Reviewed by Carl Weese
First, a few less favorable points. I think Panasonic should have made the GX7 "splash-proof." The first 4/3 format camera, the Olympus E-1, was weather-sealed way back ten years ago. Even if this moved the price of the GX7 up a notch, I'd like it to be there. I've used my GF1 and G3 cameras in the rain lots of times (I like to take pictures in the rain) and they're still working, but I'd rather not find the water resistance limit the hard way.
Next, with the GX7, Panasonic has, for the first time in one of its Micro 4/3 cameras, included in-body optical image stabilization. This is welcome, but the implementation isn't powerful. My sense is that the "shake reduction" in Pentax cameras seven years ago was a bit more effective. It's still much better than nothing, especially since my four best lenses for the format are not stabilized. Testing with a 20mm ƒ/1.7 I found the stabilization began to improve my results consistently at 1/30 sec., and by 1/8 sec. it was much better than me, though not entirely reliable. I won’t hesitate to use this combination at 1/8 sec., but I'll let off bursts of several exposures expecting that some of them will be good enough for large prints. If the best possible stabilization is a top priority for your work, you may want to look elsewhere.
There is a stealthy "silent mode" that turns off the mechanical shutter, focus assist light, and alert sounds (I turn sounds off anyway as soon a camera's out of the box). The standard shutter sound is more of a whirr than a click and seems quite unobtrusive. The silent mode really is inaudible—it takes some practice to get used to the lack of feedback. The downside is that relying on the electronic shutter alone can result in defects in the capture. The problem is that while you may have an effective speed of 1/320, the sensor scan can take 1/10 second. If the subject moves, or the camera shakes, during that time, you can get some weird renderings. I've experimented with it and managed to come up with some Lartigue-esque out-of-round wheels on moving vehicles. The usefulness of this feature will depend on whether the situations where you want a silent camera are likely to generate these motion-based image defects.
Southbury, CT. The snow flag on the hydrant reads perfectly round, but look at the front wheel of the moving SUV in the background. Movement during the sensor scan in silent mode has distorted its shape.
I can't give a hard and fast definition of what makes a camera feel responsive, but I know it when I see it, and this is the most responsive digital camera I've used. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons.
I've already mentioned the double control wheels, and also want to point out that they respond immediately, without needing to be unlocked. This could at some point result in accidental actuation, but I’ll take that chance in order to have instant response. By default, the camera auto-switches between LCD and EVF. I found that disconcerting at first, but I've decided I like it. I don't like to use continuous autofocus, but a nice touch is that in single AF, as you raise the camera to your eye, when it switches to the EVF the autofocus is automatically triggered, as though you had half-pressed the shutter. I don’t know if this will ever make the difference in getting a successful grab shot, but it makes the camera seem quicker, which is a valuable thing in itself. The contrast-detect AF is, as with earlier models, highly accurate and reliable, and it's now noticeably faster. Combined with that automatic triggering, focus is mostly seamless and simply there before you know it.
Like some other cameras, the GX7 responds to the shutter release faster in burst mode than in single, even if you only want one frame. It's also so much faster than the G3 in medium-burst drive mode that I had to retrain myself to get off the button soon enough to avoid two or three shot bursts when I meant to take one frame. It's nearly impossible to squeeze off just one shot in high burst. The camera also writes its RAW files remarkably faster than the earlier models—to my same old cards, which are quite slow by current standards. This will help anyone who does a lot of high speed sequence work, but I also like it because, in difficult light (and I'm drawn to difficult light), I often take one shot and then review the RGB histogram. A fast write time means that the file is available by the time I've lowered the camera enough to see the LCD clearly and hit the playback button. If I see a safe histogram I can go back to shooting with this whole check sequence taking perhaps one second flat. It makes the camera seem quick and eager to please.
There are more custom mode settings available than before, which is nice. I find custom modes highly useful and will talk about them someday, but in some future article since they certainly aren't unique to this camera.
The LCD is improved in general appearance, visibility in bright light is better, and it has more and better touch screen capabilities. The EVF presents, well, a more substantial display that seems more like a ground glass and less like a washed out mini-TV. It's also easier to use in bright light, though not yet to the level of an SLR.
Of course there's a raft of other features, from "intelligent" automation to Scene Modes and "creative" filters and effects, but I don't use any of that, so this wraps up my mini-series user report on the GX7. I'll watch comments for any questions about details of interest that I might have missed.
I mentioned in the first post of this series that I had waited out a number of new Micro 4/3 models from Panasonic and Olympus before pulling the trigger on the GX7 release. The camera is a big step forward from the GF1 and G3, even though I've been getting files from those cameras that make excellent 17x22-inch prints. I expect I’ll be able to use it for quite a while before something demonstrably better comes around. The improved exposure range of the sensor is important to the pictures I like to make, and the greatly improved high ISO performance, while not as important to me, is certainly nice to have. However, it's the "responsiveness"—the overall combination of factors from body design to hardware controls to logical, easily navigated menus—that really stands out for me. It has already affected the way I shoot. Before I'd even worked with it extensively, the GX7 was becoming much closer to "an extension of my hand," than any digital camera I've used before. It's a keeper.
©2013 by Carl Weese, all rights reserved
Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Dave Karp: "Thanks Carl. I am thinking about purchasing this camera. Your articles were very helpful."
Alan Brown: "Thanks, Carl, for the well-written review. I concur with your observations about responsiveness. The GX7 is so responsive that it seems to be anticipating what I'm going to do. The camera is more that the sum of its parts or features. One additional observation is that the histogram, compared to earlier Panasonics, is very accurate. I thought I would miss the 'blinkies' of the Olys, but the accurate performance of the histogram mitigates that. It is simply a delightful camera to use and makes me want to go out and photograph. Thanks again."