Panasonic DMC-G3 In-depth Review
Operation and controls
Though the reduction in weight from the G2 is pretty small in practical terms, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3's smaller, more compact design brings with it changes in both the number and layout of external controls. While the G2's implementation of the touch screen was rather conservative, in that most functions were still duplicated via dials and buttons, the G3 takes the next logical step and moves some physical controls to the touchscreen. The removal of the external mic input for video capture is a downgrade, but if video capture is a primary concern, you're better served looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH2, with its advanced control of frame rate and shutter speed.
The control layout of the G3 sees some changes from the more traditional G2, but nothing earth shattering. In fact, users migrating from any of the G-series cameras will find enough similarity among the most frequently used controls to make the adjustment period relatively brief. The G3's touchscreen interface, however, represents a massive leap forward in usability. As we saw in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, the onscreen buttons are easier to activate. They are also visually distinct from other screen elements with an effective, yet tasteful design.
With this vastly improved interface, you'd be hard pressed to use the G3 for any length of time and not succumb to the call of the touchscreen. It's now an integral part of how this camera is designed to be operated. The most immediate change compared to the touchscreen on the G2 is the much larger touch-sensitive button icons. You no longer need the fine motor skills of a neurosurgeon to control the camera via the touchscreen. In our experience, this renders the included stylus obsolete (to be frank, we rarely found it useful even when shooting with the G2). And while users coming to the G3 from a higher-end DSLR may scoff at the notion of pressing a screen instead of turning a dial, it should be noted that the technology does have professional provenance - many high-end digital backs for medium format cameras feature touchscreens.
Top of camera controls
Compared to the G2, the G3's mode dial has been pared down to the basics. It most closely resembles that of the GF1, which gained a following among enthusiasts, who tend to shun Portrait, Sports and Night time modes. Make no mistake, these scene modes are still available, but you now access them onscreen. It's worth noting that some advanced options such as drive modes and focus settings must now be changed via the onscreen menu as well.
Rear of camera controls
The back of the camera will look familiar to previous G-series owners. The most-often used controls sit along the body's right edge, easily within thumb's reach. The 4-way controller makes ISO, focus point, drive mode and white balance selection quick and easy. However, a major advantage of the touchscreen is that via the Q. Menu you can drag and drop up to 15 options like these into a single interface and rapidly move between them. In addition to this onscreen customization, you can assign commonly used modes to either of two on-camera function buttons. Taken in combination, these custom options greatly reduce the need to hunt through menu trees when changing a camera setting.
The G3 allows you to disable Shutter AF. The benefit here comes into play if you assign AF to a function button on the rear of the camera and use it to lock focus (much the way users of DSLRs have long done). With Shutter AF set to 'Off', pressing the shutter button will not trigger an additional focus lock.
As with other G-series cameras, the rear dial can be pressed to cycle among options and rotated to adjust values. It offers a convenient way to adjust aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation when setting up a shot. The movie and playback mode buttons are offset to the left, making it less likely you'll mistakenly trigger either of them with your thumb. Sadly, the G3 drops the eye sensor found in the G2, and you have to manually switch the camera between viewfinder and LCD modes via the LVF/LCD button. Admittedly this is a non-issue for those who prefer to use either the EVF or the rear screen exclusively.
If, however, you like to compose through the electronic viewfinder and use the rear screen primarily for reviewing images you've shot, you don't have to constantly press the LVF/LCD button. With the mode set to LVF, pressing the playback button automatically switches to the LCD screen so you can review images. When you're ready to start shooting again, lightly pressing the shutter button exits playback mode and switches automatically to the viewfinder. However if you'd rather play back images in the EVF by default, you can do this too (by turning off 'Play on LCD' in the Custom Menu).
Live view and touchscreen control
As we've already mentioned, the G3's touchscreen interface owes more to the GF2 than the G2, and ends up being one of the finest implementations of this technology that we have seen in any camera. It's hard to imagine even first-time touchscreen users having much of a problem using the G3. Icons meant to be pressed are easily identified through a (mostly) consistent button design so you don't waste time repeatedly pressing a non-functional icon, waiting for a response.
If you're a smartphone or tablet user, leave your multi-touch gestures at home, because the G3's screen is pressure-sensitive, not capacitive. Think cash machine, not iPhone. Though less responsive, and certainly not as entertaining, this type of screen does work with gloves on (the thinner the better of course). Touchscreen buttons can also be navigated and selected via the 4-way controller, if you prefer the traditional way of working. But we find that after even minimal experience with the touchscreen, using the 4-way controller is significantly more cumbersome for a variety of tasks.
|This is the G3's standard live view display mode. The three buttons along the right edge are clearly identified, allowing you to access the Quick Menu, activate the touchscreen shutter and change the display mode.
The Q. Menu and Touch Shutter buttons can both be disabled in the menus.
|Pressing the DISP. button cycles you through two additional display modes. Here, the shooting data is removed from view.
All of these buttons disappear on a half-press of the shutter, giving you a less cluttered view in which to compose the image.
|Another press of the DISP. button mimics the first screen but replaces exposure information with the date and time.
Touchscreen AF point positioning
As seen in other recent G-series models, the touchscreen can be used to select the area on which the camera will lock focus. Simply touch an area of the screen, the focus point box appears, and the camera locks focus at that location. To select another area of focus you can drag the focus point or simply release your finger and press again in the desired location. You still have the traditional option of moving the focus box in stepwise increments via the 4-way controller. If you don't like the idea of touchscreen AF at all, it can be disabled via the custom menu (a welcome change over previous Panasonics).
|Touch the screen to set the area on which the camera should focus. The size of the focus point can be adjusted either via the rear dial or by pressing anywhere along the scale range at right. Once positioned, the autofocus point retains its size and location until you explicitly make a change or switch to a different focus mode setting.
Picture-in-picture manual focus
New to the G3 is a 'picture-in-picture' feature that facilitates manual focus by automatically magnifying the focus area on-screen. With the camera set to MF and MF Assist enabled in the custom menu, rotating the lens' focus ring zooms in by default to a 5x magnification. Clicking on the zoom out icon, or rotating the rear dial places an approximately 4x view of the central image area in a small window laid atop the full screen image. The benefit here is that you can set critical focus while simultaneously verifying the desired composition. The downside, however, is that the image quality of the picture-in-picture magnification is noticeably lower than the result available in full-screen magnification view. The former contains less image detail and exhibits artifacts. Once you have achieved focus (by either picture-in-picture or full screen magnification), a half-press of the shutter immediately switches back to a full screen 1x view.
|In MF mode, a very slight turn of the focus ring activates picture-in-picture mode. Move the focus point anywhere within the image by pressing or dragging on the touchscreen. You can also move it stepwise via the 4-way controller.
If the camera defaults to a full-screen magnification view, simply press the zoom out icon to get the view shown at left.
|As you begin to turn the focus ring, a slider appears at the bottom of the screen. Purely a visual aid, this reminds users that rotating the lens ring clockwise will bring nearby objects in focus, while a move counter clockwise brings distant objects into sharp focus.
The initial location of the focus point matches the one that was set in AF mode.
A new addition to the autofocus modes is Pinpoint AF. Taking the AF positioning feature to an even finer degree, pressing the shutter halfway while in this mode momentarily zooms into a 4x view so you can confirm focus. Clicking on the screen allows you to re-position the focus point. Given its precise level of control (and the potential for significant image shake in the magnified view), Pinpoint autofocus is best suited to situations where the camera is mounted on a tripod.
|In Pinpoint AF mode, a cross hair is visible indicating the precise area on which the camera will focus. You can quickly zoom in to a 4x magnification of the focus areas either with a half press of the shutter or by simply pressing on the screen. The latter option gives you a "sticky" magnification view, while the former defaults back to full screen view after a few seconds.|
|The location of pinpoint focus can be adjusted in a number of ways. You can use the 4-way controller, drag the cross hair, or simply press on another area of the image.
From this screen view, pressing the shutter gives a visual focus lock confirmation and then zooms out to a full screen view before capturing the image.
Touchscreen 'Defocus Control' (iAuto mode)
The touchscreen is also used to operate the 'Defocus Control' function first seen in the GF2. This feature is activated by pressing the camera's iAuto button. Onscreen you are presented with a depth of field slider that allows you to visually preview the range of in and out of focus areas in real time. As a teaching tool for less experienced shooters or even an introduction to the creative use of depth of field for beginners, this type of interface is a move in the right direction.
|With iAuto activated, a simple slider acts as a results-orientated aperture control, with its effect previewed live on the LCD. You can move the slider by dragging with your finger or by rotating the rear dial.|
If we have a reservation about this function, it's that the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS kit zoom doesn't really offer a wide enough aperture range for the visual effect of 'defocus' to become apparent across much of its zoom range. It's possible that under the most common shooting situations, particularly with the lens set to its wide end, users will watch the slider move, see little to no visual change to the image and never use the feature again. Shooting with a prime lens like the Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH offers much greater opportunity to see the 'defocus' effect.
Customizing the Quick menu
The G3 builds upon the redesigned Q. Menu interface first seen in the GF2. A vast improvement over the G2's interface, the Q. Menu largely makes up for the G3's reduction of hardware buttons and dials. From a total of 24 configurable camera settings, the Q. Menu lets you arrange and organize up to 15 of them in a tiled interface. In addition, you can set up entirely different Q. Menu selections for each Custom exposure mode. So if you use the EVF frequently, for example, you can configure a custom mode containing the controls most relevant for eye-level shooting. From the Q. Menu the Ex. Tele. Conv option can be enabled independently for both video and still capture within a single screen, saving extra trips to the Rec and Motion Picture menus.
We have been impressed by this implementation since it debuted in the GF2 and consider it amongst the finest shortcut menus available on any camera. Panasonic has hit its stride here and we're pleased to see this implementation work its way throughout the G-series models.
|Press the Q. Menu button and you get this screen. The currently available functions are displayed in a row towards the bottom, and a box above displays the options from which you can select. Tap on an option to select it. You can also use the 4-way controller to navigate to your selection and then activate it by pressing the controller's Menu/Set button.|
Pressing the wrench button at the lower left of the screen brings up the option to customize the menu's contents. You can drag and drop items from the top window onto the menu tray below it.
There are two ways to call up the Q. Menu - either by its touchscreen icon, or via the Q. Menu/Fn2 button on the rear of the camera. Using the latter method, however, means that you lose the ability to designate the rear button as a function button. The G3 does offer two function buttons, but we find the Fn2 button much easier to use than the Fn1 button (which sits flush with the camera body) and would be reluctant to give it up. A full list of the options that can be used in the Q. Menu or assigned to either of the two Fn buttons is given in the table below:
Q. Menu options
(Up to 15 may be selected)
| • Flash mode
• Motion Pic. Settings
• Picture Setting (size/ratio)
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Self Timer
• I. Dynamic
• I. Resolution
• Picture Mode
• Guide Line
| • Histogram
• AF Mode
• Focus Mode
• Metering Mode
• Aperture Value
• Shutter Speed
• Exposure Comp.
• ISO sensitivity
• White balance
• Remaining Disp
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Drive Mode
Fn. button options
(Can be assigned to either button)
| • AF / AE Lock
• Depth of Field Preview
• Photo Style
• Focus Area
• Focus Mode
• Aspect Ratio
• Metering Mode
| • Flash Adjust.
• ISO Limit
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Shutter AF
• Guide Line
• Recording Area