In terms of design and handling, the G5 looks like a closer descendent of the G2 than the more recent G3. A proper grip handle has reappeared, crowned with a shutter-release button that can be easily accessed without you needing to bend your index finger right the way up to the top of the camera body. The camera also feels a bit higher-end—a bit more advanced—thanks to an increased selection of physical controls including a new switch-type control (see inset), an exposure correction button and a presence detector that automatically switches between the screen and the viewfinder. The LVF/LCD button can be recycled for use as an extra function button—so, in total, the G5 has three customisable physical buttons and two onscreen buttons that can be programmed for direct access to five settings of your choice.
Like the G3, the G5 has a touch-control swivel display. The interface hasn't changed much, and using the touch-controls is still 100% optional—you can press options onscreen or navigate using the four-way arrows. Screen calibration isn't amazing, as bright, light shades are soon overexposed. The display is also too cold and colour fidelity leaves a lot to be desired. You'd therefore probably better avoid using it for things like setting the white balance.
The viewfinder's resolution is fine, but it's still a sequential display (colours displayed separately) so some people may notice rainbow effects caused by colour break-up. Plus, contrast is a bit on the low side—it's no match for the viewfinders in Sony's NEX-7 or some Olympus cameras.
The main new feature in the G5 is an entirely electronic shutter. That means it can snap away in silence when in Silent Shutter mode, just like a compact camera. However, this new function does have a few technical limitations—mainly the fact that you can't use the flash when using the electronic shutter. Panasonic argues that anyone using the electronic shutter will primarily be looking for discreet snapping, so automatically deactivating can only be a good thing. We're not sure so sure. At a concert, for example, the noise of the shutter will be much more distracting that the flash of a flash.
Anyway, in plenty of other situations, this ultra-quiet shooting mode will be very handy. You'll be able to snap people mid-discussion without distracting them, take pictures of animals without frightening them off or take photos in a museum without being tutted at.
The G5 behaves like other Panasonic G-series cameras in this field. In fact, its results are almost identical to those of the G3—the biggest difference in speed we measured between the models was six hundredths of a second, which is negligible, even though we tested the G5 with the 12-35 mm lens rather than the 14-42 mm lens we used with the G3!
The camera gets going reasonably quickly, although start-up isn't instant like with some SLRs. It focuses quickly in all conditions and saves photos in no time. The burst mode is very good in Jpeg mode but is more rather limited with RAW shots, maxing at five shots.
The Panasonic G5 has ISO settings up 12800 ISO, which seems to be the standard for interchangeable lens compacts and SLRs these days. However, not many cameras that boast this setting can actually realistically be used at it!
And the Lumix G5 is no exception to the rule. Any improvement compared with the G3 (max. ISO setting 6400 ISO) is slight, and the G5 remains a little way behind the Sony NEX-5N, and a fair way behind the Fuji X-Pro 1. In practice, shots taken at 3200 ISO can be used without much of a second thought, but at 6400 ISO the drop in sharpness is visible. Still, the G5 out-performs the Samsung NX20, it's most obvious competitor, and isn't too far from the Olympus E-M5, a slightly higher-end micro four-thirds alternative. It's therefore not badly positioned compared with its key market rivals.
For once, Panasonic didn't send us our G5 with the standard 14-42 mm kit lens, even though this is likely to be the most popular lens bundle-wise. Instead, they sent us the new 12-35 f/2.8 model, one of Panasonic's "X" series of high-end lenses.
At wide-angle, the image is consistently sharp across the frame, with good performances right into the corners of the image. At telephoto, the middle of the frame is still very sharp but gets a little hazier around the edges. Overall, it clearly beats Panasonic's 14-42 mm lens (both standard and slimline X-series versions), and logicically so, but the Olympus 12-50 mm lens does a marginally better job while offering a more powerful zoom and a lower price tag (although it's not stabilised, and has telephoto aperture at f/6.3, thus capturing five times less light).
The G5 films Full HD video at up to 60 frames per second. Video is therefore impeccably smooth, although you'll need a pretty recent computer to handle heavyweight footage like this. The image is sharp, contrast is good and video noise is controlled well. The autofocus is effective and you can control focusing while you film by simply pressing the screen.
Audio quality is quite good, with an audible stereo effect and decent rendition. It's not quite on par with the Panasonic GH2 or stand-alone camcorders, but it's perfectly fine for day-to-day use. That's especially good news since, like the G3, the G5 doesn't have a mic socket. This is an intentional Panasonic omission too—the remote control socket is still there but this doesn't double up as a mic port like it does in the GH2.
Other limitations compared with the GH2 are the absence of a manual video mode (only exposure correction is possible) and the fact that there's no 24 fps framerate option (the standard framerate used in movies).
- Improved design and build (grip handle, more buttons, presence detector, etc.)
- Customisable interface (five Fn buttons, Quick menu, etc.)
- Swivel touchscreen
- Silent electronic shutter
- Excellent image quality up to 1600 ISO, still decent at 3200 ISO
- 1080p video mode at 60 fps
- Battery life could be better
- Viewfinder is dull, sequential display can cause colour break-up effects
- Limitations in Silent Shutter more (no flash)
- Video mode could be more comprehensive (no mic port or manual mode)
The Panasonic Lumix G5 is a real "mini-SLR" kind of a camera, with a good design, practical handling and plenty of controls. The electronic shutter is very handy when you want to shoot unnoticed and image quality is good in both photo and video modes.