Best budget compact system camera: 6 tested

Six of the best budget CSCs tested

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3, 14-42mm - £380

About the same size as other super-slinky rivals in this group, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 is very much a compact-style camera rather than a mini-DSLR. Like the Nikon J1, it manages to squeeze in a pop-up flash, which launches out of the camera with the vigour of a Jack-in-a-box. However, there's no accessory port or hotshoe.

Direct access buttons are on hand for AF area/point selection, exposure compensation, white balance and drive mode, and there's also a Quick menu/Function button, as well as a dedicated iA button for switching to the iA+ (intelligent Auto plus) mode. This analyses the scene and adjusts the picture mode automatically, for optimum results. It even increases the ISO to avoid motion blur if the camera detects subject movement.

There's always a danger that such a compact camera will bury important adjustments in arcane menus, putting them out of reach, but the brilliant touchscreen gives near-instant access to everything you need. And for those with a pathological fear of leaving smeary finger marks on touchscreens, a fingernail will work just as well.

Performance

Handling feels the most natural of any of the compact-style cameras in this group and, in use, the touchscreen makes a huge difference. We love the way you can frame a shot and point to the area you want to focus on, and the autofocus responds amazingly quickly for a contrast-detection AF system.

In Touch Shutter mode, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 takes the shot after focusing on the point you've touched on the screen. In Pinpoint AF, the display zooms in automatically for a visual focus check.

Image quality is excellent, and the not-too-high resolution of the camera's Four Thirds sensor helps to enable good dynamic range and noise suppression throughout the sensitivity range.

Outdoor image test

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

A practically perfect exposure, the GF3 delivers clarity and detail from dark lowlights and bright highlights, along with very natural colour.

Resolution test

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

You can eek out a little extra resolution by shooting raw files. In JPEG mode it's merely average, but is very consistent up to ISO 800.

Noise

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 200

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

ISO 1600

Images are very smooth at ISO 100 but a little grainy at ISO 1600, although camera processing retains plenty of detail.

Colour error

Best budget compact system cameras: 6 tested

Colour rendition is pretty accurate across the spectrum and there's an inviting liveliness that gives pictures a punchy quality.

Image test verdict

The GF3 handles metering extremely well, even in tricky conditions, while colour rendition is natural and high-sensitivity shots are very detailed.

Read the full Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 review