Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 Review

June 4, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is a new Micro Four Thirds compact system camera that integrates 4K video recording capability with a variety of 4K Photo functions. The G7 can record 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) video with either 30p or 24p frames rates at 100Mbps in the MP4 format. The Panasonic G7 features a 16 megapixel Digital Live MOS image sensor, high-speed dual OLED Live View Finder, 3-inch 1040K-dot Free-Angle touch screen display, 8fps continuous shooting, ISO 100-25,600, ultra-high speed AF of just 0.07 sec, mechanical and silent electronic shutters, and Wi-Fi connectivity. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is available in black or silver in three kit options: body-only (£599), in a kit with the 14-42mm II lens (£679 / $799), or with the 14-150mm super-zoom lens (£849 / $1099).

Ease of Use

The new Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is just a little larger than the DMC-G6 model that it succeeds, measuring 124.9 x 86.2 x 77.4mm, but weighs slightly more at 30g for the body only. Still styled very much in the DSLR mould, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 has a more angular design than the rounded G6. It manages to fit a 3-inch fully rotating, free-angle LCD screen and an electronic viewfinder into its diminutive dimensions, yet is still comfortable enough for users with average-sized hands to operate. Apart from the handgrip, rear thumbgrip and the right-hand side of the camera, which are all rubberised, the DMC-G7 has slightly textured plastic finish. It's still very well-built with a high-quality aluminium chassis, metal lens mount and metal tripod socket that belies its relatively affordable price point.

On the front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is a tiny focus-assist and self-timer indicator lamp, black lens release button, metal lens mount and a generously-sized rubberised hand-grip with a sculpted indent for your forefinger, which is large enough to effectively aid your hold on the camera. Optical image stabilisation is built into the camera body, with the 14-42mm II kit lens lens that we tested the DMC-G7 with lacking a physical OIS switch. Instead it can be turned on and off through the DMC-G7's menu system. When enabled, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 automatically compensates for camera shake, which is a slight blurring of the image that typically occurs at slow shutter speeds when the camera is hand held.

On the left flank of the DMC-G7 (when viewed from behind) is the MIC socket for use with an external microphone, hidden under a rubber flap. On the right of the body are are three connection ports, including the AV Out/Digital port, a port for the optional remote shutter release, and an HDMI port for connecting the DMC-G7 to a HD television or monitor. Panasonic don't include a HDMI cable as standard in the box, which means that you'll have to purchase one separately to take advantage of this camera's HD connectivity. On the bottom is a metal tripod socket, importantly in-line with the middle of the lens barrel, and the shared battery compartment and SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card slot. The DMC-G7 manages around 350 shots using the supplied 7.2V 1200mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery before needing to be recharged, about the same as the previous DMC-G6.

Found on top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 are a new drive mode dial on the left which includes the burst mode/4K/bracketing/continuous shooting/timer options, the external flash hotshoe and built-in pop-up flash, complete with a manual switch to open it on the rear, twin stereo microphones, on/off switch, a handy one-touch movie record button, new Fn1/Exposure Compensation button, and a reasonably sized, tactile shutter button that's encircled by the first of two control dials. The second thumb operated control dial changes the aperture by default, but cleverly has a button at its centre that allows you toggle to the white balance and ISO speed - very handy.

Completing the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7's top panel is a traditional shooting mode dial that lets you choose the different exposure modes. This dial is a typical feature of SLR cameras and enables you to quickly change between the various modes. The usual selection of Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual are available for more experienced photographers, while beginner-friendly Scene modes are accessed via the SCN setting. Additionally there is a custom mode, marked C, which allows you to configure three of your favourite settings and quickly access them.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Front of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7

The DMC-G7's range of Creative Controls, denoted by an artist's palette, now offers a whopping 22 options. Some are more useful than others, and you do lose control of the exposure and other key settings when using the Creative Controls, whereas the 6 available Photo Styles still allow full control of the camera's settings. The Creative Panorama mode allows you to apply any of the different effects to a vertical or horizontal panoramic image, which is easily taken by 'sweeping' with the camera while keeping the shutter release depressed.

The clever Intelligent Auto mode, now selected via the shooting mode dial, tries to make things as easy as possible for the complete beginner, allowing them to point and shoot the camera without having to worry about choosing the right scene mode or settings. Intelligent Auto Mode automatically determines a number of key criteria when taking a picture, including selecting the most appropriate scene mode (from 5 commonly used presets) and ISO speed, and turning face detection (up to 15 faces), image stabilization and quick auto-focus on.

The Intelligent Auto Plus Mode also includes Intelligent Exposure, which increases exposure only in the under-exposed areas of the image, Digital Red-eye, which automatically detects and removes red-eye, and AF Tracking, which continually tracks a moving subject and keeps it in focus, without you having to hold the shutter button halfway down as on most other cameras. Intelligent D-range continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows, while Intelligent Resolution mode makes a standard image look like a higher resolution one.

In practice the Intelligent Auto Mode system works very well, with the DMC-G7 seamlessly choosing the most appropriate combination of settings for the current situation. The 5 available scene modes are Portrait, Landscape, Macro, Night Portrait and Night Scenery, so obviously not all situations are covered by Intelligent Auto Mode, but it does work for the majority of the time. It makes it possible for the less experienced photographer to easily take well-exposed, sharp pictures of people, scenery and close-ups by simply pointing and shooting the camera.

The DMC-G7 offers both AVCHD video capture and MP4, with the latter offering 4K recording at in 3840x2160 at 25p (50Hz) or 24p in MP4 with full-time auto-focusing. Interestingly, if you want to shoot the maximum 4K video – i.e twice as high quality as Full HD – then a switch to MP4 mode is required before you can implement that setting on the Panasonic, with the choice 25 or 24 frames per second capture speed. In other words 4K shooting is not available with AVCHD compression. You can also extract a still image from a 4K sequence, ending up with the equivalent of an 8 megapixel photo at 30fps.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Rear of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is an intriguing prospect for would-be videographers, providing access as it does to the same creative exposure P,A,S,M modes selectable when shooting stills. You also get access to all the Photo Style and Creative Control modes when shooting video. ISO settings, white balance and AF tracking are also all accessible when shooting movies. The normal bugbear of exterior location shoots is also dealt with thanks to a wind cut option among the four screen's worth of menu settings in motion picture mode.

The DMC-G7's Intelligent Auto mode works for movies as well as for still photos. Simply select the iA shooting mode on top of the camera, then the Movie Record button. The Intelligent Scene Selector automatically determines the most suitable Scene mode from five options - Portrait, Scenery, Low Light and Close-up or Normal modes. Face Detection automatically detects a face in the frame and adjusts the focus, exposure, contrast, and skin complexion. Intelligent Exposure continually checks the ambient light level and adjusts the exposure setting as conditions change to prevent blown highlights and blocked shadows. The Image Stabilizer helps prevent blurring from hand-shake when using a compatible lens or via the camera body. One great benefit of the touch-screen control system is that Touch Auto Focusing is available in movie recording, enabling pro-level rack-like focusing simply by pointing at the subject on the LCD screen.

There are three 4K Photo functions - 4K Burst Shooting, 4K Burst (Start/Stop) and 4K Pre-burst which all record continuous 8 megapixel stills at a 30fps shooting rate. 4K Burst allows you to continuously record 8 megapixel images at 30fps, 4K Pre-Burst does the same but for one second prior to and one second after pressing the shutter button in order, giving you 60 frames to choose from, and 4K Burst (S/S) allows you to playback your video, pause at the chosen moment, and use the shutter button to mark a chosen frame from the video and save it as a single 8 megapixel frame.

The Wi-Fi function (IEEE 802.11 b/g/n) lets you use your smartphone to change the DMC-G7's settings (focus setting, exposure compensation, ISO, WB and Photo Styles) and even fire the shutter button remotely (including interval video recordings), while the auto transfer function automatically backs up your photos onto a tablet. You can also use GPS data from your smartphone to record the shooting location onto your images. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 offers a time lapse function in which you can set the time interval and the number of images to take, plus a multi-exposure option that lets you combine up to four exposures in a single frame.

The rear of the Lumix DMC-G7 is dominated by the large 3 inch LCD screen. The rotating, free-angle LCD monitor, which is hinged on the left side of the camera (looking from the rear), can be rotated 180 degrees for side to side and flipped out and twisted through 270 degrees. You can use the screen as a waist-level viewfinder, holding the camera overhead, and even for turning the DMC-G7 on yourself for arm-length self-portraits. There's also the added benefit of folding the screen away against the camera body to protect it when stored in a camera bag, preventing it from becoming marked or scratched.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Top of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7

The 1036K pixel high-resolution screen coped admirably with the majority of lighting conditions. The Auto Power LCD function automatically detects the current lighting conditions and boosts the LCD backlighting by up to 40% when shooting outdoors in bright sunshine, helping to keep the screen visible. The high-res, free-angle LCD screen is much more than just a novelty - it's a lot more versatile than the usual combination of optical viewfinder and fixed LCD, providing new angles of view and enhancing your overall creativity. Above all, it's a fun way of composing your images.

The DMC-G7 inherits the DMC-G6's clever touchscreen interface. Panasonic have wisely restricted the amount of things that you can do by interacting with the screen, and indeed you can still operate everything on the camera without having to push and prod the LCD at all. You would be missing out on a lot of genuinely useful functionality, though, which really improves the overall shooting experience. The DMC-G7 has a feature called Touchpad AF which allows you to move the focus point area with your finger on the LCD while you're looking through the EVF.

The most immediately noticeable function is the ability to use the 1-area AF mode to focus on your main subject simply by touching it on the LCD. If the subject then moves, the DMC-G7 cleverly follows it around the screen using the the AF tracking function. If the subject exits the frame entirely, simply recompose and tap it again to start focusing. Impressive stuff that makes focusing on off-center subjects fast and intuitive. It is a little too easy to accidentally press the screen and set the focus point to the wrong area for the current subject, but a simple tap in the middle of the LCD will center the AF point (or you can turn this feature off altogether).

The size of the AF point itself can also be changed via an interactive onscreen slider. If Face Detection is enabled, the 1-area AF point can be manually set to a person's eye to help ensure that the most important part of a portrait is in focus. If Multi-area AF rather than 1-area AF is enabled, then you can select a group of 4, 5 or 6 AF points from 9 different areas, again providing some manual control over what is traditionally a rather hit and miss affair.

When Intelligent Auto is switched on, the DMC-G7 changes the scene mode used when you touch the subject, for example selecting portrait mode if you touch a face and macro mode if you touch a close-up flower. If you prefer to manually focus rather than use the snappy AF, you can magnify any part of the subject by 1x, 5x or 10x by simply dragging the image around the screen. The final touchscreen ability from an image composition point of view is the ability to release the shutter, with a small icon on the right hand screen enabling this functionality, and then a single on-screen tap all that's required to take the picture.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
Swivelling LCD Screen

All of the menu options can now be changed via the touchscreen interface. You can also control image playback by touching the screen, with the ability to tap a thumbnail to see the full-size version, scroll through your images by dragging them from side to side, and magnifying them up to 16x.

Instead of the optical viewfinder of a conventional DSLR, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 has an electronic viewfinder. The viewfinder on the DMC-G7 is an OLED Live View Finder with 2,360k dots, a big improvement on the DMC-G6's already very good EVF. It has a large 1.4x (0.7x on 35mm equiv.) magnification, very high contrast at 10,000:1, and offers 100% field of view, resulting in a very usable display that won't leave you cursing. The EVF (and also the main LCD screen) operates at 60fps, twice the usual speed, which helps make it relatively flicker-free (although it is still slightly noticeable).

The DMC-G7 has a handy eye proximity sensor which detects when the camera is held up to your eye and automatically switches from the rear LCD screen to the EVF. You can also manually switch between the two via the LVF button (this button can also be usefully reconfigured to the Function5 button). As the EVF is reading the same signal from the image sensor as the rear LCD screen, it can also display similar information - for example, you can view and operate the DMC-G7's Quick Menu, giving quick access to all the key camera settings while it's held up to your eye.

The main downside of the DMC-G7's EVF system occurs indoors in low light, as it has to "gain-up" to produce a usable picture, resulting in a noticeably grainier picture. In all other situations, however, the electronic viewfinder on the DMC-G7 is the equal of and in many areas better than a DSLR's optical viewfinder, particularly those found on entry-level models which are typically dim and offer limited scene coverage. The truest testament to the DMC-G7 is that we mostly used it by holding it up to eye-level, something that we wouldn't do unless the EVF was of sufficiently high quality.

Positioned to the right of the EVF are the new Focusing switch and a very useful AF/AE Lock button. The Q.Menu button underneath provides quick access to most of the principal controls, including the photo style, flash, movie type, image size, image quality, auto-focus and metering options.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7
The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 In-hand

Below this are the Playback and the Display buttons, the latter cycling through the various LCD views, including the useful level gauge for making your horizons straight. Underneath again is a traditional 4-way navigation pad system with a Menu/Set button in the centre. Pressing left, up, right and down on the D-Pad buttons selects AF Mode, ISO, White Balance and Fn3 options respectively.

The main menu system on the DMC-G7 is straight-forward to use and is accessed by pressing the Menu/Set button in the middle of the navigation D-Pad. There are five main menus represented by large icons, Record, Motion Picture, Custom, Setup and Playback. If you have never used a digital camera before, or you're upgrading from a more basic model, reading the easy-to-follow manual before you start is a good idea. Unfortunately Panasonic have only chosen to supply a basic guide in printed format, with the full manual only available as a PDF on the product CD.

The DMC-G7 employs the same Contrast Auto Focus system that is commonly used by compact cameras. Despite this, the DMC-G7's auto-focus system is as fast, if not faster, than a typical DSLR camera's, with a claimed speed of just 0.07 second when used with certain lenses, and a still impressive 0.18 second with the 14-42mm kit lens. In practice we noticed very little difference in speed between the DMC-G7 and a DSLR, and there were also very few occasions when the DMC-G7 failed to lock onto the subject, especially when using the centre AF point.

The DMC-G7 additionally boasts a mode called Low Light AF which allows the camera to focus even in moonlight without needing to use the AF assist lamp, while the new Starlight AF mode allows you to capture individual stars and constellations in the night sky. There are a wide range of AF modes on offer, including multiple-area AF with up to 23 focus areas, 1-area AF with a selectable focus area, Face Detection, and AF Tracking. The DMC-G7 also has a useful Quick AF function that begins focusing as soon as you point the camera, and it also now offers the popular Focus Peaking function that outlines the in-focus subject in the MF and AF+MF modes.

The start-up time from turning the Lumix DMC-G7 on to being ready to take a photo is very impressive at less than 0.5 seconds. It takes about 1 second to store a JPEG image, allowing you to keep shooting as they are being recorded onto the memory card. Storing a single RAW image only takes around 1 second. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 has a very good Burst mode which enables you to take 8 frames per second when using the mechanical shutter for an unlimited number of JPEG images at the highest image quality, or 13 RAW images. There's also a faster 40fps mode when using the electronic shutter, and a 6fps mode at full 16 megapixel resolution with AF Tracking turned on to capture moving subjects. The electronic shutter function also raises the shutter speed to 1/16,000 sec. as well as allowing silent operation for quick, inconspicuous shooting.

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