We once called Panasonic's now superseded GF1 "far better than any normal compact", so it was with interest that we received today's announcement of the new Lumix DMC-GF3.
The GF3's main claim to fame is being the "world's smallest interchangeable lens system camera with a built-in flash". The camera can be spotted by a prominent rounded hump sitting over the lens.
Arriving in August, the GF3 is a truly compact camera body that weighs less than Canon's G12. But that's without the lens, and these can weigh almost as much as the camera itself (Panasonic's today announced a new 25mm Leica DG SUMMILUX lens that weighs about 200g).
So what's the difference, other than size, between this camera and its bigger cousin, the DMC-G3? Unlike the G3, the smaller G3 doesn't have a flash hot shoe. The smaller camera also boasts Full HD AVCHD video recording (720p for the G3), though no stereo microphone.
The GF3 has touchscreen control. We haven’t always been impressed by touchscreen cameras in the past, so it's worth testing to see how comfortable you are with this. As a result, buttons and dials are kept to a minimum.
A key benefit of "mirrorless" cameras like these is the range of automatic exposure modes - and the GF3 has plenty, including a Miniature Effect for a tilt-shift appearance and Photo Style, which allows adjustments of contrast and other factors while using preset modes.
Interestingly, Panasonic has added an iA Plus mode, which lets the photographer override the camera by applying tweaks to exposure compensation and other settings. We've been frustrated by smart auto modes that completely lock out any sort of user control, so this is a welcome development.
New Panasonic and Canon lenses
Lenses are another big consideration for those weighing up a choice between a Micro Four thirds camera and a DSLR. Panasonic now has 12 G Series lenses either on or coming to market. The latest is the Leica DG SUMMILUX 25mm/F1.4 ASPH, which is the equivalent of a 50mm lens on a 35 mm camera. There is no price or release date at this stage, though Panasonic says the lens will be available this year.
Meanwhile, Canon has released a new "affordable, general purpose" telephoto lens. The EF-S 55-250mm (equivalent to 88-400mm) f/4-5.6 IS II will be sold individually, while the Series 1 version will now be sold in camera bundles. Canon hasn't announced the price, and lists the release date as July this year.