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Panasonic GF5 Review

by Shawn Barnett, , and Zig Weidelich
Hands-on Preview: 04/05/2012
Full Review: 10/28/2012

Panasonic GF5 Beauty


With the Lumix GF5, Panasonic reaffirms its commitment to a small, consumer-focused compact system camera with limited controls and a touchscreen interface. After the introduction of last year's GF3, there was quite a bit of foment among enthusiasts who thought it was too small, and too consumer-focused. This resulted in a quick about-face, as Panasonic seemed to hastily prepare the GX1 from the 2009 blueprints of the GF1, with only a few minor tweaks to set it apart. The same might be said of the Panasonic GF5, as major new features are few.

Rather than raise the sensor resolution, for example, Panasonic improved the high ISO sensitivity with a new sensor design and a new Venus Engine processor. Autofocus speed is also said to be improved, and video now includes stereo audio recording. You'll find greater detail below, as well as a shooter's report, but let's go over a few of the external features.

Those looking for the most compact camera solution will opt for the more expensive X-Vario 14-42mm lens, whose electronic power zoom retracts inside the very slim lens barrel, making for a very slim package indeed. Anyone on a budget will do just fine with the larger 14-42mm kit lens.
Panasonic GF5 Front

Though it's about a spare as they could make it while still allowing use by the average human, the Panasonic GF5 is endowed with a small but functional rubber grip. Its texture and tackiness is just about right for a firm fingertip hold. The GF3 had a grip too, but it was just molded into the slicker body, while this grip offers a more secure hold.

Panasonic GF5 Top

Only one major change appears on the Panasonic GF5: the addition of left and right ports for a stereo microphone. The speaker appears right below that. The full name of the Panasonic DMC-GF5 is printed on the small hump that conceals the pop-up flash. The Intelligent Auto Mode button is right of that, along with the large shutter button, Movie Record button, the Power switch, and the Power lamp. Large, wide strap lugs stick out from the sides of the Panasonic GF5.

Panasonic GF5 Back
On the back we find just one extra button, the Display button. The buttons are now metal instead of plastic, but otherwise their positions are the same. Another big change is the upgrade to the 3-inch touchscreen LCD, which now includes a 920,000-dot display. The rear thumbgrip is a little smaller than the GF3, which is a bit of a disappointment. Still, it's not too hard to hold the Panasonic GF5.


Panasonic GF5 versus Olympus E-PM1

Panasonic GF5 vs EPM1 Front
Panasonic GF5 vs EPM1 Top Retracted
Panasonic GF5 vs EPM1 Top Extended
Panasonic GF5 vs EPM1 Back
Going up against the small Olympus E-PM1, the Panasonic GF5 is a little taller, but the E-PM1 is wider. The X-Vario lens is noticeably shorter than Olympus's redesigned mechanically retractable lens, both retracted and extended. The E-PM1 achieves a shorter stature, yet includes a full hot shoe and accessory port, while the GF5 supports neither. That's partly due to the wider-aspect LCD screen on the E-PM1.

Panasonic GF5 versus Panasonic G3

Panasonic GF5 vs G3
Panasonic GF5 vs G3 Top
Panasonic GF5 vs G3 Back
Even though the Panasonic G3 is pretty darn small, it's clear why Panasonic still makes the GF5: to really show how small they can make a compact system camera for those who want such a creature. The G3 is larger thanks to its electronic viewfinder hump on top, its full hot shoe, and is most cumbersome because of the rear protrusion for the viewfinder. Enthusiasts will appreciate its greater number of controls, though, including a mode dial, rear control dial, and its articulating screen. A model for everyone.

 

Panasonic GF5 Technical Info

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The Panasonic GF5 is based around a newly developed, 12.1-megapixel Live MOS image sensor.

Compared to that in the GF3, size and resolution are unchanged, but the frontside circuitry now has a lower profile and is better located, so it doesn't block as much light. That should translate to better sensitivity / noise characteristics.

Also redesigned is the GF5's image processor, which is now simply branded 'Venus Engine', without any numbers or letters to denote the generation.

The most notable change from the Venus Engine FHD processor in the GF3 is a new Multi-stage Noise Reduction function that processes bright and dark areas of each image separately.

The new Venus Engine processor has allowed a modest increase in burst shooting performance to 4.0 frames per second, with single autofocus. Our in-house testing precisely matched the manufacturer spec for the GF5, although the GF3 lagged its spec slightly, so there's a bigger improvement than you'd expect on paper. At about 0.5 fps faster, the GF5 is about 14% faster than its predecessor, but its burst performance is still below-average for the class. Raw burst depth also lags the competition. While our in-house testing bettered the spec by one frame, at five raw frames with a hard-to-compress target, this simply matched what we found with the GF3. If you shoot JPEGs only, you can look forward to basically unlimited burst depth with a sufficiently fast flash card, though.

There's also a pretty significant improvement over the GF3's autofocus performance, which was already faster than that offered by most compact system cameras. Using the G X Vario PZ 14-42mm power zoom lens at wide angle and set at infinity focus, Panasonic claims the GF5's 'Light Speed AF' can achieve a two meter focus lock in 0.09 seconds. We couldn't verify that figure--even prefocused we measured a lag of around 0.07 seconds--but using the same lens we measured focus times on the order of 0.18 to 0.19 seconds, fast even by SLR phase detection standards, let alone for a mirrorless camera using contrast detection. (By way of comparison, the average human takes 0.1 to 0.4 seconds just to blink. Most SLRs focus in 0.1 to 0.3 seconds.)

As you'd expect, there's a standard Micro Four Thirds lens mount. The lens mount ring is aluminum.

The GF5's rear-panel LCD display is still a 3.0-inch type with a 3:2 aspect ratio, but the total dot count has been doubled, from 460,000 to 920,000 dots.

There is no provision for an optical or electronic viewfinder.

Taking advantage of the GF5's extra display resolution and more powerful processor, Panasonic has overhauled the graphical user interface, which is now friendlier.

Instead of icons, there are now 23 professionally-shot images demonstrating the effect of Scene modes. A bar at the top of the display is used to explain functions and make suggestions regarding camera setup. You can also replace the menu background with a selection of preset images or one of your own shots.

Like its predecessor, the Lumix GF5 has a touchscreen overlay on the LCD panel. As well as making settings changes, this allows you to touch on the precise area of an image where you want to set focus. It can also be used to control focal length of Power Zoom lenses, and to trip the shutter.

The touch autofocus function is particularly useful for movie shooting, helping you guide your viewers' attention from one subject to another.

The GF5's popup flash strobe is basically unchanged from that of the GF3. The guide number is 6.3 meters at ISO 160 equivalent, and X-sync is at 1/160 second.

There's still no external flash connectivity.

The GF5 offers a choice of Program, Aperture- and Shutter-priority, and Manual exposure modes, as well as Custom, Creative Control, Intelligent Auto, Intelligent Auto+, and Scene Guide.

Like all compact system cameras, images are metered using the main image sensor. The GF5 considers the overall image as 144 separate zones, and offers three metering modes: Multi, Center-weighted, or Spot. The metering system has a working range of EV 0 - 18 with an f/2.0 lens at ISO 100 equivalent.

Available shutter speeds range from 1/4,000 to 60 seconds for still images, and 1/16,000 to either 1/30th second for NTSC mode, or 1/25th second for PAL mode. +/- 3.0EV of exposure compensation is available, in 1/3 EV steps.

The GF5 offers significantly expanded creative options, compared to the GF3. As well as the Expressive, Retro, High Key, Sepia, High Dynamic, and Miniature Effect filter modes from that camera, there are eight new ones. We saw the Low Key and Toy Effect filters previously in the GX1, but the remainder--Soft Focus, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, One Point Color, Cross Process and Star Filter--are all new.

Also new is a 'recommended filter' function in Intelligent Auto mode. This suggests suitable filters for the current scene, courtesy of a paint palette icon directly beneath the Intelligent Auto 'iA' icon.

Panasonic has also made a significant change to the GF5's movie-recording capabilities. It still tops out at interlaced Full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels; 1080i) in AVCHD mode, and retains a progressive-scan 720p AVCHD option as well. Record rate is still 60fps for NTSC or 50fps for PAL, from 30fps sensor data. However, the optional Motion JPEG capture mode has been replaced by an MP4 mode, available at 30fps in 1080p, 720p, or 480p (aka VGA).

Another change to movie capture is that the GF5's built-in microphone is now stereo, where the GF3's was monaural. Sadly, this has less impact than it could; the two ports have very little separation, and the location chosen means that the right channel's port is actually angled camera-left. That led to what we felt to be a rather weak stereo effect.

Helpfully, there is a wind-cut filter function.

Connectivity options include USB 2.0 High Speed, high-definition Type-C Mini HDMI, and standard-def video output.

As is typical for Panasonic cameras, this offers only NTSC compatibility in US models; in other markets there may be a choice of NTSC or PAL.

The GF5 stores images on Secure Digital cards, and is compatible with both the higher-capacity SDHC and SDXC types, as well as the higher-speed UHS-I types.

 

Power comes courtesy of a standard 7.2V, 940mAh Lithium Ion battery pack.

Battery life is unchanged from that of the GF3, rated at 320 shots on a charge with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph. Mega O.I.S. kit lens, to CIPA testing standards. It's rated at 330 shots with the G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

 

Panasonic GF5 Shooter's Report

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The Panasonic GF5's value becomes clear when you mount the collapsing 14-42mm Power Zoom kit lens. In a relatively compact package, you get everything from a 28mm wide angle (as here) to an 84mm telephoto.

Quite a few compact system cameras and large-sensor compacts have crossed my desk lately, and although it wasn't the smallest, the Panasonic GF5 was certainly towards the bottom end of the scale. On mounting the bundled LUMIX G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, the advantage became more clear. The pairing of camera and lens really offered a much more compact package than you'd get with a DSLR, and yielded a worthwhile savings even over many competing mirrorless models. Better still, it did so while retaining a modest handgrip on the front. I'm not a fan of interchangeable-lens cameras with completely featureless front panels--they're too tiring to hold for any length of time once I mount anything more than the smallest and lightest of lenses, because I daren't loosen my grip for fear of dropping the camera.

That's not to say the Lumix GF5 had perfect handling though. I'm a little over six feet tall with hands to match, and the rear-panel control layout was rather cramped for my liking. The four-way controller with integrated dial in particular was small enough that I had concerns about accidentally turning the dial while trying to press the buttons, although it seldom actually happened. In fact, my main problem with that control ended up being my frustration with the fact that it never registered the first click when turned, or when I reversed the rotation direction. (Initially, I thought this was simply a sensitivity issue, but I came to realize that it's by design, as it only ever happens on that first click--subsequent detents never failed to be registered.) The video button was also a little troublesome: the combination of a near-flush position on the top deck, and a very short throw with almost no feel meant I typically had to look at my index finger to be sure I had the button covered, before starting video capture.

I felt metering to be pretty accurate in real-world shooting. Most shots put the exposure right where I wanted, as here. The few that missed did so because the subject was very bright or dark, and would've thrown off any camera.

The lack of a Mode dial, too, was a bit of a shame. While I could emulate a Mode dial by turning the rear dial while viewing the Mode display on the LCD panel, this was a wholly unsatisfying experience, because it was so slow. (It takes quite some time to step all the way around the 'dial' in this manner, as there's a pause at each position--you can't simply flick rapidly through the positions as you would with a real Mode dial.) It ended up being much easier just to reach over and press my chosen mode on the touch panel, but that reinforced the feeling that I was using an electronic gadget, rather than a photographic device. I could forgive these quirks, though, because I understood them to be part and parcel of achieving the Panasonic GF5's compact body. The small, light package, after all, is one of the key advantages of a mirrorless camera over a DSLR.

Once I got out and started shooting, I found the Panasonic GF5 altering my perception of mirrorless cameras. Until now, I've tended to think of them as merely a backup to an SLR, or an alternative for the photographer who's willing to make sacrifices for the savings in bulk. Sure, they offered a smaller package, but they did so by dropping features I relied upon: the viewfinder, phase detect AF sensor, and so on. While I still missed the presence of an optical viewfinder, the array of external controls, and the battery life of an SLR, I didn't really feel I was making a sacrifice in shooting with the GF5, though. Why the change of heart? Its extremely fast autofocus: in our testing the GF5 locked focus as fast or faster than many SLRs, and my real-world shooting bore that out. Even with moving subjects, I didn't find myself cursing the autofocus as I've done on some recent compact system cameras. I could live with some of the other disadvantages of mirrorless, but it turns out the slow AF of many models was the real showstopper for me.

Noise and the effects of noise reduction were more of an issue than I'd like. In this ISO 1,600 shot, you can see early signs of the blotching that becomes prominent at higher ISOs. I considered ISO 3,200 the highest useful sensitivity.

I mentioned battery life as an issue of mirrorless cameras, by the way, and it's simply part of their nature. The main power draws--image sensor, processor and LCD panel--must all be active not only for capture, but also during image framing. That power draw means CIPA battery life ratings are about half what you could expect from an SLR, and the real-world difference will be greater, depending on how much of your time you spend framing your shots. With that said, the GF5 certainly had enough juice to get me through an afternoon's shooting on a single pack, although I still found myself turning it off immediately after exposures. That wasn't only due to concerns about wasting battery, but also because I noticed the handgrip really gets quite warm during shooting. Not alarmingly so--my smartphone gets much hotter--but it was enough that I noticed my fingertips getting uncomfortably sweaty, and was more than I'm used to from most cameras.

Of course, the size advantage of the Panasonic GF5 comes in no small part due to its collapsible kit lens, which is only one of two choices available. (The other option has the same focal lengths and maximum aperture range, but a larger and heavier non-collapsing design, no power zoom, can't focus quite as closely, and is a bit less expensive.) The power zoom lens is great for videos, offering variable speed and making it really easy to adjust the zoom during video capture without shaking the camera. Each time I needed to zoom, I did find myself reaching in front of the shutter button before remembering the lever was on the side of the lens barrel, though. Apparently Pavlovian conditioning applies to camera design, too. And frankly, I kept forgetting the manual focus lever altogether--tucked low-down on the side of the lens barrel is not the greatest of positions. I'd say the power zoom lens was a no-brainer despite the extra cost, were it not for the fact that it shares the blur issue we ran into during our Panasonic GX1 review.

Unfortunately, the collapsing Power Zoom kit lens is prone to blur at telephoto. Nothing in this shot is quite sharp, despite an easily hand-holdable exposure, with stabilization enabled. I shoot at tele a lot and this bit me in quite a few captures.

That problem, unfortunately, does crop up in real-world shooting, and unless you shoot manually, you do have to pay attention to it. I lost more than a few shots to it, or at least ended up with shots that weren't as sharp as they could have been. It's easily avoided just by paying attention to your shutter speed when shooting near telephoto, and keeping it above around 1/300 second or so. If you don't pay attention though, the Panasonic GF5 will happily select shutter speeds within the affected range under autoexposure. Frankly, it's a pain to work around. The alternative--buying the manual-zoom variant of the lens--will save you some money, but you lose the smooth, jostle-free zoom for videos, and sacrifice much of the camera's size advantage. Tough call, and one likely answered by how much video shooting you plan to do, and whether size is your main priority.

Another key area of the Panasonic GF5 is its touch-screen interface. I've said before that I'm not really a fan of touch screen cameras, and that's still the case, but I must admit that I'm starting to warm to them on Panasonic's recent models. There's no question that they can offer advantages, especially for shifting the point of focus during video capture. The GF5's touch screen though is not as sensitive as the capacitive types on modern smartphones: you need to touch reasonably firmly for it to be registered. The display is also very prone to fingerprint smudging, and since it isn't the brightest around, I found myself often having to stop and wipe the smudges away. Otherwise, it could actually get tricky to see my subject when shooting outdoors in bright ambient light, and especially in direct sunlight. Nor is it as intuitive to use as modern smartphones. While you can swipe left or right to switch between images in playback, for example, there's no pinch-zoom functionality. Instead, you have to press and hold for a moment to enable the digital zoom, something that will have less experienced shooters digging through their manuals.

White balance was also pretty good. There's not a lot in this shot to tell the camera what the color temperature is, but it picked up the golden hour warmth nicely.

The touch screen also dictates much of the camera's interface. The Panasonic GF5's menus have to cater to clumsy fingers, and so they can't fit many options on each page, leading to a lot of separate pages of menus. In total, there are no less than 21 menu pages, with just five options per page, which means a lot of stepping through pages of options until you're familiarized with where you can find those you most commonly use, and even then there's quite a bit of clicking or tapping involved to access some items. The same issues apply in other areas, such as choosing creative controls (three onscreen at a time, with five pages), and scene modes (shown like stacked playing cards, with only one card fully visible at any time, and 23 of them to flip through.) On the plus side, there's a nice live preview of the effects for creative controls, with a curious variable size. (Changing the size doesn't actually mean you fit any more or less items on screen, so I'm not quite sure what the point of the smaller size would be.)

The new side menu is something of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it lets you have a preview that's almost free of overlays, rather than the clutter of distracting UI elements typical of touchscreens. On the other hand, though, it's easy to change a setting there, then forget where that settings change was made because the menu is minimized. (Out of sight, out of mind.) The button with which the side menu is opened and closed is also quite small and easily missed with a thumb. Likewise, I had issues with accuracy of the bottom left corner. Only one button--in the creative controls screen--seemed to use that position, but I often had to press twice or more to get it to register. Otherwise, though, the screen was pretty accurate, just not very sensitive.

Soft Focus Dynamic Monochrome
Impressive Art One Point Color
Cross Process Star Filter
The Creative Control modes let you play with the look of your photos without touching a PC, and there's a more generous selection than in past Panasonic models. New modes are shown above; examples of existing options are in the gallery.

The Panasonic GF5's filters and some of the scene modes can be quite a bit of fun, if you're the type who prefers not to be stuck behind a desk fiddling with Photoshop. There's a full set in the gallery, but I've included examples of the newly-introduced modes above. One nice touch compared to some of the competition is that the GF5 still lets you shoot raw files right alongside your images with creative filters or scene-mode effects applied, so you can experiment safe in the knowledge that you've still got your unretouched original image data safe at hand. Many cameras disable raw output when effects are enabled. The JPEG preview in the raw files will show the effect used in the JPEG version of the image, so it's easy to relate the two versions to each other, beyond the fact they share a file prefix.

It's a little bit of a shame that the HDR mode is a single-shot effect, rather than a true multiple-shot HDR. That means, unfortunately, that you're limited to the dynamic range available from the sensor, which somewhat defeats the purpose. Still, it does offer quite a significant difference with the right shot, without making the effect totally unnatural, as you can see in the example below. You can always shoot and merge your HDR exposures manually, too. (The bracketing function is handy here.) Since my example is a sunset shot, I've also included a couple of the sunset-related scene modes as well, and while the effects aren't particularly complex, they do yield a pretty radical difference to the feel of the images. I also grabbed the same scene with Intelligent Auto and Intelligent Auto Plus modes out of curiosity, but the rendering was little different to Program auto exposure.

Program Romantic Sunset Glow (Scene)
Vivid Sunset Glow (Scene) HDR (Creative Control)

I didn't use the scene modes a lot, in part because it's a bit tedious shuffling through a selection of 32 playing-card previews one at a time. They can make a pretty significant difference in the overall feel of a shot, though. The HDR Creative Control can make an even bigger difference with the right shot. Sadly it doesn't actually increase the dynamic range on offer, since it processes only a single-shot.

Panasonic's i.Resolution function was much more subtle; I've included a series in the gallery, but there really didn't seem to be much of an effect for me. (The shots in the series are, respectively, a regular Program exposure, followed by i.Resolution Extended, Low, Medium, and High. For good measure, I threw in a shading compensation shot, which does brighten the corners noticeably.)

Shooting all these different filters and effects in both raw and JPEG did emphasise something for me, though. For a raw shooter, the Panasonic GF5's raw burst depth is really rather limiting, and unless your subjects are relatively static you don't get many chances to nail the shot before your buffer fills. Nor is the burst depth incredibly swift in the first place, although that's easier to live with than the burst depth. If you're a JPEG-only shooter, you can rattle off exposures until your card fills without the camera slowing, though, which is nice.

Flash exposures were pretty accurate too, although red-eye could be quite prominent.

Fear not, the skin tones are fine--my son is naturally beetroot-red after running around Knoxville Zoo on a sunny day!

The Panasonic GF5 lacks any external flash connectivity, and so you're limited solely to the built-in flash. That's rather weak, and quite prone to redeye. Hence you'll most likely want to leave red-eye reduction enabled, and this also automatically performs red-eye removal if the reduction step didn't fully squash the problem. Flash exposures struck me as fairly accurate, as did exposure metering in general. My review shooting is always bracketed, and as you'll see in the gallery most shots I've selected had no exposure compensation. The few needed some negative exposure compensation were mostly down to the scene itself being rather dark, rather than the camera getting the exposure wrong.

I did think the GF5's noise reduction was rather over-aggressive though, and its maximum sensitivity of ISO 12,800 equivalent could tactfully be described as optimistic. For my own shooting, I found ISO 1,600 a good tradeoff between quality and noise levels, and ISO 3,200 felt as far as I was willing to go if absolutely necessary. I wouldn't see ISO 6,400 and above as anything except a last-resort if flash or a longer exposure time wouldn't get me the shot, as there's some pretty ugly blotching in shots at the highest sensitivities, and detail falls off significantly.

For me, high ISO noise is the Panasonic GF5's Achilles heel. Although it offers sensitivities to ISO 12,800 equivalent, I shot as if the limit was just 3,200. As you can see here, things get rather ugly at the highest sensitivities.

With that said, overall I felt the image quality was pretty good for the size of the package. Could I have gotten some of the shots the GF5 missed with my SLR? Yes, probably, thanks to the bigger sensor. Would I have done so, though? I don't believe so, as my SLR would probably have been left at home, where the much smaller and lighter Panasonic GF5 would have been more likely to make the trip with me. Certainly, I got plenty of shots I was very happy with in my time with the Panasonic GF5. For my money, the most important aspect of any camera is that it doesn't get left at home; any other quirks you can work around, but you can't work around a camera that isn't in your hand when you need it. That makes the Panasonic GF5 a pretty attractive proposition, in my book!

 

Panasonic GF5 Image Quality

Below are crops comparing the Panasonic GF5 with the Panasonic GF3, Canon T3, Olympus E-PL3, Samsung NX1000, and the Sony NEX-F3. We're starting with the base ISO to show the best each camera can do, then moving onto ISO 1600, 3200, and then more details with ISO 6400 below.

NOTE: These images are best quality JPEGs straight out of the camera, at default settings including noise reduction.


Panasonic GF5 versus Panasonic GF3 at base ISO

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 200
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 160

Compared to the GF3, the Panasonic GF5's images are sharper, with better color and contrast.


Panasonic GF5 versus Canon T3 at base ISO

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 200
Canon T3 at ISO 100

The GF5's 12-megapixel images look a little sharper than the Canon T3, but there's also a difference in aspect ratio that makes the T3's image elements a little smaller.


Panasonic GF5 versus Olympus E-PL3 at base ISO

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 200
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 200

Against the E-PL3 it's a bit mixed: The E-PL3's mosaic image and text look better, and the pink swatch exhibits thread patterns more clearly than the GF5--and it's amazing that either camera captures this pattern at 12 megapixels. But the GF5's red leaf swatch looks better than the E-PL3, and the GF5's rendition of the mosaic swatch looks more natural.


Panasonic GF5 versus Samsung NX1000 at base ISO

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 200
Samsung NX1000 at ISO 100

The NX1000's 20-megapixel images obviously find considerably more detail than the GF5's 12-megapixel shots, but the NX1000 doesn't handle the red leaf swatch so well, nor does it render the pink swatch pink.


Panasonic GF5 versus Sony NEX-F3 at base ISO

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 200
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 200

Sony's NEX-F3 also delivers a better mosaic image thanks to its 16-megapixel sensor, but the GF5 gets the red leaf swatch closer to the original.


Most digital SLRs and CSCs will produce an excellent ISO 100 shot, so we like to push them and see what they can do compared to other cameras at ISO 1,600, 3,200, and 6,400. Recent advances in sensor technology have made ISO 1,600 look a lot more like ISO 100, but there are still cameras whose quality starts to fall apart at this setting. We also choose 1,600 because we like to be able to shoot at least at this level when indoors and at night.


Panasonic GF5 versus Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1,600
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 1,600

Everything gets quite a bit softer at ISO 1,600, but the GF5 still looks better than its predecessor, with more detail and better color.


Panasonic GF5 versus Canon T3 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1,600
Canon T3 at ISO 1,600

Canon's T3 looks a little better than the GF5 at ISO 1,600, especially in the mosaic image.


Panasonic GF5 versus Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1,600
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 1,600

Olympus's processing is a little more aggressive, as is its sharpening, which makes the image look a little better, but the GF5 looks more photographic. The Olympus' color is a bit better, though, particularly the yellows.


Panasonic GF5 versus Samsung NX1000 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1,600
Samsung NX1000 at ISO 1,600

Thanks to more pixels on each element, the Samsung NX1000 still outdoes the GF5 in terms of detail in most areas, but it leaves behind more chroma noise in its processing, and that noise can be quite noticeable when printed.


Panasonic GF5 versus Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 1,600
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 1,600

The Sony NEX-F3's larger 16-megapixel sensor does better than others in this comparison at ISO 1,600, still finding thread patterns in the red swatch. For the rest the crops speak for themselves.


ISO 3200 crops:


Panasonic GF5 versus Panasonic GF3 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 3,200
Panasonic GF3 at ISO 3,200

These crops make it clear that Pansonic has improved the processing and color management in the GF5 when compared to the GF3 at ISO 3,200.


Panasonic GF5 versus Canon T3 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 3,200
Canon T3 at ISO 3,200

Canon's larger APS-C sensor still shows better detail retention, as well as a more even-handed approach to noise processing, while the GF5's aggressive approach blurs low-contrast areas and oversharpening high-contrast areas.


Panasonic GF5 versus Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 3,200
Olympus E-PL3 at ISO 3,200

Olympus's E-PL3 sharpens its way into slightly more overall detail, except in the pink swatch. It also leaves behind a good deal of luminance noise and a few speckles of chrominance noise in the shadows.


Panasonic GF5 versus Samsung NX1000 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 3,200
Samsung NX1000 at ISO 3,200

Samsung's handling of chroma noise mars dark and shadow areas in a way that shows up in prints, reducing contrast and overall image quality. As a result, images aren't that much better than the GF5 when printed.


Panasonic GF5 versus Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200

Panasonic GF5 at ISO 3,200
Sony NEX-F3 at ISO 3,200

Though its images look more digitally manipulated, the Sony NEX-F3's detail prints much better than the GF5's at ISO 3,200. The mosaic detail looks quite good. Sony's aggressive luminance noise processing makes the background look more like a watercolor gray. Likewise, the pink swatch is an odd mixture of sharpening and softening that doesn't look very authentic compared to the GF5's more realistic rendering.


Detail: Panasonic GF5 versus Panasonic GF3, Canon T3, Olympus E-PL3, Samsung NX1000, and Sony NEX-F3

Panasonic
GF5

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Panasonic
GF3

ISO 160
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Canon
T3

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Olympus
E-PL3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Samsung
NX1000

ISO 100
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Sony
NEX-F3

ISO 200
ISO 3,200
ISO 6,400
Detail comparison. When it comes to high-contrast detail, the Panasonic GF5 does surprisingly well as ISO rises, easily besting its predecessor the GF3, but also looking good against the APS-C contenders, the NX1000 and NEX-F3, with better readability than the NX1000. At ISO 1,600, its detail also looks better than the E-PL3 and Canon T3. Overall, the GF5 has good high-contrast detail performance at high ISOs.

 

Panasonic GF5 Print Quality

Great, crisp 16 x 20s from ISO 160 to 400 with good color; ISO 3,200 makes a good 8x10; ISO 12,800 just makes a so-so 4x6.

ISO 160 shots are a little soft printed at 20 x 30 inches, but sharpen up nicely when printed at 16 x 20, which is just what we said of the 12-megapixel GF3.

ISO 200 shots also look better printed at 16 x 20 inches.

ISO 400 images look great printed at 16 x 20.

ISO 800 images exhibit the first noticeable loss of detail in the red areas, and there's also a slight fading of color. We prefer the 13 x 19-inch prints.

ISO 1,600 prints have decent detail at 13 x 19, but shadows become blotchy, and color continues to fade to greenish gray, particularly yellows. Printing at 11x14 helps detail and minimizes blotches.

ISO 3,200 shots have decent detail at 11 x 14, but shadows take on a strange appearance, which mars the image until print size is reduced to 8 x 10. Some reds are completely blurred at ISO 3,200.

ISO 6,400 images are better printed at 5x7.

ISO 12,800 images are usable at 4x6, but not as good as we'd like, with mottled color that looks like you're looking at the image through a shower door.

We expected to see an improvement from the GF5, but it tracks about the same as the GF3 did. Though it has a higher top ISO setting, it's only good for a blurry 4 x 6, so better to stay at 6,400 or below. While there wasn't a noticeable improvement, we think the print quality from the GF5 is pretty good.

 

In the Box

The Panasonic GF5 ships with the following items in the box:

 

Recommended Accessories



 

Panasonic GF5 Conclusion

Pro: Con:
  • Power Zoom kit lens is very compact when stowed
  • Power Zoom is great for video shooting without camera shake
  • Hand grip is improved, and relatively comfortable considering modest size
  • Extremely fast autofocus, faster than most consumer DSLRs
  • Higher-res touchscreen LCD and improved on-screen interface
  • Can now disable almost all overlays during image framing with side menu
  • Fast single-shot cycle times
  • Good burst depth for JPEG shooting (likely unlimited with a fast enough card)
  • Good Auto white balance indoors
  • Noise levels are noticeably better than those of the GF3
  • Can correct chromatic aberration, geometric distortion, vignetting automatically
  • Lots of fun filter effects, and they can be used even in Raw+JPEG shooting
  • Full HD video at 60i (AVCHD) or 30p (MP4)
  • Stereo audio for movies (albeit with little channel separation)
  • Power Zoom kit lens suffers image blur defect at telephoto
  • Zoom / focus control positions on Power Zoom kit lens aren't great
  • Rear-panel controls are cramped, video button gives little feedback
  • LCD is very prone to fingerprint smudges, and touch-screen isn't very sensitive
  • Camera body gets quite warm during shooting
  • High ISO performance and dynamic range not as good as competition
  • Default NR is a little aggressive, smudging fine detail even at base ISO
  • Below average color accuracy (but still better than the GF3)
  • Saturation adjustment not very effective
  • Poor macro performance with strong vignetting from Power Zoom kit lens
  • Weak flash which is prone to red-eye, and no hot shoe
  • Burst performance lags the competition, although it's improved slightly over GF3
  • Shallow burst depth for raw shooting feels very limiting

 

Thanks to the pairing of compact size and the flexibility of an interchangeable lens mount, mirrorless cameras have become increasingly popular over the last few years. If you pair the Panasonic GF5 with its Power Zoom kit lens, and place it alongside an SLR camera with similar lens, the value proposition of mirrorless couldn't be much clearer. With the lens retracted, there's a night-and-day difference in size, and that translates to a camera you're much more likely to have with you when you need it.

Mirrorless cameras haven't been for everyone though: along with their benefits have come some significant drawbacks. Key among these was their autofocus performance. The contrast detection autofocus systems of many compact system cameras have faced a tough challenge against the dedicated phase detection autofocus systems in SLRs. Thankfully, that challenge isn't insurmountable. With the Lumix DMC-GF5, Panasonic has clearly demonstrated that even an affordable, extremely compact mirrorless camera can provide more than ample autofocus performance. The DMC-GF5 bests most consumer SLRs in this area, and in the process negates a key criticism of mirrorless.

Unfortunately, the Power Zoom kit lens has a couple of quirks that mean we can't recommend it, unless shake-free video is your main goal. As we noted in our Lumix GX1 review, a vibration-induced blur issue means you have to pay close attention to your shutter speeds when shooting at telephoto. It's frustrating, it does crop up in real-world shooting, and it will cause occasional soft results if you simply leave the camera in Program mode. We're also not fans of the zoom and focus rocker placements on the lens barrel. Still-image shooters will definitely find the non-Power Zoom lens to be a better choice, even if it's a shame to lose the Power Zoom's size advantage.

That issue aside, though, we had a lot of fun shooting with the Panasonic GF5. The updated ergonomics make it less tiring to hold, and while we'd like a more sensitive, less fingerprint-prone touch-screen, the company's touch-enabled user interfaces are continuing to grow on us. (Especially now that almost all overlays can be hidden during image framing, avoiding distraction.) The new higher-res LCD is easier on the eye, not to mention more conducive to accurate manual focusing. And then there's that swift autofocus, which really does make a big difference when shooting moving subjects.

Do we miss an electronic viewfinder and external flash connectivity? Sure, but we don't miss the bulk that they'd have added to the camera body. The Panasonic GF5 might have its occasional quirks, but there's a lot to love about it as well, making for a pretty clear Dave's Pick.