Panasonic GF3 Hands-On Preview

June 13, 2011 | Zoltan Arva-Toth | Compact System Camera | 20 Comments | |
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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.

Panasonic GF3 Preview
The white version of the Panasonic GF3 with a Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens and neck-strap attached.

Panasonic GF3 PreviewOne 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.

Panasonic GF3 Preview
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.

Image Gallery

Click on a thumbnail to see the full version.

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Your Comments

20 Comments | Newest Oldest First | Post a Comment

#1 Jesper Hansen

What's the marked I fail to see this.

There's no flash shoe ?

7:02 am - Monday, June 13, 2011

#2 Deeso

Nope. No hot shoe.

8:47 am - Monday, June 13, 2011

#3 David H.

I'm one of the many who are very disapointed with Panasonic replacing the GF2 so soon. I would welcome fater AF and better picture quality, but size does not really help me, as I am 6ft 2 with quite large hands and smaller does not really help here! I find the current GF2 is already a bad balance with some of Panasonics larger lenses. I have 14mm,20mm,7-14mm,45mm macro and 45-200mm but I now really need to consider my next move carefully.

12:37 pm - Monday, June 13, 2011

#4 chris

Is there any image stabilization with this camera?

3:35 pm - Monday, June 13, 2011

#5 ed g.

I'm sure the market is just clamoring for a $700 pure point-and-shoot.

Now that Panasonic has got the "must be as small, ugly, and useless ass a NEX" thing out of their system, maybe they can make an actual upgrade of the GF1?

Until then, no sale.

4:57 pm - Monday, June 13, 2011

#6 Eman

without the hot-shoe and optional viewfinder what's the point of buying it?
With 14-42 lens it's gonna be bulky to the point of being pointless portability - wise. and besides portability it has nothing to offer.
Guess I'll just wait for lx-7 whenever it's gonna be, get broader lens range and save some money, or go for G3.
I've got no idea who are they gonna market it for, but anyway the way Panasonic is going with Lumix range, they might loose enthusiast - compact segment altogether.

5:39 pm - Monday, June 13, 2011

#7 The G

While I'd love a Panasonic upgrade to my GF1 that has ISO performance up there with a decent DSLR (like the lovely new Fujifilm x100), I'm still intrigued by the size of the GF3 - my GF1 is great but still feels a bit bulky, especially when using it on a night out. This looks like it could be the first truly compact camera with DSLR quality.

6:12 pm - Monday, June 13, 2011

#8 Daniel

You got to know how Sony enjoyed the sale of their Nex system. (especially in Japan) And to the opposite, the question is why MFT system can't be smaller than Sony's APS-C system. Panasonic and Olympus try hard to beat Sony in this segmanet, but Sony certainly has the upper hand right now.

3:46 am - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#9 Antony Shepherd

It's getting to the point where the camera is so small that even the smallest lenses look disproportionately large by comparison.

Surely the next stage of development has to be making the lenses more compact to better match the camera?

9:22 am - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#10 Zoltan Arva-Toth

Chris: This camera has no sensor-shift anti shake mechanism built into the body, but you can buy a number of stabilised lenses for it.

11:05 am - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#11 KINOman

Don't kid yourself this camera is nothing more than simple point and shoot with quality sensor. It has no shooting mode dial which means you have do dig through clutter of menu options just to make change shooting mode. No manual mode either so you are stuck using the presets. This camera is not for everyone, but there will be a select few that will like what it has to offer in such a small package.

3:16 pm - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#12 Zoltan Arva-Toth

KINOman: Actually, you don't have to go into the menu to change the shooting mode. The icon of the active mode is displayed in the top-left corner of the touch screen. To change it, you just tap this icon, and you are immediately presented with a "virtual mode dial" - i.e. the icons of the available shooting modes, arranged in a circle. You simply touch the icon of the shooting mode you want to use, and you're done. It may sound like a pain but in actual use, you can change shooting modes in about a second, with just two taps on the screen. The camera is extremely responsive in use.

There is a manual mode too, along with P, A and S, just like on most other enthusiast/prosumer models. Of course the manual exposure mode is not as straightforward to use as on a camera with two control wheels, but it's there if you need it.

That said, I tend to agree with you that you could use this camera as a point-and-shoot if you wanted to - in fact it's arguably better suited to that kind of photography than many of the cameras we normally refer to as point-and-shoots, simply because it's so fast at acquiring focus, determining exposure and taking the shot.

4:27 pm - Tuesday, June 14, 2011

#14 Paulie

I have GF-1, and love it. would like GF-3, but how an I going to connect to external flash with no hot shoe or flash PC connector???

1:55 am - Sunday, June 19, 2011

#15 Paulie

Needs hot shoe or PC flash synch connector. How about making the face detect indicate Where I have just focused my LEica M Mount lens on the display. Are there any Hacks for my GF-1 to do this? I have Special an old man focus his Summilux in the dark Please?

5:00 am - Sunday, June 19, 2011

#16 David H.

I bought GF2 as I wanted highest quality video (stereo) etc., over the GF1
I am an enthusiastic LX3 owner and like the manual controls etc., so I made "DO" with the GF2 system as there was no choice for me.

With the GF3 surely someone at Panasonic should get sacked??! is is surely a backwards step or a publicity spoiler to keep up with SONY NEX launch?

It will only look cool with the super small 14mm as even the 14-42 makes the GF2 bulky.

I wonder if Panasonic even listen to their customers??

GF series cameras have been reverse evolving as the numbers increment!

The laws of Physics let us understand the size of the lenses on Micro 4/3rds, maybe future models will look more like lens caps attached to rear of lenses with perhaps a roll up 3" screen!!!

I love the 20mm and the 45mm Leica macro, and the new price of the exciting Leica DG SUMMILUX 25 mm f/1.4 (predicted) seems eyewatering.

I would make more sense for me to go back to DSLR as the Nikon 50mm f1.4 is a bargain by comparison.

I would have liked GH2 quality images in a smaller size GF body (with a good optional viewfinder) - not too much to ask surely?

11:04 am - Tuesday, June 21, 2011

#17 Christiaan

By the time they actually upgrade the promising GF1 my iPhone will be taking better photos.

9:35 pm - Tuesday, June 28, 2011

#18 Available Light

I'm quite tempted by this, with the 20mm lens it will be that bit more pocketable than my GF-1 for when I'm out snapping and will provide a handy second body (which can still take my old Leica lenses) for those times when that's what you need.

9:37 pm - Sunday, July 3, 2011

#19 mick / Lumix

ยต4/3 quality in a tiny body, I want one ! Cannot understand any one complaining about what it lacks. If you want full frame Canon facilities then buy one and hump the size / weight. Cameras are not just a spec sheet, you must thing about how you will use and carry it. Most of us are amateur snappers (even after 45 + years experience !), why do so many in the forums have to bang on as if they are pros and only a 'Blad will do ?

9:16 pm - Thursday, July 28, 2011

#20 violin8

No viewfinder, this is a seriously defective camera.

1:13 am - Thursday, December 15, 2011