dpreview: Panasonic DMC-GF3 Hands-on Preview

Δευτέρα, 20 Ιουνίου 2011

Panasonic has made it pretty clear that it believes the big market opportunity for mirrorless cameras lies in attracting compact camera users who are keen to upgrade, but don't want the bulk and complexity of a DSLR. The move from the enthusiast-friendly GF1 to the simpler, more beginner-focused GF2 was something of a disappointment for those enthusiasts, but made a lot of sense in terms of broadening the appeal of the Micro Four Thirds system. And, in the light of Sony's NEX-C3, it's pretty clear Panasonic is not alone in this line of thinking.

With the GF3, Panasonic continues to court the mass market, with a camera that furthers its trend of simplification and new-user befriending. It's a gentle refresh of the GF2 but one from which even more features and controls (as well as size and weight) have been removed. It's still a 12MP camera but the addition of the latest three-core Venus Engine FHD processor gives it the impressive speed of its G3 and GH2 siblings.

Building on the simple touchscreen design of the GF2, the GF3 loses Panasonic's signature rear click-dial, instead making do with a compact camera-style dial around the four-way controller. This and the loss of both the flash hot shoe and rear accessory port underline Panasonic's determination to keep things small, simple, unthreatening and inexpensive. The stereo mics of its predecessor have also gone, further casualties of the downsizing process.

Despite being based around the same 12MP sensor as the GF2, the GF3's new processor allows it to analyze autofocus information 120 times per second, as in the most recent G-series models. This considerably improves AF speed and, in turn, makes the camera feel extremely responsive. This in itself is likely to be a revelation for many compact camera users, as the speed of focus acquisition is at least as good as most entry-level DSLRs when used with their respective kit zooms.

The faster processor also helps the continuous shooting rate edge up to 3.8 frames per second - a 20% improvement - or 2.8 frames per second while maintaining live view. Interestingly, the camera's ISO range has been restated as starting at 160, rather than 100. We have been led to believe this represents a recalibration to make the most of the sensor response, rather than a simple renaming of the existing setting.

Beyond the external changes, the GF3 gains all of the features introduced with the G3, including iA+, a variant of the Intelligent Auto mode that allows additional user control. The GF3 also gets the G3's 4x magnified picture-in-picture manual focus, pinpoint AF and tracking AF. The more flexible 'Photo Styles' color presets also migrate across from the G3, along with the 'Creative Control' processing filters.

Naturally the GF3 also gets a couple of brand-new features all of its own. There's an additional creative filter called 'Miniature', a variant on the currently-fashionable faux-tilt lens look that employs a touchscreen interface to allow the user an unusual amount of control over the final effect. It's also now possible to extract a frame from a movie during playback and save it as a (small) still image.

The GF3 will initially only be available with the fixed 28mm-equivalent wide-angle 'pancake' lens (the 14mm F2.5) - making an appealingly small package, but hardly an ideal option for the point-and-shoot upgraders the company is targeting. A considerably larger, but more flexible, bundle with the stabilized 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 lens will follow in August.

Panasonic GF3 specification highlights:

  • 12MP CMOS sensor (standard Four Thirds size)
  • ISO 160-6400
  • 3.8 fps continuous shooting (2.8 fps with live view)
  • GF2-style touch screen interface
  • 1080i60 AVCHD shooting (from 25p sensor output)
  • All-area AF point selection
  • 'Pinpoint' AF mode (magnifies focus point to allow confirmation and fine-tune of AF position)
  • Tracking AF in video mode
  • Picture-in-picture manual focus magnification
  • 460k dot LCD

 

Key differences (compared to GF2)

  • iA+ automatic mode with more user control
  • Smaller, lighter, body
  • No rear click control dial (combined dial / 4-way controller instead)
  • Smaller battery
  • Picture-in-picture magnified manual focus mode
  • 'Pinpoint' AF mode
  • Tracking AF in video mode
  • Photo Styles (color response presets as used in G3, offering better control than GF2)
  • Creative Filters (including new Miniature mode)
  • ISO 160 base ISO (rather than ISO 100)
  • 3.8 fps maximum continuous shooting rate, rather than 3.2 fps
  • Mono microphone, rather than stereo
  • No flash hot shoe
  • No EVF port

 

Compared to the Sony NEX-C3

Here's the GF3 alongside its most obvious direct competitor - Sony's hot-off-the-press NEX-C3. The two are very similar in size: the GF3 is a little bit taller, with a circular bulge on the top plate to accommodate its built-in pop-up flash (the Sony requires an additional bolt-on unit). Meanwhile the C3 is fractionally wider but squeezes in a larger APS-C sensor.

This comparison illustrates the two cameras' similarly compact camera-like, simplified rear layouts. Like Sony, Panasonic has clearly decided to make a camera that won't put off potential buyers by appearing overly-complex or intimidatingly difficult to use. The inevitable corollary of this, though, is that there's nothing much to excite enthusiasts here.

Of course the difference you can't see here is that the Panasonic has a touch-screen interface so doesn't have to rely entirely on its modest button count. This interface is well enough designed that it makes the camera quicker and easier to use, however much control you're trying to take.

Viewed from the top down, the simplicity of the two cameras is again evident. Both have shutter and movie buttons on the top plate alongside the power switch, but precious little else. They're also essentially the same in terms of body thickness and (non)pocketability with their respective kit zooms attached.