One of the biggest selling points of the GF3 – especially for CSC newcomers – was its ease of use. This was largely facilitated by its hybrid control system that allows for touch-screen and physical button control. The newer model retains this approach, with the touch-screen offering an intuitive way to select shooting modes and navigate the in-camera menu, although you can always fall back on the directional pad and/or the Quick Button and main Menu buttons should you wish.
One big improvement to the GF5 over the GF3 is the improved high-resolution LCD screen. Whereas the GF3 came with a 3in, 460k-dot monitor this has been bumped up to 920k-dots for the GF5. The result is pin-sharp images and in-camera menu graphics that – regardless of whether you’re using the rear monitor to frame a shot, reviewing images you’ve already taken or using the in-camera menu to change a setting – greatly enhances the overall user experience of the GF5.
There’s still no hotshoe mount though, which means you’ll be unable to attach a more powerful flash or compatible electronic viewfinder. Given that the GF5 isn’t really targeted at enthusiast or advanced users this is just about forgiveable, but only just. The built-in pop-up flash that’s neatly housed inside the ‘hump’ on top of the camera should prove perfectly adequate for shooting close subjects or lighting up limited areas at night.
AF performance is another area where the GF5 impresses. Panasonic claims the camera offers an AF-lock speed of just 0.09sec, making it one of the fastest on the market. While we’ve not been able to verify this claim with a stopwatch there’s no doubt that the GF5’s AF system is faster than most – even when light level is less than ideal.
During our hands-on time with the GF5 we found ourselves in Chessington’s open aviary (in gloomy overcast conditions we might add) amid a dozen or so brightly coloured parrots all of whom flatly refused to stay still for more than a fraction of a second. Thanks to the GF5’s super-fast AF, however, we managed to shoot not one, but several sharp images of the birds as they incessantly hopped about demanding food from everyone inside the mesh (see Sample Images: General Images). Ok, so it’s not a particularly scientific approach to testing, nonetheless it’s still a good real-world example of how a fast-performing AF system like that found on the GF5 can really benefit image quality and help you to get that shot in the bag.
Speaking of image quality, from our limited time with a pre-production sample we’ve been left mightily impressed by the little GF5. To be fair, its predecessor was also perfectly capable of taking a very good image so it’s not as if Panasonic has reinvented the wheel or anything. Nonetheless, wandering around Chessington World of Adventures for a couple of hours with the new GF5 and an assortment of interesting lenses (8mm fisheye, 25mm f/1.4 Leica Summicron and the 14-42mm Lumix ‘X’ power zoom - all premium lenses it must be noted) we were able to put our sample model through its paces in a variety of conditions, and can report that we were left highly impressed with the results it produced.
Colour is one particular area in which the GF5 excels, producing images that are richly coloured and vibrant but which still feel lifelike. While the GF5 can be set to record lossless Raw images, we spent the day shooting full-resolution JPEG’s in the default 4:3 aspect with the ‘Standard’ Picture Style setting applied. And yet, even on a gloomy overcast day with flat light the GF5 was still able to produce punchy images with pleasingly vibrant colour. This especially applies when you’re shooting subjects up close, rather than taking wideangle landscape shots where the flat UK sky is clearly visible.
Low-light performance also impresses, and with the camera cranked up to ISO 1600 we were able to record noticeably clean and detailed images that were relatively unaffected by noise. Those upgrading from a compact will undoubtedly notice the step up in image quality and we’d bet that many APS-C DSLR users would also find the GF5’s noise control on a par, if not more impressive, than their own bigger-sensor cameras too.
White balance proved consistent during the time we had the camera, with all the images we took shot with the camera set to Automatic white balance. Metering also proved reliable on the whole, although we did notice a very slight tendency to underexpose by around a third of a stop on occasion. Of course, you can always override the in-camera metering module by applying some EV compensation as you see fit. In any case and as a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to reclaim shadow detail than blown highlights.
The Lumix GF5 is a style driven entry-level point to Panasonic’s G-series range of compact system cameras, and succeeds last year’s GF3. Small and stylish, it’s an easy to use digital camera that’s capable of excellent image quality. Upgrade highlights over the previous model include a new finger grip, a metallic lens mount, a much improved LCD monitor and new additions to the range of on-board digital filters. We've given it a thorough hands on test and can safely say that Panasonic appears to have pulled another rabbit out of the hat with the GF5.