Camera Reviews
by Brad Soo on March 31 2012

panasonic gf3 prev

Check out my review of the Panasonic Lumix GF3, a very compact interchangeable lens camera. Head on to the Panasonic Lumix GF3 photo gallery to view photos taken using the camera.

panasonic gf3 intro

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is the first model that defines a new branch of super compact, easy to use line of cameras in Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds system; the Lumix GF1 and GF2 introduced in the previous years have since been replaced by the Panasonic Lumix GX1. This has divided Panasonic’s compact interchangeable lens camera line into two paths: the Lumix GX series for enthusiasts and the Lumix GF series for those who want better image quality than compact cameras while having a truly small camera with easy operation.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 has a 12 megapixel Micro Four Thirds image sensor, 3.8 FPS continuous shooting mode, ISO range of 160 – 6400, 3 inch touchscreen and Full HD movie mode. You can still change lenses on the Lumix GF3 and there are numerous lens choices available from Panasonic, Olympus, Sigma and third party lens makers, which is the point of getting an interchangeable lens camera: the flexibility. The Lumix GF3 also features a limited number of physical controls and buttons to make picture-taking easier for beginners and casual users. Is the Panasonic Lumix GF3 the tiny camera with good image quality you’ve been looking for?



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In the camera box

There are several official kits available for the Lumix GF3. You can purchase the camera by itself without any lens (good option if you already have a compatible lens), with the Lumix 14 – 42 mm f3.5 – f5.6 OIS kit lens (this is the full-sized lens, not the ultra-small Power Zoom model) or Lumix 14 mm f2.5 pancake lens. Typically, most people would go with the 14-42 mm lens kit since they don’t usually already own Lumix or Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses and that lens is more flexible and versatile versus the 14 mm pancake lens which doesn’t have any zoom.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 comes with a good bundle in any way that you buy it:

  • Panasonic Lumix GF3 camera
  • DMW-BLE9 lithium-ion rechargeable battery
  • Battery charger
  • With 14 – 42 mm lens kit: Lumix G 14 – 42 mm f3.5 – f5.6 OIS lens with lens hood
  • With 14 mm pancake lens kit: Lumix G 14 mm f2.5 lens (no lens hood)
  • Body cap and lens front/back caps
  • Shoulder strap
  • Touchscreen stylus
  • USB and A/V cables
  • Camera software CD and basic printed user’s manual

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 comes with a touchscreen stylus which certainly does come in handy when using the image editing features in playback mode, but it’s something you can survive without. I did not need to use the stylus at all during my time with the Lumix GF3.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 can take SD, SDHC or SDXC memory cards, and you’re going to need one right away since the camera does not come with any memory card or internal memory (which is pretty much the case with all digital SLR and interchangeable lens cameras). It’s worth the extra price to get a high-speed memory card (such as a Class 10 rated card) since the Lumix GF3 can perform faster with one. I would recommend getting a high-speed 16 GB SDHC card though more memory certainly won’t hurt if you plan on taking a lot of pictures or using the camera’s Full HD movie mode a lot.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 uses the new DMW-BLE9 lithium-ion rechargeable battery and comes with a battery charger. The camera is rated to 320 photos per battery charge using live view which is fairly competitive versus other compact system cameras from Olympus, Samsung and Sony. That number also beats battery life figures from entry-level digital SLR cameras in live view mode (that average hovers around the 180 shot mark), though battery life improves dramatically when you switch digital SLRs back to the optical viewfinder (something which you can’t do on compact system cameras like the GF3).

Lenses and accessories

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is compatible with a full range of Micro Four Thirds lenses manufactured by Panasonic (commonly marketed as ‘Lumix lenses’), Olympus and Sigma. The camera can also support older regular Four Thirds lenses, Leica R and M mount and classic OM mount lenses via their respective adapters (you won’t get autofocus with almost all older lenses though, so I would encourage casual users to stick with modern Micro Four Thirds lenses).

There’s a 2X crop multiplier with all lens, which means the bundled 14 – 45 mm kit lens is equivalent to 28 – 90 mm. In English, that means you’ll have to do a little math to lenses used on the camera to determine how wide or far they actually go compared to other cameras.

There are also various camera cases and an AC adapter available for the Lumix GF3. Unlike its siblings from the Lumix G, GH and GX lines, the Lumix GF3 camera does NOT support external flashes or viewfinder attachments, since it lacks a flash hotshoe mount used for both those types of accessories.


Camera Tour

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is one of the smallest interchangeable lens cameras in the market, measuring a really small 107.7 x 67.1 x 32.5 mm (4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 inches). The camera does not have many protrusions (the bumps to its otherwise flat body include the right miniature grip and flash hump on the top of the camera) which makes it easy to slip into your pocket without the lens attached.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 weighs a light 264 grams (9.3 ounces) without any lens attached; that’s as light as most pocket super-zoom cameras! The camera will weigh more with a lens attached but even then, it will be nowhere near ‘hefty’. Ergonomics of the camera are decent with a slight protruding grip on the front of the camera and not many buttons on the Lumix GF3 (also makes the camera easier to use for a majority of users).

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 comes in your choice of four colors: white, black, brown or red.

panasonic gf3 front

Despite packing manual controls and a lot of scene modes, the Panasonic Lumix GF3 has a relatively simplistic design. On the front of the camera is the Micro Four Thirds lens mount which will take any MFT (Micro Four Thirds) lens from Panasonic, Olympus and Sigma, along with other brand lenses via their respective adapters. The Lumix GF3 has a Micro Four Thirds sensor which has a 2X crop factor (this makes the sensor slightly smaller on digital SLR cameras from Canon and Nikon as well as interchangeable lens/mirrorless cameras from Sony), so you’ll have to multiply the focal length of all lenses you use on the camera by 2 to get its actual focal length (ie the 14- 45 mm kit lens becomes equivalent to 28-90 mm). The Lumix GF3 has dust reduction which shakes away dust from that 12 megapixel LiveMOS image sensor.

Unlike its cousins made by Olympus, the Panasonic Lumix GF3 relies on optical image stabilization inside lenses, versus in-body stabilization. While this means you won’t get image stabilization on every lens, the good thing about in-lens stabilization is that it can be used during video recording and, in theory, it can be slightly more effective than body IS. So you’ll have to look out for the ‘Mega OIS’ designation on Panasonic lenses if you want image stabilization (Olympus doesn’t make lenses with image stabilization for the reason that their camera bodies already have them).

Directly above the lens mount is the popup flash of the Lumix GF3. The flash is manually released and isn’t very powerful compared to other system cameras and bigger models. The flash has a guide number of 5 meters at ISO 100. You’re stuck with this flash since the Lumix GF3 lacks a hotshoe so you cannot attach an external flash to the camera. To the right side of the camera is the autofocus assist light which also works as the self-timer countdown light, along with a button to release the camera’s lens.

panasonic gf3 back

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 sports a 3 inch touchscreen LCD which is used for composing photos as well as adjusting settings. The display has a decent 460,000 dots, which makes it sharp enough for plenty of things. It also has good visibility under bright light as well as low-light conditions.

The touchscreen has decent sensitivity and Panasonic has done a good job at incorporating ‘touch’ items into the user interface with large icons and touch-friendly navigation. The main things you can do with the touchscreen include selecting an autofocus point (anywhere on the live preview image), touch shutter (optional, the camera can take a picture after you select a focus point on the screen), using the Quick Menu and selecting a shooting mode, adjusting manual focus and grid lines, adjusting exposure and white balance settings via on-screen sliders and playback photos (same way you would view photos on your iPhone: you can swipe from photo to photo, double tap to zoom, pan and move around the zoomed-in image). You can easily identify what can be ‘touched’ as touch icons usually have a light blue background.

Thanks to the touchscreen, Panasonic managed to reduce the number of buttons and controls on the Lumix GF3. Above the touchscreen is a button to raise the popup flash while on the right side of the screen, you’ll find just two buttons and the camera’s navigation cluster. The top button is for entering playback while the button below the navigation pad is for bringing up the Quick Menu – you can also assign it to another function of your liking. This same button also serves to delete photos in playback and going ‘back’ to the previous screen in menus.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 also has a 5 way navigation pad which is surrounded by a scroll wheel, which is useful for easily adjusting settings without using the touchscreen. There are decent notches between each ‘click’ on the scroll wheel which is good, though it definitely could have been stiffer to prevent accidental setting changes. Like on their compact models, Panasonic gives you fast access to several camera settings via the navigation pad on the Lumix GF3:

  • Up – Exposure compensation (+/-3 EV)
  • Down – Drive mode (Single shot, continuous, bracketing, self-timer)
  • Left – Autofocus area (Face detection, subject tracking, 23 point, 1 point, AF point selection)
  • Right – White balance (Auto, 5 preset options, 2 custom spots, color temperature)
  • Center – Menu/set

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 has a set of advanced white balance features and options just like you would find on digital SLR and advanced digital camera models. There are 2 custom white balance areas, the ability to adjust white balance on a grid on amber-blue and green-magenta color directions, with the ability to bracket several photos with different white balance settings. There is also white balance adjustment based on color temperature from 2500 to 10000 Kelvin in increments of 100 Kelvin.

The Lumix GF3 also has an exposure bracketing feature which can take 3 or 5 photos with different exposure values.

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Camera menu on the Lumix GF3

By pressing the Menu (center) button on the Lumix GF3, the camera will bring up a main menu which presents options to bring up the virtual mode dial or enter submenus for shooting, movie mode, custom functions, setup and playback.

The camera’s on-screen mode dial can be operated via the touchscreen or scroll wheel on the Lumix GF3 and has the following options:

  • PASM exposure modes: Program, aperture priority, shutter priority and full manual mode. There is program shift available. Ranges for aperture vary depending on lens while shutter speed ranges from 1/4000 to 60 seconds
  • Custom mode: You can store sets of frequently used camera settings here
  • Scene modes: Various scene modes such as portrait, sports mode, flower and food modes, night scenery and more
  • Creative Control (Palette icon): 6 special effects for photos or video. Choose from expressive, retro, high key, sepia, high dynamic and miniature effect
  • Intelligent Auto: Automatic shooting with auto scene selection, intelligent sharpening, face detection, dynamic range boost and more
  • Intelligent Auto+

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Scene modes and Intelligent Auto Plus on the Lumix GF3

The Lumix GF3 has an Intelligent Auto Plus mode which functions the same as ‘standard’ iAuto mode but with the addition of setting sliders which provide an easy way for beginners to adjust brightness (exposure), color (white balance) and background blur (aperture) without introducing any technical terms to them. You can also easily active Intelligent Auto (or Intelligent Auto Plus) via the button at the top of the camera.

Taking pictures

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Live view display on the Lumix GF3

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 gives you a detailed live view screen with information for both still and movie shooting. There’s also exposure and camera information, a live histogram, 3 step battery indicator and framing gridlines (not shown here).

The Lumix GF3, like Panasonic’s other Lumix cameras, has Photo Style (formally known as Film Mode) settings; which basically determine how photos look. You can choose out of six preset options (Standard, vivid, natural, monochrome, scenery or portrait) or create your own Custom mix of things. For each of the presets and custom options, you can tweak contrast, saturation, sharpness and noise reduction levels.

The Lumix GF3 can also shoot RAW images; either by themselves or along with a regular image using RAW+JPEG mode. For those new to the term, RAW images are larger in size than JPEG files and cannot be used until converted into JPEG photos later on your computer, but they are untouched by the camera’s built-in processing and allow for excellent flexibility in settings adjustment.

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Various menus on the Lumix GF3

The shooting menu has options for things like ISO, image size, aspect ratio and compression, metering mode, flash settings, burst speed and more. Some notable features include shading compensation (reducing vignetting), Intelligent Dynamic (which improves contrast of images), Intelligent Resolution (which allows you to either improve sharpness of photos) and Extra Tele conversion (crops photos down to 3 megapixels to give you 2X zoom).

The Custom Function menu of the camera lets you configure the custom mode dial spot, Function button, the information shown on screen, manual focus guide and functions and which touchscreen features to enable/disable. Likewise, the setup menu lets you adjust USB mode, camera sounds, date and time and LCD mode.

panasonic gf3 top

At the top of the Panasonic Lumix GF3, you’ll find the mono microphone and speaker on the left, popup flash in the middle and a small cluster of controls on the right (Shutter and movie start/stop buttons, on/off switch and button for quickly switching to Intelligent Auto mode; it lights up blue when you do so).

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One side of the Lumix GF3 is blank while on the other side, you’ll find two ports under a flexible door. The ports are for HDMI and USB +A/V out connectivity respectively.

panasonic gf3 bottom

At the bottom of the camera is the battery/memory card compartment which is protected by a fairly flimsy door. There’s also a metal tripod mount on the camera which is partially obstructed by the compartment door in the photo above.

Video Recording

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The Panasonic Lumix GF3 can record Full HD movies at 60i (native sensor output is 30p though) with mono sound. By default, the camera records movies in the movie-centric AVCHD codec which takes up less space and are easier for direct playback on your television. The downside is you’ll need to convert movies for viewing on most computers (Not if you have the free VLC media player installed though, available for both Windows and Mac).

Here are the movie options available for AVCHD mode; an 8 GB card will hold up to 60 minutes of video at the highest setting (and a high-speed card is recommended):

  • Setting
  • Video resolution
  • Bit rate
  • 1080/60i
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 17 Mbps
  • 720/60p
  • 1280 x 720
  • 17 Mbps

The Lumix GF3 also allows you record in a more conventional MJPEG mode, which is available only on lower resolution movie settings. There is a 2 GB file size limit per video file in MJPEG mode, which you will hit in around 7 minutes at the highest setting here:

  • Setting
  • Video resolution
  • 720p/30 FPS
  • 1280 x 720
  • VGA/30 FPS
  • 640 x 480
  • QVGA/30 FPS
  • 320 x 240

You can of course use optical zoom, optical image stabilization (if the lens has it) and continuous focus while recording movies on the Lumix GF3. You can also activate the camera’s Extra Tele Conversion function which uses sensor cropping (so movie resolution/quality is maintained) to give you a zoom boost up to 3X. However, you cannot adjust exposure settings and aperture combinations yourself.

Sound is recorded in mono, instead of stereo, and you cannot attach external microphones to the camera. You can, however, toggle the camera’s wind filter and adjust microphone level manually. Here’s a sample video taken using the Panasonic Lumix GF3:

Performance

Performance testing of the Panasonic Lumix GF3 was done using a high-speed 45 MB/s Sandisk Extreme Pro SDHC card.

  • Action
  • Performance
  • Speed
  • Startup
  • 0.5 seconds
  • Fast
  • Autofocus (14 – 42 mm lens):
  • Good light
  • 0.1 to 0.3 seconds
  • Very fast
  • Low light
  • 0.4 to 1 second
  • Fast
  • Shot-to-shot (JPEG)
  • 1.1 seconds
  • Very fast
  • Shot-to-shot (RAW)
  • 1.3 seconds
  • Fast
  • Flash recharge
  • 3 seconds

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 allows you to select one of three continuous shooting speeds: low (2 FPS), medium (3 FPS) or high (4.2 FPS), all of which allow you to shoot at full resolution (12 megapixels). The camera maxes out at 4.2 FPS which is slightly higher than the advertised 3.8 FPS number from Panasonic, which is never a bad thing.

Regardless of speed setting, you are limited to 4 photos per burst when shooting RAW+JPEG or 6 photos in a row when shooting RAW alone. Switch over to regular Large/fine JPEG mode and you can take an unlimited number of photos at low (2 FPS) speed, and anywhere between 12 to 18 photos at medium/high speeds. That does show the Lumix GF3 has a relatively small buffer since it writes photos quickly to the memory card yet is only able to take slightly over a dozen photos in a row at maximum speed.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is a fast performing camera in just about all respects and rivals bigger-sized entry-level digital SLR cameras in focusing and shooting speed.

Image Quality

iso160

ISO 160

iso200

ISO 200

iso400

ISO 400

iso800

ISO 800

iso1600

ISO 1600

iso3200

ISO 3200

iso6400

ISO 6400

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 produces clean, sharp and detailed photos throughout most of its ISO range from ISO 160 all the way to ISO 800. Images have low noise and are usable right out of the camera for large prints and display.

Photos at ISO 1600 get noisier but maintain a good amount of detail. Things get noisier and some detail is lost at ISO 3200 but you should be good if you stick to smaller prints or display (example: smaller than letter/A4 sized printing or using it as your iPad wallpaper). ISO 6400 is noisy and I would recommend using this setting only if you plan on shooting in RAW then processing images later on your computer.

chart

The degree of various lens imperfections varies based on the lens you’re using on the Lumix GF3. In our case, we used the basic 14- 42 mm Lumix kit lens that came with the Panasonic GF3 and there’s a very tiny amount of lens distortion and color fringing (chromatic aberration) to be seen in JPEG photos, which is a good thing. The latter (Color fringing) isn’t even visible in most cases unless there’s high contrast around. Edge sharpness is decent too.

There is one thing about all this goodness though; it’s because the Lumix GF3’s in-camera processing provides a little boost to images to decrease the obviousness of lens flaws. That’s not a bad thing for folks who want good looking pictures right out of the camera without meddling with a lot of settings. But if you shoot RAW images for later editing on your computer, do be prepared for the surprise of images showing more edge softness and color fringing than with JPEG shots.

Image quality of the Lumix GF3 rivals that of entry-level digital SLR cameras in most cases with good amounts of detail and low noise till ISO 1600. Even then, image quality is usable up to ISO 3200 if you plan on making midsized to small prints and ISO 6400 if you’re willing to shoot in RAW and process images yourself.

Photo gallery

Visit the Panasonic Lumix GF3 photo gallery to see pictures taken using the camera.


Playback

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The Panasonic Lumix GF3 has a decent playback mode. You can view image slideshows, tag photos as favorites or sort them by category, perform image protection, print marking, cropping, resizing and rotating. There’s also a useful calendar viewing mode and you can view things you’ve taken by type (movie type, still photos, 3D images).

The camera allows you to input the date, time, place, text or subject age on your photos but unfortunately, the Lumix GF3 is devoid of any editing tools. The Lumix GF3 lacks features we’ve come to expect in playback on modern digital cameras such as Photo Style/color editing, redeye removal and brightness/contrast improvement tools. There’s also no RAW conversion feature, something we’ve seen in the playback modes of other digital SLR and compact system cameras.

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The Panasonic Lumix GF3 tells you everything you need to know about your photos, from exposure and shooting information to four histograms (one for brightness and RGB histograms).



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Conclusion

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is a small interchangeable lens camera that packs plenty of features into a compact form factor. The Lumix GF3 has a large 12 megapixel image sensor, 3 inch touchscreen and simplified control layout since the more expensive Lumix GX1 has taken over the duty of succeeding the original GF1 camera (as confusing as it may seem). The Lumix GF3 is geared towards casual users who want an interchangeable lens camera for flexibility and large sensor for better image quality than their compact camera; yet at the same time want something that isn’t too bulky or heavy.

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is really small, as we’ve emphasized. The other camera that comes close is the NEX 5N camera from Sony, which also has a touchscreen and a slightly larger 16 megapixel image sensor. The Lumix GF3 has very few buttons, so most controls are placed in the easily accessible Quick Menu area. The Panasonic Lumix GF3 has plenty of scene modes and is compatible with a wide array of lenses. However, you’ll have to step up to the Lumix GX1 if you want attach and use external flashes, viewfinder and microphones to the camera; since the Lumix GF3 supports none of the three.

However, despite that and its target audience, the Panasonic GF3 still has full manual controls for both enthusiasts and people looking to learn more about photography. There is also that useful iAuto+ mode which serves as an ‘in-between’ mode for those wanting to take pictures with minimum hassle while able to adjust things like color balance and background blur. RAW image mode is available for those wanting to process photos themselves instead of letting the camera do it for them

The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is a great performer in terms of speed and image quality. The Lumix GF3 rivals entry-level digital SLR cameras as well as other compact system cameras from Olympus and Sony in both respects. Photo quality is very usable even up to ISO 3200, photos are clean and relatively noise-free; and the Lumix GF3’s processing also gives a slight boost when shooting JPEG images by correcting lens flaws. It also can record Full HD video with the only gripe being mono audio (instead of stereo, and you can’t attach an external microphone).

I would definitely recommend the Panasonic Lumix GF3 to anyone wanting a small camera that produces great image quality and SLR rivaling performance while allowing you the flexibility of swapping lenses. The Lumix GF3 suits both casual users and enthusiasts with its broad range of features and ease of use.

What’s hot:

  • Great image quality; low noise till ISO 1600
  • Compact size and fairly light in weight, pocketable without lens
  • 3 inch touchscreen with good visibility and intuitive touchscreen interface
  • Customizable Function button and 3 sets of settings on Custom mode dial spot
  • Full manual controls, exposure/white balance bracketing, white balance shift with color temperature adjustment and RAW image mode
  • Easy to use iAuto and iAuto+ modes, plenty of scene modes
  • Very fast performance; higher than advertised continuous shooting speed
  • Full HD movies with two codec choices (AVCHD or MJPEG)

What’s not:

  • Tiny range of accessories; No hotshoe, external microphone support, EVF addon
  • Weak flash; camera cannot take external flashes
  • Cannot manually adjust exposure in movie mode, only mono sound is recorded
  • Small burst buffer
  • Lack of playback editing tools

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