Prologue – The Evolution of a Revolution
Compact System Cameras are now a major sector of the ‘serious’ camera market and yet just over two short years ago they didn’t exist. We have Panasonic and Olympus to thank for acting together and finally going against the long established trend that had seen DSLR designs clinging to the past with its clunky mechanical systems; and growing ever bulkier and heavier. That first Panasonic G1 to hit the shop shelves really was a revolution in systems camera design; it made sense, had some killer features (the first fully free-angle LCD screen and a high-def EVF that allowed you to shoot in dark conditions were just two) and was much easier to carry around and actually use than any of its conventional competitors.
It’s never easy to be an innovator, but fortunately the G revolution soon enrolled lots of loyal followers who were ready to embrace a better way of building a modern electronic camera. Very shortly several good lenses appeared to reward the expectations of early adopters. Then the GH1 and GF1 arrived, each body catering for a slightly different market and spreading the appeal of the system as a whole – as by then it was looking like a serious initiative rather than a possibly short lived experiment. Then the G2 came along, superseding the G1 and spreading video capability to all the current cameras in the range. However, it could be argued that the real advance introduced with the G2 was its touch screen user interface; another ‘first’ in a system camera design which has since seen further development in the GF2. And let’s not forget the G10, low on bells and whistles but capable of taking as good a shot as any other camera in the growing range. At this point, at just under two years old, the G System was rapidly growing and those highly desirable lenses seemed to be appearing at ever shorter intervals.
There was just one little problem. You see, under the skin all those existing G cameras had a lot in common with each other. Apart from the slight variant of the GH1 they all shared the same 12MP sensor and much else. I suspect that for quite a while after the arrival of the G2 many, including myself, must have occasionally wondered “Is that it? I love my G but has Micro Four-Thirds technology hit the buffers as far as picture quality is concerned? Should I have bought all those expensive lenses?!” Oh we of little faith.
From the evidence provided by the G3 that’s gone almost everywhere with me for the past week MFT is anything but a dead-end. On the contrary Panasonic (as has been widely rumoured on the web) have been very busy over the last year or so refining the design of the Four-Thirds sensor and associated processor; producing first the GH2 and now the G3 16MP cameras. I can’t comment on the GH2 as I’ve yet to handle, much less test, that model. However, I’ve no reservations in stating that Panasonic’s research has already achieved what some regarded as the impossible – a significantly higher resolution sensor with remarkably lower intrinsic noise than that of the original unit. Better yet, that design isn’t just a theory anymore; a very effective version of it is inside the new G3.
It’s probably worth clarifying here that, like the original G1 and GH1, the 16MP sensors in the current GH2 and G3 are different units; the GH2 having two ‘spare’ megapixels used in multi-aspect shooting above the straight 16.6MP’s (16MP effective) of the G3. This means that although they are related it would be a mistake to automatically assume that they have identical performance characteristics – good or bad. Right, that’s enough history, let’s have a close look at the immediate future of the G System.