It’s fair to say that the development of the compact system camera (CSC) hasn’t gone to script. For one of the pioneers of the concept, Panasonic, this has necessitated continual rejigging of its line-up to better target models at the various categories of potential users that have emerged since 2008. The way Panasonic sees it, the company now has three distinct model series – the Lumix GF compacts aimed at entry-level users, the mid-level SLR-style G cameras and the enthusiast-level GX1 and GH2. In truth, except for the two top-end models, the boundaries are pretty blurred, which is why the G1, G2, G3 and now the G5 have moved up and down in terms of exactly who is perceived as the primary purchaser (and in relation to the other Lumix models introduced along the way).

Consequently, the G3 didn’t really quite follow on as a G2 replacement. So are users of the latter – now probably ready to update – going to be happy with G5? More importantly perhaps is it capable of pulling buyers away from an entry-level D-SLR in the light of some pretty attractive newcomers from Canon, Nikon and Sony? Like its predecessors, the G5 is an SLR-style Micro Four Thirds camera and there’s no question it’s a pretty-looking thing which nicely balances seriousness and approachability in its appearance. Versus the G3, the upgrades are many and various, which probably answers the question about the G5 being more appealing to current G2 users.

There’s a new sensor with an extended sensitivity range, a higher resolution monitor screen, a more upmarket bodyshell (using an aluminium front casing rather than polycarbonate) with improved ergonomics, a number of new features and the return of a key item omitted from the G3 – namely, a proximity sensor on the viewfinder eyepiece to facilitate automatic switching between the EVF and the external monitor. Additionally, G2 owners should find it quite natural to switch from their camera’s external AF point selector dial to the G5’s very nifty touch-screen based selector which works with the EVF and is also thumb-operated. Panasonic continues to finely balance the traditional external controls with the on-screen and touch-screen operations, so here the G5 should broadly appeal to both the smartphone-era users and those who like their cameras to work like a camera.

In terms of the latter, the G5 gets a bigger and more comfortable handgrip, a redesigned navigator control cluster, a slightly bigger main mode dial and new rocker switch behind the shutter release which is primarily used to operate the power zoom in Panasonic’s new X-series of lenses. Alternatively it can be re-assigned to apply exposure compensation or set the aperture when shooting in the manual exposure modes... both of which are more intuitive for traditionalists than the previous arrangements.

Cutting The Noise
The new CMOS-based ‘Live MOS’ sensor has a resolution of 18.3 megapixels (total) and an extended sensitivity range equivalent to ISO 160 to 12,800. A key feature is the continued move to more on-chip data processing – including pixel-level noise reduction to support the higher sensitivity settings – combined with the latest generation ‘Venus Engine VII FHD’ processor which boosts the maximum continuous shooting speed – at full resolution – to 6.0 fps. This is made possible by a quartet of CPUs which also enable Full HD video recording at 1080p using the AVCHD Progressive format.

The effective resolution is 16.1 megapixels (marginally up from the G3’s 15.8 MP), giving a maximum image size of 4608x3456 pixels. As is now common across the Lumix G camera range, there’s a choice of aspect ratios – 4:3, 3:3, 16:9 and 1:1 – with three image sizes in each. As before, the RAW+JPEG options are limited to large/fine and large/standard compressed attachments.

The G5 carries on with the same choice of six ‘Photo Style’ presets as its predecessor, but there’s a total of nine new additions to the ‘Creative Control’ menu, bring the total to 14. The additions are all special effects such as are now increasingly common on D-SLRs too – such as Miniature, Cross Processing, Soft Focus and Dynamic Monochrome – but they’re accessed via a dedicated position on the main mode dial rather than in conjunction with another exposure mode, unlike the ‘Photo Styles’, so there are no manual control options but the effects themselves are adjustable. All six of the latter are adjustable for contrast, sharpness, colour saturation and noise reduction over plus/minus two steps. This includes the Monochrome preset, but here the colour saturation adjustment tones the image from sepia to blue. There’s also the provision for creating a custom ‘Photo Style’.

The standard complement of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes is backed by a huge selection of subject/scene programs – 23 in all – which now include pretty specialised and/or curious applications such as ‘Cute Dessert’, ‘Relaxing Tone’, ‘Silky Skin’, ‘Romantic Sunset Glow’, ‘Appetising Food’ and ‘Sweet Child’s Face’. These are accompanied by a ‘Scene Guide’ which provides a sample image for each along with shooting tips which even include lens recommendations. Most are also available for shooting video clips.
In the G5’s ‘Intelligent Auto’ (iAuto) mode, automatic scene selection analysis is performed – choosing from a set of six basic modes – along with, if required, dynamic range expansion processing, sensitivity adjustment, focus tracking, face detection and recognition, and red-eye removal. The basic scene modes – such as for portraits and close ups – can be selected via the touch screen... for example, simply touch on a face to select the portrait mode. Clever or what?