Panasonic Lumix GF3 Camera Opinion

June 17, 2011

Panasonic is probably one of the companies that doesn’t stop innovating when it comes to digital cameras. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is just another example how far Panasonic wants to go with its mirrorless cameras. Being backed up with Leica high quality optics, the GF3 is just another step forward for Panasonic to achieve its financial goals. The market is starving for compact cameras that can produce DSLR-like images. However, Panasonic has its own competition from Sony and its APS-C sensor cameras. The DMC-GF3 is the latest addition to Panasonic Micro Four Thirds camera’s lineup. Let’s take a look at this camera and investigate its pros and cons.

Panasonic Lumix GF3 camera in white

The GF3 Mirrorless camera in white

I am sure that if you read these lines, you are probably debating which camera to buy this year. The first thing that you might ask yourself is whether you need an interchangeable lens camera like the GF3? – If you find yourself unsatisfied with your current point-and-shoot camera image quality or you are searching for a more versatile camera, you should definitely continue reading this article.

Why should I Choose Panasonic and not Olympus?

Panasonic established itself as one of the strongest players on the mirrorless market, together with Olympus. I personally give my top score to Panasonic because they have revealed more versatile and advanced cameras. The GH and GF series has proven to provide very high quality stills and videos. In the video department, many will agree that Panasonic has the edge. Having said that, we can expect Olympus to reveal a new range of pro-level Micro Four Thirds cameras in order to keep up with the competition. Don’t get me wrong here, in terms of image quality, Olympus PEN cameras don’t fall short compared to Panasonic.

Panasonic GF3 Key Features

Compact Size – First of all, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is a very compact camera (107.7 x 67.1 x 32.5 mm / 4.24 x 2.64 x 1.28 in) and very lightweight (225 g). The size plays a significant factor for many customers. Many hobbyist, family and casual photographer don’t want to take a heavy and bulky camera. They prefer buying a compact camera which they can take in a small bag or purse. The best camera is the one that you can carry with you to everywhere you go. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to capture some great moments. When a camera it with you most of the time, it’s just a matter of grabbing it and taking the shot.

The GF3 is Panasonic’s most compact and lightest interchangeable lens camera with a built-in flash.

Why people buy a digital SLR camera and not a compact and lightweight mirrorless camera?

There are many explanations for that, including: lens choice selection, ergonomics, professional accessories, optical, viewfinder, burst rate, speed, better high ISO performance, battery life, etc. Although mirrorless cameras similar to the GF3 will give you an excellent image quality, APS-C and Full Frame sensors are known to grant a better image quality under certain conditions. So digital SLR cameras have the benefit of better performance and image quality. Mirrorless cameras have a good balance between size, flexibility and image quality.

High Resolution – The Panasonic GF3 utilizes a 12.1MP (maximum of 4000 x 3000 pixels image when shooting in 4:3 aspect ratio) Live MOS Sensor. The sensor resolution actually has 13.06-megapixels, but only 12.1-megapixels are put to use. Many people having a debate whether more pixels mean better image quality In fact, fewer pixels mean bigger light detectors, which in most cases leads to better image quality. As I said in front, it’s all about compromises. A 12.1MP resolution is very beneficial for large printing and gives anough room for cropping.

The reason why we don’t see a 6-megapixel mirrorless camera in the market it’s almost certainly due to market demands. The majority of people want or have a need for a high resolution camera. Some of them are even make their buying choices based on the sensor resolution, without even knowing the advantages and disadvantages. Many of the mirrorless camera’s owners are people who came from Point-and-shoot cameras. For some of them (so it seems), more pixels is always a good thing. Because of this reason (and others), camera manufacturers decide on a sensor resolution that fits the market necessities.

Multi-aspect Ratio Sensor – With the Panasonic G3 you can choose an image at different aspect ratios: 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 (square). The native aspect ratio is 4:3. Digital SLR camera’s sensor is 3:2. A widescreen is 16:9 and of course 1:1 is a square image where the height and the width of the image are the same. It’s a positive option because it gives you great flexibility for shooting photos and saves you the need for cropping the images later for print. If you need a 3:2 images, just shoot in 3:2 instead of 4:3.

Full HD Video Recording – Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 can record video at 1080i60 Full HD resolution. A Full HD resolution equals to 1920 (w) x 1080 (h) pixels. It means that the video that you capture with the GF3 can be seen in all its glory on your HDTV screen (if it supports a 1080 resolution). 1080i60 also means that the video plays at 60 frames per second. The sensor actually outputs the video at 30fps, but it used interlaced wrapping to output the video into 60fps for smoother footage. You should know that the GF3 can also record video clips at 720p (HD – 1280 x 720 pixels).

All supported video recording resolutions:

  • 1920 x 1080 (Full HD) / 60 fps*
  • 1280 x 720 (HD) / 60,30 fps
  • 640 x 480 / 30 fps
  • 320 x 240 / 30 fps

*fps = frames per second

All videos are recorded in AVCHD video codec. which allows two times longer videos than MotionJPEG, but in the price of a somewhat minimal loss of image quality.

A good way to appreciate how good the GF3 video image quality is, let’s stop for a few moments and take a look at a sample video.

[youtube_sc url=x0_bGOmZw38]
We can see that in 720p the video just looks great, with beautiful colors and high amount of details. In 1080i, we can see that fields due to the interlace wrapping. This is a Panasonic’s official GF3 sample video, so it might be as good as it gets. The difference between progressive and interlace scan is very noticeable in this video. If a 1080 resolution is a must, I would probably have a bit of a problem with this camera.

GF3 can only record video with monaural sound, that compared to the GF2 that can record movie clips with stereo sound.

Panasonic GF3 vs GF2

It seems that the GF3 joins the Panasonic’s G Micro system as another additional model and not to replace the GF2. The lack of the hot-shoe and stereo sound in video, gives the assumption that the GF3 is actually a more basic model than the GF2.

Here are the key differences between the two cameras:

  • The GF3 is smaller (4.25 x 2.64 x 1.26″, 264 g) and lighter than the GF2 (4.45 x 2.68 x 1.3″, 310 g)
  • The GF3 has a more rounded and had a modern look
  • The lowest ISO on the GF3 is ISO 160 and ISO 100 on the GF2
  • The GF3 Doesn’t have an option for external flash due to the lack of hot-shoe connector. The GF2 has hot-shoe for external flashes
  • The GF3 has a mono mic. The GF3 has a stereo mic for videos
  • The flash range of the GF3 is 6.3 m and 6m on the GF2
  • The GF3 lacks the rear accessory port

DMC-G3 lowest ISO starts at ISO160 and not ISO100 as the GF2. Does this have a significant impact on image quality? – No.

You are probably asking yourself how come a new camera, although more compact, is less features than the older model?

My assumption is that Panasonic did its best to make a smaller and lighter camera and keep the price low. As you can see, Panasonic has succeeded in producing a very compact mirrorless camera. When you see the photo of the GF3 online you just can’t really comprehend how small and cute this digital camera is. I’m sure that many people who visit the camera store and see this camera, will fall in love with it in a blink of an eye. This is a gorgeous looking camera, which can deliver excellent stills and video image quality. That’s what the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is all about.

I guess that many consumers won’t care about the lack of hot-shoe and the mono sound in videos. Come on, let be realistic. It’s all about having fun with your camera and capture gorgeous photos. Women will love this camera because it’s small and looks great. Others will enjoy its image quality, versatility and flexibility.

If I had to choose between the two, I would probably have gone with the new model. Why you ask? – first because it’s new – Second, because it’s very small and lightweight, a camera that my girlfriend would love too. Again, I have nothing against the GF2, on the opposite, it looks like a more well packed camera than the GF3. However, the size, weight and look are playing a very important role here.

I just want to add that Panasonic knows that Sony is breathing behind its back with its NEX-5, NEX-3 and NEX-C3 cameras. Although Panasonic didn’t know about the NEX-C3 because it’s only announced a few days ago. Even so, both vendors understand that one of the main reasons why people will pick one of those cameras instead of an entry-level digital SLR cameras is due to its size and weight.

Buying the GF3 with a KIT Lens

The camera comes in different flavors. You can purchase it with the Lumix H-FS014042 Zoom lens – 14 mm-42 mm F/3.5-5.6, the Lumix H-H014 Lens 14 mm F/2.5 or with both lenses.

What’s the difference between the 14mm and the 14.42mm?

The 14mm is a prime lens, so it doesn’t offer you the ability to zoom in on your subject. That’s the downside. The positive thing is that the 14mm is very thin and light lens (also called a “Pancake” lens). The 14mm is also a F/2.5 which means that you can shoot with this lens in low light. The image quality of prime lenses is almost always better than zoom lenses. This is useful if you are after the best image quality and when you want to capture as many details as possible.

The LUMIX G VARIO 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S lens is an affordable standard zoom lens. It will give you very good image quality and of course the ability to zoom and get closer to your subject. Furthermore, it features a MEGA O.I.S. which stands for “Optical Image Stabilizer”. An optical image stabilizer will help you get sharp images when shooting at low shutter speeds. Because the “real” focal length of this lens is 28-84mm (multiply it by 2x), it can be useful in the telephoto end and when shooting in low light.

I would get one of the KIT packages that comes with the 14-42mm lens. It will give you better flexibility especially if you are a newbie photographer. Remember! – you can also use any of the Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses with this camera.

My Recommendation

I know it was a long article, but bare with me just a minute longer. If you read this article from start to finish, you probably saw the cons and pros of this brand new mirror-free camera. Many people will get this camera because it delivers the highly anticipated image quality, and at the same time, it’s compact, built well, looks good and very lightweight. It comes with a 3-inch 460K-dots LCD, plenty of Automatic features (ie. iA, iA plus) and plenty of software functionalities for editing your images and applying special filters and effects.

It’s actually a camera for those who don’t really care much about the tiny details, but for those who search for a compact mirrorless camera that can take high quality images. I have no doubt that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 will deliver the good as people expected from it to do. Panasonic is a master in giving birth to extraordinary cameras and the GF3 is no exception. I would just make sure that I pick up the right KIT lens that fits your photography habits. As I said earlier, I would get the package with the 14-42mm KIT if you aren’t sure what you need.

Remember that the lens that you buy you can keep, even if you upgrade to a new Panasonic or an Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras. All M43 lenses are compatible with both vendors.

I hope that I helped you get closer to your final buying decision. If you have any question, please don’t hesitate to ask.

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