Panasonic Lumix G3 Micro Four Thirds Review - Joshua Waller reviews the new Panasonic Lumix G3, a Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic with a high resolution electronic viewfinder and new improved sensor.
The new Panasonic Lumix G3 is an update to the G2, and features an all new 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor, lower noise, high speed focusing (as fast as the GH2), with faster shooting than the G2, 4fps vs 3fps, and 20fps at 4mp. They have also dropped the number from the front of the camera to help the brand stand out as a Lumix "G" series camera. The camera will be available mid June, priced at £549 body only, or £629 with 14-42mm kit lens. Read the Panasonic Lumix G3 Announcement.
One of the key features is a completely new 16.3 megapixel Live MOS sensor, with 16.0 megapixels effective, the sensor promises lower noise than any preceding Panasonic Lumix camera. The sensor gives lower noise thanks to a "low noise pixel signal readout circuit" and a new "low noise signal amplifier circuit / noise elimination circuit".
The new sensor promises to deliver a Signal to Noise (S/N) improvement of 6 dB at ISO3200, and an improvement of 9 dB at ISO6400. What this means in laymen terms is that you should be able to get much smoother images with lower noise, increasing overall image quality.
An improved focusing system promises the world's fastest auto focus, with 0.1 second AF, thanks to the camera increasing the sensor drive to 120fps, compared to 60fps, during AF. This gives the camera the same ultra fast focusing speed as the more expensive Panasonic Lumix GH2.
Panasonic Lumix G3 Key Features
New 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor
3" touch screen, 460k dots
Improved viewfinder, 1.44 million pixels
Improved AF, switches to 120fps instead of 60fps, 0.1 seconds (with 14-42mm lens)
4fps continuous shooting (full resolution), 20fps at 4mp
Full HD video 1080i (60i/50i), AVCHD video, 1920x1080 60i/30p 50i/25p, stereo mic
ISO160, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400
Intelligent Dynamic-Range control
New intelligent auto plus allows brightness (exposure compensation), and colour (WB)
New framing/focus mode for manual focus, plus AF+MF mode
New compact aluminium body, 25% smaller than the G2
New colours: black, red, white, (brown outside the UK)
Size: 115.2 x 83.6 x 46.7 mm (excluding protrusions)
The top of the camera features a more compact mode dial with less options on the dial, and instead of featuring an Auto or iAuto selection on the dial, the camera's auto mode is accessed via the [P] Program mode - simply press the iA button on top of the camera to switch between Program and iAuto. (The iAuto button then lights up bright blue).
The battery compartment is also used for the memory card on the G3, meaning it's not as easy to access the memory card, when compared to the GH2, which has the slot on the side.
With a reduced size compared to the G2 the camera has a smaller hand grip. The cameras are available in three colours, and feature two tone colour, black and a black side, red and black sides, with black lenses, white and silver sides, and silver lens. The grip on the pre-production model varied depending what colour camera you used, with the black feeling as though it had the grippiest surface, as the hand grip and sides were rubberised, likewise with the red model, whereas the white/silver model did not appear to be rubberised. Using the black full production model I found the grip slightly improved, but still not ideal.
An easy to use touch screen, works as well as you would expect a decent touchscreen phone to work, and like the iPhone it allows you to swipe through your photos in playback mode. The touch screen allows you to focus on any area of the screen (increased area compared to the GH2), and will also allow you to take photos by touching the screen (if you want to). The camera, much like the GH2, does not force you to use the touchscreen, and you can quite happily use the camera fully without using the screen if you are not a fan.
The camera lets you view a live histogram, and interestingly lets you choose where to put the display, either using the 4-way controller / direction arrows or simply dragging it around the screen until you're happy with its position. Whilst not necessarily a deal breaker, it's simple and clever little features like this that someone out there will really appreciate (if that's you please let us know in the comments!). You can also view a live view of the microphone levels on screen, and in a lot of ways this camera feels like a "mini" GH2, although it features a 4:3 aspect ratio sensor, compared to the multi-aspect ratio sensor in the GH2. The G3 still gives you the choice of the same aspect ratios, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 however these are cropped from the 4:3 sensor.
The camera has a good number of buttons on the back and top of the camera - this lets you access your most favourite settings quickly and easily. The controls can further be customised, thanks to two shared Function buttons. The build quality appears to be very good, with an aluminium body, although the white model didn't exactly feel like aluminium due to the shiny coating on the body. The screen works well outdoors, although in extreme sunshine it becomes difficult to see, and switching to use the electronic viewfinder is recommended. The electronic viewfinder with 1.44 million pixels is very good, easy to see, and very clear, even for someone wearing glasses.
Whilst the G3 has a number of customisable buttons on the back, it does have less buttons and switches when compared to the G2 and GH2, most likely due to the size constraints of a smaller body. One other feature missing from the G3 is an eye sensor, meaning to switch to the EVF you will need to press the button on the back - this could be an issue for anyone coming straight from a DSLR with an optical viewfinder.
Speed: Switch on time is excellent, focusing speed is also very good, continuous shooting at 4fps is above average for an entry level system camera. There is some delay after taking several continuous shots when set to RAW + JPEG (maximum 7-8 shots), however there was very little lag in the actual display; tracking and photographing subjects was very easy.
Panasonic Lumix G3
Panasonic Lumix GH2
Focus Speed - Wide
Focus Speed - Telephoto
Switch on time to first photo
Shot to shot - w/o flash
Shot to shot - w flash
Continuous shooting - JPEG
4fps, 8 shots*
5fps, 6 shots
Continuous shooting - with flash
Continuous shooting - RAW
4fps, 8 shots*
5fps, 7 shots
* Live view off. continuous shooting also available with live view Low: 0.5 (2fps, 8), medium: 3fps (7)
without live view: 4fps (H, 8 shots): SH: (20fps, electronic shutter, reduced resolution 4mp).
Compared to the Panasonic Lumix GH2, the lower priced G3 performs very well, matching the fast focusing of the GH2, and giving a very quick switch on time, and nearly as fast continuous shooting.
Battery life: Rated at 270 shots when using the LCD, according to Panasonic / CIPA standards, I took around 250 shots and battery life was still showing as full. Under continued use, the camera would take around 270 shots and then the battery would need charging again.
Menus: The Panasonic menus are well laid out into a number of sections: photo, video, custom, playback, and setup. The video menu has a wealth of options including: photo style, record mode, record quality, focus mode, picture mode, wind cut, digital tele converter (allows digital zoom without the loss of video quality), digital zoom, to name a few of the options. Really clear electronic viewfinder, sharp, detailed, good size even for people who wear glasses. Clear menus, scene modes really clearly explained with detailed text for each mode. Quick menus. Touch screen works well, and most of the time you don't need to use it, however often it was quicker to use the touch screen.
Live view mode (Histogram, and Microphone levels switched on)
The custom menu lets you change the function buttons and if you do change the shared display / fn1 and quick menu / fn2 buttons you can still use these as virtual buttons by pressing them on the screen. Playback gives you one video edition option, splitting a video, but no further video editing options.
Here are several sample photos taken in a variety of lighting conditions, click to view full size sample photos:
The camera performed rapidly and produced pleasing images with great colour and detail.
White balance: Auto white balance is most likely to give the best results, although using the preset or custom white balance can improve the results, and warm up the image.
Auto White Balance - Tungsten
Tungsten Preset - Tungsten Light
Auto White Balance - Fluorescent
Creative control (previously called "My Colour" mode) lets you set the colour as: Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, High Dynamic.
Photo mode (previously Film mode) lets you set the colour as: Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait, or Custom.
Poppies in the Sun
Portrait - Beauty Shot
ISO performance: The camera has very low noise at ISO160, ISO200 and ISO400, and even upto ISO800 images appear to be noise free. At ISO1600 a hint of noise starts to appear, with ISO3200 images still showing low noise levels, although it does become more visible. At ISO6400 noise is noticeable, but the results are still very impressive. It appears as though the new sensor is really delivering impressive improvements to image quality.
Additional sample photos:
Full optical zoom
Flowers - the kit lens does a decent job at close up focusing.
Flicker reduction video option - 50/60/100/120hz works well to reduce or completely remove flicker picked up from TVs/LCD screen etc. Full HD video sample shown above.
Value for Money
The 14-42mm kit lens features built in IS, called MEGA Optical Image Stabilisation (although does not have a switch on the side, like the 14-140mm lens), and this should enable sharp shots even in low light situations. The introductory price, of £549 body only, or £629 with kit lens is very competitive and I expect this will stay competitive with the competition as it drops over time.
DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.
The Panasonic Lumix G3 features new easier to use creative modes (high key, sepia, etc), film modes (vivid, landscape etc), and most importantly further enhances image quality with a new sensor capable of improved noise performance. Other improvements such as improved focusing and continuous shooting speed, and a more compact body make an appealing system even more interesting, particularly if you want SLR style quality without the typical size associated with SLR sized cameras.
The improved focusing speeds, really are impressive, and it makes you wonder when traditional SLRs at this price point are going to catch up, likewise with the easy to use and impressive touchscreen. With such impressive image quality and high speed focusing, the reasons for buying a true Digital SLR seem to be becoming less and less important, and the added bonus of a much more compact system is making the Micro Four Thirds systems much more appealling, especially with the number of high quality lenses available increasing.
The Panasonic Lumix G3 is an excellent performer with a much lower price than the GH2.
Panasonic Lumix G3 Pros:
VERY fast focusing
Increased image quality, lower noise
Excellent swivel screen
A bit like a "mini" GH2 but a much better price
Great electronic viewfinder
Full HD video with stereo sound
Panasonic Lumix G3 Cons:
Short battery life
Grip could be better
Lacks in camera image stabilisation (lens based)