Friday, May 13, 2011

New Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G3 Digital Camera

The New Panasonic LUMIX DMC-G3 Digital Camera: Here to Replace The G1 & G2?

The G3 represents the start of Panasonic's third generation of mirrorless cameras. In some respects it's a refinement of the models that have led to this point (it uses the same electronic viewfinder and hinged rear display screen as the G1 and G2). However, behind the aluminium front panel of its slimmed-down, externally-simplified body there lurks a completely new 16.6MP sensor. This makes it the first mass-market Micro Four Thirds model to step away from Panasonic's 12MP chip.

While some of the new features of the G3 suggest a move upmarket, several of the other changes are indicative of an attempt on Panasonic's part to make the G series more accessible. This has seen a number of features removed, presumably in order to make the latest camera both less intimidating and less expensive (the recommended price is $100 lower than the launch price of the G2).

Mirrorless cameras are new enough that manufacturers are still trying to work out who they will appeal to most and what balance of features, capabilities and price those people are looking for. The first Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera, Panasonic's G1, was essentially a miniaturized version of its L10 DSLR, both in terms of features and in terms of appearance. However, as the technology has developed, most Mirrorless cameras have moved away from trying to mimic conventional DSLRs, instead looking to capitalize on the differences they can offer, such as compact size and seamless video integration.

The first clues to this ambition are in the more compact-camera-like hand grip - gone is the full-hand lump that has become standard for DSLRs. Instead we have something that more closely resembles the bulge on the front of the GF2 - a curvaceous extension that encourages a very different hand position on the camera. In fact the G3 is as close in size and appearance to a GF2 (with a viewfinder) as it is to the G2.

From the GF2 it also gains the rather elegant touch-screen interface (which is easier both to understand and to use than the one on the G2). This not only allows lots of control over settings but also the direct touch-screen selection of focus point - something that no DSLR can offer. And, as an improvement over previous models, the G3 also lets you put the AF point anywhere in the frame, not just within a central portion.

The G3 also gains improved video capability, matching the GF2's ability to output either 1080i60 or 720p60 (both from 30fps sensor output). And, while this isn't up to the same specification as the video capability of the GH2, the G3 does gain that camera's image processor and impressive autofocus speed. 

Beyond this, most of the G3's feature additions are incremental improvements - there's a picture-in-picture manual focus magnification option so that you can focus without losing track of your overall composition and a 'Pinpoint AF' mode that uses a small AF area and zoomed preview for precision focusing. And, unlike the GH2, the G3 features subject-tracking AF (as distinct from continuous AF) while shooting video (Panasonic didn't believe it was a feature that fitted with GH2 users' expectations).

However, it's not all a question of gains - unlike the G2, the G3 doesn't have an eye sensor for its viewfinder, so you'll have to manually switch between it and the rear display screen. It also loses the G2's focus point dial and focus mode lever from its top left shoulder. And, while it gains stereo microphones on its top, the G3 loses the option for connecting external mics, making sure it doesn't tread on the GH2's toes. These changes lead us to suspect that the G3 might take the place of both the G2 and G10 in Panasonic's lineup (its suggested price also sits exactly mid-way between those of the G2 and G10).

Compared to size in rivals
Compared in size to rivals

Panasonic G3 specification highlights:

  • 16.6MP CMOS sensor (standard Micro Four Thirds size)
  • ISO 160-6400
  • 4 fps continuous shooting (20fps at 4MP)
  • GF2-style touch screen interface
  • 1080i60 AVCHD shooting (from 30p 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 articulated LCD
  • 1.44M dot-equivalent electronic viewfinder (phase sequential type)
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