DCRP

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Review

Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3

Record Mode

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.

Resolution Quality Approx. File Size # images on 4GB SDHC card (optional)
Large
4592 x 3448
RAW+Fine 29.6 MB 135
RAW+Standard 25.0 MB 160
RAW 20.5 MB 195
Fine 9.1 MB 440
Standard 4.5 MB 880

Medium
3232 x 2424

RAW+Fine 25.0 MB 160
RAW+Standard 22.9 MB 175
Fine 4.9 MB 810
Standard 2.5 MB 1610
Small
2272 x 1704
RAW+Fine 23.5 MB 170
RAW+Standard 21.6 MB 185
Fine 2.9 MB 1400
Standard 1.5 MB 2710

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:

Record Menu
  • Photo Style (Standard, vivid, natural, monochrome, scenery, portrait, custom)
  • Aspect ratio (4:3, 3:2, 16:9, 1:1)
  • Picture size (Large, medium, small)
  • Quality (Fine, standard, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, RAW)
  • Face recognition (On, off, memory, set) - described earlier
  • Focus mode (AF-S, AF-C, MF) - whether the focus locks when you halfway-press the shutter release, or if focusing continues even with it halfway-pressed
  • Quick AF (on/off) - activates the AF system when the camera is held steadily; reduces focus times at the expense of battery life
  • Metering mode (Multiple, center-weighted, spot)
  • Flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, fill flash, fill flash w/redeye reduction, slow sync, slow sync w/redeye reduction)
  • Redeye removal (on/off) - digital redeye removal
  • Flash synchro (1st curtain, 2nd curtain)
  • Flash adjust (-2EV to +2EV, in 1/3EV increments)
  • Intelligent Resolution (Off, low, standard, high, extended) - see below
  • Intelligent Dynamic (Off, low, standard, high) - see below
  • ISO limit set (Off, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200) - how high Auto and Intelligent ISO will go
  • ISO increments (1/3EV, 1EV)
  • Long shutter noise reduction (on/off) - reduce noise in photos with slow shutter speeds
  • Shading compensation (on/off) - reduces vignetting, though it's off by default
  • Extra tele conversion (on/off) - see below
  • Digital zoom (Off, 2X, 4X) - reduces image quality and is best avoided
  • Burst rate (Low, medium, high, super high) - told you about the burst mode earlier
  • Auto bracket - also described earlier
    • Settings (Single-shot, continuous)
    • Step (3 shots/0.3EV, 3 shots/0.6EV, 3 shots/1.0EV, 5 shots/0.3EV, 5 shots/0.6EV, 5 shots/1.0EV, 7 shots/0.3EV, 7 shots/0.6 EV, 7 shots/1.0EV)
    • Sequence (0/-/+, -0/+)
  • Self-timer (2 or 10 secs, 10 sec w/3 shots)
  • Color space (sRGB, AdobeRGB)
  • Stabilizer (Off, normal, panning)

Motion Picture Menu - will cover these in detail later -- listing the unique items only

  • REC mode (AVCHD, Motion JPEG)
  • Rec quality
    • In AVCHD mode (FSH/1080p, SH/720p)
    • In Motion JPEG mode (720p, VGA, QVGA)
  • Picture mode (Motion picture priority, still picture priority) - determines the size of still images taken during movie recording
  • Continuous AF (on/off)
  • Wind cut (Off, low, standard, high) - useful for shooting outdoors
  • Mic level display (on/off)
  • Mic level adjust (1 - 4) - manually adjust the microphone level
  • Flicker reduction (Off, 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, 1/120) - reduces flicker or striping in movies, presumably due to fluorescent lighting
Custom Menu
  • Custom setting memory (C1, C2-1, C2-2, C2-3)- save current camera settings to the custom spots on the mode dial
  • Display/Fn1 button (Display / Function 1) - choose whether this button toggles the info displayed on the LCD/EVF or activates the custom function you set below
  • Quick Menu/Fn2 button (Quick Menu / Function) - same deal, but for the Quick Menu button
  • Function button set (AF/AE lock, preview, Photo Style, focus area, focus mode, aspect ratio, quality, metering mode, flash, flash adjust, ISO limit set, extra tele converter, burst rate, auto bracket, shutter AF, guide line, rec area) - select what you want each of the custom buttons to control
  • Histogram (on/off) - when you turn it on, you get to place it wherever you want
  • Guide line (Off, 3 x 3, cross, custom) - the last option lets you put a pair of guide lines wherever you please
  • Highlight (on/off) - whether overexposed areas of a photo "blink" in post-shot review
  • Exposure metring (on/off) - whether a guide showing the aperture and shutter speed is shown on the LCD in P/A/S/M mode
  • AF/AE lock (AE, AF, AF/AE) - what happens when you press this button
  • AF/AE lock hold (on/off) - whether you need to hold the AF/AE lock button down
  • Direct focus area (on/off) - allows you to move and resize the focus point(s) with the four-way controller
  • Focus priority (on/off) - whether a photo can be taken without focus lock
  • Shutter AF (on/off) - whether the focus is adjusted when you halfway-press the shutter release button
  • AF-assist lamp (on/off)
  • AF+MF (on/off) - whether you can manually focus after autofocus is complete
  • MF assist (on/off) - frame enlargement in manual focus mode
  • MF guide (on/off) - whether that semi-useful focus distance gauge is shown
  • LVF display style (Viewfinder style, LCD style) - choose the layout of the shooting info in the EVF
  • LCD display style (Viewfinder style, LCD style) - same thing, but for the main LCD
  • iA button switch (Single press, press and hold) - how much work is required to activate Intelligent Auto mode
  • Movie button (on/off) - enable or disable the dedicated movie recording button
  • Rec area (Picture, movie) - set the angle of view on the LCD for stills or movies
  • Remaining display (Shots, time) - whether you see remaining shots or movie recording time on the LCD
  • Play on LCD (on/off) - whether images are always played back on the LCD
  • Touch settings
    • Touch quick menu (on/off) - enable or disable the touch-based Quick Menu
    • Defocus control (on/off) - whether you can use the background blur feature using the touchscreen
    • Touch shutter (on/off) - whether you can take a photo by touching an area on the LCD
    • Touch display (on/off) - whether you can toggle the info shown on the LCD via the touchscreen
    • Touch AF (on/off) - whether you can focus by touching the LCD
  • Touch guide (on/off) - whether descriptions of the touch features are shown on the LCD
  • Touch scroll (Low, high speed) - how quickly you swipe through images in playback mode
  • Dial guide (on/off) - tells you what the command dial does in P/A/S/M mode
  • Menu resume (on/off) - whether camera goes back to where you left off in the menu system
  • Pixel refresh - removes dead pixels from the sensor
  • Sensor cleaning - manually run the dust reduction cycle
  • Shoot without lens (on/off) - whether you can take a photo without a lens attached; used with the two Leica adapters

 

Setup Menu

  • Clock set
  • World time (Destination, home)
  • Travel date - the day and location of your trip get stored in the photo metadata
    • Travel setup (Off, set) - set the departure and return dates for your trip
    • Location (Off, set) - store your destination name
  • Beep
    • Beep volume (Muted, low, high)
    • E-shutter volume (Muted, low, high) - only used with super high speed burst mode
  • Volume (0-6)
  • Monitor/viewfinder - adjust the brightness, contrast/saturation, and blue/red tint of both of these separately
  • LCD mode (Auto, mode 1 - 3) - the mode numbers represent brighter, standard, and darker
  • Economy
    • Sleep mode (Off, 1, 2, 5, 10 mins) - auto power off
    • Auto LCD off (Off, 15, 30 secs)
  • Auto review (Off, 1, 3, 5 sec, hold) - post-shot review
  • USB mode (Select on connection, PictBridge/PTP, PC)
  • Video out (NTSC, PAL)
  • TV aspect (16:9, 4:3)
  • HDMI mode (Auto, 1080i, 720p, 480p)
  • Viera Link (on/off) - whether the camera can be operated from the remote control of compatible HDTVs
  • 3D playback (3D, 2D) - turn this on when connected to a 3D television
  • Scene menu (Off, auto) - whether the scene mode menu pops up when you turn the mode dial to that position
  • Calibration - for the touchscreen
  • Language
  • Version display
  • File number reset
  • Reset - return the recording and setup/custom settings to defaults
  • Format memory card
Playback Menu
  • 2D/3D settings -only shows up when you're connected to a 3D TV; I have no idea what the options are
  • Slideshow
    • Show (All, picture only, video only, 3D only, category selection)
    • Effect (Natural, slow, swing, urban, off) - transitions and effects
    • Setup
      • Duration (1, 2, 3, 5 secs)
      • Repeat (on/off)
      • Sound (Off, auto, music, audio) - choose whether background music or movie audio is played
  • Playback mode (Normal play, picture play, AVCHD play, Motion JPEG play, 3D play, category play, favorite play) - a quick way to filter through the items on your memory card
  • Title edit - type in a comment for a photo
  • Text stamp - stamp the shooting date/time, name (of person, baby, or pet), location, travel date, or title onto a photo; photos will be downsized to "small" size
  • Video divide - chop a movie in half; good for removing unwanted footage
  • Resize - downsize a photo
  • Cropping - trim a photo
  • Aspect ratio conversion (3:2, 4:3, 1:1) - only works with 16:9 photos
  • Rotate image
  • Rotate display - whether portraits are automatically rotated
  • Favorite (Single, multi, single in burst group, multi in burst group) - tag photo or photos as favorites
  • Print set (Single, multi, single in burst group, multi in burst group) - tag a photo for printing to a PictBridge-enabled photo printer
  • Protect (Single, multi, single in burst group, multi in burst group)
  • Face recognition edit (Replace, delete) - update or remove data for a recognized face

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.


Lens used: Panasonic F4.0-5.6, 45 - 200 mm OIS

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.


ISO 160

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

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:

ISO 1600

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
 
ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)

RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

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!


ISO 160

ISO 200

ISO 400


ISO 800


ISO 1600

ISO 3200

ISO 6400

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.

ISO 3200

JPEG, straight out of the camera

RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)


RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask

 
ISO 6400

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!

Movie Mode

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.


View converted movie (19 MB, 1920 x 1080, 30 fps, QuickTime/H.264)

Download original MTS file (16.1 MB)

Playback Mode

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.

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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.

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