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Body & Design

The GF3 is a small, light and easy to use camera. It becomes the first of Panasonic's G-series not to feature a clickable command dial; instead there's a control dial around the 4-way controller. This move may well ease the transition for users upgrading from compact models - where this integrated design is common - yet represents a significant change of behavior for previous G-series model owners. In early use with the GF3 we often found ourselves reaching for the now-absent rear dial out of habit. With the loss of the click-dial, the 'up' position on the 4-way controller is (understandably) given over to exposure compensation. This comes at the expense, however, of a dedicated button for ISO (which exists on every other G-series model). Changing ISO via an external button is now only possible by assigning its control to the Fn button.

The GF3 has essentially the same touchscreen interface as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, which is one of the best we've encountered in a digital camera. Unlike the higher-end G3, which offers a lot of external control points alongside a touch-sensitive screen, the GF3 follows the trend set by the GF2, towards fewer direct controls for major shooting settings. By default, five functions can be accessed using physical buttons - white balance, exposure compensation, drive mode and AF point selection mode, with the option of assigning one further function to the Q.Menu/Function button.

Although the outer dimensions of the GF3 vary only slightly from the GF2 (pictured at left), this frontal view shows the radical break from the GF-series' previous rangefinder-style design. With more tapered, rounded edges and a contour that hugs the lens mount more closely, the GF3 feels significantly smaller than the GF2.
In this top-down view, the more sharply-edged profile of the GF3's hand grip becomes obvious. The steeply-sloped grip provides much-needed leverage when shooting with lenses larger than the Panasonic Lumix G 14mm F2.5 ASPH and Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS kit options.
From the rear, the GF3 resembles a compact point and shoot camera with its Spartan control layout. The lack of an EVF port and the loss of the rear click dial will likely be the most immediate changes for previous GF-series owners to contend with in day to day use.

The well-designed touchscreen interface largely mitigates issues caused by the GF3's paucity of direct external controls. The easily configurable Q.Menu provides quick access to 10 features of your choice, and for most operations, the Q.Menu is efficient enough to keep most of your key settings readily accessible. Deciding which function to assign to the Fn button, though, is going to require a reasonable amount of thought for some photographers (if you want to be able to use AE lock occasionally, are you willing to use the Q.Menu every time you want to change ISO, for instance?).

The touchscreen makes it very quick to place the AF point anywhere on the screen. This can be done with some precision using the pinpoint AF mode; the preview zooms in on the focus point as you position it, allowing you to fine-tune the focus location before hitting the shutter. You can also set the camera to both focus and make an exposure upon a single press of the screen.

These features help build on the GF2's position as one of the most accessible large-sensor cameras on the market. The touchscreen makes it quick and easy to access the camera's features, in a way that even the most beginner-friendly DSLRs still sometimes struggle with. On the GF3 this accessibility is enhanced by the iA+ mode - although heavily automated, you can still control white balance, exposure compensation and aperture (via the 'defocus' slider) manually. In conventional iAuto mode, the only manual control available is the defocus slider.

The dial around the four-way controller will be immediately familiar to compact camera users. It's well implemented and using it in conjunction with the touchscreen is rarely an awkward or uncomfortable experience.
We do, however, miss the GF2's thumb-positioned click dial.

The GF3 may have lost its hotshoe but does at least retain a built-in flash.
It's a typically low-powered unit. Despite the elaborate pop-up stork it emerges on, the flash doesn't sit particularly high from the camera body. As a result, it's not uncommon for the kit zoom to cast a shadow across the bottom of photos taken at its wider settings.
The GF3 features a mono microphone, rather than the stereo mics on the GF2. The microphone is built into the left hand side of the camera's top plate. The seven perforations beneath the microphone aperture conceal the GF3's built-in speaker.
The GF3's smaller body necessitates another, smaller, new battery. The DMW-BLE9 is a 6.8Wh unit, down 7% in comparison to the GF2's power pack.

Despite this reduction, the CIPA standard battery life figure remains as 320 shots per charge, using the 14-42mm kit zoom.
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