The more compact version of Panasonic's G series of interchangeable lens cameras is now in its third generation with the GF3, and things have changed a lot. This isn't truly what you could call a successor to the, given that it's much smaller, loses some key functionalities and is targeted towards a point-and-shoot up-grader rather than a dSLR down-grader.
Design and features
Like the GF2, this camera uses the same 12.1-megapixel sensor and image processor, but the whole camera has been given a nip and tuck, and has been put through the dryer on the hottest temperature. It's lost the hotshoe, added a hump over the lens and is 16.7 per cent smaller than the GF2, Panasonic claims.
The GF3 is quite pleasant to hold in the hand, although with the 14mm pancake lens attached it does feel rather dainty — a definite "try before you buy" situation. While the Panasonic doesn't feel as swamped by a larger lens as its competitor, the, we wouldn't want to be putting anything too zoomy on it, given its small stature. The button configuration differs slightly from the GF2, with the main control buttons squished up along the top panel, and the mono microphone relegated all the way to the other side of the camera. The 3-inch touchscreen houses most of the remaining shooting controls, although there is still a physical scroll wheel and a four-way directional pad at the back, should touching not appeal.
Panasonic includes a range of automatic and manual modes to make the transition from compact to ILC (interchangeable lens camera) easy, including its regular intelligent auto-mode (activated either via the touchscreen or just by pressing the dedicated button at the top — helpfully, it glows blue when active). Intelligent auto plus, a mode carried over from the G3, allows the user to adjust exposure, white balance and the defocus area. There's also full PASM control, as well as scene modes and creative control mode that applies different colour effects, including a new "miniature" addition (or tilt-shift effect).
A new pinpoint AF mode allows for more precise focusing by enlarging the focus area when using the touchscreen. One thing that the GF3 does miss out on, compared to earlier versions, is the accessory port. This means that there's no way to attach a viewfinder or any other accessories for the G system. The GF3 is compatible with the optional 3D lens. Connectivity options include an HDMI port and A/V-out port, which uses a proprietary connector found in the box.
Hands on gallery
|Panasonic GF3||Olympus E-PL2||Samsung NX100|
|12.1-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||16.2-megapixel APS-C CMOS||12.3-megapixel Live MOS (Four Thirds type)||14.6-megapixel APS-C CMOS|
|3-inch, 460,000-dot touchscreen||3-inch, flip-down 921,600-dot screen||3-inch, 460,000-dot screen||3-inch, 610,000-dot AMOLED screen|
|Pop-up flash||Optional flash attachment||Pop-up flash||Optional hotshoe flash|
|Full HD video (1080i, AVCHD)||HD video (720p, H.264)||HD video (720p, Motion JPEG)||HD video (720p, H.264)|
General shooting metrics (in seconds)
- Time to first shot
- RAW shot-to-shot time
- JPEG shot-to-shot time
- Shutter lag
- Panasonic Lumix GF22.214.171.124.2
- Panasonic Lumix GF21.01.30.80.2
- Samsung NX1001.13.71.30.3
- Sony NEX-C126.96.36.199.5
Continuous shooting speed (longer bars indicate better performance)
- Panasonic GF33.8
- Panasonic GF23
- Samsung NX1002.5
- Sony NEX-C32.5
Panasonic rates the battery at approximately 320-340 shots.
Like the earlier compact G series cameras, the GF3 does a very good job of turning out pleasing photos in the majority of situations. Colours on default settings are bright and vibrant without being cartoonish, though there are some occasions when the camera will blow out highlights. As we mentioned earlier in the GF2 review, the minimum focusing distance of the 14mm lens isn't great, so avoid using it for any macro work. The lens is sharpest at the centre of the frame, with some drop-off farther out towards the edges.
While the autofocus system is definitely fast (Panasonic claims it's the world's fastest level of Light Speed AF), sometimes it's not accurate. We found a particular issue in dark, indoor situations where the subject wasn't in the centre of the frame and the flash wasn't used to illuminate the scene, with the AF often picking the wrong target to focus on. The touchscreen can take a little coaxing to respond to a light touch, which is why we resorted to using the physical buttons where possible. There are a number of other usability quirks, too; it's really easy to cover the microphone when recording video and common shooting options are hidden beyond what appears on the touchscreen. You'll have to decide if these are make-or-break issues for you.
A 100 per cent crop showing the difference between RAW and JPEG processing on the GF3. (Credit: CBSi)