Please don’t be cross, but I’ve been keeping something from you. Two weeks ago, I snuck off all Secret Squirrel stylee to sunny Budapest. And if it’s not bad enough that it was a balmy 39°C out there (compared to a drizzly 18°C here), I was swanning about the place, testing out a range of new cameras from Panasonic. I only hope that you’ll forgive me, as I now have official permission to tell you about them…
Let’s start with Panasonic’s latest Compact System Camera, the Lumix G5. To, ahem, refresh your memory, Compact System Cameras are intended as a step up from your regular compact, with interchangeable lenses and many of the other features you’d find on a DSLR, including large sensors for better image quality, but with less bulk. Panasonic were one of the first to launch a camera in this market, and have the biggest range of lenses (close to 40), giving you lots of options as your photography skills improve.
I spent my trip in the company of the G5, and found it to be a fine travelling companion. It’s got a powerful 16MP sensor for shooting top quality images that can be blown up into big prints, and a super-fast 12,800 ISO (it therefore coped extremely well when capturing fast moving objects and shooting in low-light conditions).
There are more in-camera arty modes than ever before, which can be used when shooting stills or full HD video. New ones include Toy Camera, Dramatic Monotone and One Point Colour, where you can select it to keep, say, all the red objects in the shot red and make everything else black and white.
I found the menus simple to navigate, the focusing uber fast and liked the independent Intelligent Auto button. The joy of this is, if you’re fiddling around with art modes or manual settings but then suddenly see a great potential photo, press it and it overrides everything to take a snap using what the camera judges to be the optimum set-up.
It’s got some smart extras, too, such as Eye Sensor AF, which means the camera will automatically focus as soon as the camera is lifted to the eye (you can turn it off if you find it annoying, though). You can also use the screen as a touchpad to set the point of focus, even when you’re holding your eye up to the viewfinder.
The G5 will be priced from £599 for the body only, £699 bundled with a 14-42mm lens (the one I used) and £879 with a 45-150mm lens. It goes on sale in mid-August.
I’ve also just got time for a quick round-up of two more new members of the merry band of Lumix cameras. The FZ200 is a 12MP bridge camera (so it’s got a fixed zoom lens, but is bigger with more manual options than your standard compact), due on sale in late August/early September for £499.
So what’s so great about the FZ200? Well, it shoots at up to 6,400 ISO (so jolly good if not not quite as impressive in the dark as the F5) but its standout feature is its 24x optical zoom lens, which goes from a wide angle of 4.5mm (for landscapes) into an 105mm extreme close up. The really exciting bit is that it maintains a F2.4 aperture all through this range – in other words, it lets more light into the camera than your average Bridge zoom lens, which makes for sharper, more detailed pictures. Believe me, this works a treat alongside the image stabilising mechanisms inside the camera. Even when I cropped into a church spire several hundred metres away, the close-up was sharper than Stephen Fry in a hedgehog costume, even in my shaky paws.
Last but not least, we have the 10.1MP Lumix DMC-LX7 compact camera, with a state-of-the-art Leica lens, 12,800ISO for snapping in low light without needing a flash and full 1080p HD video. It’s got the same in-camera art modes you’ll find on the G5 and lots of manual settings, with the added benefit of a small stature. It will be released in September and should cost around £449, so pricey then. But if you’re looking for a snapper that will seriously outshine your smartphone, it’s an impressive package.