Text, photos and video by Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla
It was Panasonic who took a big risk and started the ILC (Interchangeable Lens Camera) segment in 2008 with the DMC-G1 Micro Four Thirds camera and the surge in competition from Olympus, Nikon, Samsung, Sony and Pentax has proven their gamble right. People want compact cameras with advanced features and interchangeable lenses. But how compact is too compact?
Looking at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 (SRT $799), the new 12.1 megapixel ILC, one could easily confuse it for a regular point and shoot camera. It is, after all, the smallest and lightest ILC camera in the market today.
We shot some photos of the GF3 next to an Olympus E-PL1 (see above) noting that they have the same 14-42mm range on their lenses and the difference between the two is stunning. Over 18 more Micro Four Thirds lenses are available from Panasonic as well as from Olympus, so this system has really matured.
What the GF3 offers is an extremely compact and easy to use camera that can take a surprising range of photographs thanks to its ingenious new lens design. The 14-42mm HD lens is really no bigger than some of the 17mm or 20mm fixed prime lenses that ship on a lot of competing cameras but it can give a more versatile range which makes it an all-in-one solution for travel photography in a super compact size.
One big bonus is that the GF3 also shoots full HD video and like with many cameras in this class has a dedicated video button for quick deployment.
We also like that Panasonic went all out with the build and materials of the GF3. The whole body is made of curvilinear metal except for some plastic bits for the thumb grip, the flash and the buttons. Speaking of buttons, there are way fewer than in past models since the 3-inch screen (a 460,000-dot LCD) is touch enabled.
Most of the major controls are done through the touch screen which also allows a smartphone-like touch-to focus feature that helps get clear results in most shooting conditions.
The photos above were taken on the way to Spadina in Toronto on a sunny day. The GF3 proved to be a great camera for street photography and its speed and small size allows users to shoot objects, scenes and people quickly with minimum fuzz. We realize that the camera's strongest feature is the 14-42mm lens which delivers consisten quality despite its small size. Overall, we were impressed with the result of our photos above.
In terms of performance, we were delighted by the fast focus speed and (0.1 second) which is one of the best for this class of camera. It isn't as fast as the Olympus E-Pl3 however, which is just slightly faster and currently the fastest we've tried for Micro-Four Thirds. The issue we’ve had with non DLSR cameras is their speed to autofocus, on the GF3 we discovered that we could catch the perfect moment faster and even get great shots in low light thanks to this boost in autofocus speed.
Where the GF3 might fall behind some of its competitors is in action photography. You can still capture a lot with the 3.8 frames per second and will rarely need more but for people who shoot a lot of sports photography this might be a bit lacking. Olympus has models that peak at 5 frames per second while Sony’s NEX 3 and 5 cameras can deliver 7 frames per second performance.
As for HD video (above) the Panasonic GF3 performs admirably and does manage somewhat stabilized video. Sound quality is good, despite the mono microphone input.
The touch controls are not as precise as we’d like them to be but they work well enough and the range of built in modes and settings is quite comprehensive. We still can’t get over how small the kit lens is yet how capable it is.
The Panasonic GF3 is perfect for the compact camera user graduating to something more robust and more advanced but still in a small size. It can also fill the gap of the advanced compact camera for advanced users and even professionals who want a tiny camera with the advanced features. As you can see from the $800 price tag (with the 14-42mm lens, it costs $700 with a 14mm pancake lens), though, tiny and capable comes at a price. The GF3's high price might be an issue for its intended target market who want something simple, cute and powerful but not at the price of a full featured DSLR.
Rating: 4 out of 5