Cameras

Panasonic G3 Digital Camera Review

We've given the Panasonic G3 and its new 16-megapixel sensor all it can handle, and the results are in.

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Introduction

The G3 is yet another step by Panasonic in their attempts to bring the Micro to the whole of their Micro Four-Thirds line, shrinking yet another G-series camera down by a significant margin. The Panasonic G3 offers a compact metal body, 16-megapixel CMOS image sensor, articulated high-resolution rear LCD, full hot shoe, and electronic viewfinder, at a decidedly entry-level price point of $700 with lens included. The G3 is available June 2011 in black, brown, white, and red.

Front

Front Tour Image

Back

Back Tour Image

Sides

Sides Tour Image

Top

Top Tour Image

Bottom

Bottom Tour Image

In the Box

Box Photo

The Panasonic DMC-G3 comes body only as well as kitted with the 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens and/or the 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 lens along with:

  • Neck Strap
  • AC Adapter
  • USB/AV cable
  • DMW-BLD10 Li-ion Battery
  • Lens cap/body cap
  • Lens hood
  • Touchscreen stylus

Lens & Sensor

There are two kit lenses available with the Panasonic G3, a 14-42mm (28-84mm 35mm equivalent) and a 45-200mm f/4.0-5.6 (90-400mm equivalent) telephoto lens. The G3 can be purchased body-only, kitted with the 14-42mm option by itself, or with both the 14-42mm and the 45-200mm lenses. Our testing, for the record, was done utilizing the 14-42mm lens, which we found to feel chintzy, with less sharp results than other MFT kit lenses we've tested. It wasn't awful, but it really needs to be stopped down to f/8-10 to be truly effective. It lacked a hard focus stop, but had a fairly standard 52mm filter thread diameter.

The G3 makes use of its latest 4/3'' Live MOS image sensor, with 15.83 effective pixels. The sensor provides an exposure range of 0-18 EV and a 100-6400 ISO range. It's a newly designed (or at least newly retooled) Panasonic MFT sensor, that shows great improvement in its handling of high ISO shots, something that Panasonic had to remedy in light of what Sony's been able to accomplish with their NEX-5 camera at high ISO speeds.

The main thing holding back previous generations of Panasonic MFT cameras has been the reliance on a relatively old 12-megapixel image sensor. Both the GH2 and the G3 now feature higher resolution sensors that tend to process much cleaner images. The G3 actually sees some improvement over the GH2, meaning that Panasonic will have to really up the ante with their next GH-series camera to properly differentiate SKUs.

Viewfinder

The G3 does not include an optical viewfinder as a traditional DSLR might. Instead, like other Panasonic options, the camera is given a 1,440k pixel electronic viewfinder. This has also allowed Panasonic to eliminate the need for a physical phase detection autofocus sensor, likely shaving off some weight. That does mean that this is a contrast-only AF system, though we found it quite speedy. If you're used to the optical viewfinder found on traditional DSLRs then the electronic view may feel odd at first. Eventually, we found that it gets the job done, though we'll still trust optical viewfinders to offer more accurate judgement of focus.

Display(s)

Whether making use of the rear 460k-dot articulated touchscreen or the 1440k-dot live viewfinder, the G3 provides a great deal of onscreen information. Using the electronic viewfinder is benefited somewhat by this additional information, but the screen still lacks the accuracy of an optical viewfinder.

Flash

The Panasonic G3 features a built-in pop-up flash. Panasonic loves to tout the built-in flash element, as opposed to the Sony NEX-series cameras that have flash attachments. The included flash has a guide number of 10.5 meters at the camera's minimum ISO of 160. We've never been a big fan of the quality of built-in flashes, and this isn't changing our opinion, but it's of a reasonable quality that works fine in a pinch.

Flash Photo

The flash emitter pops up from the top of the body via a mechanical release.

Connectivity

The G3 includes a mini-HDMI port, proprietary AV/USB port, and a 2.5mm remote jack. The ports are all included behind a rubber flap on the right side of the camera, opposite where these same ports were located on the G2. This means that when the LCD is flipped out to the side, the ports will not be blocked by the screen. This also means that if you're shooting a self-portrait and using a remote release, or connecting directly to anything by USB or HDMI, the cables won't obstruct your view of the LCD.

Battery

The G3 includes a proprietary lithium-ion battery, model no. DMW-BLD10PP. The battery has a capacity of 1010 mAH, which we found worked for several hours of general use before needing a recharge. The battery charges through a standard compact AC adapter, with a flip-out plug.

Battery Photo

Memory

The Panasonic G3 supports SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, with the maximum listed option being Panasonic's Class 10 64GB SDXC card. The camera will likely support higher capacity cards in the future, but 64GB should be enough for even the most demanding photographer.

Memory Photo

The K2000 accepts inexpensive, easy to find SD cards.

Media Photo

Image Quality

Sharpness

There have been some initial complaints from other websites about the quality of the 14-42mm lens, but we found it to be a perfectly good option. The main issue taken with the lens is that at the largest and smallest apertures there is considerable falloff in sharpness in the upper corners—common for any kit lens, really—but that is greatly alleviated by stopping down. At 14mm f/2.5, we found horizontal sharpness was 1807.7 lw/ph in the center, but dipped to less than 650 at the edges. When stopped down to f/9, it was still 1809.95 lw/ph in the center, but sharpness stayed at 1446.21 at the edges (though dipped slightly midway). That's not an uncommon phenomenon and while we've seen other Panasonic 14-42mm models test better, these results shouldn't scare anyone away. More on how we test sharpness.



Image Stabilization

The Panasonic G3 features stabilization built into the lens, but controlled through the menu. There are stabilization modes for both horizontal and vertical correction. In testing the horizontal mode, we found there to be a general improvement in the slowest shutter speeds in low shake scenarios. When a heavier shake was applied there was some improvement at 1/250 of a second, but sharpness either got worse or did not improve noticeably at other shutter speeds.

Color

In our testing, we found most of the standard "photo style" color profiles to be very accurate, generally with a color error of less than four. The most accurate two we found were the "standard" and "natural" settings, both of which registered an average color error of around 2.61. This is right in line with what we would expect from an entry-level or midrange DSLR. The only difference between the two modes was the amount of saturation (98.07% of the ideal for natural, 102.9% for standard) and the additional sharpening added by the standard mode. More on how we test color.

NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.

The Panasonic G3's new sensor proves the company's still got it where it counts, with the most accurate color rendition of any of the cameras in our comparison group. The camera improved moderately on the G2's score, which was also very good. The NX100 had the worse color accuracy of any of the cameras in our comparison group, with the Sony NEX-5 not too far ahead. The E-PL2 from Olympus split the difference between the NEX-5 and the Panasonic models.

Color Modes

There are seven photo styles in total: standard, vivid, natural, monochrome, scenery, portrait, and custom. Each mode allows the user to make fine adjustments to contrast, sharpness, saturation, and noise reduction on a +/- 2 scale. The standard and natural mode, as explained above, were the most accurate and returned nearly identical results. Vivid enhanced the saturation, dialing it up to 123% of the ideal, greatly promoting blues and magenta. Scenery greatly oversaturated blues and dark greens, for landscapes. Portrait brought up blues and skin tones, with monochrome applying a monochromatic color cast over the image.

White Balance

We found that the G3's white balance system worked the same way as the GF2, which we reviewed earlier this year: the camera offers some white balance settings, with an automatic, kelvin entry, and custom option. The system works well, and setting a custom white balance is less cumbersome than with other cameras, though it struggled in certain lighting conditions. The real feather in Panasonic's cap here is the automatic white balance accuracy under daylight conditions, as the G3 gave a near-perfect result.

Automatic White Balance ()

In automatic lighting conditions, the G3 struggled mostly in inacandescent lighting conditions, with an average color error of 513 kelvins. This is not unusual in the slightest, as most automatic (and even custom) white balance settings fail to account for the warmth of incandescent and tungsten lighting. The G3 fared slightly better under fluorescent lighting, but did exceptionally well in diagnosing color under daylight conditions. In simulated daytime lighting, the G3 had a color error of just 34 kelvins.

Custom White Balance ()

In custom lighting, we saw the same pattern of inaccuracies as with automatic white balance. Even when specifying white for the camera, the G3 still produced an average color error of 315.83 kelvins under incandescent light. The camera was off by 267 kelvins under compact white fluorescent lights, but its custom white balance performance dipped in daytime conditions from its automatic results. When specifying white under daylight conditions, the G3 had a color error of 144.83, much worse than its automatic mode.

When scoring against our comparison group, the G3's results were a mixed bag: it had the best automatic white balance score of any of our cameras, owing to its extreme accuracy under daylight conditions, but it was above only the Olympus E-PL2 for custom white balance accuracy. Compared directly to the G2, it's clear to see the improvement in the G3's automatic white balance settings, but its custom setting still underperformed.

White Balance Options

The Panasonic G3 comes with five white balance presets, an automatic setting, an exact kelvin temperature entry, and two savable custom settings. Each preset is customizable, allowing users to also set an automatic bracket, in order to give users the option to cover a wider range if they're not sure of the lighting type. White balance is accessed right on the four-way control pad on the rear of the camera. We found this to be convenient, though the overall accuracy of the white balance system was not always superb.

Long Exposure

As is typical of these compact system cameras, color error got substantially worse in long exposures, as the G3 oversaturated images in shots up to 30 seconds long. Long exposure noise reduction did work very well to bring down noise in those images, though. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that in exposures ranging from one second long to thirty, color error rose substantially to about five—up from 2.6 in shorter shooting situations. The G3 also oversaturated images. We did find long exposure noise reduction to be effective, decidedly reining in noise across the board.

The Samsung NX100 actually posted the best long exposure score for this group, one of the few categories it came out on top in. The G3 is right behind, though, as those two stand well above their peers, despite the fact that the G3 gained quite a bit of color error in long exposure testing versus its regular color and noise results.

Noise Reduction

The Panasonic G3 offers no less than five different noise reduction settings, available through the photo style menu. The default setting is zero, though in this case that is merely the central point on a +/- 2 scale. At NR -2, the G3 suffers from 1% noise at ISO 800, rising all the way to 2.42% noise at ISO 6400. At the default zero setting, there is more than 1% noise above ISO 3200, with a much heavier dose of NR applied at the maximum sensitivity. At NR+2, noise never gets above 0.6%, regardless of the ISO setting. NR+2 actually produces less noise at ISO 6400 than all the other NR settings do at ISO 160. More on how we test noise.


ISO Options

The Panasonic G3 features an ISO range of 160-6400. The camera allows users to choose from either a specified ISO setting, an automatic ISO setting, or the camera's "Intelligent Auto" mode, which takes into account subject movement and brightness to choose the correct sensitivity.

Dynamic Range

The Panasonic G3 performed well for a Micro Four-Thirds camera in our dynamic range testing, especially at the highest ISOs. At the camera's maximum ISO speed of 160, it only managed a dynamic range of about 6.5 stops, though that did not fall off precipitously as is the case with some other cameras. Up to ISO 3200, the G3 managed to preserve more than four stops of range, though this fell off to less than three stops at ISO 6400. More on how we test dynamic range.

Panasonic's newly developed sensor showed a big improvement in dynamic range at high ISO speeds over the G2, though performed the same at the lower sensitivities. The G2 fell below four stops of range as early as ISO 1600, but the G3 kept more than four up to ISO 3200. Both those cameras were outdone considerably by the Sony NEX-5, though, as it pulled in more than 7.5 stops of dynamic range at its maximum ISO speed, only falling to less than three stops at ISO 12800. The Samsung NX100 fell behind each of these cameras, despite its large APS-C sensor, failing to get even six stops of dynamic range at any sensitivity.

Noise Reduction

The Panasonic G3 offers no less than five different noise reduction settings, available through the photo style menu. The default setting is zero, though in this case that is merely the central point on a +/- 2 scale. At NR -2, the G3 suffers from 1% noise at ISO 800, rising all the way to 2.42% noise at ISO 6400. At the default zero setting, there is more than 1% noise above ISO 3200, with a much heavier dose of NR applied at the maximum sensitivity. At NR+2, noise never gets above 0.6%, regardless of the ISO setting. NR+2 actually produces less noise at ISO 6400 than all the other NR settings do at ISO 160. More on how we test noise.

ISO Options

The Panasonic G3 features an ISO range of 160-6400. The camera allows users to choose from either a specified ISO setting, an automatic ISO setting, or the camera's "Intelligent Auto" mode, which takes into account subject movement and brightness to choose the correct sensitivity.

Focus Performance

The Panasonic G3 eschews the generally faster phase detection autofocus systems of DSLRs and goes with an entirely contrast AF system. Normally, we would expect slower, sloppy AF performance as a result, but we were pleasantly surprised with how snappy focus seemed on the G3. The camera focused as fast as we've seen in live view and during video recording, easily beating out, for example, the full-time AF of the Nikon D5100 that we just tested. You can detect some hunting, especially with brighter lights, as they seem to pulse as the AF system looks for perfect focus. Autofocus is practically silent, however, and not audible on the internal microphone during movie recording.

Long Exposure

As is typical of these compact system cameras, color error got substantially worse in long exposures, as the G3 oversaturated images in shots up to 30 seconds long. Long exposure noise reduction did work very well to bring down noise in those images, though. More on how we test long exposure.

We found that in exposures ranging from one second long to thirty, color error rose substantially to about five—up from 2.6 in shorter shooting situations. The G3 also oversaturated images. We did find long exposure noise reduction to be effective, decidedly reining in noise across the board.

The Samsung NX100 actually posted the best long exposure score for this group, one of the few categories it came out on top in. The G3 is right behind, though, as those two stand well above their peers, despite the fact that the G3 gained quite a bit of color error in long exposure testing versus its regular color and noise results.

Video: Low Light Sensitivity

The Panasonic Lumix G3 required 20 lux of light to produce a viable image in our low light sensitivity test (by "viable" we mean an image that registers 50 IRE on our waveform monitor). This is a bit of an improvement over last year's Panasonic Lumix G2, but it is still a disappointing result. High-end and mid-range camcorders often produce better low light sensitivities than this, and it is not uncommon for the best models to require lux levels in the single digits for this test.

Chromatic Aberration

We found very little in the way of chromatic aberration when shooting with the Panasonic G3. There is some visible blue fringing and some blooming with the sensor, but it's absolutely minimal except in the most extreme areas of contrast. In normal shooting, it's practically imperceptible.

Distortion

The 14-42mm kit lens suffered from only minor distortion, the worst coming at the wide angle. When shooting at the widest 14mm, there was barrel distortion of 1.01%. That fell quickly, with only a 0.23% barrel distortion picked up as soon as 28mm. At the "telephoto" end of 42mm, there was just a 0.81% pincushion distortion visible.

Motion

In our motion test, the Panasonic G3 produced video that looked good, although it wasn't quite as good as the kind of video you should get from a high-end camcorder. There was some trailing and blur in our testing, but the motion looked smooth and artifacting was not a problem. The biggest issue with the G3's video recording was the camera's terrible rolling shutter effect that produced a significant amount of wobble whenever the camera was quickly panned back and forth. This is a common problem with video-capable DSLRs, though, so the G3 is not alone with its rolling shutter troubles.

For recording Full HD 1080p video, the G3 has only one frame rate option, and that's 30p. You can shoot using a 60p frame rate, but you have to switch to 1280 x 720 recording to use it. More on how CamcorderInfo tests motion.

Video Sharpness

Unlike its predecessor, the Panasonic G3 can record Full HD video at a 1920 x 1080 resolution (the Panasonic G2 topped out with 1280 x 720 recording). This increase in recording resolution enabled the G3 to capture a sharper image than the G2, but the increase wasn't as dramatic as we had hoped. The Panasonic G3 measured a horizontal and vertical sharpness of 600 lw/ph in our test, which represents an increase of 25 lw/ph in horizontal sharpness and 50 lw/ph of vertical sharpness over the G2.

Interestingly, the Olympus E-PL2 managed the same sharpness levels as the Panasonic G3, despite that fact that it does not record Full HD (it, like the G2, also tops out with 720p HD recording). The Sony NEX-5 does record Full HD 1080p video, and it produced the sharpest videos of the cameras in this comparative set. More on how CamcorderInfo tests video sharpness.

Low Light Sensitivity

The Panasonic Lumix G3 required 20 lux of light to produce a viable image in our low light sensitivity test (by "viable" we mean an image that registers 50 IRE on our waveform monitor). This is a bit of an improvement over last year's Panasonic Lumix G2, but it is still a disappointing result. High-end and mid-range camcorders often produce better low light sensitivities than this, and it is not uncommon for the best models to require lux levels in the single digits for this test.

Usability

Buttons & Dials

While the layout of the camera appears sparce, the G3 offers both full touch control and a host of physical buttons on the camera. Straddling the line between its enthusiast roots and entry-level appeal, the G3 offers a dedicated intelligent auto button and creative scene modes, while also providing users with two programmable function buttons and two savable custom modes. Nearly all the buttons have a raised profile and satisfying stroke, with seemingly no space wasted on the rear of the camera. We reserve complaint about the small control dial and flat DISP./Fn1 button, but the rest of the design is quite good.

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Panasonic G3 offers a number of ways to appreciably alter your image prior to capture. The most control is afforded through the "Photo Style" menu option in the record menu. This mode allows users to adjust things like saturation, contrast, color, and noise reduction on a +/- 2 scale. However, the G3 also includes a color mode right on its dial, called "Creative Control."

Panasonic has never been known for their wonderfully intuitive menu designs, though their integration of touch control in menu navigation has been pretty spot on for both their Micro Four-Thirds and advanced point and shoot options. The G3 is a fairly typical Panasonic offering, with a record menu, in-depth custom menu, and quick menu setup, the latter accessible by a dedicated button on the rear of the camera—assuming it hasn't been given another custom function, as it shares double duty. The quick menu allows access to some of the most commonly used features, and can be tailored by users to fit their needs. There are a few options missing we'd like to see (namely video controls), but it's a robust menu that offers users plenty of options.

Instruction Manual

The included basic owner's manual for the G3 is aimed squarely at the camera's entry-level audience; it actually does a fairly straightforward job of explaining shutter and aperture priority modes, but does not go into any great depth. Included on the packaged CD-ROM is the owner's manual for advanced features, which does cover the many more advanced options available to users of the G3. Panasonic does not provide, however, much in the way of online learning about general photography.

Handling

The main body of the G3 is metal, with the shoulder and rear thumb rest a form of hard plastic. It doesn't provide much grip naturally, but the smooth rubber on the front allows the right hand to hold the camera confidently, with no slip. As with several other compact models, the grip is designed to best be held with the middle finger stationed vertically along the front protrusion, where more SLRs seem to be held best with the wrist splayed out and the middle finger horizontally gripping the side of the side of the camera. This actually brings the index finger and thumb more in line with the mode dial and shutter release.

Handling Photo 1

Weighing in at less than a pound with an articulated touchscreen LCD, the G3 is an easy camera to work into any number of odd shooting angles. The body feels solidly built and its rounded edges slot comfortably into the hand. The camera feels the way a sub-$1000 camera should feel: a well-crafted, lightweight tool that probably won't survive a trip to anything that is popularly described as "besieged," but will weather Disney World without much complaint.

Handling Photo 2

The inclusion of an articulated LCD on the G3 is a welcome addition if you're looking for a camera that is also video-capable. While it really is one more thing to break, it aids in framing video whether handheld or on a tripod. The screen swivels out to the side, as well, which is great for lining up self-portraits without interfering with most tripod designs.

Handling Photo 3

Buttons & Dials

While the layout of the camera appears sparce, the G3 offers both full touch control and a host of physical buttons on the camera. Straddling the line between its enthusiast roots and entry-level appeal, the G3 offers a dedicated intelligent auto button and creative scene modes, while also providing users with two programmable function buttons and two savable custom modes. Nearly all the buttons have a raised profile and satisfying stroke, with seemingly no space wasted on the rear of the camera. We reserve complaint about the small control dial and flat DISP./Fn1 button, but the rest of the design is quite good.

Buttons Photo 1

Panasonic have resisted the urge to eliminate the mode dial—as they did on the GF2—despite the otherwise heavy use of touch control to the G3. The dial manages to hold space for two savable user-defined presets, the four manual/priority modes, and both scene and "My Color" options. It does this by eschewing the usual iAuto/Auto (no flash) options, sticking with just a dedicated iAuto button on the shoulder of the camera. Altogether it makes for a design that should appeal to both entry-level users and enthusiasts alike.

Buttons Photo 2

Display(s)

Whether making use of the rear 460k-dot articulated touchscreen or the 1440k-dot live viewfinder, the G3 provides a great deal of onscreen information. Using the electronic viewfinder is benefited somewhat by this additional information, but the screen still lacks the accuracy of an optical viewfinder.

Viewfinder

The G3 does not include an optical viewfinder as a traditional DSLR might. Instead, like other Panasonic options, the camera is given a 1,440k pixel electronic viewfinder. This has also allowed Panasonic to eliminate the need for a physical phase detection autofocus sensor, likely shaving off some weight. That does mean that this is a contrast-only AF system, though we found it quite speedy. If you're used to the optical viewfinder found on traditional DSLRs then the electronic view may feel odd at first. Eventually, we found that it gets the job done, though we'll still trust optical viewfinders to offer more accurate judgement of focus.

Image Stabilization

The Panasonic G3 features stabilization built into the lens, but controlled through the menu. There are stabilization modes for both horizontal and vertical correction. In testing the horizontal mode, we found there to be a general improvement in the slowest shutter speeds in low shake scenarios. When a heavier shake was applied there was some improvement at 1/250 of a second, but sharpness either got worse or did not improve noticeably at other shutter speeds.

Shooting Modes

The G3's physical mode dial includes options for manual, shutter and aperture priority, program auto, two user-defined custom presets (custom 1 and custom 2, which has three different setups savable within it), a full suite of scene modes, and "Creative Control" mode. The camera also has Panasonic's intelligent auto mode, accessible at any time by pressing the dedicated, light-up iA button on the shoulder of the camera.

Focus

The Panasonic G3 eschews the generally faster phase detection autofocus systems of DSLRs and goes with an entirely contrast AF system. Normally, we would expect slower, sloppy AF performance as a result, but we were pleasantly surprised with how snappy focus seemed on the G3. The camera focused as fast as we've seen in live view and during video recording, easily beating out, for example, the full-time AF of the Nikon D5100 that we just tested. You can detect some hunting, especially with brighter lights, as they seem to pulse as the AF system looks for perfect focus. Autofocus is practically silent, however, and not audible on the internal microphone during movie recording.

The included 14-42mm kit lens features a standard focus ring at the front, but lacks a hard focus stop. The G3 assists in manual focus operation by offering a digital zoom of the center of the image. Users can choose the level of zoom, or use a picture-in-picture box to keep framing accurate, by rotating the rear control dial. There's also a manual focus guide, though this just provides a scale of where focus is placed between macro and infinity. The G3 does have a manual+auto focus option where the user can hold the shutter button halfway down, then fine-tune focus with the manual focus ring.

Recording Options

The Panasonic G3 comes with the ability to shoot in four aspect ratios, 4:3, 3:2, 1:1, and 16:9. Each ratio allows for three different size photos, with the maximum being just under 16 megapixels in a 4:3 ratio. The other ratios all clip off some part of the camera's resolution, leaving a maximum of just 11.5 megapixels in 16:9 and 1:1, and 14 megapixels in 3:2. The G3 has options for RAW, JPEG, and RAW+JPEG shooting.

Other Controls

Display/Function 1 & 2

Panasonic included two customizable function buttons on the G3, which is a welcome change. We lamented in the GF2 review earlier this year that a second customizable button seemed to be missing, so it's nice to see Panasonic felt the same way. We don't agree with the use of the same low profile buttons they use on their camcorders for the Disp./Fn1 button, though this button at least has some stroke to it. We were non-plussed, to say the least, with Panasonic's choice to increase the use of these buttons exponentially on their current generation camcorders. Either Panasonic and their market research disagrees, or they're just trying to mess with us.

Quick Menu

The Quick Menu is a common feature on Panasonic cameras, with a total of 24 shooting settings that can be placed in any of the menu's 15 slots. The menu can be accessed either by the physical Q. Menu button beneath the four-button control pad, or by the dedicated touchscreen Q. Menu button.

Speed and Timing

There are several burst modes available on the G3 in addition to the full-resolution high speed that we tested. There are also three and two frames per second burst modes that enable live view to be used. There is also a reduced resolution mode that fires up to 20 frames per second, with each shot being just four megapixels.

We found the Panasonic G3's full-resoution burst mode capable of firing off at a little faster than three frames per second with live view activated.

There are a few self-timer options on the Panasonic G3, allowing for a two second delay, a ten second delay, or a three-shot burst. There are no custom interval or self-timer options, which is a bit of a disappointment. The timer can be triggered either by remote or with the shutter release button.

Focus Speed

The Panasonic G3 eschews the generally faster phase detection autofocus systems of DSLRs and goes with an entirely contrast AF system. Normally, we would expect slower, sloppy AF performance as a result, but we were pleasantly surprised with how snappy focus seemed on the G3. The camera focused as fast as we've seen in live view and during video recording, easily beating out, for example, the full-time AF of the Nikon D5100 that we just tested. You can detect some hunting, especially with brighter lights, as they seem to pulse as the AF system looks for perfect focus. Autofocus is practically silent, however, and not audible on the internal microphone during movie recording.

The included 14-42mm kit lens features a standard focus ring at the front, but lacks a hard focus stop. The G3 assists in manual focus operation by offering a digital zoom of the center of the image. Users can choose the level of zoom, or use a picture-in-picture box to keep framing accurate, by rotating the rear control dial. There's also a manual focus guide, though this just provides a scale of where focus is placed between macro and infinity. The G3 does have a manual+auto focus option where the user can hold the shutter button halfway down, then fine-tune focus with the manual focus ring.

Features

Effects, Filters, and Scene Modes

The Panasonic G3 offers a number of ways to appreciably alter your image prior to capture. The most control is afforded through the "Photo Style" menu option in the record menu. This mode allows users to adjust things like saturation, contrast, color, and noise reduction on a +/- 2 scale. However, the G3 also includes a color mode right on its dial, called "Creative Control."

Recording Options

The Panasonic Lumix G3 has two compression options for recording HD video: AVCHD and MJPEG. To record Full HD at a 1920 x 1080 resolution you must use the AVCHD compression option, which is the standard for consumer camcorders. In addition to the Full HD setting, you can also shoot 1280 x 720 HD video using AVCHD compression.

The MJPEG compression is the better option to use for videos you want to upload to the internet or share with friends, as the files are generally smaller and easier to work with. When shooting MJPEG videos, you have the option of recording at a 1280 x 720 resolution, 640 x 480, or 320 x 240 resolutions. Find out how the performed in our video image quality test./r:link_to_content

Video Controls

The Panasonic G3 does not have a good set of manual controls in video mode, so we must advise you to stay away from the camera if you require control over things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO when you're shooting video. We're actually a bit surprised that Panasonic doesn't include any manual controls for video recording, particularly since the company went to great lengths in improving the recording resolution for the new camera.

Auto Controls

Instead of focusing on manual controls, Panasonic decided to improve the automatic video controls on the G3. Autofocus and auto exposure both worked quickly in our testing, and both were impressive in their accuracy. The camera's AF tracking feature works seamlessly in video mode, and you can even use the touchscreen LCD to pinpoint areas within the frame for which the camera to focus and expose correctly. The feature is definitely useful in video mode and it is easy to use.

Zoom

If purchased with a kit lens, the Panasonic G3 comes with a 14 - 42mm zoom lens. This doesn't give you a crazy amount of zoom, but it allows you enough to play with (a 3x optical zoom, for those who are more familiar with camcorder terms). Other lenses are available, of course, so you have the entire Micro Four Thirds lens mount system with which to choose from if you want to buy additional optics.

In the motion picture menu there is an option for adding a 2x or 4x digital zoom to your video recording, as well as a tele conversion feature that magnifies your recording even more.

Focus

Like we said before, autofocus works well on the G3 in video mode, and we should probably clarify that it is a continual autofocus system that doesn't require you to hold down a button in order to be activated. You can also use manual focus when shooting video, which some old-school videographers may prefer, or you can use the touchscreen to perform a spot-focus on a particular area within the frame.

Exposure Controls

Exposure is the only one of these features that can be specifically set for video mode, and even it cannot be altered during video recording. There's also the added issue that exposure can only be set on a -3 to +3 EV scale for videos, while the exposure setting option ranges from -5 to +5 in photo mode. If you adjust exposure outside the -3 to +3 range, the camera will automatically scale the adjustment back when you start recording. Yes, this is confusing, and, yes, it is silly. Panasonic could have come up with many different ways to avoid this problem, but it didn't.

You can't adjust aperture or shutter speed manually for videos, but you can use certain scene modes that will alter these settings for you. The "peripheral defocus" scene mode, for example, is basically a simplified aperture adjustment mode. On last year's G2, the peripheral defocus was simply an option in video mode, rather than a separate scene mode. It's the same thing here, though, just in a different location.

Other Controls

You can set photo styles in video mode, which allows you to pick from various color presets or customize your own with adjustments to contrast, saturation, sharpness, and noise reduction. ISO cannot be set manually in video mode, but you can turn on the intelligent dynamic range setting (with options of low, standard or high). The only additional video controls are the various recording resolution options and a flicker reduction setting.

Audio Features

Unlike many cameras of its kind, the Panasonic G3 does record stereo audio with its built-in mic. The microphone is located in front of the accessory shoe, so be careful not to block it if you have any accessories attached to the camera. The camera does have an external mi jack, but it does have a few audio controls. These include a wind cut option, an audio level display, and a mic level adjustment (with 4 levels to choose from).

Mic Photo

Overview

The Panasonic G3 represents another step forward for the company's line of Micro Four Thirds cameras, with a new sensor design that pushes the format in the key areas its other models have been falling behind Sony's NEX offerings: high ISO performance and resolution.

As you will have no doubt seen from our direct comparison pages in this review, the G3 simply dwarfs the competition for control options. If you want prosumer-level control in a compact body, the Panasonic G3 is for you. We'd love to see that level of control available when recording video, but for still shooters the options are phenomenal. Even entry-level shooters have a crutch in the form of a dedicated intelligent auto button, so they can always let the camera take over if need be.

The G3 also offers more than simply token spec upgrades, improving in nearly every way on the performance of the Panasonic G2. It has a new 16-megapixel sensor that was able to keep noise to a respectable minimum, offered the best color accuracy of our comparison group, and managed a respectable dynamic range of more than 6.5 stops. Altogether, it makes the G3 a very promising member of the Micro Four-Thirds family, and a very good entry-level camera in its own right.

Performance

The Panasonic G3 recorded more accurate colors than its competition while increasing in maximum image resolution to 16 megapixels. It did so while also managing to keep image noise to acceptable, if not exceptional, levels. The early word on this new sensor was that it severely lacked dynamic range, though we found that to worthy of less alarm than was initially raised. The camera's range could not match the Sony NEX-5 and its APS-C sensor, but few cameras can at the moment. At least until Olympus announces their 2011 models, we don't hesitate calling the G3 the best entry-level Micro Four Thirds camera available for image quality.

Video

The G3 did not offer a substantial improvement in video quality over the G2, suffering from the same awful rolling shutter problem. Any quick panning from side to side will quickly offer a first-hand lesson in the finer points of motion sickness, though the playback speed issue we saw with the G2 was no longer an issue. The major bone we're picking with Panasonic here is the lack of video controls. For a company that routinely tops our CamcorderInfo.com "best" charts, we'd like to see Panasonic take video control more seriously with their Micro Four Thirds models.

Hardware

The Micro Four Thirds lens system has come a long way, and offers a wide selection of high quality lenses. With third party companies like Sigma and Carl Zeiss producing Micro Four Thirds lenses, it's easy to forget this lens mount isn't even three years old yet. For our money, though, the 14-42mm lens kitted with the G3 is not the best available. At apertures larger than f/5.6 there's a fairly substantial sharpness falloff, with heavy vignetting. It's a fine lens otherwise, but we'd recommend stopping down to at least f/8 and utilizing any of the excellent prime MFT options available for shallow depth of field work.

Handling

The Panasonic G3 is the "smallest, lightest compact system camera that features a built-in flash," according to Panasonic. In essence, though, it's the same size as the Sony NEX-5, Samsung NX100, and other competing compact cameras, except its built-in viewfinder mean it's rarely going to just slip into your pocket, even with a pancake lens attached. Its lightweight, durable frame is easy to get into odd angles for some interesting shots. The camera's 3-inch articulated LCD facilitates these kinds of shots, but the camera's lack of much rubber in the grip all around does not.

Controls

While many shooters will turn their nose up at touchscreen control, Panasonic has utilized it in a way—as they did on the GF2—that is so secondary to the operation of the camera, that it's not uncommon to simply forget it's an option. The G3 also has two programmable function buttons, a quick menu that affords access to up to 15 user-defined settings, and two on-the-dial custom modes that allow easy access to a total of four user-defined shooting modes. It's a level of control we enjoyed when reviewing the GF2, and we're glad to see our call for a second programmable function button was answered here. Panasonic caught a lot of flak for "abandoning" more serious photographers in eliminating the physical, programmable controls found on the GF1 for the GF2's design. With the G3 offering even better image quality and greater control at a price below what the GF1 was initially offered for, we'd say those complaints have been answered.

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