Compact system cameras have been with us for around four years now, with Panasonic kicking off the genre with its launch of the Lumix G1 back in 2008. Since then, Panasonic has expanded its range with a host of different CSC models tailored to different segments of the market. The current range includes the GF5 for those looking for a compact form with CSC quality; the GX1 for enthusiast-level photographers looking for a smaller and more portable camera to complement their DSLR; the somewhat long in the tooth GH2 for video enthusiasts; and the year-old G3 with its clever mix of entry-level and enthusiast features.
Viewed strictly in terms of naming convention, the G5 might initially appear to be a direct replacement for the G3, however Panasonic actually intend it as an extension of the range. As such it’s positioned above the G3 and GF5 and is intended to tempt potential entry-level to mid-range DSLR buyers – think Canon 650D or Nikon D3200. In addition, the new G5 also offers enough incremental upgrades to tempt G3 and GF3 owners as well. For those wondering why there’s no G4 in between the G3 and G5, the simple answer is that in Japan the number four is considered unlucky.
The G5 is built around an all-new 16.05MP Live MOS sensor. This is further complemented by a redesigned Venus Engine 7 FHD image processor that’s able to shoot at a relatively speedy 6fps while also delivering a top sensitivity setting of ISO 12,800. If you don’t mind a drop in overall resolution it’s also possible to shoot at a super-speedy 20fps utilising at electronic (as opposed to mechanical) shutter. If you’re shooting in a noise-sensitive environment (such as a wedding ceremony) then the additional benefit of the electronic shutter option is that it can be set to silent.
Autofocus performance has long been one of the strong points of the Lumix G-series range and the G5 continues this trend with Panasonic’s impressive Light Speed contrast-detect AF, offering a generous range of AF options including Multi-area, Selective single-point, Tracking and Face Detection. In addition the camera can also be set to Single-shot (where focus is locked by half-pressing the shutter release button) and Continuous (where the AF module remains active).
On the back of the G5 you’ll find a 3in, 920k-dot LCD vari-angle monitor that offers touch-screen functionality. This allows the camera to benefit from Panasonic’s tried and tested Touch Focus and Touch Shutter technology; the former allowing you to set a point of focus simply by touching the relevant point on the rear screen and the latter taking things one step further by firing the shutter once focus has been locked on to your desired point. As with the G3 the G5’s vari-angle design also allows it to be pulled away from the body by at least 180-degrees as well as rotated though 270 degrees. If you’re a fan of shooting from high of low angles, this will make things much easier. The jump to 920k-dot resolution is also a step up from the 460k-dot screen on the G3.
Should you prefer to use the camera at eye-level then the G5’s 1.44m-dot electronic viewfinder (EVF) is one of the better EVFs we’ve seen on a compact system camera. It also offers a 100% field of view along with an automatic eye-sensor that’ll automatically switch it on when the camera is raised to your eye. Should you want you can even set the camera up so that the autofocus will activate itself once the eye-sensor has been triggered which can be helpful for grabbing snatched shots.
As well as being able to shoot regular JPEGs at a range of resolution and quality settings, the G5 can also record lossless Raw images for enhanced post-processing. For those who’d prefer to let the camera add its own digital effects there are a total of 14 Creative Control effects to choose from including the usual stalwarts such as Miniature, Cross Process and Dynamic Monochrome.
As one of the developers of the HDTV-friendly AVCHD format, Panasonic has built a reputation for delivering cameras with excellent video capabilities and the G5 continues this trend. The G5 can record high-definition AVCHD video at a top quality setting of 1080p Full HD at either 50 or 60fps. Should you wish to shoot in the more computer-friendly MP4 format then you can still shoot at 1080p Full HD, albeit at a maximum frame-rate of 25 or 30fps.
In terms of design the G5 initially looks very much like its predecessor, the main difference being a more pronounced handgrip. In the hand this gives the camera a more DSLR like quality than its predecessor. In addition the shutter release button has moved forward slightly, which again makes for a slightly more comfortable grip overall.
All new for the G5 is the addition of a Function Lever which sits just behind the shutter release. With it you’re able to control a number of camera operations including exposure settings, menu navigation and operation of the image zoom while the camera is in Playback mode. If you’ve got Panasonic’s 14-42mm power zoom attached to the camera then you can also use this lever to control the zoom with, which is pretty neat.
Button layout on the back of the camera has seen a bit of a rejig since the G3 with most of the buttons now treated to a metal finish rather than plastic. A useful new AF/AE lock button (which doubles up as a Function button) has been added, alongside a dedicated Quick Menu button that’s positioned next to the viewfinder. Our only real complaint concerns the plastic command dial, which feels a bit cheap compared to the rest of the camera.