Panasonic has been quite aggressive with the mirrorless camera segment. And why wouldn’t it be? With every major camera player entering the mirrorless camera segment, it can be safely said that the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera market is looking at tremendous growth in the coming years. So in order to stay relevant in this constantly changing space, players such as Panasonic need to keep reinventing themselves. With the Lumix GX7, we wouldn’t really call the design a reinvention by any stretch of the imagination, as the retro-styled compact cameras have been done by Fujifilm since 2011, but there is a lot more to the Panasonic Lumix GX7 than just looks.
Design and Build
Panasonic Lumix GX7 comes with a 16MP LiveMOS sensor and has a tiltable EVF
The Panasonic Lumix GX7 has a retro-themed design, a trend which was popularised by Fujifilm with its X series of cameras. However, the GX7 has a markedly different look and design approach. The GX7 comes in two colours – silver and black – of which we got the former. It has a magnesium alloy body and the metallic portion is visible on the top of the camera with the front and rear sides covered in rubber and plastic.
The front portion of the camera is covered by a bulging, rubberised and textured grip which extends all the way to the back. The grip fits well in the palm and there is enough tapering space for the fingers to rest comfortably. This palm grip is neatly complemented by a thumb rest on the rear side. On the top portion you have the mode dial on the extreme right hand side below which you have the power switch. Below the power switch you have a control dial which can be controlled using the thumb. Beside the mode dial as you go leftwards you have the shutter button, surrounded by a control dial which controls exposure by default – controlled by your index finger, a dedicated movie record button behind the shutter release. This is followed by the pop-up flash placed bang in the centre. There is a hot-shoe attachment beside the the flash unit and finally on the left edge you have the electronic viewfinder.
The metallic top portion is dominated by dials
The innovative thing about this viewfinder is that it can rotate by 90 degrees thereby making the GX7 the first mirrorless camera to sport a rotating EVF. On the underside of the EVF you have a dioptre adjustment slider and thanks to the click lock mechanism when the EVF is horizontal, it avoids accidental movement of the EVF. But since the eyepiece protrudes out from the main body, you may end up unlocking the EVF while placing the camera in your bag.
Coming to the rear, you have a major area covered by the 3-inch touch sensitive LCD. Along the metallic top portion you have a function button, a switch for the pop-up flash and on the right hand side, just beside the thumb rest you have a switch to help you toggle between manual and auto focus with a button in the centre for locking the exposure and focus. The arrangement of buttons on the rear side is pretty regular with a central menu button surrounded by four buttons.
In terms of ergonomics, Panasonic deserves a pat on the back. With three function buttons which can be customised and two control dials within easy reach of the thumb even one handed operation is manageable. The buttons have good feedback mechanism, but the the mode dial requires two fingers to be able to rotate it comfortably.
The Panasonic GX7 comes with the 16MP LiveMOS sensor that was seen in the Panasnonic GF6 with the sensor measuring 17.3 x 13 mm. It comes with PASM modes, three custom modes, SCN mode and your art filter modes along with the Intelligent Auto mode. The ISO range goes from ISO 125 to 25600 and you can have ⅓ EV increments or 1EV increments. The user interface is quite similar to the one seen on the GF6, but naturally the GX7 has a lot more options to play around with.
The electronic viewfinder is quite high-res at 2764k dots which gives a really crisp display. It can display all the information that is seen on the LCD and you can adjust the sharpness of the text using the slider which is placed on its underside. The 3-inch rear LCD screen has a 1040k dot resolution and can tilt in a way that allows you to take low angle as well as over the shoulder photographs.
The battery and SD compartment is on the base.
The test unit we got came bundled with the pancake-styled Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens which is 40mm equivalent (2x crop factor). It has a 7 element and 5 group design which includes two asperical elements to reduce distortion and chromatic aberration.
One key feature of the GX7 is the presence of an in-camera sensor-shift image stabilisation which lets you even use Olympus micro four third lenses or any legacy lenses (using a right adapter) without having to worry about shaky images.
The Silent mode of the GX7 is truly wonderful although it does come with its set of limitations. You can add the Silent mode soft key switch in your function menu to toggle between regular and silent mode. When in the silent mode, the camera is barely audible as you shoot images thanks to switching from the mechanical shutter to the electronic shutter. For street photography enthusiasts this is a wonderful tool to capture candid images. But there are some limitations such as the lowest shutter speed coming down to just 1 second, visible banding in indoor photographs shot under artificial lights, ISO range going from 200 – 3200 only, no flash operation and so on. Check out the different in sound between the silent mode and non silent mode towards the end in the video above.
The tone-curve adjustment feature allows you to adjust highlights and shadows
Another interesting feature is the Highlight and shadow control curves which we had seen on the Olympus OM-D E-M5. There are four presets (Standard, higher contrast, lower contrast and brighten shadows) and three custom modes which allow you to adjust the highlight and shadows from -5 to +5 with one-stop increments. This really helps in areas that have a tricky lighting conditions thereby giving you more control than mere exposure control.
Focus peaking helps ensure your focus area when shooting in manual focus mode as it highlights the area under focus. It allows you to choose the intensity of the peaking and colours as well – blue, yellow or green.
The 3-inch LCD is touch-sensitive and can tilt to allow you to take low angle or over the shoulder photographs
Wi-Fi function on the GX7 works in conjunction with an app called Panasonic Image and you can connect it to the camera over your local Wi-Fi network to transfer images. Image size can be Medium or the Original size. You can also control your GX7 using the remote shooting mode from the Panasonic Image app. It is a detailed app available for iOS and Android, and lets you change white balance, focus, ISO, exposure, among other things. While readjusting the focus we noticed hardly any lag. You can shoot still images as well as record videos. It is one of the most detailed remote photography apps we have seen off late.
Studio ISO performance
Our studio ISO comprises a setup which has a healthy mix of colours, textures, materials, fine text and so on. We attached the Panasonic Lumix GX7 on a tripod and kept it in the Aperture priority mode at f/6.3. We proceeded to take images across the ISO range. To ensure minimal camera shake we had a 2-second timer enabled to click the pictures.
The base image for studio ISO performance test
The Panasonic GX7 gives clean images till ISO 1600 and one can barely find any noise even at 100 per cent crops. At ISO 3200, you start noticing the noise reducing algorithm making its presence felt thanks to the slight dithering in the threads and uneven edges of the text on the bottle. But on the whole images at ISO 3200 are still usable. ISO 6400 onwards things really start getting bad and you should use the camera over this point only as a last resort.
The AF speed of the Lumix GX7 was quite speedy outdoors. We did not notice any unnecessary focus hunting in daylight nor while shooting stills at sunset. In dimly lit situations and also at times shooting indoors, the AF is comparatively slower, but not bad enough to make you tear your hair out.
The camera employs a contrast-detect AF system and it gives you options such as face tracking, AF tracking, 23-area, 1-area and pinpoint focus adjustment. We like the various AF modes such as face tracking or 1-area AF. The touch AF is quite responsive and you can adjust the size of the focus area by the pinch gesture to increase or decrease the size of the area. We found the touch to focus option quite convenient. With the manual mode, you get a zoomed in view of the area under focus when you rotate the manual zoom ring. Focus peaking shows you which area is under focus as you are rotating the manual focus ring.
Images shot in Standard mode, appear natural and on the whole there are no noticeable issues. Images are packed with detail and are decently sharp out of the camera. Of course you can always extract more sharpness while post processing the RAW images.
Despite the firetrucks being in the shade, you can see both of them clearly
Panasonic presents you with many modes, filters and SCN modes to play around with. We particularly liked the fact that Panasonic has introduced a tone curve adjustment function which lets you adjust the highlight and shadow settings as you compose the shot from +5 to -5. This along with the HDR feature which can again go from +/- 1EV to +/-5 EV gives you a lot of versatility in scenes which have strong shadows or highlights.
PS: All images have been resized except for image No. 3 which is a 100 percent crop. For full resolution sample images, check out our Panasonic Lumix GX7 set on Flickr.
Left: Shadows 0 – Highlights 0; Right: Shadows 5 – Highlights 5
Images shot in the RAW mode are flat as compared to their JPEG counterparts. Detailing on the images starts to suffer beyond ISO 3200, so if you are planning high ISO photographs, be prepared to do some manual noise reduction in the SILKYPIX utility or in Adobe Lightroom.
Shot in RAW mode at ISO 800 at 1/3200th of a second
A 100 percent crop of the above shot, processed with the SILKYPIX utility to get maximum detail on the fur
Till ISO 3200 you get decent outdoor photographs, but beyond that you will need to do aggressive noise reduction in post processing
The sharpness tends to get lost around the edges, but we barely noticed any purple fringing in spite of shooting against the light
The 20mm f/1.7 lens gives pleasing bokehs
The dials are within easy reach of the thumb
One of the best things about the GX7 is the handling. With the buttons and dials placed so conveniently and the variety in terms of Function buttons, operation is quite easy. If you have used Panasonic cameras in the past, then the user interface will not take much time getting used to. Panasonic have added four physical function buttons along with three virtual function buttons. Add the three dedicated custom modes to this mix and you will barely need to enter the main menu screen to make any changes. You can even add some additional functions to the Quick Function or Fn1 key using a simple drag and drop technique. Another way to change the settings is by keeping the LCD display on the recording information screen which shows all the major settings in boxes pretty much like that seen on the Canon DSLR’s user interface. You can select which ever mode you want to tweak by touching it. Adjustments can be made both, with buttons as well as using touch.
One thing which we found irritating was the noticeable delay when you take your eye to the EVF; it definitely takes a second for the EVF screen to power on. While shooting on the streets, where every moment is significant, this delay can make or break a picture.
The video quality when shot at 1080p/25p was quite good with decent colour reproduction. AF wasn’t as quick as we were expecting especially after the wonderful performance in still photography. The touch AF was responsive, but the focus lock did take some time, as you will notice below. As for image stabilisation, it isn’t there for video shooting unlike the 5-axis IS we have seen on Olympus cameras. So unless you have an IS lens, handheld videos will be shaky. GX7 offers creative liberty in the video mode by offering shutter, aperture and manual video shooting modes.
Verdict and Price in India
Panasonic Lumix GX7 has been a wonderful camera and it has everything going for it – beautiful build, great handling, a high-res EVF which can tilt, an overdose of features, wireless connectivity, great image quality and so on. The silent mode, although limits some options, is a great tool for street photography enthusiasts. In retrospect, we did not really feel stunted by its limitations mode while shooting on streets. The Function buttons help reduce navigational step and speed up the handling, which is also a great plus.
The kinks in the armour are definitely the poor high ISO performance and if we had to nitpick, then the delay in powering on the EVF once you get your eye to it. Video quality is good, though the same cannot be said about the AF speed in video. Unless you have a lens with image stabilisation, it is preferable to shoot with a tripod. Even though the GX7 is not positioned as a videographers camera, it does offer you the chance to shoot videos in shutter mode, aperture mode as well as manual mode, if you are feeling particularly creative.
At a price of Rs 56,900, it is on the higher side of things. But it does not seem overkill for the features and performance on offer. We would have ideally liked it if the camera were priced closer to Rs 50,000. But considering Panasonic GF6 is priced around that range, we can understand the logic of the GX7’s price point.
While the GX7 is clearly targetted at the enthusiast segment, we feel that the camera is quite good for anyone looking at moving from a point and shoot. The GX7 is a neat alternative if you want a compact camera with great image performance. Considering it has the micro four thirds mount, you have a variety of lenses from Panasonic and Olympus to strap on to the GX7. But the price has to come down for it to really make an impact. In terms of usability, handling and features, the Panasonic Lumix GX7 certainly deserves our Editor’s Choice Award as far as mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras go.
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May 28, 2015