Product Review: Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF3

September 30, 2011

By Dan Havlik

Combine the GF3's decent imaging chops, lightning fast spped and inconspicuous profile, and you have a delightful small camera for capturing candids on the fly.

It’s a pity that smart little sharpshooters like the Panasonic Lumix GF3 aren’t more designed for professional photographers. With just a couple of tweaks, this compact system camera would be a great tool for street photography and cost just a fraction of what you’d pay for an elite digital rangefinder such as the Leica M9-P (also reviewed in this issue).

Don’t get me wrong. Of course, the 12-megapixel GF3 and its 14mm f/2.5 interchangeable kit lens can’t compete in total image quality with something like the 18-megapixel M9-P, which is equipped with Leica glass. But it’s capable of producing pretty darn good photos and is remarkably quick and nimble to use.

Combine the GF3’s above-average imaging chops with its lighting fast autofocus speed, its small and inconspicuous profile, and a crisp, high-resolution LCD screen, and you have a delightful little camera for capturing candid photos on the fly. Add the surprisingly sharp, slender kit lens, which converts to a 28mm prime because of the GF3’s Micro Four Thirds sensor’s 2x magnification factor, and it’s an impressive package that will set you back just $700.

But here’s the bad news. There are some things you’re sure to hate about the GF3. For one, the camera is so small—4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3 inches—you’ll never feel fully comfortable holding it in your hand. The grip is tiny; you’ll only be able to get two fingers on it and you’ll often worry about dropping the camera. If that does happen, the GF3’s lightweight (11.3 ounces), polycarbonate body is sure to get heavily damaged.

Also, the buttons on the camera are exceedingly small and there are only a few of them which means you’ll have to make most of your camera adjustments in the GF3’s menu system which features annoying, consumer-style animations.

And that’s the conundrum. This is an advanced camera system that’s aimed primarily at consumers. It even feels a step down in class from the previous model, the GF2, which had a boxier, more rangefinder-style design aimed at photo enthusiasts.

While I loved the 460,000-dot-resolution, 3-inch LCD screen on the GF3, if it either tilted or swiveled up, it would make a great waist-level viewfinder, letting you compose images without pointing the camera at your subject. I also found the LCD’s touchscreen capabilities to be a distraction. I kept accidentally triggering them while holding the camera at my side. Turn them off.

Like I said, it’s a pity this camera isn’t more aimed at pros. While I really enjoyed my time shooting with the gorgeous Leica M9-P, I had more fun with the GF3 overall. Also, because it’s so small and inconspicuous, it drew less attention than the M9-P. While my photos weren’t nearly as sharp as the best ones I captured with the M9-P, they were perfectly usable and I snared more interesting, candid moments with the unassuming GF3 than with the handsome Leica.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF3
Pros: A fast and nimble performer that can capture sweet images on the fly without attracting attention.
Cons: Primarily aimed at consumers.
Price: $700 (with 14mm f/2.5 kit lens)