Resembling a very small DSLR, this 15.8-megapixel (MP) camera is larger than most Compact System Cameras because of its built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) and flash. Still, it's much slimmer than Panasonic's older DMC-GH-series models; and it's lightweight but rugged with its with aluminum front panel. The electronic viewfinder is quite impressive, thanks to the amazingly high 1.44-million-dot resolution. The 460,000-dot LCD touchscreen is fully articulated, so it can be placed in any desired position. The G3 employs the Venus Engine FHD processor for great speed and fine quality at high ISO, with advanced noise-reduction technology.
The processor also provides a 4-frame-per-second drive mode at full resolution, or 20fps at 4MP resolution. Amenities include Intelligent Resolution for very crisp JPEGs, Intelligent ISO control; and an HD movie mode with up to 1080p resolution, continuous and tracking autofocus, and Dolby stereo with the built-in mic. However, there's no port for adding an external mic. The new iA+ mode with "intelligent" technology allows for using essential overrides for items such as white balance, image brightness, autofocus (AF) mode and flash mode.
The processor also increases autofocus speed in conjunction with an improved AF system. This combination provides very fast AF, and is reliable in most situations. Granted, it was not always able to keep up with rodeo bulls moving at high speed and accelerating while approaching my position. Many autofocus options are available with the 23-point AF sensor, including a new Pinpoint mode. The latter uses a very tiny focus-detection point, allowing for very precise control. After focusing, the display of the pertinent area is enlarged, making it easy to confirm focus on the desired area, such as a person's eye.
Features and Operation
The DMC-G3 is also well equipped with a wealth of modes, functions and overrides, making it competitive with some entry-level DSLRs. In addition to six Picture Style modes, with overrides for contrast, sharpness and colour saturation, it also allows for great creativity with five Creative Control filters for special effects. For maximum simplicity, select one of the 17 subject-specific Scene modes, including Soft Skin for pleasing portraits, or switch to iA or iA+ mode. The latter will select a suitable Scene mode, detect faces, minimize motion blur, improve highlight/shadow detail and provide intelligent resolution.
The G3 can record 1080p HD video. Image stabilization is provided by OIS-designated lenses. You can preset a desired exposure compensation, picture style and shutter speed or aperture. In iA or iA+ mode, the aperture can be changed during actual recording using Defocus Control. Continuous autofocus, and even tracking AF, is also available. For the best autofocus in movie mode, I used the Lumix G HD 14-140mm zoom with its fast, nearly silent AF motor. Two new X-series lenses will also allow for motorized zooming, useful for smoother zooms while shooting movies.
Certain aspects of operation can be achieved via the pressure-sensitive touchscreen. For example, you can point at an area that should be in sharpest focus, move the grid lines, adjust the amount of background blurring in iA or iA+ mode, and take a photo. In playback mode, swipe your finger to move to the next photo or tap the screen to enlarge it. Touchscreen Defocus Control (in iAuto mode) is particularly convenient. A slider allows for automatic aperture and depth-of-field control to produce a blurred or more distinct background.
All of this works smoothly, thanks to a well-implemented interface. It's worth dragging and dropping many functions (up to 15) to the Q. Menu. After you do so, these functions can be accessed quickly by pressing the Q. Menu button. That will minimize the need to access the five-section menu with its numerous items, some not exactly intuitive. Nearly all of the functions can also be achieved in a conventional manner too, using the various buttons and dials or the four-way thumb pad.
Panasonic currently markets 14 lenses, many with a built-in Mega OIS stabilizer. The system includes a lens for 3D captures at 1.9 megapixels, and two with motorized zooming. Adapters for mounting lenses from other systems (including Four Thirds DSLRs) and several flash units are also available. Panasonic Lumix G cameras also accept Olympus' electronic flash units and M.Zuiko lenses. None of the M.Zuiko lenses are stabilized, because Olympus has stabilization in the camera body.
Speed and Quality
The Lumix G3 responds instantly and can shoot dozens of JPEGs at 3 frames per second, or a full 4fps in high-speed mode. There is one drawback to the fastest mode: the LCD or EVF displays the last photo that was taken, and not a real-time live view of the subject. That made it difficult to keep subjects framed when cyclists were moving across my line of vision, but was not a problem in many other situations. Autofocus is very fast outdoors; in low light it takes roughly 1/2 second. Continuous AF balked with rodeo bulls running toward my position and accelerating. But it was quite effective in tracking the motion of subjects moving at a consistent speed, particularly with the HD 14-140mm zoom.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 provides quick response with little shutter lag, with very fast autofocus. That's very useful when you notice a fleeting photo opportunity like this one. And the articulated LCD makes it easier to shoot low to the ground. Photo by Peter Burian
During testing in P mode with Natural Picture Style without overrides, my JPEGs exhibited nicely saturated colours, high contrast and high sharpness. The accuracy of skin tones (and the red spectrum in general) was not always ideal. For the best flesh tones, I recommend using Portrait Scene Mode or Portrait Picture Style. The G3 tended to underexpose. That was easy to prevent with a bit of plus exposure compensation, taking care not to get excessively bright highlight areas. The Intelligent Resolution option worked well, selectively smoothing or sharpening certain parts of a JPEG image.
My best ISO 160 to ISO 400 photos are very smooth, with crisply defined detail; they're suitable for 16x20-inch prints. At ISO 800 and 1600, the images exhibit little digital noise. Colours are still quite rich and details are well resolved; my JPEGs made nice 11x15-inch glossies. Even at ISO 3200, the images are quite sharp and clean; my letter-size prints look fine. As with many cameras, images at very high ISO are better when made in RAW capture, and then tweaked in software for the best results.
The G3 is quite competitive with many entry-level DLSRs in speed, versatility and image quality up to ISO 1600. However, when shooting very fast action moving at erratic speeds, a DSLR is preferable; this applies to all CSCs. This camera offers the best of both worlds in terms of controls: familiar buttons and dials for long-time photographers, and touchscreen operation for those who appreciate this newer method. Because the electronic viewfinder is excellent, even traditionalists should become comfortable with this amenity.
In spite of the upgrade from 12 to 15.8MP (with smaller pixels), image quality has improved dramatically over the previous G2, especially at high ISO. To maximize this potential, it's worth buying at least one high-grade lens. For a relatively affordable camera, the Lumix DMC-G3 is a fine performer in many other aspects, including autofocus in both photo and movie modes. It's not tiny like the Lumix DMC-GF3, but some shooters will definitely prefer the larger size and the more substantial handgrip.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
Both touchscreen and conventional controls
Very fast, reliable; useful Intelligent technology
Superior high-ISO quality
A bit large due to built-in EVF and flash
Skin tones are best in Portrait modes
Battery life was shorter than expected
NUTS & BOLTS
Sensor/processor: 15.8MP effective (4,592 x 3,448 pixels) LiveMOS; Venus Engine FHD
Capture modes: JPEG, RAW, RAW+JPEG, Motion JPEG to 720p or AVCHD to 1280p
Lenses: All Micro Four-Thirds; Four-Thirds lenses with adapter
LCD/viewfinder: Articulated 3" 460,000-dot touchscreen; built-in 1.44-million-dot EVF
Operating modes: iA or iA+, P, A, S, M, 17 Scene modes, Movie
Features: Built-in flash; ISO 160-6400; 6 picture style modes, and custom with overrides; 5 special-effects modes; many other overrides; Live View grid lines and histogram; continuous drive to 4fps, or 20fps at 4 MP; 23-point AF with many options including Pinpoint; supersonic sensor cleaner; stereo mic with wind-cut, 4 audio levels and Dolby coding
High-tech amenities: Touchscreen interface; Intelligent features; digital teleconverter; Peripheral Defocus for automatic depth-of-field control; 3D stills with 3D lens; re-size, cropping etc. in playback mode
Power: Rechargeable Li-ion battery for 270 shots
Storage: SD/SDHC/SDXC card
Size: 115 x 84 x 47 mm (w/h/d, body only)
Weight: 382g (body only, with battery)
Price: $700 (body only); $800 with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS standard-zoom lens