Panasonic GF7 Field Test Part I

Big on features, not on bulk

by Eamon Hickey | Posted

12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens: 32mm, f/5.6, 1/80s, ISO 400, -0.7EV

The Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF7 promises to pack a whole lot of performance into a very small package. Can it fulfill that promise in the real world? Let's find out.

A whole lot of camera, without all the heft

The small package part is certainly no lie, especially when the Panasonic GF7 is paired with the LUMIX G Vario 12-32mm / F3.5-5.6 ASPH retractable kit lens that I got with it. I also received a LUMIX G 42.5mm / F1.7 ASPH to test, and it's surprisingly compact as well, despite its relatively large maximum aperture. The small size and light weight of the GF7 and its lenses make the package a breeze to carry, which I appreciated on my first walk with it, a long circuit around Greenwich Village and Chelsea in New York City. This camera, with the kit lens, is smaller than many point-and-shoot digicams that I reviewed ten years ago.

The flip side to the light weight of the Panasonic GF7 is its lighter, more plastic construction, and I certainly noticed this as I used the camera. It's not flimsy or cheap feeling, but its entry-level build quality is apparent. Another potential issue with small cameras is cramped controls and handling, and I did encounter a little of this on my first long outing with the GF7. That said, I was using the camera for street photography, which requires fairly nimble handling, and the closely spaced controls never really got in the way of my shooting.

12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens: 18mm, f/5.6, 1/200s, ISO 3200, -0.7EV

For this type of shooting, I was able to quickly compose, adjust my settings, and grab a shot. This was just one of many pictures that I grabbed quickly without any trouble. I'm noting the small controls, though, because photographers who do have problems with that kind of thing might run into an issue with the GF7.

The compact GF7 was no burden at all on a long walk around New York City's west side, where I made this shot on The High Line elevated park.
12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens: 21mm, f/5.6, 1/160s, ISO 400, -0.7EV

Expansive features & customization can make menus daunting

When I receive a camera for review, one of the first things I do is cycle through the menus and set things up the way I like them. With the Panasonic GF7, this was more confusing than I'm used to, partly because the menus are extensive and the layout and labeling isn't as clear as I'd like it to be. On the other hand, the menus are so extensive because the camera offers a lot of features and customization options, and that's a big plus overall.

A menu misunderstanding forced me to go back and re-do this shot on the Hudson River.
42.5mm f/1.7 Lens: 42.5mm, f/2, 1/5000s, ISO 200

That said, I didn't read the longer, advanced features instruction manual carefully before my first shoot in Hudson River Park, and it almost bit me. When I initially set up the Panasonic GF7, I selected the electronic front curtain shutter, which, unbeknownst to me, tops out at a speed of 1/500. This was causing me to overexpose a shot I was trying to make of a docked fireboat. I ultimately puzzled out the solution a half hour later -- switch the shutter type to fully electronic -- but I had to circle back and repeat the shot.

42.5mm f/1.7 Lens: 42.5mm, f/4, 1/8000s, ISO 200, +1EV

Now, I can't really blame Panasonic for my ignorance of the GF7 features, but I felt like there are some potential gotchas lurking in the complex, but minimally informative, menu and control system. Still, this is likely to be a small issue for any GF7 owner -- it might take a little longer to come to grips with the menu system, but once you do, you'll be all set.

Logical, manageable control layout

The Panasonic GF7 has a fairly typical control setup for an entry-level interchangeable-lens camera, meaning only one main control dial and a relatively small number of additional external buttons. The Panasonic's system is reasonably logical, however, and I was able to get proficient with it in my first hour shooting with the camera. To me, the ability to change ISO quickly is very important, so I assigned that setting to the programmable function button. Unfortunately, that button is badly positioned on the top left of the camera -- I've found this mildly annoying on every one of the dozens of times I've changed ISO during several shoots with the GF7.

Waist-level viewing was stable and comfortable while I "worked the light" for this late evening shot in Pelham Bay Park.
42.5mm f/1.7 Lens: 42.5mm, f/2, 1/320s, ISO 400, -2EV

Handy, flip-out touchscreen is great for selfies

The flip-out feature of the Panasonic GF7's LCD came in handy when I needed to do some careful waist-level framing for a shot of a grove of trees in Pelham Bay Park near sunset. I find the waist-level shooting posture very comfortable and stable for situations like that where I worked a range of different exposure and framing options over several minutes as the light was changing. On other pictures during that same walk, I shot into the sunset and had no real difficulty seeing the LCD. I've only tested the touch functions at my desk -- I don't tend to use touch functionality when I'm shooting -- but the screen response to my touches was predictable and precise.

As we noted above, the LCD on the Panasonic GF7 is easy to flip 180 degrees to vertical for selfies. I tested out the new selfie triggering option that you can use in this mode -- if you wave your hand in front of your face, the camera will fire after a short delay. It worked quite well, correctly detecting my wave most of the time, and I imagine many selfie-enthusiast photographers may find this feature useful.

12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Lens: 22mm, f/5.6, 1/800s, ISO 200

Up Next in Part II...

In part 2 of this report, I'll talk about the performance of the Panasonic GF7, its movie and Wi-Fi features, and my impressions of the two lenses I tested with it.

 

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