While many pros take delight in sneering at compact system cameras, the rest of us (pros or otherwise) can revel in their ability to deliver high-end control and results in a discreet, portable form factor.
The Panasonic GX7 does just about everything you could ask of a micro-DSLR and a bit more besides.
Panasonic GX7 review
Ticks all the boxes
The GX7's nearest rival is the Sony NEX 7, a long-time Stuff favourite. In fact the GX7 shares very similar styling, specs and price with the Sony. The GX7 is about a centimetre bigger in all dimensions, and while it's not what you'd call a big camera, it definitely feels significantly larger and heavier than the Sony.
In common with the Sony NEX 7, the Panasonic GX7 ticks all of the main system camera boxes, those being interchangeable lenses, a built-in flash and an electronic viewfinder. Put them together and you can shoot in DSLR style, inside or out, without the need for any add-ons. System cameras are all about versatility and the GX7 passes that test with ease, performing well in all situations, from party snapshots to posed portraits, from quickfire sports events to considered landscapes.
The 14-42mm kit lens (pictured) is a good all-rounder with enough range from wide-angle to its maximum zoom to do a respectable job of most of those scenarios. Sports and wildlife enthusiasts can look to a 14-140mm lens for better zoomability while street snappers might prefer to reduce the bulk with a pancake lens.
GX7 Picture quality
At this price the GX7 needs to do more than just "perform well", and in most cases it does. Although its sensor isn't as large as the Sony NEX 7's, it still takes comparable shots with excellent detailing and a very welcome turn of speed in darker conditions.
Of course it knocks out great pics on a sunny day at wide-angle settings, but it also handles the tricky stuff well. We tested it with the 14-42mm kit lens, and in that arrangement it can shoot indoors under dim lighting at around 1/40th a second at a fairly noise-free 3200 ISO – in other words it's just about quick enough to shoot indoors without a flash and without having to worry too much about motion blur (depending on what you're snapping, of course).
HD video quality
There's good news here too. The hi-def video, which goes up to the magical 1080p @ 50 frames per second (the height of TV-quality footage this side of the pond), is really rather good. It's limited to a degree by the lens you're using; manual zooming with the 14-42mm lens adds some unwanted judder into the otherwise super-smooth footage. Put it on a tripod and you'll have a great video recorder for pieces to camera (albeit one without a microphone input).
Review continues after the specs...
Sensor: 16MP, 17.3x13mmRAW shooting: YesMax video resolution: 1080p@50fpsLens mount: Micro Four ThirdsLCD: 3in touchscreenConnectivity: HDMI, NFC, USB 2.0, Wi-FiDimensions: 123x71x55mmWeight: 512g (with 14-42mm lens)
This is one of our favourite aspects of the GX7. The eletronic viewfinder is an important addition as it allows you to frame in the old style, concentrating purely on the image and the composition and without interference from sunlight and reflections. What's special about the GX7's EVF is that it can be tilted through 90 degrees, from horizontal to vertical.
The same is true of the LCD which can also be tilted downwards, allowing you to poke your camera over the heads of a crowd without shooting blind. The usability of the EVF is enhanced with a high resolution display and a diopter slider that, for once, is actually big enough to adjust to your eye's focal faculties without employing tweezers and a vice. The only gripe we have with the EVF is that the eye sensor that switches it on automatically is easily activated by your hands, leading to the LCD occasionally blanking out seemingly at random.
In Auto mode the GX7 will sail along just fine and most of its key features are well placed on top or rear controls. The Display button cycles through a few modes that allow you to overlay various degrees of info on the LCD and EVF, most useful of which is the very accurate level horizon indicator. You can also dedicate the LCD to a comprehensive set-up display and leave the EVF to framing duties.
This can work very well, because even though you might not have realised it up to this point, the LCD is actually a touchscreen. If you hadn't noticed, we think that's a good thing, as it means the hardware controls are sufficient if that's how you prefer to work. Similarly, in playback mode you can section off a quarter of the LCD for your stored images with the remaining space used to display all the key image data for that particular photo.
The usual array of colour filters and retro effects is available, some of which can be used in video mode. Sure, they're a bit cheesy and hackneyed, but we can hardly knock the GX7 for including them. Sometimes it's nice to have a bit of cheese - or a starburst filter.
Some of the mode settings are a lot more useful, such as the night modes which take a surpisingly short 1-second "long exposure" (you can go up to 60 seconds in manual mode) and others for sports, portraits and fill-in flash. The High Dynamic Range setting is also a real help in darker settings. All the detail in the shot of the church aisle (below) would have been lost in shadow without it.
One day we'll be writing about how well cameras connect over Wi-Fi, or perhaps we won't because one day it will just work and we'll take it for granted and forget that for years it never did. 2013 is one of those years. In theory the GX7 can transmit stills wirelessly via DLNA to a TV, movies and stills via a Wi-Fi network or directly to a PC or Mac or an Android or Apple mobile.
The theory even extends to remote viewing and remote control. The reality for us was a familiar loop of failed connections and tedious inputting (and re-inputting) of passwords and IDs via the SMS-style on-screen keyboard. Perhaps it'll work for you, but don't bank on it. Let's just pretend it's not there and move on.
Panasonic Lumix GX7 summary
Yes, you'll get better pictures and faster shooting from a DSLR, but as far as compact system cameras go the GX7 is very hard to fault. We would like it to be a bit smaller but it still represents a substantial reduction on the size of a DSLR to make a strong case for itself, and in terms of features it can't be beaten. Whether you might take it over the Sony NEX 7 is going to be a matter of personal taste, or perhaps a specific unique feature that's important to you.