The G3 heralds the start of Panasonic's third generation of mirrorless cameras. In some respects it's a refinement of previous models; its electronic viewfinder and hinged rear display screen are identical to the G1 and G2, for example. However, behind the aluminium front panel of its slimmed-down, externally-simplified body lies a completely new 16.7MP sensor. This makes it the first mass-market Micro Four Thirds model to move beyond Panasonic's 12MP chip.
While some of the new features of the G3 suggest a move upmarket, many other changes point to an attempt on Panasonic's part to make the G-series more accessible. A number of features have been removed, presumably in order to make this model both less intimidating and less expensive (the recommended price is $100 lower than the launch price of the G2).
Mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras are still relatively new. As such, manufacturers are still trying to determine their target audience as well as the balance of features, capabilities and pricing that will have the widest appeal. Panasonic's Lumix DMC-G1, released back in 2008, was essentially a miniaturized version of the company's L10 DSLR, sharing similar features and appearance. More recently, however, mirrorless camera designs are looking to capitalize on the differences the technology can offer, such as compact size and seamless video integration, rather than trying to mimic conventional DSLRs.
The compact-camera-like hand grip is the first, most obvious evidence that the G3 fits into this philosophy. Gone is the prominent lump that has become standard for DSLRs, and instead we have a grip that more closely resembles that of the GF2 - a low profile rounded extension that encourages a very different hand position on the camera. In fact, the G3 is as close in size and appearance to a Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 (with a viewfinder) as it is to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2.
From the GF2, the G3 gains a touchscreen interface that is a vast improvement over that seen in the G2. It allows lots of control over camera settings as well as direct on-screen selection of the focus point - something that no DSLR can offer. Further distancing itself from previous G-series models, the G3 allows you to place the AF point anywhere throughout the entire frame, as opposed to just within a central portion.
The G3 also gains improved video capability, matching the GF2's ability to output either 1080i60 or 720p60 (both from 30fps sensor output). And, while this isn't up to the same specification as the video capability of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, the G3 does gain that camera's image processor and impressive autofocus speed.
Beyond this, the bulk of the G3's new features are incremental improvements - there's a picture-in-picture manual focus magnification option so that you can focus while still viewing the overall composition, and a Pinpoint AF mode that combines a small AF area with a zoomed preview for precise focusing. The G3 also features subject-tracking AF while shooting video.
Regrettably however, much has been removed from the new model, too. Unlike the G2, the G3 doesn't have an eye sensor for its viewfinder, so you'll have to manually switch between it and the rear display screen. It also loses the G2's focus point dial and focus mode lever, along with the option for connecting an external microphone (thus ensuring that it doesn't tread on the GH2's toes).
Taken as a whole, these changes lead us to suspect that the G3 might replace both the G2 and the lower-spec'd G10 in Panasonic's lineup. It's worth noting that its suggested price also sits exactly mid-way between those two models.
Panasonic G3 specification highlights:
- 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
- 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 (field sequential type)