Review: Panasonic Lumix G3

By Steven Vea

Panasonic was the first to introduce the mirrorless camera to the world, and as the years passed, the company has continually set the standard for the revolutionary micro four-thirds (MFT) system. This year, the third generation of the Lumix G series rolls out, with the DMC-G3 as its touted product.

Out of the box, the G3 looks amazing with a black and glossy finish that makes it look debonair and professional. One of the first things users will notice is that it’s amazingly compact, measuring at a mere 115.2 x 83.6 x 46.7mm and clocking in at approximately 336 grams without a lens attached.

This amazing feat in a reduced size is due to the smaller sensors that Panasonic has created, which is 17% smaller than its predecessor. However, the G3 still boasts 16 megapixels, which is an amazing set of effective pixels for a MFT system of its size.

Once cradled in your palms, the G3 feels like it was specifically made for the average-sized hand—it is ergonomic and comfortable. This reviewer would have preferred a more pronounced rubber grip on the exterior to provide the opportunity for tactile one-handed operations, but perhaps lessening the grip’s surface area also helps maintain the camera’s small size.

The familiar PASM selector (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual) is present on the top of the unit, which most people should be familiar with by now. Additional beginner friendly modes are also available via the SCN mode, and Panasonic has conveniently provided two custom modes (C1 and C2) for user presets as well.

One of this reviewer’s favorite shooting options is the Creative Control mode which is represented by a symbol of an artist’s palette on the PASM selector. Selecting this reveals the option to shoot in different styles: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic Range. The Expressive mode is perhaps the best performer of all, adding vivid saturation to colors, thus giving photos a vibrant touch. The only downside to using this mode is that certain settings are overridden, such as exposure, and this reviewer finds it odd that Panasonic would disable these when using Creative Control.

The G3 also features Panasonic’s touted Intelligent Auto (iA) Mode, which automatically adjusts the camera’s settings for the best output. Generally, it functioned quite well, but this reviewer would advise users to use it sparingly—not when capturing the shot is more important than composition and framing. It’s a great option for those that are used to point-and-shoots, but buying an MFT-ILS system somehow implies the desire to learn shooting in different priority modes as well as full manual. Nevertheless, iA offers easy access to useful settings such as the DeFocus mode, which helps users achieve great portraits with sharp subjects in the foreground and background bokeh, via a slider in the camera’s display.

Speaking of the G3’s remarkable LCD TFT Touch panel, it’s refreshing for manufacturers to reintroduce a tilting screen so that shots taken at difficult and obscure angles can still be previewed. Moreover, one of the G3’s greatest strengths is its bright and accurate Live Viewfinder. Having tested other MFT cameras, this reviewer believes that it’s the most brilliant thus far, and can easily rival TTL viewfinders found on DSLRs. Furthermore, the eyecup on the G3 also protrudes beyond the body ever so slightly, providing ample distance between the user’s face and the camera’s amazing 3-inch LCD touch display.

The G3 also shoots video at Full 1080i HD 1920×1080 at 60/50 frames per second, which is once again quite noteworthy for a small system. Additionally, (if you’re not impressed just yet), users also have the capability to shoot stills while shooting video, which a lot of shutterbugs will find extremely useful.

Finally, Panasonic’s Venus Engine FHD offers it users’ better performance, faster shooting speed and a 60% noise reduction at high ISO’s. The continued shooting speed was very impressive, which is officially clocked at 4 frames per second, producing high quality stills of action shots. The resulting images from high ISO’s however, could benefit from a little improvement, but since Panasonic has already introduced their fabulous Leica Summilux DG 25mm f1.4 lens, shooting in low light should no longer be a problem.

All in all, the Panasonic Lumix G3 is an outstanding mirrorless system, and is an excellent upgrade to its G series line. It’s a great transition for beginners used to point-and-shoots, and it will also impress seasoned photographers who want a portable and powerful camera.

16.7MP CMOS sensor (standard Micro Four Thirds size)
ISO 160-6400
4 fps continuous shooting (20fps at 4MP)
GF2-style touch screen interface
1080i60 AVCHD shooting (from 30p sensor output)
All-area AF point selection
60-1/4000 sec shutter speed
Pinpoint AF mode (magnifies focus point to allow confirmation and fine-tune of AF position)
Tracking AF in video mode
Picture-in-picture manual focus magnification
460k dot articulated LCD
1.44M dot-equivalent electronic viewfinder (phase sequential type)

What’s Hot:
• Compact
• Excellent viewfinder
• Can shoot stills while filming

What’s Not:
• Small rubber grip
• GUI could use improvement
• High ISO’s still noisy

The Panasonic Lumix G3 is simply amazing—it’s compact, hosts a wealth of useful features and boasts impressive image quality. It is by far, the most impressive mirrorless camera to date.

Buy Meter: 9.5

[This review originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Gadgets Magazine]