A smaller, lighter body and a touchscreen system that makes shooting and reviewing images a joy to use – Panasonic adds to its range with the new GF3. A couple of years AGO I treated myself to a Panasonic GF1. At first I saw it as a posh compact camera, using it for shooting things without the need to lug all my DSLR kit too. But I soon realised it was more than just a fancy compact. I was blown away with the fantastic results I was getting and the GF1 was soon promoted to my kit bag as a backup camera.
Having never seen the GF2, there are two obvious changes between the new GF3 and my GF1. First off, the hotshoe is missing, with a pop-up flash now occupying its spot on the top of the camera. The second is that the mode dial on the top was missing. These changes, combined with the lighter, smaller and more rounded appearance of the GF3, make it clear that Panasonic has come a fair way since the GF1 was released in 2009.
The first thing I had to get my head around was the touchscreen facility. I thought I would get used to this quite quickly, as I’ve got a touchscreen phone, but the GF3 is nowhere near as responsive as my iPhone. When viewing my images in playback mode I’ve found that if I want to zoom into an image
I have to tap the screen pretty hard. And to move from image to image requires a slow and steady slide of the finger on the LCD screen. I’ve been getting a success rate of two out of three ‘slides’ actually resulting in the image moving on. Shooting, on the other hand, is a different matter. When actually using the LCD touchscreen for shooting, the ease and speed at which I can resize and position the AF points is amazing. And the AF is incredibly fast – focusing and locking on as fast as I’d expect from my DSLR. This combined with the 3.8fps allows you to capture fast-moving objects and know that the focus is going to be spot-on.
The GF3 also boasts a pop-up flash that, when activated, seemingly springs up at the speed of light. It’s by no means the sturdiest of pop-up flashes, with its bending/folding down bracket feeling a tad flimsy, but this does have an advantage. If you were to accidentally knock it while the flash was out, I’m pretty sure it would just bend back and not snap off! While we’re on the subject of flash capabilities, the first thing that struck me when I got the GF3 in my hands was the fact that missing hotshoe, rendering it unusable for external flashguns. I think this is a shame, as an external flashgun can be a big help.
If you’re a big fan of adding visual effects to your images you may like the creative modes. Saving you time at the post-processing stage, simply dial in one of these settings to capture an image that’s a little bit different. My personal favourites are Retro, giving you a slightly desaturated/washed-out image, similar to a colour shot from the ’60s, and Miniature that allows you to create a toy town/tilt & shift effect. Not only do you have control over the point of focus but also how narrow or deep you want the effect to be. However, it does take some getting used to.
The Miniature effect mode is by far the most enjoyable and creative mode to use on the GF3. Okay, so the colour modes are great for creating images with colour changes such as Retro and Expressive. But for real creativity and creating a huge sense of depth in your images you can really get hooked on using this ‘toy town’ effect. With total control over where your focal plane is, as well as its depth, you can easily get results similar to that from an expensive tilt & shift lens on a DSLR.
This was the first touchscreen camera I’ve used. Normally one scared by new-fangled technology, I was impressed at how quickly I got used to using it. The main advantage for me was the ability to pinpoint an area on the LCD screen, exactly where you want your point of focus to be. You can also change the size of the focus point too!
Handling and performance
As I mentioned earlier, once I’d got used to using the touchscreen technology I found my way around the rest of the controls with relative ease. I’m not really a big fan of using a touchscreen for actually ‘taking’ my shots. Tapping the LCD screen for the shutter to fire just doesn’t seem right to me. If anything, I just feel that by doing this I am increasing the possibility of movement in the images or even dodgy horizons. And especially when tapping on this screen soon verges into almost punching the screen.
With the smaller and lighter GF3 I thought I’d be fumbling around trying to change settings but this isn’t the case. The control dial that was on the top-plate of the GF1 has disappeared to make a more compact camera, and the clear, large 3in LCD screen is great for navigating around settings and shooting modes.
To change settings you can easily scroll through the camera’s key features with the control dial on the back of the camera. This dial also allows you to quickly change aperture and shutter speed.
To give handling the edge, the GF3 has the added bonus of its Intelligent Auto Plus function (iA+), with such options as Face Recognition, Motion Detection and reduced blurring with the MEGA O.I.S (Optical Image Stabilising) all benefiting your images to give them a more professional look.
With an ISO sensitivity range of 160-6400 the GF3 is capable of shooting in very low light conditions. I tested the ISO settings on this tree bark, in a shaded area of
a forest. It wasn’t the darkest of settings but was good for getting a clear view of how the GF3 performed at the wide spectrum. As you can see from the results, the camera copes really well until it’s taken to the extreme of 6400. But even then it’s not terrible.
After having a really good play around with this camera, it’s clear to see that this stylish little CSC is made for ease of use. I may have had a few initial gripes with the responsiveness of using the screen in playback mode, but this was only because I was comparing it to my touchscreen phone, which I am obviously used to using on a daily basis. But in shooting mode the GF3 really comes into its own. Selecting exactly where you want your point of focus to be with touch is great – it couldn’t be easier to capture pin-sharp shots every time!
- Street price: £299 (Secondhand price as of July 2016)
- Effective resolution: 12.1MP
- Sensor type: 17.3x13mm Live MOS
- Lens mount: LUMIX G
- Focusing system: 23-area-focusing/Face detection/AF Tracking/Pin-point
- Metering: 144-zone multi-pattern sensing system
- ISO range: 160-6400
- Shooting speed (max.): 3.8fps
- Card type: SD, SDHC, SDXC
- LCD size: 3in
- Video: 1920x1080 full HD
- Live View: Yes
- Body weight: 264g
- Visit: www.panasonic.com/uk
This review was first published in the September 2011 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.