The Lumix DMC-G5 marks something of a rebrand. Up until now, Panasonic had called cameras with interchangeable lenses 'compact system cameras', or CSCs. It was a term picked up by the rest of the industry that stuck.
With the launch of the G5 though, it's looking to change all that, and in recognition of the fact that these cameras share more in common with a dSLR than a compact, it's starting to use the term dSLM, or 'digital single lens mirrorless'.
Lens and sensor
This is one of the most dSLR-like compacts I've used. It's larger than CSC siblings like the Lumix DMC-GF5 and GX1. But while you won't be slipping it into a pocket, it still feels fairly light and very well balanced, with a chunky battery wedge at one end providing good grip and the powered kit lens adding just 1 inch to its overall depth when shut down.
The complete line-up now comprises an impressive 20 lenses and converters, including fish-eye, 3D and prime options, priced between £99 and £1,324.
The powered lens I used in my tests is a kit option, which you can swap for a manual unit of equivalent focal range. It's a 14-42mm arrangement, equivalent to 28-84mm on a regular 35mm camera. The zoom control sits on the side of the barrel, along with the manual focus rocker. There's a duplicate zoom control on the body itself, just behind the shutter release, which frees up your thumb for focusing if you choose not to leave that to the camera.
Maximum aperture at wide angle is f/3.5, and it stands at f/5.6 at full telephoto. Minimum aperture is f/22 and it has a closest focusing distance of 20cm.
That means you need to stand back a little when shooting macro images, but that's no bad thing as it keeps your shadow off the subject. The results are as good as anything shot at closer quarters. The subject itself is pin-sharp, with an appealing fall-off in the level of focus surrounding it.
The actual focal area is extremely tight, allowing you to accurately isolate the exact point you were after. Indeed, in the shot below, while the snail's shell -- my target -- is sharp, its eyes sit a little closer to the lens, so are thrown slightly out of focus. The length of its body was around 1.5 inches.
It sports a 16-megapixel sensor, with sensitivity ranging from ISO 160 to 12,800, and a broader than average compensation of +/-5EV in 1/3EV steps.
Its low-light performance is nothing short of excellent, with barely any noise evident, even at sensitivities as high as ISO 800. At this level, flat colours showed a tiny amount of digital spotting, but it's no more than I'd expect to see on other cameras at far lower sensitivities. Halving it to ISO 400 produces a result that you would be hard-pushed to tell apart from that achieved at its lowest setting, ISO 160.
You have to push it to extremes to introduce what I'd consider an undesirable level of noise, and certainly at its maximum level -- ISO 12,800 -- there is considerable dappling of the results. But even at this setting, colours remain true to their originals.
The G5 has four burst modes for continuous shooting, ranging from 2 to 20 frames per second. At 6 and 20 frames per second -- the two highest settings -- you don't get to use the live view. But the other two options -- 2 and 3.7 -- keep it active. Using a Class 4 memory card, it shot 10 frames in succession at 3.7fps before it needed to slow its rate to allow it to offload data from the cache. It continued shooting thereafter for as long as I kept the shutter release held down, at around 2fps.
It's very quick to find focus, highlighting the focal point almost immediately in auto mode. If you prefer to specify what it should be looking at, then a simple tap on the 3-inch (7.5cm) LCD screen sets your chosen point. Combine this with manual focus and that's the point that it enlarges as you tilt the focus rocker.
The screen is articulated through 180 degrees on each plane, so you can use it to take overhead, low-down or even around-the-corner shots. It's used for far more than just setting the focus and framing your subject. Fly-out menus let you control various settings and there's a handy horizon indicator to show when you're holding the G5 perfectly level. It works in both landscape and portrait modes, and also indicates tilt.
It's used in the scene and creative control modes too, where tapping the screen selects the effect you want to achieve, with several replicating the style of retro image tools in apps like Instagram.
The screen is supplemented by a digital viewfinder, with a proximity sensor below the eyepiece that automatically switches between the two when you bring it close to your face.
The G5 is easy and fun to use. The articulated screen makes a big difference when it comes to shooting more creatively, and it's easy to see in all lighting conditions.
Colour reproduction and detail retention were both excellent in my tests, with the G5's stills packed with texture and accurate tone. In the image below, zooming to 100 per cent very clearly reveals the individual reeds on the riverbank, while the overcast sky has been accurately rendered, with clear differentiation between the various tones.
I performed my tests using a mixture of Intelligent Auto and Aperture Priority modes and recorded raw and JPEG files side by side. My analysis was performed using the in-camera JPEG files, as neither Aperture nor Lightroom yet recognise the raw files.
In shots with a narrower gamut, such as the brown duck set against wooden decking below, it maintained the high standards seen elsewhere, with very similar tones being easy to differentiate. The short feathers on the duck's neck are clearly rendered and the focus is so sharp that it's easy to make out a silhouetted figure against the sky reflected in its eye.
The G5 performed very well under studio lights in the still-life test. It set its sensitivity to ISO 640, but there was no evidence of grain interfering with the level of detail in the image. Contrasts were sharp, colours were accurate and the overall shot was well balanced.
Switching off the studio lights and relying on the ambient light in the studio caused the G5 to increase its sensitivity to ISO 1,600, and I was very impressed with the clarity of the result. Again, fine detail was cleanly captured and noise was kept to an absolute minimum. However, while white elements such as the cloth under the objects being photographed, and the child's furry toy, retained a high level of detail, there was some flaring from the illuminated display of a small radio.
Repeating the test for a third time using the onboard flash resulted in a darker image, which was less well balanced than the other two. It cast fairly strong shadows and there was some drop-off in the level of illumination towards the back of the scene. However, in its favour, the short lens didn't cast any shadows itself as it stayed well outside of the throw of the flash.
The G5 shoots high-definition PAL video at 1,920x1,080p resolution, 50 frames per second, and NTSC at 60fps. The results are very good indeed.
Footage is smooth and shows no signs of skipping or lost detail in fast-moving subjects, such as the high-speed train in the sample below. Colours are natural and realistic, and detail is sharp.
The soundtrack is extremely clearly and cleanly recorded, thanks in part to the fact that the lens is silent when zooming, so there's no distracting background sound. Wind noise reduction can be set to automatic or off, and you can adjust the gain on the built-in stereo mics to trim them to your surroundings.
All of this contributes to a result that rivals the output from the Sony Alpha SLT-A37, which came out on top in my tests last month.
The G5 is a great camera. It's fast, accurate and absolutely packed with features. But as Andrew Hoyle asked in his preview of a pre-production unit, "if the price tag is closing in on some entry-level dSLRs, is the Lumix G5 worth considering?"
Well, now we know the price, and it isn't cheap. Perhaps that's not surprising. Its little sibling, the Lumix DMC-GF5, with a lower resolution and fewer movie options, costs £500. So I was already expecting it to come in above that.
At £800 with the powered lens though, it's almost twice the price of the Sony Alpha SLT-A37. It's £100 more than the Canon EOS 650D, which boasts a touchscreen like the G5, on top of a higher resolution and wider choice of interchangeable lenses -- thanks to its compatibility with the company's existing library of EF units.
When considered in isolation, the G5 is an excellent choice. It does all you could want of a semi-pro camera and produces consistently good results. However, when placed in context, it's just a little too expensive, and that loses it marks. I've given it three and a half stars -- 70 per cent -- on the back of a first-class performance. I would have marked it four and a half stars had the price been shaved by £150.
Every new product is sold at a premium though, and there's no reason to doubt the G5's price will fall over the coming months. When it does, it will be a properly tempting proposition. In the meantime, cast your peepers over my round-up of the best compact cameras with interchangeable lenses.