Panasonic g3

Panasonic's champion mid-level compact system camera, the Lumix G3, is small in body but big on its automated movie features.

The camera's 3-inch, vari-angle touchscreen LCD screen extends from the side of the body and can be rotated through any angle. The Panasonic Lumix G3 even includes a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) that, due to the camera's construction, can be used during capture for extra stability where needed (this isn't possible with any DSLR camera).

Auto focus

What really sells the G3's movie mode is the camera's continuous autofocus (AF-C) mode combined with the touchscreen technology. Pressing a finger onto the screen itself dictates the point of focus, and this can be used in real time during recording – the camera glides the subject into focus and rarely over- or under-focuses, due to the controlled speed of focusing.

Focus can be achieved anywhere across the screen, meaning that even subjects to the edge of the frame aren't out of reach. For more accurate focusing, the 1-Area AF Mode realises a square-shaped focus area that can also be resized with the drag of a finger.

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Face Detection, Subject Tracking and a 23-Area auto mode are also available. Pop the camera into single autofocus mode (AF-S) and focusing is just about as quick as it gets, due to the impressive live view AF speed. But this can falter a little, from time to time.

Manual focus is also available, and a 'macro-landscape slider' shows on the screen to assist with focus distance. But its generalised terms aren't overly helpful, and no full-size zoom assist to show the recording in actual size on the screen means tweaking the focus can be problematic.

Using the zoom during recording can cause a bit of a battle with the autofocus system, too, because the focus here fails to keep up.

Performance

Although the Panasonic Lumix G3 fails to offer full manual control (something seemingly reserved for the higher-pegged Lumix GH2 model), the AVCHD 1080i capture at 50fps (output at 25fps for PAL or 60i output at 30fps for NTSC standards) is of good quality, although the MTS files will need to be decoded into MOV files (using software such as iMovie or Windows Movie Maker) for use with other devices.

Exposure compensation is available, but this is only before you start recording, rather than during capture.

Exposure itself can occasionally 'jump' between levels as the light changes, although slow shifts in light won't cause such problems. In addition to AVCHD, Motion-JPEG capture is also available, which produces larger-sized AVI files of lesser quality, but which require no processing for use straight from camera.

Audio

Sound-wise, the Panasonic Lumix G3 has an onboard stereo microphone in front of the hotshoe. This location keeps the mic out of reach from the lens, and no autofocus sounds are audible in playback.

The Panasonic Lumix G3 is a great point-and-shoot bit of kit for video capture that can accurately track subjects and glide between focal depths with accuracy. It's just the lack of manual controls that hold it back.

Key video specs

Approx price: £619 with 14-42mm kit lens
Sensor: Micro Four Thirds Sensor (2x magnification)
Maximum resolution: 1080i capture (1920x1080px) maximum resolution
Frame rate: 50i (25fps sensor output) PAL / 60i (30fps sensor output) NTSC
Compression: H.264 for AVCHD video and AAC audio compression
File format: AVCHD format MTS files require decoding; M-JPEG
Exposure mode: Programme mode
Focus modes: Full time (AF-C), Subject Tracking, Single (AF-C) and Manual (MF) focus options
Connectivity: HDMI & A/V outs