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A hands-on preview of the new Panasonic GF3 compact system camera, accompanied by a gallery of images.
The 12-megapixel Panasonic Lumix GF3 is the smallest and lightest camera in the entire Lumix G Micro System. Successor to last year’s GF2, the Lumix GF3 sports a new design characterised by clean lines, gentle curves and a polished exterior. Perhaps the most striking bit about the Panasonic GF3 is its size: with a pancake lens like Panasonic’s own 14mm f/2.5 fitted, the GF3 is about the same size as a typical fixed-lens compact camera, even though it boasts a much bigger sensor. Small cameras like this often suffer from button clutter but a quick look at our hands-on photos of the GF3 should convince you this is not the case here.
The white version of the Panasonic GF3 with a Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens and neck-strap attached.
One of the reasons is that the GF3 makes more use of its touch-sensitive rear screen than perhaps any Micro Four Thirds camera that came before it. This may not sound like good news to old-school photography aficionados who like to access and change settings using knobs, dials, buttons and levers, but the iPhone generation will likely embrace it wholeheartedly. The main changes versus the GF2 - apart from the obvious size/weight reduction and design overhaul - include the omission of the flash hot-shoe / accessory terminal and the rear-mounted thumb-wheel, and the inclusion of a scroll wheel around the four-way pad; a first on a Panasonic Lumix G Micro System camera. Another change to the user interface is that the Up button is now dedicated to exposure compensation rather than ISO sensitivity. On the other hand, the 3” screen, Playback and Quick Menu / Function buttons are practically unchanged. The mechanical button for the pop-up flash has also been retained, although its position changed somewhat along with that of the flash itself. The top-mounted controls - including the shutter release, movie record button, power switch and dedicated intelligent Auto button - have been reshuffled and grouped more tightly together, but otherwise remained essentially the same both in appearance and functionality. The GF2’s stereo microphones have given way to a more modest monaural mic.
The menu system of the Panasonic GF3 is similar to that of the G3, the main difference being that with fewer physical controls at your disposal, you are likely to use it more often. Thankfully, the Quick Menu is still available at the press of a button, and is extensively customisable to boot; allowing you to populate it with the items/functions you use most often. The gesture support of the touch-screen comes in handy here, as you can tailor the contents of the Quick Menu to your tastes with drag-and-drop simplicity. The Q.Menu/Fn button can be reprogrammed for easy access to one specific function, but alas, this robs you of hard-button access to the Quick Menu.
As with the GF2 and the newer G series models, the biggest benefit of the touch-screen is that you can set focus - and, optionally, exposure - to practically any part of the frame at the touch of a finger. This is much faster than any other focus point selection method we’ve encountered, and works extremely well. Add to this the blazingly fast auto-focus system and imperceptible shutter lag of the Panasonic GF3, and you’ve got a camera that can capture fast action and fleeting moments like few others can. One novelty here versus the GF2 - only seen in the G3 before - is that in addition to 1-Area, Multi-Area and Face Detect AF you can now choose a new auto-focus area mode called Pinpoint AF. In this mode you touch the area of the frame where your subject is, whereupon said area gets magnified in order to allow you to set the focus point with pinpoint accuracy using a second touch. While this method is obviously slower than the others, it can be very useful when shooting, say, a portrait with shallow depth of field where you will want to make sure focus is on the subject’s eyes rather than her nose, ears or eyebrows.
Another new feature borrowed from the G3 is the new iA+ (intelligent Auto Plus) mode that allows beginners to adjust depth of field, exposure and colour balance using Defocus, Brightness and Colour sliders, without having to learn about concepts like f-stops, shutter speeds or WB first.
During our few hours of use of the camera at a Panasonic press event held in Rome last week, we have found the Panasonic GF3 to be an extremely fast and responsive little shooter that produced highly detailed, sharp and consistently well-focussed images of both moving and stationary subjects. Although we shall reserve final judgment until we can bring you a fully-fledged in-depth review, we can confidently predict that the Panasonic GF3 will likely please anyone looking for high-quality images and point-and-shoot simplicity in a compact and lightweight package. As to current GF2 users, the decision of whether or not to trade up will depend on whether the approximately 17% size reduction, 15% weight loss, speedier auto-focus, new GUI and feature set and arguably more attractive design can outweigh the negatives of losing the flash hot shoe, accessory port, stereo microphones and dedicated ISO button.
The Panasonic GF3’s battery compartment and new battery pack.
Below is a full hands-on gallery of Panasonic GF3 photos showing it off from every angle.
Click on a thumbnail to see the full version.