It’s quite impossible not to start with the GF3’s miniscule dimensions, for after all, this is its primary selling point. Roughly the size of an iPod and weighing about the same as an average point-and-shoot camera, Panasonic has somehow managed to squeeze in a 12-megapixel sensor into its tiny body.
Just by looking at the GF3, you will immediately notice that the GF3 is more similar to a point-and-shoot then a DSLR. Panasonic opts for the use of the push-button + jog dial combo as the main method of navigating instead of a click dial. The design is wonderfully simple, and the thumb grip on the upper right corner is a great addition as well. The only other controls are the buttons for Menu/Set, play/preview, Quick Fn/Return and one to pop open the built-in flash.
The 460k pixel display is a thing of beauty – it’s well illuminated and previews both stills and movies excellently. It can get quite difficult to use though when under direct sunlight, but this is to be expected. The touchscreen is very responsive, and it’s easy to select which mode you want to shoot in (i.e. Program AE, Manual, Creative Control, etc.). You simply touch the upper left corner of the screen and you can quickly select the mode of your choice.
Other controls on the touchscreen are very useful as well, especially the iA+ options which give you the ability to pinpoint the AF by touching an area on the display to have the camera automatically focus and take the shot instantly. This is especially handy when you want to capture several subjects in a short amount of time.
Using the iA and iA+ modes does make it easy to take photos quickly and effectively, although when the mode is active, most menu functions to adjust the camera settings aren’t available, so it was quite counter-intuitive to have to switch off iA just to make menu adjustments. However, if you customize your menu/system settings beforehand, this shouldn’t be a problem at all.
The GF3 I received came with the 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens , although the GF3’s can also arrive with the 14mm f2.5 pancake prime. However, regardless of which kit lens you choose, you will only really be able to use the white balance and exposure sliders in iA/iA+ mode because in order to effectively make the most out of the GF3’s “Defocus” slider, you will need to have a lens with a wider opening.
The 14-42mm kit lens is not entirely efficient in producing blurred backgrounds or bokeh, since its aperture only reaches up to f3.5, but it is pretty sharp. Although it might not be a spectacular piece of glass, it still shoots clean and does provide a good focal range for you to work with, allowing you to quickly power on the camera and shoot.
You can still achieve some great blur by using the Miniature mode in the Creative Control filter, which is one of the GF3’s greatest features. As the name of the effect implies, it applies a synthesized tilt-shift effect, simulating a shallow depth-of-field. It’s definitely an entertaining feature, but you might want to use an SD card with a high class rating, as images shot in Miniature mode requires some intense in-camera processing. What makes this particular effect great is that you can specify which areas of the image to blur, either horizontally and vertically.
Even though Panasonic managed to squeeze in a built-in flash, I would have preferred a hot shoe instead. When the 14-42mm is equipped with the lens hood, the flash isn’t high enough to go past it, resulting in the lens hood’s shadow rudely appearing in the photos.
The image below is shot a downward angle in a dark room.
The photo below was shot perpendicular to a white wall, and you can see the shadow that the lens hood creates.
If you don’t use the flash, the GF3 does fairly well for a micro four-thirds camera at high ISO’s, but don’t expect it to rival DSLR’s, even though the maximum ISO reaches 6400. I would suggest pairing it with the 14mm pancake or the new 25mm f1.4 to get the most out of low light situations.
Shooting video with the GF3 is probably one of its stronger traits as well, shooting Full HD 1920 x 1080, 60i (30p sensor output, AVCHD). It’s light weight makes it easy to shoot for an extended period of time and is small enough to not attract a whole lot of attention. Furthermore, its compatibility with Pansonic’s 3D lenses can open up a treasure trove of creativity with this small compact system.Click HERE for a sample video
In the end, if you’re looking for an extremely portable interchangeable lens camera, then the Panasonic GF3 is the one to get. Once you get past all the little hurdles in learning its interface and workflow, it’s an excellent camera that can satisfy the stern expectations of just about anyone. It’s small, compact, works like a point-and-shoot but captures almost like an entry-level DSLR.
Full HD video
Creative Control, especially Miniature mode
Pinpoint autofocus and shoot
Initially difficult to navigate
Built-in flash not high enough
Buy Meter: 9.0
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is a great camera for those who are coming from a point-and-shoot and want to have interchangeable lenses. This camera might be lightweight, but its definitely heavy on features.