Panasonic has made some interesting changes to its third generation Micro Four Thirds, interchangeable lens camera, the Lumix DMC-G3. Updates include a new 16 megapixel sensor, an updated processor, and higher autofocus speed. The G3 retains a touchscreen, articulated LCD and features a slimmer DSLR-like design with a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF), pop-up flash, and hotshoe. At launch, the camera was about $100 less than the G2’s original price. But to accomplish the price cut, Panasonic trimmed some features, including an external microphone jack. Still, the G3 is a solid camera, with a long list of features to attract enthusiasts and advanced amateurs.
Hardware and design
You can purchase the G3 as body only ($600) or, for an additional $100, in a kit with either a 14-42mm lens or a 14mm lens. It’s available in black, red, brown, or white. The compact body measures 4.54 by 3.29 by 1.84 inches and weighs about 19.20 ounces with an SD card, battery, and a 14-42mm lens.
In addition to a large and bright EVF, the G3 offers a 3-inch, articulated touchscreen LCD that works well both indoors and outside in bright light. There’s no eye sensor to automatically switch between LCD and EVF when you put the camera up to your eye; instead, you activate the LCD and EVF manually.
With fewer external controls than its predecessors, the G3 is slightly more touchscreen dependent, but the screen is quite responsive to a tap of your fingertip. And, icons are larger so they’re easier to read and activate. For the touchscreen-phobic, a handful of touch settings can be disabled and accessed instead through the camera’s standard assortment of buttons and menus.
Notable features and performance
As expected, the G3 offers full manual, semimanual, and automatic exposure modes, as well as a solid assortment of advanced features. To handle all the features, the G3 is equipped with custom options, a quick menu, and dual function buttons, which create a smooth and convenient shooting workflow for more experienced users.
Photographers who prefer a more basic approach are welcomed with automatic features, including a new intelligent auto “plus” mode. This provides the simplicity of automatic shooting but with the added ability to manually adjust parameters such as exposure compensation, background defocusing, and white balance via on-screen sliders. An added bonus is the live preview of how each adjustment affects the image.
The G3’s performance is more than respectable, with little shutter lag and minimal shot-to-shot time. Overall, autofocus (AF) speed has been increased and AF tracking is accurate more often than not, although it can be fooled depending on the subject matter. The new Pinpoint autofocus mode ensures that a specified area is in focus. Just tap on the main subject area to enlarge it on the screen and use manual or AF + MF to fine-tune the focus point. It’s much more accurate than using the camera’s AF points and works quite well, especially for close-up and fine detail images.
Full resolution JPEG continuous shooting clocks in at almost 4 frames per second, although the burst rate slows considerably after about 8 shots. Burst mode can be bumped to 20 frames per second but with a drop in resolution to 4 megapixels. Unfortunately, the camera chokes a little when shooting RAW + JPEG, so be prepared to wait until the buffer clears before capturing more images.
Not surprisingly, the more expensive GH2 model is better equipped for video capture, but the G3 is a capable moviemaker. In addition to a red dedicated video button, the G3 offers full 1080i HD, as well as 1280 by 720 standard definition capture, both of which can be recorded in AVCHD or Motion JPEG. Motion JPEG also offers 640 by 480 and 320 by 240 options. All video capture is at 30fps.
A good selection of video recording options include metering, single, continuous, and manual focus, flicker reduction, as well as the ability to choose a photo style. Although the external microphone jack has been eliminated, the G3 records stereo sound and offers several microphone controls, including a wind filter.
Still image quality is good, with above average color rendition that’s well-saturated without being overly vivid. Of course, you can tweak the settings if you prefer brighter colors. Exposures and dynamic range were fairly accurate, although auto white balance outdoors tends to produce slightly cool (bluish) images, But that, too, can be adjusted via the G3’s white balance controls. Using the 14-42mm kit lens, the G3 produced images that were sharp and well detailed, with minimal distortion. Image noise is kept pretty well under control up to about ISO 800, but nice mid-sized prints can be had at around ISO 1600 as well.
Video quality earned an only “fair” word score in Macworld’s subjective analysis and, as mentioned earlier, the Panasonic GH2 is a better option for video. Still, other than rolling shutter when panning, the G3’s video capture isn’t bad, particularly in bright light.
Macworld’s buying advice
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 lost a few features in order to slim down its size, weight, and price, but most photographers looking for a small, DSLR-like camera shouldn’t mind too much. On the plus side, unlike many other cameras in its class, the G3 is equipped with an on-board flash and a built-in EVF. Add a well-rounded feature set and pleasing image quality, and the G3 certainly maintains its place as a player in the mirrorless interchangeable lens category.