No other camera maker has been as aggressive in adopting 4K technology as Panasonic. While U.S. consumers slowly upgrade their televisions and TV broadcasters gradually add 4K programming, Panasonic is hurriedly packing 4K into nearly every advanced camera rolling out of its factories. Not that we’re complaining. Together with New Jersey-based photographer and director David Patiño, we put Panasonic’s latest 4K shooter, the Lumix G7, to the test.
The G7 features a 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor and ISO range of 100-25,600. You’ll compose your scene through a high-res OLED live viewfinder with a 100 percent field of view and 0.7X magnification. There’s also a free-angle 3-inch touch screen display. Mechanical shutters speeds hit 1/4000 sec. with an electronic shutter option to push speeds to 1/16,000 sec.—though Patiño tells us there was noticeable rolling shutter under fluorescents lights when using the electronic shutter above 1/60 sec.
The G7 offers Wi-Fi for remote image transfer. It does not have NFC for fast authentication, but does use a QR-code scanning system to more quickly establish a password-less connection between smartphone and camera. It takes several steps, so it’s not quite as touch-and-go as NFC. It also took several attempts to get the G7 to successfully connect with our iPad.
In contrast to, say the Fujifilm X-T10 or Olympus E-M5 Mark II, the G7 cuts a more modern (dare we say “DSLR-like”) figure. It features a more pronounced hand grip that makes the G7 far more comfortable to shoot with, in our view, than either of the aforementioned models. At 0.8 pounds, it’s the same weight as the X-T10 but feels far less substantial or well built.
The G7 is well outfitted with a pair of dials for adjusting aperture and shutter speed, plus a mode dial and a drive dial. It’s also fantastically customizable, with six programmable function buttons.
The Panasonic G7’s image quality was consistently solid, Patiño tells us. For a camera in its price point, he says, it delivers excellent results. We found high ISO performance to be a bit behind where rival mirrorless cameras are, though, with JPEG details falling apart at ISO 3200 when examining 100 percent crops. RAW images had a fair degree of latitude to pull up details lost to shadows while minimizing noise, but not quite as much flexibility as we enjoyed on, say, the X-T10.
When it comes to video, the G7 was stellar. The 4K (3840x2160p30) footage bristled with detail and the camera did a better-than-average job keeping moving subjects continually in focus. You’ll have options for 4K recording at a cinematic 24 fps or full HD at 60, 30 or 24 fps. HD video is recorded in the AVCHD format while 4K files are saved using MP4. We did notice an odd menu quirk for video. In the main camera menu, you’ll only see video quality and frame rate options if you have the correct codec selected—so if you haven’t pre-selected MP4, you won’t see any 4K video options. In the quick menu, however, you can easily scroll through every video resolution and codec option available.
During his time with the G7, Patiño says AF performance was responsive and reliable, with the camera nailing focus about 90 percent of the time. We found tracking focus mode would occasionally make the wrong choice and lock onto objects that we didn’t want (a tree limb instead of a face) but on the whole, it did a nice job with even fast-moving objects. The G7 starts quickly and acquires focus equally swiftly.
The touch screen also works well, especially for touch focusing, but we found the on-screen menu buttons crowd the display and don’t always register when you hit them (fortunately, you can remove them from the screen in the menu). Battery life is CIPA-rated for 350 shots—putting it squarely among its mirrorless peers.
You’ll enjoy a continuous shooting rate of 8 fps in AF-S mode or a slower 6 fps with AF-C engaged. The buffer is fairly generous, topping up at 100 JPEGs. However, it drops dramatically down to 13 frames, or less, when you’re shooting RAW or RAW+JPEG. The speed trails some mirrorless competitors like the E-M5 Mark II, but outpaces DSLRs like Nikon’s D5500.
Another way to coax usable frames from fast-moving scenes is to leverage the aforementioned 4K Photo modes. Rather than capturing 16-megapixel stills at 8fps, 4K Photo captures 8-megapixel stills at 30fps (and only JPEGs). The camera has a choice of three 4K Photo modes—a 4K pre-burst, which snaps 30 frames before and 30 frames after the shutter is pressed, a 4K burst mode, which records indefinitely until you take your finger off the shutter, and finally a 4K burst start/stop mode which starts recording at the press of the shutter and stops recording with a second press of the shutter.
Unlike the G7’s normal 4K video mode, 4K Photo mode optimizes exposure settings for stills—the shutter speed is faster to ensure motion is frozen in each frame, and you can adjust the aspect ratio so you’re not locked into the usual 16:9 that videos are typically recorded in. Using the G7’s touch screen, you can gently scroll through your frames to identify individual images you want to save—the G7 saves the entire video plus the extracted stills on the memory card. The 4K Photo mode is undoubtedly novel and in our time with the G7 it allowed us to freeze fluid motion like a pitcher’s windup much more easily than relying on the standard burst mode. Unfortunately, a 3-inch display isn’t really the ideal forum for closely reviewing images to see if you’ve nailed the moment.
The G7 does have a live viewfinder with an eye sensor, but we noticed the sensor was a bit slow to switch over when lifting the camera eye level.
The first thing Patiño told us after his time with the camera was that it was “feature rich.” This is, unquestionably, a lot of camera for the price. It delivers image quality on par with other mirrorless models in its class but does trail some competitors in higher ISO image quality. Still, it offers a lot that its competitors don’t, like 4K video recording, a fully articulating touch screen display, and a comfortable design that blends the solid handling and external controls of a DSLR/advanced mirrorless in a lightweight package.
PROS: Great still and video quality; solid handling; free-angle display; great feature set; excellent value.
CONS: No USB 3.0; menu system occasionally confusing; slow eye sensor.
PRICE: $800 (with 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH lens)