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Panasonic Lumix G3 Review

Pros

  • Super fast AF
  • High ISO performance
  • Image quality

Cons

  • Long-winded menus
  • Poor battery performance
  • No external microphone socket

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £629.99
  • 16MP LiveMOS Micro Four Thirds sensor
  • 1080p Full HD movie recording
  • Super-fast AF performance
  • Excellent high ISO performance
  • Fantastic image quality

The Lumix G3 is the latest model in Panasonic’s compact, DSLR-like Micro Four Thirds range. It’s considerably smaller and lighter than its predecessor the G2
and sports an all-new 16MP sensor, the same super-fast autofocus system as used
by the GH2, a 3-inch articulated monitor that offers responsive touch-screen
control over the camera, and Full HD movie recording capabilities.

The G3 sits above the G2 in the G-series range but doesn’t
actually replace it. Instead the G2 remains in the range, replacing the now discontinued
G10 as the budget Micro Four Thirds option. Alongside the G2, the G3 is further
book-ended by the high-end GH2
and slimline GF2.

With an official launch price of £630, pre-orders from
reputable online retailers are already popping up offering the G3 body with a
14-42mm kit lens for around £600. And as is often the case we expect some
further discounting may occur after the G3 has been out for a month or two.

From being a relatively new and therefore niche market that
was created and dominated by Panasonic and Olympus with their joint Micro Four
Thirds platform, the compact system camera market has since evolved into a much more
mass market affair, with new manufacturers keen to join the party and launch
their own models. It’s therefore a much tougher market to dominate than it was
18 months ago. Panasonic clearly understands this and hopes the G3 will keep
the company at the top of the micro system pile.

Panasonic Lumix G3 5

To do so it’ll have to compete directly against rival micro
system models such as the new 14.6MP Samsung NX11 that uses a larger APS-C sized
sensor and can be picked up for around £500, and the 14.2MP Sony NEX-5 that also
uses an APS-C sensor and can be bought for about £550.

It’s also possible to source a very well specified entry-level
DSLR for around £600, although you will of course incur a size and weight
penalty over the purposely compact and easy-to-carry micro system genre – such is the penalty of a proper optical viewfinder and the optics that go with it.

Does the G3 have what it takes to take its competitors on
and win? Let’s take a closer look and find out.

Internally, the G3 employs an all-new 16MP LiveMOS Micro
Four Thirds sensor alongside the Venus Engine FHD (Full High Definition) image
processor. Metering is taken care of via a 144-zone multi-pattern module while autofocus
is covered via a 23-area AF system. Sensitivity ranges from ISO 160-6400, while
shutter speeds go from 1/4000sec to two minutes.

Continuous shooting speed has been upped to a very credible
4fps at full resolution or 20fps at 4MP. Full-resolution images are recorded in
the same 4:3 aspect ratio of the Micro Four Thirds sensor at 16MP, although if
you want to save memory card space, or if the images are only going to be used
small or for the internet, there are also Medium (8MP) and Small (4MP)
resolution options available.

In addition, the G3 can also crop directly from the sensor to record in 3:2 (at a choice of 14MP, 7MP & 3.5MP resolution), 16:9 (11.5MP, 6MP & 2MP) and 1:1 (11.5MP, 6MP & 3MP) aspect ratios. Images can be stored as lossless Raw (.RW2 format) or compressed JPEG files, with a further option to record each image as both a Raw and a JPEG. There are two compression settings for JPEG files – Fine and Standard.

In addition to the regular creative quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual (PASM) shooting controls, the G3 also offers 16 individual scene modes, two user-defined custom settings, and an all-new Creative Control shooting mode.

Clicking on Creative Control accesses five shooting options: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic. These are all essentially digital filter effects that give images a unique albeit preset look. Choosing one of these Creative Controls puts the G3 into fully automatic mode, although you are able to control exposure compensation and alter the depth of field.

More advanced users may prefer to tinker with the G3’s six individual
Photo Styles. These used to be called Film Styles on previous Lumix
models and act in much the same way that Nikon’s Picture Controls or
Canon’s Picture Styles do, by allowing you to determine the levels of
saturation, contrast and sharpness applied to JPEGs.

The six
Photo Style presets include: Standard, Natural, Vivid, Monochrome,
Scenery and Portrait. Accessed via the main Menu or Quick Menu, the
Photo Styles can be applied to both still images and movies. Photo
Styles can also be applied to any shooting mode, including fully manual.

As with all Lumix models, the G3 offers an intelligent Auto (iA) fully automatic point-and-shoot mode, which is supplemented by a new iA mode. This allows the user a bit more control, with access to white balance, exposure compensation and peripheral defocus settings. Oddly, the iA button isn’t located on the mode wheel with the other shooting modes but rather on the top of the body. It does, however, glow blue when activated.

With a choice of Face Detection to keep portraits sharp, 23-area AF to
achieve a good balance, Single-area AF to select a specific point of
focus, and AF Tracking to keep moving subjects in focus, the G3 offers
something for every situation. In addition, the G3 also offers a new
Pinpoint AF mode that creates a small square on the screen or
viewfinder, within which the camera zooms-in to show a close-up of the
specific point the camera is focused on for. As the name implies, this
is to give you pinpoint accuracy when focusing. Finally, there’s also a
new MF Assist function that creates an enlarged box within the
viewfinder/screen that helps you to fine-tune focus manually.

And of course, this being a touch-screen Lumix, the G3 also offers Touch focus and Touch shutter. Touch focus allows you to determine focus on any part of the scene simply by touching it on the LCD screen, while the latter goes one step further by recording an image once focus has been established.

In addition the G3 continues to offer the Peripheral de-focus feature seen in previous G-series models. This allows you to select a point of focus with your finger on the touch-screen, while the camera automatically selects a shallow depth of field to throw the background and make the subject stand out more.

Movies are recorded at 1080i Full HD and 720p HD, both at 30fps, in the super- efficient AVCHD file format. Audio is recorded in stereo courtesy of the built-in microphone positioned on top of the pop-up flash housing, although unlike the G2 there’s no socket with which to plug in an external microphone – this severely dents this cameras appeal as a true enthusiasts all rounder. Hidden away behind a protective cover, however, is a mini HDMI port for direct HDTV playback, a USB 2.0 port for connectivity and a 3.5mm remote input.

The G3’s design signals a fairly radical departure from its predecessor. Being 25% smaller and approx 50g lighter than the G2, it could even be said, with ample justification, that the G3 has more in common with the compact-styled GF-series than any of its direct G-series predecessors. Indeed, when we picked up our G3 production sample, our first thought was to liken it to a GF2 with an electronic viewfinder.

While the aluminium-fronted G3 still isn’t quite pocket-sized (unless you happen to have poacher-sized pockets), it remains far more discreet and significantly more portable than a full-sized DSLR. If miniaturisation is something that appeals or is important to you as a photographer, then the G3 does it very well indeed.

As a result of the G3’s shrunken dimensions, physical controls have moved around a fair bit from previous G-series models. For example, the old metering and AF mode wheel that was found to the left of the EVF on the G2 has gone altogether, as has the G2’s deep, DSLR-like finger grip, replaced instead by a smaller and more compact-like sculpted grip.

Despite this, the G3 remains a very comfortable camera to hold and use. We did find that the buttons on the back of the camera are fairly stiff, which is probably more of a blessing than a curse, as it makes accidental presses less likely. The rear thumbwheel isn’t all that easy to operate though, being both stiff and, crucially, a bit too far set into the body for our liking. In contrast, we found the G3’s touch-screen to be highly responsive to our various finger jabs and prompts, although it is difficult to see in bright sunlight.

For composing and review purposes the G3 offers both a 3in, 460k-dot LCD monitor and a 1.44m-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF). We’ve generally found EVF systems to be a bit of a let-down in the past, with a combination of clunky performance, poor resolution and low-light flickering all contributing to a poor user experience overall. That said, we have to concede that the G3’s EVF – the same one used on the G2 – is the best we’ve ever used.

Not only is it very large and bright, it’s also surprisingly clear and detailed, and covers 100% of the frame. Of course, it’s still nowhere near as detailed as a traditional optical viewfinder, but for fans of mirror-less compact system cameras who want to be able to hold the camera to their eye in the traditional way, it’s the best compromise solution we’ve yet seen on a digital camera.

In addition to shooting, it’s also possible to use the EVF to navigate through the G3’s menu system, although in practice this proves pretty fiddly. We certainly preferred using the rear LCD when making menu-driven changes, although as there’s no eye-sensor on the G3 (another change from the G2 and G1), you have to use the LVF/LCD toggle button to the right of the EVF. This does tend to interrupt a smooth shooting process, and we even found having to constantly change from the EVF to the LCD to make menu changes mildly annoying.

While the menu system itself is easy enough to navigate using the D-pad and thumbwheel, it’s somewhat long-winded and complex. Thankfully there’s a Quick Menu on the back of the camera that allows you to cut through a lot of the more advanced settings, along with dedicated White Balance, ISO, AF mode and custom Function buttons on the back of the camera.

The main menu isn’t all that user-friendly for novice users though, and we suspect that many first-time G-series users might feel a bit overwhelmed at the sheer array of settings and functions, especially as there’s no built-in guide. Ideally, we’d have liked to have seen some simplified on-screen explanations of what the individual settings and function do as you navigate through the menu. Given the G3’s mass appeal it would definitely benefit from something like the Nikon D3100’s ‘Guide Mode’, or the Canon 600D’s ‘Feature Guide’.

We’re impressed by the G3’s overall performance, especially its super quick autofocus system. Used in good light the G3’s contrast-detect AF system is as good as instantaneous, and also holds up pretty well in less than optimal light too, with a bright orange AF assist lamp coming to the camera’s aid if required. Overall, if you’re looking for a camera that’s quick enough to capture the moment before it’s gone, the G3 is a sound bet.

One gripe we do have though, is with battery life. The G3 uses a new 7V/1010mAH battery that only offers enough juice for about three hours constant shooting or approximately 250 shots, whichever comes first.

Moving on to the all-important question of image quality, Panasonic has
been at pains to stress the improvements they’ve made with the G3,
especially with regards to low-light performance. Having now used the
camera extensively, we find it hard to disagree with their claims.  

Images
taken with the G3 deliver plenty of punch, with bright colours, sharp
edges, accurate white balance and a noticeably wide dynamic range. In
partnership with the Venus FHD image processor the new sensor also
resolves plenty of fine detail.

This is further aided by
Panasonic’s Intelligent Resolution technology, which automatically
detects edges, detail and soft graduations and processes them
accordingly to leave edges sharp and detail intact.

Having
put the G3 through its paces in a number of low-light situations we’
inclined to agree with Panasonic’s bold claim that the new sensor is far
less affected by intrusive image noise at high-ISO settings than previous G-series sensors.

Not
only does the G3 perform well in a controlled test environment, but
more importantly it also produces exceptional results in real-world
situations where light is less than favourable. See our ISO Performance
pages for some real-world examples of the G3 at work and prepare to be
impressed.

Verdict

Overall, we’re mightily
impressed by the specifications, handling, performance and overall image
quality of the G3. Having spent some extended shooting time with it,
we’re confident enough to say that it’s Panasonic’s best G-series model
yet. Yes, the omission of an external microphone input will sadden some video enthusiasts, and the lack of an eye-sensor is an inconvenience but as an all-rounder, it excels. If you’re looking to buy into the micro system camera genre, you
should definitely consider the G3.


Our by now familiar TrustedReviews ISO performance still-life scene in full


ISO 160 shows no signs of noise at all


At ISO 200 the image remains sharp, detailed and noise-free


At ISO 400 the G3 is still producing noise-free images


At ISO 800 most cameras begin to exhibit some noise. Not so the G3…


At ISO 1600 a small degree of noise and some softening occurs, but overall quality is still very very good


Noise is more clearly visible at ISO 3200, although the image remains more than presentable as a whole


At the top setting of ISO 6400 the G3 is producing quite a lot of noise

Panasonic Lumix G3 2
Even at higher sensitivities the G3 delivers punchy colour and good detail  (1/8sec @ f/7.1. ISO 1600, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 3
Another shot showing what the G3 can do at higher sensitivities (1/10sec @ f/7.1, ISO 1600, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 4
At ISO 3200 the G3 is still resolving decent levels of detail, with the image stabilisation helping to keep edges sharp too (1/15sec @ f/4.5. ISO 3200, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 2

This was taken in very poor light at the top sensitivity setting of ISO 6400. The image is noisy but still usable (1/30sec @ f/4.5, ISO 6400, AWB)

Regular image taken without Creative Controls

Panasonic Lumix G3

Expressive

Panasonic Lumix G3

Retro

Panasonic Lumix G3

High Key

Panasonic Lumix G3

Sepia

Panasonic Lumix G3

High Dynamic

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3

Panasonic Lumix G3 1
The G3 produces vibrant colours and sharp, snappy images
(1/160sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 5
Metering is generally very accurate, though this still-life would have benefited from a touch of EV compensation
( 1/640sec @ f/7.1, ISO 7.1, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 2
In this image we’ve focused on the honeysuckle’s stamen and used a small aperture to throw the background
(1/800sec @ f/5.6, ISO 200, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 3
In this snatched image of a London tube station, the G3 has overexposed the sky. We did make the train though
(1/200sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 4
For us, the G3 is all about punchy colour and sharp images
(1/500sec @ f/7.1, ISO 200, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 1
We’ve pushed the G3 hard here by shooting straight into the sun. To its credit though, the G3 has delivered good result
(1/500sec @ f/9, ISO 160, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3
In this London street scene the G3 has delivered good detail, thankfully free of any moire effect
(1/640sec @ f/11, ISO 160, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 3
Using the G3’s Peripheral Defocus feature is as easy as selecting it and touching the screen on where you want to concentrate focus
(1/ 400sec @ f/ 5.3, ISO 160, AWB)

Panasonic Lumix G3 1
There’s no specific macro mode, but the G3 is still capable of delivering good close-ups
(1/800sec @ f/5.6, ISO 800, AWB) 


The G3 has delivered a good result in this high-contrast scene, even without having to call on the High Dynamic option
(1/400sec @ f/8, ISO 200, AWB)

Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Value 8
  • Design & Features 9
  • Image Quality 9
  • Build Quality 8

Features

Camera type Digital SLR
Megapixels (Megapixel) Megapixel
Optical Zoom (Times) 3 Xx
Image Sensor CMOS
Image Stabilisation Optical
LCD Monitor 3 in
Flash modes Accessory Shoe, Built-in Flash
Video (max res/format) 1920 x 1080

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