HandlingThe G3 has has changed more than the G2 did compared with the original G1. It has a slimmer body than the G2, with a grip handle that's almost as small as in the GF2, and with the same tapered design. To the left of the lens the camera has lost almost a centimetre of its former bulk. As a result, the focusing mode-selection dial that used to be on the camera's left upper edge has been replaced by buttons on the right-hand side of the camera. Similarly, the slimming down of the grip handle means that the shutter-release button has been moved backwards to where the video button used to be (which is now found on the back of the camera). In fact, the G3's buttons seem to have played musical chairs, and the losers (exposure lock, focusing mode, live view, Fn, video) have found themselves sharing a button, dial or relegated to the Quick menu.
That said, the G3 has acquired one of the star features of the GF2, as the Quick menu can be entirely customised. You can now fill this three-page menu with a maximum twelve functions or settings of your choice. Don't forget that you can also customise the Disp and Q.Menu buttons, since access to these features is also available via the touchscreen. The G3 therefore takes a little more time and effort to set up than the G2 did, but it's worth it in the long run, as the camera can be tailored entirely to your own personal preferences.
The G3 has a touchscreen interface but all of the options can also be accessed by buttons and dials on the camera body, so you don't have to use it if you don't want to. However, we found it quite handy for telling the autofocus what to focus on in shooting mode (the subject you choose is then automatically tracked) or for moving around in an image you've zoomed in on in playback mode.
Anyone who's into manual focusing is sure to like Panasonic's magnification window, which allows you to see the whole image while simultaneously viewing a zoomed section of the shot so you can check that it's sharp. This function has already been seen in the FZ30 and FZ50 but for some reason didn't feature in Panasonic's first G cameras.
The electronic viewfinder hasn't changed much since the G1: it's clear, effective in low light and fairly big, although some of you may find the rainbow effects annoying. It's also not as contrasted as the Olympus E-P2 electronic viewfinder, for example. Plus, those of you who do decide to use it might be disappointed to find that there's no longer a motion sensor to detect when you bring your face up to the camera. You'll therefore have to switch the screen on and off manually.
ResponsivenessThe G3 has the same autofocus system as the GH2, which speeds up the sensor's image capturing capabilities while focusing to help it analyse contrast levels more quickly. To be honest, it didn't take our breath away, since the G3's autofocus is just as fast as the G2's ... but that's probably because the G2 already did an excellent job! In any case, for a static subject in basic AF mode, the Lumix G3 could give plenty of SLRs a run for their money.
The G3 saves photos and starts up quickly. The burst mode has got slightly faster too, boosted to 4.5 fps for 7 frames in RAW+Jpeg and 11 for Jpeg only.
The G3 can't beat SLRs in one field though, and that's tracking fast subjects in continuous AF mode. This is generally a speciality of SLRs thanks to what's known as a phase-correlation autofocus system, which helps SLRs stay one step ahead of compacts with interchangeable lenses (apart from models that only have electronic viewfinders, like the Sony Alpha 55 'fake' SLR).
Picture QualityOld habits die hard, and since the days of Olympus SLRs with Kodak sensors, we've been used to seeing sensitivity as a real stumbling block for micro four-thirds cameras, even if Panasonic's sensors have gone a long way to improving things.
The GH2 was a real step forward, with a new-generation sensor boasting integrated analogue-to-digital converters. The MOS sensor in the G3 is of the same generation, but the digital-to-analogue converters are no longer integrated. In theory, this should lead to an increase in digital noise.
In spite of our reservations, the G3 was a really nice surprise—noise is no more visible than it was in the G2. Pictures are impeccable up to 1600 ISO with no visible trace of noise or smoothing, and although granularity starts to become visible at 3200 ISO, it won't be a problem on 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints. At 6400 ISO, quality drops a bit more, and even if the Sony NEX-5 does better, the G3 seriously closes the gap with cameras with APS sensors (in fact, it does much better than the recent Samsung NX11).
We've already tried and tested this Panasonic 14-42 mm kit lens. Although it's a little soft at wide-angle settings at full aperture, it's really quite good from f/5.6. The stabilisation system is effective from 1/6 seconds, which is perfectly acceptable. On the whole then, it's a decent kit lens even if it's not quite as good as the Olympus 14-42 mm lens (which can't be used with a Panasonic camera since Olympus has opted for mechanical stabilisation).
VideoApart from the fact that the G3 no longer has a multi-aspect sensor, thus reducing the wide angle in 16:9 video mode, this camera's video function isn't quite as impressive as in Panasonic's GH2. Video buffs will no doubt mourn the loss of the 24p mode, even if the G3's 50i mode is excellent. The image is sharp, perfectly contrasted and bears no trace of fuzzy noise. The continuous autofocus works well and you can point out a subject on the touchscreen for the camera to lock on to.
We were, however, disappointed to see that there's no longer a manual video mode—you can't even adjust the exposure while filming—and that the microphone socket has been ditched. The G3 does have a built-in stereo microphone, but this doesn't seem to be quite as good as the one in the GH2, as there's a faint continuous whooshing noise in the background. A microphone socket would have been a good way of getting round this. What's even more frustrating is that the G3 still has a remote control connection port which, on the G2, was also used to hook up a microphone—the removal of microphone compatibility therefore isn't a physical restriction.
- Touchscreen works well for certain functions (e.g. selecting the focusing zone)
- Customisable controls (Fn buttons and Quick menu)
- Impeccable picture quaity up to 1600 ISO
- Good iA mode
- Picture quality in video mode
- Noisy shutter
- Limited battery life
- Limited video mode (no multi-aspect function, mic socket or manual mode)
- Handling could be better - not so comfortable for users with larger hands
- Rainbow effects and inferior dynamic range in viewfinder, no presence detector
The Panasonic Lumix G3 is a good technical upgrade of the G2, improving sensitivity and bringing Full HD video with stereo sound. However, its slightly fiddly handling won't please everyone and the limits imposed on the video mode are rather frustrating.