Barely two years have elapsed since Panasonic and Olympus kick-started the compact system camera (CSC) genre with the introduction of their jointly-developed Micro Four Thirds standard. The response from consumers has been extremely positive and in the past twelve months the CSC market has seen the fastest rate growth of any sector within the digital camera market.
This has been helped no end by the entrance of other manufacturers into the market, bringing with them an increasing number of models and styles to choose from. Having gained a useful head-start on its rivals, Panasonic has established itself as the market leader, although the company is under no illusions that this position will be harder to maintain as the competition continues to get tougher.
Enter then the GF3 – Panasonic’s latest consumer-orientated compact system model, and the camera Panasonic hopes will help to keep it in the Number One spot. Pitched very much at the lifestyle end of the market, Panasonic is marketing it as the most user-friendly, style-driven option within their G-series range. As such it’s designed to appeal directly to anyone looking for a camera that offers compact-like portability and ease-of-use, but is capable of delivering DSLR-like image quality.
While the GF3 targets the consumer and lifestyle end of the market, the G3 is aimed more at enthusiasts and those photographers looking for the added practicality of an electronic viewfinder, articulated LCD monitor and hot-shoe connection. The older G2, meanwhile, will now fill the budget slot, while the GH2 remains as the flagship G-series video-oriented model.
The new GF3 inherits the same lightening-fast AF system that was introduced in the G3, along with a 3in, 460k-dot touch-screen monitor. In addition, it also benefits from Touch AF and Touch Shutter technology, Full HD movie recording, and a range of digital filter Creative Controls.
As if this wasn’t enough, Panasonic has proudly declared the GF3 to be both 17% smaller and 15% lighter than its predecessor – the already quite small GF2. Indeed, Panasonic even claims that the GF3 is the “world’s smallest and lightest interchangeable lens camera body with a built-in flash”.
Of course, Sony has also claimed a “world’s smallest” crown for its recently launched NEX-C3 (which uses a larger, APS-C sized sensor), prompting the question – which of the two is smaller? Well, on paper at least the GF3 appears to be marginally smaller in terms of width and depth, but is also marginally taller than the Sony.
The soon-to-be-released Olympus E-PM1, meanwhile, is comparable in size to both the GF3 and the NEX-C3, although it does lack a built-in flash. Either way, all three models would happily sit inside a coat pocket with the right lens attached, and all three are quite some way smaller than even the smallest of DSLRs.
So does the GF3 have what it takes to keep Panasonic top of the compact system pile? Let’s take a closer look and find out.