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.
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.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
Flip the power switch and the G3 is ready to start taking photos immediately. And that's with the dust reduction system running!
The Lumix DMC-G3 inherits the Light Speed AF system from the DMC-GH2, and you won't be disappointed. The G3 offers some of the fastest focus speeds you'll see on any camera -- even those that cost thousands of dollars more. Expect the camera to lock focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle, and it'll take roughly twice as long at the telephoto end of the lens. Low light focusing is very good, with focus times of one second or less. Do keep an eye on your fingers, though, as the AF-assist lamp is very easy to block.
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue, even at the slower shutter speeds where it sometimes crops up.
As for shot-to-shot speeds, you'll be able to keep taking pictures as fast as you can compose the next one, at least until you fill up the buffer memory (which takes some work). Adding the flash into the mix increases the delay by less than a second.
There is no way to delete a photo immediately after it is taken -- you'll have to enter playback mode to do that.
Now let's take a look at the various image size and quality options available on the DMC-G3. To simplify this table, I'm only listing the options for the default 4:3 aspect ratio.
Again, there are a lot more image sizes available, which depend on what aspect ratio you're using. There's also a special 2 Megapixel size for use with the optional 3D lens. The G3 can take a RAW image alone, or with a JPEG of the size and quality of your choosing.
This screen is the gateway to the actual menus
The DMC-G3 has an easy-to-use menu system that should be familiar to anyone who has used a Panasonic camera in recent years, aside from the "gateway" screen that you can use to jump to a specific menu. Unlike the rest of the operations on the camera, the menus can only be operated with the four-way controller or the command dial, and not the touchscreen. The menu is divided into five tabs, which include still, movie, custom, setup, and playback options. Keeping in mind that not all of these options are available in every shooting mode, here's the complete list:
Motion Picture Menu - will cover these in detail later -- listing the unique items only
I'd like to touch on a few of those options before we continue to the photo tests.
Adjusting a Photo Style
Let's begin with the Photo Style option, which was called Film Mode on the DMC-G2. A Photo Style contains presets for contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction. There are six presets, plus one custom spot, and each of them can be adjusted to your heart's content. One feature that's no longer available on the G3 is the ability to bracket for Photo Styles.
The Intelligent Resolution feature is more or less the same as it was on the DMC-G2. This system applies different amounts of sharpening to the various subjects in your photos. It'll sharpen the edges the most, go a bit easier on textures, and leave smooth gradation areas (like the sky) alone. It's off by default (except in iA mode, where it's automatic), but there are four levels you can choose from, from low to extended (a new choice on the G3). It's hard for me to show you all the effects of this feature in a 500 pixel-wide image, so be sure to look at the full size photos, as well. I unfortunately forget to take a photo with I.R. turned off (which is the default), so I've only got low - extended to show you.
|Intelligent Res Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Standard
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res High
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Res Extended
View Full Size Image
In this crop, you can see that the lovely faux-rock garbage can (front left), green umbrella, and tree branches (top right) all get sharper as you increase the amount of Intelligent Resolution. Elsewhere in the full size image, look at the main buildings, the grass, shrubs, and trees, and the sign on the light post to spot differences in sharpness. I'll let you decide what setting you think is best for your needs.
Previous Panasonic cameras had a feature called Intelligent Exposure, which was used to brighten up the dark areas of your photos. On the G3 that feature is now called Intelligent Dynamic, and it's supposed to help with clipped highlights, as well. In Intelligent Auto mode this feature is always on, while in the manual modes it's off by default. There are three levels of I.E. to choose from in the manual modes: low, standard, and high. Here's an example of Intelligent Exposure in action:
|Intelligent Dynamic Off
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Low
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic Std
View Full Size Image
|Intelligent Dynamic High
View Full Size Image
As you can see, the shadows do indeed get brighter as Intelligent Dynamic is increased. One thing I didn't see was any improvement in highlight detail.
The Extra Tele Conversion feature is similar to what was called Extended Optical Zoom on previous Panasonic models. By lowering the resolution of the camera, you can get extra zoom power, without the loss in quality that is associated with digital zoom. The most you can get is 2X worth, and you'll need to drop down to the small (4 Megapixel) resolution in order to get that. In movie mode (at 720p and lower resolutions) you can get anywhere from 3.6X to 4.8X of additional zoom power.
Alrighty, that does it for the menu system -- let's move onto our photo tests now, shall we? All of these were taken with the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, except for the night shots.
Our standard macro test subject turned out fairly well. The figurine has a very smooth, albeit somewhat soft appearance to it. Colors are accurate, though there's a very slight yellow color cast. I don't see any noise or noise reduction artifacting here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. For the 14 - 42 mm kit lens, the minimum distance is 30 cm. Serious macro shooters may be interested in the new F2.8, 45 mm Leica macro lens, which has selectable focus distances of 15 and 50 cm.
The night test shot, taken with my own Panasonic 45 - 200 mm lens, is good, but not spectacular. Bringing in enough light for a proper exposure is the easy part. You can do it manually, or use one of the night scene modes. Highlight clipping is kept to a relative minimum. The buildings aren't overly sharp, and if you agree, it might be worth fooling with either the Intelligent Resolution or Photo Styles to take care of that. The photo does have a brownish color cast to it, an issue I've had before on Panasonic cameras. Purple fringing is quite strong here (due to the lens, most likely), which surprised me, as the camera is supposed to remove it digitally. There's no noise to be found here.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the DMC-G3 performed at higher sensitivities in low light situations.
Everything looks pretty good through ISO 400, with just some minor noise and detail loss at ISO 800. One step above that you'll see more detail loss, but the photo is still quite usable at that setting. Detail loss and noise become more obvious at ISO 3200, so I'd save that one for smaller prints, and use RAW if possible. The ISO 6400 setting is best left untouched in low light.
I just mentioned using RAW to improve image quality, so let's grab the ISO 1600 and 3200, run them through Photoshop for a minute or so, and see what we get:
There's definitely an improvement to be had at ISO 1600. There's more detail, less smudging, and slightly better dynamic range. ISO 3200 is also ab it better, though not by a whole lot. Still, it's probably worth using RAW if you'll be shooting at high sensitivities on the G3.
We'll do this test again in normal lighting in a bit.
|Night ISO test added on October 4, 2011|
The redeye test turned out quite well, at least in this particular instance. I took several redeye test photos -- some of which were better than others -- and concluded that if you 1) have both the preflash and digital redeye removal on and 2) your subject's eyes are wide open, you won't have any redeye problems. I'm pretty sure the digital removal tool is what's doing the real work here, and it needs to get a good look at your eyes in order to do its job. What I'm getting at is that you'll probably have redeye at least on occasion, at least based on my testing.
There's fairly mild barrel distortion at the wide end of the 14 - 42 mm kit lens. The G3, along with all of Panasonic's cameras, is digitally correcting for distortion when you take a photo. Do note that if you open a RAW file with certain third party editors, you may lose that correction. Anyhow, you can see the effects of barrel distortion by looking at the building on the right side of this photo. This lens doesn't have any issues with corner blurring, nor is vignetting (dark corners) a problem.
Now let's take a look at our studio test scene. Since the lighting is the same every time, you can compare these samples with those from other cameras I've reviewed over the years. While the crops below give you a quick idea as to how much noise is present at each ISO setting, viewing the full size images is strongly recommended. And with that, let's begin!
The first four photos all look nice and clean. There's a bit of noise at ISO 1600, but not enough to concern me. Noise is more visible at ISO 3200, reducing your print sizes to small or midsize. There's a fair amount of detail loss at ISO 6400, so I'd pass on that, or try shooting RAW. The G3 doesn't have the best high ISO performance out there, but it certainly holds its own against the competition.
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
The main thing that pops out here are the more vivid colors in the RAW conversions. Noise levels are about the same at ISO 3200, but there is a noticeable difference in detail levels at ISO 6400. I would recommend shooting RAW at high sensitivities like these, at the very least for the improved color saturation.
|Studio ISO test added on October 4, 2011|
Overall, the Lumix DMC-G3 produces very good quality photos, though there is some room for improvement. On the exposure front, the camera did have a tendency to slightly underexpose, usually by 1/3 stop. Thus, it's a good idea to bracket, or just set the exposure compensation to +1/3EV. Highlight clipping seemed improved over previous models, in that it wasn't a very common problem. Colors were pleasing in most situations, save for artificial light, where there was often a brownish color cast. I do think that photos are on the soft side straight out of the camera and, as I mentioned earlier, adjusting the in-camera sharpness using the Photo Style feature, or turning on Intelligent Resolution is probably a good idea. Noise levels are low until the sensitivity nears its upper limits, though I did notice some smudging of fine details in certain situations (see example). Purple fringing is usually due to the lens you're using, and it wasn't a common sight with the kit lens.
Don't take my words as gospel, though. Have a look at our extensive DMC-G3 photo gallery, and try printing a few photos if you can. Then you should be able to decide if the G3's photo quality meets your needs!
The G3's movie mode is a nice improvement over that of its predecessor. You can now record videos at 1920 x 1080 at 60i (though sensor output is 30p) with Dolby Digital stereo sound. The AVCHD codec allows for continuous recording until your memory card fills up, though note that cameras sold in Europe will stop recording just before the elapsed time hits 30 minutes. At the highest quality setting, an hour of video will take up about 8GB, so make sure you have a large (and fast) memory card if you'll be taking a lot of movies. You can also record at 720p60, though again the sensor is only outputting 30 frames/second.
If you don't want to use the AVCHD codec (which can be difficult to edit and share), you can switch over to Motion JPEG instead. There are three resolutions to choose from: 1280 x 720, 640 x 480, and 320 x 240, all at 30 frames/second. There's a file size limit of 2GB when using M-JPEG, so your videos will end after approximately 7 minutes at the 720p resolution.
The DMC-G3 can focus continuously while you're recording, so you can zoom in and out, or follow moving subjects without issue. If your lens has an image stabilizer, it can be used as well. You can boost the total zoom power by 3.6X or 4.8X in movie mode (at 720p or below) using the Extra Tele Conversion function I told you about earlier.
The G3 does not offer any manual controls in movie mode -- you'll need to step up to the DMC-GH2 for that. You can force a shutter speed of 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, or 1/120 by using the flicker reduction feature, though. The G3 does let you adjust the microphone level manually, or turn on a wind filter. The microphone level can be shown on the LCD, if you'd like.
You can take still images while you're recording a movie, and there are two different settings available. In Motion Picture priority mode, the camera will lower the resolution to 2 Megapixel, and take up to 30 stills while a movie is being recorded. Video recording is not interrupted while stills are taken at this setting. If you want to shoot full resolution, you can use Still Picture priority mode, which saves up to 8 photos. The catch is that video recording essentially stops until the still image is saved, and audio is not recorded during that time.
Here's a sample movie for you, taken at the 1080p setting. The video was converted with Toast Titanium 10, and I've also linked up the original MTS file so you can view it in the software of your choice.
The DMC-G3 has a pretty standard playback mode, aside from its touchscreen functionality. Basic playback features include slideshows (complete with transitions and music), image protection, favorite tagging, DPOF print marking, thumbnail view (in various sizes), and playback zoom. When you're zoomed in with that last feature, you can press the command dial inward and then use the four-way controller (or your finger) to move from photo to photo, keeping the zoom and location intact.
Touch features in playback mode
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
The touch features in playback mode will not be surprising to anyone who has used an iPhone or similar device. To move between photos, just swipe with your finger. If you want to use the playback zoom feature, just tap once on the photo, and it's enlarged by 2X (you can zoom in further by tapping the screen again). Once you're zoomed in, you just drag your finger around to pan around the image. You can also scroll through thumbnails by dragging your finger up or down.
|Calendar view||This menu lets you filter photos, even by category (scene mode)|
Like Panasonic's consumer cameras, the G3 offers a calendar view of your photos, so you can quickly navigate to photos you took on a specific date. You can also filter photos by file type (still, AVCHD, M-JPEG, 3D), category (which is assigned according to the scene mode used), and whether an image has been tagged as a favorite.
Images can be rotated, resized, and cropped right on the camera. You can print the date, time, location, travel date, custom text, and even the age of your kids or pets onto your photos, which is far beyond what most cameras can do (though note that the images will be downsized). There's also a feature which allows you to change the aspect ratio of a photo. Sadly, there's no redeye removal tool, which comes in handy when this annoyance makes it past the camera's initial reduction system.
The DMC-G3 has the ability to edit movies, known as video divide. This lets you trim unwanted footage from the beginning or end of a clip.
By default, the camera doesn't give you a lot of information about your photos. But press the display button and you'll see more info, including an RGB histogram. If a registered face, baby, or pet are in the photo, information about them will be shown, as well.
The DMC-G3 moves through photos instantly when using the four-way controller. With the touchscreen, it'll show up as quickly as you can swipe your finger from side-to-side.
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!
See how the DMC-G3's photos look in our photo gallery!