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Panasonic GX-7 Field Report

A Stills and Video Winner

The Panasonic GX7 is that company's latest Micro-Four-Thirds camera. While the Compact System Camera segment is apparently not doing well in North America in particular, manufacturers keep introducing new models with enhanced features. Whether these will be able to grab the attention of an American marketplace which prefers to use either their smartphone cameras or DSLRs, remains to be seen.

The GX7 is the update to the GX1. What happened to GX2- though GX6 remains unknown. Likely, Panasonic wanted to establish this as a new offering rather than just an update. But nomenclature aside this is indeed a worthy upgrade to Panasonic's model line-up. Unlike the top-of-the-line GH3 which is the size of an APS-C sized DSLR, the GX7 is true to the MFT gestalt and is quite a bit smaller, though not so small as to be difficult to handle.

Is it Raining? San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. August, 2013 
by Michael Reichmann
Panasonic GX7 with Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200

Executive Summary

Since you're likely to skip to the bottom of the page to see what my conclusion is, I figured I'd save you the effort and give a quick summary here. On balance, the GX7 may be the best MFT camera yet. In terms of image quality it is the equal of the Olympus E-M5 and the Panasonic GH3. The sensor-based stabilization is not quite as good as that in the E-M5, but close. Video quality is excellent, far better than on any Olympus camera, and for most purposes as good as that in the class-leading Panasonic GH3. In terms of video the only quibble is that stabilization needs to be lens based. Body based stabilization does not engage at all when shooting video with the GX7.

There are a raft of special features which will appeal to different constituencies. Prime among these is the availability of an electronic shutter as well as a focal plane shutter. This helps make the camera totally silent, and also serves when doing lime-lapse stills using the camera's built-in intervalometer.


Key Features

You can read all about the GX7's full feature and spec list on Panasonic's web site, so there's little point in listing them here. What I will do instead is focus on those features and capabilities that make the GX7 special, and a few that pull it off the top MFT pedestal.

In-Body Stabilization

The two major supporters of the MFT format, Olympus and Panasonic, took divergent paths with regard to image stabilization right from the get-go. Panasonic built it into some (though not all) of their lenses, while Olympus opted for in-body stabilization. Oly has been innovating in this area of late, and the 5 axis sensor stabilization found in their OM-D EM-5 is quite excellent, and works with just about any lens that you can mount on the camera, including legacy glass such as Leica M lenses.

The first problem that I discovered in trying to test and compare Panasonic's lens stabilization with their in-body stabilization, is that you can't. By this I mean that if you mount a Panasonic stabilized lens (with an external switch) on the GX7 with the lens switch ON you get lens stabilization, as you might expect. But if you turn the lens' stabilization switch to OFF, the in-body stabilization is just not available. ONLY lens stabilization is available when an IS capable lens is mounted.

If you mount any sort of non-stabilized lens on the GX7 then in-body stabilization does become available, and does a fine job. How fine? Well, in some comparisons with the Olympus OM-D I found them to be comparable, though maybe with a slight edge (about a half stop) to the OM-D. I caution that this is an empirical test, not a scientific one, but I tested enough lenses and did it enough times to be confident that this is the case, at least with the cameras that I was using. Not a bad showing for the new in-body system on the GX7.

As for not being able to use in-body IS with an IS lens and with lens IS turned off, I regard this as a design failure, or at least a bug. A pretty major bug. Hopefully someone at Panasonic will read this and either contradict me with an explanation, or better yet, get it fixed in a firmware update – soon.

No In-Body Stabilization in Video Mode

Quite regrettably the GX7's in-body image stabilization does not work in video mode. The Olympus system on the EM-5 does, so in this respect at least Panasonic falls behind. If one is using a Panasonic lens with stabilization built-in then this isn't a problem, but for use with Olympus or legacy lenses it's a big disappointment.

Long Way Home San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. August, 2013 
by Michael Reichmann
Panasonic GX7 with Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 @ ISO 200

Focal PLane and Electronic Shutter

Though it's not unique in this regard the GX7 has both a normal focal plane shutter and an electronic shutter. This is of more than passing interest for several reasons.

Firstly, the camera has a built-in intervalometer and is capable of shooting time-lapse sequences. If a focal plane shutter is used for this it will burn out pretty quickly. Even pro cameras are typically rated at just 100-200K exposures, which would be eaten up in just a few animated sequences the way some people shoot them. By using the electronic shutter there is no wear and tear on the shutter mechanism whatsoever.

Another advantage is that the electronic shutter is totally silent. This can be set separately, or if you engage Silent mode other noise making and attention getting usage features are silenced or shut off – such as the focus assist light.

Here, catch!. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. August, 2013 
by Michael Reichmann
Panasonic GX7 with Lumix 100-300mm @ ISO 200

No Auto ISO in Manual Mode

I know that it's hard to believe here in 2013, but Panasonic apparently forgot, or never knew, that ISO is the third exposure variable. On the GX7 Auto ISO is disabled when in manual mode. That's simply unacceptable.

There are countless times that one needs to set both the aperture and the shutter speed for specific needs simultaneously, making changing ISO the way to achieve the desired exposure. But if Auto-ISO is there, why not allow it to do this automatically? Dumb. dumb, dumb. Panasonic – please hire some actual photographers to help with alpha testing new models.

Tomatoes. San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. August, 2013 
by Michael Reichmann
Panasonic GX7 with Lumix 100-300mm  @ ISO 640

EVF, LCD and Flash

I hope that the days of clip-on EVFs are passing. They are a nuisance because the get lost, fall off, and just generally add unwelcome bulk to the camera. The built in EVF on the GX7 is snugged into the upper left hand corner and tilts upward. Very unobtrusive and convenient. It also is bright, has a high eyepoint, and is sharp.

The rear LCD is articulated, also allowing over-the-head or low angle shots. It can't be spun around for self portraits and live video monitoring from the subject position, but the articulation mechanism adds little to the camera's bulk.

There is also a small pop-up flash that's good for fill light and for triggering external flash units. Panasonic has designed it so that a bit of finger pressure can tilt it to point upward making for a somewhat weak, but occasionally useful bounce flash if the ceiling is low enough.


Video Mode

Among DSC or CSS makers (or whatever you want to call them) Panasonic "gets" video better that most. For Olympus and Fujifilm video is a must have check box on the specification list, but none of their cameras offer the serious video enthusiast anything exciting.

Though not quite in the same league as the GH3 when it comes to video, the GX7 is not at all shabby. Both 24P and 60P are available at solid data rates, and image quality is very high. I wouldn't hesitate in a commercial production to use video from the GX7 intercut with that from the AF100 or GH3, and that's saying something.

Taps San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. August, 2013 
by Michael Reichmann
Panasonic GX7 with Lumix 12-35mm f/2.8 @ ISO 640

ETC Mode

Three years ago, with the GH2, Panasonic introduced Extra Tele-Converter ETC mode. My link report from 2010 explains what it is and how it works. It's a pleasure to see it here in thr GX7, even though Panasonic hardly mentions it in it's promotion material. Bottom line, for video it's a free built-in 2.6X teleconverter what works with any lens. It does this by cropping the sensor to a native 1920X1080 section of the full sensor output. Kudos to Panasonic for continuing to support ETC.


Image Quality and Conclusion

There are numerous additional features in the GX7, including WiFi, but I don't find most of them of interest and so will pass on spending a few thousand more words detailing them. Review sites that are concerned about such things will satisfy any morbid curiously that you may have about these.

As far as overall image quality goes, the GX7 should satisfy all but the pickiest compulsive gear-head, let alone practical photographers. Frankly, over the past couple of years the differences between sensor performance on most cameras has gotten so close that it takes very large prints and 100% pixel peeping to tell the difference. Also, most cameras do quite well up to about ISO 3200, and few of us shoot at higher ISOs in the real world.

The real differences between cameras and camera performance has now shifted to lenses and those features which allow us to shoot and work more productively. In that regard the new Panasonic GX7 comes off very well indeed.

The GX7 is available for purchase at B&H by CLICKING HERE

September, 2013

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Concepts: Digital single-lens reflex camera, Camera, Shutter, Leica Camera, Single-lens reflex camera, Photographic lens, Shutter speed, Image stabilization

Entities: San Miguel de Allende, Panasonic, Olympus, DSC, Fujifilm, North America, Mexico, MFT gestalt, Video Mode, focal plane, shutter speed, web site, Michael Reichmann, Michael Reichmann, WiFi

Tags: Panasonic, GX7, stabilization, in-body stabilization, lens, camera, Panasonic GX7, focal plane shutter, electronic shutter, Olympus, Panasonic GH3, image quality, cameras, lens stabilization, video, image stabilization, class-leading Panasonic GH3, features, in-body image stabilization, new Panasonic GX7, Panasonic lens, ISO, new models, Michael Reichmann, lenses, San Miguel, video mode, best MFT camera, sensor-based stabilization, stabilization needs, stabilization switch, GX7 Auto ISO, live video monitoring, Olympus camera, capable lens, non-stabilized lens, lens switch, numerous additional features, testing new models, normal focal plane