Unlike Olympus, Panasonic has been coming out with body after body for its Micro Four Thirds camera system.
Perhaps to match the latest Sony NEX-C3, it’s latest body, the Panasonic GF3 is very similar in size and functionality but easily beats the Sony as it has a built-in pop-up flash (no need for some proprietary cumbersome plug in flash as with the Sony), and more importanly given that both cameras lack some of the usual external controls seen on my enthusiast cameras, at least the Panasonic GF3 has a very useful touch screen functionality which makes accessing functions, setting AF, etc much more easier.
Furthermore, the Micro Four Thirds system is much more mature with more lens options than the Sony NEX system.
Importantly too, the Panasonic GF3 has the new turbo charged 3 core processor as does the recently announced superb high end Panasonic GH2 and G3, and this makes AF much faster and more responsive as well as imroving the burst rate to 3.8fps.
The GF-3 clearly targets the point and shoot photographer who wants better quality photographs (due to a much larger image sensor) but do not want the bulk, weight and complexity of dSLRs.
The GF-3 loses some features present in its predecessors, the GF-1 and GF-2, such as hot shoe, ability to add electronic viewfinder, stereo mics (only mono on the GF-3), and some external controls but for the target audience, these losses may not be important, because they get their image quality, fast AF, reasonable HD video (not as good as on the GH-2 though) and a nice usable touch screen (although not articulating as on the G3 or GH-2), all for a relatively cheap price ($US599 with 3x zoom).
The GF-3 would be perfect for my daughter who wants better image quality and better ability to blur the backgrounds than her point and shoot but wants it small enough to not attract too much attention, and simple enough for casual use.
As the Sony NEX cameras and this camera shows quite well, you can shrink the camera, but the limiting size factor will be the lenses – the larger the sensor, the bigger the lenses needed, and even the 3x kit lenses for these cameras are large enough to make them not pocketable.
If size really is an issue, you can buy the GF-3 with the compact 14mm f/2.5 pancake lens which gives reasonable low light and indoor usability and would be a fine travel lens.
Another compact lens favorite has been the excellent, compact, Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake, which makes for a great indoor lens and street photography lens.
For those looking for even better low light performance and image quality, Panasonic has recreated my favorite Four Thirds lens into a much smaller, lighter Micro Four Thirds lens which could well become the favorite low light, indoor, environmental portrait and HD video lens – the new Panasonic Leica Summilux DG 25mm f/1.4 lens for Micro Four Thirds.
This version has a filter thread of only 46mm compared to 62mm for the Four Thirds lens, and you no longer get the aperture ring, but you get the new Nano Surface Coating which helps to reduce flare, while it boasts 2 aspherical elements and one UHR (Ultra High Refractive) glass element which should help minimise purple fringing (lateral CA), while its 7 rounded aperture blades promises nice bokeh.
Hopefully, this lens will be as good as the Four Thirds version – see my photos using this lens on my GH-1 here.
Both the GF-3 and the new 25mm f/1.4 lens are said to be available late August 2011.
I expect Olympus will soon announce its latest Micro Four Thirds developments soon, including a new camera, a 12mm wide aperture pancake, and perhaps a 50mm wide aperture macro lens.