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.
Look and Feel
As I mentioned in the introduction to this article, the Lumix DMC-GF3 has transformed from a square, rangefinder-style camera to an compact camera not much larger than, say, the DMC-LX5. Where earlier models looked like competition for the Olympus E-Px cameras, it's pretty clear that the GF3 is targeting potential Sony NEX buyers (as well as those considering the Olympus Pen Mini, coming later this year). The body is made almost entirely of metal, and it feels nice and solid, save for the usual spot: the plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment.
Here's a photo I don't normally take with interchangeable lens cameras, but it gives you an idea as to just how small the GF3 is
Ergonomics are a mixed bag. The camera's small size makes it easy to hold and operate with one hand. However, the same compact body that allows that also makes the controls quite small and tightly packed. I found that my right thumb rests right on the top half of the four-way controller, which is just asking for trouble. The GF3 doesn't have a whole lot of buttons, which means that you'll have to rely on the Quick Menu for adjusting most of the camera's settings.
|The DMC-GF3 (left) compared to its predecessor, the DMC-GF2
Image courtesy of Panasonic
Above you can see the new DMC-GF3 and last year's GF2 side-by-side. The back view illustrates just how many controls and other items were removed on the GF3. The hot shoe and accessory port are gone, and the control wheel has been move down to the four-way controller. Something that you cannot see here is that the GF3 now has a monaural microphone, rather than the stereo one found on the GF2 -- and an external mic isn't an option, either.
Images courtesy of Panasonic
The DMC-GF3 will be available in four colors: white, brown, red, and (of course) black.
I already told you that the GF3 is considerably smaller than its predecessor. How does it compare to other compact interchangeable lens cameras (as well as a few D-SLRs) in terms of size and weight? Have a look:
Back when I wrote the preview of the GF3, it was the smallest interchangeable lens camera in the world. It has since lost that title to the Pentax Q, though its sensor is much smaller than what you'd find on a Micro Four Thirds or APS-C camera, which is why Pentax was able to come up with something so tiny. The GF3 is really only a pocket camera if you have the pancake lens on. Once you attach a larger lens, it'll have to travel in a bag or over your shoulder.
Let's take a tour of the Lumix GF3 now, shall we?
Here's the front of the GF3, without a lens attached. If you read my review of the DMC-G3, then that stylish new ring around the lens mount will look familiar. As you probably know, the GF3 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, with a 2X crop factor. In addition to supporting the growing collection of MFT lenses, it also works with classic Four Thirds lenses via an optional adapter. Unlike Olympus' Micro Four Thirds cameras, the GF3 and its siblings do not have image stabilization built into the body. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens has "Mega OIS", which is Panasonic's term for optical image stabilization. The pancake lens doesn't have any kind of IS, though it doesn't really need it.
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-GF3 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, 50,000 ultrasonic waves per second are sent through the low-pass filter, which literally blasts dust away. I've owned a DMC-GF1 for many years now, and still haven't had a dust problem.
Straight above the lens mount is the GF3's redesigned pop-up flash. You can tell that it doesn't pack much of a punch just by looking at it. The flash has a guide number of 6.3 at ISO 160, which is equivalent to 5.0 at ISO 100. In case you're wondering, the GF2's guide number was 6. If you wanted more flash power on the GF1 and GF2 you could add an external flash via their hot shoe, but since that feature is gone from the GF3, you're stuck with the built-in flash.
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 Lumix DMC-GF3 has the same 3-inch, 460,000 pixel touchscreen LCD as its predecessor. This screen offers very good sharpness, vivid colors, and superb outdoor visibility. It's also the only way in which you can compose and review photos, as support for an electronic viewfinder has been dropped on the GF3.
|The "view" in live view. Notice the live histogram and mic level meter.||Zoomed-in while using manual focus|
Due to the mirrorless design of the GF3 and cameras like it, all photos are composed on the LCD using "live view". The view on the LCD is sharp and fluid, with 100% coverage (as you'd expect), and I found it easy to see my subject in nearly all lighting conditions. 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.
One of the big improvements over the DMC-GF2 is in terms of autofocus performance. The camera uses the new "Light Speed AF" system, which takes advantage of a faster sensor drive speed (120 vs 60 fps). This allows for focusing that rivals (or perhaps exceeds that) of some very expensive digital SLRs. I'll have some actual timings later in the review.
Some of the things you can do with the touch interface on the DMC-GF3
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
So how about some details on the touch functions available on the DMC-GF3? 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). The GF2 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. And I definitely like being able to place the histogram wherever I'd like!
Since most functions are controlled via the touchscreen, there are very few buttons on the back of the GF3. The first that I want to mention is the release for the pop-up flash, located directly above the LCD. Jumping over to the right side of the screen, we find the button for entering playback mode.
Under that is the four-way controller, which has a control dial around it. The controller is quite small, and it's quite easy to accidentally press it in the wrong direction. The control dial, which has moved since the GF2, is used for adjusting exposure settings and navigating menus. The four-way controller does all that and more, and also serves as direct buttons for these functions:
- Up - Exposure compensation (-3EV to +3EV in 1/3EV increments)
- 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
The DMC-GF3 can shoot continuously a bit faster than its predecessor. There are three speeds to choose from: high, middle, and low. The low and middle speeds maintain the live view as you're taking the shots, while the high speed option lags behind the action a bit. Here's what kind of performance you can expect from the GF3 in burst mode:
The good news is that the DMC-GF3 performed faster than advertised in its continuous shooting mode. The bad news is that the camera doesn't have much in the line of buffer memory, so things slow down quickly, especially if RAW images are involved. This is definitely something Panasonic needs to work on across their Micro Four Thirds line.
The other drive option worth a mention is exposure bracketing, which can take three or five shots in a row, each with a different exposure value. The interval between each exposure can be ±1/3EV or ±2/3EV. 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 GF3, 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 1-area mode lets you position the focus point anywhere in the frame, and the size of the point can be adjusted. If you want to focus on a very small detail, try the new Pinpoint AF option which, as its name implies, gives you a tiny focus point 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 (minus a fluorescent option, for some bizarre reason), 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 for, or both.
|Setting the drive mode in the Quick Menu||Customizing the Quick Menu|
The last thing to see on the back of the GF3 is the Quick Menu/Function 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 (some may want to assign ISO sensitivity to it). The Quick Menu is a shortcut menu that places up to ten 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.
The first things to see on the top of the GF3 are the microphone and speaker on the far left of the photo. Last year's GF2 had a stereo microphone, but apparently there was no room for one on the GF3, so it's monaural only.
Adjusting the white balance ("color") in Intelligent Auto+ mode
Jumping over the flash (shown here in the closed position), we find the dedicated button for the camera's Intelligent Auto mode. 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 Intelligent Auto+ mode, which adds sliders for adjusting the amount of background blur, brightness (exposure compensation), and color (white balance).
In case you're wondering where the mode dial is -- there isn't one. It's a "virtual" dial, and I'll tell you more about it and its available options when we reach the menu section of the review. For the record, the GF2 didn't have a real mode dial, either.
The remaining items on the top of the camera include the shutter release and movie recording buttons, and the power switch.
There's nothing to see on this side of the DMC-GF3. The flash pops up quite a bit from the lens, which Panasonic says is to reduce vignetting.
On the other side of the camera you'll find its I/O ports, which are kept under a plastic door. They include:
- USB + A/V output
If you want support for a remote shutter release cable, you'll need to step up to the DMC-G3. Want an external mic input too? Then you'll want the DMC-GH2.
The view of the bottom of the GF3 means that we've reached the end of our tour. 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 a bit flimsy, and you won't be able to open it when the camera is on a tripod.
The new DMW-BLE9 battery can be seen at right.
Using the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3
The Lumix GF3's performance is on par with the DMC-G3 that I recently reviewed. Flip the power switch and the camera is up and running in less than a second, and that includes the time used to remove dust from the sensor.
As I mentioned earlier, autofocus speeds have been greatly improved on the GF3. Expect the camera to lock focus in 0.1 - 0.3 seconds at wide-angle and a little more than twice that at the telephoto end (assuming that you're using a zoom lens). That's as fast or faster than a regular D-SLR focuses using its optical viewfinder! Low light focusing times will stay at or below one second in nearly all situations, though be sure that you don't block the AF-assist lamp with your fingers.
I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue on the GF3. Shot-to-shot delays range from 1 second without the flash, to 2 seconds with it. There will be longer waits after you record a burst of photos, especially if RAW files are involved.
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-GF3. To simplify this table, I'm only listing the options for the default 4:3 aspect ratio -- there are three other ratios available. This is also the unofficial "Jeff version" of the table, as Panasonic did not provide them for the GF3, for some reason.
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 GF3 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 virtual mode dial or the main menu
When you first press the menu button, you'll be presented with the "gateway" screen that you can see above. From here you can access the virtual mode dial, or jump directly to a specific section of the main menu.
The GF3's virtual mode dial
Before I tell you about the menus, let's talk about the virtual mode dial, pictured above. To switch between items on the mode dial, you'll use the control dial on the back of the camera. The items on the virtual mode dial include:
You can easily adjust color (AKA white balance) using the slider you see above in iA+ mode
For point-and-shoot operation, nobody does it better than Panasonic and their Intelligent Auto mode. The camera literally does everything for you, whether it's selecting a scene mode for you or intelligently sharpening parts of a photo. There's a new iA+ mode on the GF3, which allows you to use "sliders" on the touchscreen to adjust background defocus (aperture), brightness (exposure compensation), and white balance (color), without having to know any technical jargon.
If you want to select your own scene mode, there are plenty to choose from, most of which should be self-explanatory. The baby and pet modes allow you to put the name and birthday of two children and one animal into the camera, and this information is stored in the metadata of photos taken in those modes.
The Creative Control mode is not unlike the My Color mode on the old GF2. You can choose from six effects: expressive (pop art), retro, high key, sepia, high dynamic, and miniature effect (which is all the rage these days). The same defocus control that's available in Intelligent Auto mode can be used here, as well.
Naturally, the GF3 has a full set of manual exposure controls. The only thing missing here is a bulb mode, though that wasn't available on the GF2 either.
Now let's get to talk about the GF3's menu system, which is broken into five tabs, covering shooting, movie, custom, setup, and playback options. It's easy to navigate (and is not touch-enabled), though some help screens would've been nice. Keeping in mind that some of these items may not be available in all shooting modes, here's the full list of menu options:
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 previous G-series models. 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.
You may have noticed that there are two "auto" ISO modes available. The regular Auto ISO boosts the sensitivity solely based on the brightness of the scene. Intelligent ISO takes both the scene brightness as well as subject movement into account when boosting the sensitivity. You can set the maximum ISO that the two Auto ISO modes in the record menu.
The Intelligent Resolution feature is unchanged from the GF2. 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. In Intelligent Auto mode it's set to "auto", but in the manual shooting modes it's off by default. The available settings are low, standard, high, and extended (super high). Below is an example of the Intelligent Resolution feature in action. I'm only showing you a crop of the whole image, so be sure to click on those "view full size image" links to see more!
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As you can see, the crop above gets noticeable sharper as you increase the Intelligent Resolution setting. When you get to "high" I think it's a bit over-the-top, so I'd probably stay at Standard. As with the DMC-G3, the extended setting seems softer than the one before it, which is the opposite of how things are supposed to be.
Another feature carried over from the GF2 is Intelligent Dynamic. This feature brightens shadows and is supposed to help with highlight clipping, but I haven't noticed much of an improvement in that area in previous models. This feature is always on in Intelligent Auto mode, 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:
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The test does a nice job of illustrating how the Intelligent Dynamic features brightens shadows. You will see that the high setting isn't any better than standard, though that may not always be the case -- you're really just setting the maximum amount of brightening the camera will use, and it didn't think any more was needed here. The test also shows that improves in highlight detail were minimal, at best.
The third unchanged feature that's worth a mention is Extra Tele Conversion. 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 (3 Megapixel) resolution in order to get that. In movie mode (at 720p and lower resolutions) you can get anywhere from 3.1X to 4.2X of additional zoom power.
Let's move on to our photo tests now. I took these with a variety of lenses, so be sure to look under the photo to see which one I used!
Since I've taken this photo so many times with the cheap kit lenses, I decided to use the brand new Panasonic/Leica F1.4, 25mm lens for our macro test shot (note that this lens is different from the F2.8, 45 mm Leica macro lens that's also available). Aside from the slight brown color cast (that all Panasonic cameras seem to have in my studio), the photo looks great. The subject is tack sharp (thank you Leica), with plenty of detail captured. Colors are saturated and accurate, with the aforementioned color cast mostly affecting the white background. I don't see any noise here, nor would I expect to.
The minimum distance to your subject will depend on what lens you're using. Both the Leica lens used here and the 14 - 42 mm kit lens have minimum distances of 30 cm. The 14mm pancake lens can focus at subjects 18 cm away.
The GF3 won't win any awards for its rendition of our standard night test scene, for a variety of reasons. From the thumbnail you can see a brownish color cast -- Panasonic cameras really seem to struggle with color accuracy under artificial light. The GF3 took in plenty of light, and you can do that using either the manual controls or the scene modes. Sharpness is just average here, and that may be due to the fact that Intelligent Resolution is off here (which is the standard setting in the manual modes). There is some highlight clipping here, though it doesn't seem as bad as it was on the GF2. Purple fringing is strong in places, though I blame the lens more than anything for that. Something you will not find here is any noise or noise reduction artifacting.
Now, let's use that same night scene to see how the DMC-G3 performed at higher sensitivities in low light situations.
There's very little to differentiate the first three crops, with just an inkling of noise becoming visible at ISO 400. Noise becomes a bit more obvious at ISO 800, though it shouldn't prevent you from making a large print at that setting. At ISO 1600 there's enough noise present that you'll need to downsize the images (for printing or online display) or consider shooting RAW. Things start going downhill rapidly at ISO 3200, and I'd avoid ISO 6400 entirely.
Can you get more detail out of the GF3 by shooting RAW and doing some easy post-processing? I grabbed the ISO 1600 night photo to find out.
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
There's an improvement here, but it's not life-changing. Would I probably shoot RAW and post-process at ISO 800 and 1600 in low light? Yes. Above that? Probably not worth it. We'll see if we can do a little better in normal lighting in a bit.
|Night ISO test added on October 4, 2011|
As soon as I took a look at the DMC-GF3, I knew that it would have issues with redeye, due to the close proximity of the lens and flame. Sure enough, despite both a preflash and digital redeye removal system, the resulting photo was loaded with red. There's nothing else you can do about it on the camera, since there's no redeye removal tool in playback mode, so you'll have to fix this on your computer.
Lens used: Panasonic F3.5-5.6, 14 - 42 mm (from DMC-G3 review)
Lens used: Panasonic F2.8, 14mm
Since there are two kit lenses available for the DMC-GF3, I've got two distortion tests. The first one, for the 14 - 42 mm zoom, shows fairly mild barrel distortion. This lens doesn't have any issues with corner blurring, nor is vignetting (dark corners) a problem. The same cannot be said for the 14mm pancake lens, which is the other kit lens. This lens has noticeable vignetting at times, and some corner blurring, as well. Barrel distortion is a bit stronger than the 14-42, but not horrible by any means.
Lens used: Leica F1.4, 25mm
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. I used the new Leica lens for these as well, so they're extra sharp. Here we go!
Everything is clean and smooth through ISO 800. At ISO 1600 there's some mild noise, but it shouldn't slow you down. The ISO 3200 photo has some detail loss, so you'll want to use it for small prints, or shoot RAW to see if you can do a better job of cleaning things up. I would pass on the ISO 6400 setting.
Speaking of RAW, let's try to clean up that ISO 3200 image, just like we did with the night shot earlier:
JPEG, straight out of the camera
RAW -> JPEG conversion (Adobe Camera Raw)
RAW -> JPEG conversion + NeatImage + Unsharp Mask
The improvements to be had by shooting RAW and post-processing include more detail (and less smudging) and more vivid colors. Who doesn't like that? While I don't think you can save photos taken at ISO 6400, it may be worth shooting RAW at ISO 1600 and 3200 for best results.
|Studio ISO test added on October 4, 2011|
Overall, the Lumix DMC-GF3 produces very good quality photos, though I found a few areas in which things could improve. Like the DMC-G3, the GF3 has the tendency to underexpose by 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop, so bracketing isn't a bad idea. As I said a few paragraphs up, highlight clipping is still present on the GF3, but it's not as noticeable as it was on the GF1 and GF2. Colors generally look very good, except in artificial lighting, where things take on a brown or yellowish cast. Sharpness really depends on the lens you're using, and also the Intelligent Resolution setting (remember that it's off in P/A/S/M mode). The 14mm pancake lens is not the greatest, and has noticeable vignetting to boot. The 14 - 42 mm kit lens is better in most respects, and naturally the pricey 25mm Leica that I got my hands on was the most impressive. The GF3 keeps noise at bay until ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in good light, and I have a feeling that you'll be able to clean up the high ISO photos nicely once some decent RAW converters support the camera. One thing I did notice is that the camera will slightly smudge fine details, such as the water in this photo, even at ISO 160 (though most people won't notice). Purple fringing is largely lens-dependent, and ranges from mild (25mm, 14 - 42 mm) to moderate (14mm, 40 - 150 mm).
Don't just take my word for all this, though. Have a look at our photo gallery, perhaps printing a few of them if you'd like, and then decide if the DMC-GF3's image quality meets your needs!
The DMC-GF3's movie mode is mostly unchanged compared to the GF2, except for one thing: audio is no longer recorded in stereo. The GF3 can record Full HD video at 1920 x 1080 / 60i, though the actual sensor output is 30p. 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-GF3 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 using the Extra Tele Conversion function covered in the previous section. The various special effects in the Creative Control mode can be used, including miniature effect. Do note that videos taken with the miniature effect will be silent, and will be played back in 1/10th of the actual recording time.
The GF3 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 GF3 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. Speaking of the microphone -- be careful -- it's very easy to block with your left hand.
Unlike the DMC-G3 that I just reviewed, the GF3 does not allow you to take stills while a movie is being recorded.
Here's a sample video for you, taken at the highest quality setting (17 Mbps). I've included a link to the original MTS file so you can view or convert it yourself, if you wish.
The DMC-GF3 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. There is no way to move from photo to photo while keeping the zoom and location intact when using playback zoom, however.
Touch features in playback mode
Animation courtesy of Panasonic
The GF3's touch features in playback mode are the same as they were on its predecessor. 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 GF3 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-GF3 has the ability to edit movies, called 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 on the touchscreen 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-GF3 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 Lumix DMC-GF3 is the smallest camera in Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds lineup. It also marks a turning point in the GF-series, which has gone from a rangefinder-style camera with lots of pro features to something that resembles a point-and-shoot camera (though manual controls are still present). I can't say that I like the downsizing of the GF-series, as it compromises ergonomics, and eliminates features normally standard on interchangeable lens cameras, such as a hot shoe and mode dial. Other side effects include a weak, redeye-prone flash and a monaural microphone that seems out of place on a camera with as Full HD movie mode. Thankfully, the GF3 takes very good quality photos, performs well, and generally has a nice feature set. I'm not very enthusiastic about the GF3 (mainly due to its design), but it's certainly worth your consideration.
The DMC-GF3 is a very compact interchangeable lens camera that uses the Micro Four Thirds standard. The body is made mostly of metal, and it feels solid in your hands, save for the plastic door over the battery/memory card compartment. As I mentioned above, the GF3 is now so small that compromises have been made in terms of both features and usability. Gone are the hot shoe and accessory port (which is where you'd plug in an electronic viewfinder on earlier models), as well as the stereo microphones. The mode dial remains absent, as was the case on the GF2. The camera is easy to hold, but your right thumb sits right on the four-way controller, which can lead to trouble. You also need to make sure that your fingers are out of the way of the microphone and AF-assist lamp. Due to the lack of direct buttons, you'll probably be spending a lot of time in the Quick Menu, which can be operated with your finger or the four-way controller. As I mentioned, this is a Micro Four Thirds camera, and it works with those lenses as well as classic Four Thirds glass via an optional adapter. The crop factor in all cases is 2X. On the back of the camera is the same 3-inch, touchscreen LCD display that was on the GF2. The screen is sharp, bright, and easy to see outdoors. The sole source of flash power on the GF3 is its built-in flash, which is weak (GN 5 at ISO 100) and prone to redeye. You might want to step up to the DMC-G3 if you need more flash power or a hot shoe.
Being a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, live view is at the heart of everything you do on the camera. Panasonic has really got this feature down on their 2011 models, with very fast autofocus, face detection, a live histogram, customizable grid lines, and the ability to zoom in while composing a shot. Add in the touchscreen features, which include focus, shutter release, a customizable quick menu, and image playback, and you've got a camera that those stepping up from point-and-shoot cameras will feel right at home with. They'll also like the camera's Intelligent Auto mode, which will select a scene mode for you, brighten shadows, selectively sharpen different areas of the image, and more. The new iA+ mode lets you use "sliders" on the LCD to adjust white balance, background blur, and brightness, without having to know any of the technical details. Intelligent Auto mode also takes advantage of the Intelligent Resolution and Intelligent Dynamic features, which sharpen and brighten photo, respectively. You'll have to turn both of those on if you're in the manual exposure modes, and it's not a bad idea, either. Speaking of manual controls, the GF3 has them, for exposure, white balance (including fine-tuning, but not bracketing), and focus. Naturally, the RAW image format is supported, and there are plenty of customizable options in the menu, as well. The GF3 can also record Full HD video (1920 x 1080 / 60i, though sensor output is 30p) using the AVCHD codec. You can record until your memory card fills up (in the U.S., at least) and continuous autofocus is available too. The bad news? Sound is not recorded in stereo, and there are no manual controls available, unless a wind filter counts.
Camera performance is very good in nearly all respects. The GF3 is ready to start taking pictures a fraction of a second after you flip the power switch. The camera uses Panasonic's new Light Speed AF system, and it sure seems like it can focus that quick. Expect 0.1 - 0.3 seconds for focus lock at the wide end of most lenses, and around 0.3 - 0.7 seconds at the telephoto end. Low light focus times hover around one second, and the camera locked focus accurately in those situations. I didn't find shutter lag to be an issue (nor would I expect to), and shot-to-shot delays were minimal, except after a burst containing RAW images is taken. As with Panasonic's other models, the GF3's burst mode could use some work. While it can shoot at over 4 frames/second, the buffer fills up very quickly, so you only get a handful of shots before things slow down. The DMC-GF3's battery life is average for an interchangeable lens camera.
For the most part, the GF3's photo quality is very good. The only real issues come up when using the 14mm pancake lens (one of two offered with the camera) or when shooting in artificial light. The camera also tends to underexpose a bit, but that's easy enough to compensate for (if you get my drift). Colors look good, except in artificial light, where they taken on a brownish cast (a problem with all recent Lumix models). Sharpness depends on both your lens and the Intelligent Resolution setting. While the 14 - 42 mm kit lens is sharp across the frame, the 14mm pancake lens has corner blurriness, not to mention vignetting. As for Intelligent Resolution, you'll want it set to either automatic (as it is in iA mode) or low/standard (in P/A/S/M mode) for best results. The camera keeps noise levels low through ISO 1600 in low light and ISO 3200 in normal light, which is a good showing for a Micro Four Thirds camera. Purple fringing depends on what lens you're using -- some didn't have a problem, while others did. Redeye was always a problem though, and there's no tool in playback mode to remove it.
There are just two final things left to mention before I wrap things up. First, you won't be able to access the memory card slot while the camera is on a tripod. Secondly, while the basic manual included in the box is enough to get you up and running with the GF3, the full manual is only available in digital format on an included CD-ROM. Neither manual will win any awards for user-friendliness, either.
Overall, I like the features, performance, and photo quality of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, but I'm a lot less excited about its design (speaking as a GF1 owner). It's one of those cameras that you'll absolutely want to try in person before you buy it. If you can handle the compromises that come with producing such a small camera, then it'll definitely serve you well. If you like what you've read but want something a bit larger, then you should consider the DMC-G3, which is a lot easier to handle.
What I liked:
- Very good photo quality
- Very compact, generally well built 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
- Very good live view system with ridiculously fast autofocus, live histogram, custom grid lines, face detection/recognition
- 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
- Plenty of custom settings, plus custom spot on (virtual) mode dial
- Intelligent Resolution sharpens photos, while Intelligent Dynamic brightens shadows (but does little for highlights)
- Records movies at 1080/60i (30p sensor output) with continuous autofocus using AVCHD codec
- HDMI output
What I didn't care for:
- Tends to underexpose by 1/3 or 2/3 stop
- Images have brownish cast in artificial light
- Tiny body means lots of compromises: no more hot shoe, stereo microphone, or EVF support; no mode dial (same as the GF2, though); cramped controls can lead to trouble; lack of direct buttons mean reliance on menus
- Weak, redeye-prone flash; no redeye removal tool in playback mode
- Buffer fills fairly quickly in burst mode
- Movie mode woes: no manual controls, monaural sound recorded
- 14mm kit lens isn't great (due to vignetting and corner blurring)
- Can't access memory card while camera is on a tripod
- Full manual on CD-ROM; not very user-friendly, either
Some other compact interchangeable lens cameras worth looking at include the Olympus E-PM1, Pentax Q, Samsung NX100, and Sony Alpha NEX-5. You may also want to consider these compact (relatively speaking) digital SLRs: Canon EOS Rebel T3i and Nikon D3100.
As always, I recommend a trip to your local camera or electronics store to try out the Lumix DMC-GF3 and its competitors before you buy!
Check out the DMC-GF3 photo gallery to see how the image quality looks!