Having used Panasonicu2019s new Lumix DMC-G3, Richard Sibley offers his initial thoughts on the 15.8-million-pixel Micro Four Thirds camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 introduction

First Look: Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 takes the best features from last year?s G2 and combines them with many of the attributes of the higher-specification GH2, with the main talking point being the new 15.8-million-pixel sensor. It breaks away from the 12.1-million-pixel sensor that Panasonic has to date used in all its consumer G series cameras, but doesn?t quite match up to the physically larger 16.05-million-pixel sensor of the high-end GH2 camera. While we can currently only speculate it seems likely that with such a small difference in resolution the G3 and GH2 share much of the same sensor technology.

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Image Quality

Panasonic was confident that the firmware of the camera we used was close to the final version that will appear in the new model when it is released in the coming months. However, there may still be tweaks to adjust the image quality, so for this reason it would be unfair to comment on the quality of the finer details of the images I took, but what I have seen looks very promising.

In our initial meeting with Panasonic we were shown A3 prints produced by the G2, GH2 and the new G3. The prints were from high ISO images and there was a difference in the shadow details, with the G3 better than the G2 and almost matching the GH2. Panasonic claims there is an improvement of almost 1EV in image noise reduction at high sensitivities. This is obviously impressive given the increase in the population of the sensor.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Smaller Body and new AF

Smaller Body

The new sensor isn?t the only change ? the body has been redesigned and it is now smaller than previous models. This may alarm some but Panasonic has put much thought into how to reduce the size of the camera and retain the handling of the previous G series cameras. Dai Makai, Senior Co-ordinator of Panasonic?s Digital Imaging Marketing Team commented that ?making the camera smaller is easy, but we don?t want to sacrifice handling and image quality.?

In this regard Panasonic has achieved its goal ? I found the G3 just as easy to use, despite being slightly smaller that the G2. The build of the camera is like that of the Lumix DMC-GF2, except with a slightly larger handgrip and, of course, the electronic EVF, which is the same, excellent 1.44-million-dot EVF as used in the G2 and GH2.

New AF system

Like the second-generation G series cameras, the G3 has a touch-sensitive rear LCD screen. Unlike the previous generation camera there is no restriction over the area of the screen in which Touch-AF can be used. By touching anywhere on the screen an AF point can be created and the lens focused. The introduction of a new Pinpoint AF system makes the Touch-AF capabilities even more precise.

The G3?s AF system itself is borrowed from the extremely fast GH2, which has the quickest contrast AF system we have seen. When using the G3 it seemed just as fast and snappy when focusing as the GH2, which is a huge leap forward in technology for a camera in its price range.

Another improvement is the introduction of full-time continuous AF in Video mode and AF tracking for both video and still images. Both these new AF features, along with the speed at which the camera can now focus, make it more flexible to meet different tasks. For instance, even those wishing to tackle sports or wildlife photography may find the AF is fast enough, especially as the G3 has a 4fps shooting rate. The camera?s use for wildlife and sports is something I am keen to explore further when we produce our full test.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 Video and conclusion

Video

Photographers interested in video will be pleased that the G3 features a stereo, rather than the mono microphone of the G2. Sound is further aided by the introduction of Dolby Digital Stereo Creator, which helps to improve the clarity of stereo audio recorded by the camera.

Menu and Controls

Finally, the menu and control system has been given something of a refresh. While I found the new interface more pleasing to look at, it didn?t really change the way the camera operates. Of the notable changes are the new IA+ mode, which has simplified aperture control, called Defocus Control, as well as the ability for entry-level photographers to easily adjust the white balance and exposure compensation of an image. While useful for those using an interchangeable lens camera for the first time, experienced photographers will not benefit from these new handling features.

Also helping simplify the camera for first-timer is the renaming of the My Colour mode to ?Creative Control?. This allows the adjustment of the image to various preset styles including Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia and High Dynamic. Think of these modes as similar to the Art Styles found on Olympus Cameras. The Film Mode found on previous G series cameras remains, but it too has been renamed and is now called Photo Style. It allows you to choose from the different colour and black & white image styles and while I didn?t find the two modes confusing in previous models, the renaming should make it even clearer for first-time users.

Conclusions

From what we have seen so far, the Panasonic Lumix G3 looks to be a significant upgrade from the previous G2, particularly in its implementation of contrast detection AF. The handling of the camera seems very impressive, particularly the Pinpoint Touch screen AF, which makes full use of the camera?s screen.

At the time of writing Panasonic had yet to finalise a release date, simply saying that it was expecting a launch sometime in early to mid-summer. The price is expected to be around the same as the G2, approximately £640 including 14-42mm kit lens.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 picture gallery

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G3 picture gallery