Panasonic Lumix G3 Review

 
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Panasonic G3 Exposure Options

The Panasonic G3 offers all the exposure options you'd expect in an SLR-class camera, plus a few Panasonic-specific options. Available exposure modes include Program AE, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual modes, with shutter speeds from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds, as well as a Bulb setting for longer exposures up to two minutes. The x-sync speed for flash photography is 1/160 second. A fully automatic mode called Intelligent Auto (iA) enables Scene Detection, Backlight Compensation, Face Detection, Auto White Balance, Intelligent ISO Sensitivity Control, Quick Autofocus, Red-eye Removal, Intelligent Resolution, Intelligent Dynamic Range Control, Long-Shutter Noise Reduction, Shading Compensation, Focus Priority, and the Autofocus Assist lamp to try to deliver optimum results under a wide range of conditions. (In our experience playing with the camera, iA did a surprisingly good job, under a wide range of lighting conditions.) The Panasonic G3 also offers a number of Scene modes, a Creative Control Mode, and two Custom modes that together allow up to four sets of shooting modes and settings can be stored and recalled. See the Modes and Menus page for more details.

While in Program AE mode, you can rotate the rear control dial to select different combinations of aperture and shutter speed settings than those normally chosen by the autoexposure system. This is often called Program Shift. If the automatic program would have chosen 1/125 second and f/5.6, you could instead direct the camera to use 1/60 at f/8 or 1/30 at f/11, to get greater depth of field. It's a very nice touch that's common on a lot of SLRs these days, and is a handy option for those times when you need some measure of increased control, but still want the camera to do most of the work for you.

Another feature that's also pretty common, but still very welcome is the electronic analog exposure display visible in the viewfinder data readout as well as on the rear-panel shooting display when the camera is in Manual exposure mode. This shows the amount the camera thinks an image will be over- or underexposed, based on the settings you have selected, and helps you find the best exposure for the subject.

Panasonic G3 Face Recognition
Like many of the company's recent cameras, the Panasonic G3 includes Face Recognition. (The image at right is from our GH1 review, but the feature is largely similar.) Face recognition isn't to be confused with face detection, a function offered by many cameras these days. The Panasonic G3 goes a step further by trying to recognize specific individuals. Up to six faces can be registered, with up to three training shots per individual face for increased accuracy.

Even more unusually, the G3 can be configured to automatically recognize when a particular unregistered face has appeared in more than three photos (excluding burst or bracketed exposures), and suggest that it be registered using the Face Recognition function. If you choose to register the face, you're prompted to confirm whether it is a new person, or an additional image of an individual you've already registered (unless there are no faces registered, in which case you're immediately prompted to enter the new individual's details.)

Like the GF1, the Panasonic G3 allows the user to select the sensitivity of the face recognition system. When set to Low, the camera is less likely to incorrectly identify a face, but more likely to fail to recognize a face at all. When set to high, the converse applies -- faces should be more likely to be recognized, but with an increased likelihood of incorrect identification being made.

The camera will display and write into the EXIF headers up to three people's names when it recognizes their faces. In addition to just the name, a birthday can be registered, as well as focus priority. If you program in a birthday for a person, whenever the camera recognizes that person's face in an image in playback mode, it will display their age as of the date of the photo in an overlay over the image on the camera's screen, and write the information into the JPEG file's EXIF header. Focus priority allows the camera to optimize focus and exposure for the highest priority face it finds in a scene with multiple faces.

The included PHOTOfunSTUDIO software package can be used to search for images containing specific people on your PC, and can also show their age in photos where they're recognized. Although we haven't played with it in our lab, PHOTOfunSTUDIO can further be used to improve on the camera's face recognition, by training the software on a larger number of images -- a feature demonstrated to us by Panasonic staff using an early iteration of the software. Unfortunately for Mac users, PHOTOfunSTUDIO is still available only for Windows PCs.

Panasonic G3 ISO Range
ISO sensitivity ranges from 160 to 6,400, adjustable by pressing the ISO button (up arrow) on the back of the camera and then pressing the desired sensitivity on the touch-panel display, or using the up/down or left/right arrow directions of the Multi-Selector to select values from those shown. It can also be adjusted through the Quick menu. The ISO number can be selected in one-stop (default) or 1/3-stop increments, depending on the ISO increment setting selected in page four of the Record Menu.

An Auto ISO mode is available, and you can set the upper limit to ISO 200, 400, 800, 1,600, or 3,200 in Record Menu 3. (The "Off" setting defaults to a limit of ISO 800.) Intelligent ISO mode detects subject movement, and will boost ISO to increase the shutter speed as needed, in an attempt to freeze subject motion. The maximum sensitivity selected by Intelligent ISO is ISO 800.

Panasonic G3 Noise Reduction
The Panasonic G3 gives you five choices for noise reduction, set through the Photo Style function in page one of the Record menu. The G3's noise reduction function ranges from -2 to +2 arbitrary units, with 0 being the default in all Photo Style presets.

A separate Long Shutter noise reduction On/Off setting is available for dark frame subtraction for long exposures. If enabled, this approximately doubles the exposure time for each shot, allowing the second dark frame exposure to be captured with the shutter closed.

Panasonic G3 White Balance Options
White balance modes on the Panasonic G3 include Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, and Flash. No Fluorescent preset is provided. Kelvin temperature settings are also available, ranging from 2,500K to 10,000K in 100K steps. There are also two Custom white balance settings, for setting white balance from a white or grey card. The effect of changes in white balance settings is shown in real-time, on the LCD monitor or EVF.

In all white balance modes, you can fine-tune the color by pressing the down arrow, or the on-screen "adjust" button. You're then presented with a x/y axis graph with which you can adjust within a +/-9 step range on both Amber / Blue and Green / Magenta axes, either by using the four arrow buttons, or touching the appropriate area on the graph display.

In Kelvin white balance mode, the up/down directions on the Multi Selector or the touch screen can be used to adjust the color temperature. A numerical readout at the top left of the display shows the exact Kelvin temperature, and arrow buttons above and below can be used to increment or decrement the value. A scale at screen right shows the color temperature relative to existing presets, and also allows direct adjustment by touching the appropriate point on the scale.

Custom white balance is set by selecting one of the two Custom White Balance settings, pointing the camera at a neutral white or grey card under the lighting you'll be shooting in, filling a frame in the center of the display with the reference target, and then pressing the on-screen Set button.

You can also bracket white balance exposures, although it's a little hidden. White balance bracketing is accessed through the Adjust option in the White Balance menu. The bracket setting is performed by rolling the Control dial to the left to increase the bracketing spread on a Green / Magenta axis, or to the right for an Amber / Blue axis. When WB bracketing is active, three images are taken when the shutter button is pressed once.

Panasonic G3 Metering Options
The Panasonic G3 offers three metering modes, selected via the Metering Mode option in the Quick Menu or Record Menu 1: Multi-pattern, Center-Weighted, and Spot. The default Multi-segment metering mode takes readings throughout the image to determine exposure, using an array of 144 zones covering the bulk of the frame. Center-Weighted gives precedence to the center of the image while reading the whole frame. Spot metering is useful for high-contrast subjects. Unless using Face Detection or Tracking AF modes, it bases the exposure reading on the very center of the image, letting you set the exposure based on a small portion of your subject. With Face Detection or Tracking AF enabled, the Spot meter area is locked to the AF target, rather than being fixed at the center of the frame. There's not a dedicated AF / AE Lock button on the G3, but you optionally can configure either the Display or Quick Menu buttons to lock exposure or focus when pressed. Halfway pressing the Shutter button also locks exposure (and focus in AFS mode).

Panasonic G3 Exposure Compensation & Bracketing
The Panasonic G3's Exposure Compensation adjustment increases or reduces the overall exposure from -3 to +3 exposure values (EV) in one-third stop increments, and like White Balance, the effect of Exposure Compensation is simulated on the preview. An Auto Bracketing feature captures multiple shots with different exposures. See the Drive Mode section on Auto Bracketing below for more details.

Panasonic G3 I. Dynamic
The Panasonic G3 offers three levels of what the company calls "I. Dynamic" or Intelligent Dynamic Range Control: Low, Standard, and High, as well as an Off setting. I. Dynamic attempts to automatically adjust contrast and exposure to improve apparent dynamic range in difficult lighting situations.

Panasonic G3 I. Resolution
The Panasonic G3 offers four levels of what the company calls "I. Resolution" or Intelligent Resolution: Low, Standard, High, and Extended, as well as an Off setting. Intelligent Resolution is a form of localized sharpening, which applies different levels of sharpening to outlines, texture and gradation within a single image.

Panasonic G3 Drive Modes
The Panasonic G3 offers a variety of shooting modes via the Drive Mode / Down Arrow button on the camera's rear panel. Drive options include Single Shot, Burst, Auto Bracket, and Self-timer. The Burst Mode has rate options for "SH" (20 frames per second), "H" (4 frames per second), "M" (3 frames per second), or "L" (2 frames per second), with all figures being manufacturer-supplied values. (We don't test the lower-speed rates, but in our in-house testing found the SH mode's 20 fps rating accurate, although the H mode actually averaged around 3.4 fps.) The SH mode allows only JPEG capture, and locks focus from the first frame. Both SH and H modes also lock exposure and white balance from the first frame, and neither provides a live-view feed during burst capture.

Auto Bracket lets you take a sequence of 3, 5, or 7 shots with either 1/3 EV, 2/3 EV, or 1 EV exposure variation steps. The sequence can be selected from "0/-/+" (default/underexposed/overexposed) or " -/0/+" (underexposed/default/overexposed). The Self-timer mode offers 10 seconds, 10 seconds with 3 pictures taken at 2 second intervals, or 2 seconds.


Panasonic G3 Photo Styles

The Panasonic G3 doesn't have a dedicated Photo Style button, although this can be user-assigned as an alternate function of either the Display or Quick Menu buttons. Otherwise, it's set through the first page of the Record menu. The Photo Style function lets you choose from six preset "Phoot Styles," which have different characteristics such as contrast, saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. You can also define one of your own, or adjust the contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction level in +/- two arbitrary steps for any existing preset.

Here's how Panasonic describes the available Photo Styles (the descriptive verbiage below is theirs):

Film Mode
Effect
Standard (Color)
This is the standard setting
Vivid (Color)
The picture becomes sharper
Natural (Color)
The picture becomes softer
Monochrome (B&W)
Single color setting
Scenery (Color)
Setting to record a distant view with colors close to what you see
Portrait (Color)
Setting to enhance a person and bring out healthy skin color
Custom
Use the setting registered in advance

Of course, the Panasonic G3 also offers sRGB and Adobe RGB settings, in a separate Color Space menu.

The images above were taken from our standardized test shots. For a collection of more pictorial photos, see our Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Photo Gallery.

Recommended Software: Rescue your Photos!

Just as important as an extra memory card is a tool to rescue your images when one of your cards fails at some point in the future. We get a lot of email from readers who've lost photos due to a corrupted memory card. Memory card corruption can happen with any card type and any camera manufacturer, nobody's immune. A lot of "lost" images can be recovered with an inexpensive, easy to use piece of software though. Given the amount of email I've gotten on the topic, I now include this paragraph in all my digital camera reviews. The program you need is called PhotoRescue, by DataRescue SA. Read our review of it if you'd like, but download the program now, so you'll have it. It doesn't cost a penny until you need it, and even then it's only $29, with a money back guarantee. So download PhotoRescue for Windows or PhotoRescue for Mac while you're thinking of it. (While you're at it, download the PDF manual and quickstart guide as well.) Stash the file in a safe place and it'll be there when you need it. Trust me, needing this is not a matter of if, but when... PhotoRescue is about the best and easiest tool for recovering digital photos I've seen. (Disclosure: IR gets a small commission from sales of the product, but I'd highly recommend the program even if we didn't.) OK, now back to our regularly scheduled review...

Not sure which camera to buy? Let your eyes be the ultimate judge! Visit our Comparometer(tm) to compare images from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 with those from other cameras you may be considering. The proof is in the pictures, so let your own eyes decide which you like best!

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