Panasonic DMC-G3 In-depth Review
Conclusion - Pros
- Very good image quality with impressive high ISO performance
- Well-implemented touchscreen interface
- Fast-focusing AF system (for its class)
- Improved skin tone rendering
- AF point can be positioned along the edge of the frame
- Touch AF can be disabled
- Can shoot 4fps (but sadly not in live view)
- Ability to define two custom function buttons
- Full 1080i AVCHD video from 30fps output
- iA mode allows you to adjust aperture during video capture
- Picture-in-Picture manual focus mode
Conclusion - Cons
- Poor JPEG rendering at high ISOs
- Lacks a dedicated AF/AE lock button
- No eye sensor to switch between viewfinder and LCD
- No external mic input
- Small grip makes hand-held use of larger lenses awkward
- Flush design of DISP. button makes it hard to press
- Long wait times between image bursts in Raw mode
- 20fps SH mode yields poor image quality
- Continuous tracking performance suffers in low-light, low contrast scenarios
The G3 occupies a unique place in Panasonic's G-series lineup. With its impressive 16MP sensor and high quality built-in electronic viewfinder, this model would seem to hold appeal to DSLR owners looking for a lighter carry-everywhere camera. Yet it continues Panasonic's trend towards ever-smaller bodies with fewer on-camera controls, perhaps suggesting a good fit for less-experienced shooters looking to move up from a compact point and shoot. While the needs of either type of user inevitably diverge at some point in terms of features, performance and of course, price, there exist a wide range of attributes that can be embraced equally by both camps.
The G3 is a satisfying camera to use. Small and light enough to carry around all day, it can produce usable images even at the high end of its ISO range. On-camera dials and buttons provide easy access to basic camera and exposure settings. When used in full auto mode, the G3's autofocus and metering system do an admirable job under a wide range of conditions of producing a pleasing image. The G3's 16MP of resolution gives very good rendering of fine image detail and allows you to make significant crops while maintaining enough pixels for a high quality print. Continuing in the G-series tradition, the G3 is a camera that you can power on and begin using without having to pore over every detail of the user manual.
More advanced features are available for those who wish to establish more control over the camera's operation. And while users with a preference for knobs and dials versus menu items may find the G3 slightly 'down market', there is no denying that this camera delivers high quality images with a minimum of fuss. In our opinion, however, to get the most out of this camera you will need to move beyond the kit lens.
Since its inception, the allure of Panasonic's G-series lineup, indeed the Micro Four Thirds system in general, has been the potential for DSLR image quality in a compact-sized body. Yet, the sensor technology has typically lagged behind the APS-C chips that dominate the entry-level DSLR segment. The arrival of the G3, with its all-new 16 MP CMOS sensor, generated a lot of interest within the dpreview office and the market as a whole.
Images from the G3 represent a clear step forward in comparison to output from the G2. Fine detail is preserved throughout a wide range of ISOs. Noise-related artifacts simply are not an issue at ISO 800 and below. In low-light scenarios that demand a high ISO the G3 delivers the most impressive output we have yet seen from a Micro Four Thirds camera aside from Panasonic's own GH2. The G3's rendering of finely detailed subjects stands up surprisingly well against entry-level DSLRs. Along with the more expensive GH2, the G3 represents a benchmark for Micro Four Thirds image quality at this point in time.
At low ISO values, the G3's image quality compares very well with even the best APS-C based DSLRs in its price range. Once the ISO sensitivity gets above 800, the benefits of the larger APS-C chips do become apparent though, and the G3 cannot touch the likes of the Nikon D5100 when the going gets really tough, at ISO 6400 and above. Let's not understate this achievement, however. The G3 comes as close to entry-level DSLR image quality as we have seen in a comparably priced camera.
Given the image quality advances of the G3's sensor, it is a bit disappointing to find that JPEG rendering still exhibits some less-than-pleasing characteristics seen in previous Panasonic models. Color rendition, particularly along the red hue can be inaccurate. At ISOs above 1600, the default combination of noise suppression and JPEG compression necessitate the use of Raw files to achieve results even remotely close to the sensor's capabilities.
We are pleased to note, however, that one of our long-standing criticisms of the G-series, poor skin tone rendering, has been improved in the G3. While not perfect, and certainly less effective in indoor mixed lighting scenarios, the G3's default white balance yields more realistic flesh tones among a range of complexions. In addition, the G3 offers a Portrait photo style that makes shooting in Raw mode an option, rather than a necessity, when photographing people.
In some sense the G3 is a camera not quite sure just what it wants to be. Its small size (though certainly not pocketable) and rather simplified on-body control layout hint that it is best suited for casual shooters who may be intimidated by a larger body and would rather not crack open a user guide to find their way around the camera. The G3 is a very comfortable camera to carry around on an all-day excursion and using the basic functions of the camera is intuitive. The G3 is not a camera that gets in your way. When shooting, we found ourselves able to focus (no pun intended) on the task at hand, without getting bogged down in hunting for menu options or wrestling with ergonomic issues.
Although a lot of users will use the bundled 14-42mm kit lens much of the time, the G3 if of course an interchangeable lens camera and we can imagine that at some point a user may wish to consider adding to their lens collection. In fact, we would argue that G3 owners will run into limitations of the kit lens well before they feel constrained by the camera itself. Yet the small size of the G3, combined with its significantly reduced hand grip, does place limits on the types of lenses you can comfortably use with the camera. We feel that for handheld use, many will find the Lumix G Vario HD 14-140mm F4-5.8 OIS lens approaches the limits of balance and ergonomic comfort.
Panasonic has made the experience of going out and taking pictures with the G3 a pleasant one. Basic exposure settings can be easily accessed and the customizable Q. Menu greatly reduces the need to hunt through menu trees in order to change a parameter. The ability to move between shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation with a click of the rear wheel continues the Panasonic tradition of ease of use.
The G3's touchscreen interface is a joy to use and makes other manufacturers' implementations feel poorly designed by comparison. Onscreen buttons are intuitive and offer a fast, efficient way of operating the camera. Using the touchscreen becomes so intuitive that on a few occasions we had to resist the temptation to press a button when looking through the viewfinder. Our main complaint would be the lack of the the eye sensor to automatically switch between the LCD and EVF. Having had this option on the G2, we find ourselves constantly wishing it were on the G3 as well.
Another issue we find hard to rationalize is the flush-with-body design of the DISP./Fn1 button. The tactile feedback of this button is so minimal that you're never quite sure you've actually pressed it. In addition, this button can be user-assigned as a custom function, meaning it may see much more frequent use than in DISP. mode. When using it as a 'solution' to the G3's lack of a dedicated AF/AE lock button, however, we simply found the button too difficult to engage.
The Final Word
Simply put, the G3 produces some of the finest images we have ever seen from Micro Four Thirds sensor technology. That it is possible to capture pictures with the G3 whose image quality is virtually indistinguishable from an entry-level DSLR is impressive. That you can achieve it in a camera of this price range is nothing short of remarkable. While we have some complaints, the fact remains that the G3 can capture great images, particularly when shooting in Raw mode.
If you want to treat the G3 as a point and shoot with a viewfinder, you can be off and shooting with no more than a few glances at the camera's menu options. AF speed shows noticeable improvement over the G2 and the G3 is capable of rendering much more accurate skin tones under outdoor lighting. Full AVCHD 1080 output with reasonably sufficient focus detection makes high quality video capture a largely point-and-shoot affair.
Should you desire more complete control over camera and exposure settings though, a few moments' time customizing the Q. Menu will provide quick and easy access to a wide variety of useful options. We do have concerns over the, to our minds, over-simplification of the on-camera controls. We don't feel that the savings in weight and size warranted the loss of all the dials and buttons found on the G2 (we still miss the drive mode dial, in particular). Yet, we applaud Panasonic's continued refinement of the touchscreen interface and in many instances find it to be a reasonable substitution for the G3's minimalist on-body control layout.
Scoring is relative only to the other cameras in the same category.
Click here to learn about the changes to our scoring system and what these numbers mean.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3
Category: Mid Range Interchangeable Lens Camera / DSLR
Ergonomics & handling
Metering & focus accuracy
Image quality (raw)
Image quality (jpeg)
Low light / high ISO performance
Viewfinder / screen rating
Movie / video mode
The G3 is a camera that is easy to use and produces excellent image quality--a step up from previous G-series models. Its overall handling and touchscreen interface have distinct appeal for users moving up from a point-and-shoot. Yet it offers the manual controls and custom parameters that enthusiasts in the market for a smaller, lighter body would expect.
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