Smaller and Lighter: Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 Digital Camera

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Wouldn’t it be great if you could have a digital camera with interchangeable lenses that takes pictures as good as those captured by a DSLR, but also something no bigger than a point and shoot? The simple answer is that it would be great—and the fact is that you can purchase such a camera. 

Panasonic’s Lumix DMC-GF3 does it all in a package that’s no bigger than many point and shoots.

Panasonic says that the DMC-GF3 is its smallest, lightest digital camera ever, with interchangeable lenses and a built-in flash. It has to be. The GF3 is a new Micro Four Thirds camera body that weighs less than 8 ounces—about half the weight of a compact DSLR—and measures only 4.24 inches high by 2.64 inches wide by 1.28 inches thick. It contains a 12.1 megapixel image sensor and three inch, touch-screen display. In fact, Panasonic says that the GF3 is roughly 17% smaller and 16% lighter than its predecessor, the Lumix GF2.

For comparison purposes, Panasonic’s DMC-FH22 is a 14-megapixel point-and-shoot with an 8X zoom lens and a three inch, touch-screen display. It weighs about 5 ounces and is 3.9 inches wide by 2.3 inches high by 1.1 inches thick. So the GF3 is only about 1/3 inch wider, 1/3 inch taller, 1/5 inch thicker and about three ounces heavier than the similarly equipped point and shoot.

Of course the GF3’s dimensions and weight don’t include a lens, but a sharp lens is one thing that makes a camera great, and it’s also one thing that makes the GF3 much better than a point and shoot. Another thing that makes the GF3 much better than a point and shoot is the size of its image sensor. Even though the GF3’s image sensor is “only” 12.1 megapixels, its size of 17.3 x 13.0mm makes it about nine times larger than the 14-megapixel, 1/2.3” sensor contained in the DMC-FH22. The size of an image sensor is, in fact, far more important than the number of pixels it contains.

Housed in an aluminum body with an ergonomic grip, the GF3 is available in black, white, red, brown and pink. A built-in flash pops up far enough away from the lens to prevent vignetting effects. The camera’s 460,000-dot, three inch touch-screen display allows for touch control of most shooting, focusing, playback and effects controls, and menus can be customized using drag-and-drop actions. A thumb wheel lets you cycle though the various modes with visual feedback provided on the LCD.

The GF3 features a Four-Thirds size 12.1-megapixel Live MOS image sensor, a Venus Engine FHD image processor and offers an ISO range of 100 to 6400. The camera can capture JPEG and RAW file formats in 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1 aspect ratios with resolution as high as 4000 x 3000 pixels. Like most digital cameras these days, the GF3 offers more shooting modes than most users will ever use. In addition to stills, the camera can also record 1920 x 1080 full-HD video in the AVCHD format. You can also shoot video at resolutions as low as QVGA, or 320 x 240, when required.

Naturally, the Lumix GF3 features Autofocus, along with AF Tracking in which you can select the size of the AF area simply by touching the LCD. Manual focus control is also available with a quick 4x magnification feature to enlarge part of the image on screen and aid in getting perfectly sharp focus.

For users that like things easy, the GF3 features an Intelligent Auto mode, or iA. Features of iA include MEGA O.I.S., Intelligent ISO Control, Intelligent Scene Selector, Face Detection, AF Tracking, Intelligent D-range Control and Intelligent Resolution. An iA Plus mode lets you apply manual enhancements such as peripheral defocusing around faces, exposure compensation and color-balance adjustments.

The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically switches to the appropriate mode depending on the type of scene it detects (Portrait, Night Portrait, Scenery, Night Scenery, Close-up and Sunset). The camera can also switch to the appropriate mode depending on where you touch its screen. Touching a face on the screen switches the camera to the Portrait mode, for example.

As mentioned before, the GF3 is a Micro Four Thirds camera, or more specifically, it has a Micro Four Thirds lens mount. Four Thirds cameras do away with the mirrors contained in SLRs, so you have to use the LCD to compose subjects—there’s no way fit an optical viewfinder into the body. But removing the mirror also eliminates a lot of the bulk contained in SLRs, which is why Four Thirds cameras can be made so small.

The Lumix GF3 is compatible with all Micro Four Thirds lenses and it’s compatible with all full-size Four Thirds lenses with the use of an optional lens-mount adapter. The camera is even compatible with Panasonic's 3D Lumix G 12.5mm F/1.2 lens, allowing it to shoot 3D still photos. The new Leica DG Summilux 25mm F/1.4 ASPH lens is ideal for this camera and it will be as familiar as a 50mm lens on your dad’s old 35mm film camera.

Starting in July, B&H will offer the Lumix GF3 in body-only form for about $500. It will also be available in a kit that includes a 14-42mm lens as well as a kit that includes a 14mm fixed focal length lens. The fixed focal length lens actually costs more than the zoom because it’s a faster lens.

If you’ve been putting off buying a DSLR because they’re too big and heavy, your wait might have been worthwhile. You can now get DSLR quality in a camera with point-and-shoot dimensions.

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This article neglects to point out that Panasonic has removed the hot shoe, viewfinder port and stereo microphone from this camera.  I have the GF2 and use the hot shoe for an external flash since the built-in flash on these cameras is very weak.  I use the digital viewfinder accessory in bright sunlight and the stereo microphone is certainly nice to have.

While the DMC-GF2 was a definite step towards making a DSLR which is actually just a point and shoot with interchangeable lenses, this camera really finishes the process and may go too far for some people.

"Removing the mirror also flattens out the camera and brings the rear lens elements closer to the image sensor. That has the effect of doubling the focal length of a lens when compared to those used on 35mm and full-frame digital cameras."

That is incorrect. The reason you get an effect of doubling the focal length has to do with the sensor being smaller, and nothing to do with the distance between the rear lens element and sensor! 

Anyway, it seems to be a nice little camera, especially with the 14mm f/2.5 lens! Thinking of buying one as a complement to my Canon dSLRs to use as a "carry-with-me-everywhere-camera". 

I have just purchased the Lumix GF-1 because I borrowed a friend's awhile ago and was really impressed. The one I have in hand does not disappoint. I rejected the GF-2 because of the touch screen. Perhaps this is a matter of taste but the notion of hanging the camera at arm's length AND puttering around with a fingertip, while the "photo" wanders off somewhere just does not appeal. (I'm from the era of manual focus and shutter speed rings, go figure.)

The GF-3 just seems to take this out of consideration altogether. Ironically, one great PLUS with the GF-1 is its heft. Not so absolutely heavy at about one pound, but it feels so solid in the hand, and the pictures prove out that this beast holds still during the shutter opening. THAT ****** for quite a bit.

For New Yorkers who had bid up the GF-1 (with good reason) to ridiculous levels even after the camera went out of production, come to Italy. I paid half the NY going rate, including in this august emporium.

   :-)

Nice look but, honestly, I won't buy it for a number of reasons, but two main issues really bothers me. First, no hot shoe, and just a mediocre flash. Second, I HATE touch sreens. In terms of usability, the first model, the GF1 is ten times better. Oh one more thing... I purchased a GF1 to use my Leica screw mount and M lenses on it. The problem with all those GF series is that they just don't have even a focus confirmation for manual focus lenses. It's a shame.

I also doubt that this camera has SLR quality. The GF1 and GF2 surely don't have.

I did not read any mention of the panarama feature.  Is that an optional lense one would have to buy for the camera?  What are the costs that would include what my ZS3 has now, minus special lenses?  What are the costs of the special lenses?  What does the "kit" include?  Would that $350 credit apply to trade in value of my ZS3?  Thank you.

Well, Sony's NEX pancake camera that attaches to a lens (instead of the other way around) is reminescent here in the Panasonic GF3 design. The loss of a hotshoe and EVF capability sets it squarely in the genre of a point and shoot camera with the ability to attach lenses larger than the camera itself.  I really don't see any useful advantage with this new design.  

The GF3 is a stripped down GF2 and the GF2 is a stripped down version of the GF1.

The GF2 lost the dials

The GF3 lost the flash, the hotshoe and the optional electronic viewfinder

Maybe the GF4 will use a smaller, less durable battery, and all the remanining buttons. I don't like the path that Panasonic is following, honestly. For me the GF series is dead. Maybe it's time to switch to Olympus and wait for the news. I'm sure they're watching this.

wow!!! I would love to shoot pictures from this incredible gizmo.