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Panasonic Lumix GX7 Gordon Laing, October 2013
 

Panasonic Lumix GX7 verdict

The Panasonic Lumix GX7 is a very capable system camera that will delight enthusiasts and which represents a substantial upgrade in all but image quality over the original GX1. Indeed the specifications read like a wishlist for many enthusiasts and prove Panasonic's been listening to feedback. The previous GX1 was the first step in that process, delivering a smaller camera that was still packed with controls and customization. Of course reviewers and enthusiasts alike aren't that easily satisfied and before the GX1 even reached the shops, many were already saying how much better it could be with a built-in viewfinder. Since then, Sony's NEX cameras also proved how useful focus peaking could be, Olympus has introduced 1/8000 on mirrorless bodies, Panasonic itself has driven wireless camera connectivity, and of course no Lumix G critique would be complete without mentioning the benefits of rivals having built-in stabilisation.

So Panasonic took all of this on board for the GX7 and squeezed in a viewfinder along with Wifi, NFC, focus peaking, 1/8000 shutter, low-light AF, manual movie exposures, lots of controls with a high degree of customization, adjustable tone curves and auto panoramas, while surprising all of us by also including built-in stabilisation. The latter, while widely leaked in the run-up to the GX7's launch, remains a surprise every time I read or write it. I truly believed Panasonic would never offer sensor-shift stabilisation on a Lumix G camera as the company has resisted for so long and is also such a strong believer in optical solutions. Yet here it is on the GX7.

Indeed looking at the specifications alone, the Lumix GX7 looks to be one of the most powerful system cameras around, but while most of the features will indeed delight enthusiasts, a number of others left me wanting, or at least wondering. Worryingly, two of my biggest concerns regard what are arguably the headline features.

   
   
Panasonic GX7 review

As someone who travelled the World for over a year with a Lumix GX1 I certainly welcome the addition of an electronic viewfinder that doesn't need to be clipped on top. Sporting 2.764 Million dots it's also one of the most detailed around, which should make it one of the best things about the GX7. But for me, the GX7's viewfinder panel is the wrong shape and uses the wrong technology. The 16:9 shape may be perfect for filming HD movies, but if you're a stills shooter using the native (and squarer) 4:3 aspect ratio, you'll effectively be throwing away a quarter of the panel area and pixels. This results in an active image area that works out smaller than the electronic viewfinders of, say, the Olympus OMD EM5 or Panasonic's own Lumix G6. What makes it worse for me though is the decision to use field sequential technology, which to my eyes suffers from tearing rainbow artefacts anytime I glance around the frame or pan across detail. Now to be fair some people don't notice this at all - it's a very personal thing - but I still think the wide viewfinder shape is less than optimal for a camera that's not a pro video model. It's ideal for the Lumix GH series, but not the GX.

So why couldn't it be considered a pro video camera as well? Afterall it does offer PASM for movies and focus peaking while filming too. But unfortunately Panasonic decided not to fit a microphone input despite designing an all-new body shape which could have accommodated it somewhere, and again despite there being one featured on the Lumix G6. 

Then there's the built-in stabilisation. Once again I'm delighted Panasonic has included this at last after suffering in feature comparisons with Olympus since day-one, but it is very much a first effort that inevitably disappoints compared to the latest OMD and PEN models. In my tests, I rarely managed to get more than about one stop's compensation from the GX7's built-in stabilisation, compared to three or four when using the Olympus OMD EM5 with the same lenses moments later. Of course your mileage may vary.

 
 

In an unfortunate decision the GX7's stabilisation also becomes unavailable when shooting movies; I believe this is to avoid audible operating noise, although I'd prefer to decide if this is an issue or not depending on my footage. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to discourage Panasonic's engineer's as I'd love for a Lumix G body to offer stabilisation as good as Olympus in the near future, but the fact is right now the GX7 is nowhere near as good in this regard.

Moving on, for the money and the target market would it have been too much to ask for weather sealing on the GX7? Why limit it just to the GH3? I'm sure many enthusiasts would welcome environmental sealing in a product of this class, and once again it's something that's offered by the Olympus ODM EM5. The continuous shooting could also have been faster, and interestingly it's another specification where Panasonic's own Lumix G6 slightly out-performs the GX7.

Then there's the sensor which offers much the same quality as other recent Micro Four Thirds models, but lacks the phase-detect AF points or OLPF removal on the Olympus OMD EM1. I think most Micro Four Thirds owners, including myself, are at peace with the decision to stick with 16 Megapixels (I certainly haven't ever desired higher resolution nor had any complaints about lack of detail), but it remains disappointing not to see any further innovation.

It's important to mention the Olympus OMD EM1 at this point as it has certainly stolen much of the glory from the GX7 at the high-end of the Micro Four Thirds (and mirrorless in general) market. Maybe if I'd reviewed the GX7 before the EM1 announcement I'd have felt differently, but the fact is it's now out there. But we are of course talking about a body that costs over 50% more. A much fairer comparison would be against the Olympus OMD EM5, which costs roughly the same and while lacking modern features like Wifi, 1/8000 and focus peaking, scores highly on core capabilities with, in my opinion, a better viewfinder, better stabilisation, and weather-proofing to boot. As always it depends on which features are most important to you, so before my final verdict, here's a roundup against some key rivals.

Compared to Panasonic Lumix GX1

     
 
 
     

The Lumix GX7 is officially the successor the GX1, and both models target enthusiasts who are after a smaller but still fully-featured camera. Both cameras have 16 Megapixel sensors, 1080 video, 3in screens, flash hotshoes and of course share the same Micro Four Thirds lens mount. They also share some design and manufacturing concepts, such as metal mode dials. But beyond this they are quite different beasts with the GX7 offering a wealth of upgrades.

The GX7 may share the same 16 Megapixel resolution, but becomes the first Lumix G body to offer sensor-shift stabilisation which works with any lens you mount. In my tests it was only effective for about a stop of compensation, so nowhere near what you'll enjoy with an Olympus body, but it's certainly better than not having any built-in stabilisation at all like the GX1 and other earlier Lumix G models.

In terms of video, the GX7 now offers 1080 progressive, vs interlaced on the GX1, and there's a 24p mode in addition to the usual 50/ 60p. The GX7 also complements this with full manual exposure control options, whereas the GX1 was auto exposure only. Sadly Panasonic hasn’t gone as far as to fit an external microphone input though.

Both cameras may have 3in touchscreens, but the GX7's is much more detailed with 1040k dots vs 460k on the GX1, and it also tilts vertically. More importantly the GX7 squeezes in a high resolution electronic viewfinder, which also tilts, whereas if you want a viewfinder on the GX1, you'll need to fit an optional (and lower resolution) accessory.

The GX7 additionally offers a faster top shutter speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000, and the flash sync is faster too at 1/320 vs 1/160. The GX7's autofocusing is quicker, works under lower light and also offers focus peaking. There's also built-in Wifi and NFC for wireless image transfer and smartphone remote control, an auto panorama mode and a silent shutter option.

Finally, the GX7's body is chunkier although not so much that it compromises the charm of the GX1. Importantly the build quality is superior with magnesium alloy construction, although note it's still not weather-sealed.

Overall the GX7 offers a wealth of upgrades over the GX1 and existing owners will almost certainly be tempted. But don't write-off the GX1 yet, as it still offers essentially the same image quality and control in a smaller form factor. In the run-up to the GX7 launch it's also been heavily discounted to a point where it represents superb value, either for someone entering the mirrorless world on a tight budget, or for those who'd like a great backup body. It's well worth keeping an eye on prices for bargains.

See my Panasonic Lumix GX1 review for more details.

 

Compared to Panasonic Lumix G6

     
 
 
     

The Lumix GX7 is one of four Lumix G product lines from Panasonic, the others being the entry-level GF, the mid-range G and the professional GH series. Both the G and GF series received recent upgrades this year with the G6 and GF6 respectively. The numbering implies the GX7 takes the lead, but the G6 is only a few months younger, so what are the differences?

In terms of what the GX7 and G6 have in common, both have 16 Megapixel resolution, the choice of composing with a 3in articulated touchscreen or electronic viewfinder, built-in Wifi with NFC for wireless image transfer and smartphone remote control, 1080p video with 24p and PASM exposure options, focus peaking, built-in flashes and hotshoes, and quick autofocusing in low light.

In its favour over the GX7, the Lumix G6's screen is fully-articulated, so rather than just tilt up and down like the GX7's screen, you can twist and flip it to any angle including towards the subject or back on itself for protection. The G6 also sports an external microphone input and some may prefer its DSLR-styling.

In its favour, the GX7 offers a viewfinder which can tilt, built-in sensor-shift stabilisation which works with any lens you attach (albeit only giving you around one stop of compensation in my tests), faster shutter and flash sync speeds of 1/8000 and 1/320 respectively (versus 1/4000 and 1/160), and tougher build with magnesium alloy construction. The GX7 body, while roughly the same width, is noticeably shorter and thinner, so is a more portable solution.

A quick note about their respective viewfinders - the GX7 appears to have the advantage with a higher resolution image, but it delivers a wider 16:9 shape which shows a cropped image when shooting in 4:3 and it also employs a field sequential panel which can suffer from tearing or rainbow artefacts more than the OLED panel on the G6. I think this one may boil down to personal preferences, but for me, I preferred the shape and the technology behind the G6's viewfinder.

Overall the GX7 out-features the already feature-packed G6 in a smaller package to boot, but the fully articulated screen, external mic input, viewfinder optimised for 4:3 stills and even the styling will see some prefer the G6, and it costs around three quarter's of the price too.

See my Panasonic Lumix G6 review for more details.

 

Compared to Olympus OMD EM5

     
 
 
     

The Olympus OMD EM5 is roughly one year older than the GX7, but remains one of the most popular mirrorless cameras around. With both sharing the Micro Four Thirds lens mount not to mention a similar price tag, the OMD EM5 will undoubtedly be one of the main competitors for the GX7.

Starting with what they both have in common, the OMD EM5 and GX7 share 16 Megapixel resolution, 1080p video, the choice of a 3in tilting touch-screen or EVF for composition, built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, magnesium alloy bodies and a hotshoe. Neither has an external microphone input. In my tests they also shared essentially the same image quality in terms of RAW data.

In its favour, the OMD EM5 is dust and splash-proof (so long as you also have an equally sealed lens of course), the built-in stabilisation is much more effective (three to four stops compared to just one in my tests), the stabilisation works for movies as well as stills, both the viewfinder and screen employ crisper, steadier OLED panels, the viewfinder panel is 4:3 in shape so uses the entire area when shooting stills in the native quality, its mechanical shutter shoots faster at 9fps vs 5fps (both with focus locked on the first frame), has wireless flash control, supports an optional two-part battery grip and an optional microphone adapter. Some may also prefer the OMD EM5's DSLR styling and centrally-located EVF.

In its favour, the GX7's viewfinder is higher resolution (at least when composing in 16:9) and tilts vertically, it has built-in Wifi and NFC for wireless image transfer and smartphone remote control, a built-in flash, a faster top shutter speed of 1/8000 vs 1/4000, slightly quicker flash sync of 1/320 vs 1/250, it focuses in lower light, has focus peaking, an auto panorama mode, manual exposure control for movies, the choice of higher 50 / 60p for movies or more cinematic 24p, the ability to touch refocus during movies, and is shorter, albeit thicker according to the official measurements.

It's actually quite a close-run thing, especially as it's possible to equip the OMD EM5 with some degree of wireless connectivity using an Eye-Fi card, albeit not offering smartphone remote control. The GX7 does out-feature the EM5 in modern respects, but equally the Olympus fights back with much more effective built-in stabilisation, weather-proofing, faster continuous shooting and what most still photographers will find a superior viewfinder in panel shape and technology.

Since the price on both models is now very similar, the OMD EM5 remains as compelling as ever. It's a tough one to weigh-up and a lot will boil down to which features are more important to you personally, but there's no denying the EM5 is still a cracking camera at a better price than ever, especially since the announcement of the higher-end EM1.

See my Olympus OMD EM5 review for more details.

 

Compared to Olympus EP5

     
 
 
     

While the Olympus EP5 does not have a built-in viewfinder, it is none-the-less a mirrorless system camera aimed at a higher-end photographer, so many will be wondering how it compares against the GX7.

As always, I'll start with the things both models have in common: Micro Four Thirds lens mounts, 16 Megapixel resolution, 1080p video, 3in tilting touchscreens, built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach, metal bodies with twin control dials, Wifi, focus peaking, 1/8000 top shutter speeds, 1/320 fastest flash sync speeds, built-in flashes, a hotshoe and approximately the same weight with battery, not to mention roughly the same dimensions from the front. Neither has an external microphone input or weather sealing, and in my tests they share essentially the same RAW data quality. Gosh, that's quite a lot in common.

In its favour, the EP5's built-in stabilisation is much more effective (offering three to four stops versus one in my tests), the stabilisation works for movies as well as stills, it shoots faster at 9fps vs 5fps, there's wireless and more sophisticated flash control and it supports an optional microphone adapter. The EP5 is also slimmer than the GX7, and some may also prefer the centrally-located position of its optional EVF, not to mention the 4:3 native panel shape.

In its favour, the GX7 features a built-in viewfinder which is also higher resolution than the EP5's accessory (at least when shooting in 16:9), its Wifi is complemented by NFC for one-tap configuration with compatible handsets, it focuses in lower light, has an auto panorama mode, the choice of higher 50 / 60p for movies or more cinematic 24p, and slightly deeper AE bracketing (7 frames vs 5).

The major difference between them is of course the built-in stabilisation capabilities and the built-in viewfinder of the GX7, versus the optional viewfinder on the EP5. You'd think the latter would make the GX7 a larger, heavier and more expensive camera, but it actually only impacts the thickness, with both cameras having the same body price, being almost identical in size from the front and similar weights too. Add the optional viewfinder for the EP5 and it becomes significantly taller than the GX7.

Considering both share the same body-only price at launch, I'd say the GX7 sounds like better value thanks to its built-in viewfinder, but that would be ignoring things like the effectiveness of their respective stabilisation. The EP5 also shoots faster and has superior flash control if you're into that sort of thing.

But there's no denying the GX7 is a similar size, weight and price to the EP5, yet manages to squeeze in a very good viewfinder at no extra cost, whereas it's an accessory for the Olympus which increases both the overall size and price. It'll be very interesting to shoot with them side by side as further differences in handling may emerge.

See my Olympus EP5 review for more details.

 

Compared to Sony NEX 6

     
 
 
     

Panasonic may have been inspired by the design of its original Lumix L1 DSLR for the GX7, but many will notice more than a passing resemblance to Sony's NEX 7 and its wireless-equipped sibling, the NEX 6. And why not? Both of Sony's top-end NEX models have been strong sellers, especially in the US market which Panasonic has traditionally found hard to crack. So a similar style and even a similar name can't do any harm. But with that said, what do they have in common? I'll concentrate my comparison on the NEX 6 since it's newer than the NEX 7 and shares the same resolution as the GX7 along with also having built-in Wifi.

So once again, both the NEX 6 and GX7 have 16 Megapixel resolution, a built-in viewfinder in the corner of the body, tilting 3in screens, popup flashes and hotshoes, built-in Wifi, panorama modes, focus peaking, 1080p video at 50 / 60p and 24p with manual exposure control.

In its favour the NEX 6 has a larger APS-C sensor (which gives it a small advantage in noise and dynamic range at high sensitivities), hybrid AF providing more effective continuous tracking, faster continuous shooting (10fps vs 5fps using their mechanical shutters), a viewfinder which uses a steadier OLED panel, a mini web browser which lets you agree to the terms of public Wifi hotspots, and the chance to download apps to extend the feature-set.

In its favour the GX7 has built-in stabilisation which works with any lens you attach (albeit not hugely effectively), a faster top shutter speed of 1/8000 and flash sync of 1/320 vs 1/4000 and 1/160 respectively, NFC for easier Wifi negotiations with compatible handsets, a touchscreen, a slightly higher resolution viewfinder that also tilts, faster single AF and more confident AF in very low light. It also supports AE bracketing up to seven frames compared to just three on the NEX 6, although the Sony is upgradeable via an app download.

This is another tough one to weigh up. The GX7's trump cards over the NEX 6 are the built-in IS, faster single AF, tilting viewfinder and NFC, but the NEX 6 has a number of compelling advantages too including a bigger sensor, faster continuous shooting and the chance to expand its capabilities via downloadable apps. Getting into the shops about eight months previously has also seen its price fall to around two thirds of the GX7's launch RRP, which, like the OMD EM5, makes it a very tempting prospect right now. If you're weighing-up these models, you'll also do well to take into account their respective lens catalogues in case one suits you better than the other.

See my Sony NEX 6 review for more details.

 

Panasonic Lumix GX7 final verdict

I said it before and I'll say it again: the Panasonic Lumix GX7 is a very satisfying and capable system camera that will delight most enthusiasts. It's responsive and packed with features that allow it to perform confidently in a variety of situations, and there's little in terms of specifications that are missing. Wifi, focus peaking, manual movie exposures, tilting screen and viewfinder, adjustable tone curves, built-in IS, 1/8000 shutter, the GX7 has it all. In these respects it's easily one of the best system cameras to date and one I very much enjoyed shooting with.

But as noted earlier in more detail there's a number of aspects I'm less happy about which emerged during testing. The stabilisation in my tests only gave me about one stop of compensation and doesn't work for movies, I personally feel the viewfinder panel employs the wrong shape and technology, the body really ought to have an option to connect an external microphone and at this end of the market I'd also have liked some degree of weather-sealing. Crucially all of these are addressed by the year-old Olympus OMD EM5 at much the same price, and while it may lack the modern features like Wifi, focus peaking, manual movie exposures and 1/8000 shutter speeds, many traditional photographers will vote on the core capabilities.

Ultimately the Lumix GX7 is a high-end system camera that comes over a year after the OMD EM5 and really should beat it in not some but all respects. I'm willing to cut some slack for this first attempt of built-in IS - and I dearly hope Panasonic works on improving it for future models - but for me there's too many other things which could have been better for a camera of its class.

Now it's important to note I'm being highly critical here and some of the things I have a problem with may be an non-issue for others. For example, my issues with the viewfinder shape and panel technology may not be an issue for someone else - indeed they may prefer the 16:9 shape and field sequential display technology over a 4:3 OLED panel. It's really something you'll need to look at in person.

Ultimately there's a great deal to like about the GX7 and I very much enjoyed using it during my test period. As such it's a camera I can easily Recommended to anyone who wants a compact but powerful system camera, but the issues mentioned earlier rule out our top rating. I certainly can't say (as others have) that this is the best mirrorless camera, the best Micro Four Thirds camera or even the best Lumix G camera. There's both pros and cons here so it really boils down to which features are a priority for you personally. It could be the aspects that annoyed me may be non-issues for you in which case it's a great choice. But if you find yourself agreeing with my points, then you should look very carefully at the competition as there could be a better camera for you. In the meantime though I remain very fond of smaller enthusiast-class system cameras and hope Panasonic continues to innovate and refine the GX series.



Good points
Relatively compact body with lots of customisable controls.
Built-in and tiltable high resolution electronic viewfinder.
Tilting touch-screen monitor.
Built-in image stabilisation works with any lens.
Fast AF that also works well in very low light conditions.
Fastest shutter of 1/8000 quicker than most mirrorless.
Built-in Wifi with excellent smartphone remote control.
Focus peaking for stills and movies.
1080p video with full manual exposure control.

Bad points
Viewfinder shape optimised for HD video, not stills.
Stabilisation only gave 1 stop compensation in my tests.
Not weather-sealed.
Stabilisation not available when filming video.
No microphone input or microphone accessory.
Viewfinder image prone to tearing artefacts for some people.
Image quality not improved over rival M4/3 models.



Scores

(relative to 2013 system cameras)

Build quality:
Image quality:
Handling:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

16 / 20
17 / 20
18 / 20
18 / 20
16 / 20

85%
 

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