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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.