The Panasonic Lumix GF3 is the company’s 2011 Micro Four Thirds-format shooter. At the time it was released, it was their smallest so far and arguably the most beginner-friendly mirrorless compact system camera yet. It sports a familiar 12-megapixel CMOS Four Thirds sensor -- comparable to though smaller than the sensor in most consumer dSLR cameras -- and a revamped processor for impressive autofocus speeds and burst shooting. Equipped with Panasonic’s 14mm pancake lens, the GF3 is about the size of a typical compact zoom camera, small and light enough to carry around in a pocket. With any zoom lens, it’s no longer pocketable, but it’s still cool to see high-quality shots come out of a small, stylish camera like this.
As what is essentially an overpowered compact, there’s a lot to love about the GF3. It offers the best aspects of a dSLR without the bulky, utilitarian design or intimidating control scheme. Thanks to the new Venus Engine VII HD processor, it’s exceptionally fast for a live-view camera. It cranks out about 3.8 frames per second in burst mode and, we’re told, can autofocus about as quickly as a camera with a mirror. The specs are about on par for the current spate of entry-level mirrorless cameras, including 1080i HD video, some built-in effects and filters, and reasonable price tag, either $600 or $700, depending on the configuration. And if the interface is anything like we’ve seen on every other Panasonic camera with a touchscreen this year, it should be a real charm to use.
Panasonic is clearly aiming to snag buyers from a much broader audience than the enthusiast niche. In a self-aware meta sense, the GF3 could be considered a disappointment, continuing down the same mass-market route as the GF2 did away from the GF1. It has no hot shoe or rear accessory port (which means no add-on flash or eye-level viewfinder). It’s laid out like a compact camera, with very few physical controls or direct-access keys. But the target buyers are clearly casual users or hobbyists who care enough about photography to drop a few hundred bucks on a serious camera, but who don’t need or want all the trappings of a traditional dSLR.
The GF3 will make for a great street-style candid shooter in public situations -- friendlier and less conspicuous than a dSLR at any rate -- especially with the pancake lens, which Panasonic is really pushing as the “must-have” accessory. The pancake comes out at least one month before the more typical 14-42mm kit, which is not a pocket-sized configuration. The drawback is that the pancake configuration runs for $700. That’s a little steep, considering that most entry-level interchangeable-lens rigs come with zoom lenses and run just $600. Anyone stepping up from a point-and-shoot is used to some zoom, so we shall see if primes will catch on with average users.
The GF3’s chief competition is the Sony NEX-C3, announced just one week prior. This camera is a bit smaller (though a tidbit heavier), but it does have a hot shoe, accessory port, and a bigger sensor. It does have a 16mm pancake option, so it’ll easily fit into a pocket, and the pancake kit looks like it will sell for $599 -- cheaper than Panny's prime option. The first-gen NEX models were more popular than most pundits had anticipated, so we’d expect the NEX-C3 to carry on with that trend, though buyers do have a compelling compact competitor in the GF3 this year. Photos have leaked of a miniaturized Olympus PEN as well, so this looks like a segment to watch.
The Panasonic Lumix GF3 with the 14mm pancake lens will be available in July 2011 for $700, and the 14-42mm configuration will hit shelves in August for $600.