Micro Four Thirds cameras have been around for some time now. This segment of cameras have been dominated mainly by the likes of Olympus and Panasonic. With the launch of a newer generation, these cameras have begun getting smaller in size and are loaded with various features. Brands such as these launch mirrorless Micro Four Thirds cameras, as such for those who're looking to step up from compact cameras and want features found on DSLR cameras. Though this segment is mainly dominated by Olympus and Panasonic, other well known camera manufacturers such as Canon and Nikon are seeking to put their stamp on this breed of cameras, too. By 2012, we may probably see more manufacturers gaining entry into this range of cameras.

The 14-42mm lens that is bundled in the kit

The 14-42mm lens that is bundled in the kit

Panasonic as a brand has successfully launched Micro Four Thirds cameras and building up from their existing range, they have released the DMC-GF3W. This is one of the world’s smallest and probably the lightest interchangeable lens system camera. It boasts of interesting attributes such as a pancake lens, an additional 14 – 42mm lens, full HD 1080p video recording, a touchscreen and other interesting features. Read on to know more about this offering from Panasonic.

Design and Build Quality
The Panasonic DMC-GF3W is one of the most compact Micro Four Thirds compacts we have seen. It is quite lightweight as well weighing at approximately 264g with the battery and memory card. Carrying it around is not a problem at all, due to these compact features. It can easily fit in a jeans pocket, a shirt pocket or a purse. The size of it being this compact is something that appealed to us a lot.

The DMC-GF3W is available in a range of colours, allowing one to purchase the colour option they desire. The available colour options are black, red, white, pink, brown and white. The colour variant we received in our labs was the pink one. The camera has a matte pink finish all over and the only other colour found on it is in the form of a strip found along the sides of the body. Besides the 14mm lens that came bundled with the body that can be attached to the front, the face features just the AF assist and the Lumix branding.

iAuto mode found at the top

iAuto mode found at the top

Panasonic has gone with the minimalistic approach, while designing this camera and have added very few buttons at the back besides the 3-inch resistive touchscreen. There is a scroll wheel that is located around the four way jog dial. Other buttons at the back are a playback button and a function button. The buttons located on the top, include a power switch, a shutter release button, a video recording button and an iAuto button. All the buttons are greyish and they feel plasticy. The rest of the body feels really sturdy and we had no qualms with the rest of the build quality and this includes the pop up flash as well.

The DMC-GF3W comes bundled with two lenses, a 14mm pancake lens and a 14-42mm lens.These lens fit well on the lens mount and like interchangeable lens cameras, a button is required to remove them from the body. Removing the lens is a fairly simple task and we did not face any resistance. The build quality of the pancake lens is good. The zoom ring on the 14-42mm lens feels a bit cheap and plasticy. This was a bit disappointing. Connectivity options lie on the side of the camera in a bay and these include a proprietary USB port and a mini HDMI port.

Handling of the camera is not that easy with a right hand as there is no real hand grip as compared with the Olympus PEN E-P3. Bundled along with the camera is a neck strap that does help to an extent  if the camera accidentally slips. Rounding up the design of the camera, the Lumix DMC-GF3W looks quite attractive and with the colour options available it can appeal to both genders.

Features
The main feature of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3W is its extremely compact form factor. Many Micro Four Thirds have been released over the years, but hardly any can compete with the size of this one. Being a Micro Four Thirds camera, it doesn't use a foldable mirror mechanism, as seen on DSLRs. This is one of the biggest differences between the two segments of cameras. It features a 12.1 Megapixel Live MOS sensor, which helps in reducing the noise in images. The camera has the ability to capture images quickly and the speed with which it can focus is really fast, too. The camera comes with two lenses, one a 14mm G 14mm F2.5 ASPH pancake lens and two, a 14-42mm lens. The 14-42mm lens is an equivalent to an 18-5mm equivalent.

A capacitive screen would have been better

A capacitive screen would have been better

Although the interface of the camera is not that great, it is fairly easy to navigate through. One may take time to understand it better, though. Camera manufacturers like Canon, Nikon or Olympus have consistent looking interfaces and navigating through them becomes a breeze, once you've played with them for a few minutes. This, on the other hand takes a while to get used to. There are several semi-manual and manual settings like Program auto, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual mode, which take care of tweaking the settings. This is expected from a camera with these capabilities and it can be a solution, while making a step up from a standard compact camera to a one like this, which has a compact form factor.

Moving on to the display of the camera, the GF3W features a 3-inch touchscreen with an approximately 460,000-dot resolution. While it may be a neat feature to add a touchscreen, it loses out to the Olympus as they use capacitive screens with their PEN range of cameras. One can also tap the screen to capture a photograph.

The ISO sensitivity ranges from 160 – 6400, which takes care of shooting in most light settings. Apart from this, one thing that we liked about the ISO settings are that there are many other ISO levels, which help in choosing the exact ISO sensitivity desired. If a person is new to photography then they can use the iAuto mode, which is very useful and can appeal to beginners, while capturing both pictures as well as videos. Videos recorded through this camera can be played back on a HDTV in full HD 1080p in the AVCHD format.

Pop up flash is sturdy

Pop up flash is sturdy

Images can be captured in RAW, RAW+Fine, RAW+Standard, Fine and Standard. This becomes useful for photographers as RAW images contain a lot of colours, as opposed to standard images. Another advantage of capturing images in RAW is that during post processing on a computer many refinements to the white balance, noise, among other settings can be made. Apart from this, the DMC-GF3W is loaded with various scene settings and creative filters, which allow one the luxury of capturing artistic photographs. Images and videos captured can be stored on memory cards, such as SD, SDHC and SDXC.

Performance
Handling of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3W is a bit difficult, since it does not feature a rubberized handgrip. When the 14-42mm lens is attached to it, the camera becomes impossible to use with a single hand. A lanyard would help greatly to give one that added assurance, while gripping the camera. The camera was tested in a controlled environment and outdoors. Tests were run to check noise levels, colour accuracy, grain etc. in images.

ISO sensitivity test

ISO sensitivity test

ISO Sensitivity Test
The ISO sensitivity was tested by using both lens and images were shot in a controlled environment. The sensor does well to reduce the noise in images till ISO 800. At the fastest ISO, which was at 6400, from the image above we can see that a lot of noise is visible. The sensor handles in reducing the noise levels well from ISO 160 to ISO 400.

Aperture Priority Test 14-42mm

Aperture Priority Test 14-42mm

Aperture Priority Test
The widest aperture depends on the lens that is used. At aperture set to F/2.5, we noticed that there was a lot of depth of field. With the aperture at F/22, the scene was crisp and there was no depth of field, whatsoever.

Performance continued
While using the camera at its maximum zoom, we noticed that there was a lot of detail noticed. During outdoor photography, the camera does really well and does a lot to ensure that all colours are rendered accurately. Indoor shots provided a lot of detail as well and the amount of grain was minimal. During macro photography, a lot of detail was noticed on the subject and the depth of field is visible.

Macro images captured well

Macro images captured well

Video recording is really good as well and video playback was smooth. The only issue we noticed was that there was a slight transition issue, while panning from a bright area to dark one. The flash is something we were not too fond of and it managed to light up an area of around 8 feet. This focusing issue lasted a couple of seconds and the camera regained its focusing abilities, soon after. The battery of this camera is really good and Panasonic claims it lasts approximately 320 shots.

Pancake lens featured with this camera

Pancake lens featured with this camera

Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3W is available in India at a street price of Rs. 39,990. The camera does well in the features as well as design department. The performance of the camera is quite good as well, especially while capturing outdoor images. The interface of the camera is not that great, but once one gets used to it, navigating is pretty straight forward. Our only real hang up with it is the price, which is almost Rs.40,000. The Olympus PEN E-P3 is available for a street price of approximately Rs.36,000 and has a much better interface and equally good performance. Fair enough, the latest PEN is a bit larger in comparison, but overall the Olympus fares better as the interface is more attractive, the touchscreen is capacitive and the build quality of the lens is better. This camera has not yet launched in India and if you are one of those who embrace Panasonic for their Micro Four Thirds cameras, then this will be a good option for the early adopter.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,