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Flash

The built-in flash of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 has a guide number of 6.3m at ISO 160.

As you'd expect in a pop-up flash of this size, you'll need to be fairly close to your subject for best results. Like the GF2 before it, the GF3 does not offer flash exposure compensation, so you have to accept whatever exposure the camera decides is correct.

Mini mode

The GF3 has a series of 'Creative Control' processing filters that can be applied to images. Five of these options come straight from the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 and, to be blunt, are rather disappointing in comparison to equivalent effects in competitive cameras. New in the GF3, however, is 'Miniature' mode, which mimics the restricted depth of field made possible with tilt/shift lenses. We've seen similar effects in competitive cameras from other brands, but we're pleased with Panasonic's implementation which allows you to specify the size, position and orientation of the sharp region of focus.

With the camera set to 'Mini' mode you can adjust three parameters of the effect. The rotate button in the lower right of the screen allows for either a horizontal or vertical 'plane of focus'. You can position the focus area indicator throughout the scene. Its size can also be adjusted via the slider along the right edge of the screen, or via the control dial.
This is how the scene appears when shot normally. However when the sharp-focus selector is positioned across the frame as indicated above...
...the Mini mode filter blurs the outlying areas of the image and adjusts brightness, saturation and contrast to give the result you see here.

Because the 'miniature' option is very processor-intensive, the live view refresh rate is rather slow, and there is a delay of a few seconds after each image is recorded before the camera is ready to take another shot. You can also shoot video while in Mini mode. Due again to the heavy processing requirements, the recording rate of video is reduced to approximately 1/10 of its usual speed, resulting in accelerated playback.

iAuto+ (white balance)

With the camera set to iAuto+ mode, there are three user settings that can be adjusted in this otherwise automated shooting mode. Exposure compensation, basic white balance (shown below) and aperture ('defocus') control are available via a slider interface.

This composite photograph is comprised of three images shot from the same position with the iAuto+ neutral (center frame), warmest (left frame) and coolest (right frame) white balance options.

Photo Styles

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 introduced six 'Photo Style' color response presets and we're pleased to see them carry over to the GF3. This a significant improvement over the GF2 which offers only two 'picture adjust' options; color and black and white.

Standard
Vivid
Natural
Monochrome
Scenery
Portrait

The Photo Style image effects are previewed in live view display so you can see how the image will be altered before you take the shot. They are customizable as well. For each Photo Style, contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction can be adjusted independently. Additionally, you can define a separate custom setting that pairs any combination of these four parameters with a chosen Photo Style. You can also shoot video with any of the Photo Styles applied.

Portrait mode

As noted in our G3 review, the biggest news here lies in the Portrait photo style. We have long been disappointed with Panasonic's rendering of skin tones. With the camera set to Portrait mode we find that under a majority of single light source scenarios, skin tones are rendered in a more realistic and pleasing fashion.

In the GF3 we suspect Panasonic has also made adjustments to their white balance parameters. In the examples below you can see that even in its 'Standard' Photo Style (top right), the GF3 delivers slightly more neutral (and noticeably less jaundiced) skin tones than the GF2 (bottom right).

This JPEG was rendered in the 'Portrait' Photo Style mode. This mode yields more realistic Caucasian skin tones, by adjusting saturation and color balance in the yellow/orange/red hues. At top is a crop with the GF3 set to the default 'Standard' default Photo Style. The image below is a crop from a GF2 in-camera JPEG rendered in that camera's default color mode.

These examples were shot against a neutral background to reduce variables in the camera's white balance adjustments. Results will obviously vary in real-world scenarios depending on the colors comprising the entire scene. And while we photographed subjects comprising a range of skin tones, the greatest improvements to be found were consistently with Caucasian flesh tones. Its worth noting that as indicated in the graph on the dynamic range page of this review, when set to Portrait mode the GF3 yields a brighter image than the 'Standard' Photo Style, at the same reported exposure.

This improved color rendering behavior does become much less predictable under mixed indoor lighting, however. In some instances the GF3's results were no more pleasing then those rendered by the GF2. Overall, however, we regard these changes as a significant step forward for Panasonic.

High ISO

Although the GF3 maintains the same pixel count as its predecessor, the GF2, the image quality of its camera-generated JPEGs shows demonstrable improvement at higher ISO settings. The examples below were shot at ISO 1600. In areas of high contrast fine detail, images from the GF3 show noticeably less aggressive noise suppression, providing more detail in areas that the GF2 has rendered as comparatively smooth and mushy.

In areas of shadow detail, the GF3 strikes a noticeably better balance between noise suppression and detail preservation. While the GF2 does exhibit slightly less color noise, the GF3 shows an improved handling of luminance noise with more detail visible along areas of low contrast. While these differences are admittedly subtle, images from the GF3 at medium to high ISO sensitivity settings appear sharper and more detailed than those from the GF2.

Panasonic GF3 @ISO 1600 100% crop Panasonic GF2 @ISO 1600 100% crop
Panasonic GF3 @ISO 1600 100% crop Panasonic GF2 @ISO 1600 100% crop
Panasonic GF3 @ISO 1600 100% crop Panasonic GF2 @ISO 1600 100% crop

Overall image quality

Although the GF3 reuses what is now a 3 year-old 12MP Live MOS sensor, the image quality that Panasonic has managed to squeeze out of it is not to be sniffed at. Improvements in JPEG rendering at high ISOs (detailed above) and more natural looking skin tones head the list of differences between the GF3 and its predecessor. The differences are welcome, but subtle, and in general GF3 owners will see little significant difference in day-to-day use at low ISO settings compared to the GF2. As such, for a complete picture, we recommend taking a look at our in-depth review of the GF2, published earlier this year.

Continuing in the tradition of previous G-series cameras, the GF3's metering system works very hard to avoid highlight clipping. This conservative approach to maintaining highlight detail means that there will be times that the camera-suggested exposure produces an image that is slightly too dark. Fortunately, it is very easy to access and adjust exposure compensation via the integrated 4-way control dial.

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