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Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Review

How Does it Compare?

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 is a compact, SLR-styled interchangeable lens camera that follows the Micro Four Thirds standard. It offers very good photo quality, very responsive performance (especially autofocus), a host of manual and automatic controls, a rotating touchscreen LCD, and Full HD movie recording. I'm not thrilled with some of the things removed from the old DMC-G2, which include the EVF eye sensor and external mic input, and battery life has taken a turn for the worse, as well. Some other issues that I encountered were photos that were often slightly underexposed and soft, a weak flash, tight controls, and slow buffer clearing times. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives, making the DMC-G3 a camera that I can recommend.

The DMC-G3 is essentially a smaller and lighter version of its predecessor. It retains the same SLR styling, but takes up 25% less space in your hands. The body is made of a mix of plastic and metal, and feels pretty solid, save for the somewhat flimsy door over the memory card/battery compartment. While the camera is easy to hold (with one hand, even), the smaller body has made the controls smaller and tighter, so it's quite easy to accidentally press a button. As I mentioned in the intro to this section, the DMC-G3 uses the Micro Four Thirds standard, and it can also use legacy Four Thirds lenses as well, both with a 2X focal length conversion ratio. On the back of the camera is the same 3-inch rotating LCD display that was on the DMC-G2. This screen offers very good outdoor and low light visibility, and its quite sharp, as well. The LCD is also touch-enabled, allowing for things like touch focus, touch shutter, a customizable touch menu, and the usual iPhone-like playback functions. Another way to compose photos is via the G3's large, 1.44M dot (equivalent) electronic viewfinder. While I like this EVF, I don't like the fact that Panasonic removed the handy eye sensor that was on the G1 and G2, which activated the viewfinder as soon as you put your eye to it. Panasonic also removed the external microphone port (so they don't cannibalize GH2 sales, most likely), and the onboard flash is considerably weaker than it was on the G2, as well.

The Lumix DMC-G3 has a really nice combination of automatic and manual features. If you want totally brainless shooting, just press the iA button and the camera will do literally everything for you. And, with the touchscreen, you can touch your subject and the camera will focus, track their movements, and take the photo (if you want). You can also adjust the amount of background blur, brightness, and white balance, without having to know what aperture, exposure compensation, or white balance are. Enthusiasts will appreciate the full manual controls, numerous white balance controls, and customizable buttons and spots on the mode dial. The movie mode has improved quite a bit since the DMC-G2, with the G3 able to capture 1080/60i video (though sensor output is 30p) with stereo sound and continuous autofocus. Since the camera uses the AVCHD codec, you can keep recording until your memory card fills up (except in Europe). There are no manual controls in movie mode (you guessed it: buy the GH2 for those), aside from microphone level adjustment.

Camera performance is top-notch is nearly all respects. Flip the power switch, and the DMC-G3 is ready to take a photo almost instantly. Autofocus speeds have dramatically improved on this model, rivaling that of the best professional digital SLRs. With the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, expect focus times of 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and around twice that at telephoto. Low light focusing is quick and accurate, provided that you're not blocking the AF-assist lamp with your fingers (which isn't hard to do). Shutter lag wasn't an issue, and shot-to-shot delays were minimal. The G3 has a pretty average burst mode, with the ability to take about 7 RAW or a variable amount of JPEGs (unlimited at low speeds, limited at higher speeds) at up to 4 frames/second. The bad news is that it takes the camera upwards of 25 seconds to flush the buffer when RAW files are involved, though the only real effect of this is the inability to enter playback mode. Battery life has taken a big turn for the worse on the DMC-G3 (270 shots per charge with the kit lens), so you will want to consider buying a spare.

Photo quality was very good, though there's room for some improvement (as is usually the case). The camera tends to slightly underexpose, usually be 1/3 stop. That's easy to fix with bracketing or by just increasing the exposure compensation up a bit. The G3's new sensor doesn't seem to clip highlights as much as the one on the G2, which is certainly good news. Images are a bit soft straight out of the camera, which is due to both the lens and the camera. The help on the camera end, try adjusting the sharpness setting in the Photo Styles menu, or crank up the Intelligent Resolution setting. Colors were generally accurate, except in artificial light, where they had a bit of a brownish cast. Noise isn't a problem on the G3 until the ISO gets to around 1600 or 3200, depending on the lighting conditions. Purple fringing is mostly due to the lens you're using, and it wasn't much of an issue with the kit lens. Something else that I seemed to avoid was redeye, though it seems like the digital removal system is doing most of the work there, so be sure to turn that on.

While it's not a huge upgrade of its predecessor (and some things are actually worse than they were before), the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 remains a well-designed, responsive, and easy-to-use compact interchangeable lens camera. Beginners will enjoy its Intelligent Auto mode and touchscreen interface, while enthusiasts have a good set of manual controls at their disposal, as well. I am disappointed with some of the features that were removed on the G3, but I guess Panasonic had to differentiate this model with the more expensive DMC-GH2 somehow. All things considered, the DMC-G3 retains the features that made the G-series a favorite of mine, which is why this latest iteration earns my recommendation.

What I liked:

  • Very good photo quality
  • Compact, generally well-designed SLR-styled body
  • 3-inch touchscreen LCD with 460,000 pixels, good outdoor visibility
    • Well-implemented touch features include touch AF / touch shutter / customizable menus / image playback
  • Large, high resolution electronic viewfinder
  • Very good live view system with ridiculously fast autofocus, live histogram, custom grid lines, face detection/recognition
  • Snappy performance in most areas, especially autofocus
  • Full manual controls; RAW format supported, with capable (but clunky) editor included
  • Intelligent Auto mode does it all for you, including scene selection, face detection, blur reduction, shadow brightening, and smart sharpening ; new iA+ mode makes it even easier to adjust white balance, exposure, and background blurring
  • Two custom spots on mode dial, two custom buttons, and plenty of custom settings to adjust to your liking
  • Records movies at 1080/60i (30p sensor output) with stereo sound and continuous autofocus using AVCHD codec
  • Redeye usually not a problem
  • HDMI output

What I didn't care for:

  • Tends to underexpose a little; photos on the soft side with kit lens
  • Images have brownish cast in artificial light
  • Cluttered controls on back of camera
  • Features lost from DMC-G2: external mic input, eye sensor for EVF
  • Flash is on the weak side, and a step down from what was on the G1/G2
  • Buffer fills fairly quickly (and takes a long time to flush) in burst mode
  • No manual controls in movie mode
  • No redeye removal tool in playback mode
  • Below average battery life (and quite a bit worse than the DMC-G2)
  • Full manual on CD-ROM; not very user-friendly, either

Some other compact interchangeable lens cameras worth looking at include the Olympus E-PL2, Samsung NX11, and Sony Alpha SLT-A35. You may also want to consider these compact (relatively speaking) digital SLRs: Canon EOS Rebel T3i, Nikon D5100, and Pentax K-r.

As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-G3 and its competitors before you buy!

Photo Gallery

See how the DMC-G3's photos look in our photo gallery!

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If you have a question about this review, please send them to Jeff. Due to my limited resources, please do not e-mail me asking for a personal recommendation.