Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5

Lumix DMC-G5

The latest DSLR-styled model in Panasoniccompact system camera range has an updated 16.05-million-pixel sensor and new Venus 1HDII engine processor. We put it to the test

PANASONICLumix DMC-G1 was the model that kick-started the compact system camera market. Although the range has since expanded to include the GH,

GF and GX versions, the G series retains its popularity due to the inclusion of a viewfinder, hotshoe mount and vari-angle screen. The expansion of the range is a sign of the considerable size of the compact system market, which now accounts for 22% of all interchangeable-lens camera sales in the UK. The micro four thirds system used by Panasonic (and shared with Olympus) remains the largest, with 12 cameras and 29 lenses now available, 16 of the lenses being from Panasonic.

The G5 is actually the fourth camera in the original G range, with the model number jumping from 3 to 5, thereby avoiding the unlucky (in Japan) number 4. While it is a natural successor to the G3, it will not replace the old model. Instead, both will be available, widening Panasonicrange to provide a camera to suit a range of needs and budgets. With an already impressive specification on the G3, one might expect improvements in the G5 to be minimal,

but it seems that the addition of elements from the Lumix DMC-GH2 and GF5, as well as some new functions, should allow the camera to distinguish itself from those models that have come before.

FEATURES

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 features the same 16.05-million-pixel sensor as the GH2, which is itself an upgrade from the 16-million-pixel unit in the G3. The G5 s sensor has an output of 4608x3456 pixels, which will comfortably deliver a high-resolution A3 print (at around 280dpi). Paired with the sensor is the new Venus 7 HD II engine processor as featured in the GF5. This has resulted in faster burst shooting, up from 4fps to 6fps, and a 1EV increase in ISO sensitivity, which now reaches 12,800. The combination also increases the video potential of the G5, which can record in 1080 50p using the AVCHD format or 1080 25p with MP4.

Images are saved in a choice of JPEG or Panasonicnative RW2 raw files, with the option for combined raw and two levels of JPEG compression. There are also options for 3:2 and 16:9 aspect ratios to be recorded at 14 and 12-million-pixel resolutions respectively. As we saw in the G3, the readout from the sensor chips in both the camera and lens doubles from 60fps to 120fps when the shutter is half-pressed. This helps to deliver the autofocus speed, which is claimed to be even faster in this model. The metering uses a familiar 144-zone, multi-pattern system with intelligent multiple, centreweighted and spot options, while exposure compensation is available in ±5EV for a wide degree of adjustment if required.

A full selection of manual and auto shooting modes are available, including an iAuto button on the top-plate. This overrides all manual settings and employs the most relevant scene mode from data gathered by the camera. For burst shooting, the camera will allow nine raw or combined raw + JPEG frames, or 13 fine JPEG files before slowing to around 3fps. Raw files take quite a while to clear from the buffer (around 2secs per file), and while this doesnlock the camera down, it does mean having to wait to review the images. This can be up to 20secs after a high-speed burst.

A silent shutter mode is present for more discreet snapping, and both the scene guide and set of 14 filters come directly from the GF5. One new addition, however, is the HDR mode. The G5 is the first G-series model to

include an HDR mode and it works in much the same way as other auto HDR functions, capturing a series of images and combining them in-camera to achieve a wider dynamic range. At present, this doesn t seem to have been built into the iA functionality, so must be accessed from the automatic or priority shooting modes via the menu.

 Panasonic Lumix

Externally, the differences to the G3 are subtle. The most noticeable is the deeper handgrip on the G5, which feels much more substantial in the hand. This change in design has also allowed the use of a larger battery unit, which therefore results in a longer shooting time. With the reliance on the electronic viewfinder or monitor screen, however, this is still estimated at only 320 shots. The electronic viewfinder is the same 1.44-million-dot unit used previously, but the eye sensor-not present in the G3-returns and also activates the autofocus, so the camera starts to focus as soon as the EVF is brought up to the eye.

The mode dial is larger and the rear buttons are now metal rather than plastic, giving the camera a more refined feel. The shutter button sits further forward at an angle, and behind it sits a function lever-a small rocker for menu and shooting functions, as well as for zooming with the X-series power-zoom lenses attached.

The rear LCD screen jumps from the G3 s 460,000 dots up to 920,000 dots on the G5, with a noticeable increase in sharpness and quality. It is also still a touchscreen unit, allowing touch-shutter and touch-focus controls as well as menu access. As before, the screen is mounted on a vari-angle bracket with horizontal and vertical rotation, but one new feature is the ability to use it for focus-point selection when using the EVF.

In this set-up, the LCD screen remains black but by moving a finger around the screen the focus point changes in the EVF.

BUILD AND HANDLING

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 behaves much like the G3 in operation, managing to offer a close-to-DSLR feel despite the small form. Construction of the body still appears to be polycarbonate, but the rear buttons are now metal rather than plastic, giving a higher-class finish. The only exception is a rather plastic-feeling control wheel. The EVF is very clear and bright with performance matching the best currently on the market, and it is easy to view, even with glasses. When the G3 was introduced, the eye sensor was removed from the EVF, but thankfully the G5 sees its return, making the switch from rear screen to viewfinder all the quicker. The larger grip is a nice addition, too, and makes the camera feel more substantial, even though with a small

lens it remains almost pocket-sized.

When the power zoom lens is attached, the new function lever allows easy control of the lens and gives the G5 the feel of a compact camera. It allows the left hand to remain supporting the camera, which means there is less likelihood of camera shake for video. However, for still use a regular zoom barrel is my preferred choice, and adjusting the zoom using the electronic controls either

on the lens or the camera is a slow process.

Menu control is a bit of a mish-mash between touchscreen and cursor operation. The benefit is that most functions can be selected or controlled with both, but the downside is that, at times, it doesnfeel optimised for either. The Q menu (quick menu) can be quite fiddly to select with a finger, while with the cursor the movement is sometimes limited to the left and right selection when trying to get to functions above or below, such as in submenus. For those used to touchscreen gestures, there is also a lack of free scrolling in the menus or any pinch controls on playback. However, the touchscreen display options are useful, with the ability not only to choose to show histogram or virtual level overlays, but also reposition the histogram so it doesnblock important areas of the scene.

METERING

 Panasonic Lumix

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5144-zone metering offers a comprehensive multisegment system that produces well-exposed results within the cameradynamic range. Once that range is exceeded, the exposure tends to need reducing by around V3-V2EV if the brighter area is small in the scene. A test of the tipping point showed that the bright area needed to cover almost half the frame before the metering really corrected for it. This is in line with most consumer-level models and is easily corrected with a small adjustment of the exposure compensation. Having the metering set up in this way produces better results straight from the camera, and for those who prefer to edit their shots on a computer, it is easily adjusted.

The centreweighted option can also be useful for exposing a central subject, but in doing so it is more likely to overexpose, say, a bright sky.

For portraits in tricky lighting, the spot-metering option comes in handy, but is centrally placed rather than linked to the AF point. Using face detection can work as an alternative to concentrate the exposure on a face, often without such dramatic results.

WHITE BALANCE AND COLOUR

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 s white balance offers just five presets in addition to the auto setting, but each can be fine-tuned with a full four-way axis. There are also two manual presets that can be measured by taking a test shot, as well as colour temperature adjustment. However, for most scenes the auto white balance does a great job so there is little need to use the presets, especially when shooting in raw, which gives complete control at the editing stage.

In its standard mode, the G5 delivers very natural-looking colours, akin to those expected by DSLR users. For those wanting different looks, the camera offers a choice of six photo styles, including vivid, natural, mono, scenery and portrait. There is also a custom mode that applies the userown colour preferences, although all photo styles can be fine-tuned for contrast, sharpness, saturation and noise reduction.

LCD, LIVE VIEW AND VIDEO

The rear LCD screen on the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 is a big improvement over the G3 version, bringing the resolution from 460,000 up to 921,000 dots. Like the previous unit, it still retains its touchscreen capability for menu access, image review and shooting control, including touch AF and touch shutter. This feature-which allows the user to simply press the screen and take the shot-and touch focus are handy when the camera is mounted on a tripod. The ability to use the screen for focus (see Features in use on page 46) when composing with the EVF takes this one stage further, though. Touch is generally responsive, but at times takes a more firm press than is needed with smartphones. The quality of the screen is impressive, though, and provides plenty of detail for reviewing image sharpness, aided by the 16x zoom function.

The electronic viewfinder offers a 144-million-dot resolution, which is the same as that on the previous model. While the latest Sony cameras feature nearly double this number of dots, the frame rate and brightness of the G5screen still deliver excellent results. It might not fool anyone into believing it is an optical device, but the benefits of the onscreen information and advantages over using just a rear LCD are undeniable.

Panasonic has increased the video ability on the G5 to deliver full HD 1080 capture at 60/50p rather than the 60/50i that has been available previously in the GF5 and even the flagship video model, the GH2. This uses the AVCHD format, but MPEG-4 capture is also available in 1080 25p. What this camera lacks for video fans, however, is the 2.5mm mic input of the GH2. Instead, stereo mic inputs are built into the top of the body. In the menu, however, there are controls for mic levels and wind-cut to improve sound performance.

 Panasonic Lumix

NOISE, RESOLUTION AND SENSITIVITY

Although the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 uses the same sensor as that used in the GH2, results have been improved, most notably at higher ISO values. This could also be a result of the latest processing engine.

At its base ISO sensitivity, the G5 reaches a respectable 28 on our chart with both raw and JPEG files. By ISO 800, this drops to a still reasonable 24, but it then manages to retain this resolving power all the way up to its top IS012,800 setting. This is close to the results from the Olympus OM-D E-M5 (tested AP 7 April) at the lower end, but scores better at higher sensitivities.

Noise levels are well controlled in JPEG files, with only slight luminance noise visible through the noise reduction from ISO 3200 and a slight appearance of colour noise at ISO 12,800. The raw files show a greater degree of noise, but it only takes a small amount of adjustment in editing software to remove it so detail can be maintained. The micro four thirds system is often criticised for the level of detail that can be obtained, especially at higher ISO sensitivities, but while these results might not compare with the 20+-million-pixel sensors, the G5 has greater resolving power than some 16-million-pixel, APS-C cameras.

DYNAMIC RANGE

The sensor in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 provided one of Panasonic s best dynamic range scores to date, at 11,3EV. This is comparable with older DSLR models and compacts such as the Canon PowerShot S95, but is certainly a continued weakness due to the smaller sensor, given what larger ones are capable of. However, there are some slight improvements in this model, and the inclusion of an HDR mode for the first time in a G-series camera sees Panasonic providing a workaround at least for those shooting higher-contrast scenes.

AUTOFOCUS

The focusing that is offered in the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 is a long way from the early days of contrast-detection systems. In good light, it performs as well if not better than entry-level DSLR cameras. Its remaining weakness appears to be tracking subjects in low light, as it often fails to lock on in low-light situations. This is an area where the higher-level phase-detection systems on DSLR cameras still have the edge. Although hybrid systems promise an answer to this, none to date has managed to keep up with the speed of the Panasonic or Olympus contrast-detection systems.

There is a wide array of focus options in the G5 to control how the AF performs, from continuous and flexible focus options to allow the camera to focus before halfpressing the shutter button, through to touch focus and face-detection options. It can be difficult to identify what each control actually does at first, and they are spread across the menu system. A dedicated focus menu would be handy here, along with descriptions as to the function of each control when selected.

Verdict

THE PANASONIC Lumix DMC-G5 remains a more DSLR-like experience to use than most current compact system camera models. The improvements to the sensor and processing engine enable an impressive performance and show that a smaller-format sensor can compete against APS-C models. The handling of noise is extremely impressive, allowing critical shooting up to ISO 3200 and the retention of high levels of detail even at ISO 12,800. Focusing remains an issue in low-light situations, though, and is something that may well lead to a hybrid contrast-and phase-detection solution in the future, like those now offered by Nikon and Canon.

Touchscreen controls have their benefits and in places really aid the G5operation. However, the menu needs work to accommodate both cursor and touch operation properly. If a viewfinder is essential to your shooting style, the G5 is the most affordable offering and its results do not disappoint. The plethora of available lenses is a benefit to this system, and there are some stunning primes available that really get the best from the G5.

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