Panasonic Lumix G7 Review

With cameras like the Panasonic GH4, GX8 and the Olympus EM5 II which packed with amazing features, the mid range Panasonic G series is not really the most talked about micro four thirds camera. But it doesn’t mean the G series cameras are bad or anything. Now the Panasonic G7 has just arrived, and I’ve been playing with one for a while and see whether it deserves a bit more attention.

Panasonic_G7_Review_01

While it’s predecessor G6 comes in very smooth, curvy body shape, the G7 has a new design. Like it’s predecessors, the G7 retained the DSLR style body as good ergonomics is still the key focus of G7’s body design.  The body design however is a lot more angular and muscular. Marginally bigger and heavier than the G6 but you won’t really notice that unless you have the two cameras side by side. It’s not as stylish as the Panasonic GX8 or Olympus EM5 II, but the camera is really comfortable to hold  largely thanks to its deep and well designed grip which fits my medium sized hand very well. However the G7’s construction is well… really plastic, and it is especially noticeable when you open the battery door and have a peek of the internal components.

There are two main dials on the G7 for you to control the exposure. The dials are a bit loose and can be turned quite easily. Some people may like it this way but personally I prefer them to be slightly tighter. Having said that i have never nudged them accidentally when in use so it’s just a personal preference thing. There are two mode selection dials and a number of customisable buttons scattered (logically) around the body so you can change most of the settings quickly without having to go into the camera menus.

With the nice big grip, decent size (but still compact for a DSLR style camera) body and pretty sensible placement of all the buttons and dials,  is really pretty good. While there is nothing stopping you from taking selfies using the G7 but it’s obviously not a camera designed for the selfie photographers. It’s a camera for the advanced photographers or someone who like to learn more about photography.

The Panasonic G7 has built-in wifi so you can remote control it using your smartphone or upload photos to the internet via your phone easily when you are on the road. But for some reasons, Panasonic has removed the NFC feature which was available on the G6. In my opinion it’s not really a big deal as I never use the NFC feature and I don’t think a lot of people use NFC to connect to their smartphone anyway.

G7’s EVF is now a 2360k dots OLED one which I believe is the same one in the GH4. This is much higher resolution than the 1440k dots EVF in the G6. And while the 0.70x magnification is a bit smaller than the 0.77x one on the GX8, G7’s EVF is still quite decent in both size and quality. As it is not a field sequential EVF, you won’t see the rainbow tearing effect.

Panasonic_G7_Review_03WIFI, 4K, but no NFC this time

Like its predecessors, the Panasonic G7 is equipped with a fully-articulated 3″ touchscreen which is pretty bright and especially useful for shooting videos. G7’s touchscreen implementation is well polished. You have all the usual Panasonic features such as pinch to zoom, tap to autofocus or take photo, and my favourite feature touch AF (see my GX8 review and video if you don’t know what it is). And everything is very responsive.

The Panasonic G7 has a 16MP sensor, and it delivers pretty good image quality. Dynamic range is decent and you have fairly good post processing flexibility if you shoot in RAW. When shooting at low ISO, I can easily push or pull a few EVs to reveal a lot more shadow details and recover highlight.

High ISO performance isn’t bad either. While it’s definitely not a Nikon D4s or one of those full frame low light monster, I can get good results up to ISO 6400. Some of the sample photos in this review were shot at 5 digit ISO ranges and with a bit of noise reduction and postprocessing the results still look pretty good. Low light image quality is comparable to some of the APS-C cameras in the market.

Panasonic_G7_Review_15Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 16000 f/5.6 1/60s
At ISO 16000, the picture quality isn’t that great, and pretty noisy even after a bit of noise reduction. But I think the photo is still useable, do you agree?

I’m mostly a prime lens shooter. But for this G7 review, I decided to stick with the VARIO G 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH MEGA OIS kit lens and see what I can do with this little zoom lens. I’m sure I (or anyone) can capture better photos with a good prime lens but after all this is a camera review so I want to focus on the camera and not so much on the lens, at least for this review ;).  It means all the sample photos (apart from the video sharpness test photos) in this review were shot using the kit zoom lens.
The 14-42mm kit lens not a collapsable design lens, but it is still pretty small and light. Just like the G7 The lens does feel quite plastic and has a plastic mount to keep the weight and cost down, but the picture quality isn’t too bad at all. It’s sharp, it has minimal chromatic aberration and very little distortion. But keep in mind micro four thirds camera does a lot of software correction internally before it writes the photos to the memory card.

Panasonic_G7_Review_08Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 200 f/5.6 1/160s
The 14-42mm kit lens is actually pretty good

G7’s autofocus system is borrowed from GH4, which means it also has the DFD (Depth from Defocus )  technology, which allows much faster and direct autofocus performance with less hunting back and forth compare to the normal contrast detection autofocus system. The autofocus speed with the kit lens is indeed really really fast and reliable. Low light autofocus performance is also exceptionally good. I would usually hit the max ISO 25600 when the autofocus still manage to find and lock on the target.
Continuous focus also work really well. I’m very impressed by the number of useable photos I got when shooting fast moving targets.

The only issue is that DFD relies on a database with special information of the lens that is mounted onto the camera, therefore it’ll only work with Panasonic’s own micro four thirds lenses.   It would probably never happen but I hope one day Panasonic could make DFD work with Olympus lenses too as I imagine most micro four thirds shooters would have a mix of Panasonic and Olympus lenses in their camera bag.

Panasonic_G7_Review_14Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 8000  f/5.3 1/60s
Low light autofocus performance is very good

G7’s mechanical shutter can shoot photo at up to 1/4,000s. If that’s not fast enough then you can switch to the eletronic shutter that can shoot up to 1/16000s and it is also completely silent. The silent electronic shutter is also very useful when you don’t want to attract attention.

Uf you are a RAW shooter, you need to aware that when shooting with the electronic shutter, it appears the RAW files only record 10 bit information instead of the normal 12 bit RAW output. I believe this is to improve the readout speed and minimise the rolling shutter effect. It would be good if the output contains 12bit data information but in real life, it doesn’t make too much difference unless you are doing some extreme postprocessing.

Unfortunately, just like the GX8, shutter shock is an issue would result in a slightly blurred image and the GX8 doesn’t have the EFSC (Electronic First Shutter Curtain)  option to help eliminate the vibration caused by the shutter. But while shutter shock is quite a widely discussed problem that affects many cameras, remember it only affects photos taking at certain shutter speed (around 1/80 – 1/200s) and it seems to be more prone with some particular lenses like the Panasonic 14-140mm and not so much with some other lenses.

So it really depends on what lenses you are using and whether you can avoid the problematic shutter speed. It is a bit of pain but at least it’s avoidable by avoiding the problematic shutter speed) or switch to the electronic shutter if you can’t. It’s not ideal, but in my opinion it’s not something that I can’t live with either.

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Videos is definitely G7’s strong area. Panasonic’s flagship GH4 is one of the most popular camera among professional or serious amateur videographers because of it’s 4K recording capability and excellent video quality. The G7 is just like a mini GH4 when it comes to video recording. The G7 can record 4K videos in either 30p or 24p and of course you can also record in 1080P mode.

To see what the videos from the G7 look like, I did a quick test and compares it with a few other micro four thirds cameras: Olympus OMD EM5 II, Panasonic GX7, Panasonic GX8 and Panasonic GH3. Unfortunately because of time constraint, I wasn’t able to source a GH4 as part of this comparison test.

I’ve also included a Canon 5D Mk3 as this is another popular video DSLR used by a lot of videographers. All the comparison videos were taken using similar settings, on a tripod, on a sunny day and at ISO 200 within a 20 minutes period. The Canon 5D was paired with the Canon 24-105mm L f/4 lens and all the micro four thirds were using the Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 lens.

This is a screen grab from G7’s 1080P video.

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Focus point was set at the building with the red roof in the middle. By itself, it looks pretty sharp and it seems the camera managed to maintain lots of fine details.

Next, I cropped a small area near the centre and blown it up to 200%. I did the same with all the other videos I captured using the other cameras. Below is the comparison result. Click the photo to see it at 100% zoom.

Panasonic_G7_Review_051080P 200% crop comparison

I would say the screen capture from the five micro four thirds cameras are quite close. With some cameras doing slightly better in some certain areas that other, but overall there isn’t a huge difference between them.

Surprisingly, the 5D Mk3 outputs the softest video compare to the other cameras. 5D Mk3’s full frame sensor definitely has advantage if you increase the ISO. But at low ISO, the 5D Mk3 is probably the worst out of the 6 cameras in this test in terms of sharpness and details recorded.

Now the test above were all done in 1080P, and one of the big selling point of the G7 is that it can record videos at 4K resolution. While not a lot of us have a 4K screen at home, 4K TVs is really getting more and more popular and affordable, it’s just a matter of time before 4K video would replace 1080P. But even if you don’t need to output 4K videos and not planning to do so in the near future, there are still quite a few advantages if your camera can record in 4K resolution.
The most obvious thing is that  you can downscale your 4K footage to full HD and get some really sharp videos. Here is a side by side comparison of screen capture from the 1080P video and 4K video downscale to 1080P, both captured using the G7 with otherwise identical settings and lens. Again, please click on the image to see it in full size.


Panasonic_G7_Review_21200% crop, 1080P vs 4K (downsampled to 1080P)

As you can see, the downscaled video look just so much sharper.

And this is what the downscaled 4K video from the G7 (and also the GX8) look like when compare to the full HD video captured by the other cameras:

Panasonic_G7_Review_06a

Panasonic_G7_Review_06b200% crop, 1080P, 4K

The two downsampled videos just look so much sharper with so much more fine details. They look so sharp that all of a sudden the other full HD videos look almost like non HD.

There are also other advantages if you are shooting in 4K, you can perform software stabilisation in post production, or you can crop your videos, or both and still able to get very sharp and nice output video.

Since I didn’t do a direct comparison with the GH4, I can’t tell if G7’s video quality is exactly the same as the GH4 but I do feel they are very similar by comparing with some of the old videos I took when I was reviewing the GH4. But the G7 is a lot cheaper than the GH4, so it’s not a surprise that there are a few video features missing. The G7 is lacking a few professional features that are available on  the GH4. For example, the maximum bit rate is only 100Mbps compare to GH4’s 200Mbps, it doesn’t have a headphone jack, no 96fps high speed 1080P recording mode…etc. If you are a professional videographer, those features would definitely worth the extra price. But for most consumer users, you probably won’t use most of those features so the G7 would be the better bang for your bucks choice.

One pretty cool by product of the 4K video mode is it’s 4K photo mode, which allows you to capture 8MP (i.e. 4k resolution) stills at a 30 fps shooting rate.

There is the 4K Burst mode, which is similar to the normal burst mode but you can capture 8MP images (4K resolution) at 30fps up to 53970 total photos each time if my calculation is correct. That is 29m 59sec limit.

Then there is a 4K Pre-Burst mode, which when you press the shutter button, the camera would give you 30 frames (1 sec) right before you hit the shutter button and then 30 more frames after. This mode is quite useful for people to capture some very important moments that you may easily miss with the normal burst mode. You just have to make sure your camera is always pointing at the right direction all the time.

Battery life is rated at 360 shots per charge, not as good as the GH4 which can keep going and going, but is comparable with most mirrorless cameras in the market.

Panasonic_G7_Review_20Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 320 f/8 1/100s

As the 6th generation product in the G series, the G7 is an extremely well polished camera. While it does have a few flaws (e.g. shutter shock) that may annoy some users, I think G7’s flaws are really quite minor compare to a lot of cameras in the market.

I don’t really know why but the Panasonic G series is one of the most neglected Panasonic camera product line. Maybe it’s because of G series cameras aren’t as compact as the GF, GM cameras and they don’t have all the bells and whistles from the latest GH and GX series. I wish the G7 is a bit less plastic and it is not the sexiest camera in the market, but this is exactly what the G series is designed for, a well   designed camera for photographers who don’t mind carrying a slightly bigger camera that gives them good control and capable of take beautiful photos and videos, at a much lower price point than the GH and GX. And while G7 may not have every single fancy features from the GH4 and GX8, Panasonic hasn’t held back too many of them. You have 4K video recording, new DFD autofocus system, and probably the same sensor and same EVF as the GH4…etc.  If you can take a beautiful photos or videos with a GH4 or GX8, you definitely can do it with the G7.

As video is becoming more and more important, if you are a photographer who wants to start experimenting videography, the G7 is one of the most affordable camera that can give you fantastic video quality. Actually at its price point, there is simply no other camera that can give you similar video quality as the G7. And the stills from the G7  really isn’t too shabby either.

Reviewer: Richard Wong
Richard is a multi-award winning wedding/portrait photographer based in Auckland, New Zealand. Richard’s website is www.photobyrichard.com
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More Sample Photos (Edited to taste in Adobe Lightroom)

Panasonic_G7_Review_09Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 3200 f/5.6 1/40s

Panasonic_G7_Review_19Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 200 f/5.4 1/400s

 

Panasonic_G7_Review_10Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 1250 f/5 1/60s

 

Panasonic_G7_Review_18Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 200 f/5.4 1/800s

Panasonic_G7_Review_17Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 200 f/6.3 1/250s

 

Panasonic_G7_Review_11Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 8000 f/5 1/60s

Panasonic_G7_Review_12Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 20000 f/5.6 1/100s

 

Panasonic_G7_Review_13Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 16000 f/5.6 1/100s

 

Panasonic_G7_Review_16Panasonic G7 +  Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 – ISO 200 f/7.1 1/250s

 

Comments

  1. […] With cameras like the Panasonic GH4, GX8 and the Olympus EM5 II which packed with amazing features, the mid range Panasonic G series is not really the most talked about micro four thirds camera. But it doesn't mean the G series cameras are bad or anything. Now the Panasonic G7 has just arrived, and I've been playing…  […]