Panasonic’s latest take on the mirrorless camera not only show it has the guts to be a great camera, but a very creative and forward-thinking one, too.
Features and performance
Panasonic is no stranger to invention, and to get the masses interested in your gadgets these days, that’s what you need to do, coming up with ideas that no one else will see coming.
Oh sure, you could just release another camera and repurpose last year’s technology, or even update this year’s and trickle it into something else, but why not be inventive a bit and produce something truly interesting?
That might be what Panasonic has accomplished with the G7, one of the most recent models in its long running mirrorless range of Lumix digital cameras, which grabs technology from higher end models and makes it smaller and more in reach of anyone who doesn’t have a spare two grand to kill on a new camera.
It might say “7” on the bottom of the body, but this is by no means Panasonic’s seventh mirrorless camera. What it is, however, is the company’s seventh 4K capable camera, and that’s part of the main draw of this camera, with the little box capable of shooting both images and video, all well above what Full HD offers.
In the image department, you’ll find 16 megapixel images are possible from the Micro Four-Thirds LiveMOS sensor, while the video area can provide 4K video, allowing you to make movies for one of those 4K TVs that are being sold, long before Hollywood gets its act together and finds a way of delivering 4K movies outside of Netflix.
An SD card slot is included, and there’s support for WiFi, too, meaning you can move files over to your phone and tablet, but only 30 at a time. The upside of this, however, is that you’ll be able to share images on social media fairly quickly.
There’s a 3 inch LCD touchscreen on the back on a vari-angle hinge, a viewfinder above this, and lots of controls, with support for RAW and quite a few creative modes to boot, and even low-light sensitivity going down to ISO 25600.
Altogether a fair amount of power for a small body, so what’s it like?
In the hands, you’ll find a slightly bigger body than some of the mirrorless cameras we’ve seen before, with what feels more like a small digital SLR than a compact mirrorless.
These are different feelings, of course, and the Lumix G7 has been designed to be more like a camera made for enthusiasts, so we can sort of see why this design has been used, and why the look of this camera is what it is.
That look isn’t retro like what Olympus goes for, nor black and flat like Sony, but rather kind of in the middle, with a rubberised grip and leather look around a plastic body offering loads of controls.
And when we say “loads”, we actually mean it.
Hold the camera properly — left hand flat under the lens and body, right hand on the grip — and you’ll find that right hand is within reach of practically everything you’ll need, whether you want to control everything like a pro or let the camera do most of the heavy lifting.
There’s a control ring around the shutter button, a control ring on the other side near where your thumb will rest, a mode selector ring up top on the right for your thumb to peruse, an auto-focus switch and lock near these, and function buttons on the top and at the back, giving your thumb plenty of things to memorise when you decide to get down to the act of customising the camera.
Panasonic has also provided a touchscreen for you to control the exposure with — touch to focus or do a little more if need be — and this is a vari-angle screen sitting on a hinge that allows you to pull it out with ease.
There’s also a viewfinder provided here, each of which show a digital representation through the camera.
Unfortunately, there’s no optical viewfinder here and everything is digital, but the image is bright and friendly, with the only problem being from the eye-line sensor under the viewfinder, which occasionally picks up on your body and forces you over to the viewfinder, stopping the LCD dead in its tracks.
It’s a bit of a bug, and if it happens, you’ll just want to pull the camera away from your body to tell the camera that you’re not using the viewfinder, which will bring access back to the screen once again.
But if you do decide to use the viewfinder, you may find a bit of a treat. A weird treat, sure, but one none the less, with focus able to be determined by where you’re looking.
We haven’t seen this technology for quite some time, but essentially where you look — and where your eyelashes brush across — appears to be used as a focus point, highlighting squares off the viewfinder for where you should focus.
Most of the time, like many digital camera users, we just stuck to the LCD screen on the back, but the inclusion of a viewfinder, especially one with eye-based focus, was nonetheless quite useful.
Moving past this, if you know what you’re doing and/or are an enthusiast, you’ll find the G7 is easily controlled, and that comes from all of those controls.
The grip is comfortable to hold, and that helps, with the half kilogram weight easy to deal with whether it’s in hand or around your neck not in use.
Images from the camera are often bright and cheerful, with decent colour recreation, though we do wish the kit lens that came with the camera — 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 — was a better piece of glass.
This feels like the oldest part of the package, and images aren’t super sharp from this bit, so we’d make sure to upgrade and replace this element as fast as you can.
Panasonic also includes some of that innovation we were talking about before, and it does with 4K photo modes.
This is a bit of technology that is so special, we’re willing to call them “game changing” because that’s not far from the truth.
In these game changing modes, which can be switched on by turning the left-most control dial to the “4K” several frame option in the middle of the selections, what you’re actually doing is capturing a small 4K video and snipping the frames out of it after the video has been shot.
Now if we want to get technical, you could do this with any 4K video, because really, all that’s happening is Panasonic is letting you cut one of thirty frames every second out of that 3840×2160 video, which in turn results in an 8 megapixel image.
Those eight megapixels are cut down from the 16 megapixel sensor, which tells you that the 4K video is basically shooting the centre frame from the 16 megapixel LiveMOS sensor Panasonic is using, and that’s something you can tell when you switch the mode on, because instantly you get closer to the action whether you want to or not.
So you shoot a video — a very small video — with a 4K burst mode letting you fire as long as you hold the shutter down or when you press once and press start to end, and when that’s done, you go and cut 8 megapixel frames out of it.
This is great, but another mode is absolutely ingenious, and totally indispensable: 4K pre-burst.
Pre-burst is Panasonic’s TiVo of functions and acts almost like a car camera, recording a small two second video constantly until it’s woken up.
When you “wake up” the G7 by pressing the shutter, it grabs a second of video from before you hit the shutter and the second afterwards, allowing you to see the moment before and after the frame you were going after and save it later on.
In a way, it’s like having a time machine for your camera, and it is absolutely freaking amazing for sports photography, providing a shot you can’t miss out on with a video you can edit an image out of on the camera.
Without a doubt, this is one of our favourite features on a digital camera in a long time, and if you have a long lens to work with, will allow you to get close to the action and capturing images at the speed the pros are shooting, with even a bit of hindsight.
Of course, you don’t have to shoot 4K photos, because there’s 4K video here, too.
For that, just head to any of the modes and use the red record button up top, providing VGA (640×480) quality through to 720p HD, 1080p Full HD, and that massive 4K UHD video if need be.
Manual filmmakers can find a little more control under the manual movie mode, and this will play nicely with the auto-focus control near the viewfinder, allowing you to quickly change focus modes — auto and manual — while you’re shooting simply with a flick of the thumb.
One area we do wish Panasonic would change is the battery, an area we frequently make comments on that few companies are doing much about.
Traditionally, camera companies have provided an external battery charger plugged through a figure-eight cable, which means there’s a bit of extra bulk in your hand luggage or camera bag regardless.
Recently, though, some manufacturers have picked up on the whole international standard thing that is microUSB, throwing this into the body and using this as a way of charging the battery inside the camera.
We love that and think it’s a great development, but unfortunately, Panasonic has not done this with the Lumix G7, so you’ll need to bring that external charger for this little box.
On the upside, we found the battery lasted a good 200-300 shots, though the 4K pre-burst feature definitely ate into the time aggressively, lasting closer to 150-200 shots when this was used often.
There’s no other way of saying this, but Panasonic’s Lumix G7 is an absolute game changer when it comes to cameras, and the 4K pre-burst has to be one of our favourite additions to a digital camera in the eight years we’ve been reviewing cameras.
Simply put, this will make sports photography better because you won’t have to worry about “did I press the shutter at the right time” and can instead cut out the image you want from a small video waiting for you.
That is a tremendously awesome feature.
Granted, the image quality may only be 8 megapixels — because 4K is technically just 8 megapixels — but it should be more than enough, and will definitely get you the shot, as well as a small video in case you want that, too.
Beyond this game changing feature, the G7 is a star of a camera, with enough controls, dials, and buttons to make even the most enthusiastic of photographers happy, a comfortable grip, and a general feeling that you have a camera that isn’t messing about.
Just make sure to get a different lens, as that’s the one area in the sub-$1000 kit that really needs work.