Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 review: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3

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The Good Relatively compact for its class, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 delivers excellent performance and good-to-great photo quality.

The Bad It's missing features like a tilting LCD, EVF option, and stereo audio capability that some competitors offer.

The Bottom Line The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 offers the type of performance and photo quality in a relatively small design many point-and-shoot graduates will like.

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

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is the first of what I hope are the Goldilocks generation of interchangeable-lens cameras (ILCs): small and fast with good-to-great photo quality that finally merits attention from point-and-shoot users looking for a compelling upgrade. (Sony has consistently delivered small bodies, but the E-mount zoom lenses are too big and heavy and there's only one pancake prime currently available.)

The GF3 uses the same 12-megapixel Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine FHD processor as the GF2, but incorporates some of the enhancements from the G3, including the Light Speed autofocus system and focusing options like pinpoint and a picture-in-picture navigator for manual focus. The result is very good photo quality that borders just enough on excellent to push the rating over to that side.

Like the rest of Panasonic's current generation of G-series cameras, the GF3's noise profile and JPEG processing is much better than before and it does a nice job on midrange ISO sensitivities (ISO 400-ISO 800). That said, the JPEGs aren't uniformly great; in our testing, even shots at ISO 160 had some noise in shadow areas, and Panasonic's postprocessing makes out-of-focus areas look a bit mushy rather than naturally blurred. However, that should only affect you if you plan to retouch the images--in that case you should shoot raw and you'll get better results under all circumstances. When printed as-is up to 16x12, you don't see any of the artifacts. (Because of the lack of a codec for Adobe Camera Raw, I was unable to make any raw quality comparisons or judgments.)

The GF3 has a little trouble accurately reproducing intense colors in bright light, especially purples and reds. But the colors are pleasing overall, the tonal reproduction looks good--save some clipping in bright highlights--and you can always shoot raw (or try the Neutral Photo Style) for better accuracy. In general, the default standard Photo Style works well: it pushes saturation and contrast just a touch. Vivid pushes so much color detail clips, and Natural and Scenery are very close to each other, which is nice.

The video quality is suitable for consumer clips, the autoexposure and AF work well, and there aren't a lot of artifacts. But given the lack of exposure controls, mono sound with no mic support, and low bit rate, it's not a camera to buy for cheap video experimentation.

The 14mm Panasonic kit lens (28mm equivalent) isn't one of my favorite Micro Four Thirds offerings, but it's a competent starter lens. (Panasonic plans to release the kit with the 14-42mm lens in August.) Panasonic performs in-camera distortion control, and in my shots with the 14mm it seems like Panasonic has nailed the algorithm--there's still a slight bit of barrel distortion, enough so that lines don't look artificially straight. It delivers solid center sharpness and the GF3's JPEG algorithm doesn't oversharpen, so you get a nice naturally sharp feel to the images.

The GF3 is really fast for its price and size class; in fact, for nonburst shooting it's faster than the its larger, more expensive sibling the G3, effectively as fast or faster than the larger Sony Alpha SLT-A35, and just plain faster than almost all the nondSLR cameras we've seen in a couple years. And while it can't outburst the A35, it does outdo the comparably priced dSLRs like the Canon EOS Rebel T3 and Nikon D3100. It powers on and shoots in just under 0.6 second, which isn't spectacular, but fine for its class. Shot lag in good light--the time it takes to focus and shoot--runs 0.3 second. That increases to 0.6 second in lower-contrast light. Time to shoot two sequential photos is 0.6 second regardless of format. Flash recycling time bumps that to 1.6 seconds, which is still comparatively good. At a 3.9fps continuous shooting rate, you won't catch any really fast sports action, but the AF system and throughput will certainly get you a lot more than you could have with a comparably sized point-and-shoot or similarly priced dSLR.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2
Sensor (effective resolution) 16-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-megapixel Live MOS 12.1-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 FHD Venus Engine FHD Venus Engine FHD
Sensitivity range ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 100 - ISO 6,400 ISO 160 - ISO 12,800
Continuous shooting 4fps
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/ 7 raw
magnification/ effective magnification
1.4 million dots
100% coverage
1.4x/0.7x magnification
Optional Electronic
None 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 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 2 minutes 60-1/4,000 sec; bulb to 4 minutes; 1/160 x-sync 60-1/4,000 sec; 1/160 x-sync 1/4,000 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
On-camera flash Yes Yes Yes Yes
Video AVCHD 1080/60i @ 17 Mbps; 720/60p @ 17Mbps 1080/60i/50i @ 17, 13 Mbps
720/60p @17, 13Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
1080/60i/50i @ 17Mbps
720/60p @17Mbps AVCHD 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 Stereo Stereo Mono Stereo, mic input
LCD size 3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3-inch fixed touch screen
460,000 dots
3 inches articulated
460,000 dots
Battery life (CIPA rating) 250 shots 300 shots 320 shots 340 shots
Dimensions (inches, WHD) 4.5 x 3.3 x 1.8 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 4.9 x 3.5 x 3.0
Body operating weight (ounces) 11.8 (est) 11 9.3 17.8
Mfr. price n/a $499.95 (body only, est) $499.95 (body only, est) $899.95 (body only)
$699.99 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens) $999.95 (with 14-42mm lens)
n/a $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens) $1499.95 (with 14-140mm lens)
Ship date June 2011 January 2011 July 2011 December 2010

Compared with larger cameras, though, battery life isn't great. And the lack of a viewfinder--or even the option for one--makes life a little difficult. The touch-screen LCD gets hard to view in direct sunlight.

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.