Panasonic Lumix G5 Review
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The Panasonic Lumix G5 is a DSLR-like compact system camera featuring a new 16 megapixel image sensor, 3-inch free-angle LCD screen, redesigned grip and integrated electronic viewfinder. It also offers a touchscreen interface, fast 0.18 second auto-focusing, 6fps burst shooting, ISO range of 160-12,800, Venus Engine VII FHD processing engine, Full HD 1080/50p videos, mechanical and silent electronic shutters, a new Function Lever, an eye proximity sensor, level gauge and an extensive range of Photo Style and Creative Control filters. The Panasonic Lumix G5 will be available in black or silver from mid-August for £599 body only, £699 with the 14-42mm Mega O.I.S. lens, £829 with the 14-42mm X power zoom and £879 with both the 14-42mm Mega O.I.S. lens and the 45-150mm telezoom.
Ease of Use
The Panasonic Lumix G5 is a little larger and heavier than the G3 model that it follows, measuring 119.9 x 83.2 x 70.8mm and weighing 346g, largely due to the much bigger handgrip that makes the camera easier to hold firmly. Still very much in the DSLR mould, the Panasonic Lumix G5 is an understated, contemporary camera that closely follows the design ethos of previous G-series models. It managea to fit a 3-inch fully rotating, free-angle LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder into its diminutive dimensions, yet is still comfortable enough for users with average-sized hands to operate. Apart from the handgrip and rear thumgrip, which are both rubberised, the G5 has a smooth, glossy plastic finish, presumably to help drive costs down, although it's still extremely well-built with a high quality aluminium body, metal lens mount and metal tripod socket that belies its mid-range price point.
On the front of the Panasonic Lumix G5 is a small focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, lens release button, lens mount and rubberised hand-grip, which is large enough to effectively aid your hold on the camera. Optical image stabilisation is supplied via the lens, rather than being built into the camera body, although the 14-42mm X power zoom lens that we tested the G5 with lacks a physical OIS switch. Instead it can be turned on and off through the G5's menu system. When enabled, the Panasonic Lumix G5 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held. There are two different modes, Mode 1 is on all the time including image composition and Mode 2 is only on when you press the shutter button. You don't notice that the camera is actually doing anything different when anti-shake is turned on, just that you can use slower shutter speeds than normal and still take sharp photos.
On the left of the G5 is the MIC / Remote socket for use with the optional remote shutter release and external microphone, and two connection ports, including a HDMI port for connecting the G5 to a HD television or monitor. Unfortunately, Panasonic don't include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity. On the bottom is a metal tripod socket, importantly in-line with the middle of the lens barrel, and the shared battery compartment and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. The G5 manages just over 300 shots using the supplied 7.2V 1200mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery, a big improvement on the 250 shot life offered by the G3.
Found on top of the Panasonic G5 are the flash hotshoe and built-in pop-up flash, complete with a sliding manual switch to open it, stereo microphones, on/off switch, one-touch Intelligent Auto Plus (iA+) button for quickly switching to this beginner-friendly shooting mode, ahnady one-touch movie record button and a reasonably sized, tactile shutter button. New to the G5 is the curious Function Lever. This innocuous looking switch allows to to zoom any power zoom lens, zoom into an image when in playback mode and navigate the user interface. It has a rather spongy feel but is well-positioned under your right forefinger and provides a useful upgrade path for compact camera users.
Completing the Panasonic Lumix G5's top panel is a traditional dial that lets you choose the different exposure modes. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for more experienced photographers, while beginner-friendly Scene modes are accessed via the SCN setting. Additionally there are 2 custom modes, marked C1 and C2, which allow you to configure your favourite settings and quickly access them.
The G5's range of Creative Controls, denoted by an artist's palette, now offers a whopping 14 options. Some are more useful than others, and I'm not quite sure why these modes deserve their own special place on the shooting mode dial, rather than being grouped together with the Photo Styles in the Main Menu. It's presumably because you lose control of the exposure and other key settings when using the Creative Controls, whereas the 6 available Photo Styles still allow full control of the camera's settings.
The clever Intelligent Auto mode, selected via the button on top of the G5, tries to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner, allowing them to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right scene mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection (up to 15 faces), image stabilization and quick auto-focus on.
The Intelligent Auto Plus Mode also includes Intelligent Exposure, which increases exposure only in the under-exposed areas of the image, Digital Red-eye, which automatically detects and removes red-eye, and AF Tracking, which continually tracks a moving subject and keeps it in focus, without you having to hold the shutter button halfway down as on most other cameras. Intelligent D-range continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows, while Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one.
In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the G5 seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera. Also catering for the beginner are a total of 23 different scene modes.
The G5 improves on the G3's 1080i movie format by offering Full 1080p HD 1920 x 1080 movies at 60/50 frames per second, and 720p HD 1280 x 720 movies at 60 fps, both in the AVCHD (MPEG-4/H.264) format. In addition it can also record MP4 movies at 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720, 848 x 480, and 640 x 480 pixels all at 30fps, useful as this format can currently be shared more easily. AVCHD features almost double the recording time in HD quality compared with MP4, but software support is still a little thin on the ground. Panasonic describe it as the best mode for playing back on a HD TV direct from the camera, and MP4 best for email and playing on a computer. There is a limit on the length of a movie of up to 29 min 59 sec in European PAL areas, and continuous recording exceeding 2GB is not possible when recording in the MP4 format.
Stereo sound is recorded during video capture and you can also fit an optional external stereo microphone, as with the G3. There's also a useful wind cut function which blocks out most of the noise from background wind. The dedicated movie button on the top makes it simple to start record video footage at whatever quality level is currently selected. The HDMI port allows you to connect the G5 to a high-def TV set, but only if you purchase the optional HDMI mini-cable.
The Panasonic G5's Intelligent Auto mode works for movies as well as for still photos. Simply press the iA button on top of the camera, then the Movie Record button on the rear. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Optical Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens. One great benefit of the touch-screen control system is that Touch Auto Focusing is available in movie recording, enabling pro-level rack-like focusing simply by pointing at the subject on the LCD screen.
The rear of the Lumix G5 is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The rotating, free-angle LCD monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be rotated 180 degrees for side to side and flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the G5 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched.
|Front||Swivelling LCD Screen|
The improved 920K pixel high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions. This screen is a great improvement on cameras with the usual 230K dot resolution, even being nice to use in low-light. The Auto Power LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible. The high-res, free-angle LCD screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity. Above all, it's a fun way of composing your images.
The G5 inherits the G3's clever touchscreen interface. Panasonic have wisely restricted the amount of things that you can do by interacting with the screen, and indeed you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all. You would be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality, though, which really improves the overall shooting experience. New to the G5 is a feature called Touchpad AF which allows you to move the focus point area with your finger on the LCD while you're looking through the EVF.
The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the G5 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether).
The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider. If Face Detection is enabled, the 1-area AF point can be manually set to a person's eye to help ensure that the most important part of a portrait is in focus. If Multi-area AF rather than 1-area AF is enabled, then you can select a group of 4, 5 or 6 AF points from 9 different areas, again providing some manual control over what is traditionally a rather hit and miss affair.
When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the G5 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.
Most of the menu options can be changed via the touchscreen interface, notably the Quick Menu and the Info Display menu - the main exception to this rule is the Main Menu, which is still mostly controlled via the navigation buttons. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.
Instead of the bulky optical viewfinder of a conventional DSLR, the Panasonic G5 has a smaller electronic viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder on the G5 is identical to the G3's excellent EVF, which in turn was the same as the original G1. Despite its age this viewfinder is still on a par with any comparable system, with the exception perhaps of the Fujifilm X100's innovative hybrid viewfinder. It has a large 1.4x (0.7x on 35mm equiv.) magnification, 100% field of view, and a 1,440,000 dot equivalent resolution, resulting in a very usable display that won't leave you cursing. The EVF (and also the main LCD screen) operates at 60fps, twice the usual speed, which helps make it relatively flicker-free (although it is still noticeable).
New to the G5 is a handy eye proximity sensor whcih detects when the camera is held up to your eye and automatically switches from the rear LCD screen to the EVF. You can also switch between the two via the LVF/LCD button (this button can also be usefully reconfigured to the Function3 button). As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the G5's Quick Menu, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye.
The main downside of the G5's EVF system occurs indoors in low light, as it has to "gain-up" to produce a usable picture, resulting in a noticeably grainier picture. In all other situations, however, the electronic viewfinder on the G5 is the equal of and in many areas better than a DSLR's optical viewfinder, particularly those found on entry-level models which are typically dim and offer limited scene coverage. The truest testament to the G5 is that we mostly used it by holding it up to eye-level, something that we wouldn't do unless the EVF was of sufficient quality.
Positioned to the right of the EVF are the Quick Menu button and very useful AF/AE Lock button (which can be reconfigured to the Function1 button). The Q.Menu button provides quick access to most of the principal controls, including the photo style, flash, movie type, image size, image quality, auto-focus and metering options.
To the right again is a grey dial that's used for, amongst other things, changing the aperture and shutter speed by turning from left to right and back again. This is a common feature found on DSLR cameras, so you'll be right at home if you've used any DSLR before - compact camera users will need to get used to using this dial, although it is possible (but rather long-winded) to set the aperture/shutter speed via the LCD screen. The control dial can also be pressed inwards to switch to setting exposure compensation.
Below this are the Playback and the Display buttons, the latter cycling through the various LCD views, including the useful new level gauge. Underneath again is a traditional 4-way navigation pad system with a Menu/Set button in the centre. Pressing left, up, right and down on the D-Pad buttons selects AF Mode, ISO, White Balance and Burst mode / Bracketing / Self-timer options respectively.
|Memory Card Slot||Battery Compartment|
The main menu system on the G5 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation D-Pad. There are five main menus represented by large icons, Record, Motion Picture, Custom, Setup and Playback. As an indication of how configurable the G5 is, the Custom menu has 36 different options, allowing you to fine-tune this camera to suit your way of working. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Panasonic have only chosen to supply a basic guide in printed format, with the full manual only available as a PDF on the product CD.
The Panasonic Lumix G5's Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one by processing the contour areas, texture areas and smooth areas individually. There are three available strengths - low, standard and high - and an Extended option which increase the zoom range. Despite all the clever behind-the-scenes processing, it's fairly easy to tell which image was taken with Intelligent Resolution turned on and which one with it turned off due to unwanted artifacts appearing, particularly if viewing onscreen at 100% magnification. While the difference isn't quite so apparent on a print up to A3 in size, we're not convinced enough to recommend regularly using it.
Intelligent Dynamic adjusts the exposure setting to record more detail in the highlights and shadows, with three strengths available - low, standard and high. It's actually very effective for high-contrast scenes when the camera tends to blow-out the highlights and block-up the shadows. You can see some examples for both Intelligent Resolution and Intelligent Dynamic on the Image Quality page. The new HDR feature achieves the still fashionable high dynamic range look, although there's only an On or Off setting with no scope to tone down the effect.
The G5 employs the same Contrast AF that is commonly used by compact cameras. Despite this the G5's auto-focus system is as fast, if not faster, than a typical DSLR camera's, with a claimed speed of less than 0.1 second when used with certain lenses, and a still impressive 0.18 second with the 14-42mm kit lens. In practice I noticed very little difference in speed between the G5 and a DSLR, and there were also very few occasions when the G5 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point. There are a wide range of AF modes on offer, including multiple-area AF with up to 23 focus areas, 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face Detection, and AF Tracking. The G5 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera.
The start-up time from turning the Lumix G5 on to being ready to take a photo is very impressive at less than 0.5 seconds. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card - there is a barely perceptible LCD blackout between each image. Storing a single RAW image takes around 5 seconds, but thankfully it doesn't lock up the camera in any way - you can use the menu system or shoot another image while the first file is being written to memory. The Panasonic Lumix G5 has a good Burst mode which enables you to take 6 frames per second for an unlimited number of JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 9 RAW images. There's also a faster 20fps mode, but the images are only recorded at 4 megapixels.
Once you have captured a photo, the Panasonic Lumix G5 has an average range of options when it comes to playing, reviewing and managing your images. You can instantly scroll through the images that you have taken, view thumbnails (up to 30 onscreen at the same time and in a Calendar view), zoom in and out up to 16x magnification, view slideshows, delete, protect, trim, resize, copy and rotate an image. You can also select favourite images, change an image's aspect ratio, divide a video and set the print order. The Display button toggles detailed settings information about each picture on and off, such as the ISO rating and aperture / shutter speed, and there is a small brightness histogram available during shooting and RGBY histogram during playback if enabled in the menu. You can also turn on guide-lines to help with composition and flashing highlights which indicate any over-exposed areas of the image.