Lumix GF3 is the latest interchangeable-lens camera from Panasonic to target the mass-market. Compared to the GF2, the GF3 has fewer buttons and loses a hotshoe (and no stereo mics for video recording too), but it has shrunk and is one of the most compact interchangeable lens cameras in the market. With a Lumix G X 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 power zoom lens (announced  26 Aug 2011), you would mistake it for a compact camera.

Here is a summary of noteworthy specs:

  • 12 megapixels
  • 160-6400 ISO
  • 3.8 frames per second continuous shooting
  • 1080p Full HD movie in AVCHD format
  • Touch screen for ease of selections
  • Customisable Q.Menu/Fn button
  • Auto focus speed on par with DSLR
  • 17 Scene Modes, much less than the other Lumix compact cameras.
  • White Balance presets support fine-tuning

What I like during my review experience (and it’s all about speed):

Fast Start up. I can focus and fire the shutter within a second of turning on the GF3.

AF Speed. The fast autofocus speed means I can capture the moment at the tip of my finger – literally. The easiest way to capture an image with accurate focus area is using the Touch Shutter feature. All you have to do is to activate it with an icon on the screen, then touch anywhere on the screen. Once focus is established, the camera will fire the shutter. The response is almost instant under normal lighting conditions. The slight drawback is that there is no chance to “change your mind” after touching the screen, as the shutter will fire.

Continuous Shooting. The GF3 can achieve 3.8fps using high-speed continuous shooting mode, or 3fps using medium-speed with live-view preview on screen before the next shot. Even with Continuous AF (CAF) activated, the GF3 can obtain moving focus and shoot continuously fairly accurately. In fact, the GF3 revives my confidence in using CAF on compact cameras.

Touch Screen. The major advantage of the touch screen implementation on Lumix cameras is that I can select the AF area by touching any part of the screen. All the AF modes make use of this touch advantage very well.

For instance, the Pinpoint AF mode lets you first select the AF area by touching the screen. Then the AF area is enlarged on the screen and you can fine tune the focus with the focusing ring on the lens.

As for the Multi-area AF mode (GF3 names it “23-Area AF mode”), you can still select an AF region by touching the screen. Then whenever you half-press the shutter, the AF mode will search for an AF area within that region instead of the entire frame.

The AF Tracking mode lets you select the object that you want to track, again by touching the area where the object appears on screen, and the GF3 miraculously tracks the object wherever it moves in the frame.

As for the Face Detection mode, while the camera is supposed to detect and focus the faces, the moment you select an AF area manually, the camera will override the face-focus, although the screen will still indicate the faces defected.

Apart from AF Area, I can easily change Shooting Modes (PASM, Custom, etc.) by pressing the mode icon at the top left of the screen. It will pull out the list of modes arranged in a circle, and you can either select the desired mode by touching it or use the physical wheel dial to navigate the cursor.

The GF3 touch screen does not work for all functions. It supports swipe gestures during playback, and you can touch the icons on the main menu screen. But once inside the sub-menu, touch does not work. For some items, touching merely moves the icon, and you need to press the “Menu/Set” button to select it for use.

Custom Keys. The “Q.Menu/Fn” button can be customised to either invoke one “Fn” item or invoke a list of 10 customisable “Q.Menu” items. I can customise the list of items while using it, instead of having to go into the menu mode to choose. Picking the items is also easily done by dragging icons.

GF3 makes auto mode selection easy with a dedicated “iA” button that lights up when activated. When pressed, the last-selected “iA” mode will be activated. There are 2 iA modes, the difference between the 2 is that iA+ allows you to adjust exposure (EV) and white balance. The video recording button can also be disabled via menu option, though I have no idea why anyone would want to do that.

There isn’t a lot of things that I didn’t like about GF3, but here are some that don’t work for me:

LCD Screen Quality. The resolution is 460K, it’s got wide viewing angle, but images from the monitor does not give me the “wow” feel. You can calibrate the screen brightness, contrast and colour tones, but the adjustment level is not fine enough and it may mess up your perception of white balance during photo-taking.

Menu Description. Some menu items are in short forms, and the corresponding icon selections do not have clear explanations on what they do. There is also no help menu to assist the user.

Buffer. When shooting in RAW, the GF3 can only sustain 4 continuous shots. Therefore, this camera is certainly not for the trigger-happy desktop-processing enthusiasts. Under the JPEG mode, my 8GB Class 4 SDHC card fires 18 frames before the shutter pauses for a good 3 seconds before firing another frame. Getting a very fast SD card will give you unlimited frames, as observed by some other review sites.

Summing Up
The Micro Four-thirds interchangeable lens camera system is a popular choice due to its wide variety of lenses that cater the needs of both entry-level and professionals. The Lumix GF3 offers a very compact solution to meeting your general photographic needs. I find the ISO noise level acceptable up to ISO 1600 for indoor lighting. I like the GF3 because it helps me to capture images speedily, thanks to its fast start-up, blazing AF, and a relentless continuous shutter burst.

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