Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Review
Originally Posted: June 5, 2011
Last Updated: November 6, 2011
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 (priced from $599) is a compact, SLR-styled mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. It's the follow-up to the DMC-G2, and its biggest changes include an even smaller body, a new Live MOS sensor and image processor, faster autofocus performance, and Full HD video recording.
For a full breakdown of the differences between the DMC-G2 and G3, take a look at this table:
As you can see, most of the changes on the DMC-G3 are nice improvements. That said, the battery life has dropped considerably, the handy eye sensor on the EVF is gone (now you have to press a button to switch between the two), the external mic input has been axed, and the smaller body means that controls are more tightly packed than ever.
|Note: The original version of this review (which was up for about 6 hours) said that the old DMC-G2 had a multi-aspect sensor. This is not the case, and the review has been updated accordingly. I apologize for any confusion this may have caused.|
I've been of a fan of Panasonic's Lumix G-series models since they first came on the market in 2008. Will the DMC-G3 continue that tradition? Find out now in our review!
What's in the Box?
The Lumix DMC-G3 will be available in two kits (in the U.S., at least). Choose from body only ($599), with the same F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm IS lens that came with the G2 ($699). The camera comes in four colors (black, white, brown, red), though the body only kit will only feature the black model. Here's what you'll find in the box for both kits:
- The 16.0 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-G3 camera body
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS [lens kit only]
- DMW-BLD10 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Front/rear lens caps [lens kit only]
- Lens hood [lens kit only]
- Shoulder strap
- Stylus pen
- USB cable
- A/V cable
- CD-ROM featuring PhotoFunStudio 6.2 HD Edition, SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, and Super LoiloScope trial
- 55 page basic manual (printed) + full manual on CD-ROM
If you get the lens kit, you'll get the same F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm OIS lens that came with the DMC-G2. This lens has decent build quality (though it has a plastic lens mount), a nice manual focus ring, but it lacks a switch to quickly turn the IS system on or off (you need to go into the menu, instead). Photos are a bit soft with this lens, though it's a uniform thing, rather than in the corners. There are quite a few other Micro Four Thirds lenses available, from both Panasonic and Olympus, that cover most shooting situations. The G3 is also compatible with Panasonic's recently announced 3D lens. This $250 lens -- actually two lenses in one -- simulates the left and right eyes, and saves the results into an MPO file (the standard for 3D stills). You can then view these photos on a 3D-capable HDTV or computer.
If you've got a collection of old Four Thirds lenses sitting around, you can use those too, via the DMW-MA1 adapter -- though not all will support continuous autofocus. Panasonic also makes adapters for classic Leica R and M-mount lenses, and I don't see why you can't use Olympus' OM adapter either.
Whichever lens you end up using, there will be a 2X focal length conversion ratio to keep in mind. In other words, that 14 - 42 mm lens has a field of view of 28 - 84 mm.
As with all D-SLRs and interchangeable lens cameras, the DMC-G3 does not have any built-in memory, nor does it come with a memory card. Thus, you'll need to pick up an SD, SDHC, or SDXC memory card right away, unless you happen to have one already (as I figure most folks do). If you'll be taking mostly stills, then a 4GB SDHC card is probably fine. For movie enthusiasts, you'll want to get something like an 8GB or 16GB card instead. It's definitely worth spending the extra dollars on a high speed card (Class 6 or higher) -- especially for movie recording.
The Lumix DMC-G3 uses a different battery than its predecessor. The new DMW-BLD10 battery, also used on the DMC-GF2, packs 7.3 Wh of energy, which is about as same as the battery on the old G2. Despite having nearly the same amount of energy, battery life has dropped on the G3, as you can see in this chart:
The table above not only compares the DMC-G3 to other interchangeable lens camera -- it also includes several compact D-SLRs (including the unique Sony SLT-A33). The G3's battery life is the worst of any ILC, with only the Rebel T3i (a D-SLR) below it. And, if you missed it earlier, the G3's battery life is quite a bit below that of its predecessor -- 25% below, to be exact (and why, I do not know).
All of the cameras in the above table use proprietary lithium-ion batteries, and you should know two things about them. First, a spare is expensive -- expect to pay at least $60 for another DMW-BLD10 (and Panasonic cameras don't usually get along with generic batteries). Second, when your battery runs out of juice, you can't pick up something off the shelf to get you through the rest of the day, as you could on a camera that uses AA batteries. That said, you won't find a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that supports them.
When it's time to charge the battery, just snap it into the included charger. It takes just two hours for a full charge. This charger plugs directly into the wall (at least for U.S. models), which is just how I like it.
Panasonic offers a plethora of accessories for the Lumix DMC-G3. Here's the list of the most popular:
Not a bad selection, if you ask me. One accessory that was available for the G2 that you cannot get for the G3 is an external microphone, as that port was eliminated. Guess Panasonic wants you to pony up for the DMC-GH2 if you want to use one of those.
PhotoFunStudio 6.2 HD Edition
Panasonic includes version 6.2 of their PhotoFunStudio HD Edition software with the Lumix DMC-G3. This Windows-only software handles basic tasks fairly well, though the whole "wizard" system gets old quickly. On the main screen you'll see the usual thumbnail view, and you can view photos in certain folders, or filter by things as specific as scene mode. The software can learn to recognize faces (much like the camera itself), which offers you another way to browse through your pictures. Other options on the main screen include slideshows, creating "short movies" (basically video slideshows), printing, e-mailing, or uploading to YouTube or Facebook. You can also copy photos and movies to SD cards or DVDs.
Editing photos in PhotoFunStudio
Above you can see the still photo editing screen. Here you can adjust things like brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness. Images can be changed to sepia, black and white, or "negative color", and redeye can be removed with the click of your mouse. There's also an auto enhancement feature, for those who want to keep things simple.
Movie editing features include the ability to trim unwanted footage from a clip, turn a video frame into a still image, or convert a video to MPEG-2 format.
While PhotoFunStudio can view RAW images, it cannot edit them. For that, you'll need to load up SilkyPix.
SilkyPix Developer Studio 3.1 SE
SilkyPix Developer Studio SE 3.1 may look familiar to you, as it's used by several camera manufacturers in one form or another. This product is for Mac OS X and Windows, and while it has a rather clunky interface, it's pretty powerful. You can adjust exposure, white balance, the tone curve, color, sharpness, noise reduction, and lots more.
If you want to use Photoshop CS5 to edit your RAW files, you may have to wait a little while, as their Camera Raw plug-in is not yet compatible with the DMC-G3.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the G3's Live MOS sensor. This allows you to change things like exposure, white balance, color, and more, without degrading the quality of the image. The bad news is that every RAW image must be processed on your computer in order to get them into more common formats, like JPEG. RAW files are also considerably larger than JPEGs, and can slow down camera performance. Still, it's an incredible useful feature that's a must-have on higher-end digital cameras.
I want to briefly discuss how to work with the videos produced by the DMC-G3. The camera records video in two formats: AVCHD and Motion JPEG. The former allows for unlimited recording time (outside of Europe) and looks great when you plug your camera (or the memory card) into your HDTV, but it can be difficult to edit on your computer. Even finding the video files themselves is difficult -- try looking for MTS files in the /PRIVATE/AVCHD/BDMV/STREAM directory on your memory card. The other option (Motion JPEG) has much lower recording times and large file sizes, though they're much easier to work with on your computer. You're also limited to 720p when using M-JPEG, where AVCHD allows for Full HD recording.
I already told you that PhotoFunStudio can play and edit the videos produced by the G3. Other options for video conversions in Windows include Handbrake, CoreAVC, or AVS Video Converter. For editing, Windows users will want to use something like Adobe Premiere, Pinnacle Studio, or Sony Vegas (view the full list here).
Mac users don't get any video viewing/editing software with the camera. If you just want to view the AVCHD movies, try downloading VLC. If you want to convert them to other formats, I've had decent luck with both Handbrake as well as Toast Titanium 10 (which can also burn the movies to DVD or Blu-ray). You can edit the AVCHD videos using iMovie or Final Cut, though do note that your not natively working with the MTS files -- the software converts them to another codec first.
Panasonic has been trending away from providing full, printed manuals in the box with their cameras, which is a shame. What you will find is a 55 page "basic" manual, which is enough to get you up and running. If you want more details, you'll need to load up the full manual, which is on an included CD-ROM. It's not what I call user-friendly, but it should answer almost any question you may have about the G3. Documentation for the bundled software is installed right on your PC.