Panasonic DMC-G3 In-depth Review
As with previous G-series models, setting the camera's mode dial to Creative Control gives you access to a choice of 'off the peg' tonal effects. The G3 offers five options, shown below. The High Key setting is new to the G-series family and High Dynamic (much like 'Dynamic Art' in previous G-series models) adds a faux HDR effect to the image.
|Expressive||Retro||High Key||Sepia||High Dynamic|
Truth be told, we've always found Panasonic's 'art filter' offerings to be somewhat disappointing compared to those of their competitors (notably Olympus). The G3 sadly, is no exception. That said, we applaud Panasonic's decision to prune the number of choices (compared with the G2, GF2 and GH2) eliminating rather meaningless names like 'Pure' and 'Elegant' that offered users no clear hint as to how an effect was likely to behave.
The G3 also does away with the custom option found in previous G-series models. We suspect this may help provide a clearer distinction between these one-trick 'fun' controls and the more configurable Photo Styles (see below). While the usefulness of these effects certainly comes down to personal preference, we do take issue with the fact that there's no quick, intuitive way to switch between options once you have taken a picture. To bring back the display of button choices you must either press the menu button twice (too slow) or rotate the mode dial one click in either direction and then back to Creative Control (not intuitive). Given how few additional options you can specify in Creative Control mode (de focus area and exposure compensation) it seems logical that an on-camera dial or button could be used to cycle through all five options without the need for either of the steps mentioned above.
The G3 sports seven Photo Styles which serve as pre-built color adjustments you can apply to JPEGs pre-exposure. As with the Creative Control options, these effects are shown in live view display so you can see how the image will be altered before you take the shot. These presets serve the same purpose as the 'Film Mode' offerings found in the G2. The individual names of the presets have been changed in the G3, with the exception of the default Standard mode. Here we see nearly identical results between the G3 and the G2, with the largest differences occurring in the brown and skin tone patches in the upper left of the Color Checker. In real-world use we have indeed found that the G3's Standard photo style does offer more pleasing skin tones than the same setting on the G2. (For even better skin tone results, however, read further down this page). And while the G2 offered three separate B&W modes, including Dynamic B&W (which we found useful), the G3 provides a single Monochrome menu option.
Image effects aside, one of the key distinctions between a Photo Style and the previously mentioned Creative Control options is customization. For each individual Photo Style you can adjust contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction. Furthermore, you can define a custom setting that pairs any combination of these four parameters with a chosen Photo Style.
When you select the Monochrome photo style, the Saturation option, somewhat surprisingly, remains enabled (In previous G-series models this option was automatically greyed out in the various BW modes). What the saturation slider actually controls in this instance is the tint of the monochrome image.
|This image was shot with the Monochrome photo style at its default setting.|
|Monochrome with a saturation value of -1||Monochrome with a saturation value of -2|
|Monochrome with a saturation value of +1||Monochrome with a saturation value of +2|
Adjusting the saturation slider to a negative value warms the image while moving it in a positive direction cools the image. These tones mimic traditional darkroom tints of warm, sepia, selenium and cyanotype.
In the G3 we suspect Panasonic has also made adjustments to their white balance parameters. Compared to previous G-series models, we have noticed that the camera tends to deliver slightly more neutral skin tones, even in Standard mode. In daylight conditions, we typically find the default photo style to be less green in rendering skin tones. This improved behavior becomes much less predictable under mixed indoor lighting, however. In some instances we even found results less pleasing then those rendered by the G2 (hardly a good sign). Overall, however, we regard these changes as a positive step forward for Panasonic.
Resolution and shadow detail
The headline feature of the G3 is its 16MP sensor; providing the highest pixel count among Micro Four Thirds cameras. This brand new sensor makes the G3 a significant upgrade in comparison to the G2. With the G3 you get a larger image, which, in 8 bit RGB weighs in at 45MB (uncompressed). Thankfully though, you also get increased resolution in the way of finer image detail. Shadow noise has been significantly reduced in comparison to 12MP-based G-series models. In practical terms we find that you easily gain 1 to 1 1/2 stops of increased detail and resolution when compared to the G2.
|Panasonic G3 - ISO 160 raw
ACR +.5EV, NR 0
|Panasonic G2 - ISO 100 raw
ACR NR 0
|100% crop||100% crop|
With both cameras set to their base ISO, shot in raw mode and processed with ACR, the G3 offers the advantages of a larger file while maintaining image detail and returning a similar level of shadow noise. At 100% its pixels appear as "clean" as those of the G2. It should be noted that the original exposure from the G3 was slightly darker than that from the G2, so for the sake of ease of comparison, we matched the two exposures by brightening the G3's file slightly in Adobe Camera Raw.
|Panasonic G3 -100% crop
ISO 200 JPEG, NR on
|Panasonic G2 - 100% crop
ISO 200 JPEG, NR on
| Panasonic G3 - 100% crop
ISO 3200 raw, NR off
|Panasonic G2 - 100% crop
ISO 3200 raw, NR off
In the top set of images we see a comparison of in-camera JPEG rendering with Long Shutter NR turned on. The camera-applied NR is noticeably less aggressive in the G3, leading to a more nuanced, realistic looking image. The G2, by comparison has an unnaturally looking plasticky feel.
When viewing output from both cameras at an ISO of 3200, the advantage of the G3's new sensor is very obvious. The G3 can capture detail in areas that in the G2 are completely dominated by noise. The G3 provides enough usable detail for an acceptable print. In fact, we would count the ability to shoot at higher ISOs while keeping noise artifacts under reasonable control as one of the main advantages of the new 16MP sensor.
Overall image quality
The G3 leverages its 16MP sensor to render fine detail more accurately while exhibiting less shadow noise than both the G2 and GF2. The new sensor really starts to distinguish itself in these regards at ISO settings of 400 and above. We have found that up to ISO 3200 detail capture is impressively high, and the impact of noise is relatively low compared to earlier G-series cameras. While ISO 6400 is best left as a last resort, it can be usable in limited situations.
As we've become accustomed to with Panasonic, the in-camera JPEG rendering does some disservice to the image sensor's capabilities. To fully realise the color accuracy and resolution of which this camera is capable, you really do need to shoot in raw mode. Overall, while not necessarily ground breaking (and not quite a match for the best APS-C sensors currently on the market) the G3's image quality is noticeably better than the last-generation 12MP sensor used in the G1, G2, GF1 and GF2.
Aside from extra resolution and lower noise levels, Panasonic has taken concrete steps in addressing one of our most consistent criticisms, by re-working of white balance and the new Portrait photo style, to render more natural, appealing skin tones. This feature alone means that shooting in JPEG mode is actually a viable option for portraiture - in the past, we would have been far more cautious.
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