First Look: Panasonic Lumix G3 Hands-On

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Panasonic’s brand new Lumix digital Micro Four Thirds, the DMC-G3, is scheduled for arrival in Australia in July. We take a first look at this compact shooter with interchangeable lenses and intelligent touchscreen control.Key Features
16MP LiveMOS Micro Four Thirds sensor
1080p Full HD movie recording
Super-fast AF performance

Price: TBA

Intro and Specs
Panasonic has announced the Lumix G3, the latest addition to its Micro Four Thirds G-series. Considerably smaller and lighter than the G1 and G2, the new Lumix G3 sports an all-new 16MP sensor, a newly developed AF system that offers lightning-fast performance, responsive touch-screen controls and Full HD movie recording. Does this make it the best G-series model yet? Read on to find out.

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We spent a morning with a production G3 earlier in the week, so we’re pleased to be able to share some preliminary thoughts on the new model based on an extended hands-on. But before we do that, let’s run through all of the main specs, features and upgrades. 

The G3 will sit above the G2 in the G-series range but doesn’t actually replace it. The G2 will remain in the range for now, replacing the now-discontinued G10 as the budget Micro Four Thirds option. The new Lumix G3 is also book-ended by the existing GH2 and GF2 models.

Internally, the G3 employs an all-new 16MP LiveMOS Micro Four Thirds sensor alongside the Venus Engine FHD image processor. Panasonic claims it has made great strides in high sensitivity performance, with the G3’s sensor far less affected by intrusive image noise than previous G-series sensors. Indeed, Panasonic has even boasted of “noise levels of less than one third of a conventional sensor”.

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To back this claim up, Panasonic showed us a set of A3 images shot in low light at high ISO settings that purported to highlight the practical benefits of the G3’s new sensor. From what we were shown it was pretty clear that the G3 images were less affected by noise thereby retaining more detail than the other images of the same scene (captured by a G2 and GH2).

Unfortunately, we don’t have copies of those images, although we have managed to take a few high ISO shots of our own that you can judge for yourselves on the Sample Image pages of this preview. Of course, it’ll take more thorough testing than we had time for on this occasion to be certain, but our initial thought is that the rather bold claims being made by Panasonic regarding the G3’s low-light performance hold up pretty well.

 

Low-light performance isn’t the only thing to have been improved on the G3. The autofocus system also sees significant advances, with Panasonic claiming the G3’s newly developed AF module is the “world’s fastest”, with lock-on speeds of just 0.1 seconds. Furthermore, the company also claims that the new contrast-detect AF system is more accurate at smaller f-stops than regular phase-detection AF methods. 

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While we can’t vouch for the latter claim, we’d certainly agree that the G3 is incredibly fast at achieving focus. In fact, used in good light we found the G3’s contrast-detect AF system to be even quicker than some phase-detection systems employed by major-brand DSLRs. In less than optimal light we found it held up pretty well too. If you’re looking for a camera that’s quick enough to capture the moment before it’s gone, the G3 looks to be a sound bet.

With a choice of Face Detection to keep portraits sharp, 23-area AF to achieve a good balance, Single-area AF to select a specific point of focus, and AF Tracking to keep moving subjects in focus, the G3 offers something for every situation. In addition, the G3 also offers a new Pinpoint AF mode that creates a small square on the screen or viewfinder, within which the camera zooms-in to show a close-up of the specific point the camera is focused on for. As the name implies, this is to give you pinpoint accuracy when focusing.

And of course, this being a touch-screen Lumix model, the G3 also offers Touch focus and Touch shutter. Touch focus allows you to determine focus on a specific spot simply by touching it on the LCD screen, while the latter goes one step further by recording an image once focus has been established.

 

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In addition the G3 continues to offer the Peripheral de-focus feature seen in previous G-series models. This allows you to select a point of focus with your finger on the touchscreen, while the camera automatically selects a shallow depth of field to throw the background and make the subject stand out more.

Continuous shooting speed has been upped to a very credible 4fps at full resolution or 20fps at 4MP. Full-resolution images and movies are recorded in the same 4:3 aspect ratio of the Micro Four Thirds sensor, although the G3 can also record in 3:2 (14MP), 16:9 (11.5MP) and 1:1 (11.5MP) aspect ratio. Lossless Raw (.RW2 format) and compressed JPEG files are both offered.

 

 

Movies are recorded at 1080i Full HD and 720p HD, both at 30fps, in the super- efficient AVCHD file format. Audio is recorded in stereo courtesy of the built-in microphone positioned on top of the pop-up flash housing, although surprisingly there’s no socket with which to plug in an external microphone. Hidden away behind a protective cover, however, is a mini HDMI port for direct HDTV playback, a USB 2.0 port for connectivity and a 3.5mm remote input.

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In addition to the usual creative quartet of Program, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority and fully Manual (PASM) shooting controls, the G3 also offers 16 individual scene modes and two user-defined custom settings. In addition the main shooting mode dial also accesses five Creative Control settings – Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic – which are essentially digital filter effects that give images a unique look. Using these Creative Controls puts the G3 into fully automatic shooting mode, although you can control exposure compensation and alter the depth of field.

More advanced users may prefer to use the G3’s six individual Photo Styles. The styles on offer include: Standard, Natural, Vivid, Monochrome, Scenery and Portrait. They can be applied to both still images or movies, and allow the user full control over the camera in any shooting mode, including fully manual.

As with previous Lumix models the G3 offers an intelligent Auto (iA) fully automatic mode, which is supplemented by an all-new iA mode that allows the user a bit more control, with access to white balance, exposure compensation and peripheral defocus settings. 

The G3 offers both a 3 inch, 460k-dot LCD monitor and a 1.44m-dot Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) for image composition and review purposes. We’ve generally found EVF systems to be a real let-down in the past with clunky performance, poor resolution and low-light flickering all contributing to a poor user experience. With that in mind, we have to concede that the G3’s 1.44m-dot equivalent EVF – the same one used on the G2 – is the best we’ve ever seen. Not only is it very large and bright, it’s also surprisingly clear and detailed, and covers 100% percent of the frame. Of course, it’s still nowhere near as clear as a traditional optical viewfinder, but for fans of mirror-less compact system cameras who want to be able to hold the camera to their eye, it’s the best solution we’ve yet seen on any camera currently on the market. 

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In addition to shooting, it is also possible to navigate your way through the G3’s menu system using the EVF, although in practice this proves pretty fiddly; the rear LCD is far easier to use when making menu-driven changes. The menu system itself is easy enough to navigate, but somewhat long-winded. First-time or novice users may even feel overwhelmed at the array of settings and functions. Some simplified explanations of what each function does would have been helpful, as included in many current entry-level DSLRs.     

The G3’s design signals a radical departure from its predecessors. Being 25 percent smaller and approx 50g lighter than the G2, it could well be argued that the G3 has more in common with the compact-styled GF2 than its G2 and G1 predecessors. Indeed, when we picked up our G3 production sample, our first thought was to liken it to a GF2 with an electronic viewfinder.

While the aluminium-fronted G3 still isn’t quite pocket-sized (unless you happen to have poacher-sized pockets), it remains far more discreet and significantly more portable than a full-sized DSLR. If miniaturisation is something that appeals or is important to you as a photographer, then the G3 does it very well indeed.

 

 As a result of the G3’s shrunken dimensions, physical controls have moved around a fair bit too. For example, the old metering and AF mode wheel that was found to the left of the EVF on the G2 has gone altogether, as has the G2’s deep, DSLR-like finger grip, replaced instead by a smaller and more compact-like sculpted grip. We’re pleased to report that this particular change doesn’t really cause any problems to handling though – it’s still possible to get a secure and comfortable hold of the G3.

 

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We did find that the buttons are fairly stiff, which is probably more of a blessing than a curse, as it makes accidental presses less likely. The rear thumbwheel isn’t easy to operate though, being both stiff and, crucially, a bit too far set into the body for our liking. In contrast, we found the G3’s touch-screen to be highly responsive to our various finger jabs and prompts, although it is difficult to see in bright sunlight.

While just about every aspect of the new G3 impresses, one early gripe we do have is with battery life. The new model uses a new 7V/1010mAH battery that doesn’t offer enough juice for more than a few hours shooting. On the day of our hands-on, we took the camera out for about an hour and a half in the morning on a full charge and reeled off just over 100 shots before returning to the office. During the afternoon while tinkering around with the camera some more and firing off a few more test shots, the battery finally died on us shortly after lunch.

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Moving on to the all-important question of image quality, Panasonic has been at pains to stress the improvements they’ve made with the G3. Having taken a hundred or so sample images ourselves, we find it hard to disagree with their claims. 

Images taken with the G3 deliver plenty of punch, with bright colours, sharp edges, accurate white balance and a noticeably wide dynamic range. In partnership with the Venus FHD image processor the new sensor also resolves plenty of fine detail. This is further aided by Panasonic’s Intelligent Resolution technology, which automatically detects edges, detail and soft graduations and processes them accordingly to leave edges sharp and detail intact.

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Overall, we’re mightily impressed by the specifications, performance and overall image quality of the G3. Despite only having spent limited time with the Lumix G3, we’re confident enough to say that it’s undoubtedly Panasonic’s best G-series model yet. We’d want to take a closer look at a few things before awarding an official TrsustedReviews score, but as things stand it looks like it could well be headed for a nine out of ten.

Available in a choice of black, white or red the new Lumix G3 will be available from July. Prices are yet to be announced though as are lens kits.   

 

 

 ISO 400 – Full image

 

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 IS0 400 – 100% crop

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ISO 800 – 100% crop

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ISO 1600 – 100% crop

 

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 ISO 3200 – 100% crop

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ISO 6400 – 100% crop

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Regular image taken without Creative Controls

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Expressive

 

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Retro

 

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High Key

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Sepia

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High Dynamic

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