For digital-era photographers, the conventional wisdom has always been that bigger, as in bigger sensors, is always better. Simply put, this is why small-sensor, point and shoot pocket cameras are always out-performed, and in some cases truly clobbered, by large-sensor digital SLR models. In the same vein, this is why sub-frame dSLRs are always beaten by full frame models of the same generation. Well, in announcing its new G3, Panasonic made big image quality promises for its small sensor Four Thirds (2x crop factor) sensor, but did it deliver?
Answer to that question: yes, and convincingly so.
Just a couple of days since announcement, Imaging Resource, one of the Internet’s most respected digital camera sites, has not only posted a sample gallery for the new, SLR-like G3, but has already done a series of comparisons (scroll about half way down) that pit the Panasonic against popular, larger APS-C (1.5x crop factor) dSLRs, which are the Canon T3i, Nikon D5100, Sony A560, and the G3’s predecessor, the G2. So, despite being in a shootout that some people would consider to be anything but fair (APS-C sensor has about 50% more area that a Four Thirds one), the Panasonic more than held its own against its bigger sensor competitors.
Starting at ISO 1600 (below that, pretty much all large-sensor cameras are equal), the testers at Imaging Resource started splitting pixels to see what camera was best. At 1600, the Panasonic pretty is the equal of its competition and is, without doubt, the better of its predecessor. Cranking up the sensitivity to IS 3200, things start to get truly interesting when one considers the G3’s small-sensor handicap.
First of all, against the Canon, the Panasonic does have slightly better detail while still maintaining clean shadow images. When pitted against the Nikon, the Panasonic is still cleaner in the shadow, but the Nikon produces crisper images. Shot against the Sony A560, the Panasonic’s images win as the Sony is obviously applying a lot of noise reduction, resulting in plastic-like images. As for the G2-G3 comparison, it’s no contest, G3 wins by a mile.
The only catch: at high ISO, the G3 seems to turn reds slightly purple, but this may not be objectionable in all situations.
So, any way you slice it, the Panasonic G3 delivers the goods in regards to image quality, more than holding its own against its larger-sensor competitors and clearly besting its own predecessor, the G2.
In conclusion, the Lumix G3 looks to be quite a camera for people who are looking for a mirrorless, yet SLR-like model. Want to buy? Cleveland-based Dodd Camera is an authorized Panasonic dealer and should be stocking the G3 as soon as it ships. Price: the G3 with the 14-42 kit lens, $699.99.
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