Panasonic Lumix G3 Review - Design and Performance Review

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.

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