Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5 camera

This compact mirrorless camera is easy to use, but enthusiasts might find it a chore

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Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5

Pros

  • Kit lens bundle is super-compact and light
  • Quick operation, fast autofocus
  • Good image and video quality

Cons

  • Advanced controls hidden in menus
  • No option for external viewfinder or mic

Bottom Line

Panasonic’s LUMIX GF5 completes the GF-series’ transition from compact enthusiast to super-compact point-and-shoot mirrorless camera. It’s simple, newbie-friendly, and seriously small -- but anyone looking for manual control should opt for the GX1 instead.

Would you buy this?

Panasonic’s first GF-series mirrorless large-sensor digital camera, the DMC-GF1, got a warm reception from enthusiasts that loved its lightweight body, intuitive controls and menu layout, and lack of bulky reflex mirror.

The next updates, in the GF2 and GF3, cut down the camera’s size considerably, albeit by sacrificing simple dial-and-button controls. The latest model, the LUMIX DMC-GF5, is a further evolution of the GF3, with a super-basic control scheme, a reasonably easy-to-understand touchscreen, and a further-streamlined body.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5: Design and build quality

The LUMIX GF5 follows the flat-body, small-grip ethos of previous cameras in its family. With no lens attached, it measures only 37mm thick, and is 180mm wide and 67mm tall. A small amount of that height comes from a small hump above the lens mount that hides a pop-up flash.

Physical controls aren’t entirely missing, with the two main control faces — top right and back right — each sporting four combi-buttons. The top face has a power switch, two-stage shutter, direct movie recording, and Intelligent Auto toggle. From top to bottom on the back of the camera, buttons for playback, display/info adjustment, the main five-way jog-and-press dial-pad, and a multi-function menu/trash/customisable key are stacked in a memorable layout.

The 3-inch, 921k-dot screen on the back of the GF5 is touch-sensitive. Tap it while the camera is in shooting mode, and you’re presented with some options that aren’t already represented by the physical buttons. In most shooting modes, the touchscreen has quick access to two extra customisable buttons, zoom control (with a power-zoom lens), and touch shutter. If you’re in a situation where you can’t press the shutter button, the touch shutter mode does come in handy.

The build quality of the GF5 is excellent, especially considering its reasonably light (267g with battery) weight. The front grip has enough purchase for two fingers, although the rear thumb-grip is slightly less reassuring.

The DMC-GF5 ships in a single lens configuration, bundled with the 14-42mm X series f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, and a twin lens kit that adds a 40-150mm telephoto, non-power-zoom lens. Both lenses use Panasonic’s Power O.I.S image stabilisation system to reduce blur from shaky hands.

One important thing to note is that there’s no way to attach accessories, like an external flash, external microphone, or electronic viewfinder, to the GF5. This is a definite step back from previous GF-series cameras, and one that’s been made to reduce bulk, but it does mean the camera is less versatile.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5: Menu system

The menu system of the DMC-GF5 is where you’ll spend a fair amount of your time if you want to do anything more than just take photos with the same settings day-in, day-out. It works well on either touch or physical controls, with six sections that serve different purposes.

We do feel like some of these sections could have been consolidated — the Record Mode menu would fit well under the more general Rec (which is for picture taking, oddly) menu. There’s not a great deal of consistency in the menu layout, though — enter Record Mode through the grid-based main screen, for example, and you’re presented with a faux-dial with round, relatively small, buttons.

Enter ‘Rec’, and you’re dumped straight in a more traditional line-and-detail interface, which begs the question as to why Panasonic didn’t make this the standard interface in the first place. Options are reasonably well labelled and information is clearly displayed in each sub-menu, for what it’s worth.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5: Picture and video quality

As a Micro Four-Thirds camera, the Panasonic GF5 uses a sensor that’s slightly smaller than the APS-C sensor used in most consumer and semi-professional DSLR cameras. The GF5’s sensor is 12 megapixels — that’s a total of 4000x3000 pixels that are in each photo that you take.

At the end of the day, if you’re shooting with a digital SLR, you’ll get pictures that are academically better quality — the larger sensor size and higher megapixel count guarantees that — but for all intents and purposes the GF5 is able to capture photos that have few issues to speak of.

In the JPEG Fine mode, which is the camera’s default full-size shooting mode, details are captured with plenty of resolution whether you’re shooting in ideal bright outdoor conditions or less-favourable indoor or gloomy scenarios. The GF5 has an ISO range of 100-6400 (expandable to 12800), and up until the highest two ISO settings it does a great job of handling image chroma and luminance noise. Pictures taken out on a bright day can look as good as ones taken in a candle-lit restaurant, if you’re careful with the settings you choose.

What stands out most about the GF5 is the quality and speed of its autofocus. The camera is able to lock on and focus on a target from close to far focus in under a second, and we never had a single non-macro situation in which it didn’t focus correctly. If you want macro, you’ll need to be a little more careful as the indicators that the camera is slightly out-of-focus aren’t as intrusive as we expected.

The quality of the video that the LUMIX GF5 can produce belies its small size. The stereo microphone is much improved from previous models, and while it’s still susceptible to wind noise, and doesn’t do as good a job as any external microphone will, it’s more than good enough for recording a casual conversation or for providing a bit of atmos for your home movies.

The LUMIX GF5 has a total of 23 scene modes, ranging from the mundane to the ridiculous. All have their place — Sweet Child’s Face for a sweet child’s face, for example? &8212; and there is value to be had in playing around with them to see the effect on the photos that you can take. We don’t see the scene modes as being a major selling factor of the GF5, but they’re a nice addition.

Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5: Conclusion

The LUMIX DMC-GF5 has a good sensor, an incredibly compact body, and some impressive hardware. It’s slightly interfered with by a mediocre interface, but if you’re the kind of photographer that prefers to point and snap rather than mucking with settings and composing your work, this is not a great concern.

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