With a new 16-million-pixel sensor and a clever tiltable electronic viewfinder, the GX7 could be one of the best system cameras we’ve seen, says Phil Hall. Read the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review...
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 at a glance:
- 16-million-pixel four thirds Live MOS sensor
- ISO 200-6400 (extended to ISO 100-25,600)
- Fujifilm X mount
- 3in, 1.03-million-dot tilting touchscreen
- 2.7-million-dot tilt-angle EVF
- 1920x1080p 30,25,24fps HD videos
- Wi-Fi and NFC connectivity
- Street price around £999 with 20mm f/1.7 II lens
- See Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 sample images
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Introduction
Launched back in 2009, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1 was the second compact system camera from the brand, but rather than the more traditional DSLR styling of its Lumix DMC-G1 stablemate, the GF1 sported a much more compact form that did away with the viewfinder. With a host of body-mounted controls, interchangeable lenses and DSLR-like image quality, the GF1 caught the attention of enthusiast photographers looking for a lightweight and discreet alternative to their DSLR kit.
With the arrival of the more consumer-orientated Panasonic Lumix GF2 in 2010, it was not until the GX1 was launched at the end of 2011 that we saw a natural successor to the GF1. While well received, the GX1 soon found itself eclipsed by a host of new competitors, such as the 24.3-million-pixel Sony NEX-7 and 16.3-million-pixel Fujifilm X-E1. These offered a number of benefits over the diminutive GX1, but perhaps most importantly for the serious photographer was that both models featured a built-in electronic viewfinder.
Facing such intense competition, Panasonic has gone back to the drawing board, and the result is the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7. The jump in numbering reflects Panasonic’s feeling that this new model is a massive leap from the GX1 that it replaces, with a host of new and improved features. Promising to be the best Lumix model yet, how does the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 stack up?
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Features
Panasonic has really started from the ground up, with a completely new sensor at the heart of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7. While it may share a similar 16-million-pixel resolution to the likes of the GX1 and pretty much every other recently announced Panasonic system camera, the company’s engineers have been able to increase the size of the photodiodes on the sensor by reducing the circuitry on the chip. This has been combined with a new micro-lens structure and the latest Venus Engine first seen in the Lumix DMC-G6, which has led to improved light-gathering capabilities over previous models, as well as a 25% improvement in signal-to-noise ratio and a broader dynamic range. This also sees the GX7 deliver a native ISO range of 200-25,600, which can be expanded to an ISO equivalent of 125.
Panasonic hasn’t just been concentrating on improving the senor, though, with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 featuring a raft of updates and developments over the GX1, most notable of which is the inclusion of a built-in electronic viewfinder that I’ll cover in more detail later.
With the GX7 keen to appeal to enthusiasts and pros, it is nice to see a top shutter speed of 1/8000sec, while the maximum flash sync is impressive at 1/320sec. There is also the ability to flick between the mechanical and electronic shutter, with the latter delivering near silent capture for discreet shooting. In this mode (accessed via the custom section of the GX7’s menu), flash, AF illuminator and all camera sounds are disabled, while the ISO range is restricted to between 200-3200. The GX7 can shoot at up to 5fps provided it’s set to single AF with its mechanical shutter, while it is also possible to shoot 12 frames at a rate for 60fps using the electronic shutter.
As we’ve seen with a host of recent Panasonic launches, including the Lumix DMC-G6 and LF1, the GX7 features both Wi-fi and NFC (Near Field Communication, by which a connection is established by tapping together two compatible devices) connectivity. In conjunction with the free Panasonic Image App for either iOS or Android, it is possible to transfer and share images out in the field, while the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 can be controlled and triggered using your smartphone or tablet.
Image: Raw files can be pushed reasonably hard without deteriorating
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Stabilisation system
Until now, G-series CSCs from Panasonic have relied on lens-based image-stabilisation technology to counteract camera shake, with Mega OIS or Power OIS systems found in most Panasonic optics. Now, for the first time on a G-series camera, the GX7 also features a sensor-shift anti-shake system. This offers users of stabilised and non-stabilised lenses the best of both worlds, with photographers using legacy glass or Olympus and Sigma micro four thirds-fit lenses able to benefit from the sensor-shift system.
Lenses with built-in IS will automatically override the GX7’s sensor-shift system, but once a non-IS lens is on the camera, the GX7’s built-in anti-shake system takes over. To ensure the correct level of correction is applied to the mounted third-party optics, shooters can dial in the lens’s focal length between 8mm and 1,000mm. For video shooters, it’s worth noting that this body-based anti-shake system isn’t activated during capture.
The built-in image-stabilisation system performed well, automatically detecting a non-IS lens and delivering a comparable performance to lens-based systems with shorter-focal-length optics, though at longer focal lengths a lens-based system should have the slight edge.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Build and handling
While the GX1 was one of the smaller system cameras available, the larger form factor of the GX7 appears to be a conscious decision by Panasonic to appeal to enthusiasts and pros who are perhaps less concerned about size and more about the overall handling of the camera. This is underlined by the amount of exterior controls dotted round the body, which is an upgrade from the GX1.
Similar in size to the Fujifilm X-E1 and a touch bigger than the Sony NEX-7, the GX7 is not going to slip into a trouser pocket, but with a compact prime lens attached, such as the new 20mm f/1.7 II, it should happily fit in a jacket pocket should you want to leave your camera bag at home.
While, in my opinion, it doesn’t look quite as good as the Olympus Pen E-P5, the GX7 is a nice-looking camera and is perhaps a little reminiscent of Panasonic’s first foray into the world of interchangeable-lens cameras: the four thirds Lumix DMC-L1. The functional, clean design works well and is available in either black or a two-tone silver/black finish in the UK – out of the two, my preference would be for the more discreet all-black model. The rear of the EVF may jut out a little from the body, but the screen is well integrated into the design, compared to some models where the inclusion of a tilting display often seems like an afterthought.
Some exterior elements of the GX7 are plastic, namely the top-plate, but the magnesium chassis and tactile rubber finish around other areas of the camera provide a premium feel. The weight is just about right for a camera of this class and you’ll happily be able to have this by your side all day.
By shifting the lens mount more towards the right, Panasonic has been able to equip the GX7 with a very comfy and large handgrip that provides a decent purchase and good balance when used
with a variety of lenses.
One of the most-welcome additions for photographers is perhaps the inclusion of dual control dials. One is positioned at the front of the GX7 and runs round the shutter button. In use, your index finger will naturally fall to it when holding the GX7, while the other control dial pokes out of the rear for easy adjustment with the thumb. This rear control dial, as we’ve seen with some previous Panasonic cameras, also doubles as a confirmation button or changing control depending on what mode you’re in.
The mode dial and on/off switch have moved to the end of the body, with the mode dial requiring just the right amount of force to rotate it – I can’t envisage it getting easily knocked out of position in transit.
There’s now a dedicated AF/AE lock button, which also features an AF/MF switch running round the outside of it, while the camera also sports an impressive four programmable function buttons (there’s an additional five programmable function buttons accessed via the touchscreen), allowing you to really tailor the GX7 to your specific shooting needs.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Metering
Image: The GX7’s 1,728-zone multi-pattern metering system coped well
The GX7 plays it pretty safe here, using the same 1,728-zone multi-pattern sensing system that’s appeared most recently on the G6 and GF6. This provides you with a multi-segment matrix mode, centreweighted area and sport area modes.
For the majority of the time, the multi-segment matrix mode on the GX7 copes admirably under a host of lighting conditions. Exposures in bright conditions can be used straight out of the camera, while low-light scenes at high sensitivities also produced pleasing, well-balanced results. There was the odd occasion in overcast conditions that it did underexpose the scene slightly by 0.3-0.7 of a stop, but by using the dual control dials this can easily and quickly be corrected without the need to lower the camera from your eye.
Spot metering is linked in to the GX7’s AF position, allowing you to quickly tap anywhere on the rear display to take a precise meter reading, while the changes in exposure can be seen in real time, either through the viewfinder or on the rear display.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Dynamic range
Micro four thirds sensors can often struggle to capture the same range of tones when compared to larger APS-C units, so it is encouraging to see that rather than being tempted to increase the pixel density of the sensor, Panasonic has instead worked on the efficiency of the chip to deliver an improved dynamic range over previous models.
Real-world images from the GX7 appear to capture a wider range of tones than I’ve seen from previous models. This was particularly noticeable in relatively high-contrast scenes, where more highlight and shadow detail was retained. Even in JPEG files adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw, it was possible to recover detail in extremely bright areas.
As with pretty much every DSLR or compact system camera now, the GX7 also features options for increased dynamic range and HDR modes: iDynamic, High Dynamic Creative, and HDR. The GX7’s iDynamic mode offers low, standard and high settings as well as either auto or off. Shooting in the high mode, there’s slightly improved dynamic range in both the shadows and highlights, though it’s not as pronounced as some rivals.
Images: The GX7’s iDynamic mode has coped well wth this high-contrast scene, and while some detail in the highlights has been clipped, this can be recovered in the raw files
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Autofocus
Since the G1’s inception, Panasonic has worked hard to improve the focus-acquisition speed of its CSCs, and with the GX7’s new image sensor and Venus Engine image processor, a data readout time of 240fps is possible with the company’s Light Speed AF technology. This translates to a focus speed of around 0.06secs, and in tests it’s hard to dispute this. I found the GX7 promptly acquired focus without hesitation in most conditions, while those shooting in poorly lit, low-contrast situations will welcome the camera’s low-light AF. This sees the GX7 capable of focusing in lighting conditions as dark as -4EV (roughly equivalent to starlight), something even advanced DSLRs would struggle with. It didn’t disappoint either, impressing with its ability to lock on to subjects in dimly lit conditions that would normally result in focus not being achieved, though it is not quite as snappy as in general use.
Autofocus coverage is very good, and it is possible to select anywhere in the frame to focus. For quick focus selection when using the GX7’s 1-area focusing mode, I found using the touch-sensitive display preferable and considerably quicker than manually moving the focus area round the screen with the four-way D-pad.
If you need to be absolutely precise with focusing, the GX7’s pinpoint AF mode allows you to do just that, and features a picture-in-picture display so you can retain framing while confirming focus on the magnified area of the image. There’s the choice of either 3x or 6x magnification, and I found it a great tool for those occasions when correct focus was critical.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – White balance and colour
For the majority of my time shooting with the GX7, I left it in standard colour mode and auto white balance. Colour output was good, with blue skies recorded faithfully, though as we’ve seen in the past with other G-series cameras, colours can be a little undersaturated for some tastes. If you’re intending to use images straight out of the camera, the vivid mode provides a little more punch if desired. As well as a standard mono mode, the GX7 also offers rough and silky mono effects via the GX7’s creative control filters, with a total of 22 filter effects to choose from.
I found that the GX7’s AWB setting coped well under a range of lighting conditions, but under tungsten or fluorescent light it was perhaps a little too successful, where slightly warmer results would have better reflected the scene. A selection of white balance presets accompany AWB, as well as Kelvin temperatures and customization modes.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Noise, resolution and sensitivity
These images show 72ppi (100% on a computer screen) sections of images of a resolution chart, captured using a Lumix G Vario 14-42 /f3.5-5.6 II -aperture set to f/8 focal length 25mm (equivalent of 50mm on a full-frame camera) . We show the section of the chart where the camera starts to fail to reproduce the lines separately. The higher the number visible in these images, the better the camera’s detail resolution is at the specified sensitivity setting.
This is by no means the first time we’ve seen a 16-million-pixel sensor in a Panasonic CSC, but as I’ve mentioned previously, the sensor in the GX7 is a completely new design that promises a number of improvements over previous incarnations.
It may not be quite a match for some rivals that offer 20-million-pixel-plus sensors, but it should strike a good balance between resolving power and noise considering the surface area size of the sensor.
In terms of detail, the GX7’s sensor is capable of resolving detail to just over 26 lines per mm (lpmm) on our chart at ISO 200, which compares favourably with APS-C-format rivals, though raw files allow more detail to be prised from them than JPEGs do.
The GX7’s standard ISO range of 200-25,600 offers photographers plenty of versatility, while the ability to shoot at an expanded ISO 125 is a welcome addition.
Inspecting JPEG files shows that the GX7’s sensor renders smooth, noise-free results until ISO 1600, where close examination reveals in-camera noise reduction has caused very fine detail to suffer, though image noise is barely evident. Raw files at the same ISO show a small amount of colour noise beginning to encroach but detail is still strong.
Increasing the sensitivity further shows that JPEG files at ISO 6400 still display well-controlled image noise. Colour noise is almost non-existent, while luminance noise is just beginning to creep into the image. However, in an attempt to subdue image noise, the GX7’s noise-reduction system has resulted in the loss of fine detail, with some areas becoming mushy in appearance.
Raw files at ISO 6400 display relatively pronounced colour noise but luminance noise remains reasonably fine, and while detail is not rendered quite as well as at ISO 200, it is still very good. There is currently no support for the GX7 in Adobe Camera Raw, but it is possible to reduce the effect of colour noise in the rather clunky Silkypix Developer Studio 3.1 SE, which comes bundled with the camera.
Image: Colour noise in JPEG files was almost non-existent, even at higher ISO sensitivities
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Viewfinder, live view, LCD and video
Perhaps one of the most welcome additions to the GX7 is the built-in electronic viewfinder. For some, this gives a much more intuitive way of shooting compared to holding the camera at arm’s length and composing with the rear display.
The EVF offers a 2.7-million-dot resolution, but as we have seen on some previous Panasonic EVFs, this is based around field sequential technology rather than to the more commonly used OLED and high-res LCD displays found in rival models. This sees colours (red, green and blue) alternating so that only a single colour is displayed at any given time, providing the GX7’s viewfinder with full colour at every pixel location. As a result, the GX7 is able to boast approximately 100% Adobe RGB gamut coverage.
In use, the performance of the GX7’s viewfinder is very strong. I found detail to be rendered very well, with colours pleasantly saturated, while the display itself is large and bright thanks to the 0.7x (35mm equivalent) magnification. One potential drawback of using field sequential technology is that you can experience relatively slow refresh times compared to OLED and LCD displays. This can result in the display appearing to tear as it moves, but I have to say the GX7’s EVF coped very well with this, with no tearing as I moved the camera around the scene.
There’s also an eye sensor that allows the EVF to be automatically activated when the camera is raised to the eye, the sensitivity of which can be toggled between high and low in the main menu.
Partnering the EVF is a tiltable 3in touch-sensitive rear display with a 1.03-million-dot resolution, with the display able to be flipped outwards 90°, or tilted down at 45°. For those who intend to shoot video, the GX7 offers 1920×1080-pixel full HD 50p video in either AVCHD Progressive or MP4 formats, as well as 50i, 25p and movie-like 24p in AVCHD, and 25p in MP4. This is all with stereo sound, though it is a little disappointing to see no additional connections for a stereo microphone.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – The competition
Perhaps the closest rivals to the GX7 are the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and the Fujifilm X-E1. Both cameras fall into the same price range as the GX7, while all three models offer virtually an identical resolution of around 16 million pixels.
The Fujifilm X-E1 has the luxury of the larger APS-C-sized sensor featuring the firm’s clever X-Trans technology, to deliver some of the best results we’ve seen from a sensor of that size. However, it lacks a tiltable touch-sensitive display and the snappy AF of the GX7.
While the Olympus Pen E-P5 may appear to be the more natural competitor for the GX7, its lack of integrated viewfinder means that the flagship Olympus OM-D EM-5 may offer more competition as it delivers a comparable performance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 review – Our verdict
There’s no question that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 is a real leap forward in comparison to its predecessor, the GX1. Every area of the camera has been improved, resulting in one of the best compact system cameras available for serious photographers looking for a high-quality camera for travel or documentary photography.
While it can’t quite match APS-C-format rivals, the image quality from the GX7 is very good, delivering some of the best results I’ve seen from a micro four thirds sensor. Detail is very good, but for anyone shooting with the GX7, I’d recommend raw capture to ensure detail is retained at higher sensitivities.
The plethora of body-mounted controls for quick access combined with the fast AF, touch-sensitive display and excellent viewfinder, make the GX7 a pleasure to shoot with, all complemented by a sturdy, durable build with a comfy grip.
Going back to the drawing board with the GX7 has paid dividends for Panasonic. It’s resulted in conceivably the best Lumix CSC to date and a true photographer’s tool.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 – Key features
Versatile tool accessed via the menu to independently adjust the highlights and shadows of your shot, while also offering a selection of presets.
Manually activated via a switch on the body, the pop-up flash on the GX7 offers a guide number of 5m @ ISO 100.
This offers quick access to a selection of the GX7’s main shooting controls.
The capacitive-type touch display delivers one of the best user experiences we’ve had from a touchscreen-based CSC, with only light touches and gestures required.
One of the few arrangements to be carried over from the GX1, offering hard-wired access to ISO, AF, drive and white balance, with a menu/set button at the centre.
Panasonic’s relationship with Leica was something the brand was very proud of when it produced its first G-series camera, the Lumix DMC-G1. Promoting the fact that an adapter was available for Leica M lenses, and indeed having the word ‘Leica’ written on its own AF optics, sent out a certain message regarding who the company was aiming at.
Panasonic products have never been cheap, but the G1 presented a way for photographers to get a slice of Leica without having to pay Leica prices. Critically, too, it allowed Leica owners to use their lenses on a camera body costing far less than a digital host from Leica itself. I don’t have any figures on how many Leica owners, or Leica aspirants, took up the offer, but my impression from speaking to readers is that the Panasonic-Leica connection has brought the Lumix range a significant number of customers – a fact aided greatly by Leica’s lack of interest in camera bodies that cost less than a small second-hand car.
If I were Leica I might be beginning to regret the loan of my name, as Panasonic’s new Lumix DMC-GX7 encroaches just a little too much on what I would consider to be Leica’s traditional territory.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 in use
I had a chance to use the new camera for a few hours and was immediately impressed by the neat balance of heavy-duty build, slender body and low mass. Without a lens attached, the camera will slide into a coat pocket, so its total bulk will be decided by the optics you choose to use. One of the kit options offered with the Lumix GX7 will be the new metal-barrelled 20mm f/1.7 (40mm equivalent), which fits very nicely and retains the principle of a very small body. With this lens mounted, the Lumix GX7 can be carried by the barrel of the lens with the camera body disappearing nicely into the palm of your hand.
Beyond size and weight, the principle areas of excitement about the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 include:
- A hinged and high-resolution EVF
- A tilting screen
- Improved focusing
- Better noise control
- A silent shooting mode
- Improved manual focusing aids
- In-camera curves control
- In-body image stabilisation
The camera I was using was not a full-production model, and had only an early version of the firmware, so I can’t really comment on aspects of image quality or, to some extent, the speed of operation. Indeed, some menu items in my model weren’t available. So I shall concentrate instead on the elements I could use and gauge some opinion of.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7: LCD and viewfinder
The more obvious highlights include the new tilting electronic viewfinder with its 2.76 million-dot resolution and 90° hinge. This provides viewfinder shooters with a level of flexibility, similar to that offered by a flip-out LCD screens (or a chimney finder on a medium-format camera), but with the advantage of a view free from reflections. The EVF is exceptionally clear, and during my time with the camera, in a limited range of conditions, it seemed very pleasant to use.
It actually took me a while to remember that the viewfinder was there, as I’ve become used to viewing the back screen of cameras that lack that prism-head shape, but when I did use it the experience was rewarding. I want to try this viewfinder with a manual-focus lens mounted to the front of the camera, to see how the experience is improved over other models. The high-resolution view will help, no doubt, but so will the new focus-peaking feature and the ‘picture-in-a-picture’ magnification mode. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7’s peaking function not only allows us to change the colour of the fringing applied as the subject comes into focus, but also the intensity of the fringe. This can be combined with a magnified view, which can now be shown as a magnified window within the viewfinder, rather than occupying the whole screen. This makes it much easier to select the area to be magnified, while still being able to see the continuing action in the rest of the scene.
Manual-focus-lens users will also be pleased that Panasonic has incorporated in-body image stabilisation, so suddenly even that cheap CCTV lens bought on eBay can be used in darker conditions. When a lens with OIS built-in is attached, the system defaults to the stabilisation in the lens, as Panasonic believes this is still better; but with non-OIS lenses and any optic fitted via an adapter, the body system will kick in.
The 90° hinge of the EVF, along with the tilting action of the rear 3in LCD screen, make this a camera slightly more biased towards shooting in the landscape orientation, but the angle of view of the LCD screen is more than good enough to see clearly when working in portrait orientation from a lower position.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7: Silent mode
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 has a silent mode designed for those who want to work undetected. The company cites museums, for example, as places in which this feature will be useful, but I’d also suggest street work at close quarters and documentary in places it doesn’t do to make a noise – such as during a wedding. In this mode, the flash is disabled, as is the focus-assist light, shutter and AF noise, along with any annoying bleeps that people insist on activating for normal use. In fact, the camera really does become silent. It is a great feature, and while taking some portraits with the camera, the subject didn’t actually believe I’d bothered to shoot him at all. Perhaps for portraits then, we should leave the shutter sound on for reassurance.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7: In-camera curves and filter effects
The in-camera ‘artistic’ filter has become extremely popular, and Panasonic reflects this by incorporating a few more in this model – a grainy black & white effect, and a high-key version, to add to the other 19 filters. More advanced is the monochrome mode, which can now recreate the effect that different-coloured filters would have when placed over the lens. Filter options include red, yellow, orange and green – as well as none. It is also now possible to tone your black & white images with sepia and cyanotype colourations and, more importantly, to moderate and exaggerate the effect.
The more impressive of the Lumix GX7’s new shooting features is, however, the adjustable gamma curve. Using the front and back dials, or the touchscreen, we can increase and decrease contrast across ten steps for highlights and another ten for shadows – as we would in Curves in software. The feature is easy to use, and the effect is immediately visible on screen as changes are made. I love the idea of having more software features in cameras, and would like to see this gamma mode expand from a pre-capture mode to include post-capture editing as well.
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7: Conclusion
As I said before, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 I got to use was not a finished model, so it is impossible to know exactly how image quality here will relate to what will be available in the shops, but there is certainly not much wrong with the pictures I shot in low light, as well as in bright conditions. The camera performed very well, with AF being quick and decisive, and the shutter tripping very quickly indeed.
I really like the new features Panasonic has introduced, and the ideas behind the additional shooting modes. Silent mode is excellent, and the new screen and EVF will all make taking pictures at the eye, or at arm’s length, more enjoyable. I suspect this will be a great street camera, as its size and design make it nicely inconspicuous, but it will also be great for other subjects too. I have mainly used it for wildlife so far, and it worked very well, however unlikely a choice that seemed at first.
We’ll test a full production sample sometime at the end of September or early October, and will report on everything in more detail then.