The Panasonic GF5's design is nearly identical to last year's GF3, save for a few key changes. It does receive some spec upgrades in the form of a redesigned image senor and a higher resolution LCD screen, though the outward design is practically the same. One big addition is the new rubberized grip, which is more pronounced than the slight protrusion found on last year's GF3 (and the GF2 before it). This improves the handling significantly on the GF5, even if the camera's actual size and weight are nearly identical to the GF3 that it is succeeding.

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The menu system on the Lumix GF5 is advanced slightly from the Lumix GF3, but Panasonic hasn't elected to make any sweeping changes to its structure. Instead the changes are largely aesthetic, but the increased processing power of the camera allows for some improvements, such as the use of sample photos in the menu to illustrate different creative effects. this lets you see what your image is going to resemble before you apply an effect, making it easier to play around with the various tools in the camera. Otherwise it does allow you to do some creative things such as set a new background color or image, but there is little in the way of functional differences over the GF3.

While the original Panasonic GF1 was aimed at enthusiast photographers, the GF series has become Panasonic's entry-level interchangeable lens model, featuring intelligent auto modes, touchscreen control, and a streamlined shooting experience. The GF5 continues this trend, updating the GF3 with slight control updates and an improved rubber grip.

The GF3 was already fairly simple to use

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The GF5 is almost identical in size and shape to the GF3, with only a few millimeters added and subtracted in various directions. It has an identical body-only weight to the GF3, according to Panasonic, at just 225grams without card, lens, or battery. The biggest improvement, however, is the addition of a moderate rubberized grip on the right side of the camera.

The GF3 had a small protrusion for grip, but it was merely coated in a slick plastic that made it difficult to grip with a single hand. The addition of a rubber grip aids one-handed shooting immensely, mostly solving this problem. Altogether it means that the GF5 remains a compact shooter that (with the right compact lens) can fit easily into a jacket pocket and travel with you more easily than any full-sized DSLR.

While the Panasonic GF5 doesn't feature a physical mode dial, you can switch modes by going into the camera's menu (or touching the mode symbol in the top left of the screen). This lets you choose from intelligent auto, intelligent auto+, creative control, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, custom, and scene shooting modes. These are arranged in a circular dial-like graphic, letting you simply press any symbol to enter that mode.

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As with most entry-level interchangeable lens cameras, the GF5 offers an array of automatic and scene modes that will set exposure values for you, letting you focus on just shooting. The GF5 doesn't change much here, with Panasonic's intelligent auto and intelligent auto+ modes selectable in the mode menu or by pressing the dedicated, light-up intelligent auto button on the top plate of the camera. This gives you an easy out no matter how much you fiddle around with the menu, as just pressing this button will let any novice easily get back to shooting if something noteworthy happens.

Video on the GF5 is improved, according to Panasonic, with full-time contrast-detection autofocus while recording. The GF5 is capable of full 1080/30p video in the more convenient .MP4 format, with options for AVCHD shooting in 1080/60i (sensor output is 30p) also. The camera features a dedicated video record button, built into the top plate of the camera right next to the shutter release. There's no word on how well the new sensor performs, but we'll have a full report on the camera's video capabilities when we get a production-level model into our labs.

The enhanced processing in the GF5 is good for more than aesthetic menu upgrades, as it does allow for a slight uptick in shot-to-shot speed. While the gain is small on paper (3.7fps in the GF3 becomes 4fps in the GF5), the camera feels more responsive as a result. It won't be a major change if you have a fully functional GF3 (and it's probably not a feature that alone makes an upgrade worth it), but it does enhance the overall experience.

Playback on the GF5 is fairly simple, but with the increased resolution of the rear LCD images definitely look sharper than on the GF3. The enhanced processing also makes playback more responsive, letting you flick between images with ease. There's only basic functionality, however, with little in-camera editing (resizing, cropping, and rotating) and a full suite of review options. You can digitally zoom in on an image up to 16x, or you can zoom out to view 12 or 30 thumbnails (or a calendar) of your images.

The GF5 has a newly designed image sensor, but it features the same resolution as the GF3, with a maximum image size of 12 megapixels. While this lags behind some of the compact system camera market, it's more than enough for basic prints and absolutely anything on the web. The GF5 records images at a maximum size of 4000x3000 (large), with 2816x2112 (medium), 2048x1536 (small), and 1600x1200 (3D lens only) options in the 4:3 aspect ratio. You can also shoot in 3:2, 16:9, or 1:1 aspect ratios, but they mostly amount to cropped versions of 4:3 shots. The GF5 records both RAW and JPEG images, with .MPO 3D images also available (with the 3D conversion lens). JPEGs can be recorded in either fine or standard compression.

Focus on the Panasonic GF5 has been improves slightly over the GF3, with a slightly more noticeable snap when you compare the two side-by-side. The GF5 uses a contrast-detection autofocus system, with 25-zones selectable. You can also employ subject tracking, face-detection, or use the touchscreen to indicate focus to a more exact level. The spec sheet for the GF5 has the AF working within a range of 0-18EV, and in a dimly lit boardroom we didn't have any focus hunting issues when using the 14mm f/2.5 kit lens.

The GF5 uses a 144-zone multi-pattern sensing system, featuring intelligent multiple, center-weighted, and spot metering modes. The camera lets you adjust exposure by +/- 3 stops in 1/3-stop increments. The camera also lets you lock in exposure with the typical half-press of the shutter button or through the customizable function button on the camera.

The GF5 gets a slight upgrade over the GF3 in the ISO department, as it's able to call on sensitivity anywhere in the range of 160-12800, one stop higher than the GF3 (same minimum ISO, however). Just like the GF3, it features both an automatic ISO and an intelligent ISO option, along with the ability to set an ISO manually. The new sensor in the GF5 is supposed to feature a slightly different construction that will allow for more separation between chip readout and pixel amplification, which should reduce dark current noise and fixed pattern noise that plagued some of the earlier Micro Four Thirds sensors. We'll have to test the camera for ourselves to corroborate those claims, however.

The Panasonic GF5 has a pretty standard array of white balance presets, with options for daylight, cloudy, shade, incandescent, and flash settings, along with auto, two custom settings, and custom kelvin entry. With the new image sensor and circuitry we're not sure how well the GF5 will perform in the white balance department, but this was a big area of strength for the GF3. If the GF5 can replicate the GF3's performance in our white balance testing then it will be in good company.

As with other Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras, the GF5 doesn't feature in-body image stabilization, instead relying on the stabilization features built into the lenses themselves. This means that if you attach Olympus lenses to the GF5 you will not get a stabilized image (since Olympus uses in-body stabilization).

The GF5 features the same creative effects as the GF3, with some additions to the camera's expressive modes. Users of the GF5 will be able to select from expressive, retro, high key, low key, sepia, dynamic monochrome, impressive art, high dynamic range, cross process, toy effect, miniature effect, and one point color, with most of these also available for video shooting. The camera also features some basic creative modes that will enhance aspects of your image, with options for adjusting saturation, noise reduction, and contrast.

The GF5 utilizes the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, jointly developed by Panasonic and Olympus and released in 2008. The lens family has grown significantly since then, with users of either Olympus or Panasonic able to use any Micro Four Thirds lenses. The sensor in the GF5 is a 12-megapixel Live MOS similar to previous Micro Four Thirds models, but with an improved layout and processing, according to Panasonic.

The new sensor is designed to produce less noisy images than the GF3, the model it is essentially replacing at the bottom of Panasonic's Micro Four Thirds line (the GF3 will remain in the lineup for the time being, likely until stock is sold out). It has essentially the same native ISO range, but it's likely that the improved processing allows it to hit ISO 12800 with results deemed acceptable by Panasonic. While that might be more software than hardware, we'll have a full report on the GF5's capabilities when we get a production-level sample in for testing.

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The GF5 features a 3-inch rear LCD with a 921k-dot resolution. The LCD is fixed into the body, but it features a touchscreen panel that is slightly more sensitive than the one found on the GF3. The improved resolution helps when adjusting for focus or reviewing photos, as details are sharper and colors more vivid. The improved LCD also enhances the new user interface, which features crisper text and richer details than in older Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models.

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The built-in flash on the GF5 has a guide number of 6.3 at an ISO equivalent of 160, putting it among the weaker built-in flashes for an interchangeable lens camera. That's fine, because (assuming it's the same as the 6.3GN flash on the GF3), it offers a slightly softer profile than some of the harsher, more powerful flashes on the market. The flash has a sync speed of 1/160th of a second (first curtain), with options for red-eye reduction, slow synchro, and forced on/off.

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The GF5 houses a proprietary USB port and mini-HDMI port just behind a small flap on the right side of the camera. The flap locks in fairly securely behind the new rubberized grip. As with other DSLRs, the HDMI cable is optional (not included in the box), while a USB cable is included. There is no composite A/V cable, though, so playing media right off the camera will require buying a separate cable.

The Panasonic GF5 uses the same battery as the GF3, with a small downtick in usage time due to increased power consumption (likely by the processor and LCD). The battery model has a capacity of 940mAh, with a 7.2V voltage. It fits into the usual compartment, on the bottom of the camera next to the SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card.

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The Panasonic GF5 is compatible with SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards, with a slot located on the bottom of the camera inside the battery compartment. The camera is also compatible with new UHS-I speed cards, letting you use just about any form of SD media with the camera.

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While it's easy to just toss all compact system cameras under one mirrorless heading and call it a day, it's clear now that there are two markets emerging for these cameras: the expensive, feature-rich enthusiast market and the entry-level, compact segment.

The Panasonic GF1 started in the enthusiast sector in 2008, but subsequent Micro Four Thirds models have led Panasonic to push their GF-series cameras down to the entry-level market. The GF5 follows in that tradition, offering incremental improvements over last year's GF3 that are designed to keep pace with that incredibly competitive group, led by the Nikon J1 and Sony NEX-5N.

The GF5 doesn't feature sweeping changes from the GF3 (reviewed here), with a rubberized grip to enhance handling, a higher resolution 921k-dot screen, aesthetically improved user interface, slightly faster shot-to-shot speed (4fps over 3.7fps), and a remixed 12-megapixel sensor that may improve low light shooting. Is it enough to keep the GF series competitive with the J1 and 5Ns of the world? We'll have to see, but it's clear the Panasonic GF5 has its work cut out for it.

In our time with the camera we found that it handled as well as we have come to expect from Panasonic Micro Four thirds cameras, with the new grip a vast improvement over the GF3. The camera does feel much more responsive than the GF3, despite the relatively small 0.3fps bump in speed on paper. The autofocus speed, especially, benefits from the increased processing. It feels as snappy as ever, and we had no problem with it in low light.

Overall, it's clear Panasonic didn't feel the need to dramatically alter the GF-series formula. With their GX1 recently released (and reviewed by us here), their attention may have been elsewhere. Still, the GF5 improves on the GF3 in key areas that shouldn't be ignored. We don't expect to see many people rushing to upgrade from last year's GF3 to the GF5, but those looking for a new entry-level camera already will want to give the GF5 a look to see if this simple, proficient camera suits their needs.

Meet the tester

TJ Donegan

TJ Donegan

Executive Editor

@TJDonegan

TJ is the Executive Editor of Reviewed.com. He is a Massachusetts native and has covered electronics, cameras, TVs, smartphones, parenting, and more for Reviewed. He is from the self-styled "Cranberry Capitol of the World," which is, in fact, a real thing.

See all of TJ Donegan's reviews

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