BUILD AND DESIGN
"Smaller and lighter" seems to be a driving force at Panasonic with regard to their mirrorless interchangeable lens products - the GF-1 and GF-2 went that route, and now the G3 comes in slimmed down a bit from the G2.
The basic mini DSLR-like profile hasn't changed, however, with a pronounced handgrip on the right front of the body and the elongated bulge top-center that houses the electronic viewfinder (EVF) and built-in flash. The metal construction gives the camera a solid feel and fit and finish seem appropriate for the price point. The fashion-conscious will no doubt rejoice that the G3 will be available in brown, black, red or white versions.
Ergonomics and Controls
All of the mirrorless interchangeable models from various manufacturers are small - that's one reason for their very being, and folks with large hands should definitely check potential purchases to make sure they can live with such a compact instrument. In the case of the G3, the exterior finish is fairly smooth and it doesn't feel like your grip is completely secure. Even the patch of material placed in the handgrip area feels the same as the rest of the body.
The saving grace here is the camera is so small that the little finger of my right hand has nowhere to go but wrap around under the front of the body while the camera back sits in the fleshy part of the hand just near the bottom of the thumb, and this helps encase the camera in the right hand. Some really tacky rubber stuff to replace the slick, plastic-feeling handgrip material would do wonders, though.
Otherwise, control placement seems logical and Panasonic has arranged them so as to present little potential for inadvertent activations - the thumb of the shooting hand sits nicely on the open space provided on the camera back and is adjacent to the rear control dial while the forefinger naturally finds the shutter button.
And speaking of controls, in addition to the dedicated and conventional controls such as the mode dial and dedicated cursors and other buttons, the G3 continues to provide a touch screen interface that appeared on the G2 (and I first encountered with the GF2). Coming from an SLR/DSLR background, making camera settings via external controls is pretty well ingrained, but just as with the GF2, I found the G3 touch screen interface to be a viable alternative.
You can bring up the quick menu on the monitor by touch, and depending on your specific shooting mode this menu can allow access to focus mode, picture setting, motion picture setting, image quality, flash, metering mode, AF mode, ISO sensitivity, white balance and drive mode. You can then makes changes and selections via touch, and using a finger instead of the supplied stylus provided good results. Some of these settings have dedicated controls or access via internal menu so there is a degree of redundancy, but the touch screen makes the G3 fairly user-friendly for folks who make frequent changes to their basic shooting settings.
Menus and Modes
Menus in the G3 tend to resemble those for a DSLR - there is a 5 page record menu, 3 pages for motion picture, 7 pages for custom settings, 5 for setup and 3 for playback. As mentioned earlier, the quick menu option can summon up to 10 functions depending on your specific shooting mode at the time. Once in any particular menu the choices are straightforward and intuitive, but there is one sub-menu: the playback menu is 3 pages, but if you select "playback mode" on page 1, you're taken to a 2 page menu of choices.
Shooting modes are what we've come to expect from high-end compacts and entry-level DSLRs: auto and scene modes accompanied by full manual controls.
The 3.0-inch LCD monitor on the G3 rotates 180 degrees and tilts 270 degrees up or down. Composition is 460,000 dots and the monitor is adjustable for 7 levels of brightness. The monitor returned a low peak brightness level of 261 and a somewhat low 407:1 contrast ratio on the monitor values that we'd like to see at or above 500 for each value. Despite the low scores, the G3 monitor did fairly well outdoors, at least in part thanks to its articulating ability, but it could be overwhelmed by the right combinations of brightness and sun angles. Coverage is about 100%.
The EVF has a 1,440,000 dot composition and offers about 100% coverage. There is a diopter adjustment for varying degrees of eyesight and the image through the EVF is large and bright - the viewfinder is the way to go when shooting the G3.
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