Thursday, April 5, 2012

Panasonic Lumix GF5 looks identical to its predecessor, offers similar specs for $100 more (hands-on)

It's been a bumpy ride for Panasonic's GF line of Micro Four Thirds cameras. The GF1, an excellent mirrorless camera for its time, was soon replaced with a less-capable entry level model, the GF2. Then another, the GF3. And now, it's time to say hello (again) to the GF5. For better or worse, the GF3 won't be going away -- it'll sit tight at its new $500 price point (with a 14-42mm kit lens), ready to confuse consumers looking to purchase its nearly identical, yet $100 pricier, pseudo-replacement. Both cameras come equipped with 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensors, though the newer model adds a "High Picture Quality" distinction -- it's been dubbed a 12.1-megapixel "High Picture Quality" Live MOS sensor. So, naturally, we're going to expect some pretty incredible images. Panasonic has also added an ISO 12,800 "extended" mode (the GF3 topped out at a native ISO 6400). There has been a jump in the video department, with 1080/30p MP4 recording joining the 720p mix. Burst mode capabilities have seen an increase as well, from 3.8 frames-per-second to... 4. Finally, it's slightly larger, due to a more substantial (and more comfortable) grip, though battery life has dropped from 340 shots to 320, likely due to a new processing technique aimed at further reducing noise in low-light captures.

The GF3 and GF5 look so similar that we mistakenly photographed the former for a minute or two, only realizing the error when we flipped on the LCD. The 5 has a much-improved touchscreen, with a 920k-dot resolution (460k dots on the GF3). It looks gorgeous by comparison, but amateurs making the switch from a point-and-shoot may not take notice. The features they'll appreciate most relate entirely to the GUI, and include a highlight window for selection options, 14 filters with a realtime preview option, a background image that appears on the main menu and a filter recommendation while in Intelligent Auto. This feature works by suggesting that you apply the Expressive or Toy Effect if you're taking a macro shot, for example. Other additions include a stereo microphone for video capture, though the left and right mics are positioned oddly near each other -- on either side of the word "MIC" on the top of the camera, with the right mic angled towards the left -- so we can't image that you'll be getting a true stereo effect. Like its predecessor, the GF5 is clearly designed with beginners in mind -- more advanced photogs should consider the GX1 -- but with a $599 sticker price (with 14-42mm lens), it's sure to be a hit.
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