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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3

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First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3

3:41 /

If you're looking for a camera that's not quite as big as a dSLR but doesn't skimp on hardware controls or features like an articulated LCD, EVF and stereo full HD video, the G3 is a great option. But performance is hit-and-miss for shooting action, so you may end up having to go with something just a bit bigger, anyway.

Hi! I'm Lori Grunin, Senior Editor with CNET and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3. The successor to the G2, the G3 is substantially smaller but it's still pretty large to be considered a compact alternative to a dSLR. In fact, although I like the G3 very much because it's got great photo quality, solid performance, comfortable shooting design, and a reasonable feature set. I'm really still not sure who it's for. It's designed for people who like a little more half in their camera. It's got a good grip compared to the more compact alternatives but it's smaller and lighter than a dSLR or dSLR size ILC's like its big brother the GH2 or Sony's SLT models. It's very comfortable and well balanced and the grip is just the right size, at least for my hands. The EVF is large and bright with a sufficient refresh rate, but like all competitors, it gets sluggish and low life. I'm also a big fan of the bright, sharp, articulated touch screen LCD. There's no automatic switching between the EVF and the LCD which doesn't bother me but some people might find that annoying. As I've mentioned with previous Panasonic models, the touch-screen user interface works for two reasons because the big virtual buttons are easy to hit precisely and the screen is efficiently responsive. It also works because if you don't like it, you don't have to use it. Almost every function is duplicated by traditional direct-access controls. The Quick menu and display buttons can be mapped to user-defined options. The jog dial controls exposure compensation as well as shutter and aperture adjustments and you can also customize the Quick menu with the settings that you use most. It's just really nice. The movie record button now sits under your thumb-- which is a much better location-- and Panasonic is done away with the movie mode on the dial. There are two custom slots on the dial, one of which holds three sets of options. Panasonic has replaced its Film looks with an underwhelming handful of Creative Control mode special effects. Things like Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, and High Dynamic. In addition, Panasonic offers both its Intelligent Auto and its Intelligent Auto Plus modes. Rather than being an electronic effect, the defocus physically adjusts the lens aperture and you can hear it changing as you scroll through the options. Other notable features include the bracketing, which supports up to 7 frames in one-third stop increments, for a new high of up to three stops. Our test shots for the G3 at varying ISO sensitivities look much better than those of the G2 in part due to the much-improved JPEG processing. Unfortunately, there are [unk] I needed but wasn't available at review time. The photos look good up through ISO 800, with just a little softening from luminance noise reduction kicking in at ISO 1600. More importantly, the JPEG artifacts I've seen in previous models at lower ISO sensitivities or high ISO's in good light are gone. My one gripe about the images: For shoots without fine edges, the level of sharpening looks good, delivering a natural appearance. But edges on fine objects like hair or fur display a visible aliasing in the standard setting. In other words, they look kinda jaggy. If you're looking for a camera that's not quite as big as the dSLR but doesn't skimp on the hardware controls or features, the G3 is one of my favorite options. But performance is hit-and-miss for shooting Action, so you may end up having to go with something just a bit bigger anyway. I'm Lori Grunin and this is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3.

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