Good things come in small packages
If you thought the stream of new ILCs would slow down by now, you were wrong. Just a few months after Panasonic brought out its rangefinder-style Lumix DMC-GF2 camera, the company’s back at it with the mini-DSLR-style DMC-G3. And mini is definitely the operative word, since the body is smaller than any DSLR out there. Into this tiny package ($700, street, with 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 lens) Panasonic packs a 16MP LiveMOS sensor, a 1.44 million-dot EVF, a slightly slower version of the Venus Engine FHD processor developed for the GH2, and an articulated 3-inch, 460,000-dot LCD touchscreen.
For shooters interested in a nonrangefinder Micro Four Thirds camera, the G3 offers an affordable alternative to the pricey GH2 and, as our lab tests showed, it delivers impressive image quality for your dollar.
In the Test Lab
Thanks in large part to the resolving power of its newly developed sensor (not the same one as the GH2), the G3 earned an Excellent rating in overall image quality in our tests. The camera turned in 2570 lines per picture height, just edging past our 2500-line threshold for top honors in this area. Better still, it holds onto that resolution well as ISO increases: Even at its top sensitivity of ISO 6400 (where noise reached well into Unacceptable territory), the G3 resolved 2480 lines.Indeed, the G3’s noise numbers look particularly bad, and the culprit here is the version of the SilkyPix RAW processor that comes with the camera. In it, Panasonic does not increase the default level of noise reduction as ISO increases, as most other camera makers do. Even at its lowest sensitivity of ISO 160, the G3 was nearly out of our Very Low rating band; at ISO 200, it moves up to a Low rating, and by ISO 800 it reaches Unacceptable.
Given how much resolving power the G3 retains at high ISOs, you could apply more noise reduction to bring it to acceptable levels with little loss of sharpness. But will users of this camera really want to fiddle with RAW software? In most cases, we doubt it. We hope in the future Panasonic follows the lead of other manufacturers such as Olympus, which progressively increases default noise reduction in its E-PL2 to keep if well under control up through ISO 1600.
Panasonic does a wonderful job of recreating accurate colors with the G3, which earned an Excellent rating in this area with an average Delta E of 6.1 for 8-bit TIFFs converted from RAW files.
In the Field
At only 1.8 inches deep (without lens), and a mere 4.5 inches wide and 3.3 inches high, the G3 is noticeably smaller than the company’s GH2, and significantly smaller than any DSLR. The G3 nonetheless manages to evoke the SLR experience. The grip is not traditional in that you don’t really grasp it with your fingers as much as you let your fingers fall down over it. Since most people’s fingers will end up wrapping down under the body, it ends up feeling secure in your hand, and with the kit lens it feels well balanced.
While the G3 has fewer
external controls than the GH2, Panasonic makes good use of those it has. The menu navigation buttons serve double duty, and both the display and quick menu buttons can be customized. As usual in Panasonic G-series cameras, the clickable command wheel toggles between exposure compensation and shutter speed or aperture in their respective priority shooting modes. In manual mode, it toggles between the two variables, which is very convenient.
The camera also offers the full complement of touch controls we’ve become accustomed to, such as touch shutter, touch AF, and a full set of touch controls for all the frequently used settings found in the quick menu. Plus, if the quick menu items don’t include what you want, the G3 lets you add, swap out, or rearrange items until you set it up the way you want—all you have to do is touch, drag, and drop. And since the customize button shows up on the touchscreen whenever you access the quick menu, the process is simple. While traditionalists will likely still scoff at the notion of touch controls, the G3 certainly showcases the advantages of a rationally designed touch interface.