PDFsPanasonic Lumix GM5

Paul Burrows' full review of the Lumix GM5 is below, but for specifications and full test pics, download the PDFs of the magazine pages (4.6MB) using the button on the right. 

GM5

It’s not often you get a result quite so speedily as Panasonic has responded to the comments made about its Lumix GM1 model. You may remember that this was essentially the brilliant GX7’s vital organs repackaged into a pocket-sized bodyshell. Consequently, there was lots to like, but…

Where’s the viewfinder we asked? And what about 1080/50p video? Also, while we’re at it, why can’t we have a proper flash hotshoe? Panasonic obviously thought all these questions were fair enough and, subsequently, wasted no time rectifying matters. Just a year after the GM1, comes the GM5 complete with EVF, flash hotshoe and 1080/50p video.

There’s a very slight increase in size – so slight that you’re really not going to notice it – and the EVF comes at the expense of a built-in flash, but instead you get a more powerful accessory unit bundled with the camera which seems like a very fair trade.

Importantly, the Lumix GM5 is still truly tiny – it’s actually smaller than a number of fixed-lens compacts, including Panasonic’s own LX100 – but now it essentially ticks all the boxes demanded by the enthusiast-level shooter. It’s packaged with Panasonic’s collapsible G Vario 12-32mm f3.5-5.6 ASPH Mega OIS zoom (equivalent to 24-64mm) which is compact enough, but you’d probably do better with the 14-42 powered zoom because it’s slimmer still and has a slightly longer focal range (28-84mm).

Nevertheless, as it is, the GM5 still easily fits into a jacket pocket or your ‘cargo’ pants, but has pretty much the same capabilities as a bigger CSC or even a D-SLR. Interestingly too, Panasonic has made the GM5’s operation more like that of a ‘big camera’ rather than a compact which was one of our complaints about the GM1. So, for example, the fiddly, vertically-orientated control ring on the GM1’s rear panel has been replaced by a thumb wheel as found on many D-SLRs and CSCs. And, instead of the rocker-disc navigator, there’s now a set of four distinct keys surrounding the Menu/Set button which is a much less error-prone arrangement. These keys still have dedicated functions which have been slightly revised to now conveniently include one for selecting the ISO as well as white balance, drive modes and AF area modes. Exposure compensation is now selected by pressing the rear input wheel.

The main mode dial is retained as is the dial-type selector for the focusing modes which, as we’ve noted before, seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity to provide something more useful… like setting exposure compensation.

GM5 controls

Stay In Touch
If you’re less wedded to external controls, the GM5 has a touch screen which works in conjunction with a control panel so you don’t even need to use the menu system. Then there’s the option of a ‘Quick Menu’ which provides direct access to a range of capture-related settings, but is navigated conventionally via the four-way keys and/or the rear input wheel. Take your pick and configure the GM5 to whichever combination of controls works best for you. You can also customise two external keys and five touch tabs to further adjust things to your liking. The menus work with touch control too, and although the monitor screen’s resolution is slightly reduced from the GM1 (921,600 dots versus 1.04 million), it’s hardly noticeable and, again, a very small price to pay for having the EVF.

This, it has to be said, is a bit on the small side and it uses the old field-sequential technology, but with regular use, you soon become accustomed to it and, of course, it’s a godsend in bright conditions where the monitor screen is hard to see. The resolution is 1.17 million dots and the EVF mimics the monitor’s displays so you can have a dual-axis level indicator, real-time histogram which can be positioned around the frame, one of three guide grids, various combinations of read-outs and even a zebra pattern to warn of blown out highlights. It can get a bit crowded with everything up, but fortunately Panasonic allows for items to be selected or deselected as desired. Proximity sensors are included in the EVF’s eyepiece, enabling automatic switching between it and the monitor screen or you can simply have one or the other running all the time.

The GM1 was already an intuitive and efficient camera to use, but Panasonic’s finessing of the GM5’s controls makes it even better, enabling a much smoother transition if you’re continuously switching between this and, say, a D-SLR. The bodyshell still comprises magnesium alloy covers and you can choose between black or silver with a variety of coloured inserts… the black-with-red combo looking particularly smart.

Essential Ingredients
On the inside Panasonic hasn’t messed with the essential ingredients so the GM5 has the same sensor and processor as the GM1 (which, incidentally, continues on) along with the same AF and AE systems. However, again, there have been a few important tweaks which help make a difference.

The sensor’s effective pixel count is 16 million (16.84 MP total) and its sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200-25,600 (extendable to ISO 100 now rather than ISO 125). The maximum continuous shooting speed increases slightly to 5.8 fps, and the GM5 can now shoot at 5.0 fps with continuous AF adjustment. As before, there’s the choice of a ‘mechanical’ shutter or a sensor-based ‘electronic’ shutter, and the latter allows much faster continuous shooting at up to 10 fps with full resolution.

The mechanical shutter (although it’s still electronically controlled, of course) is actuated via a small stepping motor to save space, but this subsequently restricts the top speed to just 1/500 second (and the maximum flash sync to 1/50 second). If you need more speed, you have to use the sensor shutter which operates at up to 1/16,000 second.

The AF system is exclusively contrast-detection and employs 23 focusing points with auto or manual selection, the latter with the choice of an adjustable-size zone or ‘Pinpoint’ which allows even more precision. There’s also the option of using ‘Touch AF’ touch-screen control to move the focus zone around the image which, as on all the current Lumix G models, works exceedingly well in practice. Switching between single-shot and continuous AF operation is via the mode dial mentioned earlier, or you can select ‘Auto Focus Flexible’ (AFF) in the shooting menu and then continuous AF will be automatically set if any subject movement is detected. Additionally, ‘Dynamic Tracking’ switches the focus points as the subject moves. The Face Detection function is upgraded to include Eye Detection, with the option of selecting either the subject’s left or right eye as the focusing point.

As on the GM1, the AF system’s sensitivity extends down to EV -4.0, but a built-in illuminator is still provided for low light/contrast assist. The assists for manual focusing are many and varied, including either full screen or picture-in-picture magnification and a focus peaking display. The PIP section’s magnification is adjustable between 3x and 6x – and, of course, it can be moved around the screen as desired – while the whole screen magnification can be varied from 3x to 10x. The focusing peaking display is available in a choice of three ‘high vis’ colours (blue, yellow or green), each at two levels of intensity.

The focusing procedure itself can actually be done via the left/right navigation keys – after they’re first locked into this operation – or a touch-operated slider. A distance scale is also shown in the monitor screen.

GM5 top

Creative Control With More Control
Exposure control is based on multi-pattern metering using 1728 measuring points, with the options of centre-weighted average or spot measurements. The standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes is backed by program shift, an AE lock, up to +/-5.0 EV of compensation (adjustable in 1/3 EV increments) and auto bracketing. The bracketing range is up to +/-3.0 EV, adjustable in 1/3, 2/3 or full-stop increments and over sequences of three, five or seven frames. There’s a selection of 23 subject/scene modes and the main ones – such as portrait, close-up, or landscape – can also be selected via the touch screen by simply touching on the subject.

There’s a choice of 22 ‘Creative Control’ special effects as on the GM1, but now these can be selected either as a fully-automatic stand-alone mode (via the main mode dial) or with ‘PASM’ control (via the shooting menu) which adds some welcome flexibility.

There’s also a choice of six ‘Photo Style’ picture settings which are adjustable for contrast, sharpness, colour saturation and noise reduction, including Monochrome. Here, however, the colour saturation control varies the tone of the image from sepia through to blue. Additionally, the Monochrome ‘Photo Style’ has a set of yellow, orange, red and green contrast control filters.

The GM5’s white balance settings comprise auto correction supplemented by five lighting presets, provision for making two custom measurements and manual colour temperature setting over a range of 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Fine-tuning is available along either the blue-to-amber or green-to-magenta colour ranges plus auto bracketing across both is available over a sequence of three frames.

Due Process
JPEGs can be captured in a variety of sizes and aspect ratios with either Fine or Standard compression levels, plus there’s the option of RAW and RAW+JPEG capture. Importantly too, the GM5 offers the option of recording in the sRGB or Adobe RGB colour spaces. There’s a single memory card slot – which shares the same compartment in the camera’s base as the battery – for the SD format with support for UHS-I speed SDHC and SDXC types, but nothing more glamorous. The battery is the same 680 mAh lithium-ion pack as is used in the GM1 so, similar to that model, it runs down surprisingly quickly so it’s worth buying a spare, particularly if you’re travelling and there could be a longish time between recharges.

The additional options for handling JPEGs comprise ‘i.Dynamic’ processing for dynamic range expansion, ‘i.Resolution’ processing for boosting definition, multi-shot HDR capture, a multiple exposure, an intervalometer for creating time lapse sequences (as stills or as a movie clip), ‘Shading Compensation’ which corrects for lens vignetting, and long exposure noise reduction. If you select ‘i.HDR’ in the shooting menu, multi-shot HDR capture will be performed automatically whenever the camera determines there’s enough contrast to warrant it. New to the GM5 is a ‘sweep’ panorama function, selected via the main mode dial, and which also works very effectively in practice. Of course, the GX7 has this feature, but for some unknown reason the GM1 doesn’t. Usefully, the GM5 also inherits the Highlight/Shadow adjustment control from the flagship GH4. This works like a simplified version of Photoshop’s Curves, with adjustments applied to a tone curve displayed in the monitor screen. You use the rear input wheel, pressing it to switch between tweaking the highlights and the shadows, the adjustable line being highlighted in yellow. There’s also a choice of four presets and you can save three custom-made adjustments.

Of course, all the GM5’s manually-applied corrections can be left in the capable hands of Panasonic’s ‘Intelligent Auto’ (i.Auto) control which includes automatic scene selection, dynamic range expansion processing, HDR capture, ISO adjustment, focus tracking, face detection and recognition, and red-eye removal. There’s also the option of using ‘i.Auto+’ which provides some basic overrides for depth-of-field, brightness (i.e. exposure compensation) and the colour balance (from cold to warm).

However, Panasonic has changed the implementation of these adjustments so they’re more in keeping with doing things fully manually (so, for example, the brightness adjustment is now via a proper exposure compensation scale) which makes ‘i.Auto+’ more like having training wheels on than camera control for dummies.

As with the GM1, a WiFi module is built-in and it still doesn’t have NFC connectivity, but there is the option of using a QR code to facilitate an easier connection with a mobile device. Remote camera control is possible via the Panasonic Image App.

Speed And Performance
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s Professional 64 GB 600x speed SDXC device – loaded, the GM5 fired off a burst of 16 JPEG/large/fine frames in 3.249 seconds which represents a shooting speed of 4.92 fps… just a shade under the quoted 5.0 fps with continuous AF adjustment. Switching the AF to single-shot, a burst of 21 best-quality JPEGs was captured in 3.492 seconds, giving a shooting speed of 6.0 fps which is slightly faster than the quoted 5.8 fps. For the record, the test frames averaged 7.5 MB in size, and the camera took virtually no time to write them to the UHS-I speed card. Panasonic claims an unlimited burst length when shooting JPEGs and this appears to be largely the case, although on occasions the camera slows – presumably as the buffer gets close to being full – and then speeds up again. Suffice to say, you’re unlikely to have any issues with the GM5’s shooting speeds, although the RAW burst length remains at just seven frames.

Panasonic says the camera’s AF system has been improved over that of the GM1 and this primarily manifests itself in the increased shooting speed available with continuous AF operation, but in general terms it’s lightning fast too.

Panasonic hasn’t gone down the hybrid route – even with the GH4 – but, in reality, it doesn’t really need to as its aptly named 240 fps ‘Light Speed AF’ really is both extremely rapid and extremely reliable.

Best quality JPEGs exhibit excellent colour, contrast, definition and dynamic range. Of course, the ‘Photo Style’ presets allow for adjustments with Vivid, in particular, punching up the saturation and contrast very nicely. The dynamic range is enhanced by the ‘i.Dynamic’ expansion processing, particularly the highlights which can, on occasions, become a bit washed out… assuming you actually didn’t take any notice of the zebra pattern warnings.

Noise levels are commendably low up to ISO 1600 so the overall image quality at this setting doesn’t look very much different from that at ISO 200. The performance at ISO 3200 is still very good, albeit with just a slight reduction in both sharpness and saturation. Increased graininess becomes evident at ISO 6400 and beyond, although chroma noise – or colour noise – is still virtually non-existent and even at ISO 25,600 the image quality isn’t dreadful. On balance, the GM5’s image quality is easily on a par with an ‘APS-C’ format camera which, of course, would have a lot of trouble trimming down to a similar size.

The Verdict
As it happened, we had the Lumix GM5 on test over the Christmas and New Year holiday break so there was plenty of time to really get to know it. Very quickly it became the weapon of choice for a wide range of uses from family gatherings to the final game in the 2015 Asian Cup soccer tournament. It’s just the right size for having around all the time and yet it’s also hugely capable in any situation… and, perhaps most importantly, very enjoyable to use. Everything works so logically and efficiently. The more we shot with the GM5, the more we grew to really love this little camera, especially as the results never disappointed us.

If you read our review of the Lumix LX100, you’ll remember we posed the question – comparing it to the similarly-specced GM5 – “Fixed lens or interchangeable?” The LX100 is an immensely capable little package, but you’d have to think that being able to fit a huge variety of lenses to the GM5 tips things in its favour, adding hard-to-resist versatility to the mix. Right now, nothing quite this small packs quite as big a punch as this camera. If you want to go seriously compact without the usual compromises, the Lumix GM5 has to be at the top of your shopping list.