The Panasonic Lumix GF5 is the latest compact system camera based on the Micro Four Thirds standard. Boasting a 12MP sensor, touch screen LCD and a range of effects filters it's designed to appeal to a consumer rather than hobbyist audience, but has much to recommend it. We've managed to get hold of one for a couple of hours. Here's our first impressions...
Sensor and Processor
Firstly there’s a new sensor. Although the number of pixels remains the same as the GF3’s the 12.1MP Live MOS chip used in the GF5 is claimed to offer better higher ISO noise performance which, along with the new Venus Engine VII HD2 image processor (featuring what Panasonic calls Multi-process Noise Reduction) has enabled Panasonic to increase the GF5’s peak ISO to 12,800. Panasonic claims that these improvements enable the GF5 to equal the image quality of its 16MP big brother, the Lumix G3. The new engine has also enabled the burst speed to be increased to 4fps.
Design and Handling
The GF5 feels great in the hand and its compact size is just right in
proportion to the lenses. With the 14-42mm power zoom or a pancake lens
attached the GF5 easily fits into a coat pocket. Externally it looks much the same as the GF3 except for a slightly deeper handgrip, for a more secure purchase, and the upgrading of the LCD touch screen to a higher resolution of 920k.
The LCD screen is superb, not only in the clarity and sharpness of the image but in the responsiveness of the touch screen. Not only can you select modes and change settings, you can move the focus point anywhere on the screen and even take a picture by prodding the desired focal point with your finger. Although we didn’t get chance to use it in very bright sun the screen was easy to see in the changeable conditions of a spring day in the UK.
The only regrettable
omission is that there’s still no port for Panasonic’s clip on
electronic viewfinder accessory, though given the distinctive curved top
of the GF5 it’s hard to see how one could be attached, and its arguable
whether the target audience would be that bothered by the lack of an
“The world’s fastest autofocus” is a claim that has been bandied around for several cameras, with various caveats, and the GF3 was one of them. The GF5 improves on this even further with a claimed 0.09sec focus speed, but in all honesty when the talk gets down to hundredths of a second it’s almost impossible to distinguish one from another. Suffice to say it’s very fast. But more important than speed is accuracy and Panasonic showed some independent laboratory research that named Panasonic’s AF system as the most consistently accurate among all the major CSC and DSLR AF systems (with figures based on the percentage of shots in their test that achieved perfect focus). In the two hours of shooting we did we saw little to dispute this, with the AF locking onto its target swiftly and precisely every time.
Like the GF3 before it, the GF5 offers all the Program,
Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority and Manual modes, as well as a range
of scene modes, and these can be selected either by using the buttons
on the back or, the quicker method in our view, via the touch screen.
Apertures and shutter speeds are adjusted the same way. Although we’d prefer a direct input dial for exposure like their more advanced models, Panasonic is probably right in keeping the number of external controls to a minimum on this GF5 to avoid intimidating the more mainstream audience for this camera, most of whom are likely to keep the camera in the highly effective Intelligent Auto modes most of the time.
Panasonic has redesigned the user interface to be more attractive and, in the auto modes, more helpful to novices learning the ropes. In the scene modes pictorial images illustrate some of the effects you’ll get and tips are provided to help the user to get better shots. The GF5 also sees the introduction of a range of 14 Creative Filter Effects, bringing it in line with some of its rivals. The choices include Sepia and Dynamic Monochrome, Soft Focus, Star Filter, Toy Effect, Miniature Effect, Dramatic Art, High Key and Low Key, and One Point Colour. Such filters have proved a fun and popular addition for many users who lack the knowledge or inclination to mess around with Photoshop. The popularity of some of the creative photography apps available on smart phones, such as Instagram, shows the appetite for automatic processing effect filters, and with the right subject some of them can be quite effective. (see examples on the next page).
The Lumix GF5 now provides full time autofocus and stereo sound during its full 1920 x 1080 pixel HD video shooting, and clips can be saved in the AVCHD or MP4 formats. There’s a dedicated movie record button on the top of the camera, behind the shutter release, so you can shoot a video clip at any time, whatever shooting mode you happen to be in.
The GF5 is a relatively small upgrade to an already very good camera, making it even better. It’s lovely to use: it feels great in the hand, is easy to find your way around and works effortlessly well. In our brief road test the focusing was fast and accurate, exposures perfect and the touch screen responsive to the touch. The Creative Filters, while perhaps a gimmick for some, and a fun addition and may sway the wavering buyer.
View our image samples. (Note: As this is a pre-producton sample we are unable to publish full resolution images)