Panasonic Lumix d review: Panasonic Lumix d

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The Good The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 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.

7.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 8

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.

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
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
5.0 fps
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
magnification/ effective magnification
None Electronic
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
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
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).

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