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.