Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 May 2011
Panasonic Lumix G3 first look review
Replacing the Panasonic Lumix G2, the Lumix G3 is Panasonic’s eighth micro four thirds camera to date meaning that there is now a well-established and compatible set of lenses and accessories available. We got the chance to take a first look at the new camera ahead of our full, lab-tested review.
The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 is a compact system camera, which means it's smaller and lighter than a typical digital SLR but you can still change the lens of the camera for more versatile and creative photography.
Compared to its predecessor, the Lumix G2, the G3 has a newly-designed 16Mp Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine image processor. Not only does the G3 take higher-resolution photos than the G2, Panasonic claims the new image processor will result in less grainy 'noise' in shots take in low-light.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 first look video
Related: How to buy the best digital SLR
Faster and lighter
On paper, the Lumix G3's new processor makes it faster than the G2. In its burst mode, the G3 takes four photos per second at full resolution, and an impressive 20 photos per second at 4Mp. By comparison, our researchers measured the G2 as taking a shot every 0.35 seconds in burst mode - slightly fewer than three photos per second. Whether Panasonic's claims for the G3 will match our testing results remains to be seen.
While these changes should improve the overall performance of the camera, the appeal to many buyers will be its compact body. The Panasonic G3 weighs around 340g and is, according to Panasonic, about 25% smaller than the G2. When combined with the traditionally lighter micro four thirds lenses, this makes the G3 an ideal alternative to a full-size digital SLR.
Enhanced, speedy auto-focus system
The new Venus Engine image processor also improves the camera's auto-focus (AF) system. Panasonic claims that the camera can take just 0.1 seconds to automatically focus, which will suit those point-and-shoot moments. The speed of the AF is lens-dependent, however, and will also change depending on the distance from the subject and the lighting conditions. It is, in effect, a 'best case scenario' estimate - one we'll be testing in the labs.
The new Panasonic G3 also introduces a new pinpoint AF mode for precise focussing. While we didn't get to try this feature out in our hands-on first look, it should allow for finer focussing, something that will be necessary when the depth-of-field is shallow and the user wants to blur the background or foreground of a shot. It should also be useful when the subject of the photograph is close to the camera.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 photo gallery
AF tracking in Full HD video mode (1080i)
AF tracking enables the camera to keep a moving subject in focus until the user is ready to take the shot. On the G3 AF tracking is now available in the camera's video mode, which should make it far easier to use.
Panasonic has upgraded the video mode for the G3, too. The Lumix DMC-G3 has a Full HD video mode offering 1080i resolution, whereas the the G2 only offered HD at 720i resolution. Video clips are saved to an SD memory card in the AVCHD file format, which is more compressed than the Motion JPEG format used by some cheaper models. It means you can fit far more HD video onto a single SD card without any discernible loss of quality.
A built-in stereo microphone is also new to the G3, and there's also a 2.5mm socket to fit an external microphone to, though this also needs to be connected to the hot shoe mount on the top of the camera. Video can be captured at 50 frames per second, which will give smooth playback when watched on your HD TV or PC monitor.
Free-angle LCD and electronic viewfinder (EVF)
Micro four third cameras are a type of compact system camera. The term 'system' means that they have interchangeable lenses, like those found on digital SLRs. These cameras are much smaller than digital SLRs, however, and this has been achieved due to the removal of the mirror box found in digital SLRs. Such a design has become possible with the recent advent of LCDs and electronic viewfinders.
The G3, like the G2, has an articulated, 3-inch, 460k dot, touchscreen LCD. It can be adjusted to a number of angles for easier composition when shooting from awkward angles. In bright conditions, when it’s harder to see the screen, users can compose their shots by using the 1.44million dot electronic viewfinder. Using the electronic viewfinder should help steady the camera, too.
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Intelligent Auto (iA) features
The iA, or intelligent Automatic mode, is prevalent on most new cameras from Panasonic. It’s the mode that tells the camera to pick the best settings rather than the user. With the Lumix G3 we are introduced to iA+, which works on the same principle as iA, inasmuch as it tells the camera to choose the setting. With iA+, however, it gives the user back a little more control – such as defocusing the background or turning up the colour saturation. This could prove a nice compromise for those wishing to experiment without fiddling with all the camera settings.
The Panasonic Lumix G3 that we handled was a pre-production model, so was lacking some of the features that will be on the G3 when it launches. But in it's simple shooting mode we were able to take some great shots, with sharp detail and accurate colours. As with previous models, the electronic viewfinder is fantastic - it trumps the use of the LCD in most scenarios.
The upgrade to the video resolution (720i to 1080i) and built-in microphone (mono to stereo) makes it an attractive option for video shooting, too. All told the G3 is a promising camera, particularly as its replacing a very popular camera in the G2.
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 will launch in the coming months and cost around £550 for the body alone, or £630 for the body with a 14-42mm kit lens.
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