Back last year, Panasonic presented the GF3, a lens-switching mirrorless camera specially designed for novice users. Its replacement, the GF5 (4 is unlucky in Japanese culture), looks like more of a software update than a hardware update, boasting improved touchscreen handling and enhanced performances but no major additions to the spec sheet.
From the outside, the GF5 still looks very similar to the GF3. While keen-eyed readers may spot the arrival of a Disp. button or a slightly flatter flash, the main modification is a higher handle, which makes room for your middle finger and improves general grip. That said, the GF5 is still a very small camera, so anyone with larger hands might have to bunch their fingers up a bit.
Build quality is good but, logically, it's not quite on par with the higher-end GX1. The only thing you could really criticise in the Panasonic GF5 is a slight wobble to the flash—something that's difficult to avoid given its longer arm and the camera's compact design.
The GF5 has been treated to a new screen, doubling the resolution to VGA. Viewing angles are good and the display is generally comfortable to use (in spite of some glitches and judder in low light). The screen isn't calibrated all that accurately, however. Bright, light parts of the onscreen image are soon overexposed to white, and colours aren't displayed accurately. We measured the Delta E (difference between perfect colours and those displayed onscreen) at 9.5. Note that anything under 3 is considered accurate and that most digital cameras usually score around 6. However, it's the colour temperature that's actually most problematic, as at over 11,000 K (instead of 6,500 K), the display has a visibly blue overtone.
You therefore can't really use the screen to manually perfect the white balance, as when light tones will look to have a blue tinge onscreen, the corresponding image will actually be captured looking perfectly neutral. You're therefore better off relying on the automatic white balance (which generally works very well) or the pre-sets.
The camera interface is very pleasant. It's clear, easy to understand, and the camera can now be controlled entirely with the touchscreen (see inset). And, as ever, custom settings are on hand, so you can pick the options in the Quick Menu, the location of the histogram, zoom tool etc.
Panasonic's micro four-thirds cameras are usually above average on this front, and the GF5 is no exception. In fact, the results are very similar to those of the GX1, with start-up at 1.4 seconds (mainly due to the time it takes to deploy the 14-42 mm X lens), an autofocus that works in under half a second in all conditions, and fast photo-to-photo turnaround.
The 4 fps burst mode, which is slowed down for moving subjects, is the only real field in which the GF5 is outdone by SLRs.
Although the sensor is technically the same as the one used in the GF3, Panasonic has promised to improve sensitivity, bringing this 12-Megapixel camera on par with the the latest 16-Megapixel sensors used in the G3 and GX1. This is the kind of claim we usually take with a very large pinch of salt ...
The result is that Jpeg shots look more visibly processed, mainly to reduce levels of digital noise in dark, shadowy parts of the picture—an approach to image processing that's quite reminiscent of Sony. However, there is a clear gain in overall quality, with an image at 3200 ISO that's still only lightly smoothed, and which is clear enough to make 8" x 10" (20 x 27 cm) prints without a second thought. At 6400 ISO, the result isn't quite as flattering. There's certainly less noise, but detail is wiped out as a result. All in all, while Sony's APS sensors are still a fair way ahead, Panasonic has clearly made progress with the GF5.
We tested our GF5 with Panasonic's great 14-42 mm X lens, the first ever pancake zoom lens to hit the market. The model we were sent even turned out to be slightly better than the one we got with the GX1—an unexpected bonus! For such a compact lens, we already thought quality was great in the first model we saw, almost comparable with standard 14-42 mm zoom lenses.
So while there are camera-and-lens combos that take better-quality pictures (a Canon 600D with the EF-S 17-55 mm f/2.8 lens, for example), the GF5 + 14-42 mm X is an excellent choice for users looking to take great pictures without being weighed down with kit ... or spending a small fortune.
The GF5 films 1080i video at 50 fields per second. Picture quality is good, with nice levels of sharpness and flattering, although well controlled, contrast. The continuous autofocus works quite well and interlacing is invisible—in fact, the sensor captures 25 full frames per second, which are recorded and interlaced for some obscure reasons of back-compatibility.
Sound quality is a mixed bag. The GF5 finally records in stereo, the mics are OK quality and distinct voices and noises all sound clear. However, the stereo effect isn't as marked as in certain rivals (like Panasonic's own G3 and GX1) and some cameras render metallic sounds more accurately.