‘Smaller is better’ seems to be the message from Panasonic. Continuing with their line of ILCCs, they claim to have produced the world’s smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens camera with a built-in flash.
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 was introduced worldwide (along with the Lumix G3 and the Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 Aspherical lens), in June 2011. The GF3 is sold with a 14-42mm f/4-5.6 kit lens and is available in white, black, red, brown and pink colours. Along with the GF3, you get 3 softwares: PHOTOfunSTUDIO 6.2 HD (allows you to sort and organize your photos and videos); SILKYPIX Developer Studio 3.1 SE (Panasonic’s RAW Converter); and Super LoiloScope (High-speed video editing software). The SuperLoiloScope is offered only as a trial version.
Design And Build Quality
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 boasts the world’s smallest and lightest body (for an ILCC, as of June 13, 2011). It is made from aluminum and incorporates a trendy thumb grip as well as a finger grip. Compared to Panasonic’s own GF2, the GF3 body is 17-percent smaller and 15-percent lighter (weighs in at 225g). The camera back is neat and un-cluttered. The body is made in Japan; the 14-42mm lens is made in China. The tripod mount is made from metal, whilst the lens mount is plastic.
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is a 12.1 megapixel Interchangeable Lens Compact Camera (ILCC) based on the Micro Four Thirds System. It employs a 17.3 x 13mm Live MOS sensor, backed by the recently designed Venus Engine FHD Processor (which is also used in the GH2), which noticeably improves the image processing speed. A supersonic wave filter, vibrating at approximately 50,000 times a second, is placed in front of the Live MOS sensor to repel any air-borne dust that may otherwise cling to the sensor during lens changes. The 14-42mm kit lens includes the tried and tested Mega Optical Image Stabilizer.
Most of the features are similar to those in the GF2. The key differences are: GF3 does not have an accessory shoe (hot shoe) for external flash. In the video section, the GF3 offers only monaural microphone; the GF2 has stereo. The GF3 is lighter by 46g. The size difference is negligible, with the GF3 being a shade smaller. The GF3 body, like the GF2, does not incorporate image stabilization – that feature is available with most Panasonic lenses. Pictures can be shot in RAW, JPEG, or RAW+JPEG, with JPEG offering two quality levels – Fine, and Standard. Movies can be recorded in the AVCHD format or in Motion JPEG. The GF3 offers Touch-screen control. You can autofocus on any point on the LCD by just touching that point. If you prefer, you can also control the shutter release through the touch-screen LCD. If, for whatever reason, you do not wish to use the touch-screen, you can switch the feature off and then use the GF3 like any other conventional camera.
You may focus manually or autofocus. AF options are Contrast-Detect AF (which, claim Panasonic – unlike Phase-difference AF systems used in D-SLRs, is not susceptible to a mechanical margin of focus errors at wide apertures), Face Detection, AF Tracking, 23-area focusing, 1-area focusing, or Pinpoint focusing (where a user can touch the area on the screen to focus on that spot). Panasonic also claim that the Contrast-Detect AF system in the GF3 can lock focus in approximately 0.18 seconds.
In Burst mode, the GF3 can fire @ 3.8 fps in full resolution (High speed), 2.8 fps (middle speed) or 2 fps (Low speed). The Buffer capacity is 5 frames (RAW) or limited by the memory card capacity in JPEG. Images can be viewed on the 3-inch TFT LCD having a resolution of approx. 460,000 dots.
The GF3 offers ISO sensitivity from ISO 160-6400, plus Auto ISO and iISO (intelligent ISO). Shutter speeds range from 60 seconds to 1/4000sec. Three metering modes are available: Multiple, Center-weighted, and Spot, while the metering range is from EV 0 to EV 18 at ISO 160. Exposure modes are Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter priority, Manual, Custom Set 1, 2, and 3, Scene, Creative Control, iA, and iA+. The iA+ is a further refinement of the iA mode and includes a feature known as the Defocus Control. Using this feature, the user can control the amount of blur in the background. White Balance can be set to Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent, Flash, White set 1 & 2, and Kelvin temperature.
The GF3 has a built-in flash with a Guide Number of 6.3m at ISO 160. With the 14-42mm kit lens, the flash has a range of approximately 1m to 3.4m (when the lens is set to 18mm, with ISO AUTO, and aspect ratio is set to 4:3). The flashgun offers Auto, Auto with red-eye reduction, Forced ‘On’, Forced ‘On’ with red-eye reduction, Slow sync, slow sync with red-eye reduction, and Forced ‘Off’. X-sync for flash is up to 1/160 sec.
The GF3 weighs approx. 432g with the 14-42mm interchangeable lens, card, and battery. Its dimensions are 107.7 (W) x 67.1 (H) x 32.5mm (D) excluding projecting parts.
The GF3, being very light and tiny, is extremely inconspicuous and easy to carry. Unfortunately, the user interface does not seem as user-friendly as we have seen in other ILCCs from Panasonic. A detailed user manual (printed version) is not enclosed with the camera kit, and the supplied Basic Owner’s Manual (printed) leaves a lot to be desired. It may take a while for non-touch-screen users to get accustomed to the touch-screen control. Setting the focus using the touch-screen feels very nice. Though you can fire the shutter through the camera LCD, it could shake the camera if you are not very careful. Hence pay extra attention when doing so.
Our test was conducted using the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 3:2 aspect ratio. The overall performance of the GF3 was indeed very good. As claimed by Panasonic, autofocus was quick, thanks to the Contrast Detect AF system. Corner softness was noticed between f/3.5 and f/5.6, though the center sharpness was better. F/8-11 seemed to produced sharpest results overall. At f/16 and f/22 we could notice a slight softening of images due to the diffraction of light. White Balance performance was between good to very good. Darkening of corners at the widest focal length was evident up to f/5.6, though in all fairness, the darkening was very slight and most users would not even notice it in their day to day pictures. Barrel distortion was seen at the 14mm setting, but by 19mm, it became acceptable. In strong sunlight, highlight burnout was noticed at times, but this could be due to the smaller sensor size (as compared to APS-C size sensors), as well as user error in choosing the appropriate metering.
The Venus Engine FHD image processor does what Panasonic claim – the control over digital noise was excellent. The camera produced 8.9 x 13.3-inch images at 300ppi. (Please note that 4:3 aspect ratio, images would be larger). At 16.7-percent screen size, noise was not visible throughout the ISO range. At 25-percent and 50-percent screen size, again, noise was not visible throughout the ISO range but slight image softness was observed at higher ISO sensitivities. At 100-percent screen size, slight noise could be seen at ISO 1600 onwards. The battery life too is improved, thanks to the new image processor. Flare was seen in strong against-the-light shots and a bit of blue fringing was also noticed.
Full HD video quality was indeed very good. The dedicated button on the top plate of the camera (just next to the shutter release button) makes it very easy to start/stop recording movies, and the full-time AF during movies assures crisp, sharp frames.
Value For Money
The Indian price for the GF3 has not yet been received by us. In the USA, the Panasonic Lumix GF3 is available at USD 599 along with the 14-42mm kit lens. If the combo were to be available here at an MRP of Rs.32,000, I would consider that to be a good price.
+ Excellent image quality
+ Very compact and lightweight body
+ Excellent White Balance
– User interface could have been simpler
– Detailed User Manual is only on CD
– No hot-shoe
Design and Build Quality 16/20
Key Features 18.5/20
Noise Control 4.5/5
Extra Features 4/5
Value for Money 8/10
Grand Total 82.5/100
The Panasonic GF2 is smaller and
lighter than the GF1. The GF3 is smaller
and lighter than the GF2!
The GF3, though aimed at amateurs,
has faster autofocus, and image quality
that compares well with entry-level
D-SLRs. If you are fed up with lugging
around heavy D-SLRs, the Panasonic
Lumix GF3 could be for you!