Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Review
Originally Posted: June 12, 2011
Last Updated: October 4, 2011
The Lumix DMC-GF3 (priced from $499) is the latest in Panasonic's line of compact interchangeable lens cameras, and the smallest camera of its type in the world (for now, at least). The design of the GF-series has changed over the years, though not necessarily for the better. The original GF1 had traditional rangefinder styling and plenty of switches and dials. Last year's GF2 took away many of those dials and added a touchscreen to make up the difference.
The DMC-GF3 is a very different animal. First off, it's tiny -- almost 17% smaller than its predecessor, and 16% lighter. It bears more of a resemblance to one of Panasonic's compact cameras than it does a rangefinder camera. It has even fewer buttons and dials, a weaker flash -- and the hot shoe, stereo microphone, and accessory port from the G2 are all gone, as well. As a GF1 owner, I can't help but be a little disappointed with the direction Panasonic has taken with the GF3, but apparently smaller is what people want these days!
So what separates the DMC-GF3 and its predecessor? Check out the table below for all the answers:
The biggest changes on the GF3, besides the very noticeable drop in bulk, is the improvement in both autofocus and continuous performance. Many of the other items in the chart existed on the GF2 under different names, though they've been enhanced a bit here.
Ready to learn more about the DMC-GF3? Keep reading -- our preview begins now!
Due to the similarities between the two cameras, portions of the DMC-G3 review will be reused here.
What's in the Box?
The DMC-GF3 will be available in three kits. You can get just the body alone for $499 (black only), with the F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm IS zoom lens for $599, and you can keep the GF3 extra small by getting the body and an F2.5, 14mm pancake lens for $699. Here's what you'll find in the box for all of those:
- The 12.1 effective Megapixel Lumix DMC-GF3 camera body
- F2.5, 14 mm Lumix G lens [14mm kit only]
- F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm Lumix G lens w/MEGA OIS [14 - 42 mm kit only]
- DMW-BLE9 lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- Body cap
- Front/rear lens caps
- Lens hood [14 - 42 mm 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)
You have your choice of two lenses with the DMC-GF3. The less expensive option is to get the camera with the 14 - 42 mm lens, which has optical image stabilization built in. This lens has decent build quality (though the lens mount is plastic) and low corner blurring and purple fringing, though overall sharpness could be better. I first used the F2.5, 14 mm pancake lens with the DMC-GF2, and was not impressed. While this lens is compact (and has a metal mount), it suffers from noticeable corner blurring and vignetting.
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-GF3 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 DMC-GF3 uses a different battery than its predecessor. The new DMW-BLE9 battery contains 6.8 Wh of energy, which is down from the 7.3 Wh battery used by the GF2. That probably doesn't bode well for battery life, but Panasonic actually managed to improve those numbers on the GF3, as you can see in this chart:
Compared to other mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, the GF3's battery life is about average. I threw a pair of compact D-SLRs in the table, too, but I only have numbers for the Canon EOS Rebel T3i in live view mode, and they're not good.
All of the cameras in the table above use proprietary lithium-ion batteries, and you should know two things about them. First, a spare is expensive -- expect to pay more than $50 for another DMW-BLE9 -- and Panasonic cameras don't usually get along with cheaper 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 AAs.
When it's time to charge the battery, just pop it into the included charger. This charger, which plugs directly into the wall, is slower than what typically comes with a Panasonic digital camera, taking three hours to fully charge the DMW-BLE9 battery.
As usual, there are plenty of accessories available for the DMC-GF3, though not as many as on last year's model. The highlights include:
The big changes in the accessory department is that the GF3 no longer supports an external flash, or an electronic viewfinder -- both due to the removal of the hot shoe. I'm not very excited about that change. I should add that some of these accessories, most notably the DC coupler (needed for the AC adapter) and the various cases are very hard to actually buy.
PhotoFunStudio 6.2 HD Edition
Panasonic includes version 6.2 of their PhotoFunStudio HD Edition software with the Lumix DMC-GF3. 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 GF3.
So what is RAW, anyway, and why should you care? RAW images contain unprocessed image data from the GF3'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-GF3. 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 GF3. 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, try Handbrake, SmartConverter, or 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 Pro, though do note that your not natively working with the MTS files -- the software converts them to another codec first.
The documentation for the DMC-GF3 is split into two parts. Inside the box is a 55 page basic manual that has enough information to get you up and running. If you need more details, then you'll need to load up the full manual, which can be found on an included CD-ROM in PDF format. Neither manual is what I'd call user friendly, as they're loaded with lots of fine print and other "notes". Instructions for the software bundle are installed onto your computer.