Using the Panasonic G3/Handling

While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 is smaller and lighter than the G2, the biggest change when it comes to actually shooting with the camera is the re-designed, slimmer, grip. The G3 strays even further away from the DSLR model of a hand grip as a bulbous extension on which the shutter release sits. Instead, its shutter button is shifted back onto the body plate and the hump of the hand grip is shaved to a more subtly sloped contour. The change provides a good ergonomic handling experience, making the camera feel in hand more like an enthusiast compact than a mini DSLR. We find the G3 is actually more comfortable to hold over long periods of shooting than the G2.

However, should you augment the kit lens with a tele zoom, you'll quickly appreciate the rationale behind DSLR-style grips. The G3's smaller grip size reduces the leverage for your hand to balance the weight of the lens. Combined with the smaller size of the body itself, you may find that larger, heavier zoom lenses in the Panasonic lineup can become a bit more awkward for handheld use in terms of overall balance and weight.

Overall operation and handling

In terms of overall handling there is a lot to like about the G3. Compared to the more 'traditional' G2, Panasonic has shaved off some ounces and reduced the camera's profile without compromising ergonomics. This is a very comfortable camera to carry around, even without a strap.

Unlike the G2, the G3 integrates Panasonic's latest iteration of the touchscreen interface in a manner that literally begs you to use it, and with good reason. The improved usability of the touchscreen buttons along with the highly customizable Q. Menu mean that for a wide variety of tasks, the touchscreen is much faster and easier to use than the rear dial or 4-way controller.

The LX5/GF2-style grip necessitates a different hold on the camera compared to most DSLRs. Despite the G3's small size though, we found it was comfortable to use and the hand position (rotated back by about 45 degrees) worked both for eye-level shooting and for using the flip-out screen.

When out shooting with the camera, the G3 handles well overall, but removal of the AF/AE lock button is a little disappointing. Although you can assign this feature to a function button, doing so is a multi-step process that you'd be hard-pressed to divine without reading the manual. In addition, the logical place to assign this function is the DISP. button since it aligns with your thumb while your finger is on the shutter release. Yet, its flush-with-the-camera design makes it rather awkward to press.

Another tactile change, but one that is more welcome, is that the 4-way controller buttons on the rear are more pleasant to use on the G3. They give a firmer, more positive response when pressed, which gives more direct feedback, as opposed to the somewhat mushy feel of the same buttons on the G2. It's admittedly a subtle change, but it does make a difference. Also changed is the design of the rear dial. Compared to the G2, the rear dial has been reduced in size and is surrounded by a more contoured body molding. Opinion within the office is somewhat divided on this change - some of us prefer the smaller shape and others find it more awkward to manipulate compared to the dial on the G2 and GH2. It is, at any rate, noticeably different.

We're less equivocal about the deletion of the automatic EVF/LCD switch. The omission of this useful body element results in a marginal space saving at best, and to see such a simple and useful feature removed from a camera that includes so many other technology upgrades is disappointing..

Specific handling issues

User experience with the G3 depends largely on your expectations. If you're after a DSLR-type of experience with knobs, dials, and switches driving the controls, the G3 may seem unduly pared down until you embrace the touchscreen interface. On the other hand, a user upgrading from a mid-range or enthusiast compact may find a familiar friend in the touchscreen capability while also delighting in the use of a high quality viewfinder.

The G3's touchscreen interface is where Panasonic has made the most significant changes from the G2. Large, easy to press icons, with a consistent and identifiable button design make the touchscreen far faster and more intuitive than the the rear dial and 4-way controller for a number of tasks. We actually found ourselves becoming frustrated at times when using the viewfinder because we immediately wanted to touch a button, rather than rotate the dial or press the controller.

The G3 sports two independent function buttons, offering a wide list of settings that can be assigned to each. This is a welcome addition but our excitement is tarnished slightly by the design of the DISP./Fn1 button. It's flush with the camera body and difficult to locate by touch, and you're never really sure you've actually pressed it as the tactile feedback is so weak.

The G3 lacks an eye sensor, so you must use the LVF/LCD button to toggle between the viewfinder and rear screen displays. This omission, coupled with the efficient touchscreen interface certainly tilts the use of the G3 towards those who primarily use the LCD. Even for those users, though, having a high quality viewfinder in bright sunlight conditions (where the LCD visibility drops) is indispensable.
The DISP. button is designed so that it is essentially flush with the camera body, meaning you can't press it accidentally, but making locating it by touch frustratingly difficult. Given the fact that DISP now does double duty as a function button, and is ideally-located to use for a commonly-accessed function such as AE lock, this is unfortunate.