Panasonic DMC-GF3 Review
Conclusion - Pros
- High quality (though aging) sensor capable of excellent raw file output
- JPEGs show slightly improved high ISO performance (compared to the GF2)
- Improved skin tone rendering in JPEGs (compared to the GF2)
- Well-implemented touchscreen interface
- Fast-focusing AF system (for its class)
- AF point can be positioned along the edge of the frame
- Good variety of 'Photo Styles' color presets for stills and video (compared to the GF2)
- iA+(Plus) mode allows exposure and white balance adjustments
- 'Creative Control' presets include a well-implemented miniature mode
- Picture-in-Picture manual focus mode useful for macro work
Conclusion - Cons
- No EVF port
- No flash hotshoe
- No rear click dial
- Smaller body size makes hand-held use of larger zoom lenses awkward
- Mono microphone (instead of stereo) for video recording
- Positioning of pop-up flash is more susceptible to producing red-eye and lens-barrel shadow
- Some lenses (including 14-140mm) extend below camera base, fouling tripod plate
- No flash exposure compensation
- Fastest continuous shooting mode comes at the expense of live view
- Continuous tracking performance suffers in low-light, low contrast scenarios
The GF3 is a satisfying camera to use that is small and light enough to carry around all day. Its 12MP Micro Four Thirds sensor, though showing its age, is capable of producing lovely images that will be a revelation to users migrating from compact sensors. When used in full auto mode, the GF3's autofocus and metering system do an admirable job under a wide range of conditions of producing a pleasing image. On-camera dials and buttons are pared down to the bare essentials, but advanced shooting controls are easily accessible via Panasonic's well-implemented touchscreen interface.
Of course rumors of the release of a GF-series camera always raise the hopes of GF1 users for an enthusiast-targeted rangefinder-styled successor. At even a cursory glance it is evident that the GF3 is not that camera; instead its features, design and price place it squarely in the sights of those looking to upgrade from a compact camera. The GF3 offers these users significantly higher image quality, access to advanced shooting options and a selection of high quality lenses, all in a package sized to be welcoming rather than intimidating.
Basic image quality of the GF3 is similar to that of the GF2, with the exception of a slightly improved JPEG rendering at high ISOs. As with the G3, we are pleased to note that one of our long-standing criticisms of the G-series, poor skin tone rendering, has been improved in the GF3. While not perfect, and certainly less effective in indoor mixed lighting scenarios, the GF3's default white balance yields noticeably more realistic flesh tones than the its predecessor, the GF2. In addition, the GF3 offers a portrait 'Photo Style' that helps make shooting in raw mode an option, rather than a necessity, when photographing people. To get the most out of the camera's sensor, however, you're still best served by shooting in raw mode for greater post-exposure control over sharpening and noise reduction.
The design and layout of the GF3 more closely resembles that of a compact camera than any other G-series model. As such, it is a very simple camera to operate. Basic exposure settings can be easily accessed and the customizable Q.Menu greatly reduces the need to hunt through menu trees. The camera's touchscreen interface features intuitive onscreen buttons that offer a fast, efficient way of operating the camera.
We cannot help but lament some notable omissions from the GF3's feature set though. The removal of the EVF port and the hotshoe make it impossible to add a viewfinder or external flash to the GF3. Clearly this was a sacrifice that Panasonic deemed worthwhile for the sake of a smaller, less intimidating form factor. The loss of the rear click dial will require a certain amount of adjustment for previous G-series users. The integrated 4-way control dial is a reasonable enough replacement, but it's a shame that you can no longer adjust ISO via a dedicated external button (although you can of course assign it to the GF3's Fn button).
We're less equivocal about design decisions such as the positioning of the built-in flash, which virtually guarantees lens barrel shadow at wide focal lengths with the kit zoom, and the positioning of the lens throat, so close to the camera's base, which complicates the use of some wide-barrelled lenses when the camera is mounted on a tripod.
The Final Word
The announcement of a GF-series camera carries with it the expectations from some quarters of a model that can lay claim to being a rightful heir to the GF1; a rangefinder-style enthusiast-oriented camera for those who want external controls. In design, features and price, Panasonic has positioned the GF3 as far from this template as we've seen in a G-series model. This being said, given that Panasonic's chief rivals (Olympus and Sony) have either released or at least talked about producing a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera targeted to the enthusiast market, we wouldn't be surprised if Panasonic has similar plans. One could even argue that in positioning the GF3 so unambiguously as an upgrade for compact camera users, Panasonic creates a gap in its G-series lineup waiting to be filled by just such a camera.
Speculation about Panasonic's future strategy aside, however, the GF3 stands as a well-specified camera, which is characterized by hassle-free ergonomics, and is capable of very satisfying results. As such, the GF3 is well-placed to lure owners of compact cameras who desire better image quality and the opportunity to begin exploring advanced exposure controls and camera settings. Ultimately the GF3 succeeds in offering these users a range of features which may be completely new to them but in a package that is neither intimidating nor prohibitively costly.
We like the GF3, but it isn't perfect. It misses out on a silver award by a whisker, due to its aging 12MP sensor, and some questionable design decisions as regards flash and lens mount position. Both issues have the potential to annoy all users, regardless of their experience or their expectations.
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-GF3
Category: Entry Level 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 GF3 is a camera that combines high image quality and access to advanced shooting options with a small form factor and simplified control layout. Enthusiasts may be disappointed with the relative paucity of direct controls, but the GF3 is a very easy-to-use camera that is capable of lovely images.
Oct 13, 2011
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