The GF5 is the fourth in Panasonic's range of small-bodied 'GF' Micro Four Thirds cameras, and sits below the G3 in the current lineup. The differences between the GF5 and its predecessor are relatively few, and we doubt they'll prove significant enough to tempt any GF3 users to upgrade. But they do combine to make the new camera a more attractive proposition to compact upgraders than the GF3.

The GF3 wasn't well terribly well received by photo enthusiasts at launch. In part this was because it continued the process of repositioning the GF series as a super-point-and-shoot, rather than a GF1-style enthusiast's camera. Since then, however, those needs have fulfilled by the GX1, while the arrival of Olympus' PEN Mini and Nikon's 1 J1 have made it clear that Panasonic isn't alone in believing there's a market for a small, simple and inexpensive mirrorless camera. With the benefit of this context, the GF5's role is clear - to put large-sensor image quality into the hands of people looking to upgrade from their compact camera.

With this in mind, Panasonic is pushing a kit that bundles the GF5 with its extremely compact retractable X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS power zoom lens. The combination is impressively small for a camera that offers near-DSLR capabilities and is the closest any mirrorless camera comes to being pocketable when combined with a zoom lens.

Physically, the most obvious change is a new rubber hand grip, which improves on the rather slick, uncoated grip of the GF3, and a new texture to the body shell. Under the hood, the GF5's newly developed 12MP CMOS sensor is an evolution of the one used in the GF3, but with improved circuitry that doesn't block as much light entering the photosite, giving better low light performance. The image processor is also different, and Panasonic promises that the latest version of its Venus Engine will deliver improved noise performance. These factors, combined with a noise reduction system that treats highlights and shadows differently (since the dominant cause of the noise differs between the two regions), has emboldened Panasonic to offer a boost to the camera's ISO range, with it now being extendable to 12800, rather than the GF3's 6400.

Also slightly improved is the GF5's continuous shooting rate, from 3.8 fps to 4 fps, but more significant are a major bump in resolution for the touch-sensitive rear LCD, and change of video file format offered. With the GF5, you have the option to shoot in the MP4 format, as well as the now-standard (for Panasonic) AVCHD. Video clips shot in the MP4 format are easier to work with, because they're created as a single file, rather than a being split across a complex file structure, separate from your stills. MPEG 4 files are far more widely compatible when it comes to playback. As such, we think MP4 makes a lot more sense for an entry-level camera.

Improved touch screen

The GF5's rear LCD is now 920,000 dots, which matches the best-in class, and means that everything from menu navigation to image composition and review just looks that little bit sharper. The touch-screen interface has also been tweaked and improved. The addition of a hard button for 'Display' on the back of the camera, for instance, means the GF5 doesn't need to have any virtual buttons impeding your view as you shoot.

Other improvements are more subtle - the GF5 gains eight new filter options in its Creative Control Mode (namely Soft Focus, Dynamic Monochrome, Impressive Art, One Point Color, Cross Process and Star Filter) and filter effects can be previewed before they are applied. A further refinement for filter fans comes when the GF5 is set to intelligent Auto or intelligent Auto Plus mode. The camera will now suggest filter effects that it thinks might enhance your photo, based on analysis of the scene.

Panasonic's press release talks excitedly about a selection of professional photographs used to illustrate the types of photo the camera can be set to take, but the reality is a fairly standard icon-based interface for selecting between scene modes. These do at least include a couple of shooting tips and an explanation of what the mode is actually doing to the camera's settings.

Panasonic GF5 specification highlights

  • 12.1MP Live MOS sensor
  • ISO 160-6400 (extendable to 12800)
  • '3DNR' three-dimensional noise reduction system
  • 3.0", 920k dot touch-sensitive LCD
  • Full AVCHD 1080/60i video (from 30fps sensor output) with MP4 recording option
  • Stereo microphones
  • Built-in orientation sensor
  • 14 Creative Control filter effects options
  • Scene Guide mode with 23 modes

Differences between the GF5 and the GF3

  • Top ISO of 12800 (vs 6400)
  • MP4 video recording option (vs AVCHD only)
  • Built-in stereo microphones (vs. Mono)
  • Orientation sensor (not dependent on lens IS unit)
  • 3in, 920k-dot LCD screen (vs 460k-dots)
  • New 'Scene Guide' mode
  • 14 filter options in Creative Control Mode (vs six)
  • Redesigned, rubber hand grip
  • New body texture