Lumix G3 User Review by John Nicholson

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.

See the Lumix G3

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Member Comments

  1. chris55 posted a comment on 22 June 2011 at 7:23 pm

    John,
    I knew you, from your amazing photos and your technical advices about photography. Now I see your ability to writing technical reviews. Excellent job, comprehensible text!.
    Chris.

  2. markansell posted a comment on 23 June 2011 at 9:26 am

    Hi John, enjoyed the review, but felt it lacked some techie points i was interested in, like how the new touch screen menu’s navigated, i had a brief ten mins the other day in Jessops, and could not for the life of me find the new toy picture mode anywhere, would have liked to see some screens like pin point focus mode in action but guess you weren’t able to do this.

    As i said, enjoyed the review anyway mate, well done.

    Mark.

  3. mrt posted a comment on 23 June 2011 at 9:29 am

    John, many thanks for this real world, honest and comprehensive (given the time you’ve done it in!) review. Not only has it helped me in considering the G3 as a possible next purchase, but it has also encouraged me to improve my own photography and think more carefully about all aspects of shooting pictures. Your knowledge is infused with enthusiasm, a combination which is encouraging to all photographers whatever stage they’re at. Thanks.

  4. stanegate posted a comment on 23 June 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Thanks John, as a very new user of the G3 I found your review extremely helpful, particularly as you have been so much more systematic than I in your approach to the camera’s capabilities. Personally I find it more comfortable to support the camera with my left hand under the lens, leaving the right hand free to operate the controls. To begin with I found it too easy to touch the pad without intending to. I agree with your comment re a second battery. Shirley

  5. tris1972 posted a comment on 23 June 2011 at 6:03 pm

    John, cracking review, and while i am not considering purchasing the G3 i found it a very informative read. Tristan.

  6. bigred posted a comment on 24 June 2011 at 10:11 am
    Expert User

    Thanks all 🙂

    Mark, you couldn’t find a ‘Toy’ mode because there isn’t one – you’re thinking of the new Olympus Pen models. My aim with the review was to look at the quality and capability advances the G3 represents both as an individual model and as an indicator of the future of the G System. I should think that full blow-by-blow operating instructions will soon be available for those that want them for study from the Panasonic main site in the form of the excellent PDF advanced manual for the G3.

    John

  7. stanegate posted a comment on 24 June 2011 at 3:03 pm

    John, the manual comes on CD and is included in the new camera pack. I thought it too hefty an animal to print out, and much of it is basic common sense (how to attach camera strap!!) But it is possible to print out only those pages one needs and refer back to the CD when necessary. It would probably be useful for potential buyers to have access as a guide to the G3’s potential. Shirley

  8. bigred posted a comment on 24 June 2011 at 3:17 pm
    Expert User

    I agree entirely Shirley,
    As mentioned in the review I didn’t have access to the full PDF manual at all for the first few days. Chris had to get permission for me to download it from a company server as at the moment, unlike those for older models, it’s not available from the main Panasonic Lumix site. I’m sure that situation will change in future as it would be a real resource for potential buyers as you say. In my own case it was the only way I discovered in the short time allowed that some features like DoF and Shutter Speed previews were still available with the G3 – if you knew where to look in the extensive menu system 🙂

  9. geoffreybrown posted a comment on 24 June 2011 at 4:07 pm

    Upgraded my G1 to a G3 only two days ago, so far been very impressed with the new camera and still finding out the various features accessible via touch screen. Not yet able to register with Panasonic as it does not yet seem to be on their camera list to register!

  10. markansell posted a comment on 25 June 2011 at 12:13 pm

    Hi, john, the Toy mode i was looking for is in fact miniature mode, sorry i got the name wrong mate, here is a quote from the DPR preview.

    Naturally the GF3 also gets a couple of brand-new features all of its own. There’s an additional creative filter called ‘Miniature’, a variant on the currently-fashionable faux-tilt lens look that employs a touchscreen interface to allow the user an unusual amount of control over the final effect.

    Mark.

  11. bigred posted a comment on 25 June 2011 at 12:53 pm
    Expert User

    I think it this case Mark, though it may sound like heresy, DPR may have got their facts in a twist. There’s no mention of such a mode in either the Basic or the (comprehensive) Advanced PDF manual for the G3 that I can find; and I also can’t find any mention of it in Panasonic’s online G3 blurb. I could be wrong though, have any actual purchasers discovered it? I’ll also take this opportunity to repeat my forum request that owners test their pop-up flash and let me know if they have an under-exposure problem with it.

    John

  12. bigred posted a comment on 25 June 2011 at 2:30 pm
    Expert User

    Ah, just found the bit you quoted from DPR – in the GF3 review 🙂 Easy mistake to make.

  13. markansell posted a comment on 25 June 2011 at 4:21 pm

    @ John

    Hi John, i just found this snippet from the Panny press release.

    Two modes – Photo Style and Creative Control – let users at any skill level get creative with their photos. With Creative Control, the user can choose the most-frequently-used color modes (Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, High Dynamic and newly added Miniature Effect*4 mode) with easy access. In Miniature Effect mode, the peripheries are defocused while saturation and contrast is emphasized so the photos look like a diorama. The Photo Style mode revitalizes the conventional film mode with settings in Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, Scenery, Portrait presets while enabling finer adjustment of contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction.

  14. bigred posted a comment on 25 June 2011 at 4:54 pm
    Expert User

    The Creative Control options (Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, High Dynamic) are in the G3 manual, but there’s no mention of any Miniature Effect in the version supplied to me. Perhaps someone from Panasonic would care to clarify this matter?

  15. bigred posted a comment on 26 June 2011 at 5:10 pm
    Expert User

    I’m pleased to report that the full ‘Advanced’ operating instructions for the G3 have now been made available online. You can download them from: http://www.panasonic.co.uk/html/en_GB/Products/LUMIX+Digital+Cameras/LUMIX+G+Compact+System+Cameras/DMC-G3/Manuals/7495446/index.html?trackInfo=true

    They are the same Ver 1.0 edition as those I was using for reference during the review.
    John

  16. bigred posted a comment on 27 June 2011 at 12:15 pm
    Expert User

    Dave has just confirmed on the forum that the pop-up flash on his G3 seems fine exposure wise – so if there was in fact a problem with the review sample (it was probably just a negative exposure setting left by a previous reviewer) then it wasn’t representitive of the model as a whole.

    John

  17. johnnewman posted a comment on 28 June 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Very good review John. I’ve not been around the forum for a while as I deserted MFT for a while as I felt the G1 had shortcomings for my particular needs at the time. However, I’ve been following various threads and am seriously thinking of returning to the Panasonic fold. I may still keep my Nikon for (say) sports shooting but am looking at the GH2 or the G3 for general work and your review was very helpful. I’m thinking that the GH2 might be the best bet (for me) and wonder if you had any thoughts between the 2 models. I do like dabbling in HDR so the GH2 seems to win on this with better bracketing, plus the multi aspect sensor but, apart from these 2 matters, do you consider either of the two a clear winner or not?

    Thanks for any comments

    John

  18. bigred posted a comment on 28 June 2011 at 6:23 pm
    Expert User

    I’ve not had the opportunity to test the GH2 myself John, so I can’t really make an informed comparison between it and the G3. The few months between the release of the two 16MP models is a very long time in terms of chip development for a company as expert in this area as Panasonic- so until someone can do a direct comparison there’s no way of being confident that the ‘pro’ GH2 actually takes better shots than the G3. However, as a demanding photographer it’s probably safe to say that you’ll find the handling better with the larger GH2 body – and we both know that’s a very important factor when shooting real world subjects.

    I suspect (though I’m not privy to any inside info on the matter) that it won’t be long before we see a GH3. In the meantime it’s worth quizzing existing GH2 owners in the forum (there are several experienced users now) about their thoughts on the camera’s actual performance. I certainly wouldn’t judge the GH2 by it’s mixed reception from magazine reviewers – who seem to either love or hate it in equal measure 🙂

    Hope that helps a bit,
    John

  19. lumabike posted a comment on 1 July 2011 at 8:46 am

    An excellent review John.

    I am pleased you discovered the touch screen focus so useful. I find it an asset on the G2, especially for macro shots. But it has to be on a tripod to make the best use of it.

    I am also pleased to see the High ISO shots are now worthy of comparison with the popular makes using larger sensors. A brilliant achievement by Panasonic. It makes me happy to have placed my money behind the Panasonic name. A brave act in a photo club club of nearly 100 members.

    Alan

  20. dorudind posted a comment on 3 July 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Hi John
    Great review and sounds very promising especially as all reports seem to indicate the image qualities at Higher ISO are very good and more noise free.
    My question today concerns the lower ISO on this camera, is it as noise free from 200-400?
    The reason I ask this is because recently I read a couple of reviews with discussions over this, and the flow was about the lower ISO having more noise now, on the G3.
    In your opinion as some one who has tested this camera, do you think that noise at lower ISO has deteriorated?
    Would appreciate your feed back, so that I can consider upgrading my GF1, as the noise on the GF1 is very bad after 400 ISO.
    Thanks and best wishes
    Neda

  21. bigred posted a comment on 3 July 2011 at 9:30 pm
    Expert User

    Hi Neda,

    As I’ve pointed out in the main body of the report, noise is much improved over the first generation 12MP sensors at all available ISO settings from 160 to 6400. I found no evidence of increased noise at base or low ISO’s with the G3; just the opposite in fact. With RAWs it’s hard to spot any noise at all untill ISO400 and even then it’s sparodic, low level (some grain in darker areas) and easily treatable. By ISO1600 noise is present thoughout the RAW but is still fine grained and very manageable – though removing it will sacrifice some fine detail. At 3200 and 6400 you will see artifacting – but only on a level that’s pretty comparable with most larger camera sensors.
    John

  22. dorudind posted a comment on 6 July 2011 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks John
    Sorry I had to ask you this again, and thank you for pointing it out again!
    Neda

  23. nippa posted a comment on 7 July 2011 at 8:49 am

    I’ve only had the G3 for a couple of days and without doubt the smaller size takes some getting used to.
    In test reports I’d read that the jpeg performance was much better but I still find that faces seem too red and like many reviewers I have also found underexposure to be a problem. Noise is not an issue and ISO 800 is totally usable!

    The other great thing about the G3 is its focusing speed and this makes it far better with the telephoto lenses when taking action.
    However , unless you take action shots or low light I don’t see a compelling improvement over my G1 and GF1. The G1 is far nicer to handle.

  24. bigred posted a comment on 7 July 2011 at 5:32 pm
    Expert User

    Hi Dennis,

    I’m not saying you’re wrong (different camera/conditions/subjects) but I’m sticking with what I said on page 5. I found auto-exposure to be ‘technically’ very accurate, which is all that I think you can expect from any camera without a little human intervention. Thanks to some hard work by Gordon I’ve only this morning had a chance to properly examine some auto-exposed GH2 RAWs (the other new model often accused by reviewers of having this supposed tendency) and again their histograms in Lightroom are bang on; far left to far right but without clipping either end of the range except in exceptional circumstances.

    With faces I photographed several subjects with the G3 and the only inaccurate colours I recorded were due to artificial light sources. The one on page 5, taken outside on a bright but cloudy day, seems if anything a little pale to me for preference – but it’s an accurate recording of the subject’s complexion. All the test shots were taken in Aperture Priority mode BTW (as that’s how I normally shoot), it’s possible that scene modes may alter the balance of pictures if employed.

    John

  25. bigred posted a comment on 12 July 2011 at 11:37 am
    Expert User

    Just a note to say that I’ve now added a short video of clips taked with the G3 to the full resolution test shots hosted on my Flickr site: [url]http://www.flickr.com/photos/brb_jn/sets/72157626929113808/[/url]

    These were taken at 1080i but have been compiled in Premiere v9 and then saved out at 720p 25fps (Flickr’s maximum allowed quality). Re-rendering again by Flickr’s display engine hasn’t done a lot for their quality (I wouldn’t recommend viewing full screen) which was excellent straight out of the camera. Still, they do illustrate some of the points I made in the review.

  26. bigred posted a comment on 24 August 2011 at 11:45 am
    Expert User

    Thanks to the availability (at last) of ACR 6.5 and Lightroom 3.5 Release Candidates I’ll be adding ‘worked from the RAW’ versions of the G3 test shots (plus many more) to the Flickr full resolution set over the next few weeks.

    Early results are just as great as I had hoped they would be! 🙂

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brb_jn/sets/72157626929113808/with/5854174071/

    John

  27. image posted a comment on 24 August 2011 at 4:13 pm

    Just purchased a G3 body to use the lenses I had for my 2 year old GF1. Moved onto the GF1 after finding SLR cameras too heavy at my advancing years after a life time in professional photography.
    The G3 technology is astounding print quality on 18″ x 12″ prints processed from raw files on a Fuji frontier machine and upsized in Genuine Fractals software match the quality and better than my old Hasselblad film camera.

  28. bigred posted a comment on 4 September 2011 at 12:39 pm
    Expert User

    Having finished adding ‘developed from the RAW’ examples to the Review Set on Flickr I’ve now re-edited the captions of all the pictures in that full resolution set to reflect my conclusions (which remain very good) regarding the G3’s overall performance.

    The set continues to attract a very large number of visitors (the vast majority being other Flickr users, though there have also been many from this site); so I thought it was important to ‘flesh out’ the captions for those who may not read this full review.

    The URL remains:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/brb_jn/sets/72157626929113808/

    Job Done I think 🙂
    John

  29. weeman posted a comment on 22 September 2011 at 5:54 pm

    Good review; I too cannot find any miniature effect mode, find the flash weak? I have trouble under tungsten lighting with yellow shots (could just be me ?)

  30. bigred posted a comment on 23 September 2011 at 10:10 am
    Expert User

    Hi Ed,

    There is no minature mode on the G3 (as there’s no Pin-point AF on the GH2), these subtle additions tend to get added from model to model so the slightly later GF3 has it whereas the G3 doesn’t.

    Your not alone in noticing the bias in tungston shots (even with WB set to tungston rather than Automatic). It’s easily corrected in post if you shoot RAW, or you can get it right in camera by setting a custom White Balance temperature for the environment (not difficult – see Advanced manual).

    As for the pop-up flash I had some real problems, as noted in the review, but in general users semm to think it’s OK. In the end there’s only so much you can expect from a tiny built-in unit. For serious work I always use a Metz AF50.

  31. bigred posted a comment on 13 October 2011 at 2:45 pm
    Expert User

    Additional (Oct 2011):

    Since writing this review I’ve had the opportunity to work with the GH2 body. It is equally capable of taking great pictures with very low noise and its video capabilities are second to none. So I can now say with confidence that both ’16MP’ models are capable of great performance, with the GH2 more suited to those of us with larger hands and a wish to explore creative video techniques.

    John

  32. bigred posted a comment on 19 October 2011 at 1:47 pm
    Expert User

    There is now a much better 720p HD version of the G3 video clips compilation on YouTube:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAU9wyMcOFQ

    John

  33. bigred posted a comment on 20 June 2012 at 1:15 pm
    Expert User

    Please Note: I’ve started deleting the shots associated with this review from my Gallery in order to make room for newer, more interesting, material. The original full resolution copies (plus their worked from RAW versions) will remain available at my Flickr site (links in text) for those still interested in viewing them.

    John

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