We’ve been heaping praise on Panasonic’s compact system cameras ever since the pioneering G1 debuted in 2009. There’s masses of competition now but Panasonic has always held its own with consistently high quality, not just for image quality but also for video, performance, ergonomics and features. Please note that the review, specs and price are based on the 12-32mm kit.
The GF7 is the sixth generation of the entry-level line in the range. It’s not quite the smallest – the Panasonic GM5 takes that accolade – but at 341g and 62mm deep with its kit lens, it’s hard to imagine anyone rejecting it because it’s too bulky. This is thanks in part to a move to a slimmer lens, which we’ve seen before on the GM5 but which wasn’t included with the Panasonic GF6. There’s no focus ring on this lens, leaving manual focus adjustment to the rear buttons, but it’s extraordinarily slim for a lens with a mechanical zoom function. Other slim zoom lenses use a motorised zoom, which isn’t as intuitive and practical to use.
The camera body is slimmer and lighter too, with 57g shaved off its weight. The battery has shrunk as a result, though, with the battery life falling from 330 shots on the GF6 to 230 on the GF7. The flash power is lower too, at just GN4 at ISO 100. That equates to just 1.6m at f/3.5 before the ISO speed must increase from its base ISO 200 setting.
Another casualty of miniaturisation is the GF7’s full mechanical shutter. Traditionally, cameras use a physical shutter that sits in front of the sensor and opens and closes to capture a photo. The alternative is an electronic shutter, whereby the sensor is always exposed to light and the camera simply takes a measurement for a specified period of time. The downside of this latter technique is that sensors takes measurements row by row from the top to the bottom, and this can lead to skewed geometry in fast-moving images – a problem known as rolling shutter. The GF7 uses a mechanical shutter but with an electronic front curtain, so the mechanical shutter closes at the end of the exposure but doesn’t come into play for the beginning. As such, rolling shutter can still be a problem. For shutter speeds beyond 1/500s it uses a full electronic shutter. It’s hardly a disaster but it means the GF7 wouldn’t be our first choice for fast-moving subjects.
There’s a significant overhaul to the design with a more angular, retro appearance. The use of silver-effect plastic on the top plate is a bit of a let-down but it’s no eyesore. We’re more disappointed to see that the GF6’s slender handgrip has disappeared completely. The leather-effect finish means it’s not too slippery in the hand but there’s very little to hold on to. As with the GF6, the articulated screen can tilt up and over for self-portraits (or shooting close to the ground). It can’t tilt downwards for overhead shooting, though you could invert the camera of course and use your thumb on the shutter button.
The controls are broadly in line with the GF6. This may be an entry-level model but we’re happy to see a dedicated mode dial with access to priority and manual exposure modes. The rear wheel makes it quick to adjust settings, and the excellent touchscreen interface means all the key functions are easily accessible. The touchscreen is particularly useful for autofocus control, with the ability to vary the area size and place it anywhere in the frame. As usual for Panasonic CSCs, there’s a dedicated iA button to put the camera into fully automatic mode, regardless of other settings. However, we’re baffled by the Record Settings Reset button located behind the screen, which returns the camera to its factory settings. It’s a feature we hardly ever feel the need to use so it really doesn’t require a dedicated button.
There are lots of nice touches in the camera’s firmware that are shared throughout Panasonic’s Lumix G range. Face detection focuses on eyes rather than anywhere on the face. There are lots of fun shooting modes including panoramas, HDR, time-lapse and stop-motion animation. Wi-Fi is superbly implemented, with comprehensive remote control in the companion iOS and Android apps. We also like the ability to transfer to a shared folder on a PC via a home network, with the connection settings stored as a preset in the camera.
Video capture has always been a strong point for Lumix G cameras, but this is the first model for a while that lacks manual exposure control for video. It’s not even possible to lock or adjust exposure compensation while recording. We also found that the microphone sounded a little tinny. At least the autofocus controls remain accessible, and it exhibits Panasonic’s usual high standards for video picture quality. This is an excellent video camera for casual point-and-shoot use.
There’s no dent to Panasonic’s reputation for performance. The GF7 switched on and captured a photo in one second. Fast autofocus contributed to a speedy 0.5 seconds between shots in normal use. Continuous shooting was at 5.4fps for 50 frames before slowing to 4.2fps, and it managed a sustained 4.2fps with continuous autofocus. RAW capture was at 4.7fps for 9 frames, slowing to 1.7fps.