Panasonic GF3 £549.99
18th Jul 2011 | 15:03
Small, classy and touchy-feely
Panasonic's GF3 is the smallest, lightest, Micro Four Thirds compact system camera (CSC) that the company has introduced to date. In fact, it's so small that at first glance you could be forgiven for confusing this latest model with Panasonic's top-end compact camera, the LX5.
Unlike the Panasonic LX5, however, the Lumix GF3 accepts interchangeable lenses and the reduction in size has, in part, been achieved by a redesign of the lens mount box.
Although it measures only 107.5 x 67.1 x 32mm, the GF3 is a little larger than the Sony NEX-C3. The NEX-C3 is the world's smallest interchangeable lens camera, but the GF3 has the honour of being the smallest interchangeable lens camera with a built-in flash - excluding the recently announced Pentax Q which has a compact-sized sensor.
Nevertheless, the Panasonic Lumix GF3 is still 17% smaller and 16% lighter than the GF2 (read our Panasonic GF2 review) and it makes a significant difference to the camera's look and feel.
Panasonic tells us that the GF2 is to continue and the GF3 is now its entry-level model designed specifically for compact camera users who want to move up to a camera that offers more control, better quality images and accepts interchangeable lenses.
The Panasonic GF3 looks great, and feels perfectly balanced, with the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens mounted.
This optic is likely to be the choice of enthusiast photographers who understand the benefits of a wideangle lens with large maximum aperture, it is available bundled with the Panasonic GF3 with a retail price of £549.
Panasonic's 14-42mm is a more versatile optic, producing an effective focal length range of 28-84mm. It is more likely to be the first lens choice of novice photographers and can be bought in a kit with the GF3 priced £499.
Those who are torn between the two lens options may like to plump for the twin lens kit that includes both the 14mm pancake and the 14-42mm optics with a price tag of £629.
Check out our Panasonic Lumix GF3 video below:
Like Panasonic's other CSCs the GF3 is built following the Micro Four Thirds design. This means that it uses a Four Thirds type sensor and that the lens mount is the same as on the current Olympus PEN series cameras.
At 17.3x13mm, Four Thirds sensors are a little smaller than APS-C sized sensors which measure around 23.6x15.8mm. The smaller sensor enablesMicro Four Thirdscameras to be more compact, but means that the photosites (often referred to as pixels) are smaller in cameras with the same resolution. As a rule, larger receptors result in better image quality.
Four Thirds sensors also have a native aspect ratio of 4:3 rather than the 3:2 made popular by 35mm photography.
The GF3 has a LIVE MOS sensor (pictured above) with an effective pixel count of 12.1 million and images are processed using its Venus Engine VII HD device (pictured below) which enables sensitivity to be set in the range ISO 160-6400.
Like the GF2, the Panasonic GF3 has a 3in, 460,000 dot touchscreen and there's no viewfinder built-in. Unlike the GF2, however, the GF3 doesn't have an accessory port that can accept an external electronic viewfinder, so images must always be composed on the 3in screen.
Being a compact system camera, the GF3 uses a contrast detection auto focus (AF) system, which draws information from the imaging sensor rather than a dedicated phase detection unit. Traditionally, contrast detection systems are slower than phase detection devices, but Panasonic has put a lot of work in on this and the GF3 is claimed to focus in just 0.18 sec (approx) with the LUMIX G VARIO HD 14-140mm f/4.0-5.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. lens mounted.
There is a collection of auto focus modes comprising, AF Tracking, 23-Area, 1-Area, Face detection AF and the new Pinpoint AF mode first seen on the G3. The latter option is 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.
The AF point can be selected with a press of the finger on the screen and, with the exception of the 23-Area AF option, the active AF area extends right to the edges of the image frame.
While the GF3 is primarily aimed at novice users, the enthusiast friendly program, aperture priority, shutter priority and manual (PASM) exposure options are available in addition to a collection of 17 scene specific shooting modes. These modes tailor the exposure, white balance, colour and sharpening to suit the subject.
Those who want to keep life simple will appreciate Panasonic's Intelligent Auto plus (iA+) mode which instructs the camera to use its Intelligent Scene Selector to identify the right scene mode to employ. When an appropriate scene mode is identified, the relevant icon is displayed on the top left of the screen.
Intelligent Auto plus (iA+) mode also determines whether to activate the MEGA O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilising) and Intelligent ISO Control. Intelligent ISO Control reduces motion blur by increasing the sensitivity if the subject moves. .
Helpfully, there is a dedicated iA+ button on the G3's top-plate and pressing this in any exposure mode switches to Intelligent Auto plus.
As with the Lumix G3, there are two main ways to take control over image colour with the GF3 using the Creative Control and Photo Style options.
Creative Control is found within the shooting modes (along with the PASM and scene modes) and when activated, the camera takes care of exposure. A total of 6 options are available, including Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, High Dynamic and Miniature. The last mode introduces blur around a sharp zone to replicate the popular tilt-and-shift effect. The sharp area can be rotated to work in landscape or portrait format, and increased or decreased in size to suit the scene.
Panasonic's Photo Style modes can be used in any of the advanced shooting modes (PASM), and in video mode. The Photo Style modes enable the user to specify the level of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction applied within the following options: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait and Custom.
All these features add up to a tidy package and, with the exception of the inability to add a viewfinder, the GF3 appears to offer plenty to keep both novice photographers and experienced shooter happy.
Build and handling
Although the GF3 looks and feels great with one of the super-slim pancake lenses (such as the Lumix 14mm f/2.5) mounted, it feels a little unbalanced with a longer optic such as the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS, or Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS lens mounted. A little textured rubber on the grip would go someway to making it feel a little safer in your grasp.
As the GF3 is smaller than the GF2, Panasonic has had to make a few changes to the controls, however, we think that the new camera is a little more comfortable in the hand and easier to use.
In a first for the Panasonic G series, the GF3 has a new jog-dial on the camera back, which is useful for speedy menu navigation and setting adjustments. We found this works well, it speeds up changing settings and menu navigation and compliments the touchscreen well.
The jog-dial also works as a four-way controller (there is a secondary four-way controller within it) and there are shortcut buttons to access the exposure, AF area selection, white balance and drive mode options.
Though it is simple to operate, the shortcut markings are in white and are quite hard to see in some lights (see above).
Like the recently launched Panasonic G3 (read our Panasonic G3 review), the Lumix GF3 has a Quick Menu that can be accessed via a button on the back of the camera near the bottom, or by touching the appropriate icon on-screen.
When activated, the Quick Menu can be navigated and options selected using either the touchscreen or the jog-dial and its central Menu/Set button. It works very well and manages to suit those who like button or dial controls, as well as touchscreen aficionados.
Conveniently, the Quick Menu is customisable, and by dragging and dropping icons it is possible to specify which features can be accessed and in what order they appear.
If you are comfortable with using the Touchscreen icon to access the Quick Menu, the dedicated button (which is also labelled Fn) can be assigned to access one of 15 features (including AE lock).
Exposure mode is selected either by pressing the Menu button and selecting the Rec Mode option to bring up the options, or by touching the icon in the top left of the screen to make the options available. It may not be quite as quick as turning a dial, but it only takes a couple of seconds.
Touchscreens can be divided into two types, capacitive and resistive. Resistive screens have two electrically conductive layers that are separated by a narrow gap. When a finger or stylus presses these two layers together, the touch is detected and the devise responds accordingly. Capacitive screens have an electrically conductive surface coating and touching this with human skin, which is also conductive, changes the capacitance and triggers a response. Devices with capacitive screens cannot be controlled by non-conductive styluses etc, but they tend to be more responsive to finger-touch than resistive screens.
Although the GF3 has a resistive screen, it is pretty responsive, and most selections can be made with a single touch.
One downside to a touchscreen is that the surface becomes smeared with fingerprints and this can pose problems when composing images – especially in direct sunlight.
Outdoors, we found that the GF3's screen performed best when set to its automatic brightness adjustment mode via the set-up menu. Nevertheless, in bright sunlight small objects are sometimes hard to see on-screen and this can hamper composition a little.
In bright light it can also be tricky to spot the active AF point when this is left to the camera to decide in either 23-Area or Tracking AF mode, so it's often best to use 1-Area AF mode and set the AF point manually with a finger-touch.
The screen performs well in comparison with most others, and shade from a hand can improve the view, but some users may be frustrated by the lack of a viewfinder or the option to attach one. In fairness, we should remember that this is Panasonic's entry-level camera and it might be unreasonable to expect it to have all the features of cameras further up the manufacturer's CSC line.
Although it is small, the GF3 houses a Four Thirds-type sensor and while it is primarily aimed at novice photographers looking for something a bit more than a compact camera, it is bound to attract the attention of enthusiasts as well.
Panasonic's LX5 is a popular model with enthusiast photographers who want a camera they can slip in their pocket when they leave their larger DSLR or (earlier) compact system camera (CSC) at home, and the GF3 may give them pause for thought.
Above: The Panasonic LX5 (left) next to the Panasonic GF3 (right).
Above: The Panasonic LX5 (left) next to the Panasonic GF3 (right).
Many Panasonic GF1 (read our Panasonic GF1 review) users were disappointed by what seemed liked dumbing down of their camera to produce the GF2. The Lumix GF3 doesn't correct all the complaints – there's still no mode dial for example, but its small size and improved handling makes considerable recompense for this.
Above: The Panasonic G3 (left) and Panasonic GF3 (right).
While it may surprise some that the Panasonic GF3 has a 12.1-million-pixel Live MOS sensor rather than the 15.8-million-pixel Live MOS device of the Lumix G3, this unit has been used extensively by Panasonic and has impressed in the past.
Coupled with the Venus Engine VII HD processing engine, the sensor doesn't disappoint and images from the GF3 have a respectable amount of detail at the lower sensitivity settings. It cannot match most APS-C format DSLRs for detail though.
Even at ISO 160, a granular texture is visible in some images at 100% on screen and the highest sensitivity settings (ISO 3200 and 6400) are generally best avoided unless only small prints are required.
Generally, speaking ISO 1600 is about as far as we would want to push the sensitivity of teh GF3 if A3 prints are required.
Exposure is also well controlled, but as is often the case, if you want to retain the detail of bright clouds it's worth keeping an eye on the histogram and occasionally dialing in –1/3V or –2/3EV exposure compensation to retain the highlight detail.
In reasonable light, and when the subject has some contrast, the Panasonic GF3's AF system can really impress as it brings the subject quickly into focus. The ability to position the focus point anywhere within the scene with a touch of the screen is very useful.
Also, when you need to be quick or the camera is at an awkward angle, Touch Shutter mode, which sets the camera to focus on the selected point and fire the shutter, is a real bonus. This mode can result in the odd 'extra' image because of accidental screen touches, but it's a small price to pay, and it can be quickly deactivated and activated again by touching an on-screen icon.
While it can focus quickly, the GF3 isn't the ideal sports camera – not that it is really intended to be. With continuous AF mode selected, the camera does a decent job of keeping fast moving subjects sharp provided the active AF point is over them. However, the Tracking AF system is only really fast enough to keep up with slow moving subjects and in bright light, it is hard to see whether the AF box has kept up with the target.
When Touch Shutter is activated the AF point is selected and the shutter fired by touching the Panasonic GF3's screen. It works extremely well and is incredibly useful for all sorts of situations, including street and social photography where there often isn't time to faff about with AF point selection controls.
Colour and white balance
Panasonic's current cameras produce more natural looking colours than earlier models and images from the GF3 look vibrant in the Standard Photo Style, without being over the top.
In many situations the auto white balance options proves a good choice, but in deep shade we found the results a little cold. Switching to the Shade or Cloudy setting, however, makes the scene rather too warm and we found the best results were achieved by using the Daylight setting. It's also best to set a Custom white balance in some artificial lighting conditions.
Shooting high contrast scenes reveals that the GF3 has a more restricted dynamic range than the average APS-C format SLR. This is confirmed by our laboratory tests, which indicate the dynamic range at ISO 200 is 8.9EV for JPEGs and 9.91EV for raw files (after conversion to TIFF). This doesn't compare well with the 10.58EV dynamic ranged measurement of the Olympus PEN E-P3 JPEGs.
In practice, it makes less difference than the numbers suggest, but highlights can burn out a little earlier than you might expect in very high contrast situations.
It is worth noting that the GF3 does a good job of replicating colours throughout their tonal range. Blue skies for example look natural and don't become unduly cyan, something which dogs some compact cameras.
The curved top of the Panasonic GF3 houses a small pop-up flash unit that's springs to life enthusiastically at the press of the designated button on the back of the camera.
It only has a guide number of 6m @ ISO 100, but it's useful for adding a bit of fill-in light or illuminating party shots and social event. We found that exposures are generally nicely balanced with the ambient light.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality tests, we shot our resolution chart using the GF3 with the with the Lumix G Vario 14-45mm f/3.5-5.6 lens mounted.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 160 the Panasonic GF3 is capable of resolving up to nearly 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its 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:
Full resolution chart
ISO 160: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 200: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 400: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 800: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 1600: score 20 (see full image)
ISO 3200: score 16 (see full image)
ISO 6400: score 16 (see full image)
ISO 160: score 24 (see full image)
ISO 200: score 24 (see full image)
ISO 400: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 800: score 22(see full image)
ISO 1600: score 22 (see full image)
ISO 3200: score 20 (see full image)
ISO 6400: score16 (see full image)
This very high contrast scene has been reproduced well, we were squinting at the bright sky
Brightening the first image reveals the amount of detail retained in the shadows
Colours are well reproduced and there's plenty of detail here
Having a sensor that it larger than a compact camera's sensor means there's lots of control over depth of field and you can restrict the focus if you want
The GF3's continuous AF system managed to keep up with this cyclist
Noise is evident in this image taken at ISO 6400
This crop reveals the levels of noise and loss of detail in JPEGs capatured at ISO 6400
All the highlight detail was retained here, despite the bright sun and dark background, but the light on the screen made it difficult to tell if the camera was level or not - it's a little off kilter
Touch Shutter mode is very useful for candid photography
Having a sensor that is much larger than the averag compact camera sensor means there plenty of control over depth of field. Note also the excellent white balance performance in the mixed lighting.
Though it's not the ideal sports camera, the GF3's continuous AF system managed to keep up with this skater as he moved nearer
The GF3's Multi zone metering system has coped well here
Shot with the 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens wide open to restrict depth of field
The Panasonic GF3 is small enough to not draw any unwanted attention when shooting out and about
Colour reproduction appears to be generally very good
Panasonic GF3: Specifications
17.3 x 13.0 mm Live MOS (CMOS) with 12.1 million effective pixels and 4:3 aspect ratio
Focal length conversion
None, LCD only
Motion JPEG: QVGA: 320 x 240 at 30fps, VGA: 640 x 480 at 30fps, HD: 1280 x 720 at 30fps
AVCHD (NTSC): Full HD 1920×1080 at 60i (sensor output is 30p) (FSH:17Mbps), HD 1280 x 720 at 60i (sensor output is 30p)（SH:17Mbps)
AVCHD (PAL): Full HD 1920×1080 at 50i (sensor output is 25p) (FSH:17Mbps), HD 1280 x 720 at 50i (sensor output is 25p)（SH:17Mbps)
Face detection, AF Tracking, 23-area-focusing, 1-area-focusing, Pinpoint AF plus manual focusing, Quick AF, Continuous AF and Touch shutter
Max burst rate
3in 460,000 dot touch-sensitive LCD
Approx. 264g including SD card, battery and body
Approx. 222g body only
Approx. 319g including SD card, battery, body and 14mm lens
107.7 x 67.1 x 32.5 mm (excluding protrusions)
Li-ion Battery Pack (7.2V, 940mAh) (supplied)
Panasonic GF3: Verdict
Panasonic is aiming the Lumix GF3 at novice photographers who want to upgrade from a compact camera, and we think it's a great choice for these users. The GF3 is easy to use and yet has plenty of automated features and provides lots of opportunity to take control as your confidence grows.
There's also a reasonably high-level of customization available for an entry-level camera and it's worth spending time experimenting with the various set-ups that are possible and trailing different Quick Menu arrangements.
We also think that the Panasonic GF3 is worthy of consideration by enthusiast photographers who want a camera to slip in their jacket pocket. These users will probably also like Panasonic's pancake lenses which offer larger maximum apertures than the zoom lenses, in a very neat and compact design.
The Panasonic GF3's aluminium chassis gives it a high-quality feel, and it seems like a camera that will survive being taken on your travels.
The high quality feel and small size combined with plenty of control makes the GF3 a great camera for experienced photographers who want to travel light as well as novices moving up from a compact camera.
Clearly some compromises have to be made with entry-level products and while the GF3 is very small and compact, the lack of a viewfinder and the inability to attached and external finder means that composing images can be tricky in bright light.
Although Panasonic has put a lot of work into reducing the level of noise in the images produced by its Lumix G series cameras, their strength is still their performance in bright or 'average' lighting conditions. To be fair, though, this is when the camera is most likely to be used as the GF3 is small enough to slip into a bag or rucksack and taken on travels and adventures. Nevertheless it is worth bearing in mind that ISO 1600 is probably the highest settings to use if A3 prints are required. Pushing the sensivity any higher than this results in loss of detail and a coarse texture.
The Panasonic GF3 is an ideal alternative to a compact camera. It produces high quality images and has an extensive range of controls long with simple, yet sophisticated, handling.
Dynamic range is a little restricted, but on the whole images look great straight from the camera.
The only real downside is that there's no viewfinder or means of attaching an external viewfinder, which can be an issue in very bright light. This may not be an issue for many people upgrading from a compact camera as few have viewfinders theses days, but enthusiasts who choose to use a GF3 instead of their SLR may take issue.