Panasonic Lumix GF3 vs Sony NEX-C3 – Comparison

July 26, 2011

Panasonic GF3 and Sony NEX-C3 cameras side by side

I’m pretty sure that many of you put a close look at the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Mirrorless camera. In fact, many predict that this will be one of the most successful Micro 4/3 camera. Panasonic called it the “smallest interchangeable lens camera”, and indeed, the GF3 is very compact, 17% smaller than the GF2 it replaces. Of course, the size matters (for some), but this is not the only thing that people look for when buying a new digital camera. In this article I want to take a closer look at the camera’s specs and compare it to the Sony NEX-C3 APS-C mirrorless camera.   This is a battle of two very compact mirrorless cameras, one in the Micro Four Thirds system and the other with an APS-C sensor.

Before we start our head-to-head GF3 vs NEX-C3 comparison, lets look at the key features of both cameras and we’ll continue the comparison after that.

 

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3

Panasonic GF3 Mirrorless camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Camera

Panasonic already built itself a strong reputation in the Micro Four Thirds market. When you buy a Panasonic camera you know that you purchased a very advanced photographic equipment. The GF3 is Panasonic effort to capture a wider audience of hobbyist photographers who make their first step into interchangeable lens cameras. The GF3 features a 12.1 Mega-pixels CMOS sensor, Venus Engine FHD image processor, support for RAW file format, 1080i60 AVCHD movies and 3.8 fps continuous shooting. You can buy the Lumix GF3 with either the 14-42mm or 14mm lens. Panasonic is, most probably, the answer to the Sony NEX-C3 APS-C mirrorless camera.

Before we start getting into more textual explanation and comparison specifications of the GF3, lets watch a short GF3 introduction video..

 

 

Sony Alpha NEX-C3

Sony NEX-C3 camera

Sony Alpha NEX-C3 camera

Announced on June 8 2011, the NEX-C3 is the smallest in Sony’s NEX-series. This ultra-compact camera features a 16,2-megapixel Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor. IT can shoot 720p HD videos, shoot up to 5.5fps, has a 3.0-inch tilt-angle TruBlack LCD and support any lens in the E-mount interchangeable lens system.  We can’t overlook at the beautiful design of the α C3. It’s really a very nice looking camera indeed. You can buy this camera with no lenses (NEX-C3A), with 18-55mm standard zoom lens (NEX-C3K) or with two KIT lenses, 18-55mm and 16mm (NEX-C3D).

As we did with the GF3, lets watch a short introduction video about the C3..

 

 

GF3 vs NEX-C3 – Side by Side Comparison

Now that you got a basic overview about the two cameras, it’s time to compare those two cameras side-by-side in order to reveal the differences between those two cameras. This section is very important, because it will help you see the cons and pros of each camera and see which features one camera have that the other does not.

Feature GF3 NEX-C3
Announced June 13, 2011 June 8, 2011
GF3 announced 5 days after the C3. Both cameras belong to the same generation, so it say that we are looking at two of the newest mirrorless cameras, nothing more.
System Lumix G Micro System
(Micro Four Thirds mount)
NEX System (E-mount)
The C3 support all Sony’s E-mount system. The GF3 enjoys a wider range of lenses because it’s compatible with both Panasonic, Olympus, as well as other 3rd party Micro Four Thirds lenses.
Sensor 12.1-megapixel
Live MOS Sensor (4/3 type)17.3 x 13 mm (Micro Four Thirds)Focal length multiplier: 2×
16.2-megapixel
Exmor™ APS HD CMOS sensor23.4 x 15.6 mm (APS-C)Focal length multiplier: 1.5×
The C3 has 4.1MP resolution advantage. Both sensors take advantage of the CCD image quality and the speed, low noise and power consumption of the CMOS technology. The C3 sensor is larger than the GF3, which proven to provide a better image quality overall. It’s worth mentioning that the the newest generation MFT sensors are closing the gap very quickly and offer very high image quality, very close to the one you can get with an APS-C sensor.A focal length multiplier of 2×, for example, means that a 50mm lens will result a focal length of 100mm magnification, compared to 1.5× that will result in 75mm (35mm equiv.) magnification. If you love shooting wide-angle shots, a smaller magnification will result (for the same lens specs) a wider angle field-of-view. On the other hand, if you enjoy shooting long distance subjects, you will enjoy the larger magnification capabilities of the GF3, considering the same lens focal length specifications).
Processor Venus Engine FHD Bionz
Venus Engine FHD- Chromatic and Luminance noise channel separation for better noise reduction. Support for Full HD 1080i resolution videos, Intelligent Resolution Technology for better sharp, clear and crisp images. Energy-saving providing longer battery life (more shots on a single charge).Bionz – Found on many Sony’s digital cameras and camcorders. The Bionz enhances color reproduction, details and image clarity. Automatic scene analysis and exposure optimization for natural looking images, even in tough lighting conditions. The Bionz image processor utilizes dual processors (on selected models) for faster NR and image processing, including support for HD and Full HD video recording, faster continuous shooting and user-friendly and responsive user interface.
ISO 160 – 6400 100 – 12800
The Sony NEX-C3 is capable of higher ISO sensitivity, most probably due to its larger sensor. Although most APS-C cameras suffer from a lot of noise in this high sensitivity. However, it probably hints about the high ISO capabilities of the C3. Just a few years ago APS-C cameras offer a maximum of ISO3200 and look what we have now.
LCD 3-inch 460,000-dots Fixed Touch-sensitive LCD 3-inch TruBlack 921,600-dots Tilting LCD
(Up:Approx.80°, Down:Approx.45°)
As you can see, there is a difference between the two cameras that worth referencing. The α NEX-C3 has higher resolution and it tilts. The GF3′s LCD is a fixed display with a lower resolution, but it’s a utilizes a touch sensitive surface. That means that you can control the camera and navigate through the menu system by using your fingers instead of regular buttons. I personally prefer the tilting high-res screen of the α NEX-C3, but that’s just me of course.
Digital Zoom Yes (2x, 4x) No
The GF3 supports digital zoom. You should notice that digital zoom is not optical zoom. That means that when you zoom-in using the digital zoom, the camera just crops parts of the image and enlarge it to the chosen image resolution. You can achieve the same result using photo-editing software. I personally prefer not to use this feature at all, because it degrades the image quality.
Shutter Speed 60 – 1/4000 sec 30 – 1/4000 sec
Both cameras have the same maximum shutter speed. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 provides longer minimum shutter speed (60 seconds) compared to the C3 (30 seconds). This is important for photographers who shoot long-exposure shots. Of course a tripod is recommended for shooting at those slow shutter speeds.
Pop-up Flash / External Flash support Includes a pop-up flash
Range: 6.3 mNo support for external flash
Doesn’t include a pop-up flashSupport for an external flash via Accessory port (flash sync speed: 1/160 sec)
As you can see, the GF3 does have a pop-up flash, the C3 does not.  Furthermore, with the C3 you can attach an external flash (ie. HVL-F20). The HVL-F2- flash doesn’t need batteries, it gets it power from the camera’s batteries via the accessory port. Most of the C3 owners might not use an external flash. I think that a built-in flash is a more practical solution for the targeted market segment that this camera is aimed for.
High speed burst shooting Max. 3.8 fps (High speed ‘H’2.8 and 2 fps (Middle Speed / Low Speed) – Full-time Live View is available in those two burst speed settings. Max. 5.5 fps (fixed AF in Speed Priority mode)
Sony Alpha NEX-C3 offers faster continuous shooting (5.5 vs 3.8) at full-res.
Exposure compensation ±3 EV (at 1/3 EV steps) ±2 EV (at 1/3 EV steps)
GF3 has one EV step compensation advantage compared to the C3. If you enjoy shooting an creating HDR images, the GF3 might be a better option.
Video Recording 1080i/60fps
720p/60,30fps
480p/30fps
240p/30fpsMode: AVCHD
Sound: Monaural
720p/30fps
480p/30fpsMode: MPEG4
Sound: Stereo (MPEG-4 AAC-LC 2ch)
GF3 is capable of capturing 1080i Full HD (1920×1080 pixels) videos, compared to the lower resolution of HD (1280×720 pixels) on the NEX-C3.  There is some confusion regarding 60fps that people have problem to understand. 1080i60 meant that the GF3 capture is interlaces, not progressive. The sensor output 30fps, but the camera wrap it using in 60 fields per second (30 fully resolve frames). The C3 captures 720p30, progressive scan not interlaced. The 1080i60 will probably look better in terms of video smoothness.Of course the GF3 has the advantage of having higher resolution (Full HD vs HD), which means that movie clips will looks crisper with more details when viewing them on your computer screen or on your HDTV display (that supports 1080p or 1080i).The C3 records movie clips with stereo sound, the GF3 with mono sound only.
Special Features
  •  iA Plus – Defocus, color and Brightness control
  • Intelligent D-range for rich gradation
  • Pinpoint AF and MF assist
  • Creative Control (same as in the G3)
  • 3D Images (using the Lumix G 12.5mm F/12 3D lens)
  • HDMI output
  • Dolby Sound
  • 3D Sweep Panorama
  • Artistic Picture Effects (including posterisation, partial color, retro, high-key, mono, toy camera)
  • Soft Skin Mode (remove blemishes and wrinkles from faces)
  • Intelligent AUTO – Beautiful images every time
  • Auto HDR
  • Handheld Twilight mode – use high-speed burst mode to create single low-noise image
  • 25 points ultra-fast AF
  • Face detection
  • Smile shutter
  • D-range optimizer
  • HDMI output
  • BRAVIA Sync
Battery Life (CIPA) 300 shotsBattery type:
Lithium-Ion rechargeable Battery (7.2V, 940mAh)
400 shotsBattery type:
Lithium-Ion NP-FW50 rechargeable battery
Sony Alpha NEX-C3 has longer battery life, 100 shots more to be precise. Sony is known for its excellent batteries, and the C3 battery is not exception (of course I didn’t dig into the power consumption of the camera’s components, and I don’t intend to do that – boring stuff :) )
Dimensions 108 x 67 x 32 mm (4.25 x 2.64 x 1.26″) 110 x 60 x 33 mm (4.33 x 2.36 x 1.3″)
(ie. width x height x depth) – Both cameras are very compact, they really are. I think that they almost the same size, the NEX-C3 is wider and the GF3 is taller, but just a bit.
Weight
(w/ batteries)
264 g (0.58 lb / 9.31 oz) 225 g (0.50 lb / 7.94 oz)
The C3 weights 39 grams less than the GF3.
Price
(visit the following stores for updated prices)
Amazon
B&H Photo
Adorama
RitzCamera
Amazon
B&H Photo
Adorama
RitzCamera

I hope that the above GF3 vs NEX-C3 comparison table gave you a good idea about the differences, as well as the cons and pros of both cameras.  Let’s continue now to the stills image quality analysis.

 

Image Quality – GF3 vs NEX-C3

Not every person who buys a digital camera gives the IQ a great amount of attention. However, people who decide to buy a mirrorless camera, I think that they have a good understanding about the differences between Point-and-shoot cameras and Mirrorless cameras. Image quality is one reason why many people decide to ditch their P&S digital camera and buy an interchangeable lens camera (ILC) instead.

By default, we can expect the Sony NEX-C3 to outperform the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 because of its larger APS-C sensor. In order to find out how both cameras perform in high-ISO settings as well observing the image quality overall, I turned out to lab-test reviews websites. Here is a summary of my observation (JPEG observation).

  • ISO 200 -  NEX-C3 produces a warmer toned image compared to the GF3.  Leaving the resolution advantage aside, both cameras produces highly detailed images (although the C3 has an advantage).  Surprisingly, GF3 has less chroma noise, but nothing to obvious that should give it an advantage over the C3. Contrast is very good on both. Image quality Virtually the same.
  • ISO 400 – stepping up to ISO 400. Noise starts to kick in in the shadows and mid-tones areas.  I can see that the GF3 definitely has more noise in those areas.  The C3 handles noise very well in this sensitivity. Note: note is barely apparent, although can be seen in dark areas when watching the image in 100% scale. C3 handles noise better than the GF3.
  • ISO 800 – Noise is even more apparent, especially on the GF3.  The Sony handles ISO800 very well I must day. In lighter areas you can even notice any noise, only on dark areas, but again, the C3 does an excellent job in reducing noise. The GF3 image suffers from light noise all around. Objects that appeared smooth, now have small noise dots. GF3 light noise all over (when viewing at 100% scale), C3 almost the same as in ISO400.
  • ISO 1600 – GF3 image suffers from great amount of chroma noise in all areas of the image. Loss of fine details. GF3 dark areas look very noisy. C3 looks as GF3′s ISO400 at ISO1600. No doubt that the APS-C sensor is responsible for that huge high-ISO performance between those two cameras. C3 relatively very clean image. GF3 very noisy, losing a great amount of details.
  • ISO 3200 – GF3 images looks smudgy, lots of  noise that destroys image details quite a lot, really bad image quality at this ISO setting. C3, what can I say WOW! – even at ISO 3200 the camera can still maintain almost all details. It seems that the C3 has 2 to 2.5 stops advantage over the GF3. Although noise is apparent in many parts of the image, still, the image is very usable.
  • ISO 6400 – GF3 IQ not usable, just a mass. C3 gets noisy but still details are somewhat well preserved. You can use noise reduction software and get out with a usable image, even at ISO 6400!
  • ISO 12800 (C3 only) – Very noisy image, but surpsingly good compared to what the GF3 produced at ISO 3200!!

 

Conclusion: The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 just can’t compete against the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 in higher ISO sensitivities. Searching for a camera with excellent low-light performance, the C3 is certainly the way to go. Sony really did an excellent job here. I also saw that great performance on the NEX-3 and NEX-5. But I don’t think it’s Panasonic fault or something like that. It’s just that the NEX-C3 has a larger sensor and this leads to the 2 to 2.5 stops advantage that the camera has over the Pana one.

 

Video Quality

First of all, lets put things straight. The GF3 can shoot 1080i, the C3 can record 720p. So I won’t be judging the resolution because I assume that the GF3 will have an advantage of some kind. In fact, it’s hard to judge videos which are uploaded to YouTube due to compressions. Even so, most of you will probably use those free video sharing services to share your videos, so let’s just take a look at some video samples.

Panasonic GF3 Video Sample

 

Sony NEX-C3 Video Sample

I let you be the judge and decide which video looks better. Have you made up your mind? – If you did, please comment below and tell us your opinion.

Which One Should I Buy?

If you read this article through, you already understand the differences between those two cameras. The C3 is certainly a better low-light performer. The GF3 has a pop-up flash, can record Full HD videos but has a lower battery life )300 vs 400). With the GF3 you can enjoy shooting with a wider variety of Micro Four Thirds lenses, comparing to the Sony which can only use E-mount lenses (also A-mount with a special adapter, but many of you would not want that anyway).  The C3 is a great looking camera and weight even less than the GF3. If image quality is your top priority, get the Sony – it’s really a great all around performer. The GF3 is a great little mirrorless camera, but it personally haven’t been convinced, maybe not just yet. You should make your own choice based on the differences between those two cameras. I actually really liked what the Sony Alpha NEX-C3 has to offer and the image quality really convinced me that we are looking at an extraordinary super-compact mirrorless camera (but again, this is only my opinion).

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