Hands-on preview of the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3



Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-G3 is smaller, lighter, and simpler to use, but also more sophisticated



The third-generation G from Panasonic Lumix

Press Release: Panasonic announce the LUMIX G3

Panasonic Lumix launched the very first Micro Four Thirds Compact system camera, the DMC-G1, in September 2008. The same basic chassis developed into the GH1, and the GH2 premium models, as well as the G10 budget model, and last year's G1 successor, the G2. The G2 will continue to sell for now, but its eventual replacement, the G3, will ship in early summer, and is a completely new design. The G3's guide price is likely to be just over 600 here in the UK (the G2's street price is just under 400 with the 14-42 kit lens).

We have had the use of a pre-production G3 for a few days and although we have been asked not to publish full-resolution sample images, we do have a gallery of reduced-size sample images for your perusal.

Key new G3 features:

  • 16MP LiveMOS sensor
  • Improved high ISO noise performance
  • Pinpoint AF
  • 25% lower volume than G2
  • 9% lighter
  • Integrated stereo microphones
  • Venus Engine FHD from GH2
  • Full 1080 HD video in 60i or 50i
  • 20fps electronic shutter high-speed shooting mode at 4MP
  • Aluminium body

Outwardly, the new G3 retains the Lumix family look of the previous Gx and GHx models and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a very small DSLR. The 1.4 megadot electronic viewfinder is retained in slightly improved form. Closer inspection reveals that the G3 is substantially smaller and slightly lighter. Much of the reduction in volume has been achieved by reducing the size of the previously large hand grip and I feel it hasn't lost any handling security in the process.

Less control clutter, but...

There are also a lot less controls on the outside, partly because the context-driven touch screen can now accommodate a lot of these functions. The reduction in clutter on the outside of the G3's body is, on the one hand very welcome, but the relocation of the SD memory card slot from the side of the camera, where it was easily accessible even when the camera was mounted on a tripod, to next to the battery under the camera, compact-style, is less welcome. Some may also miss the deletion of the sensor that detected your face when you brought the viewfinder to your eye, now replaced by an EVF/LCD toggle button.

New 16MP LiveMOS sensor

Whether you think we need a hike from 12 megapixels to 16, the G3 has it. Panasonic knew that an increase in pixel count was enough on its own and despite the more crowded sensor, we're told that high ISO performance has actually been improved. While the G3 does benefit from the Venus Engine FHD developed for the GH2, much of the improved noise performance is down to on-chip improvements to the sensor, itself, says Panasonic. After all, the previous sensor was, basically, three years old. Initial inspection of our pre-production camera's high ISO results does seem to back Panasonic's claims.

Full HD video and fast 20fps stills

Another welcome boost to the G3 's specification is the inclusion of full HD video (1920x1080) at 50i or 60i frame rates, although 24p is not supported. You now get a stereo microphone built in, but there is no provision for an external microphone.

Panasonic has also decided to provide a bonus feature of the implementation of the Venus Engine FHD processor in the G3 by adding a 20 frames per second stills electronic shutter shooting mode at the reduced resolution of 4 megapixels.

Improved Auto and Manual Focus

Panasonic has worked tirelessly to stretch the performance of its autofocus system. Many boffins suggested that contrast-detect autofocus would be the Achilles heel of compact system cameras compared to DSLRs, but Panasonic now freely distributes technical data that indicates its AF system actually out-performs many DSLRs. The Lumix 14-140mm zoom will now focus in about 0.1 sec, while the standard 14-42mm kit zoom manages a creditable 0.18 sec, and the 45-200 telephoto zoom 0.15 sec. Contrast detect is also inherently more accurate than phased detect AF in DSLRs.

One valid criticism of contrast detect AF is that the focus points can be imprecise and miss finer details you want to focus onto, especially if there is contrasty detail in the background that the system more readily locks on to. To address this Panasonic has introduced Pinpoint AF which uses a much smaller area to evaluate focus. It can also be triggered by touch the screen where you want to direct focus to.

Manual Focus assist has been enhanced with an option that only magnifies a portion of the frame, retaining the full view if the frame while you can make fine adjustments to focus in a central box. This didn't seem to work properly on our pre-production camera, but its potential is clear and I expect it will be a fine enhancement in production cameras.

Construction and finish

A few notes on the build and design of the G3; the rubberised finish of previous models has been replaced by a more conventionally painted exterior. The shell is aluminium and in the UK will be available in black, red, and white. Other markets will also have the choice of a chocolate brown finish.

Mode changes

Panasonic was one of the first to introduce scene-detection modes that resulted in iA or intelligent Auto modes. Panasonic concedes that the full automation of iA is maybe too far flung from, say, Program mode, so there is now an iA+ mode that lets you control white balance and exposure compensation manually. Previously the only manual effect control in iA mode was defocus, or adjusting the aperture for depth of field. Incidentally, the old My Colour mode has been renamed Creative Control, and Film Mode is now called Creative Control.

From what we have seen, the G3 has had a very thoughtful redesign. It's more sleek and svelte than its predecessor and should be more familiar in use to photographers upgrading from compacts. Such customers are the primary target market for compact system camera manufacturers. We look forward to testing a full production example, but in the mean time I definitely feel we have something great to look forward to.

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