Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 review

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 edges out some other excellent cameras to earn our Editors' Choice award for compact interchangeable lens cameras under $1,000.
Photo of Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 ($799.99 direct with lens) is the latest in Panasonic’s line of SLR-styled Micro Four Thirds camera bodies. The 16-megapixel shooter looks and handles a lot like a scaled-down D-SLR. It has an extremely sharp eye-level EVF, a vari-angle touch-sensitive LCD, shoots at 5.3 frames per second, and shoots excellent photos through ISO 6400. It’s not without its flaws—even though it records 1080p60 video there is no external microphone input, and its kit lens is just a tad soft at its widest setting. Its pros outweigh its cons, earning the camera a 4.5 star rating and our Editors’ Choice award for compact interchangeable lens cameras under $1,000. If the $800 asking price is too big of a pill to swallow, the previous winner, the Sony Alpha NEX-F3, is still an excellent camera and is currently selling for less than its original $600 asking price.

Design and Features
The G5 looks like someone took a typical D-SLR and put it in front of Rick Moranis’s shrink ray. The handgrip, eye-level viewfinder, and physical control buttons are all arranged just like they would be on an SLR—but it measures just 3.3 by 4.7 by 2.8 inches and weighs only 12.2 ounces without a lens. It’s bigger than compact-styled compact interchangeable lens camera like the Olympus PEN E-PL5—that measures 2.5 by 4.4 by 1.1 inches—but smaller than a compact D-SLR like the 3.8-by-5-by-3.1-inch Nikon D3200.

It’s bundled with the Lumix G Vario 14-42mm lens, which seems a bit big for the camera thanks to the included petal lens hood. In reality, it’s got a wider diameter than the collapsible Olympus 14-42mm kit lens included with its line of Micro Four Thirds cameras, but is not that much deeper when the hood is reversed for storage. The lens is optically stabilized, while the Olympus is not—this is due to a different approach in stabilization. Panasonic builds stabilization into its lenses, while Olympus puts it into bodies. Even though you can use lenses from either manufacturer interchangeably on Micro Four Thirds cameras, you won’t have any form of stabilization if you opt to use Olympus glass on a Panasonic body. This also comes into play when using older lenses from other camera systems via an adapter.

Top-mounted controls include a standard Mode dial, a button to activate the iAuto mode, a Record button for video, a programmable Function Lever (by default it controls zoom when a power zoom lens is attached, but adjusts Exposure Compensation when one is not), and power switch, and the shutter release button. Rear controls include buttons to adjust Focus/Exposure Lock, ISO, White Balance, the Focus Area, the Self Timer, and Drive Mode. There’s also a dedicated Q. Menu button, which gives you quick access to many shooting functions via an on-screen menu—it can be navigated via touch or via the physical controls. One weak point of the camera is the quality of the rear pad. It feels just a little bit mushy when using it, a departure from the crisp feel that I’m used to getting from similar controls on other cameras.

You can frame and review images using the 1.4-million dot eye-level electronic viewfinder or via the vari-angle rear LCD—that’s 3 inches in size with a 920k-dot resolution. The LCD EVF is sharp and bright, but it’s not quite on the same level as the OLED finder that is built into the Sony Alpha NEX-6—it has more contrast and a resolution that is in excess of 2.5 million dots. If you use the EVF, the G5 will start to focus just as you bring your eye to the camera—this can help you capture a quick shot that you may have just missed as the camera will be focused on what is in front of it by the time your eye is up against the eyecup.

The rear LCD is extremely sharp, although it lags a bit behind the 610k-dot OLED on the back of the top-end Olympus OM-D E-M5, and is touch sensitive. You can touch it to select a focus point and fire the shutter, or to adjust shooting settings. During playback it’s possible to scroll through photos by swiping, just as you would with an iPhone.

There are a number of art filters built into the camera, and Panasonic feels they are an important enough aspect of the design that it has reserved a spot on the Mode dial for them. Most of the seven options contained within deal with color—you can get saturated images using the Expressive setting, washed out ones with Retro, bright photos with High Key, and darker images with Low Key. There’s also Sepia, Dynamic Monochrome (high-contrast black-and-white, essentially), and Impressive Art (high-contrast color). A High Dynamic Range mode brings out the detail in shadows and tries to suppress blown highlights, Cross Process gives you the same funky color palette you get when developing slide film in color negative chemicals, and the Toy Effect mimics the plastic lens of Lomo cameras and adds a dark vignette around the edges.

There’s also a Miniature Effect that mimics a tilt-shift lens, a Soft Focus effect, a Star Filter which adds star points to bright lights in your photos, and a One Point Color mode that lets you highlight a specific color in your image, leaving the rest in black and white. You can preview each of these in real time, and they work for video recording as well as for stills—although shooting video of the processor-intensive Miniature Effect requires a lower frame rate that noticeably speeds up your footage, reducing the time of your overall clip dramatically—and you can’t record video at all when the Star Filter or Soft Focus engaged.

The camera doesn’t have built-in Wi-Fi. You’re seeing this more and more on cameras, including compact interchangeable lens models like the Sony Alpha NEX-5R and NEX-6, as well as the Samsung NX line, including the entry-level NX1000.

Performance and Conclusions
The G5 is a fast camera. It starts and shoots in about 1.8 seconds and notches a 0.2-second shutter lag in good light (the camera requires a very respectable 0.8-second to focus and fire in dim light), but really shines in continuous shooting. It can rattle off about 33 JPG photos at 5.3 frames per second before slowing down—it takes about 7.7 seconds for the buffer to clear to a SanDisk 95MBps memory card after a full burst. If you opt to shoot in Raw the speed dips to just under 5 frames per second and the burst is limited to 9 shots with a 15-second recovery time.  The Sony Alpha NEX-F3 starts a little bit faster at 1.3 seconds, notches the same 0.2-second shutter lag, but it can only shoot 15 JPG photos at 5 frames per second and requires about 2.1 seconds to focus in poor light. Continuous shooting is equalized when recording Raw images—the F3 grabs a burst of 8 shots at 5fps in that format.

I measured the sharpness of the included 14-42mm zoom lens using Imatest. At 14mm f/3.5 it’s a bit shy of the 1,800 lines per picture height that denote a sharp photo—it only hits 1,755 lines at that setting, but manages to hit 1,988 lines at f/5.6. At 24mm f/4.5 it records 1,897 lines, a figure that increases to 2,168 lines at f/5.6. It softens again at 42mm f/5.6, scoring 1,785 lines there, but once again does well stopped down—managing an impressive 2,062 lines at f/8. The similar kit lens that ships with Olympus cameras like the PEN E-PM2 is sharper—it hits 2,233 lines at 14mm f/3.5, 2,047 lines at 25mm f/4.5, and 1,880 lines at 42mm f/5.6. As it is with its Olympus equivalent, distortion is not an issue with the G5′s kit zoom.

Imatest also measures noise, which can be a detriment to image quality at higher ISO settings. At lower ISOs, you are going to get low-noise images that are rife with detail from almost all modern interchangeable lens camera, but when you pump the sensitivity to light above ISO 1600 certain models do better than others. When shooting JPG files, the G5 is an excellent performer in terms of noise control and detail retention. It records images that are just below 1.5 percent noise through ISO 3200, and still manages to preserve fine detail. Pushing to ISO 6400 results in a grainer photo that shows about 2.5 percent noise, but it beats the NEX-F3 in terms of detail—although that camera does keep noise below 1.5 percent at ISO 6400.

If you are a Raw shooter the advantages are less obvious—the G5 only has a slight edge over the NEX-F3 at ISO 3200 in terms of detail—noise is about the same—and is slightly noisier than the F3 at ISO 6400 with no noticeable advantage in resolution. But saying that it is on par with the NEX-F3 in Raw quality at such a high ISO is high praise. The G5 also compares well with the Olympus E-PL5, which features the same imaging engine and sensor as the E-PM2 and OM-D E-M5, when shooting high ISO Raw images. It just barely edges out the similar 16-megapixel Olympus sensor at ISO 3200, and the two cameras are practically identical in terms of quality at ISO 6400.

Video performance has long been a strong point of the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds series—zero-budget filmmakers flocked to the company’s GH1 upon its release, and hacked firmware expanded the camera’s video capture capabilities. The G5 is not too far off from the previous-generation GH2 in terms of video performance—it can record 1080p60 footage at an impressive 28Mbps using the AVCHD Progressive format, and also supports 1080i60 and 1080p30 in AVCHD at 17Mbps, and 720p60 in AVCHD Lite at 17Mbps. The quality is excellent, and the footage is crisp and motion is smooth. The camera’s stereo microphone managed to avoid recording the noise of my hand zooming the lens in and out. But the lack of a microphone input port will likely steer serious videographers to the Lumix DMC-GH3, a camera that costs nearly twice as much as the G5 and is loaded with the latest in video recording bells and whistles.

The G5 does have a standard hot shoe, so you can connect an external flash or video light, and features mini HDMI output, a proprietary USB port, and a connector for a wired remote control. It saves images and movies to standard SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory cards.

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 is an excellent camera. It is capable of capturing excellent photos, focuses fast—even in dim light—and can rattle off shots at an impressive 5.3 frames per second. Its video quality is also impressive, and while the lack of a microphone input may turn serious videographers away from it, it’s probably an overkill for recording home movies to share on YouTube or watch on your HDTV. You’ll get an excellent shooting experience whether you use the eye-level viewfinder or the rear LCD to frame shots, and there is a vast library of native Micro Four Thirds lenses available from Panasonic, Olympus, Sigma, and Voigtlander. And if you are not afraid of focusing manually, you can mount almost any vintage lens to the camera, provided you can locate the appropriate adapter. It earns our Editors’ Choice award for compact interchangeable lens cameras, even though it’s not the least expensive of the bunch. If $800 is a reach for your budget, the NEX-F3 and Olympus E-PL5 are both excellent cameras and are available for a bit less, and the Samsung NX1000 is a solid option if you want an interchangeable lens camera with Wi-Fi connectivity—although none of those bodies feature a built-in EVF.

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Specifications
Dimensions 3.3 x 4.7 x 2.8 inches
Interface Ports Proprietary, mini HDMI, Remote
GPS No
Megapixels 16 MP
Battery Type Supported Lithium Ion
Recycle time 0.19 seconds
LCD dots 920000
LCD size 3 inches
Lines Per Picture Height 1733
Touch Screen Yes
Media Format Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity, Secure Digital Extended Capacity
Maximum ISO 12800
Type Compact Interchangeable Lens
Sensor Type CMOS
Optical Zoom 3 x
Boot time 1.8 seconds
35-mm Equivalent (Wide) 28 mm
Weight 12.2 oz
Lens Mount Micro Four Thirds
Video Resolution 720p, 1080i, 1080p
Waterproof Depth (Mfr. Rated) 0 feet
LCD Aspect Ratio 3
Image Stabilization In-Lens
35-mm Equivalent (Telephoto) 84 mm
Shutter Lag 0.2 seconds
Sensor Size 17.3 x 13 (Micro Four Thirds) mm
EVF Resolution 1440000 dpi
Viewfinder Type EVF

Verdict
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 edges out some other excellent cameras to earn our Editors' Choice award for compact interchangeable lens cameras under $1,000.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
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