Fancy the accessibility of a compact with the flexibility of a DSLR? The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 aims to provide the best of both worlds
Style wise, the brand's interchangeable lens Lumix G system cameras are divided between those resembling over-sized pocket snappers, like the Panasonic GX1 or GF5, and those appearing as if miniature DSLRs, such as the Panasonic G3, GH3, and this, the Panasonic G5.
Leaving aside how the two different G series strands feel when held in the palm – which boils down to whether we prefer a large grip and viewfinder (DSLR styled models), or something more portably boxy (compact styled) – many features are shared. End results inevitably are very similar too: it just depends how many bells and whistles you want to achieve them.
About a third smaller than the Sony SLT-A37, which likewise includes an angle adjustable LCD and electronic viewfinder (EVF) with eye sensor, the 16 megapixel G5 is a semi pro camera for photography enthusiasts. But, as it shares many functions with Panasonic Lumix point and shoots, it won't bemuse those trading up from a compact either.
Add a proper handgrip and it's easy to shoot one-handed with the G5, unlike most DSLRs which are simply too weighty/bulky with lens attached.
Street pricing for the Lumix G5 is currently around £599.99 for a bundle that includes a 14-42mm X series 'Power Zoom' (24-84mm in 35mm terms). This is a lever-operated mechanised lens rather than the type you manually twist in order to extend or retract. The bonus is that, when inactive, this zoom doesn't sit much wider on the body than a regular fixed focal length pancake lens.
Panasonic G5: Controls
The Lumix DMC-G5 isn't a camera for the pocket however, even with the lens removed. But this has allowed for useful features such as a tilt and swivel touch screen LCD on the backplate, plus plenty of physical buttons and dials alongside.
As we've found with Panasonic Lumix models in the past, this best of both worlds approach makes for a more fluid timesaving operation rather than confusing things – for example we could move a focus point around the screen by simply dragging it with a finger. Alternatively, it's possible to just use the 'hard' controls and avoid the need to tap the screen entirely.
A shooting mode dial the size of a five pence piece sits atop the camera, offering full manual control and custom options alongside a range of picture-enhancing digital filters. We also get a separate dedicated button for intelligent Auto (iA) mode. Press this and we are able to point and shoot to our heart's desire, the camera judging the best settings to use for any given subject.
We also get a function lever, which does the same job as a function button in that various settings can be attributed to it, thus providing a short cut. There's a dedicated video record button located just behind, while the shutter release button sits in front, angled forward so that the forefinger hovers over it more comfortably. The design of the G5 feels skilfully ergonomic.
Panasonic G5: Screen
As we've noted, we don't just get a touch screen LCD here, it's angle adjustable too. Unlike some models it does more than tilt upwards or downwards as required, but rather flips out through 180°, and can be turned to face the subject, thus allowing for easier self portraits. It can also be turned to face screen-inwards as further protection when transporting the camera.
Visibility is crystal clear too, thanks to a high 920k-dot resolution, while the 3-inch screen is presented in widescreen aspect ratio. This means that there are narrow black bands left and right of screen when shooting in default 4:3 aspect ratio stills mode.
As this is a DSLR-styled model, the G5 additionally offers an electronic viewfinder. This has a higher resolution than the LCD, at 1.44 million dots. However, as the larger screen is more flexible in terms of lining up creative shots, we didn't find ourselves using the smaller EVF that often.
The fact that it features a sensor so that it switches on as you bring an eye level to it is very neat however. Again it's all about saving time.
Panasonic G5: Battery
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G5 is powered by a chunky DMC-BLC12E battery pack that slides into the base of the handgrip, adjacent to slot for all varieties of SD media card. Power duration is 320 shots from a full charge. While that falls short of what we'd expect an actual DSLR at this price point to offer (around 500 shots), it is at least comparable with most compact system cameras.
Panasonic G5: Image quality
The fact that we were able to shoot one handed with this Panasonic means it proved as adept at spur of the moment snapshot photography as it did more considered composition.
We also loved deploying the 'Expressive' Creative Control mode to give a bit more punch to autumnal colours, and on occasion we found this boosted saturation to a point that was actually truer to the colours in front of our eyes than the camera's standard mode.
If we're being picky we did notice some slight fall off in focus towards the corners of frame when shooting at maximum 24mm equivalent wide angle, and some purple pixel fringing where dark foreground colours meet a bright background – such as tree branches against a featureless sky, when enlarging segments.
The smoothness of the zoom action really comes into its own when shooting video however, with focus automatically adjusting with it. Add in stereo sound, plus the fact that Creative Control options can be deployed for video as well as stills, and you really can't go wrong.
Panasonic G5: Verdict
With this camera Panasonic upped the resolution offered by its G3 predecessor to 16 megapixels, matching that offered by its flagship G series camera,the GH2, recently replaced by the GH3. And in most respects this remains a more affordable alternative to that range topper.
It also fulfils the compact system camera (CSC) brief by offering almost DSLR image quality within (slightly) more compact dimensions. For those purists who still don't consider a compact system camera a 'real' camera however, it has the Trojan Horse advantage of resembling a DSLR, and those with larger hands will find appreciate the decent sized handgrip, control dial and chunky shooting mode wheel.
Perhaps more than most CSC's then, the G5 really does offer a fair compromise between a point-and-shoot snapper and a DSLR. All you have to decide is whether this means it is worth spending a few hundred pounds more than the former, and as much as the latter.
Panasonic G5 release date: Available now
Panasonic G5 price: £599.99 with 14-42mm Power Zoom on test