Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Review
Look and Feel
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 is a compact interchangeable lens camera with an SLR-styled design. The body is made of a mix of metal (presumably aluminum) and plastic, and it feels pretty solid, save for the somewhat flimsy door over the memory card and battery compartment. The camera can be held and operated with one hand, with the most important controls within easy reach of your fingers.
|The DMC-G3 (left) compared to its predecessor, the DMC-G2
Image courtesy of Panasonic
The G3 is considerably smaller than its predecessor (25%, to be exact), and that's not necessarily a good thing. Two switches, one dial, and at least one button were removed, as was the handy eye sensor next to the EVF. The external microphone input also got axed, though that have been done to differentiate the G3 from the more expensive GH2. The smaller body also means that controls are more cluttered. Since there's not a lot of room for your thumb on the back of the G3, it ends up resting right on top of the four-way controller. That led to lots of accidental button-pressing.
What I'm getting at is that you should definitely get your hands on the G3 before you buy one -- pun intended.
Images courtesy of Panasonic
The G3 is available in four colors: black, brown, red, and nice-looking white.
You already know that the DMC-G3 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor. Here's how it compares to other interchangeable lens and digital SLR cameras:
This table really illustrates how much bulk you lose when you switch from a traditional D-SLR to a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. Of the three mirrorless cameras in the table, the G3 is the largest, but not by much. Despite the 25% drop in size compared to its predecessor, the DMC-G3 still won't fit in your jeans pocket (even with a pancake lens). That said, it will travel in your jacket pocket or small camera bag with ease.
Ready to tour the DMC-G3 now? I know I am, so let's begin:
Here's the front of the Lumix DMC-G3, without a lens attached (and check out the snazzy new metal ring around the lens mount). As I mentioned earlier, this is a Micro Four Thirds mount that also offers backward compatibility with classic Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter, though not all will support continuous autofocus. I also already told you about the 2X focal length conversion ratio. Here's something that I haven't written yet: the G3, like all the Panasonic G-series models, does not have built-in image stabilization, instead relying on the lens to provide that feature. To release an attached lens, simply press that silver button located to the right of the mount.
Since Micro Four Thirds cameras don't have mirrors, the sensor is totally exposed to the elements whenever you a remove a lens. Thus, you'll need a capable dust reduction system to keep that Live MOS sensor clean. The DMC-G3 uses the same Supersonic Wave Filter that was originally developed by Olympus many years ago to prevent dust buildup. When you turn the camera on, ultrasonic waves are sent through the low-pass filter, which literally shakes dust away. I've owned a DMC-GF1 for many years now, and still haven't had a dust problem.
Directly above the lens mount is the DMC-G3's pop-up flash, which is released manually. This flash has a guide number of 10.5 at ISO 160, which is equivalent to 8.3 meters at ISO 100 (thanks Imaging Resource for doing the math on that one). This flash is quite a bit weaker than the one on the old DMC-G2, which had a guide number of 11 at ISO 100, though it's still better than the anemic flashes that have been on the GF series models. If you want to add a more powerful flash, then you can do so via the hot shoe that you'll see in a moment.
The only other thing to see on the front of the camera is the AF-assist lamp, located at the top-right of the photo. The camera uses this as a focusing aid in low light, so be sure not to block it with your fingers when it's in use. This same lamp also serves as a visual countdown for the self-timer.
The LCD setup is the same as it was on the DMC-G1. You've got a 3-inch, 460k pixel display that can flip to the side and rotate a total of 270 degrees. Some people thing rotating LCDs are gimmicks, but once you've had one, it's hard to go back to a fixed display. In addition to being flipped to the side, the LCD can also go in the "traditional" position (shown below), or closed entirely (which helps prevent scratches).
And here is the LCD, it the position most people are used to. As I mentioned, it has 460,000 pixels, so everything is quite sharp. The screen has very good outdoor visibility, which is the case with most Panasonic cameras. This LCD has one other big feature (unchanged from the G2): it's a touchscreen. I'll tell you more about the G3's touch functionality in a moment.
|The "view" in live view. Notice the live histogram and mic level meter.||Zoomed-in while using manual focus|
Since mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are live-view only, you'll be composing all of your photos on the LCD, or the electronic viewfinder that you'll see in a moment. The view on the LCD is sharp and fluid, with 100% coverage (as you'd expect). Both outdoor and low light visibility are very good, though the refresh rate drops a bit when the scene is really dark. You can preview exposure, white balance, and depth-of-field in live view, and features like face detection are also available. There's a live histogram available (which can be placed anywhere in the frame), and you can lay down your own custom grid lines using the touch interface. In manual focus mode you have the ability to "zoom in" on your subject for precise adjustments. While you're zoomed in, you can use the four-way controller (or your fingers) to move around the frame. While there's a guide showing the relative focus distance displayed on the LCD (see screenshot), it would be a lot more helpful if it had some actual numbers instead.
Panasonic has always had good (contrast-detect) autofocus performance on their Micro Four Thirds cameras, and it's even better on the DMC-G3. The G3 has double the sensor "drive speed" of its predecessor, allowing for autofocus speeds that approach or, in some cases, exceed the phase detect AF on traditional D-SLR. It's ridiculously fast. I'll have actual numbers for you later in the review.
Some of the things you can do with the touch interface on the DMC-G3
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
So how about some details on the touch functions available on the DMC-G3? I'm not a huge fan of touchscreens in general, but Panasonic has done a pretty good job with it on their Micro Four Thirds cameras. Here's what you can do:
- Touch AF: Just as it sounds, you simply touch the area of the screen on which you wish to focus (for stills and movies). Previous models had a "margin" around the frame that you couldn't select -- that's not the case anymore. A new "Pinpoint AF" feature gives you a tiny focus point to work with (if you desire).
- Touch Shutter: Similar to the above, but this time the camera actually takes a picture of the subject you just touched
- Customizable Quick Menu: Create your own shortcut menu by dragging the items you want to use to the bottom of the screen
- Movable MF Assist: Zoom into a photo you're composing with a touch, and the drag your finger to move around the frame; great for verifying that your subject is in focus before you take a photo.
- Movable Grid lines: Create custom grid lines by dragging them into position with your finger
- Touch Defocus/Exposure/White Balance: In the Intelligent Auto+ mode, you can use a slider to adjust the amount of background blur, the exposure, or the white balance, without having to know any technical jargon.
- Touch Playback: Swipe your finger to move from photo-to-photo; double-tap to zoom into a photo and then drag to move around
The touch AF feature is handy at times, though I've had to turn it off at times, because it's quite easy to accidentally touch the screen and change the focus point. Thankfully, returning the focus point to its default position is easy -- just touch the "cancel" button on the LCD. The Touch Shutter feature makes taking photos incredibly easy -- just touch your subject and the camera does the rest.
Another way to compose your photos is to use the electronic viewfinder (EVF), which is protrudes out from above the LCD. This is essentially a small LCD that you view as if it was an optical viewfinder. You can see the same things as on the main LCD, including menus and image playback, and frame coverage remains at 100%. The EVF on the G3 is quite large, with a magnification of 1.4X (0.7X equivalent), and it has 1.44 million dots (480,000 pixels equivalent). The viewfinder is very sharp, and visibility is generally on par with that of the main LCD. Being a field sequential system display, you may see a slight "rainbow effect" if you blink, or rapidly pan the camera around. To adjust the focus of the viewfinder, just use the diopter correction knob located on its right side.
One feature related to the EVF that got the axe on the DMC-G3 is the eye sensor. This sensor, which used to sit on the right side of the EVF, would automatically switch from the LCD to the viewfinder when you put your eye to it. For whatever reason, that's gone now, and you have to press the LVF/LCD button (to the left of the EVF) to manually switch between the two. I'm sad.
Buttons to the right of the EVF are for entering playback mode, or recording a movie (press once to start, again to stop). Next to that is the G3's sole control dial, which is used for adjusting things like exposure compensation (-5EV to +5EV) or shutter speed/aperture, or for navigating through the menu system.
Now let's go over all the buttons that sit to the right of the LCD. The first one is the Display/Fn 1 button. By default it toggles the information that is shown on the LCD or EVF, but it can be customized to do other things, as well (I'll tell you exactly what later in the review).
Under that is the four-way controller, which I found to be quite small and cramped, making it too easy to accidentally press the wrong button. The four-way controller is used for menu navigation, replaying photos you've taken, and also:
- Up - ISO (Auto, Intelligent ISO, 160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400)
- Down - Drive (Single-shot, continuous, auto bracket, self-timer)
- Left - AF mode (Face detection, subject tracking, 23-area, 1-area, pinpoint)
- Right - White balance (Auto, sunlight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, flash, preset 1/2, color temperature)
- Center - Menu/Set
Lots to talk about here. I'll start with the ISO option, which has two different Auto modes. The regular Auto mode will boost the sensitivity solely based on the brightness of the scene, up to a maximum of 800. The Intelligent ISO mode also tops out at 800 (by default -- you can adjust the upper limit), though it increases the sensitivity based on subject movement AND scene brightness.
That brings us to the camera's drive options, which include continuous shooting and auto bracketing. I'll begin with the former. There are four continuous shooting speeds to choose from: low, middle, high, and super high speed. The super high option is for small-size JPEGs only, with the resulting photos into a "burst group" (to keep them better organized). Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the camera in burst mode:
As you can see, the DMC-G3 offers fairly average continuous shooting performance, with even JPEG shooting slowing down after just eight shots at the high speed setting. The camera doesn't just stop shooting when you hit those limits -- it just slows down considerably. Two other things to point out: you'll only get to preview your shots on the LCD/EVF at low or medium speed -- otherwise it's just a post-shot review. Also, it takes the camera a long time to flush the buffer -- over 25 seconds in some cases -- and you cannot enter playback mode until that's done.
The other drive option I wanted to mention is exposure bracketing, which can take three, five, or seven shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each exposure can be ±1/3EV, ±2/3EV or ±1EV. This is an easy way to ensure proper exposure, which is why I use it when I take all of my sample photos!
The AF modes should be self-explanatory, but I suppose that a few more details wouldn't hurt. The face detection AF will locate up to fifteen faces in the scene, and make sure they're properly focused. The G3, like other Panasonic cameras, has the ability to learn and recognize faces, giving them priority when they appear in the scene. AF tracking lets you select a subject in the frame (via touch or the four-way controller), and the camera will then keep them in focus as they move around the scene. The pinpoint AF option joins the 1 and 23-area AF modes, which gives you a focus point not much bigger than a pixel on the LCD screen to work with.
|Fine-tuning and bracketing for white balance at the same time!||Adjusting the color temperature|
The white balance options include an auto mode, the usual presets, two custom slots (for use with a white or gray card), and the ability to set the color temperature. Each of those can be fine-tuned (in the green/magenta and amber/blue directions), bracketed, or both. For some reason the G3, like all recent Panasonic cameras, lacks a fluorescent white balance preset.
|Setting the drive mode in the Quick Menu||Customizing the Quick Menu|
The last thing to see on the back of the DMC-G3 is the Quick Menu/Function 2 button. By default, this button opens up the Quick Menu (and deletes a photo in playback mode), but its function can be customized, as well. The Quick Menu is a shortcut menu that places up to fifteen icons at the bottom of the screen. You can customize exactly what functions are there via a simple drag-and-drop interface. The menu can be operated either with your finger or the four-way controller. Since all of the Quick Menu options are in the main menu (or accessed via the direct buttons I've already mentioned), I'll save the details for later.
At the far left of the photo you can see the DMC-G3's speaker, and also the flash release switch.
At the center of the photo is the G3's hot shoe. The hot shoe works best with the Panasonic flashes I mentioned back in the accessories section, as they'll sync with the camera's metering system. If you're not using a Panasonic flash, then you'll probably have to manually set the exposure on both the camera and flash. The G3 can sync as fast as 1/160 sec with an external flash. The DMC-G3 (or any Panasonic camera for that matter) does not support wireless flash control.
Right above the hot shoe is the G3's stereo microphone, which is a step up from the monaural mic on the G2.
Continuing to the right, we find the G3's mode dial, which has the power switch beneath it. The options on the mode dial include:
As you can see, the DMC-G3 has a full set of manual exposure controls, including a bulb mode, which will keep the shutter open for up to two minutes. The two custom spots on the mode dial hold a total of four sets of camera settings - one in the first slot and three in the second.
Scene mode menu
Fans of scene modes will have plenty to choose from, and you'll see in a moment that the camera can select one for you, if you'd like. There's also the Creative Control mode, has been called My Color mode on other Panasonic models. This lets you quickly change the color style (choose from expressive, retro, high key, sepia, and high dynamic), as well as the amount of background blurring (using a slider on the LCD).
Adjusting the white balance ("color") in Intelligent Auto+ mode
You're probably wondering, where is Panasonic's famous Intelligent Auto mode? It's still here -- it's activated via a dedicated button to the right of the mode dial. The iA mode will select a scene mode for you, detect any faces that may be present, improve image contrast, intelligently sharpen the image, and reduce blur -- all automatically. You can also turn on an iA+ mode, which adds sliders for adjusting the amount of background blur, brightness (exposure compensation), and color (white balance).
The only other item of note on the top of the camera is the shutter release button.
The only thing to see here is another glimpse of the flash release button.
Here's the other side of the G3 which, as you see, is balance on a lens cap to keep it from tipping forward.
The camera's I/O ports can all be found under the plastic door on the left side of photo, and they include:
- Remote control
- USB + A/V output
The "old" DMC-G2 used to have an external mic input here, but it's been removed on the G3.
Our tour ends with a look at the bottom of the DMC-G3. Here you'll find a metal tripod mount (hidden from view in this photo) and the battery/memory card compartment. The door over this compartment is reinforced with metal, but still feels kind of flimsy. Whether you'll be able to open the door while using a tripod sort of depends on your tripod mount.
The included DMW-BLD10 lithium-ion battery can be seen at right.