Panasonic Lumix GF5 vs GF3 Comparison Review

April 9, 2012

The Panasonic Lumix GF5 is the successor to the GF3, a popular ultra compact CSC camera. On paper we can see that their isn’t a revolutionary change in the specs, but the GF5 is a new updated model. The GF5 main advantage is in its compact body. In general mirrorless cameras are relatively very compact compared to DSLR cameras, but Panasonic GF cameras are the smallest and lightest CSC cameras that you can find in this market nowadays.

One of the most noticeable updates is the implementation of a new 12.1-megapixel Live MOS sensor with much better low-noise performance in high ISO. Other updates include an improved user interface, higher LCD resolution, improved rubberized grip, updated image processor (Venus Engine FHD), faster burst and better battery life. When I first ent over the specs you can see that the GF5 is just a more improved version of the GF3. In this article I want to dig just a bit deeper and see how the GF5 compares to the GF3 and whether it’s worth buying or upgrading to.

Compact System Cameras (CSC)

There is not doubt that Mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses have conquered the digital camera’s market by storm. People want compact cameras, but so it seems, they also want high image quality, low noise performance, fast operation and full manual control.

There are many point-and-shoot photographers who are ready to make the transition to move to a more advanced camera.  Some people just fall in love with photography and want to take their skills to a higher level. Others, they want to have a highly capable camera that will result in great images (ie. low noise, better control over depth of field, high quality videos, etc.) and they don’t want to compromise. Panasonic is aiming the GF5 to new comers, those who comes from shooting with P&S cameras. The GF5 is Panasonic’s entry-level mirrorless camera, but a very capable one I must say.

As Compact System Cameras continue to rush over the DSLR market, eating more and more market share, more camera manufacturers know that it’s a good time to enter this market. Nikon has done it with the Nikon 1, Pentax with the Pentax Q and K-01 and others will follow.

Of course the key advantage is the ability to change lenses. Changing lenses will give you much better flexibility and creative freedom that you just can’t have with conventional point-and-shoot. This includes better control over depth of field (more shallower Bokeh), special lenses (ie. ultra wide, 1:1 macro, optimized for video shooting, etc.), improved optics (depends on the lens) and much more.

If you feel that P&S just prevent you from getting the images that you want to achieve, maybe it’s time that you’ll seriously consider buying a CSC camera instead of a new point-and-shoot. I am a fan of Mirrorless cameras. We’ve already seen some cameras that outperform many of the DSLR cameras in terms of their low-light performance (ie. Sony NEX-5N).


Panasonic Lumix GF5

Panasonic Lumix GF5

Panasonic Lumix GF5

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 is the latest addition to Panasonic G-series, a collection of high-quality mirrorless cameras in the Micro Four Thirds formta. The Micro Four Thirds is a standard that was emerged by a cooperation between Olympus and Panasonic. That means that every lens in the micro four thirds, no matter from which manufacturer, will be compatible with the Micro Four Thirds mount. Yes, it means that you can buy an Olympus lens and mount it on your GF5 camera, no adapter, no tricks, just a fully compatible lens.

This fact widen the amount of lenses (as well as accessories) that are available for your camera. It also means that even if in the future you decide to change to an Olympus camera, you can still use your lenses.

Camera Design

The Lumix GF5 looks almost identical to the GF3, no radical change in the design what so ever. The most noticeable change is the new rubberized grip. It seems people were asking for a more comfortable grip, so it can help them have better grip when holding the camera, but especially when shooting with longer and heavier lenses. Some mirrorless cameras don’t come with a grip at all, maybe because some companies want to show the mist minimal profile and have the camera as compact as possible.

Panasonic Lumix GF5 vs GF3

Panasonic Lumix GF5 vs GF3 - side by side (credit:

In my opinion, a good grip will certainly help you hold the camera more steadier, and it will be more comfortable to hold for people with larger hands. Try mounting a telephoto-zoom lens and see what I’m talking about 🙂

At the back of the camera you’ll find a gorgeous 3-inch 920K-dots Fixed touch-sensitive display. This is a nice update over the 460K-dots one that you’ll found on the GF3. A higher resolution display helps checking out proper focus and sharpness of the images in the field, but also makes text more readable and improve the image viewing experience when viewed on camera.

The Panasonic GF5 is the smallest Micro Four Thirds camera you’ll found these days. Who have imagined that we’ll see such a compact digital camera that also support interchangeable lenses (ok, some did). So indeed, the GF5 is a beautiful camera. It’s has nice rounded smooth curves, it’s very compact (108 x 67 x 37 mm) and lightweight too (264g).

The advantage of having a small camera is that you don’t need a large bag for it. Of course you need to consider the fact that you will be using interchangeable lenses. If you but the 14-42mm (equiv. 28-84mm) Kit lens (the motorized or standard) the profile will still be pretty compact. However, if you decide to purchase more Micro Four Thirds lenses or get a larger and heavier lenses – you might be better with a camera bag. For exampl, the Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/3.0-5.6 Mega O.I.S is not a small lens as the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 ASPH. Some interchangeable lenses are more compact, others are longer and heavier.

So even if the camera looks very compact without a lens, you should take into consideration that a lens has to be mounted on the camera, so take that into consideration.  If you are looking for a standard lens with low profile, I recommend the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm f/2.5-5.6 ASPH. Power O.I.S. It’s not a cheap one at all, but it is compact and has great optics.

Other lenses with low profile include the Lumix 14mm f/2.5 ASPH., the Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 ASPH.. These two are prime lenses, so they don’t have any zoom, but they are very compact and are able to provide you with a very high quality photos. The other zoom lenses are larger due to their optic mechanism. Don’t get me wrong, by the lens that fits your needs, but just know that although the camera is very compact as “body only”, you’ll need to add the lens body to it.

I highly recommend using to check out how the GF5 looks with different lenses attaches. This will give you a very good view on how compact a camera is with a lens attached. Here’s an image that shows how the GF5 looks with three lenses attached: Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Asph.Mega O.I.S, 3D 12.5mm and the Panasonic Lumix G Vario 100-300mm f/4-5.6 Mega O.I.S.

Panasonic GF5 with different interchangeable lenses attached

Panasonic GF5 with different interchangeable lenses attached

You can check it our for yourself and play with the camera+lens simulator on compact camera meter tool. Click on the “lenses” icon below the camera (or on the lens itself) to get a menu and choose alternative lenses.


New Live MOS Sensor + High ISO performance

The Panasonic Lumix GF5 comes with the same 12.1-megapixel sensor resolution, but this is an improved sensor, not the same that was used in the GF3. So what changed? – The biggest change is that the GF5 can now shoot at up to ISO 12800 and with much less noise. The image quality was improved by quite a lot I must say.

the website has posted a visual high-ISO image quality comparison between the Panasonic Lumix GF5 vs GF3.  You can clearly see how the GF5 wins hands-down this comparison. No doubt that the GF5 can produce better photos with much less noise in higher ISO sensitivity settings.

So what’s high ISO good for? – well, the main advantage is that you can shoot better images in low light, and have them looks relatively very clean. So you’ll get better shots when shooting indoors, in a restaurant or when shooting some night shots. Furthermore, A higher ISO will give you the option to get faster shutter speed and better ‘Freeze’ the image to fight blur in your images. So instead of lowering the shutter speed, to allow more light to get it, you use a higher ISO sensitivity instead (considering that you keep the aperture fixed).

So if you are looking for an ultra compact mirrorless camera that have very little noise in high ISO, the GF5 is certainly one of those cameras. It’s not the only compact mirrorless camera that has shown great low-noise results, but it certainly a big improvement over the GF3. That alone might convince some photographers to upgrade. Of course it directly depends on your type of shooting habits. I personally don’t shoot above ISO800 nor I need to, but some of you might shoot over ISO800, and that’s where the GF5 really shines compared to the GF3.

By the way, the comparison test was done with the Olympus Zuiko Digital 9-18mm f/4-5.6 ED lens. So you see, it was done with a non-Panasonic lens, but another Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lens that is fully compatible with Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras as well.

The “Venus Engine” imaging processor was updated as well. It’s a redesigned processor which includes “3D Noise Reduction” and “Multi-process Noise Reduction” which gives the camera the option to apply noise reduction to different parts of the photo and treating highlights and shadows separately.


World’s Fastest Autofocus!

No doubt that Mirrorless cameras have come along way when it comes to performance. According to Panasonic the GF5 can lock on focus as little as 0.09 seconds – That’s amazingly fast!

The AF sped is the time it takes the camera to lock on a subject starting the moment the photographer presses the shutter button. A few years ago that performance belonged only to SLR cameras. As technology kept improving, so does those highly-demanded features. The GF5 autofocus very fast – which can be used for sports photography, kids photography and any situation where you want to shoot a fast moving subject.In fact, its faster than any high-end digital LR with phase-detection AF.


Improved User Interface (UI)

Having a touch-sensitive display, the Panasonic Lumix GF5 should have a unique user interface. The GF5 improves over the GF3. The user interface is more intuitive and now includes unique guide features that will help newbies understand every feature of the camera without reading the manual.  You will also have access to a wide variety of filters which can be applied over your photos.


Panasonic GF5 vs GF3

Some GF3 owners might want to know what are the key differences between the GF5 and the GF3. Well, to sum things up, here’s a comparison table of the key features.

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OK, let’s sum up what’s changed:

  • GF5 has an updated image processor for better noise handling
  • GF5 has a newly designed sensor
  • GF5 has a higher maximum ISO (12800 vs 6400)
  • GF5 has a higher resolution LCD displat (920K vs 460K)
  • GF5 has an improved user interface and more filter options
  • GF5 has a faster continuous shooting (4 vs 3.2)
  • GF5 has a better battery life (CAIP 360 vs 300 shots)
  • GF5 has a better hand grip and improved button build-quality (feels more professional I guess)
  • GF5 has a better image quality with less noise compared to the GF3 (proven by online lab test comparisons)


GF5 Video Samples

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 can shoot Full HD videos at 60i (30p output by the sensor). We can talk forever about the video, but one video worth a thousand words so here you go.

Panasonic GF5 Sample video 1


Panasonic GF5 Sample video 2


Panasonic GF4 Sample video 3


The video quality is very good, and Panasonic really gives emphasize on this feature.


Should you Buy the GF5 – Yes!

The Panasonic Lumix GF5 is a great successor to  the GF3. It’s an ultra compact mirrorless camera that hosts many great features, that includes ultra-fast AF, high-res touch-sensitive LCD, Full HD video recording, great high-ISO performance sensor, improved battery life, it’s compact and lightweight. It seems like the best entry-level  camera in the Micro Four Thirds right now. Don’t forget about the excellent and large selection of Micro Four Thirds interchangeable lenses. With great optics and that excellent camera body, nothing can stop you from getting amazing images every time.

The GF5 can shoot 3D images and hosts a wide range of creative functions and in-camera editing functions. The video quality is great and all in all the GF5 is among the most attractive entry-level mirrorless camera we have right now. If you are searching for a new camera and wan’t to upgrade from your P&S camera, the GF5 is the camera to get. You will be impressed with the image quality, even at high ISO. If you want a more professional camera body, I highly recommend checking out the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera, which I personally really love. Highly Recommended!



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