In a competitive field where many manufacturers are focusing the bulk of their research and development budgets, it takes a real gem of a camera to stand out. In scooping our consumer Compact System Camera award last year, the Panasonic GF3 affirmed its status as one such model and indeed one of the most desirable on the market.
The GF5, despite skipping a logical numerical step, is its successor and as such the model that’s tasked with filling its shoes. It arrives with several tweaks, although more fine-tuned than completely overhauled, but the question is – is it a worthy successor to its award-winning predecessor?
Panasonic Lumix GF5 review – Features
A conventional numbering system would dictate that a GF4 should succeed the GF3 in Panasonic’s Compact System Camera (CSC) line-up, although no such camera was released. This is due to the number four’s status as unlucky in some East Asian countries, and as such Panasonic has chosen to skip said model altogether. As a result, the GF5 is the GF3’s successor, and thus holds a lot of features that will no doubt prove familiar to those acquainted with the award-winning predecessor.
Although the megapixel count remains the same as that found on the GF3 – sitting at 12.1 effective megapixels – the Live MOS sensor itself is completely redeveloped. Not only is the sensor redeveloped but Panasonic has also redesigned the Venus Engine, with it now gaining the Venus Engine VII HD2 moniker and promising better results at higher ISO settings.
The new Venus Engine processor facilitates a new maximum ISO setting of 12,800 which, thanks to Panasonic’s ‘Multi-process Noise Reduction’ technology, should prove eminently usable. This high ISO setting of 12,800 is an improvement on the previous high ISO setting of 6400 found on the GF3.
As is the case with all of Panasonic’s CSCs, the GF5 incorporates the Micro Four Thirds lens mount. This lens system was created by Olympus and Panasonic in 2008, and as a result a wide selection of lenses are now available in the mount. The standard lens shipped with the GF5 as a kit is Panasonic’s Lumix G X Vario PX Power OIS 14-42mm optic, and for that reason it’s the lens utilised during this test.
One omission from the GF5’s predecessor, the GF3, is a viewfinder. Other models in Panasonic’s G series either feature an electronic viewfinder integrated into the body of the camera in the conventional arrangement or, as an alternative, an accessory port for the attachment of an optional EVF accessory – unfortunately the GF5 has gained neither. While it’s understandable for Panasonic to exclude such a fixture in preference of maintaining an extra compact body, there’s no doubt that some will miss the option for a viewfinder.
On the rear of the camera sits one of the highlights of the Panasonic GF5 – its impressive LCD screen. At 3in, the screen is the same physical size as that found on the predecessor, but the resolution now sits at 920k dots – double that on the GF3. The screen features a 100% field of view and 3:2 aspect ratio, as well as offering touchscreen control of basic shooting setting and advanced variables, including selection of focus points and touch-shutter functionality.
As well as offering full control over shooting settings through the conventional PASM shooting modes, the GF5 also caters for those wanting the camera to take control of shooting settings. A pair of Intelligent Auto modes feature – Panasonic’s standard iA setting is accompanied by an iA+ mode which not only determines the correct camera settings for the scene, but also toggles colour and brightness adjustment of captured images.
A host of Creative Control modes also feature, along with six new filters for those looking for their camera to take control of the post-production of their images. The GF5’s 12.1MP sensor not only offers still image capture, but also supports video capture at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 and 30 frames per second, or ‘Full HD’. The format in which movies are recorded is user-adjustable between either AVCHD and MP4, with the former being better suited to dedicated AV equipment and the latter to viewing and editing on a computer, thus offering the user versatility in the editing stage.
The GF5 benefits from the inclusion of Panasonic’s Light Speed AF technology, and claims minimum focus times of just 0.09 seconds when using the 14-42mm kit lens – a speed which, Panasonic claims, makes it the fastest of its type on the market. Accuracy, as ever, is also of prime importance and thanks to the implementation of a sensor-driven contrast AF system, Panasonic maintains that this is also class-leading in that regard.
Panasonic Lumix GF5 review – Design
Those who are familiar with the design of the GF3 will no doubt find the GF5 instantly recognisable because Panasonic has chosen to alter very little cosmetically between the two. The only real distinguishable change is that the GF5 boasts a slightly deeper handgrip, thus offering a more secure hold over the camera. This deeper handgrip has affected the depth and weight of the camera, although the increase is fractional.
The GF5 is clearly aimed at those wanting to make the step up from a compact camera, but still with an emphasis on the ‘compact’ element of a CSC. As a result it boasts truly diminutive dimensions and, when paired with either a pancake lens or the 14-42mm ‘kit’ power lens, is readily pocketable.
It’s clear to see why Panasonic chose to take the ‘softly softly’ approach to any design tweaks, as the GF5 follows on from what was a camera designed very well to purpose. Controls on the body of the camera are kept to a minimum, with the top plate housing a power switch, shutter release and a pair of one-touch access buttons for video capture and Intelligent Auto (iA) modes respectively.
Thanks to the fact that the rear of the camera houses a touch-screen LCD, offering control over a variety of shooting modes, the same lack of clutter is evident – a trio of buttons offer access to image playback, a display toggle and quick menu access respectively, while in the centre of that trio sits a control wheel / d-pad combination for access to further settings.
While the majority of the body boasts a good standard of build quality, unfortunately the control wheel and d-pad combination is made of a poor-quality plastic and is loose enough to be readily knocked while shooting.
Performance and Value
Panasonic Lumix GF5 review – Performance and Value
As mentioned previously, the Panasonic GF5 retains the same touchscreen technology as that found on its predecessor, and this is certainly a good thing. Almost all of the camera’s functionality is accessible through this screen, via a few swipes of the fingers in the relevant areas, as well as a host of functionality designed specifically for touchscreen users.
The GF5 offers touchscreen selection of the camera’s AF points, touchscreen shutter release and even touchscreen control of the camera’s zoom (when using the powered 14-42mm lens). There’s no doubt that as touchscreen technology becomes more prevalent in consumer electronic devices, as well as everyday life, effective implementation will also become expected on consumer digital cameras, and this is certainly the case with the Panasonic GF5.
The good news regarding the GF5’s claims about its focus performance is that it largely matches them in use. Focusing speeds, even in situations of demanding lighting, are fast enough so as you barely notice the camera is indeed focusing.This is particularly pleasing if using the camera in its continuous AF setting as it allows the camera to be moved between subjects and maintain an accurate focus almost in real time.
While on the subject of accuracy, it’s worth noting that the GF5 also performs well on this front. In most conditions it manages to correctly locate the desired subject and capture a well-focused image, with the contrast-detect AF system only really starting to struggle in low-light conditions.
There are a host of focus modes on offer, with the model’s manual focus setting being particularly worthy of note. When shooting with the camera set to manual focus, a 100% preview appears on the screen, which can be moved around the frame, allowing for simple and accurate manual focus.
The quoted continuous shooting rate of four frames per second is also respectable, although it does arrive with certain caveats. If you’re looking to continuously shoot Raw files, you’ll only be able to capture four images before the buffer fills and the rate is greatly slowed. However if you stick to just JPEGS, and have a fast enough memory card, you’ll be able to shoot until the memory card is full.
If you’re looking to purchase this camera with a view to only ever using it in iA mode, you’ll be pleased to hear that the camera performs well in this regard. More often than not it succeeds in picking the right settings for a certain scene, and thus achieves good results. The same can be said of the model’s Creative Filter effects. While the effects might not be to everyone’s taste, there’s no doubt that they deliver results akin to their descriptions and, as can be seen with the popularity of services such as Instagram, are bound to appeal to a certain market.
The Panasonic GF5 is currently available at around the £600 mark, including the 14-42mm powered kit lens. This places it towards the more affordable end of the CSC market, although some £250 above the current street price of its predecessor in a similar lens and body kit.
Although on the face of it the improvements over the GF3 aren’t particularly numerous, the doubling of LCD screen resolution, along with new higher ISO setting, dual video recording modes and other tweaks, are certainly enough to make potential purchasers consider the upgrade.
Image Quality and Verdict
Panasonic GF5 review – Image Quality
The Panasonic GF5 features a 144-zone multi-pattern metering system, with Intelligent Multiple, Centre Weighted and Spot modes. The metering system generally performs well and captures accurate exposures, although it does on occasion underexpose. This is readily corrected using the exposure compensation or, alternatively, by simply altering the images in post-production as they still retain image detail.
Images exhibit a good dynamic range, with both highlight and shadow detail maintained. As a result, images exhibit a pleasingly even and natural tone out of the camera.
On first inspection, the white balance on the Panasonic GF5 performs well. As well as offering an auto setting, the camera features a host of presets, manual adjustment and white balance bracketing, so all occasions are catered for. While the camera performed well in overcast and in even lighting, at times in harsher lighting images did exhibit a colder hue, although this is easily corrected in-camera.
As well as offering a range of pre-set colour styles, the GF5 offers full customisation of the colour palette at the capture stage, thus allowing for an impressive level of customisation of your images’ hues. However, you can be safe in the knowledge that if you let the camera judge colours of its own accord images will display a pleasingly natural palette.
We utilised the 14-42mm powered kit lens for the purpose of this test and, on the whole, it exhibits a good level of sharpness. There is a slight drop-off towards the edges of the frame, although not so much as to merit any hefty criticism.
The GF5’s 12.1MP Live MOS sensor is capable of capturing a good level of detail. Any softening when viewed at 100% magnification is, once again, easily corrected during the post-production stage and, on the whole, the sensor performs well.
As well as being supported by the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw, the GF5 comes bundled with Silkypix software for editing of Raw files. The first thing that strikes you straight out of the camera is that the Raw files display much more warmth than the JPEGs, as well as a wider tonal range, and more detail in areas of shadow. Sharpness is generally comparable, although a wider range of detail is captured with Raw files, and thus the preference would be to shoot in Raw where possible.
The GF5 has a new high-ISO of 12,800. From ISO 160-400 there is very little noise. Noise appears at ISO 800, though is well controlled, as is ISO 1600. At 3200 fine detail begins to be lost but it’s usable. ISO 6400 exhibits grain and smoothing of detail, and though the 12,800 copes well considering the sensor size, it’s worth having for the most trying conditions.
Panasonic Lumix GF5 review – Verdict
While the GF5’s improvements over its predecessor are minimal, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider that the GF3 was an award-winning model. The GF5 continues to embody the true meaning of what it is to be a Compact System Camera, and is sure to appeal to many. It maintains its compact dimensions and consumer usability, while continuing to deliver with regards to both performance and an impressive level of image quality. If you’re happy without a viewfinder, and don’t mind the incremental advances on its predecessor, then the GF5 could well be the CSC for you.