Panasonic has gone the extra mile to make the GF3 a much more accessible Micro Four Thirds camera.
By CHONG JINN XIUNG
Panasonic introduced the GF2 in February following the success of the GF1. Just seven months later, the camera maker has released yet another Micro Four Thirds camera - the GF3.
The GF3 does away with the classic rangefinder-like look of the GF1 and GF2, and favours a more curvy design. This makes it look more like a compact camera but the little bump that holds the flash gives the camera a rather weird look.
The camera has also been considerably slimmed down - it's now just slightly larger than Panasonic's premium compact camera, the Lumix LX5.
Unfortunately, the build quality has suffered a little and the camera feels more plasticky compared to the GF1 which had a metal body. Using a plastic body, however, has the made the camera rather light and it only weighs 429g.
The GF3 has also lost its accessory and hotshoe port and can no longer accept accessories like the electronic viewfinder and external flash.
Panasonic has also replaced the stereo microphone with a standard mono microphone in the GF3. It's located on the left edge of the camera which is odd because it is easy to accidentally block it while recording.
On the bright side, the GF3 is the first in the range to gain a pop-up built-in flash. A built-in flash is always handy but its position at the centre of the camera causes lens-barrel shadows.
The camera has an Intelligent Auto Plus mode for beginners who don't understand camera terminology like depth of field, exposure compensation and white balance. The mode allows them to adjust these settings using a simple slider interface.
The GF3 also has makes do with fewer buttons which is better for beginners but it can be quite challenging to find certain settings on the camera.
Enthusiasts will be pleased to know that the GF3 still comes with program, shutter and aperture priority mode as well as full manual.
Creative Control mode offers six filters affects that you can apply to make your photos stand out.
Our favourite filter is the Miniature which makes a regular picture is made to look like a shot of a miniature scale models. This is achieved by blurring some part of the photo while boosting saturation and contrast.
Although the GF3 is not the first Micro Four Thirds camera to feature this effect but it can adjust the size of the plane of focus and even rotate it either horizontally or vertically for even more fine control.
The GF3 retains its predecessors 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor and has the same ISO range of 160 to 6,400.
You can get noise-free images at up to ISO 800. At ISO 1,600 there traces of noise but the image is still usable. Pictures taken at ISO 3,200 and above were pretty grainy and not suitable for print.
Compared to GF2, the GF3 performed generally better with noticeably less noise reduction and more detail at higher ISO settings..
The camera's autofocus performance is good and is quick to lock on to subjects. Likewise, Face detection is also speedy and allows you to keep faces sharp and properly exposed.
One benefit of having a touchscreen interface is that you can touch to focus and snap pictures. However, tapping on the screen is likely to cause camera shake when shooting in dimly lit areas.
In terms of colour reproduction, the GF3 manages to produce vibrant photos. However, the camera's auto white balance is not very accurate when shooting indoors under artificial light.
The GF3 snaps pictures at a continuous burst rate of 3.8fps which reasonably good for capturing moving subjects.
The GF3 is also capable of recording full HD videos in AVCHD format or 720p videos in Motion JPEG format.
It's not surprising that the higher resolution AVCHD videos were more fluid, detailed and clearer compared to the Motion JPEG videos.
Still, it's handy to have the option to shoot in 720p when storage space is a concern.
Much of the video recording process is automated and there is no option to control the exposure, ISO, aperture or white balance.
Ironically, you can adjust the aperture and exposure compensation using iAuto+ mode via an on-screen slider.
Also, while recording videos you can easily change the AF point by touching on the screen.
You can also make your videos more interesting by using any of the Creative Control filters.
The Panasonic GF3 is a great camera. The design, size and weight makes the camera easy to use for everyday shooting.
Also, the Creative Control filters and touchscreen interface was fun to use and it's a great way to ease in more casual users into using an interchangeable lens camera.
Picture quality was generally good even at higher ISO levels, and the camera has a fast autofocus speed and 3.8fps continuous shooting mode.
Videos recorded in both AVCHD and Motion JPEG looked great and they can be easily videod one the big scren via a HDMI connection.
However, the exclusion of the accessory port and flash hot shoe is a blow to GF1 users who are looking to upgrade because they will not be able to use their accessories.
All in all, the GF3 is for those who want to upgrade from a compact camera and shoot HD videos.
Pros: Lightweight and compact; fast autofocus speed; built-in Flash; records full HD videos.
Cons: No EVF port and Flash hotshoe; odd placement of microphone.
Digital camera with interchangeable lens
SENSOR: 12.1-megapixels (4,000 x 3,000-pixels)
VIEWFINDER: 3in touchscreen
LENS: 14 - 42mm (35mm film equivalent: 28 - 84mm) and/or 14mm (35mm film equivalent: 28mm)
SHUTTER SPEED: 60sec -1/4,000sec
ISO RANGE: 160 - 6,400
EXPOSURE MODES: Intelligent Auto, iA+, P, S, A, M, Creative Control, Scene modes
VIDEO FORMAT: AVCHD (1,920 x 1,080-pixels at 30fps), Motion JPEG (1,280 x 720 at 30fps)
BATTERY: 940mAh lithium-ion
STORAGE: SD, SDHC, SDXC
INTERFACE: USB 2.0, miniHDMI out, video out
OTHER FEATURES: Face detection, built-in flash, 3.8fps continuous shooting, touch-to-focus
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 107.7 x 67.1 x 32.5mm
PRICE: 2,599 (with the 14 - 42mm and 14mm lenses
RATING: 3.5 stars
Review unit courtesy of Panasonic (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, (03) 5543-7600