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Panasonic Lumix d review: Panasonic Lumix d

Panasonic Lumix d

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Lori Grunin
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Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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9 min read

Succeeding the G2, the Lumix DMC-G3 is substantially smaller, but still pretty large to be considered a compact alternative to a dSLR. In fact, although I like the G3 very much--it's got great photo quality, solid performance, a comfortable shooting design and a reasonable feature set--I'm still not quite sure who it's for.

panasonic-lumix-dmc-g3-digital-camera-mirrorless-system-16-0-mpix-body-only-black.jpg
7.7

Panasonic Lumix d

The Good

The <b>Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3</b> delivers great photo quality and useful features like an articulated LCD and extended bracketing in a comfortable--if somewhat big--shooting design.

The Bad

While not bad, its performance is in the middle of the pack, and the battery doesn't last long enough.

The Bottom Line

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 one of my top 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.

The G3 has a new 16-megapixel sensor; though it's the same resolution as the GH2's, it's a less sophisticated (and cheaper) one. For the sensor, Panasonic has added on-chip noise reduction, similar to the scheme used by Sony's Exmor chips, along with the Venus Engine FHD image processor that's in the GF3 and GH2.

That change seems to have made a difference. 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 (since the necessary raw codec isn't available I can't yet tell if the image comes off the sensor cleaner). Photos look good up through ISO 800, with just a little softening from luminance noise reduction kicking in at ISO 1600. Most important, the JPEG artifacts I've seen in previous models at lower ISO sensitivities or high ISOs in good light were gone.

Colors look pleasing and saturated, but the slightly cool auto white balance in daylight shifts the reds, pinks, and greens just a little. Exposure is accurate and consistent.

My one gripe about the images: For shots 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 (jaggies) in the standard setting. You can scale back the sharpening, though.

The in-camera distortion control does pretty well straightening curvature with the 14-42mm kit lens, but it leaves just a smidge of vertical distortion that makes it appear as if the camera isn't parallel to the wall. This shouldn't be noticeable on most photographs though, unless you shoot a lot of architecture (for which you probably wouldn't want to use the kit lens, anyway).

The company has also changed the names of a couple of features to make them more approachable: Film mode is now Creative mode and My Colors has become Photo Style. I was not impressed with any of Panasonic's creative effects, in part because they're almost completely automatic--you can't adjust the intensity of the effect--and the results are pretty boring.

The G3 incorporates Panasonic's Light Speed autofocus system from its more recent cameras. That AF system drives the sensor at 120 frames per second to more quickly iterate down through the contrast autofocus decisionmaking process. While the G3's performance is better than the G2's, even with the updated AF system it's not as fast as the GH2 and can't keep up with the phase-detection-based SLT-A35 or comparable dSLRs. Panasonic claims the system is more accurate than phase detection at wider apertures, but in practice found it no better and no worse. I didn't run formal tests, however.

It still feels reasonably fast for most types of shooting. You can power on and shoot in about 0.9 second; it takes about 0.4 second to focus and shoot in good light, increasing to 0.7 second in dim. It takes 0.6 second for two sequential JPEG shots and 0.7 for sequential raw, but it seems to take a bit longer than usual to save raw+JPEG files than usual. It doesn't hold up shooting, but sometimes powering off the camera was held up by writing to the card. Shot-to-shot time incorporating flash recycling adds about a second. Continuous-shooting delivered 3.3fps, but as with many of these cameras successfully burst shooting is more a matter of luck than intent; similarly, the tracking autofocus can track within a ballpark area but as with most of these systems can't really differentiate, say, a squirrel's head from its tail or follow it fast enough. The other performance issue is battery life--as in, it's short.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 16-megapixel Live MOS 16.1-megapixel Live MOS
17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 17.3 x 13.0mm
Focal-length multiplier 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x 2.0x
Image processor version Venus Engine FHD Venus Engine HD II Venus Engine FHD Venus Engine FHD
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 160 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 3.8fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
3.2 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
4fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
5.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
None Electronic
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Electronic
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Electronic
1.5 million dots
100% coverage
1.42x/0.71x magnification
Autofocus 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF
Shutter speed 60-1/4000 sec; 1/160 x-sync 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb up to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes 1/4000 to 60 secs; bulb up to 2 minutes; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone 144 zone
Image stabilization Optical Optical Optical Optical
Video 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps
720/60p @17 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
AVCHD Lite 720/30p or Motion JPEG MOV AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps; 720/60p/50p @ 17 Mbps or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV AVCHD 1080/60i/50i/24p (60p sensor output) @ 24, 17, 13Mbps; 720/60p @ 17, 13Mbps
QuickTime MOV Motion JPEG
720/30p
Audio Mono Mono; mic input Stereo Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 320 shots 390 shots 250 shots 340 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 4.9 x 3.3 x 2.9 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces) 9.3 (est) 13.1 13.4 17.8
Mfr. Price n/a $540 (body only) $599.99 (body only) $899.95 (body only)
$599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $599.95 (with 14-45mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $699.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)
$699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $649.90 (with 14mm lens) n/a $1,499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)
Ship date July 2011 May 2010 June 2011 December 2010

Panasonic adds Pinpoint focus, which basically allows you autofocus with pixel-level accuracy. But I tend to use it as a general AF mode because it camera pops up a magnified area as a visual aid, just like in manual focus.

For people who like a camera with more heft--a good grip compared to the more compact alternatives but smaller and lighter than a dSLR or dSLR-size ILCs like the GH2 or Sony's SLTs--the G3 works well. It's very comfortable and well balanced, with a grip that's just the right size (at least for my hands).

The EVF is large and bright with a sufficient refresh rate, though like all it gets sluggish in low light. I'm also a big fan of the bright, sharp articulated touch-screen LCD. There's no automatic switching between the two, which doesn't bother me but some people may find the lack 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 sufficiently responsive. It also works because if you don't like it, you don't have to use it. And a feature I've been asking for has finally been implemented: you can turn off the touch focus to prevent accidents. That said, I'd rather you be able to toggle the capability or simply lock the selected focus area than have to completely live with it or live without it.

Canon EOS Rebel T3 Olympus E-PL2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Samsung NX100 Sony Alpha SLT-A35
Sensor (effective resolution) 12.2-megapixel CMOS 12.3-megapixel Live MOS 16-megapixel Live MOS 14.6-megapixel CMOS 16.2-megapixel Exmor HD CMOS
22.2 x 14.8mm (est) 17.3mm x 13mm 17.3 x 13.0mm 23.4mm x 15.6mm 23.5mm x 15.6mm
Focal-length multiplier 1.6x 2.0x 2.0x 1.5x 1.5x
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 200 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 6400 ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded) ISO 100 - ISO 12800
Continuous shooting 3 fps JPEG/2 fps raw
n/a
3.0 fps
n/a
4fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
3.0 fps
10 JPEG/ 3 raw
5.5 fps
18 JPEG/6 raw
Viewfinder
magnification/ effective magnification
Optical
95% coverage
0.80x/0.50x
Optional plug-in articulating EVF
1,440,000 dots
0.58x
Electronic
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Optional plug-in EVF
201,000 dots
0.55x
(98 percent coverage)
Electronic
0.46 inches/1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.1x/0.73x
Autofocus 9-pt phase-detection
center cross-type
11-area contrast AF 23-area contrast AF 15-point contrast AF 15-pt phase-detection
3 cross-type
Shutter speed 30-1/4000 sec; bulb; 1/200 x-sync 60-1/2000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes 60-1/4000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes 30-1/4000 sec.; bulb to 8 minutes 1/4000 to 30 secs; bulb; 1/160 x-sync
Metering 63-zone iFCL 324 area 144 zone 247 segment 49 zone
Flash Yes Yes Yes No Sensor shift
Image stabilization Optical Sensor shift Optical Optical Sensor shift
Video H.264 QuickTime MOV 720/25p/30p @ 38Mbps (est) 720p Motion JPEG AVI AVCHD 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps 720/30p H.264 MPEG-4 AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1440x1080 /30p @ 12Mbps
Audio Mono Mono; mic input Stereo Mono Stereo; mic input
LCD size 2.7 inches fixed
230,000 pixels
3-inch fixed
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed AMOLED
921,000 dots
3 inches fixed
921,600 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 700 shots 280 shots 250 shots 420 shots 420 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) n/a 4.5 x 2.8 x 1.6 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 4.7 x 2.8 x 1.4 4.9 x 3.6 x 3.3
Body operating weight (ounces) 17.5 12.7 13.4 12.2 16.1
Mfr. Price n/a n/a $599.99 (body only) n/a n/a
$599.99 (with 18-55mm IS II lens)
$599.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 msc lens) $699.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $499.99 (est, with 20-50mm f3.5-5.6 i-Function lens) $699.99 (with 18-55mm lens)
n/a $799.00 (est, with 14-42mm and 40-150mm lenses) n/a $599.00 (with 50-200mm lens) n/a
Ship date March 2011 January 2011 June 2011 October 2010 August 2011

Almost every function is duplicated by direct-access controls. The four-way navigation buttons bring up focus area, white balance, drive mode and ISO sensitivity. The Quick menu and display buttons can be mapped to user-defined options. In its default configuration, the Quick menu displays options for metering, AF mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance, drive mode, focus mode, image/video size and quality, and flash settings. A jog dial controls exposure compensation as well as shutter and aperture adjustments. You can also customize the Quick Menu with the settings you use most.

From the G2, Panasonic moved the movie record button from the top to the back, where it sits under your thumb--a much better location--and has done away with the movie mode on the dial. Panasonic simplified the top controls as well as the mode dial, but you don't really lose any capabilities. There are now two custom slots on the dial, one of which holds three sets of options. The portrait, landscape, action and macro scene modes (which most people tend not to use) are hidden with the less well-known scene modes, and Panasonic has replaced its Film looks with underwhelming handful of Creative Control mode special effects: expressive, retro, high key, sepia and high dynamic.

In addition, Panasonic offers both iA (intelligent auto) and iA+ modes. The latter adds user color, brightness adjustments, and defocus to full auto. Rather than being an electronic effect, the defocus physically adjusts the lens aperture, and you can hear it changing as you scroll the effect.

Other notable features include remains the bracketing, which supports up to 7 frames in one-third stop increments, for a new high of up to three stops.

Conclusion
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 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.

Shooting speed (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Sony Alpha SLT-A35
0.7
0.7
0.5
0.6
0.2

Pentax K-x
0.7
0.6
0.4
0.5
0.3

Canon EOS Rebel T3
0.4
0.6
0.5
0.6
0.3

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
0.9
0.7
0.6
0.7
0.4

Olympus PEN E-PL2
0.8
1.4
1.3
0.7
0.4

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
0.9
0.8
0.7
0.6
0.5

Typical continuous-shooting speed (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

panasonic-lumix-dmc-g3-digital-camera-mirrorless-system-16-0-mpix-body-only-black.jpg
7.7

Panasonic Lumix d

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7Image quality 8
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