Panasonic G7 Review: 4K on a budget

I recently purchased this Panasonic G7 body, along with the 14-42mm 3.5-5.6 OIS kit lens on an impulse. It was available with same-day shipping from Amazon and I was departing for a multi-week trip that included Hawaii and Northwest Oregon, and I wanted to experiment more with video capabilities. Since I was certainly taking my Olympus OM-D EM-5 and its underwater housing, I already planned to bring some micro 4/3 lenses along as well. I also took my hefty Nikon gear, so a smaller body was a welcome addition for casual outings. I teased this review earlier here, just before getting on the plane to Maui.

Shown here in the optional "silver" finish.

Shown here in the optional "silver" finish.

History

The G7 traces its heritage back to the first ever micro 4/3 mirrorless camera - the Panasonic G1, released in October 2008. While it shares many of the same features from that original camera, albeit more refined, it differs by being the first in this line to offer 4k UHD video recording, a step ahead of the G6 before it. Since the release of the GH1, the Panasonic name has become synonymous with professional quality video capture, and their bodies have become increasingly video-centric. In fact, it's hard to imagine a time when this wasn't the case, and the ancestral G1 didn't even have a video mode at all.

The G7, announced in May 2015, shares a number of similarities with the high end 2014 GH4, such as 100 mbps 4k video (though only in 3840x2160 UHD, not 4096x2160), a number of customizable physical dials and controls, articulating touch screen, Cinelike picture profiles, zebra pattern, and a 2360k dot EVF of good size.

Showing the articulating rear screen.

Showing the articulating rear screen.

Specifications

  • Mechanical shutter speeds from 60s to 1/4000s
  • Electronic shutter speed up to 1/16000s (drops RAW files from 12-bit to 10-bit when engaged)
  • Flash synchronization at 1/160s
  • OLED 2360k dot EVF, 1024x768 XGA resolution
  • Viewfinder 100% accurate, 0.7x full frame equivalent magnification, 30hz or 60hz refresh rate
  • Micro 4/3 lens mount
  • Built in flash + Flash hot shoe
  • 16 megapixel Live MOS sensor, 17.3x13mm imaging area
  • Effectively 2x crop (relative to "full frame" focal lengths)
  • Native ISO 200-6400, boost modes from 100-25600
  • Continuous shooting 7fps, 6fps with continuous autofocus
  • 4K UHD video at 30, 25, 24 fps
  • 1080p video at 60, 50, 30, 25 fps
  • 720p video at 60, 50, 30, 25 fps
  • MPEG-4 or AVCHD codecs
  • Built-in stereo microphone, external microphone through 3.5mm jack
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot
  • Fully articulated rear LCD, 640x480 VGA resolution
  • Takes Panasonic DMW-BLC12 battery
  • Weighs 410g with battery
  • Measures 125x86x77mm

Ergonomics

Upper rear right, showing my favored AF rotary switch and the easily accessed On/Off.

Upper rear right, showing my favored AF rotary switch and the easily accessed On/Off.

The G7 is very well designed from a usability standpoint. It offers a plethora of physical function buttons which can be set to nearly menu item, a customizable quick menu, and a touch screen with its own custom function buttons. As a left-eye shooter, I disabled the touch screen functionality as my nose occasionally grazed the outer right edge of the screen, triggering one of the five custom function buttons located there. Personally, I did not miss those five function buttons, though I added the touch screen on/off item to the quick menu in case I missed it. These custom controls can also be set differently if the camera is in record or playback mode, and with many years behind Nikon bodies I was able to bind Fn5, located at the top left near the viewfinder, to delete. This, along with some other selections, made transitioning between this camera and my D800, used on the same trip, fairly seamless. In record mode, I chose to set the top Fn1 to switch the dials from shutter/aperture to iso/wb, the AF/AE Lock button to AF-On, Fn4 to cycle focus peaking off/low/high, Fn5 to quickly enable/disable electronic shutter, and the top ring Fn button to show the level gauge. As my trip included a wedding where I was in the audience, I enjoyed switching on the electronic shutter to snap a few silent shots during the ceremony. The mechanical shutter is surprisingly loud, not much quieter than my full size DSLR firing. The trade-off to this however is the drop from 12-bit raw files down to 10-bit. Admittedly, I haven't noticed a drastic difference in post processing the 10-bit files, although wide dynamic range compositions such as landscapes may make the differences more obvious.

The top left panel drive mode dial, with internal flash raised.

The top left panel drive mode dial, with internal flash raised.

One major negative I have to mention is the plastic build. I may be overthinking this a lot, but I have a lot of trouble getting over the entirely plastic internal structure. I'm a bit spoiled in this area, as my other cameras have at minimum a metal alloy frame, even if they have plastic panels and controls. The G7 is incredibly lightweight despite its size nearing that of smaller DSLRs, and perhaps that caught me off guard when I first received it. I'm extremely careful with all of my equipment and I've never dropped anything, but I have had the occasional knock or bump when climbing to get a shot or by a passerby in a crowd - and I fear this G7 might begin to loosen up after too many encounters like that. Despite its shortcomings compared to the G7, I found myself trying to take my Olympus E-M5 out a few times during my trip purely because it felt more dense, resilient. I usually plan on keeping bodies for several years, so long term durability is important to me.

One of my favorite control additions, and missing on previous models such as the G6, is the AF-S/AF-C/MF rotary switch. On the G7, this is mounted just under the right thumb, encircling the AF/AE-Lock button (which is just AF-On for me). This makes it incredibly easy for me to quickly engage autofocus in video when I want it, or disable it quickly to save a shot that is too slow to catch up. Video AF is somewhat slow, but it is smooth, accurate, and noiseless unlike my loud jerky Canon 6D/24-105mmL combination.

Another nice feature, though common to Panasonic bodies, is the drive mode rotary dial on the left side of the top panel. This allows immediate access to burst mode, 4k photo modes, and self timers. I rarely used to 4k photo, but being able to switch between single and burst on the fly is very useful. This is nicely different compared to my Olympus and Fuji mirrorless bodies which require a short menu to change drive modes, or my Canons which need two steps (button and dial) to change. This is similar to my Nikon, as the D800 shares a similar dial in the same location.

Focusing

A nicely laid out, uncluttered, top panel.

A nicely laid out, uncluttered, top panel.

The included Panasonic 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 Mega OIS kit lens is reasonably sharp, and more contrasty than my Olympus 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II R, especially at the telephoto end. The image stabilization is somewhat lackluster though, barely noticeable and can't be disabled easily. I used this lens mainly at 14mm with a variable ND filter. I chose a very inexpensive variable ND, and after taking some daytime photos in between video clips, noticed an immediate loss of quality when it was on. About halfway through my trip, I began to just unscrew the variable ND when taking stills. Conveniently, this lens has the same 46mm filter thread as my Olympus 25mm f/1.8, so I was able to use it with both lenses for video. The 25mm f/1.8 is quite good for video, with a nice shallow depth of field and wide focusing ring. The G7 also displays a guide along the bottom when in manual focus mode, showing how close to minimum or infinity the focus is as it is being adjusted. While this doesn't make up for a real distance scale or even an on-screen scale with distance units (such as Fujifilm X bodies), it is useful in combination with the excellent peaking feature and I had little difficulty acquire accurate focus even at wide aperture settings.

Autofocus is acquired exclusively through a contrast detect method, and the G7 lacks on-sensor phase detection elements. This seemingly puts it at a speed disadvantage when compared to competing models from Sony, or even Canon. However, in stills mode the AF is very fast and barely does the back-and-forth hunt common to contrast detect focusing modes. The older Olympus OM-D EM-5 is far worse, and racks back and forth three or four times every time it tries to acquire focus. In video mode the focus is decidedly slow, clearly focusing on smooth transitions and accuracy rather than the snappier speed of the Sony's or Canon's. I'd prefer to have the faster focus as an option, but most video is manually focused anyway so I haven't missed the speed as much as I initially thought.

Image Quality

While this camera shares the same 16 megapixel count of other micro 4/3 bodies going back for years now, some revisions have squeezed out somewhat better noise performance than past bodies. I was surprised, when perusing some studio comparison images, that at higher ISOs this 16mp sensor has slightly better noise performance than the newer 20mp micro 4/3 bodies such as the Pen-F, GX8, or even the OM-D EM-1 II. Of course, when compared to APS-C or FF bodies such as the 6D, 16mp Fuji X's, etc it does perform somewhat worse in stills. I did notice something else I wasn't expecting though, and that is the 4k video output seems to be oversampled a bit from the sensor, meaning the video out of this camera is actually superior in terms of noise and grain when compared to many cameras with larger sensors. I've seen that the new Sony A6500 also oversamples its 4k footage, so that camera is probably better than this, but it is also nearly three times the price.

Raw files are a nice 12-bit sample, with good color accuracy and a decent dynamic range despite somewhat poorer high ISO performance compared to larger sensors. It's important to note that when in electronic shutter modes, RAW files drop down to 10-bits of color information. The G7 also offers 4k photo modes, essentially using a short burst of 4k video from which the user can extract 8 megapixel 8-bit JPEGs from. This works well, though with the high continuous burst rate I found it more advantageous to capture action with the mechanical shutter rather than hoping for a single distortion free frame of video to extract. Rolling shutter is present, and fast moving objects do have some distortion to them as the sensor readout goes top to bottom. This limits the usefulness of this feature in my opinion, but it would excel at capturing a good moment of someone's facial expressions or to get a good picture of someone who frequently blinks for example.

Take a look at these samples from DPReview, showing an obvious difference in grain between the G7, OM-D EM-1 Mark II, Fujifilm X-E2, and the Canon 6D. Especially take note of the text clarity on the color wheel. DPReview Comparison

Final Comments

This has been an excellent body for me, and I enjoyed shooting the 4k video. When mounted on a tripod, I captured some very clear clips, although a few are slightly out of focus (user error). Down sampling these 4k clips to 1080p disguises my mistakes in the footage, but for the clearest shots I can easily define a 1080p sized window and pan across the shot at a fixed speed in premiere - easy to do and has some very nice looking results with minimal effort. Perhaps I need more practice, but most of the clips I took while moving around were a little too shaky to use, even after using software stabilization and dropping down to 1080p. I know a gimbal unit would be optimal for this kind of on the go video shooting, but I've actually opted to sell this G7 and purchase the newer G85 kit. I'm used to the in-body sensor stabilization from my Olympus E-M5, and I've had many stable videos on that camera (but the video quality is very low on that camera). I expect the G85's stabilization, combined with the lens stabilization, to give me smoother handheld footage, and offer some other features I'm missing from the G7. I also expect the G85 to provide better stills, lacking a sensor AA filter should squeeze out some more clarity from the 16 megapixel sensor without the noise penalty of upgrading to the 20 megapixel bodies. This was my first Panasonic bodie and essentially eliminated my Olympus E-M5 from non-underwater use, as the improvements in the viewfinder resolution and autofocus speed are drastic. If only I could find an affordable underwater housing for the G7 or G85.

  • Image Quality: 6/10

  • Video Quality: 8/10

  • Stills Features: 6/10

  • Video Features: 8/10

  • Usability: 8/10

  • Durability: 3/10

  • Price/Performance: 8/10

  • Overall Score: 7/10

Click here to see what these ratings mean


Amazon links for items used in this review below:

Canon P: My First Rangefinder

A few years ago, I picked up a Canon P from a Japanese eBay seller. It included the 50mm f/1.8 LSM lens, along with its 40mm glass filter, but missing the slip-on cap. This was my first rangefinder camera.

The Canon P

History

The Canon P ("Populaire") was released in 1958 as a lower cost model, below the VI series rangefinders. It had a production run of about three years and sold very well despite the growing popularity of single lens reflex cameras. Canon would discontinue this and all VI model rangefinders in 1961, making way for the 7 series rangefinders which ran until 1968, alongside the company's growing SLR lineup. 

The P was a 39mm Leica screw mount rangefinder, and Canon was well known at the time for producing quality rangefinders in this mount, along with lenses. It lacked some features of the higher end VI and VI-L models, such as selectable framelines. The shutter curtain is metal with a plastic coating, designed to prevent constant sunlight from damaging or burning the curtains. However, these curtains are prone to becoming crinkled from use.

1959 saw the release of the Nikon F, along with Canon's less well received Canonflex. This sparked a drastic change in the preferred equipment for photographic professionals at the time - the F had lenses ranging from 21mm to 1000mm and a 100% accurate through the lens viewfinder, all incredible features at the time. Canon launched several short lived models (R2000, RP, RM) which had ended production by 1964, transitioning into the more consumer oriented FL amount SLR bodies such as the FX. 

This transition into SLR system led to the early demise of the P and VI series, which lacked built-in light meters. Take a look at this site for more information: Photoethnography

Film door open, showing the metal coated shutter curtain

Specifications

  • Horizontal travel stainless steel shutter
  • Shutter speeds from 1s to 1/1000s
  • Flash synchronization at 1/55 (marked as "X")
  • Combined viewfinder - composing and focusing through the same view
  • Circular focusing patch
  • 1.0x magnification
  • Parallax corrected Framelines for 35mm, 50mm, 100mm at ~85% accuracy
  • 39mm screw lens mount
  • Cold accessory shoe
  • Single stroke film advance
  • No on-board metering system, accessory meter attaches to top plate
  • Shutter speed selectable via dial on top plate
  • Self timer on front, approximately 8 second maximum delay
  • Weighs 650g
  • Takes 135 36x24mm film

Ergonomics

Top plate controls

The P shares much in common with the later FL series SLR bodies, such as the similar film advance lever and film rewind release encircling the shutter button. The shutter speed dial gives options in whole steps, ranging from one second to 1/1000 of a second, with the added options of bulb and "X," which is the flash synchronization speed (about 1/55). Aperture is controlled by turning a ring on the front of the lens, and it stops down as you turn it. Since composing and focusing is not done through the lens, this does not darken the viewfinder or affect metering. Self timer is accessed on the front of the body by twisting the silver lever, then pressing the shutter button to begin the delay to fire.

The rewind knob, with orange marker to verify correct loading

The accessory shoe is cold, offering no electrical contacts. On the side of the body opposite the shutter button is a PC sync port, which is required to trip a flash unit. The shutter mechanism is very quiet, somewhere in between your average SLR and a leaf shutter mechanism, with a distinctive metallic ping. The tripod screw is not centered, and instead placed on the bottom plate below the film advance lever. This offset allows the user to easily replace film while the body has a plate attached.

Opening the film door requires pulling out and twisting a locking mechanism on the bottom of the camera body, then pressing down on a small tab on the side of the door to release it. Loading film is easy, and familiar to anyone who has used an SLR in the past. The film rewind knob flips up from a recessed area in the body, allowing full rotation to wind the film. When the rewind knob is retracted, there is a small orange marking that rotates as you advance the film, assuring you that film is correctly advancing. Rewind is achieved by twisting the ribbed ring around the shutter button so the marking points towards the advance window, then working the rewind knob clockwise until the film is back inside the canister.

As this is a rangefinder, it does require more maintenance as far as focus calibration. Just above and left of the lens mount is the focusing window, and this has a knurled silver ring which can be removed. Beneath this is a tab that can be rotated to adjust the focus calibration horizontally. Vertical adjustment is more difficult and requires opening the top plate, something I have not had to do yet.

Focusing

Viewfinder 35mm, 50mm, and 100mm framelines

This camera has a large, life size viewfinder that I find easy to compose with. Unlike most leica finders sporting magnifications like .58x, .72x, or .85x, which offer various trade-offs, this one doesn't distort or widen the view - it looks the same as the naked eye, just with framelines overlaid.  This also offers an advantage over other rangefinders when using longer lenses, but at the cost of not being able to see anything wider than those 35mm lines, which are basically the edge of what you can comfortably see while using it. This means that for lenses wider than 35mm or so, you may want to use an add-on viewfinder.

The 50mm f/1.8 LSM lens

The focusing patch is round in shape, which provides a fairly seamless focusing experience. It doesn't have a window for added light however, so it can be a bit dimmer than those that do. Additionally, the round focusing patch has fuzzy edges, unlike the rigidly defined rectangular shape of a Leica. While I haven't had any issues with focus accuracy with the P's setup, I would prefer a more defined shape as well as a brighter patch while indoors.

The mechanical action of the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens I have is smooth, and has a release that clicks into place when the lens is focused at infinity. This release also sticks out enough to use it for some leverage while focusing, making it easy to travel the long focus throw quickly if necessary. The minimum focus distance on this lens is a long 3.5 feet, so the parallax correction is not very noticeable.

Image Quality

I have found the camera to take good quality photos, with little issues focusing. The 50mm f/1.8 lens is fairly sharp stopped down to f/4.0, and lacks any noticeable distortion. As an older design, it lacks coatings and corrective elements. It isn't particularly contrasty, but this provides pleasing tones for portraits or calm scenes. It has developed a bit of a following around the web, and it is rumored to be based on the old Leica 50mm f/2 Summitar. It is also tiny, and has nice aesthetics with the white distance scale and aperture ring against the black of the barrel and focus ring. Samples below, shot with either Fuji Provia 400F or Kodak Ektar 100.

Final Comments

This is an excellent camera to get into rangefinder cameras without shelling out for a similar Leica kit. It does lack a light meter, but this also means that it is not dependent on batteries. I've used it mainly with the Sunny f/16 rule with pleasing results. For a small amount more, you could also find a VI or 7 series rangefinder if those added features are important. The 39mm screw mount has a wide array of interesting lenses, many of which are usable on modern mirrorless cameras with an adapter as well. Popular lenses for these are the Fed/Zorki/Kiev/Jupiter eastern block made Contax/Zeiss copies. There are several interesting designs available, but some of them are not properly calibrated to Leica's rangefinder coupling standard (which this Canon P uses). Essentially this means that some of these lenses may need to be disassembled and shimmed to achieve proper focus alignment on non-Russian bodies.

A few things to look out for though: Canon did release a black painted P body, but these are very rare. They go for much higher prices, but be wary of silver bodies being repainted and sold as black ones. Crinkled shutter curtains are very common but don't have a drastically negative effect on performance or accuracy. The top plate is easily dented as well, and the viewfinder glass is prone to fungus - the sample used for this review has some visible upon close inspection. I have also seen a number of Canon 50mm lenses for this system with haze or spotting on the rear element group, and I have been unable to clean these effectively without damaging the glass clarity. These lenses are still usable but likely don't perform at optimal sharpness and contrast levels.

The P can be a fascinating addition to any vintage camera collection, and its similarity to traditional mechanical SLR's make it easy to use. Here are some current eBay listings for Canon P's.