|
|Image stabilization||Sensor shift||Optical||Optical||Optical||Optical|
|Video||1080/60i AVCHD @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps|| 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps
720/60p @17 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
|720/30p H.264 MPEG-4||720/30p H.264 MPEG-4||1080/60i AVCHD|
|Audio||Stereo; mic input||Mono||Mono||Stereo; mic input||Stereo; mic input|
|LCD size||3-inch tilting
|3-inch fixed touch screen
|3-inch fixed AMOLED
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||300 shots||320 shots||420 shots||400 shots||330 shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||4.3 x 2.5 x 1.5||4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3||4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4||4.4 x 2.4 x 0.9||4.4 x 2.4 x 1.6|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||11 (est)||9.3||12.2||10.7||10.2 (without flash); 10.9 (with flash)|
|Mfr. price||n/a||$499.95 (body only, est)||n/a||n/a||n/a|
|$699.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 msc lens)||$599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)||$499.99 (est, with 20-50mm f3.5-5.6 i-Function lens)||$649.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens)||$699.99 (with 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 lens)|
|$699.99 (est, with 17mm lens)||$699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens)||$599 (with 50-200mm lens)||$599.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens)||$649.99 (with 16mm f2.8 lens)|
|Ship date||September 2011||July 2011||October 2010||August 2011||July 2010|
Also on the top of the camera is the iA (intelligent auto) button, which provides a quick way to jump in and out of auto mode. You have to switch between that and the slightly more advanced iA+ mode, which gives you a few beyond-basic controls over exposure and depth of field, via the virtual mode dial. If you're upgrading from a point-and-shoot, Panasonic's iA+ mode will serve you well. But as with all autofocus systems, its completely automatic AF (23-area) makes poor guesses about the subject of the photo.
A small movie record button sits to the right of the shutter; it's a little too small and difficult to feel, but if you shoot a lot of video you can get used to it.
The back has a defined indentation for your thumb that could use a bit more grippiness--it and the grip feel a little too slippery. A thumbwheel controls scrolling and shooting settings like aperture and shutter speed, while the four-way navigation buttons it circumscribes offer direct access to exposure compensation, white balance, drive mode, and autofocus mode (face detection, tracking, 23-area, 1-area, and pinpoint). The Pinpoint focus basically allows you autofocus with pixel-level accuracy. But I tend to use it as a general AF mode because it pops up a magnified area as a visual aid, just like in manual focus. The center button brings up the menus. Buttons on the back include a too-flat-to-feel and hard-to-see playback and Quick Menu.
As with its contemporary Panasonic models, the GF3 has a well-designed interface that can function via the touch screen or using the navigational controls. I especially like how you can customize which options appear on the Quick Menu, either in advance or on the fly. The camera also supports three sets of custom settings, though Panasonic uses it to save operational settings plus exposure mode (for example, aperture-priority) rather than shooting settings, which I find a lot less useful.
Shooting modes include the usual PASM, plus two full and semiautomatic, scene modes, and Creative Control, Panasonic's special effects modes. There's a complete set of useful manual features for shooting stills, though nothing particularly noteworthy or unique. The video controls are limited. Instead of standard control over shutter speed you have to choose among a few options--1/50 sec, 1/60 sec, 1/100 sec, or 1/120 sec--which live under Flicker Reduction settings.
I really like the GF3 as a step-up model; longtime dSLR users will probably find it too small and constraining without an EVF, but for point-and-shoot graduates the size should feel comfortable and you'll gain the speed and quality boost you're looking for. Though it gets bigger with the zoom kit lens, it's still a lighter and ultimately smaller combination than Sony's NEX models. However, the NEX and forthcoming Olympus E-PL3's tilting LCDs may make those options compelling alternatives.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
|Time to first shot||Raw shot-to-shot time||Typical shot-to-shot time||Shutter lag (dim)||Shutter lag (typical)|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)