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’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.