Panasonic GF3 Overview
by Dan Havlik, Shawn Barnett, Mike Tomkins, and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview Posted: 06/13/2011
Review Posted: 08/18/2011
Rivaling not only the new Sony NEX-C3, but also Panasonic's own deluxe digicam the LX5, the Panasonic GF3 brings the Micro Four Thirds camp a new definition of small. As did Sony, to achieve this size, Panasonic had to rethink much of the control system, as shrinking bodies leave little room for luxuries like mode dials, switches, and buttons. As a result, there's a learning curve to using the GF3, but for those seeking a very small compact system camera, the Lumix GF3 has a lot to offer in a very small body.
Along with the step-down in size, Panasonic saw fit to keep the resolution of the GF3's sensor to 12-megapixels, yet they're quick to add that the same sensor improvements that impressed us in the 16-megapixel G3 are included in the GF3. Also of note, the GF3 supports Full HD video, that's 1,920 x 1,080 in AVCHD format.
The main first impression one gets from the Lumix GF3 is that it's tiny. Especially with the 14mm f/2.5 lens attached, it really does dip down into digicam territory. It's a little taller than an LX5, but less wide; thickness of course varies with the lens mounted, but it's not far off, either. We have a few comparison shots below, pitting the GF3 against the Sony NEX-C3 and Lumix G3. It's a close call with the Sony, but the GF3 makes the small, feature-rich G3 look big again. The Canon G12 and Nikon P7000, already larger than the GF2, can consider the gauntlet thrown down.
Compared to the GF2, the GF3 is smaller in width and height, but not thickness. The Panasonic GF3 measures 4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 inches (108 x 67 x 33mm), versus 4.4 x 2.7 x 1.3 inches (113 x 68 x 33mm) on the GF2, and weight is also reduced to 9.3 ounces (264g), from the GF2's 11.3 ounces (319g). Put another way, the GF3 is 16.7 percent smaller and 16.2 percent lighter than the GF2, according to Panasonic.
The Panasonic GF3 is indeed light, but still feels solid, and a little better balanced than the NEX-C3, with the lens positioned just a tad closer to the center. The grip is scanty, at best only supporting a two finger hold. Similar to the grip on the G3 in shape, it's smaller, and requires extra care to avoid dropping the tiny GF3. It might be a little better as a grip than the one on the GF2, though. I recommend at least a wrist strap with the Panasonic GF3, if not use of the included neckstrap. I'm thankful they went with metal loop mounts for that strap, by the way, as the cloth-to-metal interface is prone to less noise than the metal-to-metal D-ring approach.
Best described as clean and simple, the GF3's front is a contrast to the more boxy GF2, with sloping shoulders and more gradual curves. A bright chrome ring surrounds the lens mount, adding the unusual effect of making the lenses look even smaller, like they are smaller than the mount itself. An AF-assist lamp (which doubles as a self-timer indicator) peeks out from the upper right of the lens mount, something too many SLRs lack.
From left to right, the top features a monaural microphone, a speaker, a small pop-up flash, the Intelligent Auto button, Shutter button, Record button, and a sliding Power switch. The mono mic is a step down from the GF2 for video, and the lack of a hot shoe in addition to a pop-up flash is also a change from the last generation. At this size, Panasonic said they didn't see a lot of people adopting external flashes, so they were content to delete the hot shoe for lower weight and smaller size. That still leaves out the option of an optical or electronic accessory viewfinder, for whatever it's worth.
While the GF2 had a total of 11 control buttons (not counting the flash pop-up button), the GF3 reduces the count to 10: Intelligent Auto, Shutter, Record, Playback, EV, White Balance, AF-point, Drive, Menu/Set, and Quick Menu/Function (the thumb-operated rear dial also served as a button on the GF2). You can set the Function button to activate 15 different things, but then you lose the Quick Menu: AF/AE Lock, Preview, Photo Style, Aspect Ratio, Quality, Focus mode, Metering mode, Flash, ISO Sensitivity, ISO Limit Set, Ex. Tele Conv., Burst Rate, Auto Bracket, Guide Line, and Record Area. Mode and Display settings are made via the LCD's touchscreen overlay. Pressing the onscreen Display button, which appears in the lower right corner, cycles through available modes, and pressing the Mode icon in the upper left corner brings up a circular display of nine bubbles, each with a mode. Turning the physical rotary dial surrounding the navigation disk moves from bubble to bubble, or you can simply press one of the bubbles with your finger.
The 3-inch LCD has a 460,000-dot display that's sharp and vibrant. Unlike the G3 and Sony NEX-C3, the display does not articulate (tilt or swivel), but integrated touch focus features somewhat make up for that omission.Since a big part of the Panasonic GF3 is its small size, we'll go straight into two of the more interesting side-by-side comparisons.
Panasonic GF3 size comparisons
Panasonic GF3 vs Sony NEX-C3
Panasonic GF3 vs Panasonic G3
Panasonic GF3 Technical Info
Sensor and processor. The Panasonic GF3 features a 12.1 megapixel Micro Four Thirds-format image sensor whose output is handled by a Venus Engine FHD image processor. It's said to have the same image processing capabilities as the recently-announced Lumix G3, although the GF3's Live MOS image sensor has a total resolution of 13.06 megapixels, in place of the 16.68 megapixel chip used in the G3. Base sensitivity for the GF3's imager is ISO 160 equivalent, while maximum sensitivity is unchanged from that of the GF2, at ISO 6,400 equivalent.
Panasonic's full range of advanced features is supported by the processor, including Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Resolution, and Intelligent Dynamic Range Control. (See the Image Quality page to see how these features work.)
Performance. The GF3 bests its predecessor by quite some margin in terms of burst shooting performance, and given the earlier camera's relatively sedate performance, that would be a very welcome change. Panasonic rates the GF3 as capable of shooting some 3.8 frames per second, some 19% faster than the company-supplied 3.2 fps figure for the GF2. In our own lab testing, the GF3 proved capable of 3.5 fps in High Speed mode. JPEG shooters will be happy to see that burst depth is still restricted only by available space and battery life when shooting typical subjects, given a fast enough flash card. We managed 20 JPEGs in a high-speed burst with our difficult-to-compress target. For Raw shooters, though, burst depth is unfortunately still quite abbreviated, at just seven frames. In our testing, we got at most five Raw frames before the GF3 slowed down.
Optics. Around twenty lens models are now available for Micro Four Thirds format cameras, and Panasonic itself offers a healthy selection of both prime and zoom lenses, as well as its unusual 3D lens, all compatible with the GF3. As you'd expect, a Supersonic Wave Filter dust reduction system is included, to minimize the effects of dust ingested during operation.
Touch-panel display. An important difference between the GF3 and its predecessor is the lack of any provision for an external viewfinder. With no accessory port on the GF3's body, all interaction is handled through its 3.0-inch touch panel LCD display, which appears to be unchanged from that featured in the GF2. The Lumix GF3's LCD has a total resolution of 460,000 dots, which equates to somewhere in the region of 153,600 pixels, commonly known as HVGA (Half-size VGA). Each pixel comprises adjacent red, green, and blue-colored dots. The panel has a 3:2 aspect ratio, approximately 100% coverage, seven-step brightness / color adjustment, and a wide viewing angle (although Panasonic doesn't specify the actual horizontal / vertical viewing range).
Focusing. Like the GF2 before it, the GF3 offers up a 23-point TTL contrast detection autofocusing system, as well as an autofocus assist lamp that helps when focusing in low ambient lighting conditions. As well as multi-point focusing, the GF3 also provides single, pinpoint, tracking, and face detection autofocus modes. In single-point mode, the focus point can be placed anywhere within the image frame, by simply dragging it on the touch-panel display. Autofocus speed is said to be similar to that of the Lumix G3 and GH2 models, and our test results agree.
Of course, you can also focus manually, and the GF3 offers a manual focus assist zoom that enlarges the display around the focus point, allowing precise focus tuning. Three zoom levels are available -- either 4x, 5x, or 10x. As in the G3, the lowest zoom level shows an enlargement only at the center of the screen, overlaid on the full image, providing a reasonably intuitive way to focus while retaining your desired framing.
Exposure. The Lumix GF3 offers still image shutter speeds ranging from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds. Images are metered with the Live MOS image sensor, using a 144-segment multi-pattern metering system, and the GF3 also provides both center-weighted and spot metering modes. +/-3.0 EV of exposure compensation is available, set in 1/3 EV steps, and the metering system has a working range of EV 0-18 (with an f/2.0 lens at ISO 100 equivalent.)
Flash. Like the GF2 before it, the Panasonic GF3 is said to be the smallest interchangeable-lens camera yet announced that includes a built-in flash strobe. The GF3's built-in popup flash has been relocated directly above the central axis of the lens, a position previously occupied by the hot shoe on the GF2, and this hints at an important omission. Unlike its predecessor, the Panasonic GF3 has no provision for external flash strobes. There's no hot shoe, and since the external accessory connector has also been removed, there's no possibility of a proprietary flash accessory being offered, either.
This change makes the built-in flash doubly important, and unfortunately, it still has a rather modest guide number of just 6.3 meters at ISO 160 equivalent. With that said, being a relatively compact camera, it's likely that an external flash would get left at home anyway, so perhaps the lack of external flash connectivity won't prove much of an issue.
Creative controls. As in the G3, Panasonic has retained its two main creative control function groups from the earlier GF2 model in the GF3, but with new names for each.
The earlier My Color mode is now known as Creative Control, and provides access to six effects, one more than in the G3 but two less than the GF2. Choices are Expressive (pop-art style), Retro (soft, tarnished effect), High Key (brighter image), Sepia, High Dynamic (localized color and contrast enhancement), and Miniature Effect (linear graduated blur towards the edges of the image).
The Film Mode function has also been renamed to Photo Style. This offers a selection of six presets, plus a custom mode, each of which can be tweaked in terms of contrast, sharpness, saturation (except in Monochrome mode, where it is replaced with a color tone adjustment), and noise reduction. Presets include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, and Portrait.
There are also 17 Scene modes that help amateurs get the results they're looking for without the need to understand shutter speeds, apertures, and the like, as well as Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto+ modes that both offer maximum ease of use, but differ in their level of control over the look of images.
Video. The GF3's movie capture capabilities are very similar to those of the GF2, but with a number of important changes. The GF3 still provides for Full HD (1,080i / 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) or 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) video capture at 17Mbps in AVCHD format, as well as for Motion JPEG capture at 720p resolution or below. Recording rates are likewise unchanged -- NTSC models offer either 30 frames per second for Motion JPEG, 60 frames per second for 720p AVCHD, or 60 fields per second for 1080i AVCHD, all captured from 30 frames per second sensor data. PAL models are 50i for 1080i AVCHD and 50p for 720p AVCHD, from 25 frames per second sensor data.
The differences are threefold. Panasonic has dropped the 13Mbps "FH" and "F" options for AVCHD format, dropped the non-standard 848 x 480 pixel WVGA video capture mode, and replaced the GF2's stereo internal microphone with a monaural mic.
Exposure during video recording is fully automatic, though aperture can be adjusted while recording using the Defocus Control slider in either Intelligent Auto mode, and a flicker reduction feature lets you force the shutter speed to 1/50, 1/60, 1/100, or 1/120 second. Exposure compensation and white balance can be adjusted before recording starts in Intelligent Auto+ mode. Creative Control effects, Photo Styles, and 11 scene modes are also available for videos.
Of course, continuous autofocus is available during movies, complete with Touch AF. Other video recording features include a wind cut filter with four settings, and the mic's sensitivity can be adjusted to four levels. See the Motion Picture menu animation above right for additional features and settings.
Connectivity. The Lumix GF3 includes a mini HDMI Type C high-definition video output with VIERA Link compatibility, which allows the camera to be controlled by the remote control of a Panasonic VIERA Link-enabled HDTV. (VIERA Link is Panasonic's brandname for the HDMI Consumer Electronics Control standard, although compatibility with devices made by other companies is not guaranteed.)
The GF3 also includes a proprietary connector that provides for both USB 2.0 High Speed data transfer, and standard definition NTSC composite video output with monaural audio output. The USB port has PTP (for PictBridge compatible printers) and Mass Storage modes.
Storage. The Panasonic GF3 stores its data on Secure Digital cards, including the latest generation SDHC and SDXC types. As well as storing still images in JPEG compressed format, the G3 can also write RAW files, either alone or alongside a JPEG copy of each image. When using Panasonic's unusual 3D lens, the GF3 saves images in MPO (Multi Picture Object) format, with each MPO file containing two JPEG images with differing perspective. As noted previously, movies can be stored with either AVCHD or Motion JPEG compression, depending on the resolution.
Power. The Panasonic GF3 draws power from a proprietary 7.2V, 940mAh battery pack rated as good for 320 shots on a charge when using the 14-42mm lens, based on CIPA testing standards. With the 14mm lens, this climbs just slightly, to 340 images, as the 14mm lens lacks optical image stabilization. That's a slight improvement compared to the GF2's 300 and 320 shots with the same lenses. Maximum battery life during video capture has also improved, up from 120 minutes with the company's 14-42mm lens, to 130 minutes with the same lens. The Lumix GF3's battery/card door features a covered pass-through, for use with optional DC coupler and AC adapter.
Shooting with the Panasonic GF3
by Dan Havlik
Panasonic has done an interesting thing with the new 12-megapixel LUMIX DMC-GF3. It's even smaller and more streamlined than the previous model, and some of the external buttons and controls are stripped off. Even the hot shoe is gone. Overall, the Panasonic GF3 has a more consumer look and feel than its predecessor, the GF2.
I find this interesting because the common perception of these compact system cameras (CSC) -- small, mirrorless cameras that use small interchangeable lenses -- is that they're aimed at advanced amateurs, enthusiasts, and prosumer photographers. That definitely seemed the case with the GF2, which was slender and compact but had a boxy design that recalled classic rangefinder models. (The original GF1 had an even more traditional "analogue" design to it.) The slightly rounded and petite Panasonic GF3 is more apt to remind you of advanced point-and-shoot models such as the Canon S95, Olympus XZ-1, or Panasonic's own LX5.
By creating a smaller, more potentially consumer-friendly interchangeable lens camera with the GF3, Panasonic is clearly hoping to draw a larger audience to its CSC models, which, while they have found a devoted niche of earlier adopters, are just starting to enter the mainstream. At the same time, the more family-friendly style of the GF3 might turn off experienced photographers who like their gear to be "serious."
The Panasonic GF3 certainly looks less imposing than the GF2; it's smaller in width and height than its predecessor but has about same thickness.
The difference is more glaring when you actually start shooting with the Panasonic GF3. I did so recently, using it with its slender 14mm f/2.5 kit lens. Despite not having any optical zoom (aside from the zoom of my feet), this combination is how to best appreciate the GF3, I think. I've never fully gotten the CSC category mostly because I never felt these cameras (both those with Micro Four Thirds and APS-C size sensors) were as portable as advertised, especially when they're attached to a telescoping zoom lens. But the GF3, which uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor, is small enough to fit in a coat pocket with the 14mm lens attached. (It converts to a decent, wide-angle 28mm lens because of the the Micro Four Thirds' 2x magnification factor.)
Out on the Street. While carrying the Panasonic GF3 around for a few days of street shooting in New York City, I felt like I was wearing "almost nothing at all," as the saying goes. The GF3 is not only lightweight, it's a rather inconspicuous-looking camera which makes it ideal for candid images. Most people will probably think it's just a casual snapshooter (unless you get the red one).
What also helps is that the GF3's autofocus speed is fast. Our lab clocked the Panasonic GF3's with the 14mm kit lens at 0.312 second for full autofocus in single area AF mode, and 0.310 second in multi-area AF mode, making it one of the fastest CSC models on the market. That's impressive, especially because these types of cameras with their creaky Contrast Detection-based autofocus systems have been notorious slowpokes. Thankfully that's changed with cameras such as the GH2, GF3, Sony NEX-C3, and the Olympus PEN E-P3. Finally the CSC category has cameras that can compete in autofocus speed with digital SLRs, even prosumer-level DSLRs.
At the same time, the Panasonic GF3 showed some of its point-and-shoot roots with a below average start-up to first shot speed, clocking in at nearly two seconds. That's almost a full second slower than the GF2. The GF3's shot-to-shot times of 0.65 second were good for a CSC but not quite as speedy as a DSLR. In its High Speed Continuous mode, the GF3 bested the GF2, recording 3.46 fps (slightly slower than the specified 3.8 fps, but still pretty fast for the category). Mode switching on the GF3 was reasonably fast and it only takes 0.2 second to display an image already shot.
Perhaps the best thing about the Panasonic GF3, though, is that I never felt I had to wait for it to focus on what I was shooting. When trying to inconspicuously photograph people on the street at what French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once called 'the decisive moment," it's important your camera be swift, silent, and accurate. While Cartier-Bresson didn't enjoy the benefits of such quick autofocus -- he was more of a manual focus, Leica rangefinder type of guy -- you will love it on the GF3. The camera also focused quickly and effectively in low light. That's a big plus because while the GF3 has a small, pop-up flash, it's rather weak and you probably won't use it often. (And as mentioned before, there's no hot shoe on the GF3 for attaching an external flash.)
The Panasonic GF3's built-in flash pops up with a rather erratic clatter, but settles into the right position well enough. It may not be very powerful, but it's fine as a fill for portraits. It also does fairly well in close-up, low-light portraits. (I wouldn't recommend using it in a pitch-dark room though.) In our lab testing, the flash performed well in the center at up to 8.3 feet. Overall, though, the flash tested to be very center heavy, falling off rapidly toward the edges.
Size. The benefit of the Panasonic GF3's small size is that it's easy to transport, whether it's in your coat pocket while walking the streets of New York or in your carry-on bag for your trip to Acapulco. The downside is that it makes the GF3 hard to hold comfortably. This is exacerbated by the camera's tiny grip, which I could only wrap two fingers around. Holding onto the GF3 is something of a challenge for anyone with large hands and its tiny body and consumer-style interface is bound to turn off more serious photographers. Include me as someone who wishes Panasonic also made a slightly bigger and more professional version of the GF3. Call it the GF3-P?
The Panasonic GF3 is definitely a camera you wouldn't want to drop since its lightweight, polycarbonate body would certainly be damaged. Our advice is to use a wrist strap or the included neck strap to better secure the GF3 in most active shooting situations.
As a colleague put it, once you take the Panasonic GF3 out for a spin, it's pretty much love at first click. I brought the GF3 along to shoot some of my favorite neighborhood haunts and was immediately impressed by its speed and image quality. Another big plus is the GF3's 3-inch, 460,000-dot-resolution LCD touchscreen, which is one of the best I've tried on a small camera. Since there is no optical viewfinder on the GF3, you'll be leaning entirely on the live preview of the GF3's display to compose your shots. The decision to leave off a hot shoe helps makes the GF3 smaller and lighter but it also leaves out the possibility of adding an optical or electronic viewfinder accessory.
This is not as big a sacrifice as you might think, thanks to the high quality of the GF3's LCD screen. I would have appreciated an articulating or tilting screen on the GF3. At the very least, being able to tilt the LCD up would've really helped its usage as a waist-level viewfinder. That way, you could keep the camera at your belly so as not to attract attention and compose your shots just by tilting the camera.
Also, I'm still not crazy about the touchscreen capabilities Panasonic has been putting into its cameras. This is somewhat a matter of taste and there are likely many photographers out there who might enjoy this touch functionality. I'm not sold on it yet. It all seems more trouble than it's worth, including the interesting but seemingly unnecessary Touch Shutter. I kept inadvertently taking pictures of the sidewalk or walls with Touch Shutter on and ended up turning this feature off.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes. Though it relies more on the touchscreen interface, the GF3 only lost two controls from the GF3: The Rear dial and its button (you pressed down on the dial for confirmation). To change mode and display settings, you can either toggle through the menus or use the LCD's touchscreen overlay. There's no mode dial on the GF3 but there is a physical rotary dial integrated into the navigator to scroll through menus and make adjustments. If you're used to changing important settings such as specialty modes and ISO on the fly, the GF3 can take some practice.
I like that the camera still has the dedicated red movie button on top of the camera near the shutter, which immediately starts video recording. Incidentally the GF3 has similar movie capture capabilities to the GF2 including Full HD (1,080i / 1,920 x 1,080 pixel) or 720p (1,280 x 720 pixel) video capture in AVCHD format at 17Mbps, as well as for Motion JPEG capture at 720p resolution or below. Recording rates are unchanged -- NTSC models offer either 30 frames per second for Motion JPEG, 60 frames per second for 720p AVCHD, or 60 fields per second for 1,080i AVCHD, all captured from 30 frames per second sensor data. A few of the GF2's recording modes have been deleted, however, namely the 13Mbps 1080i FH and 13Mbps 720p H modes in AVCHD, and WVGA mode in Motion JPEG.
The major difference on the GF3 relates to its audio recording. Panasonic's replaced the GF2's stereo internal microphone with a monaural mic, which is sure to irk some video buffs who want their movies in stereo. On the plus side, the maximum movie record times on a charge have been improved slightly: where the GF2 was good for 120 to 130 minutes of video capture, the GF3 gives you 130 to 150 minutes. That's per-charge, though; AVCHD video length is limited to 13 hours 3 minutes 20 seconds on NTSC models, and 29 minutes 59 seconds on PAL models to meet CE standards. Motion JPEGs are also limited to 2GB.
Then there's the dedicated Intelligent Auto button on top of the camera. While some photographers might see this as another consumer-centric feature, I liked having the button as an all-purpose settings override. I spend a lot of time tweaking settings while shooting and the IA button is a good way to bring the GF3 back to its general, all-purpose mode when a quick, candid photo op presents itself. Intelligent Auto is designed to pick the best scene mode/setting for the shooting situation and while it's not always accurate, it's good in a pinch.
Overall though, I think making so many of the adjustments menu-based was a mistake by Panasonic. (I've felt the way about Sony's NEX CSC models as well.) I've been shooting with the GF3 for about a month and still find myself fumbling with settings and button presses when I want to change something simple. Not to mention, the touchscreen control just makes everything worse.
Making adjustments. Wheeling through the various specialty settings on the Panasonic GF3 is a chore, partially because adjustments are all menu-based and partially because of how the menus are organized. The Creative Control adjustments are where you'll probably spend most of your time, if you can get to them. Since there's no Mode dial, you need to press either the Menu button at the center of the navigation cluster or the Quick Menu button below that to launch either the Menu or the Quick menu, both of which work differently.
With the Menu, you're pretty much limited to navigating using the four arrow keys or the dial; but in the Quick menu you can use a combination of the dial and the navigation keys, or opt instead to touch the icons on the screen. It's a little befuddling at first, but touching is obviously the easiest approach.
2x digital zoom
4x digital zoom
Several animations play as you switch between modes; when in a hurry, I'd love the option to ditch the animations and get to the controls. By the end of my testing, I started to get the hang of the virtual mode dial but I still wasn't crazy about it. There seems little reason that it should be arranged in a circle, except to emulate a mode dial, and it makes dialing in the modes just one step more difficult.
The virtual mode dial is where you'll find Creative Control under the palette and brush icon, providing you with access to six effects. Choices are Expressive (pop-art style), Retro (soft, tarnished effect), High Key (brighter image), Sepia, High Dynamic (localized color and contrast enhancement), and Miniature Effect (linear graduated blur towards the edges of the image). Of all these, I had the most success with Expressive for pumping up drab settings with punchy color; and High Dynamic, which did a fairly good job of evening out exposure. Overall though, Panasonic's special effects are a step behind more robust art filters sets such as those offered on Olympus' latest PEN cameras.
The Film Mode function from previous Panasonic cameras has been renamed to Photo Style on the GF3. This offers a selection of six presets, plus a custom mode, each of which can be tweaked in terms of contrast, sharpness, saturation (except in Monochrome mode, where it is replaced with a color tone adjustment), and noise reduction. Presets include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, and Portrait.
There are also 17 Scene modes with most of the standard presets including everything from Portrait to Sunset to Party mode, which helps you get more natural color in indoor light. City folk will like Architecture, in which features and details in buildings and structures appear sharper. It also offers an overlay of guidelines to check the horizontal and vertical axes. If you like delving into these specialty modes, prepare to spend a lot of time jumping from menu to menu to get the effect you want.
And that's the conundrum of the Panasonic GF3. There's a lot to like with this camera including its lighting fast autofocus and good image quality overall, but you may find yourself getting frustrated with the decidedly beginner-focus of this camera. For all its upgrades, these limitations are enough to make you miss the more manual and straightforward approach of Panasonic's earlier models in this line. If you can get used to the GF3's quirks, though, you just may love this little sharpshooter.
Image quality. Overall, I was quite impressed with the Panasonic GF3's image quality. Because I was using the the 14mm (28mm equivalent) kit lens, I shot a lot of wide angle and landscape/streetscape type images with the GF3. With the 14mm prime lens, there were slightly soft corners in my images of Ft. Tryon Park, The Cloisters, and the Hudson River, but overall sharpness was quite good. Chromatic aberration was also minimal, because the GF3 corrects for it in JPEGs, just as it does for geometric distortion. Using the Intelligent Auto feature (and sometimes Intelligent Auto Plus, which is like IA but also lets you adjust brightness and color), the camera often guessed correctly, choosing the Landscape Mode, which provided nice, wide depth of field and crisp detail in my park and river shots.
There's still a slight problem with yellows that look more greenish in the Panasonic GF3's yellows. Even the orange threads in this shot appear more brownish, thanks to the green influence (not the vibrant orange furthest left, but the second set).
Not surprisingly, close-up Macro photos of flowers weren't as tack sharp with the wide kit lens, though the f/2.5 aperture provided nice background blur. At ISO 160-400, the GF3 produced very little noise in my photos, which were uniformly crisp. Things got softer at ISO 800, but we could still make a usable 16x20-inch print.
Overall, the Panasonic GF3 did well for a small CSC model using a Micro Four Thirds-size image sensor with good performance from ISO 160 to 800. Heck, even at its highest ISO setting, the GF3 still put out a good 5x7. That's saying a lot.
The Panasonic GF3's video quality, particularly at Full HD in AVCHD mode, was quite good. For PC users, the Panasonic GF3 ships with a copy of PHOTOfunSTUDIO HD Edition, which helps with organizing and playing back AVCHD movie files, but the software is not Mac-compatible. At first we found this confounding, because digging the AVCHD files off obscure folders on your memory card leaves you with an MTS file that you can't import into iMovie. However, if you plug the card or camera into the Mac, and then open iMovie ('08 or later), it will import the files either automatically, or when you select, "Import from Camera" in the menu. If you own an older Mac or a slower PC, both of which will struggle with AVCHD files, you could set the GF3 to record video in Motion JPEG format. It won't be full HD -- just 720p -- but you'll be able to easily grab them and play them back.
Another note for Mac users: the Panasonic GF3's RAW files aren't currently supported by MacOS, so they don't import into iPhoto, and Adobe Camera RAW doesn't yet officially support the files either. Very likely, both soon will. The good news is that SilkyPix is bundled on the software disk.
Panasonic GF3 Image Quality
Most CSCs will produce a reasonable ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do at ISO 1,600. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night. Don't forget that these are JPEG images, and you're likely to get better performance out of the GF3's RAW files.
Panasonic GF3 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 versus Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF2 at ISO 1,600
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there's very little difference between the GF3 and GF2 at ISO 1,600. The GF2's image seems a little darker, but that could be down to a minor exposure difference.
Panasonic GF3 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic G3 at ISO 1,600
If you're looking for better image quality from a Panasonic, the new G3 offers quite a bit more detail and color, even at ISO 1,600. It even handles the red leaf swatch fairly well.
Panasonic GF3 versus Samsung NX100 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 versus Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 1,600
The Sony NEX-C3 also does noticeably better at ISO 1,600, perhaps thanks to its larger sensor. There's more detail and better color overall.
Today's ISO 3,200 is yesterday's ISO 1,600 (well, almost), so below are the same crops at ISO 3,200.
Panasonic GF3 versus Olympus E-P3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 versus Panasonic GF2 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 versus Panasonic G3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 versus Samsung NX100 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 versus Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-C3 at ISO 3,200
The Sony NEX-C3 once again turns out more detail and color than the GF3 at ISO 3,200, even though it's clear that Sony has cranked up its noise suppression system.
Detail: Panasonic GF3 versus Olympus E-P3, Panasonic GF2, Panasonic G3, Samsung NX100, and Sony NEX-C3
Panasonic GF3 Print Quality
ISO 160 shots are usable, if a little soft at 20x30; sharpening with unsharp mask fixes that a little, making a crisper 20x30. Printing at 16x20 eliminates the softness, making a great print straight from the camera.
ISO 200 shots are quite good at 16x20, very crisp.
ISO 400 images also print well at 16x20, with good detail.
ISO 800 images soften up, but still make a usable 16x20-inch print. Reds seem to soften more quickly (as is the case on most cameras)
ISO 1,600 images take a turn downward in quality, making only a marginally acceptable 13x19-inch print, but a decent 11x14. Colors also darken at ISO 1,600.
ISO 3,200 shots are way too fuzzy for 11x14, but are better at 8x10; all but reds, which are quite blurry.
ISO 6,400 images are darker still, but make a decent 5x7-inch print.
Overall, the Panasonic GF3 does well for a small MFT camera, with good performance from ISO 100 to 800. And even its highest ISO setting puts out a good 5x7.
In the Box
The Panasonic GF3 ships with the following items in the box
- Panasonic GF3 body
- 14mm f/2.5 kit lens (or 14-42mm zoom kit lens for $100 less)
- Body cap
- Lens caps
- Lithium-ion battery
- Battery charger
- USB cable
- Shoulder strap
- CD-ROM (includes PHOTOfunSTUDIO 6.2 HD Edition, SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.1 SE, Super Loilo Scope trial version, and USB driver)
- Quick Start manual
- Warranty card
- Extra battery pack
- Protective case
- Large capacity, high-speed SDHC/SDXC memory card. 8-16GB or larger makes sense if you plan on shooting lots of HD video. Look for a speed grade of at least Class 4 for AVCHD video capture, Class 6 for Motion JPEG.
Panasonic GF3 Conclusion
For all its benefits, including its fast autofocus system and small, highly portable design, the 12MP Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF3 is a camera that's liable to divide users. On the one hand, this Compact System Camera (CSC) fulfills the promise of Micro Four Thirds sensor technology by offering photographers a high-quality picture-taking device that's tiny enough to fit in a coat pocket. With its impressively sharp, 14mm f/2.5 lens attached, the Panasonic GF3 is the perfect camera for street photography. It's fast and produces consistently good images that will make satisfying prints, even for photos captured at high ISO levels. And while it uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor and accepts interchangeable lenses, the GF3 looks like a casual snapshooter, allowing you to inconspicuously capture candid images without alerting shy subjects.
Some photographers who loved the GF3's more serious-looking predecessors, the GF1 and GF2, might not enjoy the new camera's more consumer style, however. It's also a devilish camera to adjust quickly, with many of its key functions buried in several different menu systems. The touchscreen capability doesn't help much. We found it to be more trouble than it was worth, often causing the camera to inadvertently snap a photo when it bumped against our leg or stomach. (Yes, we accidentally shot a lot of pictures of the ground with this model.)
But while the Panasonic GF3 is not without its quirks, there's a lot to like in this blazing fast little sharpshooter. The GF3's quick autofocus means the camera's more often ready to catch the action. Meanwhile, the gorgeous 3-inch LCD screen provides a crisp live preview and sharp playback of images. Love or hate the stripped down design of this camera, there's no denying the Panasonic GF3 is one of the better CSC models on the market, making it a Dave's Pick.