Design & Handling
Design & Handling
Outwardly, not much has changed between the GF3 and GF5. The most noticeable differences would be the more pronounced and comfortable hand-grip on the front body, and an extra Display button on the back. If you've used the GF3, then you've basically used the GF5. The Quick Menu button is placed in too awkward a position for such an important command. Instead, it would have made more sense to us if the new Display button had become the Quick Menu button since it's easier to reach, and Display is a less critical command.
What you can do, however, is to turn on the option to display the Quick Menu on-screen icon so you don't have to use the button. While we're usually no big fans of touch-screens on digital cameras, the ones on Panasonic's G-series have been responsive and added to the experience instead of taking away from it. The other complaint is that the built-in flash often popped open while in our bags during transit, making us worry we might break it eventually.
The GF5's Dual Personalities
Inwardly, the camera comes with two personalities. There's the uncomplicated and easy to use iA (intelligent Auto) mode where you point, let the camera take care of everything, and shoot. Then, underneath that easy-going shell, there's the advanced-level interface. The GF5 is still the descendant of the GF1, which was an enthusiast-level camera, and the full manual controls are still there within the menu, they're just harder to get to. This splintering means that the dual-personality GF5's interface has some usability quirks which don't stay consistent from mode to mode, and also that the GF5 offers some advanced options which may confuse casual users.
For example, while in iA and iA+ modes, tapping the screen activates Tracking AF. If you open the Touch Tab, a tray which houses touch commands, and activate the depth of field slider however, tapping the screen now activates Full-area Focus, until you tap the depth of field icon again. Or, you can activate Tap to Shoot using the Touch Tab, in which case tapping the screen now tells the camera to focus and shoot immediately. If you're not confused yet - the moment you switch to any of the manual modes, tapping the screen activates neither tracking AF nor full-area focus, but Multi-area AF, where tapping the screen tells the camera to concentrate AF on any of the 23 AF areas which have been divided into nine groups.
To be clear, we have no qualms with the way any of these AF options work, in fact they all work very well. Our point of view is that it can be quite confusing to tap the screen and get different responses when in different modes. In fact, one of our favorite touch features is the previously mentioned Full-area focusing with Touch AF. If you've used a DSLR camera, you've know that focus points are limited in number and in coverage area. What full-area focusing allows you to do is to tap anywhere on the GF5's LCD, even to the edge of the screen, and the camera will achieve focus there. It's not a new feature, but something we still appreciate.
In general, the GF5's dual personality doesn't detract much from the user experience, instead it offers a way for the camera to scale complication and control, depending on who's holding it at the moment. In any case, an experienced photographer can tweak the camera to his heart's delight, and hand it off to a casual user simply by pressing the iA button (which is why we love that button so much). Panasonic's iA mode is one of the smartest and smoothest auto modes we've used on digital cameras and you can trust it in pretty much most shooting situations.
Filters are fun, as anyone familiar with image filter apps like Instagram will know. The problem with filters on cameras is that you have to be in a filter mode to shoot with them, and you have to pick them out beforehand. But the GF5 makes shooting with filters easier, with a new Recommended Filter feature which appears in iA and iA+ modes.
As you're photographing a scene, the GF5 will analyze the scene and if there are filters it thinks will be suitable for what you're shooting, the Recommended Filter icon will pop up. Tapping it will bring you to a screen where you choose between the recommended filters and see a live preview of what effect they'll have on the scene. It's a quick and easy way to use filters, and makes them more accessible than before, as well as making the GF5 a fun camera to use.
Scene Guide is a Little Photography Book
While the new Recommended Filters feature makes using filters easy, the new Scene Guide mode promises to help new photographers shoot the look they're looking for. When you open it up, you see 23 sample images, which you then scroll through to find the scene and look you're after. There's a wide-range of possible shooting situations to choose from, from portraits to landscapes and sports.
The easiest way to use Scene Guide is to choose a sample image which looks like what you want to capture - the camera will adjust settings accordingly - then shoot. This doesn't always work out, however, for example the 'artistic nightscape' scene, with a sample image of long streaks of light made by car headlights, doesn't mention that you need a tripod to get a sharp image from the long exposure. To get that info, you have to tap the 'Disp i.' icon on the bottom of the screen for shooting advice.
It's an inherently useful option which has the potential to help some new users make the best use of their camera and learn how to finally get those 'professional' looking shots. The only downside is that the process takes a few steps and some of the tips displayed just aren't written very clearly - the recommended lens for 'backlit softness' is a 'bright lens', something we suspect a Scene Guide user might not understand (the term refers to wide aperture lenses, like the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, which can capture more light at a go and thus are called 'bright lenses').