Hands-on preview of the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3

Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-GF3 is the smallest and simplest Micro Four Thirds compact system camera yet

Until now, Panasonic has produced Micro Four Thirds compact system cameras that satisfy the needs of serious and casual photographers .A year ago, on the other hand, Sony, stormed the market with it's Alpha NEX compact system camera platform which prioritised size and style over traditional photographic camera ergonomics. It seems to me that the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is a direct response to Sony's NEX. The GF3 is by far the smallest and lightest Micro Four Thirds body to date. It's also stripped of many of the buttons and knobs of previous models, although it does have that increasingly familiar touch screen. The GF3 is clearly designed to appeal to casual fun-orientated photographers; it has a cool and fun style about it.

We have had some time getting to know a pre-production GF3 sample and can offer you an exclusive set of product images on our visual tour page, and full resolution sample images in our sample gallery.

Key features:

  • 12.1 megapixel LiveMOS sensor
  • Venus Engine VII HD
  • 4 frames per second continuous shooting
  • Aluminium chassis
  • Extremely small and light
  • Simplified controls
  • 3 inch 460K dot wide screen touch-sensitive LCD
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Fast contrast detect AF with pinpoint mode
  • Face detection and recognition modes
  • Full HD (1080 25i) video recording

So what is the GF3 like?

The first impression is that Panasonic has done a remarkable job of making the design small and light. It's also more 'hip' than previous designs which have appealed to more serious enthusiast photographers. There are fewer external controls than before; there is no physical control wheel, replaced by a button-operated virtual wheel on-screen. The design of the GF3 works brilliantly with the very slim Panasonic Lumix 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens and with that lens fitted, the camera happily stowed away in my jeans pocket. The compact design becomes slightly compromised when using larger lenses like the 14-42mm kit lens, but unlike APS-C compact system cameras from Sony and Samsung, Micro Four Thirds lenses are comparatively small and light thanks to the smaller image sensor used.

If you frequently change settings then you will definitely be slowed down by the GF3's user interface compared to a GF1 or GF2, but I found it easy to get used to and as the intelligent Auto (iA) mode very reliable, I was quite happy to use this for much of the time. Unlike the new 16MP G3, the GF3 sticks with the now familiar 12.1 MP LiveMOS sensor. ISO sensitivity is limited to 6400 instead of ISO 12800, but you do get Full HD (1080 25i) video recording.

One thing you won't be doing much of when using a GF3 is waiting around for the camera to do its thing. Shutter response is excellent - maybe too good as I was constantly taking accidental shots by touching the finger-friendly screen. This is a resistive-type touch screen instead of the capacitive type commonly used on smartphones. Autofocus is also pleasingly swift and positive, especially when using pinpoint mode, introduced with the G3, for locking focus reliably on thin or small image details.

The bottom line is that our day using the GF3 was a positive one and we look forward very much to trying out a final production example.