Panasonic DMC-GF3 Review
Operation and controls
In terms of camera operation and control layout, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 differs only slightly from its predecessor, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2. By far, the most noticeable change in everyday use is the removal of the click dial from the back of the camera. Its functionality has been shifted to an integrated 4-way control dial more reminiscent of the controls found on the compact Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS10 than other G-series models. The GF3 also sheds the EVF port, making this the only G-series camera on which you cannot use either an optical or electronic viewfinder.
Top of camera controls
As with the GF2, the GF3 offers just three buttons on the top of the camera in addition to the on/off switch. The GF3's iAuto button has been shifted to the left of the shutter button, making it much less likely to be mistakenly pressed. The built-in flash has been repositioned to sit directly above the lens mount, occupying the spot previously reserved for the now-discarded hotshoe and EVF port. The stereo mic found in the GF2 has been replaced by a mono mic to the left of the flash.
Rear of camera controls
The addition of an integrated control dial in the 4-way controller notwithstanding, the back of the GF3 will look very familiar to GF2 owners. Pressing down on the cardinal points of the dial provides access to exposure compensation, focus point, drive mode and white balance settings. The Q.Menu can be called up via the Q.Menu/Fn button. As in the GF2, the GF3's Q.Menu allows you to drag and drop up to 10 camera options into a single interface and rapidly move between them. In addition to this onscreen customization, you can assign commonly used modes to the function button.
The integrated 4-way control dial can be pressed to cycle among screen 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 playback mode button sits nearly flush with the camera body, making it less likely to be pressed unintentionally compared to the same button on the rear of the GF2.
There is, however, one bit of functionality that has gone missing along with the rear click dial. Traditionally on G-series models, when using a non-native MF lens via an adapter, simply clicking the rear dial engages magnified view for focus checking. With the GF3's integrated 4-way control dial you have to press 'left' to select MF area mode then 'OK' to magnify, which is relatively tedious. This, along with the lack of an EVF connection, make the GF3 just about the least-suitable ILC for use with adapted lenses. You can still do it, it's just awkward.
Building on the implementation we found so impressive in the GF2, the GF3's touchscreen interface offers subtle enhancements such as full area AF point positioning as well as the ability to disable the Touch AF feature entirely. Panasonic has developed perhaps the finest touchscreen interface we've encountered and we don't imagine even first-time touchscreen users having much of a problem using the GF3. Icons meant to be pressed are easily identified through a 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 however, leave your multi-touch gestures at home, because the GF3'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 integrated 4-way control dial, if you prefer the traditional way of working. But we find that after even minimal experience with the touchscreen, using the on-body controller is significantly more cumbersome for a variety of tasks.
|This is the GF3'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 Custom Menu.
|Pressing the DISP. button places camera setting information along the top of the screen and the date/time along the bottom.
|After a few seconds of inactivity (or a half-press of the shutter button) exposure information is displayed along the bottom of the screen.
The three buttons disappear on a half-press of the shutter button, giving you a less cluttered view in which to compose the image.
|As with the GF2, switching among camera modes can only be done via the touchscreen. From the Record Mode selection screen you can choose among the available shooting modes by pressing the screen or by rotating the control dial.|
Touchscreen AF point positioning
As seen in other recent G-series models, the GF3's 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 option of moving the focus box in step increments via the integrated 4-way control dial. If you don't like the idea of touchscreen AF at all, it can be disabled via the custom menu. Unlike in the GF2, where positioning of the focus box was limited to a central area, the GF3 allows you to move the AF point anywhere over the full screen area.
|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 control 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
Incorporating a feature first seen in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3, the GF3 offers a 'picture-in-picture' option 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 control 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 picture-in-picture view 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 by clicking the control dial.
|As you begin to turn the focus ring, a slider appears at the bottom of the screen (it can be disabled if desired, via a custom function). 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.
A new addition to the GF-series 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 integrated 4-way control dial, 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. 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 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 control 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 - which we presume will appeal to many users - 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 fast prime lens like the Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH offers much greater opportunity to see the 'defocus' effect.
The GF 3's iAuto mode is complemented by an iAuto+ shooting mode which combines the fully automated behavior of iAuto with the ability to control exposure compensation and white balance via onscreen sliders. With the GF3's size and styling borrowing so heavily from compact models, iAuto+ seems particularly well-suited to easing the transition of users upgrading from point and shoot cameras.
Customizing the Quick menu
It would be hard to imagine as successful a user experience in a camera of the GF3's limited external controls without the Q.Menu. 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. From a total of 23 configurable camera settings, the Q.Menu lets you arrange and organize up to 10 of them in a tiled interface. In addition, you can set up entirely different Q. Menu selections for each Custom exposure mode. 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.
|Press the Q.Menu button and you get this screen. The currently available functions are displayed in a row towards the bottom. Tap on an option to select it and the relevant choices are displayed in a box above it. You can also use the integrated 4-way control dial 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/Fn 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. A full list of the options that can be used in the Q.Menu or assigned to the Fn button is given in the table below:
Q. Menu options
(Up to 10 may be selected)
| • Flash mode
• Motion Pic. Settings
• Picture Setting (size/ratio)
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Self Timer
• I. Dynamic
• I. Resolution
• Guide Line
| • 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
| • AF / AE Lock
• Depth of Field Preview
• Photo Style
• Aspect Ratio
• Aspect Ratio
• Focus Mode
• Metering Mode
| • Flash
• ISO Sensitivity
• ISO Limit
• Ex. Tele Conv.
• Burst Rate
• Auto Bracket
• Guide Line
• Recording Area
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