With the arrival of the GF3, Panasonic further solidifies the distinctions between its existing G-series lineup. The enthusiast-targeted rangefinder aesthetic heralded by the introduction of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 appears for the moment to have given way to a new directive; producing the smallest, lightest G-series camera possible. The move towards smaller, lighter large-sensor cameras with fewer external controls is not limited to Panasonic of course, as both Olympus and Sony are also courting the mass market aggressively.

Announced just eight months after the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2, the GF3 is as much about omission as addition. With the removal of the EVF port and hotshoe, the GF3 stands as the only G-series camera on which neither an electronic nor optical viewfinder can be used. Other prominent changes include the loss of the signature Panasonic rear click-dial and the camera body's sleeker, more rounded edges. These alterations give the GF3 an appearance more in line with that of a high-end compact camera than of its predecessor, the GF2.

Indeed, with the GF3, Panasonic offers a seamless upgrade path for compact camera users seeking higher image quality and more advanced shooting options. And perhaps for these users, the lack of a flash hotshoe and the downgrade from a stereo to mono microphone for video recording are sacrifices easily made in exchange for a smaller, lower-priced camera. In terms of features and performance, there is precious little in the GF3 that was not seen in either the GF2 or the more recently released Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3.

Despite being based around the same 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor as the GF2, the GF3's new processor allows it to analyze autofocus information 120 times per second, a performance bump that made a significant difference to performance of the DMC-G3, released earlier this year. Increased sensor readout speed means theoretically improved AF speed. Based on our experience with the G3, we'd therefor expect AF speed to rival that of most entry-level DSLRs when presented with static subjects.

The faster processor also helps the continuous shooting rate edge up to 3.8 fps - a 20% improvement over the GF2. It is important to note, however, that like previous G-series models, the fastest shooting rate comes at the expense of live view. The fastest shooting rate possible with live view is 2.8fps. Interestingly, given that they share a sensor, the ISO sensitivity range of the GF3 starts at 160, rather than 100 in the GF2. According to Panasonic, this is a recalibration to make the most of the sensor response, rather than a simple renaming of the existing setting.

Beyond the external changes, the GF3 gains other notable features first seen in the G3, including Intelligent Auto Plus (iA+), a variant of the automated mode that allows limited (but useful) user control, a 4x magnified picture-in-picture manual focus mode, as well as 'pinpoint' AF selection. The more flexible 'Photo Styles' color presets also migrate across from the G3, as do the 'Creative Control' processing filters. The GF3 can, however, lay claim one of these filters as its own. The 'Miniature' filter is a variant on the currently-fashionable faux-tilt lens look. Panasonic's implementation allows a higher degree of user control than offerings from its competitors. Video options include rack-focus via touchscreen AF and (new to the G-series) the ability to extract a frame from a movie during playback and save it as a still image.

The GF3 is available as a body only purchase, or bundled with the Lumix G 14mm F2.5 ASPH (28mm equivalent) wide-angle 'pancake' lens or the image-stabilized Lumix G Vario 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS lens which will likely have more appeal for users upgrading from compact digital cameras.

Panasonic GF3 specification highlights:

  • 12MP Micro Four Thirds format CMOS sensor
  • ISO 160-6400
  • 3.8 fps continuous shooting (max 2.8fps with live view)
  • GF2-style touch screen interface
  • 1080i60 AVCHD shooting (from 25p sensor output)
  • All-area AF point selection
  • Pinpoint AF mode (magnifies focus point to allow confirmation and fine-tune of AF position)
  • AF Tracking in video mode
  • Picture-in-picture manual focus magnification
  • 460k dot fixed LCD
  • Photo Styles (same color response presets as used in G3)

Compared to the Sony NEX-C3

Here's the GF3 alongside its most obvious direct competitor - Sony's NEX-C3. The two are very similar in size: the GF3 is a little bit taller, with a circular bulge on the top plate to accommodate its built-in pop-up flash (the Sony requires an additional bolt-on unit). Meanwhile the C3 is fractionally wider but squeezes in a larger APS-C sensor.
This comparison illustrates the two cameras' similarly compact camera-like, simplified rear layouts. Enthusiasts might balk at the lack of control points, but both cameras offer full manual control - the GF3 can get away with relatively few direct control points because it relies on its touch-sensitive screen for a lot of the more 'in-depth' operation, whereas the C3 (which lacks a touch-screen) features highly-customizable 'soft' buttons.