Panasonic want the G5 to rival the current crop of mid-price DSLRs. Does it deliver enough? We find out in the What Digital Camera Panasonic G5 review
Panasonic was the first manufacturer to launch a Compact System Camera (CSC) back in 2008 and since then has gradually built up the G-series range to offer a selection of models for different sectors of the market. There’s the GF5 for upgrading compact users, the GX1 for enthusiasts looking for a more compact camera to partner their DSLR, the ageing GH2 for enthusiasts and the entry-level focused G3.
While the G5 may appear to be a replacement for the G3, just like we’ve seen with the G2 and original G1 previously, it actually represents an extension of the LUMIX G-series range. Slotting in above the GF5 and G3 in the range, Panasonic is hoping to tempt buyers away from such DSLRs as the Canon EOS 600D and Nikon D3200, while offering existing G-series camera owners a tempting upgrade model.
Panasonic G5 review – Features
While the resolution may be similar to existing G-series cameras, the G5 utilises a completely new sensor design. The 16.05MP Live MOS chip is paired with a redesigned Venus Engine 7 FHD image processor that promises improved processing of the image, with an ISO range that now reaches a ceiling of 12,800. The G5 is also capable of shooting at a relatively speedy 6fps (frames per second) with its mechanical shutter, though this does drop to 3.7fps when AF tracking is in use. On top of that, an ultra-fast burst of 20fps is possible at a reduced resolution should you need it, thanks to an electronic shutter also being featured. The electronic shutter can also be setup to produce no noise should you require silent operation depending on your circumstances – just remember to turn the other beeps off in the menu as well.
The G5 uses Panasonic’s Light Speed contrast-detect AF, with a host of AF options that include Multi-area, Selective single-point, Tracking and Face Detection. Like the G3, the G5 features a 3in touch screen with Touch Control, which not only allows for adjustment of settings, but also full-area touch focusing and the ability to fire the shutter by simply tapping the screen. Mounted on a hinge, the screen itself can be pulled away from the body, while it can also be rotated through 270 degrees. The actual screen resolution has also improved over the G3, doubling from 460k dots to 920k dots.
While the G5 shares a similar electronic viewfinder (EVF) to the G3, with a 1.44m-dot resolution and 100% field of view, the G5 also sports an eye-sensor – lift the camera up to your eye and the feed will automatically swap from the rear screen to the EVF. No awkward button pressing here to swap from one to the other. Not only that, but the camera will begin to focus when the photographer looks into the EVF in the event you want to grab a shot quickly.
Panasonic has also bumped up the video features offered by the G5. Footage can be captured at full HD 1080p with stereo sound, with the choice of either recording in AVCHD progressive (50/60p) or MP4 (25/30p). While MP4 is more widely accepted, making it more suited to a range of playback options over AVCHD, the MP4 files don’t offer quite the same high rate as AVCHD clips.
There’s naturally Raw shooting capabilities for total control of the image in post-processing, but those who want to shoot in JPEG, there are 14 Creative Control filter effects that can be applied to the image. These include Soft Focus, Cross Process, Miniature Effect and Dynamic Monochrome.
Panasonic G5 review – Design
While from some angles the G5 bares a very close relationship to the G3, the most notable difference is the much more pronounced handgrip. This not only provides a more purposeful grip similar to that of a DSLR, but also sees the shutter button move forward, allowing for a more comfortable finger position when triggering the shutter button.
There’s also a Function Lever positioned just behind the shutter button, a first for a G-series camera. This allows you to control a plethora of settings, such as zooming in to an image during playback, navigate the user interface and control exposure settings. If you’re using a powered-zoom lens (the G5 is available with the 14-42mm power-zoom at £799), then the lever can also be used to zoom the lens in and out while shooting.
The mode dial remains from the G3 on the top-plate, but it’s also now joined by the movie record button. At the rear, there have been a few changes over the G3: the majority of the buttons, including the 4-way control are metal, rather than plastic, while the Quick menu gets it’s own dedicated button next to the viewfinder. There’s also the inclusion of an AF/AE lock button and a thumb rest as well.
The G5 is a compact package, especially if you opt for the slightly pricier 14-42mm power-zoom kit lens, while it also benefits from an aluminium front that helps provide a nice solid feel for camera. If there are any niggles however, it’s the rear command dial – made from plastic rather than the more tactile rubberised dials used on some previous models, it sounds a bit tinny in use and is at odds with the quality feel that the rest of the camera delivers.
Panasonic G5 review – Performance
With the G5 up against comparable DSLRs with (generally considered) faster AF, Panasonic has worked hard on the contrast-detect system in the G5. The Light Speed AF system features a drive speed of 120fps, promising focusing speeds of 0.09sec – and in use during single-shot AF, it’s hard to dispute this. Focus acquisition is very fast and precise, even locking onto low-contrast subjects that normally see contrast-detect AF systems struggling to acquire focus.
One of the benefits of contrast-detect AF is the coverage it provides. Have the G5 in 1-Area AF (single point), and you can select anywhere in the frame to focus on – even the very edges of the shot. The 23-Area AF doesn’t deliver quite the same level of coverage, but it’s impressive none-the-less.
While you can move the AF area around the viewfinder or screen with the 4-way control pad to your desired area of focus, you can also just simply tap the rear touch screen and the camera will focus. It’s also possible to set up Touch shutter as well – you simply press the area of the rear screen where you want it to focus and the G5 will focus and fire the shutter.
While single AF, where focus is locked in that position until your refocus, is very good and is as fast as anything the competition can offer, continuous AF, where the camera will continuously adjust focus as you half-depress the shutter, isn’t quite as strong. In tests we found the AF just can’t quite keep up with moving subjects quick enough in most instances, especially if the subject’s moving directly towards or away from you.
The 6fps delivers a decent burst, and you’re able to shoot 28 JEPG files at this rate before the buffer slows thing down, and nine Raw files can be captured at the same rate. Write times are also quick, with both a single Raw and JPEG file taking under a second to be written to a Class 10 SDHC card.
The interface of the G5 has come on a lot since the original G1 four years ago. The 4-way pad offers quick access to AF mode, ISO, WB and drive mode, while there are five programmable function buttons available – three physical buttons, along with two accessed via the touch screen. These can be set to access a range of controls, while there’s also the Quick Menu offering access to a broad overview of the camera’s main settings.
Although you can shoot with the G5 without ever bothering to use the touch screen if you so wish, it’s definitely a welcome addition, and makes it much quicker to change settings and navigate the G5’s interface – but it isn’t perfect. If you’re used to smart phone touch screens that have the ability to pinch and zoom images, you’ll be disappointed that this intuitive way of reviewing images hasn’t be transferred across to the G5.
Overall though, the G5 is a nice camera to shoot with: main controls fall easily to the hand, function buttons can be set up how you want (within reason), while the menu interface is pretty straightforward and easy to navigate. The boost in screen resolution is also welcome, with the 920-dot screen providing greater clarity and sharpness over the 460-dot screen found on the G3.
Panasonic G5 review – Image Quality
Tone and Exposure
In use, the G5’s 144-zone multi-pattern sensing system works well. We tested the metering under a broad range of lighting conditions, from bright daylight to artificial light and the camera delivered consistently faithful results. Even in high-contrast images, the G5 did a very good job of metering the scene.
If you’re going to be shooting high-contrast scenes often, the camera’s iDynamic mode should help retain detail in the highlights and shadows, with three settings (Low, Standard and High) to choose from, as well as an Off mode. There’s a noticeable shift in the detail retained as you increase the strength, but this naturally means the image can end up looking a little flat when shot with the High setting.
On top of that there’s an HDR mode, which takes three shots in quick succession before merging them together for produce a final, single image. As with the iDynamic mode, there’s a noticeable increase in shadow and highlight detail, though as before, this does come at the cost of contrast, with the image looking a touch flat.
White Balance and Colour
Most of our test shots saw the camera set to Auto White Balance, and we found that the G5 delivered pleasing results when subjected to a range of different light sources. If anything, we’d like to see them a bit more saturated for some scenes, but this can either be corrected in post-processing or adjusted by selecting one of the different Photo Styles on offer. As well as Standard, there are Vivid, Natural, Mono, Scenery, Portrait or Custom options.
Sharpness and Detail
We captured images with a broad selection of lenses, including the excellent Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 ASPH and the Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. When married with these lenses, the 16.05MP sensor is capable of delivering really sharp results with plenty of detail. However, if you’re not going to be splashing out on some of the pricier optics in the Micro Four Thirds lens line-up, the good news is that the more affordable optics are also capable.
Both the bundled Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S. kit lens or the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH POWER O.I.S. lens also offered as part of a kit are good performers, though they benefit from being stopped down a little from their maximum aperture for improved sharpness.
With a newly designed 16.05MP sensor, the G5 delivers a sound ISO performance. Results up to ISO 800 appear clean with no apparent signs of image noise, with good levels of detail. Increase the sensitivity above that and image noise becomes more noticeable, though in-camera processing has done a pretty good job of keeping it under control. This has come at the expensive of ultimate sharpness, with results looking a touch waxy in some cases. It’s not quite a match for an APS-C based DSLR or Compact System Camera at higher sensitivities, but still puts in a very capable performance.
Value & Verdict
Panasonic G5 review – Value
At the moment, the G5 is available for £699 with the standard 14-42mm lens, and for an extra £100 you can pair the G5 with the 14-42mm powered-zoom lens.
Compared to rivals from Canon and Nikon already on the market that have had the benefit of seeing their street price drop since launch, you’re still paying a premium for the G5, especially if you opt for the pricier of the two kit lenses.
Panasonic G5 review – Verdict
While it may have a bit of a fight on its hands to tempt people away from the safer option of a DSLR, the G5 has a lot to offer those willing to try something a little less traditional.
The build-quality is as good as its rivals, if not better in some areas. The interface and touch screen technology make the G5 easy and quick to use, though as we’ve mentioned, there is still room for improvement in this area. Images are also very good, and unless you shoot a lot of high ISO shots where DSLRs have the edge, you won’t be disappointed.
Factor in the fast AF (in single AF at least), flip-out screen, 6fps and the largest lens and accessory support for a Compact System Camera range, and the G5 has to be the most complete Lumix G-series camera we’ve seen, that mounts a serious challenge to established DSLRs.