Panasonic Lumix GF5 £658.99
4th May 2012 | 16:04
A fast, light and perfectly formed CSC
Panasonic has seen great success with the Lumix GF3, with its small size and beginner-friendly user interface appealing to a wide variety of users. So how does its successor, the Panasonic Lumix GF5, shape up?
Aimed pretty squarely at novice shooters rather than enthusiast photographers, the Panasonic GF5 manages to pack some pretty serious punch into its ever so small body.
Panasonic claims that its all-new 12 million pixel sensor is capable of delivering the same image quality as its bigger brother, the 16 million pixel Panasonic G3.
Making an appearance just 10 months after the debut of the Panasonic GF3, not only does the Panasonic Lumix GF5 offer an improved sensor, but it also includes a new Venus Engine for fast performance, a redesigned user interface and some new filters and effects.
Ergonomics have been slightly reworked, with metal buttons replacing the plastic ones found on the Panasonic GF3, and the handgrip from the more advanced Panasonic Lumix GX1 being attached to the camera.
The new Venus Engine has enabled Panasonic to push the sensitivity capability up to ISO 12800, meaning that this compact system camera (CSC) has the potential to perform better in lower light situations. It's also capable of shooting at up to four frames per second.
Panasonic is maintaining its "world's fastest autofocus" claim for the Lumix GF5, coming in at a speedy 0.09 seconds.
Panasonic also says that it has recently commissioned some independent research that shows its AF precision, along with speed, is beating all of its rivals, both in the CSC arena and in the DSLR market.
A 920k dot touchscreen has been included on the Panasonic Lumix GF5, another feature that has been brought across from its predecessor. Full HD video - pretty much a prerequisite on most modern cameras - can be found too.
Unlike the Panasonic Lumix GF3, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 is available to buy either with a Power Zoom X lens or with the larger conventional 14-42mm lens.
Because the camera's main target audience is beginners, Panasonic has really ramped up its efforts to appeal, with the inclusion of new scene modes, filters and on-screen tutorials and explanations of modes.
This camera is a direct replacement for the Panasonic GF3, and as such the previous model has now been discontinued. Panasonic expects GF3 stock to last until around June (in the UK).
So going forward, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 will be the company's entry-level offering, priced at £449 in the UK (about $710), or £579 (about $920) with a Power Zoom X lens.
Build quality and handling
As previously mentioned, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 is tiny when compared with similar cameras from both inside and outside Panasonic's range.
Side by side, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 is barely bigger than the Panasonic Lumix LX5, the company's fixed lens premium compact, which of course houses a much smaller sensor and obviously lacks the ability to interchange the lenses.
The camera is definitely jacket pocketable, if not trouser pocketable, especially when coupled with the 14-42mm retractable X lens.
However, although the camera is small, it still carries enough weight to feel nice and solid in the hands, and give it an impression of gravitas.
The newly designed handgrip, which is taken from the Panasonic GX1, is a nice addition to the camera and makes holding it a real pleasure, especially when shooting one-handed.
Since the camera is so small, there are barely any physical buttons and control dials to be found, with most of the operation conducted via the touchscreen interface.
The buttons that are present are metal, a first for the GF series, which lend it a higher air of quality. They also have a positive feel in use.
To access different modes (for instance Aperture Priority), a touchscreen mode dial can be brought up, with other options including art modes, scene modes and custom settings.
At the top of the camera is an "iA" (Intelligent Auto) button, which can be pressed to override all settings and take the camera into full automatic mode. The inclusion of a blue LED ring around this button is a nice touch, and prevents the mode accidentally being left on.
Aperture and shutter speed can be changed by scrolling with the wheel on the back of the camera (when in the appropriate shooting mode), which is quick and pleasant to use.
Any of the Panasonic Lumix GF5's 23 autofocus points can be accessed either by using directional arrow buttons built into the scroll wheel, or via the touchscreen.
The touchscreen itself occasionally proved to be a little unresponsive during our initial time with the Panasonic GF5 at the hands-on stage, and while the final production version was better, it was still slightly marred by very occasional unresponsiveness, meaning the odd double press was required.
A clear and bright display ensures that the scene is almost always viewable, also being functional at unusual angles. In bright sunshine, the camera's screen coped well in all but the very brightest of direct sunlight.
You can change the brightness of the screen yourself, or it will do it automatically, depending on the condition.
For the majority of our test we used the Power Zoom lens. Aside from the obvious size advantages, this offers other increased functionality that can be set via the camera itself, such as the ability to power up at a particular focal length.
Best tripods and camera supports
One downside we found when using this lens with the camera in portrait orientation was that getting confused between the focusing switch and the power zoom switch was all too easy, proving reasonably annoying, if presumably something you would eventually get used to.
It's worth remembering that Micro Four Thirds-compatible lenses make Panasonic and Olympus cameras the most versatile on the compact system camera market.
Panasonic itself currently boasts 14 lenses, while of course Olympus lenses are also compatible, along with third party optics from the likes of Sigma now starting to appear on the market.
While it's likely that the average Panasonic GF5 user will not feel the need to purchase a second or third lens, it's nice to have the option, especially if you want to push your photography skills further. Or perhaps you might want to purchase a wide apertured lens to photograph indoor scenes or portraits.
Best DSLR: top cameras by price and brand
Initial impressions of the Panasonic GF5 when using a pre-production model were very pleasing, and we're pleased to say we have continued to be pleased with the results from the final production version.
Panasonic claims that even though the Lumix GF5 has 4 million fewer pixels than the Lumix G3, it can produce the same image quality. This is a fairly bold claim, but initial indications were good.
When comparing the Panasonic Lumix GF5 with the G3 in our carefully controlled lab environment, we found that to be the case, which is good news for those looking for high image quality in a compact camera body.
Panasonic is understandably quite keen to push the Micro Four Thirds sensor format, with one of the key cruxes of its argument being that edge to edge sharpness is better than its APS-C rivals.
Looking at the sample images from the Panasonic GF5 (on the next page), we're pleased to say that it seems to live up to its claims. The amount of detail captured by the sensor is impressive, while out of focus areas are rendered very nicely.
Colours are also represented well, being punchy and vibrant without being over the top. Auto white balance does a reasonable job of keeping colours in check under natural light conditions, but we noticed it struggles under artificial lighting conditions, producing images with overly warm tones.
However, switching to a more appropriate white balance is very easy to do via the touchscreen, where you will immediately see the differences between the options. It's also very easy to set the Custom WB value.
Performance at high sensitivities is pretty impressive, with well controlled noise towards the higher end of the range (ISO 1600). There is a noticeable drop-off in quality from this point onwards, but it's certainly preferable to not capturing an image at all.
Generally we found metering to be pretty consistent when shooting on evaluative, although in darker situations it did have the tendency to underexpose slightly.
Altering the metering is slightly hidden away in the menu system, as opposed to other controls that can be found in the Quick Menu, which can be a little frustrating if you find yourself in a mixed lighting situation.
Overall however, we think it's likely that evaluative will be used the majority of the time.
Images can be captured in a raw format, as well as JPEG, and we found files contain a lot of detail that can be worked with in post-production via Panasonic's own software - SilkyPix - or third-party software such as Photoshop when the appropriate updates become available.
As usual with raw files, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 raw captures allow for when the camera struggles to capture the correct exposure, or white balance was slightly off.
This is relatively easy to correct using the raw files, which is a bonus for novice photographers who may find they can rescue an otherwise wasted opportunity.
In a bid to compete with the prevalence of popular iPhone apps such as Hipstamatic and Instagram, extra filters have been installed to the Panasonic Lumix GF5 under Creative Control, with 14 different variations now available.
Each of the filters can be further customised via sliders on the touchscreen to produce different effects, with the LCD screen giving a preview of how the final image will turn out.
The filters are a fun addition to the camera, and are great to experiment with, although some are better than others (as you'd expect).
Some of the filters, such as the Cross Process filter, can be directly compared with those found on Olympus' Micro Four Thirds models, including the Olympus PEN E-P3. On the Panasonic Lumix GF5 this is more subtle than that found on the Olympus PEN E-P3, but offers more customisable control.
One of the downsides of shooting in Creative Control Mode, however, is that you lose control over parameters such as aperture and shutter speed, which is a shame considering that this is an option Olympus was able to include on its most recent PEN range of CSCs.
Fortunately, however, the Panasonic GF5 can shoot in raw while using filters, meaning that these can be taken off in post-production if you change your mind after all.
Unfortunately, unlike the Olympus Viewer software that enables filters to be swapped around or adjusted in post-production, the supplied SilkyPix software offers no such functionality.
One slight niggle we found is that images shot with the Creative Control are named differently, so when loading the photos on the computer, these pictures appear out of sync to the rest of the images. It's hardly a massive problem, and one that can be worked around, but it has the potential for confusion.
Although there seems to be some conflicting opinion between Olympus and Panasonic about which has got the faster autofocus, there seems to be little point quibbling over microseconds. Whether it's technically the fastest in the world or not, the Panasonic GF5's AF is lightning quick, and perhaps more importantly, accurate, as is claimed - especially in good lighting conditions.
During our test, it was able to lock onto subjects incredibly quickly and easily almost every time, only starting to struggle slightly when the light was pretty dim.
Image quality and resolution
As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic GF5, we've shot our resolution chart with a Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens mounted.
If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 200 the GF5 is capable of resolving up to around 22 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.
Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:
ISO 160, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 18 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 12800, score: 12 (Click here to see the full resolution image)
ISO 160, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 200, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 400, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 800, score: 22 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 1600, score: 20 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 3200, score: 16 (Click here to see full resolution image)
ISO 6400, score: 16 (Click here to see full resolution image)
Noise and dynamic range
We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.
A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.
For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.
JPEG images from the Panasonic GF5 show good results for signal to noise ratio at the lower end of the sensitivity scale showing an improvement over the GF3, however as the sensitivity increases noise becomes more of an issue only beating the Nikon 1 J1.
Raw signal to noise ratio
TIFF images (After conversion from raw) show a close comparison to the Panasonic GF3 and G3 across the sensitivity range. However while the GF5 compares well against the comparison cameras up to a sensitivity of ISO 1600 the results above this value are noticeably lower.
Our analysis of the JPEG and TIFF (after conversion from raw) shows that while the results are respectable, they're nothing groundbreaking.
Colours are well represented from the Panasonic GF5, with lots of vibrancy and pop without being overly saturated.
Plenty of detail is captured by the Panasonic Lumix GF5's sensor, while edge-to-edge sharpness is really very good, especially when shooting at narrow apertures.
Even when shooting in a bright backlit condition such as this, the Panasonic GF5's evaluative metering system seems to have done a good job of producing the correct exposure.
Portraits are a good subject to tackle with the Panasonic GF5, thanks to its creative depth of field effects. Here, colours have been rendered very accurately.
This image shows the overly warm tones the camera tends to favour when shooting under artificial light in Auto White Balance.
In this image, the Incandescent White Balance setting has been selected, producing a much more accurate colour.
Several different filters can be selected when shooting in Creative Control mode - this is an example of the Retro setting.
The Expressive setting boosts contrast and saturation to produce a bold effect.
The Cross Process setting can be customised in several different ways, including the colour it chooses to emphasise. This shot is taken with blue as the emphasis colour.
Here the Cross Process emphasis has been given to green, and gives a more traditional cross processing feel. This can be directly compared with the Olympus Cross Process filter, which produces a stronger, less subtle effect.
The Star effects picks up highlights in the image to add a fake starlight effect. It won't be to everyone's tastes, but can be quite fun when used in the right situation.
Selective colour mode enables you to highlight just one colour in a scene, while the rest are converted to monochrome. You can alter the accuracy of the setting. Here only red has been chosen.
The Toy Camera effect adds a vignette and saturates the colours to give the impression of a cheap toy camera.
Miniature mode attempts to recreate the effect of using a tilt-shift lens by blurring the top and bottom of a frame. You can move the in-focus area around, and it works best when shooting from a high angle.
Best DSLR: top cameras by price and brand
Overall, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 is very good. Panasonic has done a great job at building a camera that will appeal very strongly to those looking to step up from compact or bridge models, while keeping enough manual controls to satisfy those looking for more.
Image quality is of course of paramount importance, and it's here that the Panasonic Lumix GF5 really does deliver.
The amount of detail captured is particularly impressive - especially considering the lens being used for the majority of our shots was the supplied kit lens (albeit the more expensive option).
This is a great option for those looking to get started with a compact system camera. Panasonic offers a large number of compatible lenses, should you find you need more than the kit lens (and Olympus and third party Micro Four Thirds lenses are also available) and even more are known to be in development.
Best compact system camera
Coupled with the 14-42mm power zoom lens, this is a discreet compact system camera that manages to pack a pretty powerful punch in a tiny body, making it one of the only truly pocketable cameras of its kind.
Occasionally the touchscreen became unresponsive, while Olympus has managed to be a bit cleverer with its art modes than Panasonic.
The low price makes the Panasonic GF5 one of the best compromises on the market between compact size and high image quality. It's one of the only cameras that is truly (jacket) pocketable and portable enough to be carried around on a daily basis, while still managing to offer fantastic image quality and a solid feature set.
That said, with a UK price tag of £449 (about $710) or £579 (about $920) with the X kit lens, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 isn't a cheap proposition for the moment, especially for those used to dealing with compact camera prices.
It's also worth bearing in mind the fantastic bargains that can currently be had with the predecessor, the GF3, which can be picked up for around £200 (with standard kit lens) in the UK and $450 in the US, from certain retailers while stocks last.