Panasonic's smallest interchangeable lens compact system camera to date (just about) fits in a pocket and boasts integrated flash into the bargain.
The third generation Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is its most compact mirror-less interchangeable lens camera and also the world’s smallest with integral flash. If you’re going to introduce something smaller than a digital SLR then the ultimate goal is for it to fit in a pocket. This is a feat that the GF3 fitted with 14mm (28mm equivalent) pancake lens narrowly achieves: we shoehorned it into a pair of jeans, but quickly felt uncomfortable.
Competition in this market is growing rapidly. Sony’s second generation NEX-C3 appeared a week after the GF3, larger only by a couple of millimetres, and new Pen models from Olympus plus Pentax’s inaugural ‘Q’ compact system followed in quick succession. The asking price for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is £549 with 14mm lens, dimensions are a manageable 107.7x67.1x32.5mm, and the weight is 264g with battery and SD card.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Controls (ease of use)
The Lumix DMC-GF3 feels solidly built thanks to an aluminium shell. And, though its front grip is small, this is twinned with a rear thumb pad to enable handheld shooting. This tool is important, as unlike rivals Panasonic doesn’t feature built-in image stabilisation and the 14mm lens doesn’t come with anti shake either. Fortunately the bright f/2.5 aperture helps in low light when twinned with light sensitivity up to ISO6400, though we did get a little bit of blur. The shutter release button is large and obvious, as is an instant Full HD video record button and familiar intelligent Auto (iA) control on the top plate. Press this and you’re pointing and shooting all the way. New on this model is a backplate scroll wheel. We’re not fans, but at least this is less flimsy than the version adorning Canon’s PowerShot camera range.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Screen
The reason for the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 simple button layout is because it features a touch screen LCD, 3-inches in size and 460k dots in resolution. This offers a 100% field of view and decent clarity. This is fortunate as there’s no ability to attach an optical or electronic viewfinder to this model, as the pop-up flash now sits where the hotshoe previously was on the GF1 and GF2. However the screen’s controls are fast and responsive, there’s the ability to fire off a shot by tapping a portion of the LCD, and mixing physical and virtual controls makes for faster more intuitive operation.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Speed (performance, basically)
On board the Lumix DMC-GF3 is a latest generation Venus Engine FHD processor which Panasonic claims has made for the world’s fastest auto focus, a claim also incidentally made by rival Olympus for its new ‘Pen’s. In any event, the camera powers up in a second – as quick as an actual full size digital SLR – the determining of auto focus is near, if not actually, instant, plus a full size JPEG is committed to memory in 2-3 seconds. Shoot a maximum quality Raw file alongside and wait a further second before the screen snaps back to a live view.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Battery
The Lumix DMC-GF3 is powered by the regulation-issue rechargeable lithium ion pack, sharing an underside compartment with a slot for optional yet essential SD card. Power is sufficient for 340 shots from a full charge, claims Panasonic, if using the supplied lens, which is above average. After a weekend’s use our battery indicator was still showing two-thirds remaining.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Pictures and video
Though the Lumix DMC-GF3 is smaller than its predecessors, the effective resolution has remained the same: 12.1 megapixels. Again this is in line with Olympus, but falls short of the 16 megapixels now being offered by Sony. However, given its point and shoot audience this is plenty and enables the top ISO6400 picture setting to remain usable. Albeit with pictures looking progressively grainy from ISO1600. We found ourselves using the camera’s new creative controls more and particularly enjoyed the Expressive shooting mode, which ramps up JPEG colour saturation and provides a bit more punch and contrast than the standard default.
Though sound is disappointingly mono, rather than the stereo of the GF2, the auto focus really comes into its own when shooting video. Focus adjusts silently and smoothly as you pan from one subject to the next. Shooting video on a DSLR is clunky in comparison.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Verdict
In making its smallest compact system camera (or ‘CSC’) small enough to squeeze into a pocket, Panasonic has squeezed out some of the features that made its predecessors winners at the enthusiast level, such as the hotshoe for supplementary flash, the accessory port for attaching an electronic viewfinder plus stereo microphones to name but three. The £549 manufacturer’s suggested price would also buy a very competent digital SLR from Canon or Nikon with a larger sensor, so we’re paying for the smaller form factor here. Grumbles aside the Lumix DMC-GF3 is the easiest to use CSC yet, and is a great way for anyone trading up from a pocket snapper to start taking more professional looking pictures.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 launch date: June, link Panasonic
Panasonic Lumix G3 price: £459