Despite its diminutive dimensions, the GF3 feels solid enough in the hand. Much of the outer casing is fashioned from aluminum and this certainly contributes to a premium feel overall. It even feels, dare we say, a little weighty. The GF3 shares the same sculpted finger-grip of the G3, enabling you to get a comfortable and fairly secure grip on the camera, although it lacks any kind of rubberised coating that would doubtless afford it added grip. On the back there’s also a raised thumb pad with a raised ridge at the top to stop your thumb from slipping off.
Buttons all fall within easy reach, although fans of the shoulder-mounted thumbwheel may be disappointed to find that’s it been removed, replaced instead by a dual-purpose circular wheel and D-pad on the back. This works in much the same way that it does on Canon cameras, in that the wheel both rotates and acts as a directional-pad depending on what you are trying to do.
Pressing the wheel to the left still takes you directly to AF mode and pressing ‘up’ still takes you directly to EV compensation, however while the camera is being used in, say, Aperture-priority shooting mode, rotating the dial will change the aperture up or down.
Should you wish to change shooting modes or enter the main menu to make more advanced settings then a simple press of the Menu/Set button in the middle of the wheel will do this, and you can of course use the touch-screen as well.
There’s really no right way or wrong way to change things and to be honest, during our time with the camera, we used a curious 50/50 mix of physical button presses and touch-screen jabbing to keep control. We think you really need to own the camera for some time before finding which system, or combination of the two, works best for you.
Either way, it is worth mentioning that the GF3 employs a snazzy new graphical user interface that makes navigating your way around the camera easier. For example, in order to change your shooting mode you can jab the current shooting mode icon in the top-left of the screen, which will bring up all the alternative shooting modes, represented as a ring of icons on the monitor. From here you can simply tap away at the one you want. It’s really neat and simple and the GF3 certainly scores highly for ease of use.
Turning now to performance, we found that the light-speed AF system the GF3 inherits from the G3 to be every bit as fast as claimed. It's especially useful when combined with the Touch AF function that allows you to select your point of focus simply by touching it on the LCD screen. You can even take this process one step further by using Touch Shutter to instantly take a picture, again simply by touching the point of focus on the screen.
Speaking of the screen, it’s a 3in, 460k-dot affair – exactly the same as its predecessor and the G3. While it’s not quite as sharp as the 920k-dot monitors used on many mid- to high-end DSLRs it’s still perfectly sharp enough for composing and reviewing images and certainly represents a big step-up from the fuzzy 230k-dot monitors used on so many compacts.
Used in single-shot drive mode image processing times are quite impressive, with full-resolution JPEGs processed almost instantly, even on the Fine quality setting. Used in burst mode, we were able to record approximately 20 full-res JPEGs of a relatively complex scene before the camera began to slow down. Switching to Raw capture, however, the GF3 was only able to manage four frames before coming to a rather abrupt halt.
We don’t mind admitting that we’re a little disappointed to see the hot-shoe removed from the GF3, as this does lessen the overall flexibility of the camera. The GF3’s internal pop-up flash is rated GN6, which is the same as previous models, but not as powerful as a dedicated flash unit would be.
The lack of a hot-shoe also means that the GF3 can’t be used with Panasonic's optical viewfinder accessory, or any kind of off-camera flash triggering device such as a PocketWizard. While we’ll happily concede that off-camera flash is very much the domain of the enthusiast, the point we’re really trying to make is how the lack of a hot-shoe places some limits on what the GF3 can do, and the extent to which you can grow with the camera.