Panasonic GF3 Digital Camera Review$699.00
We found that the GF3 was able to produce colors with a color error of just 2.52 in the natural color mode, with a saturation level that was around 95% of the ideal. The natural mode does offer a flat appearance compared to the other color modes, but this led to more accurate colors that can then be altered after the fact. The standard mode was also very accurate, in one test offering better accuracy than the natural mode, though it tended to result in images that were around 1/3rd of a stop underexposed. More on how we test color.
Every color mode on the Panasonic GF3 offered decent color accuracy, with the worst—the vivid color mode—showing a color error just 3.81 degrees. This isn't to be unexpected, as the vivid mode purposely skews blues and magentas to offer deeper, richer colors that are very oversaturated by design. Every other color mode had an error under 2.75, which most cameras can't manage at their best.
NOTE: Because of the way computer monitors reproduce colors, the images above do not exactly match the originals found on the chart or in the captured images. The chart should be used to judge the relative color shift, not the absolute captured colors.
The Panasonic GF3 had the second-most accurate color rendition of any of the cameras in our comparison group, falling only behind the Olympus E-P3. It benefited from a big step up from the GF2's performance in this test, with the Samsung NX10 and Sony NEX-5 also left languishing behind the newest GF-series camera. GF3 also put up near-perfect saturation numbers, with a color profile that was just a hint undercooked, leaving photos with color that was a bit flat, though accurate overall.
The GF3 offers a set of color modes that will be very familiar to anybody who has used a similar level of Panasonic camera recently. The camera's record menu allows users to select one of several "Picture Styles," which alter color and offer adjustments for saturation, contrast, noise reduction, and sharpness. These all begin at the default of zero, but users can make adjustments of +/- two steps, with a custom setting savable if they prefer. the modes don't drastically alter the image by default, favoring slight enhancement rather than drastic alteration.
We found the GF3 excelled in both automatic and custom white balance in every lighting condition we presented. The camera was generally most accurate when using an automatic white balance with the 14mm kit lens, as it's able to draw from the whole image area. When taking a manual white balance, only a small area in the center of the image is used to measure for white, which did not result in much of an improvement despite repeated attempts.
Automatic White Balance ()
The GF3's automatic white balance did very well in every lighting condition we threw at it. It had an average white balance error of just around 50 kelvins in daylight and compact white fluorescent lighting conditions. Under tungsten lighting—which typically gives cameras fits and results in errors north of 800 kelvins—the GF3 was off by just 100 kelvins. These are superb results and they gave the GF3 the best score in our comparison group.
Custom White Balance ()
The GF3 allows users to set and save two custom white balance settings (or use direct kelvin entry), which we found to be quite accurate. Given how accurate the automatic system worked, there was not much room for improvement, though the GF3 offered some. In daytime and compact white fluorescent lighting, the results were actually somewhat worse when overriding the camera's built-in system. Under that difficult tungsten lighting, however, the camera had a white balance error of just 28 kelvins, which is remarkable.
The Panasonic GF3 blew away the competition for white balance accuracy, as it bested every other camera in both automatic and custom white balance accuracy. It did so largely on the back of its excellent handling of incandescent tungsten lighting (such as that typically given off by light bulbs in the home), which other cameras simply can't seem to wrap their heads around.
White Balance Options
The GF3 offers access to white balance settings using a hardware key right on the rear four-way control pad/wheel. The camera has 13 white balance presets in total, all with fine adjustments available. The camera also sports the aforementioned automatic white balance setting, along with two user-savable settings and direct color temperature entry. The custom white balances are set simply by pressing the up key and pointing the highlighted box at a neutral color object and pressing the SET key.
The GF3's long exposure noise reduction feature didn't actually decrease noise to any measurable degree, but it did help improve color accuracy. It works, as many long exposure NR features do, by taking a "dark" frame with the shutter closed and using it to map out where noise is likely to occur. This feature is rarely all that effective, as noise is inherently random, but we found it did decrease the hit to color accuracy that the GF3 suffered in low light. The main issue we noticed in long exposure testing was the camera's inability to gather enough data to get a good custom white balance in light less than 40 lux. More on how we test long exposure.
We found the GF3's color accuracy dipped to an average error of around 4.0 in low light conditions, largely due to a white balance system that, while very accurate in our WB tests, was unable to get a proper reading in low light. We found noise wasn't a very big deal, however, as at our test sensitivity of 400 noise only rose above 1% at exposures of 30 seconds. This is likely an issue with the sensor beginning to overheat, though it's not a cause for concern. This is backed up by the fact that the long exposure noise reduction system seemed to actually increase noise. In all likelihood, the second "dark" exposure resulted in more heat on the sensor, creating interference in the final image.
Despite the poor performance of the GF3's noise reduction feature (a noise reduction feature that increases noise isn't the most useful asset to have), only the Samsung NX10 offered better long exposure performance from our comparison group. The GF3 beat out fellow Micro Four Thirds cameras the Olympus E-P3 and its predecessor, the GF2, but a significant margin. The Sony NEX-5 also found itself looking up at the GF3 in this test, despite its larger APS-C sensor.