The smallest, most powerful portrait combination under $1000 = the Panasonic GM5 + 42.5mm f/1.7


posted Thursday, March 17, 2016 at 5:40 AM EDT


Wake up with IR! Here's today's cup of Caffiene Priority.

We had good reason to give the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7 a "Lens of Distinction" in our 2015 Camera of the Year awards. It's sharp, it's fast, and it's lightweight! And since this lens and its 85mm eq. focal length is made for portrait work, I snuggled it up to our little Panasonic GM5 sample and took it out for a weekend of shooting, mainly of the portrait variety.

Now, before we even begin discussing image quality and the incredibly shallow depth of field potential from this pairing, I need to remark on just how small and light this combination really is! Holding the GM1 for the first time when it was released a few years ago with the svelte zoom kit lens was remarkable, but that's still a kit lens pairing. Holding something that weighs only 12 ounces (340 grams) total and yet has a fairly large sensor, robust ISO chops and a lens with a bright f/1.7 aperture is something else entirely.

This combination from Panasonic weighs a mere 12 ounces, folks,
costs under a grand, and yet is capable of razor thin depth of field!
[This sample sports a custom Richard Franiec grip... highly recommended!]

Panasonic really knows how to trim things down to the bare bones minimum for size and weight, while leaving the important stuff intact, and this combination is the pinnacle of that ability. But, there is a catch... (isn't there always?) in that while you can get professional quality images from this combination with super shallow DOF, neither your family nor your clients will believe it to be possible when they see how small the rig is that you're carrying!

OK, so just wink at them and show them a few images as soon as you can. Your goal is to assure them that we live in modern times, and to then try and dispel their DSLR mentality.
(I'm not knocking DSLR's... no way. If I'm hired to shoot a sporting event with a $1000 camera, a DSLR is what you will see in my hands.)

But for portrait work in a comfy package, this little combo is a real gem.

Bright Lights, Big Bokeh

1/100s / f/2 / -0.3EV / ISO 250

I was only about 3 feet from my feline companion here, and at f/2 this equates to a depth of field
of roughly an inch or so. As you'll see below, you achieve an even shallower DOF by shooting from
just over a foot and leaving the aperture wide open.

(Images have been resized to fit this page, cropped and/or slightly adjusted in post, primarily
to balance shadows and highlights. Clicking any image will take you to access to the full
resolution image as delivered straight from the Panasonic GM5, as well as all relevant EXIF data.)

What our reviewers have to say

"Image quality is fantastic with tack-sharp IQ across the entire frame. Combined with practically zero distortion, low CA, minimal vignetting wide-open, this lens is an amazing value. At under $400 and at a size that pairs nicely even on the smallest of Panasonic ILCs, the 42.5mm f/1.7 is a pocketable, powerhouse portrait lens."

1/60s / f/2 / -0.3EV / ISO 1600

How shallow can you go?

As you can see from the above image, which is actually stopped down to f/2, there's still a great degree of sharpness difference in the two flowers, even though they're only about 6 inches apart. This was taken in low indoor light, at ISO 1600, including bumping the EV down a third-stop, and I still needed f/2 to achieve a 1/60s shutter speed. Of course, you can use a tripod and stop down a lot more if you want everything in focus, but only a bright lens gives you this artistic ability, in addition to totally blurring out the background elements.

Here's a more controlled comparison, showing two subjects (a turtle patch and an eagle ornament) shot from the minimum focus distance of just over a foot, taken at both f/5 and f/1.7. The test is designed to show how much this lens can separate two objects that are only about 4 inches apart

1/100s / f/5 / -0.7EV / ISO 2500

At f/5 you can clearly make out that the background object is a bird, and most would guess bald eagle. The image below might be difficult to even guess unless you'd already seen the one above. This is the power of a lens with an f/1.7 aperture and a fairly large sensor in combination, and there is no other camera and lens combination this small that can acheieve this that I'm aware of currently.
1/100s / f/1.7 / -0.7EV / ISO 250

The orginal Panasonic GM1 prompted us to create a new category in our Camera of the Year awards in 2013 for "Best Pocket ILC", and the GM5 went on to win that award in 2014. Then, as mentioned, the Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 garnered a Lens of Distinction in our awards for 2015. So, even though they've both long since been reviewed by us, it seemed an obvious to take them into the field for a look in tandem.

1/100s / f/1.7 / ISO 320

1/60s / f/1.7 / +0.3EV / ISO 1600

1/160s / f/2 / ISO 200

1/100s / f/1.7 / ISO 320

Conclusive Combination

After just a few days with this diminuitive yet powerful pairing, I can most assuredly recommend it for anyone needing a quality portrait rig on a budget both for price and size. Every time I picked it up I did a double-take on the overall weight, wondering if maybe I'd left the battery in the charger or something. This combination is like watching two award-winning actors/actresses working together... sparks will fly!

Panasonic GM5 Gallery

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Caffeine Priority is a new series of short photo-tidbits to ease you into your day, and give us a chance to share a bit more of what life’s like here at IR. We're more like a group of friends testing and talking about cameras and lenses than the buttoned-down, big-corporation world that some of our photo-friends at other companies work in; hopefully these little snippets will share some of that. So... grab another coffee and join in the conversation with us down below!

What rose from the depths of this primordial sea to have an extended stay on Magic Island?
1/100s / f/1.7 / ISO 320