June 29 2011
The Panasonic Lumix G3 is one of the new compromise cameras, aiming to for the convenience and simplicity of a compact digital camera with the image quality and versatility of a DSLR.
The Lumix G3 is an update of the Lumix G2 with a new sensor and smaller body. It still uses a Four Thirds digital sensor that is slightly smaller than the unit found most DSLRs, but it is significantly bigger than those in most compact digital cameras. The G3 has a 16 megapixel digital sensor, an increase from the 12 megapixels in the old G2. There are detailed improvements in the video capabilities with higher resolution of Full HD at 1920×1080 and Panasonic are emphasising the benefits touch-control rear screen.
“With the LUMIX G3, Panasonic offers an extremely light compact system camera that is easy to use, thanks to a touch-control LCD, yet still maintains powerful and creative features to appease the more advanced photographer,” said Darin Pepple, Senior Product Manager, Imaging, Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company.
The body seems slightly smaller, not as wide and there seems to be fewer controls on the camera body, confirming a greater reliance on the touch screen menu systems.
Dimensions (WxHxD) (excluding protrusions)
G2 – 124 x 83.6 x 74mm
G3 – 115.2 x 83.6 x 46.7mm
Touch Screen Control
The popularity of smart phones and pad computers with their touch screen operation means an inevitable increase in their application to digital cameras. One function of the touch screen in the Lumix G3 is choosing the focus point using the rear LCD screen. Simply touch the object on the main LCD screen indicating to the G3’s autofocus system that this is target to focus on. Once locked on Panasonic says the AF system will track the object if it moves.
The main protrusion on the Lumix G3 is the housing for the electronic viewfinder and inbuilt flash on top of the camera body.
“The LUMIX DMC-G3 is the company’s smallest and lightest digital interchangeable lens camera with a viewfinder to date,” said Panasonic.
The viewfinder display is just a small electronic screen, not the optical Through The Lens system using a pentaprism found on digital SLR cameras. The system still allows photographers to hold the camera properly to minimise camera shake. Holding the camera up to the face provides extra support to steady the camera. This is important in an interchangeable lens camera where telephoto zoom lenses are heavier and bulkier than normal lenses.
The 16 Megapixel Sensor
Panasonic have increased the resolution of the Four Thirds sensor and at the same time improved the noise performance at high ISO settings.
The DxOMark overall score shows a small improvement in the G3 over the G2, the noise score is quite significant. The DxOMark noise comparison graph shows the G3 is similar to the G2 at low ISO settings, as the ISO settings become higher the G3’s advantage increases. While it suffers in the DxOMark comparison test against an entry level DSLR for colour depth and dynamic range, the G3 has similar noise performance to the DSLR, a Nikon D3100.
The Lumix G3‘s real gain is over the ordinary compact digital cameras, even up market models from Canon and Nikon. The DxOMark tests show a considerable difference in the overall score – driven mainly by a huge difference in low light performance. This is because the Four Thirds sensor is larger than the sensors in common compact digital cameras,
This gives a pixel size of 3.75 micro metres compared to 2.03 micro meters. Each pixel in the Lumix G3’s sensor has more surface area to gather light, giving a cleaner image due to less digital noise. Even at lower ISO settings a slight advantage gives a sharper picture even though the noise might not be obvious in the bright areas, it is in the darker or shadow areas.
The micro Four Thirds lens system is related to the Four Thirds DSLR system, but is designed for compact digital cameras, such as the Lumix G3. These mirrorless interchangeable lens digital cameras do not have the reflex mirror that is a an essential part of the DSLR optical viewfinder system. Doing away with the pentaprism and associated reflex mirror of a DSLR is one reason why the G3 is so slim.
Even though the micro Four Thirds mount is only used by Panasonic and Olympus, there is a good range of lenses for the system, and with an adaptor the larger Four Thirds DSLR lenses can be used on the G3. Adorama have the adaptor for $US199.95.
Considering achieving a small size is an important factor in the design of the Lumix G3, it is slightly odd that the standard kit lens is a relatively bulky 14-42mm zoom lens. Panasonic do make a pancake type lens. This type of lens are very flat so they do not stick out very far, making the combo easy to carry.. The Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Aspheric G- Series Lens, for $US 399.95 at Adorama, is not only compact, it has a large maximum aperture making it good in low light situations.
Of course size could be totally compromised by changing to a large telephoto lens but the advantage is that it is easily changed back to a compact unit when the long focal length is not required. Size can be customised to suit the occasion.
This is one consequence of reducing the size of the body, the Lumix G3 has a smaller battery than the G2 it replaces. The battery capacity goes down from 1250mAh in the G2 to 1010mAh in the G3.
Because the battery is smaller the G3 can shoot fewer pictures than the G2 on single fully charged battery. When Panasonic quote the number of pictures per charge for the two cameras they use slightly different test procedures so they are not exactly comparable.
The G2 has a maximum of 410 images if you use the viewfinder only and with the kit lens. The G2 will only take 380 if the rear LCD is used to compose the pictures.
For the G3 they say under the test conditions they expect 270 images from a battery charge, but this is using a combination of the viewfinder for some shots and the larger LCD screen for others. They also quote a the number of images when using a larger telephoto zoom lens as 250. The autofocus motor in the lens also uses the camera battery so larger lenses use more power for focusing. For special events or long holidays Panasonic Lumix G3 owners should consider a spare battery.
These tests are standardised lab tests so the actual number of images per charge will vary depending on such things as reviewing pictures on the LCD screen or using the built in flash.
The DxOMark tests clearly show the Panasonic Lumix is a more than capable performer and if you are looking for an easy to carry camera this is one for consideration.
The Panasonic Lumix G3 is available as a basic camera body only from Adorama for $US 599.95 and there is kit from Adorama that includes a lens, the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm/F3.5-5.6 ASPH./MEGA O.I.S for $US 699.95