Launched just six months after the GF2 (which we liked apart from its touchscreen interface), the GF3 will raise eyebrows if you’re expecting a better specced bundle. This time, in stripping away a hot shoe, accessory port and stereo mic, Panasonic has targeted the point-and-shoot consumer.
Light as a feather
There’s no denying that in the hand it’s certainly light. While the aluminium chassis stops it from feeling flimsy, a rubberised grip would have been really useful. Without one, the smooth plasticky skin can be a tad tricky to grasp firmly. With the 14mm wide angle kit lens (28mm DSLR equivalent) up front, the unit is well poised. Add the bulkier 14-42mm zoom, however, and it begins to feel awkward and unbalanced.
In bright or “average” conditions, JPEG picture quality is just fine but there is a little digital noise visible in pics even at the lowest of ISO settings. Use ISO 1600 and you could get away with an A3 print – just. Encounter darker days and your work may only be good for screen display. The loss of detail and sharpness in anything demanding ISO 3200 or 6400 will render the output too coarse to show with pride.
Without a whole batch of buttons and dials, the 3in resistive rear screen becomes the GF3’s lynchpin. The full range of creative shooting mode settings can be varied through simple interaction although it lacks the iPhone silkiness of some FourThirds cousins. Tap the screen, and the camera focuses on the selected subject and snaps a picture. It’s discrete, simple, fun and addictive. Buy a big SD card - you’ll need it. But in direct sunlight, screen detail, icons and menus can be hard to see. Sadly there’s no facility to add an electronic viewfinder.
Focussing in bright conditions is lightning quick - as close to the world-leading Olympus E-P3 as makes no difference. Move to the shadows or shoot after the sun has set and the contrast-based system’s accuracy suffers. If your subject deigns to move, even with AF Tracking engaged, focus hunt will ensue.
Video at 1080i, 60fps is always available via a dedicated top plate button. In optimum conditions, movie footage will definitely look the part. However, a key weakness is just how to clutch the body securely so that your left hand doesn’t cover the badly located, mediocre mono mic, and there’s no input socket for an external mic. Frankly, you shouldn’t buy this camera for its video capabilities.
The GF3 is a petit package and can be huge fun and there’s enough customisation in the menus to keep an enthusiast entertained. But not for long - because the size and good looks of this camera can take its users only so far. The GF3 has been built as a beginner’s device, and expectations should be set accordingly. Venture into more challenging creative situations and the shortcomings of “pretty” will become apparent.