Review: Panasonic Lumix G3

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Panasonic was the first to introduce the mirrorless camera to the world, and as the years have passed, the company has continually set the standard for the revolutionary micro four-thirds (MFT) system. This year, the third generation of the Lumix G series rolls out, with the DMC-G3 as its touted product.

Out of the box, the G3 looks amazing with a black and glossy finish that makes it look debonair and professional. One of the first things users will notice is that it’s amazingly compact, measuring at a mere 115.2 x 83.6 x 46.7mm and clocking in at approximately 336 grams without a lens attached. This amazing feat in reduced size is due to the smaller sensors that Panasonic has created, which is 17% smaller than its predecessor. However, the G3 still boasts 16-megapixels, which is an great set of effective pixels for a MFT system of its size.

Once cradled in your palms, the G3 feels like it was specifically made for the average-sized hand – it is ergonomic and comfortable. I would have preferred a more pronounced rubber grip on the exterior however, to provide the opportunity for tactile one-handed operations without worrying about slipping. Moving along, the familiar PASM selector (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) is present on the top of the G3, which most people should be familiar with by now. Additional beginner friendly modes are also available via the SCN mode, and Panasonic has conveniently provided 2 custom modes (C1 and C2) for user presets as well.

One of my favorite shooting options is the Creative Control mode which is represented by a symbol of an artist’s palette on the PASM selector. Selecting this reveals the option to shoot in different styles: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic Range. The Expressive mode is perhaps the best performer out of all, which adds vivid saturation to colors, giving photos a vibrant touch. The only downside to using this mode is that certain settings are overridden, such as exposure, and it’s odd that Panasonic would disable these when using Creative Control.

The G3 also features Panasonic’s unique Intelligent Auto (iA) Mode, which automatically adjusts the camera’s settings for the best output. Generally, it functioned well, but I would advise you to use it sparingly – not when capturing the shot is more important than composition and framing. It’s a great option for those that are used to point-and-shoots, but buying an MFT-ILS system somehow implies the desire to learn shooting in different priority modes as well as full manual. Nevertheless, iA offers easy access to useful settings such as the DeFocus mode, which helps users achieve great portraits with sharp subjects in the foreground and background bokeh, via a slider in the camera’s display.

Speaking of the G3’s LCD TFT Touch panel display, it’s refreshing to see they kept the tilting screen –  so that shots taken at difficult and obscure angles can still be previewed live. While some have complained about Panasonic’s 3-inch display, I found it quite brilliant. Moreover, one of the G3’s greatest strengths is its bright Live Viewfinder, despite the fact that the delay when used in low light, and how certain adjustments can’t be previewed in Manual mode.

Speaking of low light, Panasonic’s Venus Engine FHD offers it users’ better performance, faster shooting speed and a 60% noise reduction at high ISO’s. The photo above was shot at the G3’s highest ISO of 6400, and while the resulting image is pretty impressive for an MFT, it could still use improvement if you compare it with high-end DSLRS.

The continued shooting speed was very impressive, which is officially clocked at 4 frames per second, producing high quality stills of action shots. The G3 also shoots video at a maximum of Full 1080i HD 1920×1080 at 60/50 frames per second, which is once again, quite noteworthy for a small system. Additionally, (if you’re not impressed just yet), users also have the capability to shoot stills while continuously shooting video, which a lot of shutterbugs will love. Capturing stills is done either by simply pressing the shutter, or by using the touch display.

All in all, the Panasonic Lumix G3 is an outstanding mirrorless system, and is an excellent upgrade to its G series line. It’s a great transition for beginners used to point-and-shoots, and it will also impress seasoned photographers who want a portable and powerful camera. It has one of the fastest and most accurate autofocus modes in the market, which is a great reason to pickup this system.

 
 
What’s Hot:
–          compact
–          can shoot stills while filming
–          Intelligent Auto Mode
–          quick AF and burst mode
 
 What’s Not:
–          small rubber grip
–          GUI could use improvement
–          high ISO’s still noisy
–          quite expensive

 

Buy Meter: 9.5

 

Conclusion:

The Panasonic Lumix G3 has left me in awe – it’s compact, hosts a wealth of useful features and boasts impressive image quality. It is by far, one of the most impressive mirrorless cameras to date.

 

Specifications:
16.7MP CMOS sensor (standard Micro Four Thirds size)
ISO 160-6400
4 fps continuous shooting (20fps at 4MP)
GF2-style touch screen interface
1080i60 AVCHD shooting (from 30p sensor output)
All-area AF point selection
60-1/4000 sec shutter speed
Pinpoint AF mode (magnifies focus point to allow confirmation and fine-tune of AF position)
Tracking AF in video mode
Picture-in-picture manual focus magnification
460k dot articulated LCD
1.44M dot-equivalent electronic viewfinder (phase sequential type)
 
 
[This review originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Gadgets Magazine]