In this review, I want to focus on and outline my favorite additions that the GX7 has introduced to micro 4/3 shooters or those who have been shooting other Panasonic m4/3 cameras from a features standpoint. I’d also like to look at how the GX7 has progressed physically from the GF1 and GX1. Many of the features on the GX7 are not unique, but may be new for micro 4/3, or at least Panasonic system users, and I’ve been curious to shoot with this camera since the rumors started circulating. In this first part, I want to go over how this camera feels in the hand, how it interacts with the shooter, and what the new bells and whistles have provided vs the previous cameras. The next part will focus on the performance of the camera, actual image quality, et al (click here to read Part 2). I will also be comparing this camera to my Olympus OM-D E-M5 in a future article, but for now, we’ll focus on the GX7 and the advancements it has made compared to it’s predecessors.
Every camera now-a-days is going to be fully capable of a quality image file in favorable shooting conditions. What a $180 compact camera is capable of today compared to a camera 10x that price even 7 or 8 years ago is kind of nuts. So, why would we still be willing to shell out a thousand (two or three, or ten!) for a camera when technology has grown so much, allowing for our phones to take better pictures now than a “pro” camera from a decade ago?
While the rising tide has indeed continued, larger sensors still allow for advantages, and the biggest question is how large is large enough? Couple any tradeoffs with price and we start to see where the dust settles. Depending on the application, I think the biggest choice between a camera or system comes down to operability and photographer-centric features that suit a photographer’s style, or offer the right tools for the job.
With this review I’m going to run through and compare the physical aspects, and ins and outs of some of the GX7’s more noteworthy, new features that may justify this camera as an upgrade to an existing micro 4/3 shooter, or someone looking to weigh the potential of upgrading from a compact or possibly downsizing from a larger system camera. I’ll be posting a second part soon looking at the functional, performance side of things.
The pronounced grip on the GX7 is hard to miss. Cameras this small have been struggling to balance size reduction with a functional ability to be held onto. Sony has done well with the NEX cameras (in my opinion) even if they do look silly. The GF1 didn’t have a “grip” so much as a bump, and the GX1 added a very handy and well designed finger hump, but slimmed the body down so that your fingers would hit the barrel of the lens attached leaving very little room. The GX7 has remedied this, and done very well. It has a very similar approach to the GX1 in that the contour is designed to allow the middle finger to wrap over and down, putting your wrist in a more vertically oriented position which is far more comfortable than pinching a camera with your fingertips while sticking your elbow out to your side. Keeping your wrist and grip vertical, it allows you to tuck your upper arm and elbow to the side of your body, further stabilizing your grip and overall technique. Because the body dimensions have grown just a little bit, the grip has as well. It allows you to get the camera snug in your palm with your middle and ring finger wrapped around the top freeing up your index/shutter finger to operate. The pinky can fold underneath the body or go tea time and conceitedly point to the heavens to amuse your friends and fellow humans.
All the switches and buttons are easy to access and well laid out with one exception in my opinion. The DISP (display button) falls directly underneath my thumb and is constantly, and inadvertently being pressed which changes the LCD screen. Annoying and the same design flaw as the GX1. As with the GX1, I’ll get used to it and adjust my grip, but this seems to be a pretty large flaw as there would be plenty of room in the new layout to move this button slightly.
MENUS and INTERFACE
For anyone who’s read my blog for any period of time, you will probably know that I’m no fan of the Olympus menus and interface. I will save the comparison between the OMD EM5 and the GX7 for later (head to head competition coming soon!), but that said the Panasonic menus and interface, while not perfect, are so much more photographer friendly and logical. With the GX7, I’ve not needed to refer to the manual (printed and included in the box by the way) once. They are just more logical, I can’t explain it better than that. If you need to access anything relating to the operation of the camera settings? The “camera” menu. If you need to access anything pertaining to video? The “video” menu. Customization? “Custom” menu. So on and so forth. No cryptic enabling or disabling to re-enable or open new sub menus, it’s just simple. People liked Oly’s SCP or whatever it was called. I didn’t even know it existed, or know how to enable it at first when I heard about it, and when I did it was nice, but still not a replacement for real, external controls because you had to pull your eye away from the viewfinder, or at the very least stop composing to access it. Panasonic’s “Q menu” is similar in function and aside from being slightly different in its layout, serves the same purpose. Because I’m now fairly familiar with both Oly and Pana’s basic setup and approach, I prefer Panasonic’s. I know which button controls ISO, which controls WB, where the AF/AE lock button lives and don’t have to take my eye away from the viewfinder or screen to change anything while I’m shooting. That isn’t the case with my EM5, and while I have gotten used to it, and can normally find what I’m searching for, it is still muddled and the buttons are far less responsive and harder to find.
The physical interface is also superior without needing to add any more buttons or dials which would further crowd the limited real estate on this small camera. Direct access buttons to all major functions and perameters (ISO, WB, Frame Rate, AF style, Drive mode, AF/AE lock, etc and 4 custom/assignable function buttons, etc) as well as some very handy “hard” controls like the wonderfully cool AF/MF toggle switch, dual wheel control (the rear dial also acts as a button like previous models) for both shutter speed and aperture value while in manual, 3 user customized settings (actually 5 because C3 has 1, 2 and 3 sub settings) that can be saved and accessed directly on the dial. The only gripe I’ve got so far, is the placement of that damn pesky DISP button which I keep depressing with my thumb every time I hold the camera one handed… I still wish that we could assign one of the custom buttons on one of these cameras to toggle between a disabling and enabling of the buttons on the back of the camera which would avoid any unintentional bumps or errant presses.
Other than that, the touch screen tilts, and while I vastly prefer the tilt and swivel style, it is part and parcel to the OMD EM5’s style screen. The touch sensitivity is great and seems much better than any other camera with touch screen I’ve used, certainly miles better than the GX1.
Now, on to some of the fun, new features and the reason I felt this camera was worth buying.
Simply put? This is a feature that should be included in every single digital camera. One thing that I’ve been somewhat annoyed with over the years with the micro 4/3 cameras has been trying to get consistent results when using legacy lenses, or just having a good implementation of manual focus. Not a great visual example, but click the image above to see a larger version. The teal blue areas on the bottle cap and label are the peaking, and show where the image is “in focus” when manually focusing. While I’m happy that I no longer have the Oly 60mm macro lens (review here), those that do would do well to use focus peaking, (the Panasonic GF6 apparently and Oly EP-5 have introduced this feature earlier this year, thanks Peter/Lostfunzone and leendert for the heads up!). When using ANY lens, and wanting to manually focus, this single feature can really revolutionize the accuracy and speed with which you can achieve results. Knowing where your focus plane is can be extremely handy. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know how handy until I started using this, and combined with the AF/MF switch on the GX7, allowing for immediate and instant access to switch between the two modes, makes for a dream of a combo for a scenario where a more manual approach is called for.
Initially, I was having a hard time getting the Wi-Fi to work on the GX7. First, I realized that I was trying to use an outdated app called Lumix Link which was developed primarily for the GH3 if I remember correctly. Instead, for the GX7, you’ll need to download “Panasonic Image App” and from there, the steps are very self explanatory. One issue I had, which when I figured it out seemed to immediately shift my fortunes, was to change my “Quality” to either Jpeg or RAW. I’d had RAW+Fine Jpeg selected and I had no luck with the connection. Once changed, the connection was made and the app launched.
To connect your camera to your phone or tablet, you’ll need to have Panasonic Image App downloaded and installed on your device;
- first hold the Wi-Fi button at the bottom right on the back panel of the camera which will launch the Wi-Fi connection.
- next, on your phone/tablet, get into your Wi-Fi settings and select the GX7 network and enter the password displayed on the camera’s LCD.
- finally, launch the Panasonic Image App on your device and you’re good to go.
- to terminate the connection, either hold the Wi-Fi button on the camera and select “terminate connection” or shut the camera off.
If the connection is not happening, (and you’ve correctly selected the network and entered the correct password) try switching modes (P A S M) and see that you have your “Quality” selected to either a Jpeg setting, or RAW. I’ve since gotten the app and Wi-Fi to work when the RAW+Fine setting is selected, so I’m not sure why selecting solely the Fine Jpeg setting helped initially, but it seemed to.
IN BODY IMAGE STABILIZATION
This single feature was what got me excited to buy the OMD EM5 over all else, and the 5 axis IBIS in the OMD is stellar. Can the GX7 hold a flame to it? Well, I’ve only been shooting with the GX7 for about a week now, but in my experience, yes… almost. The Olympus 5 axis IBIS is amazing, not only for the final shot, but for the view through the viewfinder. The GX7, while technically within a stop, perhaps half a stop of effectiveness, it isn’t as apparent by sight, to my eye (on the LCD or in the EVF). As for the results? I find that it is definitely a suitable alternative to the Oly system, and provides Panasonic with a near leveling of the field on that feature. Here’s to hoping we see it in every future Panasonic micro 4/3 camera body, and an improvement along the way.
Oddly, if you are using a Lumix lens that also has OIS, the GX7 will disable the In Body Image Stabilization and as far as I can figure out, you cannot use it. This also follows a very odd omission of the lack of IBIS for video requiring optical stabilization for video shooters. Silly. I certainly hope this is remedied in a near future firmware update. The only arguments I’ve heard against the IBIS in video is either noise, or heat accumulation. Many, many other manufacturers (Panasonic included on various compact cams) have it figured out and I find it bizarre if either of those were the deciding factor for Panasonic. Olympus added support for third party lenses in video through firmware on the OMD EM5, so I feel it is a possibility for Panasonic to issue a firmware update allowing for IBIS in video with non optically stabilized lenses. Sure, for video work, a “real” videographer will have a solid rig which would negate much of the need, but it has become, or is at least becoming standard, handy you may say, for those of us not trying to become Francis Ford Coppola with our consumer cams. I’d like to be able to view my family videos in the distant future without barfing from motion sickness, so Panasonic, please remedy this… Thanks.
You can see the unboxing video in this post HERE.
Up next, I’ll take a look at, and pick apart the files to see how the newer camera compares to previous Panasonic sensors. (click here to read Part 2) I’m also working on a head to head between the GX7 and the OMD EM5, focusing on both the overall interaction with and actual image quality between the two. Follow along via Email notification by entering your email at the top right of this page, or connect via Facebook or Twitter to be alerted when the articles go live.
The GX7 is available in the US in the silver option only, which is just weird. It’s as if Panasonic has taken a page out of Olympus’ book and decided to potentially offer a black alternative later, and possibly at a higher price 🙂 Regardless, the camera looks slick in either iteration. Hit the links below to see them at B&H.
Thanks for the read and happy shooting!