While the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 isn't perfect, it's still among my favorite choices for snapshooters looking for a faster, better camera but one that's similar enough to a point-and-shoot -- or phone -- that they're not forced out of their comfort zone. The GF3's small size, well-designed touch-screen interface, fast performance, and solid photo quality -- and, for its type, a more-or-less reasonable price -- make it a compelling option. With the DMC-GF5, Panasonic makes some subtle updates and enhancements that improve on the GF3 for that same snapshooter.
Though it's the same resolution as the GF3, the GF5 incorporates a new version of the 12-megapixel sensor with an updated version of its image-processing engine. It shows some improvement in its noise profile and JPEG processing over the GF3, especially at low ISO sensitivities. That seems partly because the image coming off the sensor looks less noisy, an expected advancement from one generation to the next.
While there's a noticeable jump in noise-reduction artifacts between ISO 400 and ISO 800 in the JPEGs -- most notably smearing -- Panasonic has improved the processing of high-contrast areas. The lens you use makes a big difference as well: while I wouldn't suggest shooting JPEGs past ISO 400 with the 14-42mm HD kit lens, for a good prime lens I think I'd bump that to ISO 800.
In low light, it pays to shoot raw at ISO 800 or higher, as you can get much better results; better detail handling and less smeariness, although you do get a lot of clipping in the dark areas.
|Click to download||ISO 160 ||ISO 400 ||ISO 1600|
The colors look very good, and the default settings push saturation and contrast gently enough that there's no discernable hue shift. Bright, saturated reds do shift to orange in the JPEGs, but render properly in raw files. While it has a reasonable dynamic range, you do lose some detail in shadow areas that can't be recovered without introducing color noise. None of this is unusual in this price class, however. Metering and exposure is generally on target, and JPEG photos look slightly oversharpened but not crunchy.
Video quality is fine for typical consumer use -- vacation clips, cat antics, kiddie goal-scoring and so on. If you look closely you can see some edge artifacts and there's some rolling shutter (wobble), but the exposures are good and you can tell what's going on in low light. The full-time autofocus pulses a bit, but works well enough.
While the GF3 is fast, the GF5 is faster. Wake-up time is on the slow side -- if you can really consider 1.4 seconds slow -- mostly because the HD kit lens we tested with has to zoom out before it can focus and shoot. It takes only about 0.2 second to focus and shoot in good light and about 0.3 second in dim. Two sequential shots runs about 0.3 second for JPEG and 0.4 for raw; unfortunately, adding flash recycling time slows things down quite a bit, to 1.7 seconds. With a fast card the camera can maintain a JPEG burst for about 15 frames at 4.2fps, after which the pace drops to about 2fps. As you'd expect, raw burst is a lot more limited: four frames at 4fps, then 1.2fps and slower thereafter (it gets inconsistent).
More important from a performance perspective, the camera never slows you down while shooting, a problem which I've encounted with some of the higher-resolution models. Shooting raw+JPEG feels fast and fluid and I never had to wait for the camera to finish writing an image file before I could review a shot or change settings. The LCD is sufficiently visible in direct sunlight -- essential, since the camera doesn't support an add-on viewfinder.
Design and features
While the body is compact, sturdily constructed, and very similar to the GF3, Pansonic has added back a few physical controls that had disappeared from that model. The most important physical change over the GF3 is the new grip; the GF3's was very slippery, and this larger rubberized grip is a huge improvement, especially if you need to shoot one-handed.
On the top, there's a small on/off switch, movie record button, shutter button and the direct-access Intelligent Auto button that Panasonic wisely puts on the top of all its models. (My only wish is that it wouldn't override my autofocus settings.)
The back has a large, delineated thumb rest, along with a four-way navigation wheel that controls drive mode, AF area, white balance, and exposure compensation. The inset button pulls up the menu system, and three buttons above and below control playback, display options, and the Q.Menu; the latter can be reprogrammed to a user-determined function as well.
|Nikon 1 J1||Olympus PEN E-PM1||Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3||Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5||Sony Alpha NEX-F3|
|Sensor (effective resolution)||10mp CMOS||12.3mp Live MOS||12.1mp Live MOS||12.1mp Live MOS||16.1mp Exmor HD CMOS|
|13.2 x 8.8 mm||17.3mm x 13mm||17.3 x 13.0mm||17.3mm x 13mm||23.5mm x 15.6mm|
|Sensitivity range||ISO 100 - ISO 3200/6400 (expanded)||ISO 200 - ISO 12800||ISO 100 - ISO 6400||ISO 100 - ISO 6400/ 12800 (expanded)||ISO 200 - ISO 16000|
|Continuous shooting||5fps |
(60fps with fixed AF and electronic shutter)
(5.5fps without image stabilization)
unlimited JPEG/7 raw
unlimited JPEG/4 raw
18 JPEG/6 raw
(5.5fps with fixed exposure)
phase detection, 135-area contrast AF
|35-area contrast AF||23-area contrast AF||23-area contrast AF||25-point contrast AF|
|AF sensitivity range||n/a||n/a||n/a||0 - 18 EV||0 - 20 EV|
|Shutter speed||1/3 - 1/16,000; bulb to ; 1/60 sec x-sync||60-1/2,000 sec; bulb to 30 minutes||60-1/4000 sec; 1/160 x-sync||60-1/4,000 sec; 1/160 flash sync||30-1/4,000 sec.; bulb; 1/160 flash sync|
|Metering||n/a||324 area||144 zone||144 zone||1200 zone|
|Metering range||n/a||0 - 20 EV||N/A||0 - 18 EV||0 - 20 EV|
|Image stabilization||Optical||Sensor shift||Optical||Optical||Optical|
|Video||1080/60i /30p, 720/60p H.264 MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV||AVCHD |
1080/60i @ 20, 17Mbps; 720/60p @ 13Mbps/29 minutes
| 1080/60i/50i @ 17 Mbps |
720/60p @17 Mbps AVCHD or Motion JPEG QuickTime MOV
|AVCHD or MPEG-4 QuickTime MOV |
1080/60i @ 17Mbps
1080/60i @ 24, 17Mbps, 1080/24p @ 24, 17Mbps; H.264 MPEG-4 1,440x1,080/ 30p @ 12Mbps
|Audio||Stereo||Stereo||Mono||Stereo||Stereo; mic input|
|LCD size||3-inch fixed 460,000 dots||3-inch fixed |
|3-inch fixed touch screen |
|3-inch fixed touch screen |
|3-inch tilting |
|Wireless file upload||None||Optional Bluetooth||None||None||None|
|Battery life (CIPA rating)||230 shots||n/a||320 shots||330 shots||470 shots|
|Dimensions (inches, WHD)||4.2 x 2.4 x 1.2||4.3 x 2.5 x 1.3||4.2 x 2.6 x 1.3||4.2 x 2.6 x 1.5||4.6 x 2.6 x 1.6|
|Body operating weight (ounces)||9.7||9.3||9.3||9.6||11.1|
|Mfr. price||n/a||n/a||$499.99 (body only)||n/a||n/a|
|$649.95 (with 10-30mm lens)||$499.99 (with 14-42mm lens)||$599.95 (with 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 lens)||$599 (with 14-42mm lens)||$599 (with 18-55mm lens)|
|$899.95 (with 10-30mm and 30-110mm lenses)||n/a||$699.95 (with 14mm f2.5 lens)||$749 (with 14-42mm power zoom lens)||n/a|
|n/a||n/a||$749.99 (with 14-42mm power zoom lens)||n/a||n/a|
|Ship date||October 2011||September 2011||July 2011||June 2012||June 2012|
To go with the higher-resolution LCD, Panasonic redesigned the look of the touch-screen interface, and it's a lot more attractive than before. It also incorporates the flyout tab that debuted in the DMC-GX1, as well as interface hints. The new touch screen is nicely responsive.
The feature set is pretty standard for its class, though it's one of the few that still has a built-in flash. If you're a touch-screen addict, you'll probably consider the ability to operate the power zoom lens via the screen a very nice feature. It's got a full complement of configurable special effects, and it saves a raw file simultaneously.
The hardest thing about recommending this camera is to know which configuration makes sense. The 14-42mm HD lens -- also called PZ for "power zoom" -- makes for the most convenient, compact kit. But it's also a fairly middling lens, especially given that you're paying more for the package. The cheaper kit with the standard 14-42mm lens is probably the best deal, but then the camera loses its size advantage. In some ways, that the problem with all of these entry-level ILCs, though.
I think the Sony Alpha NEX-F3 has somewhat better photo quality overall and it has a tilting LCD, but otherwise I like the design and interface of the GF5 better. If you can find the GF3 for a better price with the zoom lens, that's probably your best deal.