With sophisticated autofocus, superb controls and 4K video capture, the Panasonic G7 packs a serious punch.
The Panasonic G1 was the world’s first compact system camera (CSC), but after a trailblazing start this particular line of cameras settled into a more down-to-earth niche. Other CSCs were smaller, more handsome, faster and – arguably – took better pictures. Even so, the thing we really liked about the Panasonic G6 was that it had no real weaknesses – if you could forgive its dull appearance. It was responsive, it had elegant controls, an articulated touchscreen, a large electronic viewfinder and lots of fun shooting modes. Image quality wasn’t far behind the front runners and its video mode was among the best around. There’s a lot to be said for a camera that unobtrusively does its job well, and the G6 was a rare example.
Two years later we have the G7. In some ways it shares the same reliable, utilitarian spirit as the G6. However, the new and improved features make this a significantly more upmarket camera.
The most visible change is the introduction of extra physical controls. The G6 had a single command dial but the G7 has two, giving direct access to shutter speed and aperture in manual exposure mode. In priority modes one dial can be set to give direct access to exposure compensation. Meanwhile, pressing one of two top-mounted buttons assigns the dials to various other functions, and these can be customised in the menu.
There’s also a dedicated dial to the left of the viewfinder for the drive mode, plus a switch for single auto, continuous auto and manual focus. The handgrip has been redesigned and feels more comfortable and secure, especially with a heavy lens attached.
With so many physical controls and so much scope for customisation, the G7 might seem overly complex, but it needn’t. It’s easy just to ignore these controls and leave the camera in Auto mode. As requirements and confidence grow, having dedicated controls makes it much easier to get to grips with manual settings, both figuratively and literally.
The G7 also offers a feature we’ve seen recently on the Nikon D5500 and Canon EOS 750D. While composing shots with the viewfinder, the touchscreen can be used to move the autofocus point. It’s a fantastically fast and intuitive feature, all the more so here because the G7 isn’t limited to a predefined set of autofocus points. The area can be moved freely throughout the entire frame and its size adjusted using the command dials. The only downside is for those who use their left eye, where there’s a tendency to put the autofocus point in the bottom-right corner with an accident nose press. We’d imagine it’s something we could train ourselves to avoid.
The G6’s electronic viewfinder (EVF) was excellent but the G7’s is even better. It has the same 1.4x magnification (equivalent to 0.7x on a full-frame SLR and much bigger than most SLRs at this price) but the resolution has increased from 1.44 million to 2.36 million dots. We had the chance to compare both side by side, and while the G7’s viewfinder’s extra detail wasn’t particularly noticeable, its more richly saturated colours were.
Another improvement to an already excellent area is performance. The G6’s autofocus was responsive and reliable but we found the G7 to be around twice as fast to focus, with times between 0.1 and 0.4 seconds between pressing the shutter button and capturing a shot. Panasonic attributes this to a new technology called Depth From Defocus (DFD), which only works with Panasonic lenses, but it appears to be extremely effective.
It contributed to a marked improvement in shot-to-shot times, rattling off three shots per second in normal use. Switching to continuous mode, it fired off 101 JPEGs at an astounding 8.3fps, or 6.1fps with continuous autofocus. The latter is particularly impressive, not least because it largely succeeded in tracking moving subjects at this speed. Having a physical single/continuous/manual focus switch is a major bonus here, too. RAW continuous capture was at 6.7fps for 17 frames, or 5.3fps for 19 frames with continuous autofocus, before slowing to 1.8fps. SLRs at this price can’t match these speeds or sustained performance.
4K video and photo mode
Panasonic is leading the way for 4K video capture, and it’s great to see the mid-price G7 getting a 4K make-over. It’s a similar implementation to the Panasonic LX100, with UHD (3,840×2,160) at a choice of 24 and 25fps frame rates. As with previous 4K cameras, the fidelity of fine details produced by 4K footage was far beyond anything we’ve seen from 1080p footage, even after downsizing it to fit a 1080p monitor. It also gives scope to crop the video or apply stabilisation effects without sacrificing detail. Viewed on a large 4K monitor, footage looks truly stunning.
Other aspects of the video mode are more than up to scratch. There’s a colour profile called Cinelike D that produces flat, low-contrast colours that are the ideal starting point for colour grading in software. There’s touchscreen control of the autofocus point, tracking focus and spot metering, plus manual control over shutter speed, aperture, ISO speed and microphone volume level while recording.
There’s no Cinema 4K (4,096×2,160) option and no 1080p capture at high bit rates or at frame rates up to 96fps for slow-motion, as offered by Panasonic GH4, but it’s fair enough that Panasonic keeps something back for its flagship model. These aren’t big sacrifices though. The G7 meets the needs of keen amateur filmmakers brilliantly.
It also includes the 4K Photo mode that appears on the LX100 and various other Panasonic cameras. Each frame of 4K video is an 8-megapixel image, and 4K Photo mode records 4K video at 30fps and allows individual frames to be saved as 8-megapixel JPEGs. There are options to capture at 4:3, 3:2 and 1:1 aspect ratios as well as the usual 16:9 used for video. The 8-megapixel image is a crop of the 16-megapixel sensor. This gives lenses a 2.6x crop factor – up from the usual 2x for Micro Four Thirds – which isn’t so good for wide-angle photography but shouldn’t be a problem for telephoto such as sports and wildlife.
On the G7 there are three spins on 4K Photo theme. One captures video for as long as the shutter button is pressed, similar to a conventional continuous mode. Another uses the shutter button as a record/pause button for video capture. A third captures one second – 30 frames – of video both before and after the shutter button is pressed. The latter is ideal for capturing fleeting action where it’s difficult to react quickly enough. Choosing which frames to save as JPEGs is straightforward, with the ability to scan through the footage by swiping the touchscreen. This is available immediately after capture, and also by reviewing videos at a later date.
It’s a shame – but not surprising – that there’s no option to save 4K Photo frames in RAW format, even for a short burst of frames. The AVC compression used for video is more aggressive than JPEG compression so artefacts are more visible. We also found that noise was stronger when shooting in 4K Photo mode at fast ISO speeds compared to 16-megapixel JPEGs at the same settings. In most situations the G7’s superb continuous speeds for 16-megapixel capture will be fast enough, but 4K Photo is another useful addition to the toolkit.
Wi-Fi app and controls
Panasonic’s Wi-Fi implementation is among the best around, and there are some new tricks on this camera. Batch transfer options include all photos, videos or both taken in the last one, three, seven or 30 days. In remote control mode, a Jump Snap feature triggers the shutter release simply by giving the smartphone a quick shake. This solves a problem we’ve experienced whereby it’s quite tricky to touch a shutter button on a phone’s touchscreen while smiling down the camera lens.
As before, there’s comprehensive remote control over photographic settings, including autofocus area and size and exposure settings. Unlike most Wi-Fi cameras, both the camera and the app’s controls are available at the same time. Remote control is also available for video capture, so a tablet can serve as a wireless monitor. NFC has been dropped from the specifications, but establishing a connection is easy enough – it requires confirmation on both devices rather than having to type in a password.
The one area where the G7 doesn’t excel is for image quality. There’s nothing wrong with its photos but the Micro Four Thirds sensor is about two-thirds the size of the APS-C sensors used by CSCs from Sony, Samsung, Canon and Fujifilm, and noise levels are higher as a result. Whereas we’d be happy to push certain other CSCs up to ISO 6400 in low light, the G7 is best limited to ISO 3200. Panasonic’s engineers seem to agree, with the Auto ISO mode not going any further by default, although it can be set to extend up to 25600.
Rival cameras also have higher resolutions but 16 megapixels is ample for most purposes. The sharp kit lens and excellent JPEG engine made the most of it to deliver crisp details. Automatic exposures were expertly judged, with the camera responding intelligently to moving subjects to avoid motion blur.
^ Focus softens very slightly towards the edges of the frame in this wide-angle shot but there’s lots of detail and texture in the centre. (1/320s, f/5.6, ISO 200, 28mm equivalent)
^ Focus is excellent across the frame at the long end of the zoom, and the dense, subtle textures in the foliage are handled superbly. (1/320s, f/7.1, ISO 200, 84mm equivalent)
^ Autofocus is exceptionally responsive and reliable, including in continuous mode with tracking autofocus. (1/125s, f/5, ISO 200, 38mm equivalent)
^ There are smudged details and a bit of grain in this ISO 2000 portrait shot but we’d still classify this as print quality. (1/60s, f/5.2, ISO 2000, 48mm equivalent)
^ ISO 3200 is marginal – fine for sharing online but noise and detail smearing is more visible. (1/125s, f/4.4, ISO 3200, 40mm equivalent)
^ Automatic settings tend not to go beyond ISO 3200, but this ISO 6400 shot is OK for sharing at reduced resolutions. (1/125s, f/5.5, ISO 6400, 72mm equivalent)
The G7 has two superb cameras to compete with. The Canon EOS 750D is a true SLR that doesn’t put a foot wrong and beats the G7 for image quality. The G7 is faster in continuous mode, though, its viewfinder is larger and it has more plentiful physical controls. In these respects the G7 closer to the pricier Canon EOS 70D.
Then there’s the Sony a6000, which currently costs around £500. It’s smaller and lighter, even faster in continuous mode and narrowly beats the G7 for image quality, although it too can’t match the G7 for physical controls.
The G7 is the clear victor for video capture, and its fast, flexible, touchscreen-operated autofocus system is the best of the bunch, too. That makes it at least as good in our view, and equally deserving of a Best Buy award. Buy Now from Amazon
|Sensor resolution||16 megapixels|
|Sensor size||17.3x13mm (Micro Four Thirds)|
|Focal length multiplier||2x|
|Optical stabilisation||In kit lens|
|Viewfinder||Electronic (2,360,000 dots)|
|Viewfinder magnification (35mm-equivalent), coverage||0.7x, 100%|
|LCD screen||3in (1,040,000 dots)|
|Photo file formats||JPEG, RAW (RW2)|
|Maximum photo resolution||4,592×3,448|
|Photo aspect ratios||4:3, 3:2, 16:9 1:1|
|Video compression format||MP4 (AVC) at up to 95Mbit/s|
|Video resolutions||4K (3840×2160) at 24/25fps, 1080p at 24/25/50fps, 1080i at 25fps, 720p at 25fps, VGA at 25fps|
|Slow motion video modes||None|
|Maximum video clip length (at highest quality)||29m 59s|
|Exposure modes||Program, shutter priority, aperture priority, manual|
|Shutter speed range||60 to 1/4,000 seconds|
|ISO speed range||100 to 25600|
|Exposure compensation||EV +/-5|
|White balance||Auto, 5 presets with fine tuning, manual, Kelvin|
|Auto-focus modes||Multi, zone, flexible spot, pinpoint, face detect, tracking|
|Metering modes||Multi, centre-weighted, centre, face detect|
|Flash modes||Auto, forced, suppressed, slow synchro, rear curtain, red-eye reduction|
|Drive modes||Single, continuous, self-timer, AE bracket, WB bracket, HDR, panorama, interval, stop-motion animation, 4K Photo|
|Kit lens model name||Panasonic H-FS1442A|
|Optical zoom (35mm-equivalent focal lengths)||3x (28-84mm)|
|Maximum aperture (wide-tele)||f/3.5-5.6|
|Closest macro focus (wide)||20cm|
|Closest macro focus (tele)||30cm|
|Lens mount||Micro Four Thirds|
|Connectivity||USB, AV, micro HDMI, 2.5mm wired remote, 3.5mm microphone|
|GPS||Via smartphone app|
|Accessories||USB cable, neck strap|
|Warranty||One year RTB|
|Price including VAT||£679|