Panasonic GX7 £820

27th Aug 2013 | 08:42

Panasonic GX7

The best image quality from a G-series camera

TechRadar rating:

4.5 stars

Like:

Touchscreen; Tilting screen; EVF;

Dislike:

Screen isn't articulated; Slow Tracking AF system; Slow viewfinder refresh rate;

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix GX1 was announced back in November 2011 as a more advanced alternative to the rectangular-shaped GF line of compact system cameras (CSCs) or a smaller alternative to the G series of mini DSLR-style CSCs. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 is the first update to this range and according to Barney Sykes, Panasonic UK's product manager, the large numerical jump is to signify the progress made with the camera.

Ratings in depth
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 reviewPanasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 reviewPanasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 reviewPanasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 reviewPanasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Although the Panasonic GX7 has the same pixel count as the GX1 and Panasonic's other recent compact system cameras, the 16MP sensor is new and not the same as the one in the Panasonic G6, Panasonic GF6 or Panasonic GH3.

It's not back-illuminated, but we are told that there's less circuitry on the sensor, which means that there's more space available for the photodiodes and micro lenses, so they're bigger than before. Bigger micro lenses and diodes enable more light to be captured, and this means that the Panasonic GX7's sensor produces a stronger image signal and wider dynamic range images with less noise than previous models.

Panasonic also claims that there's less noise produced by the signal transistors and in the signal transfer process. In addition, the Panasonic GX7 has a new Venus Engine image processor, which enables multi-process noise reduction.

Panasonic Lumix GX7 review

All these factors combine to give the Panasonic Lumix GX7 a 1/2-2/3stop improvement in noise performance in comparison with the G6. Panasonic also claims that video detail resolution is improved.

The Panasonic GX7 body-only price is £819 (US$999 / AU$1,365), while it will cost £899 (US$1,099) with the standard 14-42mm lens included. A kit with a 20mm f/1.7 lens will also be available for £999 (around US$1,530 / AU$1,665).

Features

Although the new sensor should improve image quality, the Panasonic GX7 makes a couple of upgrades to the Panasonic GX1 that may outshine it for some users. The most significant of these for many photographers is likely to be the addition of an electronic viewfinder.

This 2.76-million-dot device is built into the new camera, but it can be tilted up through 90 degrees to enable you to view scenes more easily from above when shooting at low angles. According to Panasonic this EVF's colour reproduction is a close match for the Adobe RGB colour space, so it should replicate what the sensor captures pretty accurately.

Panasonic GX7 review

Panasonic has also upgraded the main LCD screen to a 1,040,000-dot unit mounted on a tilting bracket. As before, this is a touch-sensitive device, but it's the more responsive electrostatic type.

Helpfully, a sensor next to the viewfinder detects when the camera is held to the eye and switches off the main screen automatically while activating the EVF. When Eye Sensor AF is activated, the camera starts auto focusing when you look into the finder.

Panasonic has put a lot of effort into improving the autofocus performance of its CSCs, and the Panasonic GX7 reaps the full reward of this with an AF system that is claimed to operate in -4EV (what Panasonic refers to as star light) and has a response time of 0.06 seconds.

As before, there are five AF options; Face Detection, AF Tracking, 23-Area, 1-Area and Pinpoint. However, in Pinpoint mode the Panasonic GX7 shows the enlarged view (from 3x to 10x magnification is available) as a picture-in-picture so you can still see the whole scene, as well as a magnified view of the area around the focus point for easier composition. There's also a picture-in-picture magnification option in manual focus mode for the same reason.

Panasonic GX7 review

Focus Peaking display is also available on the GX7 and this shows the location of the peak of focus in MF and AF+MF mode. The detection level can be set to 'High' or 'Low' and the colour can be selected to stand out from the shooting environment. In 'High' light blue, yellow or green are available and in 'Low' blue, orange or white can be selected.

Thanks to the new processing engine, the Panasonic GX7 can shoot continuously at up to 4.3fps in continuous AF mode. There's also a top shutter speed of 1/8000sec (like the Olympus PEN E-P5), which should prove useful when using lenses such as Panasonic's Lumix G 20mm f/1.7 II ASPH wide open.

In a break from the norm for Panasonic, the GX7 has in-camera stabilisation. This will activate automatically when non-stabilised optics such as Leica's M lenses are used - which can be mounted via an adaptor - but it's deactivated when Panasonic's OIS lenses are mounted.

To ensure the correct level of correction is applied the photographer can enter a non-stabilised lens's focal length from 8mm to 1000mm.

Panasonic GX7 review

As we have come to expect, the Panasonic GX7 has a collection of Creative Control filter effects available. These can be used when shooting raw and JPEG images, and, although there's full control over exposure, it's possible to adjust aperture and exposure compensation.

Yellow, brown, red and green filter effects can be used to manipulate contrast when shooting with the Monochrome option, and the image tone can be adjusted across the blue-yellow axis. There's also a Rough Monochrome option that adds granular noise, and a Silky Monochrome option that softens the image.

Like Panasonic's other recent CSCs, the Panasonic GX7 has Creative Panorama mode, which enables panoramic images to be captured while using the Creative Control filter effects.

Interestingly, there's a new option to adjust image contrast prior to capture by manipulating a contrast curve. This can be done by dragging the curve with a finger on-screen or using the physical controls, or by using a preset curve.

Panasonic GX7 review

Like the Panasonic GF6 and Panasonic G6, the Panasonic GX7 has Clear Retouch feature, which enables objects to be cloned out of images in-camera and could prove useful for those who don't want to edit images on a computer. There's also Time Lapse Shooting and a Stop Motion Animation mode for creating short movies from a sequence of stills.

While Panasonic has improved the GX7's video capability with the addition of a 50p option and focus peaking (also available for stills), there's no external mic port or headphone jack.

In keeping with Panasonic's other recent compact system cameras, the Panasonic GX7 has Wi-Fi communication and NFC (Near Field Communication) connectivity built-in. NFC enables the camera to connect quickly with other NFC-enabled devices such as Android smartphones and tablets, while the Wi-Fi communication makes wireless control of the camera and image transfer possible via an app.

Build quality and handling

Although it has a tilting electronic viewfinder (EVF) and a tilting LCD, the Panasonic GX7 is only a little bigger than the Panasonic GX1 that it replaces. It still has the same flat top and rectangular shape, but the EVF sticks out a little from the back of the camera, making it marginally less pocketable.

The camera has a magnesium alloy body, which gives it a solid, high-quality feel. There's also a decent-sized grip that provides a comfortable hold.

Despite the presence of a touchscreen, the Panasonic GX7 has the full complement of physical buttons and controls. These feel well made and responsive. Having a mode dial on the top-plate makes it possible to switch quickly between shooting modes, which include all the enthusiasts' favourites (aperture priority, shutter priority and manual) as well as a collection of scene modes and Creative Control options.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

The 3-inch touchscreen also responds quickly to a light touch, but it suffers from reflections more than some other screens. Fingerprints resulting from using the touchscreen naturally don't help the situation, but thankfully there's the viewfinder on hand, and this provides a very clear view.

Because there's no obvious texture in the viewfinder and the image contrast and colour are a good match for the scene (depending upon the camera settings), you can almost forget that you're looking at an electronic unit.

Some may find it a little on the small side, but it has plenty of detail and has the benefit of being able to display the impact of camera settings such as exposure and white balance - plus there's a clear level display available.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Panasonic has made a few changes to the control layout since the GX1. The Ai button - which sets the camera to intelligent Auto mode regardless of the exposure setting - has gone, for instance, and this mode is now selected via the mode dial.

There's also a new control dial around the shutter release button, which is used in conjunction with the rear control dial to change settings and so on. It's within easy reach of your index finger. In addition, there's a new switch on the back of the camera around the AE lock, which enables you to flick quickly between auto and manual focus.

In another change since the Panasonic GX1, the Panasonic GX7's mode dial sits on the far right of the top plate as you hold the camera for use. This is quicker to access than the more central position on the Panasonic GX1.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

As usual there's a Quick Menu that can be reached with the press of a button. You can set this up to take you straight to a preset group of features or a customised list, but it would be nice if it was also a customisable menu page where you could assign your most frequently used features. It would be useful to be able to reach the Format option quickly, for example.

All things considered, however, the menu and control arrangements of the Panasonic GX7 are sensible, with everything within easy reach. It's easy to switch between using the physical buttons and dials and using the touchscreen.

The screen's touch control provides a quick way of navigating through menus, making settings selections and adjustments and scrolling through images in review mode and zooming in and out to check details.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

We have only a few niggles, one being that the Display button just below the thumb rest is prone to being pressed accidentally with the middle of your thumb when you're holding the camera.

Another issue is that the Touch Pad AF feature, which enables you to position the AF point with a finger on the main screen while looking through the viewfinder, isn't much use for left eye users, since your nose is prone to touching the screen and shifting the point.

It means that you have to either set the point with the physical controls or take your eye away from the EVF and tap the screen when it comes to life.

Performance

Our first impressions of the Panasonic GX7 were very good, and these initial findings were confirmed by more extensive shooting. Images generally have plenty of detail, good vibrant colours and correct exposure.

The Panasonic GX7's multi-zone metering system put in a particularly impressive performance during our testing, since it was largely unfazed by dark or light areas in the scene. It even managed to produce a correctly exposed subject when powerful stage lights were shining directly into the lens.

That's not to say that we didn't need to use the exposure compensation facility occasionally, but it wasn't very often and was usually only to a small degree.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Panasonic's recent AF system found in the Panasonic GF6 and Panasonic G6 has impressed us with its speed and accuracy, and it doesn't disappoint in the Panasonic GX7 which has the benefit of a cleaner signal from the sensor to help the contrast detection system.

During this test we had the opportunity to shoot from the photographer's pit at Fairport Convention's Cropredy Festival, and during the daylight hours and early evening the Panasonic GX7 coped well, managing to get the subject sharp as long as the active AF point was in the right location.

However, we found that the Tracking AF system couldn't keep up with the movement on stage and we couldn't track movement around the frame. Consequently we used the 1-Area AF and continuous autofocus modes and positioned the AF point where we wanted it using the touchscreen, then followed the subject in the viewfinder, trying to keep the active AF point over the subject.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

One issue is that despite turning the auto review off, the image is fractionally frozen in the viewfinder, and this can make it hard to follow a fast moving subject.

Also, once night fell and the light came purely from moving, flickering stage lights and high sensitivity settings were required, the AF system wasn't quite fast enough in many situations to keep up, but we did manage to get a few sharp shots.

In fairness this is an extreme test that would challenge many DSLRs, and it's the type of situation where photographers would use top-end DSLRs with fast, high quality lenses.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Bearing in mind that the Panasonic GX7 is a compact system camera with a contrast detection AF system, we think it gave a pretty decent account of itself.

Panasonic's auto white balance system has a proven track record, and it performed well in the Lumix GX7 in a variety of conditions. In some overcast or shaded conditions it can produce a slightly too neutral image, and on these occasions we found that the Daylight preset value worked well.

Also, in mixed artificial lighting (which would trouble most systems) it can produce rather warm images. However, it's very easy to create a custom white balance value manually by shooting a piece of white paper or card, which rectifies things.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Our lab tests reveal that the Panasonic GX7 produces slightly cleaner images than Panasonic's top-end GH3 and that it can resolve more detail at the higher sensitivity settings.

Although its raw files (after conversion to tiff) struggle to compete for signal to noise ratio at the upper sensitivity settings, its JPEG files are more than a match for the Olympus PEN E-P5 for the majority of the sensitivity range. This suggests that it should be possible with bespoke processing to get the raw files to match the Olympus camera's.

Noise is controlled well up to about ISO 6400, although speckling starts to become noticeable in images viewed at 100% from around ISO 800. There's little or no sign of chroma noise in JPEG files, but luminance noise is visible. There's also some softening in JPEG images from around ISO 3200.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

Chroma noise is only really visible in raw files viewed at 100% from around ISO 3200, but it's not really a major issue until the top sensitivity setting, ISO 25,600. As usual, this is probably best kept for emergencies.

Raw files contain more detail and offer the opportunity to tailor the noise reduction to suit the subject and the image. The Panasonic GX7 is supplied with SilkPix software, which has a comprehensive set of tools, but isn't tailored to the camera's settings any more than any other third party software.

In reality most users are likely to opt to process images using Adobe Camera Raw as soon as Adobe updates the software for Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom and full Photoshop.

Image quality and resolution

As part of our image quality testing for the Panasonic GX7, we've shot our resolution chart.

If you view our crops of the resolution chart's central section at 100% (or Actual Pixels) you will see that, for example, at ISO 125 the Panasonic GX7 is capable of resolving up to around 24 (line widths per picture height x100) in its highest quality JPEG files.

For a full explanation of what our resolution charts mean, and how to read them, check out our full explanation of our camera testing resolution charts.

Examining images of the chart taken at each sensitivity setting reveals the following resolution scores in line widths per picture height x100:

JPEG

Panasonic GX7 review

Full ISO 125 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 125, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 25600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 125, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 200, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 400, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 800, score: 24 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 1600, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 3200, score: 22 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 6400, score: 20 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 12800, score: 16 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 25600, score: 14 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Noise and dynamic range

We shoot a specially designed chart in carefully controlled conditions and the resulting images are analysed using DXO Analyzer software to generate the data to produce the graphs below.

A high signal to noise ratio (SNR) indicates a cleaner and better quality image.

For more more details on how to interpret our test data, check out our full explanation of our noise and dynamic range tests.

Here we compare the Panasonic Lumix GX7 with the Samsung NX300, Panasonic GX1, Fuji X-E1 and Olympus PEN E-P5. The GX7 has the widest sensitivity range of all the cameras here.

JPEG signal to noise ratio

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

As we can see from this chart, the Panasonic GX7's JPEG files have a stronger signal to noise ratio than those from the Panasonic GX1 at every sensitivity setting but ISO 400, where the two cameras' images score the same. The GX7's JPEGs are stronger than JPEGs from the Samsung NX300 and Olympus PEN E-P5 at ISO 200-800 and 6400-25600. The GX7's JPEGs have weaker signal to noise ratios than those from the Fuji X-E1 at ISO 800 and above.

Raw signal to noise ratio

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

The signal to noise ratios of the TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic GX7 are significantly stronger than TIFFs from the Samsung NX300 at every sensitivity setting, and stronger than those from the Panasonic GX1 at every sensitivity setting but ISO 400. The GX7's TIFFs have weaker signal to noise ratios than the Fuji X-E1 and Olympus PEN E-P5, however.

JPEG dynamic range

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

The Panasonic GX7's JPEGs have stronger dynamic range than JPEGs from the Samsung NX300 and Panasonic GX1 at every sensitivity setting. The GX7's JPEGs have weaker dynamic range than those from the Fuji X-E1 and Olympus PEN E-P5 at ISO 200-3200.

Raw dynamic range

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review

This chart indicates that TIFF images (after conversion from raw) from the Panasonic GX7 contain stronger dynamic range than those from the Panasonic GX1 at every sensitivity setting, and stronger than TIFFs from the Samsung NX300 at every setting but ISO 800. The GX7's TIFFs have weaker dynamic range than those from the Fuji X-E1 and Olympus PEN E-P5 at every sensitivity setting.

Sample images

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This shot was taken at ISO 200, and the Panasonic GX7 has coped well with the complex textures in the fabric.

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

A bright subject in a bright blue sky, but no exposure compensation was required for this.

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Despite the bright light shining directly into the lens, the Panasonic GX7 managed to focus on the subject and produce a good exposure.

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

This fiddle player was moving quite quickly, but the camera managed to keep up and get her in sharp focus in most shots.

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

Despite the dominance of blues and greens, and the mixed lighting, the Panasonic GX7's automatic white balance system has managed to deliver a good result with accurate, vibrant colours.

Panasonic GX7 review

Click here to see the full resolution image

There's still quite a bit of detail visible in this low light JPEG image taken at ISO 3200, but at 100% on-screen it's clear that there's some softening to conceal noise. These conditions were a major challenge for the camera's autofocus system, but we managed to get a few sharp results.

Panasonic GX7 review sample image

Click here to see the full resolution image

Taken using the Impressive Art Creative Control mode.

Sensitivity and noise images

JPEG

Panasonic GX7 review

Full ISO 125 image, see the cropped (100%) versions below.

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 125 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Raw

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 125 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 1600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 3200 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 6400 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 12800 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Panasonic GX7 review

ISO 25600 (Click here to see the full resolution image)

Verdict

Panasonic's GX7 is nice and solid, with a secure, hefty grip for a camera of its type. It has a pretty comprehensive feature set in a relatively small body, although it is a little chunkier than the Panasonic GX1 that it replaces.

The camera has advanced exposure modes such as shutter priority, aperture priority and manual, along with a collection of automatic options for less experienced photographers.

However, because of the number of buttons and dials it has, the Panasonic GX7 looks quite serious, and this combined with its relatively high price means that it is unlikely to appeal to novice photographers, even though it would serve them quite well.

Experienced photographers will find that they have just about everything they could want, including the ability to create multiple exposure images and take time lapse sequences. There's also Wi-Fi connectivity built in to enable you to transfer images wirelessly and control the camera remotely.

Anyone who remains skeptical about the future of electronic viewfinders should take a look at the Panasonic GX7's finder. In many situations the only real clue that it is an electronic device is the amount of information that is available in it and the fact that it responds to changes to the exposure and white balance, and so on.

It provides a very detailed view, with natural colour and contrast in many situations. It's only when you try to shoot fast moving subjects that it becomes limiting.

Although it has the ability to shoot Full HD video at a range of frame rates and formats, the Panasonic GX7 is primarily a stills camera. Anyone who is serious about video would be best served by a model such as the Panasonic GH3, which has external mic and headphone ports - although Panasonic GH3 users may well be looking enviously at the Panasonic GX7's focus peaking.

We liked

We generally like touchscreen control, provided that the screen is responsive, and the Panasonic GX7's is nice and fast. However, there are times when physical buttons and dials are easier or faster to use, so it's great that Panasonic has kept the full complement of controls for the Panasonic GX7.

The tilting screen is also useful when you want to shoot landscape format images from especially high or low angles, and it's good that this is supplemented with a viewfinder.

If you're shooting from very low down you're more likely to compose the image in the main LCD screen than tilt up the electronic viewfinder, but nevertheless that tilting system is useful. It makes the camera more comfortable to use shooting with it on a tripod for instance.

We disliked

Although the Panasonic GX7 is bigger than the Panasonic GX1, it doesn't make a huge difference. And the grip is much more substantial, making the camera more secure in the hand.

While a tilting screen is a bonus over a fixed unit the Panasonic GX7's is prone to catching on a tripod mount. It's also no help when shooting portrait format images at awkward angles.

Panasonic also needs to work on its Tracking AF system so that it can keep up with fast subjects as they travel around the frame. The viewfinder's refresh rate also needs to be improved to make it easier to follow moving subject.

Final verdict

The Panasonic GX7 is a very nicely constructed camera that should meet the needs of experienced photographers looking for a small camera that accepts interchangeable lenses and enables plenty of control. It's a good alternative to a DSLR.

It's designed to be more compact and more portable than Panasonic's mini-DSLR style G-series cameras, but it still provides an impressive range of features. Our only disappointment is that the screen is tilting rather than fully articulating to make it more useful when shooting upright images.

Panasonic has managed to produce a contrast detection AF system that is getting close to a good phase detection system in a DSLR. It is to be congratulated for pushing the boundaries of what can be done with a compact system camera, and for making them more versatile.

First reviewed August 27 2013

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