The Panasonic Lumix G3 updates the popular G2 model: offering improved autofocus and a new 15.8MP sensor, the G3 is also 25% smaller than the previous model. What Digital Camera takes a hands-on look at the latest Panasonic Lumix G3u2026

The Panasonic Lumix G3 is the latest in the successful line of G-series Micro Four Thirds products, updating the Lumix G2 model. Far from a simple upgrade, the Lumix G3 is some 25% smaller than its predecessor – certainly taking the ‘compact’ element of the Compact System Camera category and more than running with it. The interior aluminium construction means the G3 is also some 10% lighter than before, making it the smallest and lightest Compact System Camera to include an integrated viewfinder.

Impressive stats, we’re sure you’ll agree, but the G3 excels in plenty of other areas too, helped in part by cherry-picking some of the top features from the high-flying Lumix GH2 model. The first carry-over is the impressive ‘Light Speed’ autofocus system that successfully allows for 0.1sec contrast-detection autofocus. We sat the pre-production G3 side by side to a GH2 and can indeed confirm the response time was very much the same for both models.

The Lumix G3’s 3in, 460k-dot touchscreen LCD is the very same as the G2 before it meaning, of course, that it’s mounted on a vari-angle bracket for angling through any 360 angle. A shame to not see any increment in the resolution and the 16:9 ratio is still very targeted towards video shooting rather than the stills that the camera is primarily designed for.

Above this and the G3 has a 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) that’s also the same specification as that found in the G2. The resolution and 0.7x (equiv) magnification mean it’s certainly a decent offering, but EVFs are one of the hurdles that more experienced users often find an incomparable pain when compared to their optical counterparts. Saying that, on the sunny day in April that we got our hands on the G3 the EVF was an absolute essential for accurate framing and playback as the screen’s reflective qualities can make more detailed assessment all the trickier.

But it’s not all ‘copy and paste’ as the G3 also offers a selection of new innovations: unlike previous G-series models that had limitations to AF-point adjustment, the G3’s single point AF mode allows focus to be attained anywhere across the entire screen. Add to this Face Detection, 3D Tracking, a 23-Area AF mode and a brand new Pinpoint AF mode and there’s a suitable solution for all situations. The new Pinpoint AF option is a single cross point that can be moved anywhere around the screen and then magnifies the selection to ensure focus – a good user-feedback system to ensure good well-focused shots on every occasion. Manual focus offers a similar sentiment, with a 5x or 10x magnification that can be moved anywhere around the screen to assist with far more accurate focus.

The Panasonic G3 also adds Full HD movie capture, at the 1920 x 1080 resolution at 50i (or 60i for the USA’s NTSC system). While the G2 has 720p capture, the G3’s upgrade to interlaced 1080i capture isn’t necessarily an improvement per say. The increment in resolution but the subsequent downgrade in capture format (from progressive to interlaced) mean a variety of possible capture issues such as motion tearing during panning. Although the G3 doesn’t offer quite the range of movie features as the GH2 – there’s no full manual exposure control or external mic input for example – it does benefit from the touchscreen’s ability to seamlessly focus between one point and another.

Still images also see a revamp. The G3’s latest 15.8MP Live MOS sensor offers ISO 160-6400 and now has a new noise elimination circuit at the sensor level, meaning improved performance and lower image noise at the higher ISO settings. Add to this the Venus Engine FHD and it looks as though Panasonic is really squeezing plenty of performance from its Micro Four Thirds sized sensor.

An increase in the G3’s bugger size also means a 4fps burst mode is on offer and a new electronic shutter 20fps option can capture 4MP images.

There are some other small tweaks, such as ‘My Color Mode’ being renamed ‘Creative Control’ and ‘Film Modes’ now taking on the ‘Photo Style’ namesake. intelligent Auto also sees an upgrade to iA+, offering the same point-and-shoot ease as the original iA, but now with added defocus, colour (red and blue cast) and brightness control via easy-to-use sliders on the screen.

Our biggest qualm with the G3 has to be that the battery now offers less capacity, presumably to fit into the smaller body on offer. With a quoted 270 shots per charge, that’s around 90 less frames than the G2’s quoted capacity.

Overall it’s good to see the G-series continuing to push the market. The decreased size will appeal to those looking for truly small forms and the increase in performance is notable. Available from mid summer 2011, the G3 will be released in three colours – black, red, and white – with a confirmed RRP of £630 with the 14-42mm kit lens.