Reviewed by Carl Weese
As Micro 4/3 format took over my digital capture work, I was using smaller, less conspicuous cameras and excellent, much smaller and faster lenses, with no discernible loss in print quality. The Panasonic Lumix files seem to punch above their weight in resolution, and if there are any tradeoffs compared to a one-step larger sensor size, they are largely washed away by the nearly infallible contrast-detect autofocus. Nothing does more to bring out the best in your lenses than having the focus absolutely nailed.
There were tradeoffs though, in camera handling. Features that mid- to upper-level DSLR cameras provide with dedicated controls instead required trips to the menus. Most glaring was the loss of double control wheels, replaced by a single rear wheel that changed function after a push and spin. This is a poor substitute for instant access to two control wheels. The first thing I did on unpacking the GX7, attaching the strap, and putting the PDF owner’s manual on my MacBook, was look up control wheel function options. I set things up so that in Program, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority, spinning the rear wheel (upper right rear corner, right behind the mode dial) dials in exposure compensation. In P, the front wheel (which encircles the shutter release) does Program Shift. In S, it changes the shutter speed, and in A it changes the aperture. You can set it up differently of course, but I really like these combinations and had done something similar in the past with my Olympus E-1 and several Pentax DSLRs.
Bath Store, New York, NY. In program mode, the GX7 went for a needlessly high shutter speed of 1/200, with the lens wide open. In no time flat, almost without thought, I turned the camera's front dial so that Program Shift moved down to a still-safe 1/125, which closed the lens down to
ƒ/2.2 for a gain in depth of field.
Getting back to the real basics of camera handling, the G3 cameras that I've used heavily are styled like mini-SLRs with the EVF contained in an imitation pentaprism hump. The GF1 was styled more like a rangefinder camera, and needed an accessory EVF for eye-level viewing. The GX7 bears a certain unmistakeable resemblance to a much more expensive marque...long rectangular body with rounded corners, and the finder window in the upper left corner, where it belongs (OK, I’ve used M Leica film cameras since 1967). In fact it's closer to the size of a diminutive screw-mount Leica than to the M series, but with a fattened grip at the right side which my large hands appreciate. The feel of it is so familiar that I find myself reaching, with my left forefinger, or thumb, depending on the left-hand grip I'm using, for the tab at the bottom of the focus ring on shorter Leitz lenses, as the lens is snapping into crisp autofocus without any help from me. The experience is that similar to shooting with my M4/M6 cameras.
Even weirder, I'd been annoyed to find a lot more off-kilter horizons in my shooting with the G3 than I'd remembered with previous cameras. But I'm not thirty anymore. Maybe some inner ear thing? The problem appears to have vanished as I work with the thin rectangular GX7 body. Something about the sculpty-curvey G3 body was throwing me off. Which brings us to...double axis electronic level control. The manual admits that this visual aid for level is only accurate to 1°. In fact, this degree of accuracy is so intense that I think it is mostly useful for work on tripod. Getting green lines in both axes while actually aiming the thing where you want is too much like multi-tasking. To address another feature, the level seems easier to use if you flip the LCD screen to 90° for TLR-style waist-level shooting. The level tool seems bigger, and therefore easier to use, on the LCD (my father, a machinist, said, "always use the biggest tool that will fit; it gives you the most accurate control"). The screen can also be tilted partway south, for hail-Mary shots. I find this more useful and more convenient than the "fully articulated" screen of the G3, but that's a matter of individual preference. Before leaving viewing options, of course the EVF, as everyone has noted, tilts up 90° for another version of waist-level/chest-level viewing.
Reeves Hall, Watertown, CT. I'm not always picky about keeping a hand-held camera perfectly level and plumb, but this particular subject seemed to call for an "imitation view camera" approach and the two-axis
electronic level came in handy.
There's a hardware switch for AF/MF, integrated with the AF/AE Lock button. This is really important. No matter how precise an AF system is, it can't read your mind, and sometimes you are going to disagree with it about a specific situation. Easily switching from AF to MF was sorely lacking before, requiring menu-diving, but now it's there. Also, Focus Peaking. I have no trouble focusing my various large and ultra-large format view cameras on the simple ground glass (I hate fresnal screens in view cameras) but I surrender at trying to get manual focus with an EVF. However, if the camera, when switched to manual, provides a livid greenish halo around the objects that are in the plane of focus...after the initial shock, I can deal with that. Even the most accurate AF can't always know what part of the picture you really want in focus. When you need to take over, a hardware switch and focus peaking do the job.
©2013 by Carl Weese, all rights reserved
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Featured Comments from:
Gordon Lewis: "My biggest concern with the GX7 is Panasonic's minimal support network. Apparently their only U.S. support center is in McAllen, Texas. Dealers, parts and accessories are scarce. This may be a minor inconvenience if the GX7 is one of many cameras you own but could be a major problem if it's your one-and-only. I mention this not to discourage anyone from considering the GX7, but just to make sure they are aware."