Panasonic GM5 Field Test

Revised & Refined: The mini Micro Four Thirds camera gets minor but important upgrades & features

By William Brawley | Posted: 12/05/2014

12-32mm: 12mm, f/6.3, 1/1600s, ISO 400

There is a lot to love about the Panasonic GM1, the minuscule Micro Four Thirds camera released last year -- very fast autofocus, excellent image quality, compatibility with the full Micro Four Thirds stable of lenses, and, of course, the extreme compactness and lightweight design (particularly when using the included 12-32mm kit lens).

And yet, nothing's perfect, and there were certainly some issues with the little GM1, namely the lack of a viewfinder of some form and also a hot shoe to add-on an OVF or EVF, or an external flash. Also, the sheer compactness of the camera came with a few downsides as well. For one, using larger lenses could become a bit awkward to hold, and also the small body led to some issues with heat dissipation -- hence the lack of 1080/60p and Bulb mode in the GM1.

With the updated GM5, Panasonic has taken the best of the GM1 and tweaked it to address most of the shortcomings of the original model, including the addition of an EVF, 1080/60p video, and a special T-mode, which is similar to Bulb exposure mode (though it is limited to a maximum of around 60s, about the same as the GM1's longest programmed exposure). Still, the GM5 and GM1 are nearly identical in many areas, including using the same 16-megapixel Live MOS sensor and Venus Engine image processor (though Panasonic claims there are slight performance increases, such as improved AF speed and faster burst performance at 5fps with continuous autofocus with the hybrid shutter; up from 4fps).

Given the strong similarities between models, my Field Test for the GM5 will be a single installment and focus on the primary changes and tweaks compared to the GM1 rather than deep-diving into all the features and nuances of the updated camera.

35-100mm f/4.0-5.6: 100mm, f/5.6, 1/320s, ISO 200

Ergonomics

GM5 on the left; GM1 on the right.

Upon first glance, the Panasonic GM5 is not strikingly different than the GM1 in terms of design, shape, and size, however there are few notable changes. The most obvious of which is the addition of the built-in electronic viewfinder, which I'll discuss in detail further down.

Also of note is the tweaked rear button layout and thumb rest. Because the designers and engineers squeezed an EVF into the GM5, the camera had to be made slightly taller than the GM1. Due to this slight increase in real estate, Panasonic was able to shift around the button layout a bit, as well as put in additional buttons and a rear thumb control dial. (Thank you!) Furthermore, by moving the playback button up to the "top row" and the record start/stop button down to take its place, the GM5 now has room for a small, but very welcomed thumb rest. Again, thank you, Panasonic!

Back view. Again, GM5 on the left; GM1 on the right.

These may seem like small changes, but they directly address some of the gripes I had with the GM1. First, with the redesigned control layout, the added space near the top edge allowed Panasonic to add a proper thumb dial, whereas the GM1 has a thin wheel built into the multi-direction control dial. I found this control dial on the GM1 to be very sensitive to light touches, and I found myself accidentally pressing the buttons when all I wanted to do was scroll. Now, on the GM5, these functions are separate, one thumb dial for adjustments and the 4-way dial to activate menus and other settings. The thumb dial has a nice, solid feel to it (perhaps a little on the stiff side, but the camera is still quite new) and you can also depress it to toggle between adjustment parameters such as aperture and shutter speed.

The addition of a raised thumb rest is also a small (literally) but very nice change over the GM1, which had a smaller and flatter area to place your thumb. Thanks to the raised edge on the thumb bar, the GM5 feels just a bit more secure in the hand, which is nice for such a small, thin camera. The DMW-HGR1S removable grip plate that debuted alongside the GM1 is also compatible with the GM5, but you still run into the problem of being without a tripod socket since the grip uses that mounting point and doesn't provide a secondary socket. With the small raised thumb rest, I don't feel as inclined to need some form of attachable grip. However, I will say that if I were to purchase this camera, I'd opt for something like a Franiec grip.

EVF & LCD

The GM5 includes a built-in EVF and refined button layout, but the LCD is not as tall as on the GM1.

As mentioned earlier, one of the most notable changes to the GM5 is the addition of a built-in electronic viewfinder. For me, this was a very welcomed inclusion. Perhaps it simply stems from my long-time experience of using DSLRs, but I enjoy having a viewfinder of some form, which gives me that "traditional" raised-to-your-eye shooting experience. While the GM1 was undoubtedly fun to use and resulted in excellent images, I couldn't help but feel like I was using a point-and-shoot camera as I held it out in front of my face, pinching it with thumbs and forefingers. Granted, for users stepping up from a compact camera, the GM1 and GM5 can most certainly be used like a point-and-shoot in terms of hand-holding -- they're that small and light!

Of course, there are more substantial and tangible benefits to using an EVF. One of the biggest benefits to a viewfinder, EVF or optical, is shooting in bright and sunny conditions. Glossy LCD screens often become difficult to see in these conditions, and the viewfinder gives you a nice, glare-free way to compose your shots. That being said, I did find that the GM5's LCD, like the GM1 before it, performed very well in bright daylight. The screen itself is laminated or placed very close to the glass surface (there's a very minimal air gap, if one exists at all) and glare is greatly reduced, unless you're trying to view it at a very oblique angle or with it just so as to have the sun directly aimed at the screen.

Viewfinders also provide one more point of contact with the body. When placing the camera up to your eye, this extra contact point helps to further stabilize the camera. This can make a big difference in reducing camera shake while shooting in low-light conditions where slower shutter speeds are often needed. Also, since the GM5 has an EVF versus an optical viewfinder, you get a live preview of your exposure settings and adjustments before you capture an image. It can also help in dim and poorly lit conditions as the illuminated screen can make it easier to see a dark scene.

35-100mm f/4.0-5.6: 100mm, f/5.6, 1/250s, ISO 500

There are also a few downsides to the EVF on the Panasonic GM5, the main one being its size. As you know, the name of the game with the GM5 is all about keeping things small and compact, and unfortunately that goes for the EVF as well. The actual EVF screen itself is very small, and while it still provides all the on-screen information as the rear LCD does and gives you 100% coverage, it's very different than what I'm used to on other Micro Four Thirds cameras such as the Panasonic GH4 or Olympus E-M1. The view into the EVF also feels a bit tunnel-like, in that there's a lot of extra gray space you can see around the tiny screen, and the screen itself feels far away from your eye -- very unlike the EVF in the E-M1, for instance, that feels large and close to your eye. 

Nevertheless, despite the small size, I can still read the on-screen text crisply and compose shots easily. I did, however, notice a distracting RGB rainbow tearing effect around crisp, high-contrast edges of things like text and other graphics if I blinked or moved my eye around the viewfinder. All in all, does the GM5 have the best EVF? No, of course not, but it gets the job done, and I absolutely love having it added to this camera.

As for the LCD, it's actually a bit shorter than the one on the GM1, due to the room needed for the EVF. At more of a 16:9 aspect ratio, the GM5's 3-inch touchscreen resolution is 922K dots compared to the 1,036K-dot 3:2 LCD of the GM1. With the standard 4:3 aspect ratio of the Four Thirds image, the viewable screen appears slightly smaller with more black bars on the left and right edges. However, that allows for more space to display the on-screen Function buttons and other slide-out touchscreen "buttons" without overlaying them over the image area itself.

Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8: 12mm, f/8, 15s, ISO 100, B+W 10-stop ND Filter

Image Quality & Performance

Overall, the image quality of the Panasonic GM5 remains very impressive for a camera of this size. I found the picture quality to be excellent for a Micro Four Thirds camera, with low ISO shots in particular being very sharp with crisp, fine detail, great color rendition and good dynamic range. At higher ISOs, the GM5 does very well, again, for a Micro Four Thirds camera. Sure, larger sensored cameras are going to handle higher ISOs better with lower noise. However, given the size of this camera, it can easily compete with or outclass many other pocketable compact cameras that often have much smaller sensors resulting in much lower image quality, especially at higher ISOs. All in all, though, image quality is very similar compared to the GM1 before it, which isn't surprising given the GM5's use of the same imaging sensor and processor.

12-32mm: 12mm, f/3.5, 1/25s, ISO 3200

Panasonic claims autofocus performance is slightly improved over the GM1, but without hard data yet from the IR lab to back this up, it's hard to know for certain at this point. That said, Panasonic says continuous AF has been slightly improved to allow for 5fps burst shooting with continuous AF. I unfortunately didn't have a sporting event or other fast-moving subjects to test continuous AF performance, but I did do a quick moving subject test with people walking at various paces toward the camera. Using JPEG-only mode to get an unlimited continuous burst of shots, I found the GM5 performed really well at keeping moving subjects in focus. In one set of 42 frames, 41 were in focus, and with another set of 32 frames -- with the subject walking a bit faster -- I had about 30 keeper shots where the subject was in focus. Nevertheless, since the GM5 is still just using contrast-detect AF, I probably wouldn't rely on the Panasonic GM5 for super-fast action, sports or subjects of that nature.

The single-shot AF, like the GM1 before it, is incredibly fast -- near instantaneous when half-pressing -- on all but very dim or very low-contrast subjects. The AF performance, even with the GM5's contrast-detect-only AF, is one of my favorite features. It's super-quick and reliable.

The buffer performance of the GM5 is said to remain unchanged from the GM1, and I experienced similar real-world performance of around 6-7 RAWs before the buffer filled when using a fast UHS Speed Class 3 card for RAW-only and RAW+JPEG modes.  With JPEG-only capture, I could record basically an unlimited continuous burst of shots with only periodic "hiccups" of slow-down, but the camera was able to chew through image processing fast enough that I didn't feel hindered by this.

The top photo is a straight-out-of-camera JPEG, while the bottom image is from the corresponding RAW file after small adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw, demonstrating the ability to pull back details in the highlights -- even when using an expanded low ISO (which often has slightly less dynamic range than native base ISO). *Click on the bottom image to download the unedited RAW file.
12-32mm: 12mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 100

HD Video

One of the big limitations to video enthusiasts on the GM1 was the lack of 1920 x 1080p video at 60fps. It was explained that, as a result of the small body size of the GM1, heat dissipation was a big concern and that Full HD video at 60 frames per second was therefore not available -- too much heat created to read the data off the sensor 60 times a second and process it. Well, it seems the engineers at Panasonic have figured it out for the GM5. Perhaps due to the slightly larger body and other internal "re-jiggering," 1080/60p video is now available, in both MP4 and AVCHD and at a 28Mbps bitrate on the GM5.

Speaking of heat dissipation, and related to that, during sustained recording time for HD video, the GM5 is actually very good at regulating heat and recording for long periods of time -- with some caveats. Most still cameras that shoot video often have a continuous recording limit either due to European import tariffs, file system limits or a combination of those two. The Panasonic GM5 is an interesting case, as it features both MP4 and AVCHD video formats, and both have different recording limits, or a lack thereof!

Panasonic GM5 Sample Video #1
1,920 x 1,080, H.264 (MP4), Progressive, 60 fps
Download Original (86.3MB MP4)

For MP4 video, maximum continuous recording is limited to 29 minutes, 59 seconds for both 720/30p and VGA video. Unfortunately, for the higher quality 1080p resolutions, recording time is reduced to 27m11s for 30p and 20m23s for 60p. The GM5 can comfortably record continuously -- with no issues of overheating that I experienced -- until this hard limit, at which point it will stop recording automatically and you'll have to manually re-start recording.

On the other hand, if you're okay with AVCHD format, you can enjoy practically unlimited continuous recording, or at least until you fill up your memory card. With 1080/60p video in AVCHD format, the camera indicated a little over five hours of recording capacity with a 64GB SD card. I tested this for a bit and the GM5 easily captured over one hour of footage, with no pauses, re-starts or overheating. The camera was indeed a bit warm after an hour or so of recording, but there was no on-screen warning and I could re-start recording immediately.

Being based in the USA, the Panasonic GM5 I tested has US firmware. According to the UK instruction manual for the GM5, however, continuous video recording time is limited to 29 minutes, 59 seconds for both MP4 and AVCHD videos. The US manual makes no such statement regarding maximum sustained recording time for AVCHD, only MP4 video, which is limited by a 4GB filesize.

Video image quality itself looks very good, especially at Full HD in MP4 format that I shot with most of the time. Fine detail is crisp and colors look very good to my eye. Dynamic range also looks nice, especially in terms of shadow detail at default picture style settings. Highlights can easily become overexposed in this case, so be mindful of this and either adjust the exposure compensation down a bit, or fine-tune the contrast or the highlight and shadow levels accordingly.

Panasonic GM5 Sample Video #2
1,920 x 1,080, H.264 (MP4), Progressive, 60 fps
Download Original (124.5MB MP4)

As for quirks and other downsides regarding video recording, the GM5 is relatively devoid of big issues, at least as it pertains to non-professional or advanced video shooters. There are still no headphone or microphone jacks, so advanced audio recording is relegated to external recorders, though there are on-screen audio meters, adjustable recording levels (though only a four-step adjustment) and a wind-cut filter.

I also ran into a strange quirk in which image stabilization can't be enabled or disabled while in movie mode. In order to do so, you'll need to switch to a stills mode first to even access the I.S. menu item, which is located in the still images menu section. To me, this sounds like an easy enough feature to add in a firmware update, but why is the I.S. setting missing in movie mode to begin with?

35-100mm f/4.0-5.6: 100mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200

A Few Remaining Details

Flash. One of the other changes from the GM1 was the removal of the built-in pop-up flash, which was obviously a result of making room for the EVF. Instead, the GM5 has a hot-shoe and an included mini detachable flash unit. The unit itself is pretty nondescript with a little locking switch for secure mounting and an on/off switch, and it derives its power from the camera.

It's got a Guide Number rating of 7 meters at ISO 100 (10m at ISO 200), which is quite a bit more powerful than the GM1's built-in flash which was rated at 4m (6m at ISO 200). Flash output can be adjusted up to +/-3 EV in 1/3 EV steps (up from +/-2 EV on the GM1), and both TTL and manual exposure modes are available, with manual mode offering full (1/1) to 1/64 output power in 1/3 steps.

Otherwise, flash modes and features are the same as the GM1's: maximum flash sync is 1/50 second, first and second curtain sync modes are supported, and the following modes are available: Auto, Auto/Red-eye Reduction, Forced On, Forced On/Red-eye Reduction, Slow Sync., Slow Sync./Red-eye Reduction, and Forced Off.

I'll admit I'm not the most experienced with flash photography, but the bundling of a removable flash with the GM5 gets the job done for simple flash photography where a bit more light is needed. Bear in mind that the unit itself doesn’t have a vari-angle head like more advanced flash units.

Hot Pixels. One of the issues with the GM1 that users experienced was a tendency to display hot or bright pixels with very long exposure photos -- another possible consequence of heat dissipation with such a small camera body. A good example of such a shot can be seen over at Cameralabs' GM1 review. I don't have a review unit of the GM1 on-hand, though, to conduct a side-by-side comparison, but I did do a quick test with the GM5 and 60-second exposures with both Long Shutter Noise Reduction enabled and disabled.

Lens Cap Shot: 60s exposure, ISO 200, Long Shutter NR OFF, 100% crop from JPEG.
Click image for full size.
Lens Cap Shot: 60s exposure, ISO 200, Long Shutter NR ON, 100% crop from JPEG.
Click image for full size.

Not surprisingly, with Long Shutter NR disabled, a 60 second exposure on the GM5 displayed several faint white pixels that can been seen across the entire frame (though mainly when pixel-peeping with very close magnification -- click images above for the full size image) and a handful of a few really hot pixels here and there. With Long Shutter NR turned back on, the GM5's processing does an excellent job of eliminating practically all of the faint pixel "noise" and hot pixels. Compared to the shot from the Cameralabs' GM1 testing, with Long Shutter NR turned on, the GM5 seems to show a significant improvement in handling long exposure noise and hot pixels. I also repeated this test using both expanded low ISOs and the standard base ISO of 200, and saw similar behavior, however the noise appeared slightly more obvious at ISO 200 in the NR-disabled shots. With Long Shutter NR enabled, both ISO 100 and 200 shots looked much cleaner.

After taking more long exposure shots, I used the GM5's built-in "Pixel Refresh" feature, which should remap hot pixels, however I saw little to no change in 60s, ISO 200 shots with Long Shutter NR disabled taken before and after running it.

Real World Shot: 60s exposure, ISO 200, Long Shutter NR OFF, 100% crop from JPEG
(I needed to use B+W ND 3.0 1000x 10-stop ND filter and the Olympus 12-40mm @ f/22, which can explain the overall softness due to diffraction.)
Real World Shot: 60s exposure, ISO 200, Long Shutter NR ON, 100% crop from JPEG
(I needed to use B+W ND 3.0 1000x 10-stop ND filter and the Olympus 12-40mm @ f/22, which can explain the overall softness due to diffraction.)

Image Playback Resolution. Lastly, back when I reviewed the GM1, a reader pointed out an interesting issue in which the playback review image had a much lower resolution if you shot RAW-only compared to RAW+JPEG. Basically, in RAW+JPEG mode, the camera appears to display the corresponding, full-resolution JPEG image, whereas with RAW-only shooting, it appears to display the embedded JPEG image, which has a much lower resolution (1920x1440 pixels). This makes it more difficult to discern the sharpness in shots. I was curious to see if this was improved in the GM5, but unfortunately this doesn't appear to be the case, as demonstrated in the table below using sharply focused, tripod-based shots. The behavior with RAW playback appears the same as on the GM1.

 

Panasonic GM5: Playback Image: RAW vs RAW+JPEG
RAW
RAW+JPEG
RAW @ 8x Magnification
RAW+JPEG @ 8x Magnification
RAW @ 16x Magnification
RAW+JPEG @ 16x Magnification

Conclusion

The GM5 now finally inherits the built-in panorama mode from the GX7. It's works great -- just like a smartphone: begin your shot on the left, press the shutter and slowly pan to the right, then finish with a second press of the shutter button. The camera will then automatically create a seamless pano shot!
12-32mm: "13mm", f/4, 1/250s, ISO 400

The Panasonic GM1 was, and still is, a stunning camera, and the follow-up to it, the Panasonic GM5, takes what was great about the GM1, adds to it and improves it immensely. While still keeping an extremely slim, lightweight and compact design -- that's practically pocketable even with the kit lens -- the GM5 manages to include a fully-functional, albeit small, electronic viewfinder. Creative lighting options are expanded by the addition of a standard hot shoe and external flash support, though some users may miss the convenience of a built-in flash, instead having to always carry one around. The ergonomics and customization are subtly yet noticeably improved with additional function buttons, a larger raised thumb rest and a true rear thumb control dial.

12-32mm: 32mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 640

Image quality remains essentially unchanged and impressive for what really is a full-fledged Micro Four Thirds camera and not a tiny pocketable point-and-shoot with a significantly smaller sensor. Performance is still excellent with very fast autofocus, convenient touch-to-focus with the rear LCD (which I love), and burst shooting with the hybrid shutter is a tad faster. While I wish RAW buffer capacity was improved, it's still not all that bad for this class of camera and its intended use-cases (i.e. it's not primarily a sports and wildlife camera).

All in all, the Panasonic GM5 is an excellent camera -- a great step up from a pocketable compact, the ideal travel camera with the creative flexibility of interchangeable lenses or the perfect secondary camera for any Micro Four Thirds photographer.

 



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