Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5 interchangeable lens camera
A small camera that can take different lenses using a standard Micro Four Thirds mount
How small can an interchangeable lens camera get before the benefits of being able to change lens are outweighed by the relatively cramped nature of the body? That’s what we kept thinking as we used the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5, which is a Micro Four Thirds camera with a body that’s no bigger than a typical compact camera. It's certainly not the first small, mirrorless camera we've seen, but it's the smallest we've held so far that uses a standard mount and retains physical controls.
Miniaturisation has made for an intriguing camera, that's for sure, and one that can even be placed in your pocket, depending on the lens that you have attached. It's funny to say this, but the body of the Lumix DMC-GM5 is actually smaller in all dimensions than the body of Panasonic's great little travel zoom camera, the Lumix DMC-TZ70, a compact model that has a large super-zoom lens attached to it.
The DMC-GM5 tries to appeal to the compact-loving crowd that wants a pocketable camera, but adds the flexibility of removable lenses to the mix (using the standard Micro Four Thirds mount, rather than a modified mount) in a bid to provide a best-of-both-worlds package. However, we can’t help but think that such a small body is unnecessary when bigger lenses mean you’ll need a bag for the GM5 anyway.
You could just opt to use the thin prime lenses that Panasonic has to offer for its G-series cameras, which include 14mm and 20mm lengths. The 12-32mm and 14-42mm zoom lenses are also relatively thin as they can be 'locked' when not in use.
We used the 12-23mm zoom lens for our tests (it's one of the kit lenses), and this is a lens that sticks out about 25mm from the body when it's locked (giving an overall thickness of about 60mm). We could fit the camera into our pockets easily, as long as we wore loose fitting pants. Put on one of the bigger zoom lenses, though, or even the bigger 15mm prime, and you'll need to have a handbag or backpack in which to carry the camera. If you'll be carrying multiple lenses with you, this shouldn't bother you as you'll probably already have a nice little camera bag on hand to house the entire kit.
Despite the small size of the body, you still get some useful built-in features similar to what can be found on bigger cameras. This includes a 3in touchscreen, a dual-purpose control dial so that you can change the exposure manually (press it to switch between aperture and shutter values), and it even has an electronic viewfinder (EVF) so that you can see your frame more clearly in the event that bright sunlight inhibits the LCD screen (though it's not a very comfortable EVF). There is no built-in flash, but there is a hot-shoe if you want to add one.
You can choose to use manual focus if you dare, though our 12-32mm test lens didn't have a manual focus ring on it and we had to use the touchscreen to focus, which was an uncomfortable experience, even though focus peaking helped us to see which focal plane was in focus. The focusing performance in auto mode while using the 12-32mm lens was fast and reliable, for the most part, and we preferred using it for all our shots.
We could just tap on the spot on the screen that we wanted to focus on, and we could even use focus tracking mode with accurate results. It's not a great lens if you want to get the camera right up close to your subject, though you can use the zoom to good effect, which will also blur out the background a reasonable amount. It's a lens that primarily suits portraits and landscapes.
There is a main mode dial at the top (next to the focus mode dial) that includes Panasonic's great Intelligent Auto mode, in addition to scene modes and a sweeping panorama mode, and there are standard navigation and menu buttons on the rear, just below the generous space (considering the size of the camera) where you can rest your thumb while shooting. For those with big hands, this camera will feel more cramped than a typical compact camera (it's 99mm wide, 60mm tall, and 36mm wide without a lens), but for the most part, it's still easy to use.
We envision it being used mostly in auto mode for quick shooting, but it's easy enough to pop it into manual or aperture or shutter priority modes to change the exposure yourself. If you set the camera's 'constant preview' setting to 'on', then you will be able to see changes to the exposure immediately on the rear screen (or through the EVF). You can also use the on-screen exposure meter to tune your settings. There is a dedicated ISO button, which is handy, and there are up to seven function buttons that can be programmed to provide quick access to the settings you use most often -- two of these buttons are physical buttons, five of them are located on the touchscreen.
Picture quality from this camera when recording in JPEG mode is vibrant, and the clarity is much better than what you can expect to see from a compact camera. We like the way the camera handled variable lighting conditions on its own in Intelligent Auto mode. It's a good camera to consider if you don't want to think about the settings all the time, yet you certainly can take control at any time should you want to be more creative.
You have to be serious about wanting this camera, however, because despite being smaller than a typical G-series Lumix camera, it still commands a hefty price. It will set you back at least $999 with the 12-32mm lens (and about $1600 in New Zealand), and more if you want additional lenses. We can see it being of value to those of you who want a compact camera, yet also want higher quality image output and the ability to use different types of lenses, including primes. Or, you might already have many Micro Four Thirds lenses and just want a smaller body so you can hit the streets with style.
Other things to note are that it has Wi-Fi so that you can share images via an app on your phone (or use the phone as a remote viewfinder), and it can shoot Full HD video. Its electronic shutter can shoot at a maximum of 1/16000th of a second.
All pictures were taken using Intelligent Auto mode and are JPEGs that are straight out of the camera.
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