The design of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 isn't a radical departure from its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2 but there are noticeable changes in terms of external controls. To accommodate the G3's smaller top plate, the Movie Record button has been shifted to the back of the camera, displacing the G2's AF/AE Lock button. The Q. Menu button now sits below the 4-way controller in place of the G2's depth-of-field preview button. You can, however, assign the functionality of these removed buttons to either of the G3's two function buttons.
With the removal of the focus and drive mode dials and switches, the G3 is a camera that demands frequent use of its on-screen interface. Hard buttons and dials are still used for all the primary shooting settings, so this shouldn't alienate users of Panasonic's non touchscreen-enabled G-series cameras, but secondary functions such as AF mode, burst rate, and image quality settings are most easily controlled via the Quick menu, using either the rear buttons or the pressure-sensitive touchscreen. Fortunately, the G3 has essentially the same touchscreen control system as the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, which remains one of the best we've encountered.
The touchscreen interface is also used to quickly place the AF point anywhere in the frame. This can be done with some precision when using the new pinpoint AF mode. As in the G2, you can also use the Touch Shutter which enables you to focus and shoot with a single screen press. This quickly becomes intuitive, but because the camera still needs to focus, shutter release isn't instant upon touching the screen. For maximum shutter responsiveness it is still preferable to half-press the shutter button to focus, then press down all the way to capture an exposure.
These features are nice additions to an interface that we thought helped position the GF2 as one of the most user friendly large-sensor cameras. The GF2's touchscreen makes it quick and easy to access the camera's features in a manner with which most entry-level DSLRs still struggle. This kind of accessibility is augmented on the G3 with the new, optional, iA+ mode. Panasonic's highly automated iA (Intelligent Auto) mode has been around for a few years, but iA+ allows control over additional settings such as white balance - bridging the divide between a fully automatic mode and the more controllable P (program) mode.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-G2
From the front, it's not immediately obvious how much Panasonic has changed the design of its latest model compared to the G2. Overall dimensions appear similar in this view although the redesigned handgrip is a very obvious change.
The top-down view, however, makes the changes much more apparent. The G3 is slimmer, and the fact that the handgrip is much smaller becomes obvious, as is the smaller shoulder to the left of the viewfinder hump. In addition, the G3 loses both the AF mode and AF selection controls from the left shoulder along with the drive mode switch around the mode dial.
The rear view shows the revised control layout of the G3 as well as its smaller rear dial and 4-way controller. The G3 places the movie record button where the AF/AE lock was positioned on the G2. The Q.Menu button has been placed below the 4-way controller.
Like the G1 and G2 before it, the G3 has a flip-out, articulated screen. Like the G2 it's also touch-sensitive, providing extra controls and additional ways of interacting with the camera.
Usability of the screen, however, sees a big improvement from the G2. A larger and more consistent button layout makes it much faster and easier to interact with the pressure-sensitive screen.
The G3 removes both the AF/AE lock and depth of field preview buttons that were found on the G2. You gain, however, the ability to configure two separate function buttons on the rear of the camera.
The G3 also does away with the eye sensor that was found on the G2, meaning you have to press the LVF/LCD button each time you want to switch between the two. After becoming accustomed to having the camera handle this chore, we're disappointed by this omission.
The smaller grip of the G3 forces its use of the same battery as the GF2. It's a 7.3Wh unit that is rated at 270 shots according to standard CIPA testing, regardless (apparently) of whether you use the rear screen or viewfinder.
Another disappointing change is the loss of the external Mic socket. What functioned as a dual purpose connector on the G2 is reduced to offering only remote control on the G3.
The aural forecast isn't all gloomy, however. The G3 gains built-in stereo mics and Dolby Digital Stereo Creator coding to the quality of recorded sound.