Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF5 Hands On: A Mirrorless Camera That's Actually for Beginners

Panasonic's new Lumix DMC-GF5 is incredibly similar to the Lumix GF3. It's got some spec bumps, and a design tweak or two, but the main difference is that the GF5 is much more approchable for novices. And frankly, that's a welcome change of pace.

Most system cameras assume a level of technical knowledge that an average camera-buyer just doesn't have. In my short time with the GF5, though, what was most apparent is that Panasonic has beefed up its iA (intelligent auto) mode to give pop-up scene suggestions, and a teaching mode that explains why and how scenes make specific kinds of photos look better. The new features, and the simplified UI overall, is actually an effective way to teach new users about photography, instead of just having them flail around aimlessly. And of course, if you're a pro you can just avoid iA mode.

Specs-wise, the GF5 has a new 12.1MP Live MOS sensor and processor combination—though Panasonic couldn't tell us if both are brand new components, or if it's just a new combination. The ISO range is doubled, now going to 12,800, and autofocus time drops to 0.09 seconds. The touch-focus on the 3-inch, 920k-dot LCD screen can focus in on just two pixels as the center of autofocus, which means better and finer focus control overall. It also shoots at 4fps in full resolution. On the video side, it shoots 1080p at 30fps in MP4 and 1080i at 60fps in AVCHD, and there's now a stereo microphone.

Physically, the GF5 is almost identical to the GF3. It's got a new rubberized grip on the right side that makes it a lot easier to hold and shoot one-handed, and it feels a little more solid than the GF3. Otherwise, the two cameras look almost identical side-by-side. I didn't notice a huge difference from the GF3 in the photos I snapped, either, although that makes sense considering we weren't in a low-light situation. The improvements should be pretty clear once that 12,800 ISO kicks in.

The GF5 will be $600 kitted with a standard 14-42mm lens, and will also be available for $700 and $800 with a 14mm prime lens and a 14-42 powerzoom pancake lens. Ship date will be in late May, and it should be in stores by early June.