The Panasonic Lumix G3 User Test
Handling and the user interface
The new G3 is a beautifully made camera, a fact that becomes evident the first time you handle it. However, it is also a rather small body where the decision has been made to replace many of the operational switches (including drive and focus modes) with Quick Menu and touch screen ‘virtual’ activators. In many ways this is a logical development, though it will initially ‘discomfort’ togs like me who have been shooting with traditional, physical control knobs and switches for many, many years.
In reality though it only takes a couple of days to get used to this change. Just as well, as on arrival late one Friday afternoon I discovered that the G3 had been supplied with only a short ‘Getting Started’ guide. The advanced manual now comes as a fully interactive PDF file, which is excellent; unfortunately it wasn’t in the box with the test camera. Chris and Steve quickly made it available to me after the weekend but in the meantime it was basically down to the G3’s user interface to teach me about itself and where I could find the settings I wanted to change. It did a very good job of doing so. The on-screen menu systems of these cameras continue to evolve thanks to the obvious effort that Panasonic are putting into their development. That on the G3 is fast, intuitive and highly customisable. You also have assignable function buttons that will help you to set up the camera to your own operational requirements.
These operational changes have made it possible to produce an advanced camera with high-def’ EVF that is significantly smaller (around 25%) than the preceding G1 & G2. The reduction in size will be seen as a bonus by many but for some of us, including me, I’m sorry to say it’s a bit of a problem when shooting hand-held and one which I failed to resolve during my six-and-a-half days with the camera.
The reason for this is basically that some controls, namely the D-Pad and control dial have been retained in much the same positions as found on the G1/G2 – but in a smaller area. I found that when shooting hand held using the EVF, particularly with a longer, heavier lens such as the 45-200mm, I was gripping the equally reduced finger grip on the front of the G3 quite hard. This had the effect of causing the heel of my thumb to put enough pressure on the D-Pad controls to accidentally activate them; usually at just the wrong moment when I was about to get that killer shot! I have to conclude that as it stands the G3 is better suited to photographers with smaller hands or for tripod mounted use, where this ceases to be a problem.
Fortunately, the positioning of the D-Pad proved to be my only major problem with the G3 though there are one or two other points that I’ll get out of the way now before concentrating on what’s great about this new G. First the battery. At an average capacity of only around 250 shots it’s too small for serious location shooting; during the test period I had to abort an excellent wild fowl shoot early because of this fact. Anyone buying the G3 is going to need at least one back-up battery if they intend to take their camera anywhere interesting. So my question to the good people at Panasonic is simply this: “If you really have to make the cells this small why not just put two in the box to start with?” Considering that there can be sourcing problems getting back-up batteries for new models wouldn’t it be a good thing to give users the power cells they really need as part of the initial purchase; even if that added a few pounds to the price?
My other ‘disappointment’ was to note the lack of an automatic EVF/LCD eye sensor and its replacement by a tiny manual switch as seen on the G10. Maybe it’s the way I shoot after a year with the G1, but I found myself pressing that little button many hundreds of times whilst taking over 800 shots during the test. I suspect that, given time, I’d have found a way to set the G3 up to avoid a lot of that manual switching but between learning the camera, getting the test shots and dodging the weather there simply wasn’t the opportunity to fully explore everything to the depth I’d have liked.
Lastly, for this part of the report, on the positive side of handling I can confirm that there’s now much less of a tendency to accidentally hit the lens release button. Also, despite the reduction in size and weight, this is still a solid little camera and surprisingly well balanced with lenses up to and including the 45-200mm. I actually used that combination a lot during the test because the ‘Light Speed AF’ enabled by the Venus Engine FHD processor in the G3 turbo-charges the focusing performance of this lens. The improvement is so great that I’d recommend people buying the camera to seriously consider going for the twin lens kit from the outset if they don’t already own the 45-200mm.