Panasonic Lumix GF3 verdict
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 takes the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (ILC) to a much wider audience. It pushes the GF series further towards the casual photographer and away from the enthusiasts at which ILCs were initially aimed.
What that means in terms of specification is a body with the same sensor and LCD screen as its predecessor and the loss of some key features including the rear thumb push-wheel, hotshoe and accessory port, and the replacement of stereo mics with a mono one.
This has been traded for a smaller lighter better-designed body with faster AF performance, new focussing modes, more versatile Photo Style customisation and Creative Control effects. It all adds up to a model that will have much broader appeal, particularly to those looking to trade up from an advanced compact.
It won't be to everyone's liking though, particularly enthusiast photographers who care more about control than simplicity, but the writing has been on the wall for some time now. And these changes don't necessarilly rule out the GF3 for serious photography. Let's not forget that it still provides the ability to use a wide range of micro Four Thirds and legacy lenses, offers fully manual control of exposure and focussing, shoots RAW and handles extremely well.
Compared to Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2
The latest Lumix GF3 comes only seven months after its predecessor, so while it is part of Panasonic's third-generation of Lumix G cameras, it's perhaps not surprisingly a huge step forward. With the same 12 Megapixel sensor, HD video modes and touch-sensitive screen, the GF3 is more about its redesign, and revealingly, what's been removed.
In its favour, the new GF3 is smaller, lighter and much curvier than its predecessor. Indeed placed side by side, they really do look quite different, and the styling could be enough to win it many admirers. In Panasonic's defence, the AF is also now faster and various UI and iAuto aspects have been refined. But don't get me wrong: by passing up the chance to fit the excellent 16 Megapixel sensor of the Lumix G3, the GF3 is mostly about having a redesigned body.
While the GF3 is indeed smaller, lighter and curvier than its predecessor, it's lacking some key features, most notably the flash hotshoe and its ability to connect an external viewfinder; it's also lacking the GF2's stereo mics and becomes mono only with no opportunity to upgrade.
So with the new body shape, Panasonic's clearly repositioning the GF series as an upgrade for point-and-shoot owners, while aiming the G3 at more sophisticated users. This technically makes sense, although there are plenty of enthusiasts who desire the smallest and lightest body, but still want some degree of sophistication and expansion. If that sounds like you, look out for bargain prices on discontinued GF2s.
See our Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 review for more details.
Compared to Sony NEX-C3
The biggest advantage the NEX-C3 has over the Lumix GF3 and, for that matter, any micro Four Thirds body is its larger sensor size. As well as providing an additional 4 megapixels resolution over the GF3, the NEX-C3 also benefits from superior low-light performance. The NEX-C3 not only outshines the GF3 at higher sensitivity settings, its composite low light modes go a step further, providing better quality results than you can get with a single-shot exposure mode. In our outdoor test, however, there wasn't much between the Lumix GF3 and NEX-C3 in terms of quality.
The NEX-C3's screen is articulated which means you can flip it up and shoot from the waist (or down for overhead shots) and with 921k dots has finer resolution than the GF3's 460k fixed screen. In its favour the GF3 screen is touch sensitive and if you spend more time shooting stills than video you may prefer its 3:2 proportions; the ability to pull-focus between subjects while filming by simply tapping them on-screen is also a key advantage for the GF3. If video is an important feature then you'll need to decide whether you'd rather shoot with the GF3's 1080i top quality video mode or settle for 720p on the NEX-C3's 16:9 screen.
After sensor size, the most likely deciding factor is handling and, as always, I'd recommend you try out both models before making a decision. The GF3 is surprisingly easy to operate in manual modes and Panasonic has struck a good balance between the screen and physical controls, though the the loss of the rear thumbwheel is a shame. The NEX-C3 has four customisable buttons and, in the absence of a shortcut menu like the GF3's Q Menu, it needs them, but if you prefer real buttons that you can assign your preferred functions to, it's hard to beat for speed and ease of use. And though the NEX-C3 lacks the lens catalogue on offer for micro Four Thirds bodies like the GF3, features like peaking, which highlights in-focus detail when using manual focus lenses, look set to prove popular.
See my Sony NEX-C3 review for more details.
Compared to Olympus Pen E-PL3
If the larger sensor of the NEX-C3 holds no appeal for you, the Olympus Pen E-PL3 is probably the closest contender to the GF3. Both cameras are built around the Micro Four Thirds standard with the most significant difference being built-in stabilisation on the Pen E-PL3, which works with any lens you attach. In contrast, the GF3 relies on optically stabilised lenses, and while all the native Panasonic zooms are stabilised, most of the primes are not.
We've discussed the pros and cons of each approach before, so let's just say that the arguments cut both ways. The GF3 body is significantly lighter than the E-PL3, but its standard kit lens is bigger than the collapsing Olympus model; that said, Panasonic's new 14-42mm Power Zoom with its tiny dimensions and motorised zoom could be a game changer. The bottom line, though, is the E-PL3 gives you stabilisation whatever the lens.
But we're comparing bodies, rather than lenses and the other big difference is that, like the NEX-C3 the Pen E-PL3 has a 16:9 tiltable LCD screen. The E-PL3's screen isn't touch-sensitive, instead there's a much greater emphasis on physical controls with a mode dial, and four customisable buttons - like other models in the Pen range the E-PL3 is highly customisable. The removal of the GF3's accessory port and hotshoe, not to mention the downgrading of audio recording to a mono also gives the E-PL3 an advantage in those areas. Its included accessory flash is more powerful than the GF3's built in one and you can fit a larger one if needed.
Lastly, there's the question of image quality. The E-PL2 turned in a stunniongly good performance in our outdoor resolution and high ISO noise tests.
See my Olympus E-PL3 review for more details.
Panasonic Lumix GF3 verdict
Panasonic's repositioning of its GF range as 'consumer' models aimed at casual photographers looking to upgrade from a point-and-shoot has long been apparent and, in my view, they've succeeded admirably. The GF3 is a lovely camera to use and one of the few models that successfully manages to integrate touch-screen and physical controls. The decision to stick with the ageing 12 Megapixel sensor will doubtless be a disappointment to some who hoped to find the G3's superior sensor deployed here, but its image quality is still streets ahead of what anyone trading up from a compact will be familiar with.
The decision to drop the rear thumbwheel, stereo audio mics and hot shoe / accessory port will likely be of consequence to a relatively small number of potential buyers and is compansated for by a camera that is smaller, lighter, faster and easier to use than it's predecessor. It's also a little cheaper than the Sony NEX-C3 and significantly less expensive than the Pen E-PL3.
If you don't like the way the GF range is going and long for a 'pocketable' micro four Thirds body with the features that the GF3 has sacrificed, now's a great time to pick up one of the remaining Lumix GF2s. With the same sensor, kit lens and most of the GF3's features in a slightly larger body with additional physical controls it's looking like a real bargain for enthusiasts. Conversely, point-and-shoot owners looking to upgrade to an ILC for better quality without breaking the bank will be very happy with the Lumix GF3.
3:2 ratio touch screen.
Fast full-frame AF performance.
Creative Control effects.
No hot shoe / accessory port.
Flash position causes lens barrel shadow.
No rear push thumbwheel.
(relative to 2011 ILCs)
17 / 20
16 / 20
18 / 20
15 / 20
16 / 20