Panasonic G3 £629
12th May 2011 | 09:11
An advanced GF2, or a slim-line G2?
Panasonic G3: Overview and features
Though the compact-styled GF1 proved very popular as a 'take-everywhere' camera for enthusiast photographers, its replacement - the GF2, left these users nonplussed. This was largely down to the fact that Panasonic simplified the handling, removed several of the direct control buttons (including the mode dial, drive mode switch, AEL and DOF preview buttons) and introduced touch-screen control.
This may have been intended to appeal to novice photographers, but to enthusiasts it felt like dumming down. The modern-day classic reportage camera appeared to have been transformed into a happy-snappers model – albeit a very nicely built one.
Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-G3, however, could be the camera that GF1 and G2 users want to upgrade to. It combines the compact camera styling of the GF-line with the more advanced handling and control of the mini-DSLR-like G-series.
Above: Panasonic GF1(left) v G3 (right) rear view
Even better news is that the Panasonic G3 has the G2's articulated, touch-sensitive LCD screen AND an electronic viewfinder, so there's no need to buy the option finder like with the GF2.
Panasonic G3: Features
Like Panasonic's other G-series cameras, the G3 is a compact system camera (CSC) built following the Micro Four Thirds standard. This means that while the Panasonic G3 can accept interchangeable lenses with the Micro Four Thirds mount, it doesn't have a reflex mirror so the light that passes through the lens cannot be directed to an optical viewfinder.
Instead, the scene is composed either on the LCD on the back of the camera, or in the electronic viewfinder (EVF). With Olympus's Pen cameras and Panasonic GF cameras, the EVF is an optional accessory, but it's built into the Panasonic G3.
Above: Panasonic GF1 (left) V G3 (right) side view
Doing away with the mirror and pentaprism enables CSCs to be made more compact than the average SLR.
Panasonic has introduced a new 16.6-million-pixel Live MOS sensor for the Lumix G3, which uses novel circuitry. We are awaiting information about exactly what has been done, but Panasonic claims the new circuitry and noise suppression within the photodiode result in cleaner images.
Interestingly, a firmware update on the eve of its launch pushed the G3's output resolution from 15.70 Mp (4576x3432 pixels) to 15.83Mp (4592x3448 pixels) and subsequently the G3 lists '16Mp' in its image size options.
As a Four Thirds type sensor the G3 imagining device is smaller than an APS-C format sensor (for example 23.6x15.6mm in the Nikon D5100) and measures 17.3x13mm. Images therefore have a 4:3 aspect ratio, but the G3 can be set to 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 format recording and crops the image accordingly.
Because of the sub-full frame sensor, there is a 2x magnification factor on the focal length, so the 14-42mm kit lens produces a similar angle fo view to a 28-84mm lens on a 35mm camera or an 18-56mm optic on a Nikon APS-C format (DX) SLR.
Meanwhile, the Panasonic G3 uses the same Venus Engine VI FHD processor as the top-end Lumix DMC-GH2. In the Lumix G3 this engine processes each image file in two ways and then combines the results to produce an image with lower noise levels.
Low-light performance has been an issue for Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the G3's new sensor design is intended to improve the situation. However, in comparison with APS-C format DSLRs the top sensitivity setting of ISO 6400 seems a little low, while the lowest setting, ISO 160 is higher than usual.
Despite the double processing, the Panasonic G3 is still capable of capturing full resolution images at a maximum rate of 4fps. When a Class 6 SDHC card such as a San Disk Extreme III is installed around 20 of the highest quality JPEGs, 7 raw or 7 simultaneous raw and JPEG files can be captured before the G3 slows down. If faster shooting required, the G3's Super High continuous shooting rate uses an electronic shutter rather than a shutter curtain to allow 40 4Mp images to be taken at 20fps.
Although the Panasonic G3 is aimed at more experienced photographers than the GF2 is, there's still a collection of 17 scenes modes (including two baby modes) which tailor the image exposure, white balance and processing for specific subjects. They are useful when you're starting out in photography or want to keep things simple.
In addition, Panasonic's Intelligent Auto plus (iA+) mode is on hand, with a dedicated button on the G3's top-plate. When mode this is in use the G3 selects what it calculates to be the most appropriate camera settings, uses its Intelligent Scene Selector to identify the right scene mode to employ and determines whether to activate the MEGA O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilising) and Intelligent ISO Control. The latter reduces motion blur by increasing the sensitivity if the subject moves as the shot is taken.
Earlier Panasonic G-series cameras have a fully automatic My Color mode, which has been renamed Creative Control for the Panasonic G3. It allows the user to select one of seven preset image effects (Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic) to apply at capture.
When the Panasonic G3 is set to Creative Control on the Mode dial, exposure control is automatic, but the rear dial above the thumb rest provides access to the exposure compensation and Defocus Control functions. The later is a simplified control over the aperture.
Experienced users are likely to prefer the Photo Style modes (previously known as the Film modes) to the Creative Control options as the Photo Styles can be used in any of the advanced shooting modes (PASM), and as in video mode.
Panasonic has changed the names of the Film modes found on earlier G-series cameras to Photo Styles to reflect the increasing number of users who have never used film. As before, it is still possible to change the contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction applied with the options: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait and Custom. There's no longer a Multi-Film or Multi-Style option to record a sequence of images with different Photo Styles applied though.
As it's a mirrorless camera, the Panasonic G3 uses contrast detection for auto focusing rather than phase detection. While contrast detection is usually accurate it tends to be slower and less decisive than phases detection, but the company has been working on improving Panasonic cameras' AF response.
With the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS kit lens Panasonic claims the G3 can achieve sharp focus in an impressive 0.18sec, but with the Lumix G Vario 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 MEGA OIS lens it peaks at a supper-snappy 0.1sec.
Panasonic has also extended the coverage of the AF system so that it can now operate over the G3's entire imaging area and AF points can be position right up to the edge of the frame.
In addition to the AF Tracking, 23-Area, 1-Area and Face detection AF modes we have seen before, the G3 has a new Pinpoint AF mode. When this is selected the AF point can be positioned anywhere on the LCD with just a touch of the finger.
It's similar to 1-Area AF, but a key difference is that the target area is magnified on screen as the shutter release button is depressed so that you can check the correct part of the scene is sharp. It could prove useful for a range of situations, such as shooting still life or landscape images.
No CSC or DSLR is complete without video recording capability these days and the G3 can shoot full HD (1920x1080 pixel) as AVCHD or Motion JPEG files, output at 30fps or 25fps. Full time AF and AF tracking is available during filming, something which isn't available in Panasonic's flagship GH2.
Provided that it can produce sufficiently detailed, clean images the G3 seems very attractive and has plenty of features that will appeal to enthusiast photographers. Controls such as the Touch AF and Touch shutter which enable the user to just touch the screen to activate focusing or activate focusing and fire the shutter allow images to be taken much more easily from unusual positions. It's also great for street and candid photography as the photographer can face away from the subject and avoid drawing attention to themselves.
While many may prefer an optical viewfinder, at least the G3's electronic finder is built in and isn't an optional extra. There's also a pop-up flash (guide number 10m @ ISO 100) as well as a hot shoe to accept an external flashgun. It is a little surprising that Panasonic hasn't found room for an eye sensor to detect when the EVF is in use and a built-in electronic level though.
Panasonic G3: Build and handling
In the past Panasonic has demonstrated that it knows how to make cameras with a high-quality feel, and the Lumix DMC-G3 is no different. The G3's body is solid to the touch and while it doesn't seem excessively heavy, it isn't lightweight in the flimsy sense either.
Panasonic has managed to make the G3 around 25% smaller than the G2, with the fingergrip being the most noticeably shrunken area. Happily, the grip is still pronounced enough to make the camera comfortable to hold during and between shots, though a slightly more textured surface would give it more purchase.
Above: GF1 v G3 rear view
One of the issues with the GF2 is that there's very little space on its back for the user's thumb, even though it's missing some of the control buttons of the G2. As result, settings are prone to being changed when a finger or thumb strays onto the touchscreen. This doesn't appear to be an issue with the Panasonic G3. Shooting from awkward angles is also made much easier by the LCD's articulating joint, which as well as making the scene visible means that the camera's controls can be accessed easily.
The G3's screen may be the resistive rather than the capacitive type that is found in the iPhone and iPad and is usually credited with being more responsive, but you won't find yourself having to repeatedly jab at the screen. In most cases the Panasonic G3 responds quickly to the touch controls being used.
One of the great things about the G3 is that there's more than one way to access and adjust the most frequently used features. The sensitivity settings, for example, can be accessed via the shortcut button on the back of the camera or via the Quick Menu.
The Quick Menu options can be reached either by pressing the Q. Menu button (which doubles as Function button 2) near the bottom of the back of the camera or by pressing the appropriate icon on the touchscreen.
Once the Quick Menu screen has been activated, it can be navigated either by pressing the navigation buttons on the rear of the camera, scrolling the rear dial, or using a finger on the touch screen – or a combination of these.
It's great that the Quick Menu can be customised by dragging icons on or off the active list. As a result, only the features you want to access regularly are present. However, it's a shame that the space created by the non-active features isn't closed up or filled because it means the menu is spread over more screens than it needs to be.
Anyone disappointed that the mode dial was shunned on the GF2 will be pleased to learn that it's in its rightful place on the Panasonic G3 – the top-plate. It has options to set the camera to any of advanced exposure modes (program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual), plus two customs modes, Creative Control mode and the scene modes.
At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking that like the GF2 there's no exposure of focus lock (AE/AF lock), but by default the Display and Function (Fn) button 1 on the rear of the camera is set to AE/AF lock. Function button 2 is assigned to accessing the Quick Menu and is marked as such, but there is an on-screen icon that provides access to this, so it isn't a great loss to change its function.
With a total of 17 functions, some may feel a little short changed by having only two function buttons to which they can be assigned. Purists may wish to go for the depth of field preview, while those who like to produce monochrome images in-camera on a regular basis may opt to access the Photo Style options. On the other hand, it could be useful to have a quick route to the flash exposure control.
Although there is a shortcut button to the drive mode options, it's a shame Panasonic hasn't stuck with the switch that's under the mode dial of the G2 and GF1 as this is very quick to operate. Using a switch would also free up a button for customisation.
One casualty of the downsizing required to make the G3 is the eye sensor which detects when the camera is being held to the eye and activates the EVF while turning off the main LCD. Instead there's a button to the left of the EVF which can be used to toggle between the LCD and the EVF. While this is a straightforward approach, it takes a little getting used to and new owners of the G3 can expect to find themselves staring at a blank EVF on a few occasions before they get used to pressing button prior to holding the camera to their eye.
Like the G2, but unlike the GF2, the G3 has a 3in articulated LCD screen with 460,000 dots, which makes composing images at awkward angles much easier than using a fixed screen or viewfinder. As usual reflections become a bit of a problem in very bright ambient light.
However, the fact that the G3's screen is touch sensitive (like the G2's) is also an issue because the inevitable fingerprints and smudges make the on-screen image harder to see. Of course you could use the supplied stylus, but this is something that is likely to get lost quickly and reaching for it each time you want to make settings adjustments is a pain.
Although the LCD provides a good view on most occasions, there are times when it is better, or it seems more natural, to use the EVF. The G3's 1,440,000 dot is the same as the one in the G2, but Panasonic claims the better processing engine in the new camera should improve the viewing experience.
It's true that the G3's EVF is one of the best available, and details are sharp and clear, but it still makes the photographer feel divorced from the world around them. The image is clearly digital and colour drag is still an issue so rainbow colours follow the viewfinder information and icons etc when the camera is moved.
While the Lumix G3 is the sort of camera that most enthusiasts can pick up and use straight away, it takes a little longer to get to know it and the customise it to your preferences. It is worth experimenting with the various options until you find the best set-up.
With the 14-42mm kit lens mounted the G3 makes a great camera to slip in your bag or carry in your hand ready to capture everyday goings on as well as holidays and days out. It looks great with the GF1 user's favourite optic – the 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens and the newer 14mm f/2.8 pancake as well.
Above: Panansonic GF1 (left) v G3 (right) top view
Panasonic G3 review: Performance
At sensible printing sizes images from the Panasonic G3 have plenty of detail, but it's not really a surprise that with the 14-42mm kit lens mounted the 16-megapixel G3 doesn't quite resolve the same level of information as the 16.05Mp GH2 with its high quality 14-140mm kit lens mounted.
Scrutinising the G3's images at 100% (or actual pixels) on-screen reveals that they have a respectable level detail, but they lack some of the bite seen from some other cameras. Nevertheless, it is the appearance of images at their most commonly used print sizes that is of paramount importance to the average photographer.
It is impressive how little chroma noise is visible in JPEG images taken across the G3's sensitivity range, ISO 160-6400. Even in the shadows of images taken at ISO 6400 there's no sign of coloured speckling.
Shots taken at ISO 1600 or above are a little softer than those taken at the lower sensitivity settings though. Zooming in to 100% reveals a watercolour-like texture to ISO 6400 and ISO 3200 JPEG images, but A3 prints are still a realistic proposition.
As usual, raw files from the G3 contain more chroma noise and detail, which means G3 users can choose their own compromise between noise removal and detail loss. These files appear to have less chroma noise than comparable files from Panasonic's earlier G-series cameras. Although red speckling is still slightly more noticeable in the shadows than blue or green, the colour and spatial distribution of the noise is more even than in the past.
Colours are generally well reproduced by the G3, although in the Standard Photo Style greens sometimes look a bit more vibrant than they really should. It's a shame that the supplied raw conversion software (SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE) doesn't allow users to switch between Photo Styles.
While the SilkyPix software is very good and provides plenty of scope for making adjustment to images, it really is time that Panasonic introduced raw conversion software that was more tailored towards its cameras.
Panasonic G3 users can have confidence in their camera's auto white balance system as it produces accurate results in a wide range of situations, even in mixed artificial light. The only time it faltered during this test was in the shade of a woodland towards the end of the day, when it made images look a bit too neutral.
Using the Shade setting however, made the shots look to warm and brownish. Fortunately, it's easy to adjust the white balance setting or set a custom white balance value on the Panasonic G3, though this must accessed via the shortcut button rather than the Quick menu.
There were only a few occasions during this test when it was necessary to use the G3's exposure compensation facility to adjust the exposure away from what was set by the Multiple metering system. It's clear that the general purpose lightmeter isn't easily fooled by especially light or dark areas within the scene and the G3 generally turns out well exposed results.
Like most modern digital cameras the Panasonic G3 has a dynamic range optimisation system that brightens shadows without loosing highlight detail. Panasonic's Intelligent D-Range Control (I-Dynamic) may be set to one of three levels (or turned off), but it only applies the brightening effect to the level that the camera calculates to be appropriate – up to the level selected by the user.
While blacks remain black, the darker details are lightened very effectively and subtly by the I-Dynamic and there's no obvious colour shift, haloing or increase in noise levels (at least at the mid to low sensitivity settings).
Given the high quality results and in-camera automated control, we can see no reason why the G3's Intelligent D-Range system shouldn't be left on its highest setting for the majority of shots.
Similarly, the Panasonic Lumix G3's Advanced Intelligent Resolution (IR), which applies different processing on a pixel-by-pixel basis to edges, textures and areas of smooth gradation, manages to enhance detail without introducing artefacts in even-toned sections.
This has four levels of effect, but we were unable to discern any benefit to using the Expanded option over the High. We recommend using the High IR setting for most shots.
Panasonic is justifiably proud of the G3's AF system, in many situations it is fast and accurate. It's a contrast detection system, but on many occasions it's hard to distinguish it in terms of speed from a phase detection system.
The responsiveness of Touch Shutter option is especially impressive and it is a real bonus when shooting images from uncomfortable angles. It's also useful when taking street or candid photographs because it's less obvious that you are taking a photograph.
While the G3's AF Tracking system is very useful for general photography, it is't up to the standard of the predictive AF systems found in high-end Nikon and Canon SLRs. So although it is possible to shoot sport with the G3, it wouldn't be our first choice of camera to do so.
The full time AF in movie recording mode works fairly well. As the camera moves the subject under the active AF point drifts smoothly into focus at a speed appropriate for video work. Occasionally it may drift a little in and out of focus as it finds the right point, but generally the system is pretty good.
Panasonic G3: Image quality and resolution
As part of our Panasonic G3 review we shot our resolution chart at every sensitivity setting with the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS kit lens mounted.
These resolution chart images have been updated following the firmware update that changed the G3's output from 15.70 Mp (4576x3432 pixels) to 15.83Mp (4592x3448 pixels).
The update appears to have improved the G3's image quality very slightly.
If you download the images and view the central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, at ISO 100 the Panasonic G3 is capable of resolving up to 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in it's highest quality JPEG files. Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
Panasonic G3: JPEG Images
ISO 3200, score: 22, see full resolution image
ISO 6400, score: 22, see full resolution image
Panasonic G3: Raw images
ISO 160, score: 24, see full resolution image
ISO 200, score: 24, see full resolution image
ISO 400, score: 24, see full resolution image
ISO 800, score: 22, see full resolution image
ISO 1600, score: 22, see full resolution image
ISO 3200, score: 22, see full resolution image
ISO 6400, score: 22, see full resolution image
Panasonic G3 review: Noise and dynamic range
These graphs were produced using data generated by DXO Analyzer. We analysed JPEG images with the camera in its default settings so we can see what you get straight from the camera as well as the raw files following conversion.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner image. As we would expect, the JPEG images have less noise than the raw files and the level of noise goes up with sensitivity and thus image quality decreases. The difference between the raw and JPEG files gives an indication of the amount of in-camera noise reduction applied.
Signal to Noise Ratio
The solid red line of the G3's trace indicates that the JPEGS have a higher Signal to Noise ratio than any of the other cameras here (Olympus Pen E-PL2, Samsung NX11, Sony NEX5 and Panasonic GF2).
Raw files that have been converted to TIFFs using the default settings in Panasonic's supplied software have a lower Signal to Noise Ratio than all of the cameras from ISO 800 and above.
The Sony NEX 5 rules the roost when it comes to dynamic range, but the G3's JPEGs come close from ISO 1000. The dotted red line of the G3's raw files falls roughly half way between those of the E-PL2 and NEX5.
Panasonic G3: Sensitivity images
Panasonic G3 Review: JPEG Images
JPEG ISO 160, see full image
JPEG ISO 200, see full image
JPEG ISO 400, see full image
JPEG ISO 800, see full image
JPEG ISO 1600, see full image
JPEG ISO 3200, see full image
JPEG ISO 6400, see full image
Panasonic G3: Raw images
Raw ISO 160, see full image
Raw ISO 200, see full image
Raw ISO 400, see full image
Raw ISO 800, see full image
Raw ISO 1600, see full image
Raw ISO 3200, see full image
Raw ISO 6400, see full image
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 review: Our sample images
Panasonic G3: Our sample images
No exposure compensation was required here despite the large patch of bright sky.
The texture of the stone has been captured well
Shot wide open (f/5.6) at 42mm with the kit lens to minimise depth of field, Panasonic's 45mm f/2.9 lens would've been a better bet
The green is a little on the vibrant side in this shot
Taken at ISO 3200 while looking away from the subject and using Touch Shutter to trigger the exposure. The Auto white balance system has done well in the mixed lighting
The articulated screen makes it easy to shot from very low angles. Again, no exposure compensation applied here
The subtle colours have been recorded accurately here
The G3 is a good choice of camera for street and reportage photography
Panasonic G3: Specification
Image Sensor: 16.6 MP LIVE MOS, outputting at 16Mp
Engine: Venus Engine VI FHD
ISO setting: Auto / Intelligent ISO / 160 / 200 / 400 / 800 / 1600 / 3200 / 6400
Maximum continuous shooting: 4 fps (16.0M) / 20 fps (4M)
Movie recording: AVCHD 1920x1080 50i (Sensor Output 25fps), AVCHD 1280x720 50p (Sensor Output 25fps)
Viewfinder: Electronic with approx. 100% Field of View, 1.44mil dots equiv.
LCD Screen: 3.0in 460K dots Free Angle Touch LCD
Size: 115.2 x 83.6 x 46.7 mm (excluding protrusions)
Weight: 336g (body only)
Built-in Flash: TTL Built-in-Flash, GN 10.5 equivalent, built in pop-up
Interface: HDMI, USB 2.0, Digital AV Out, Remote input, microphone, speaker.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3: Verdict
Panasonic appears to have a winner on its hands. The Panasonic G3 manages to combine the best elements of the G2 and GF2 and as a result is a camera that is likely to find favour with many enthusiasts, especially those who like street and reportage photography.
While Panasonic has made strides in noise control and low light performance, the G3's strength is in its small size and high-quality images in 'average' lighting conditions.
Sometimes it's hard to put your finger on exactly what you like about the images that a camera produces and while the results from the G3 may not be absolutely perfect, they do have a lovely film-like quality.
Interestingly, we are told that the 16-million-pixel G3 doesn't replace the 12.1Mp G2, but the older camera is moving down Panasonic's camera line-up to occupy the entry-level position formally held by the now discontinued G10. Given the more compact styling of the Panasonic G3, it raises questions about the direction that Panasonic may take with future GF-series cameras - we are told that the line is set to continue.