The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 ($799.99 with 14-42mm lens) is a premium camera wrapped in a plastic body and bundled with a starter zoom lens. If you can get past the plasticky feel, you’ll find that the 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor does a fine job capturing images, and an even better one when it comes to 4K video. It’s also got a built-in EVF, a vari-angle rear LCD, plenty of on-body controls, and built-in Wi-Fi. But it can’t keep up with our favorite mirrorless camera, the Editors’ Choice Sony Alpha 6000. The Alpha 6000 doesn’t support 4K, but it does capture 24-megapixel images at 11.1fps.
Design Despite dropping the mirror box, the G7 takes its design cues from SLRs. Its body is slim, with sharp angles, but the handgrip is deep and the EVF occupies the same space as the optical viewfinder would in an SLR. It measures 3.4 by 4.9 by 3 inches (HWD) and weighs 14.6 ounces without a lens. Compare that with the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, another Micro Four Thirds camera with a similar design—the E-M10 measures 3.3 by 4.7 by 1.8 inches and weighs 13.7 ounces without a lens attached.
The E-M10 is smaller and lighter, but feels a bit more solid and dense in the hand, largely due to its aluminum exterior. The G7’s plastic exterior doesn’t feel fragile, but it also doesn’t carry the premium finish that you’d expect from a camera with its feature set. Our review unit is finished in matte black; it’s also available in a two-tone black-and-silver finish.
There are loads of controls on the G7’s body. That can be daunting to casual snapshooters, but a plus for photographers who want to take control (there’s a full automatic setting, too, of course). A dedicated dial sits to the left of the pop-up flash on the top plate and controls the Drive Mode—in addition to the standard Single, Continuous, and Self-Timer modes, it includes positions for Panasonic’s 4K Photo mode, as well as interval shooting for time-lapse photography, and automated exposure bracketing.
The large Mode dial sits just to right of the flash. The Power switch sits adjacent to the dial, with the programmable Fn1 (EV compensation, by default) and the Record button sharing space on the top plate. The shutter button is incorporated into the front control dial, which is slightly angled at the top of the handgrip. There’s also a button at the center of the rear control dial, which toggles the functions of the front and rear dials. They normally control the shutter and aperture; the button switches to the alternate functions, white balance and ISO control.
The EVF toggle (Fn5) and mechanical flash release sit to the left of the eyecup on the rear. To its right is the focus mode toggle switch—it has positions for AF-S/AF-F, AF-C, and MF, along with a button that activates AF/AE Lock. The remainder of the controls sit below the rear thumb rest, to the right of the LCD. The Q.Menu/Fn2 button launches an on-screen settings menu, and is joined by display, play, and delete buttons. The four-way rear directional pad, an interface common to most cameras, includes buttons that adjust ISO, white balance, and the focus area, as well as the programmable Fn3 control and a center Menu/Set button.
The Q.Menu gives you quick access to a number of settings. These include the picture output mode (profiles include Standard, Vivid, Natural, Monochrome, and others), flash output control, video quality settings, focus mode and area, the metering pattern, as well as exposure controls (aperture, shutter speed, EV compensation, ISO, and white balance).
It’s easy enough to navigate the Q.Menu using the rear directional pad, but you can also tap on the 3-inch touch screen to adjust settings. The LCD is bright and sharp. Its 1,040k-dot resolution delivers a clear view of the world, and makes it possible to confirm critical focus by zooming in on images during playback. There’s also an EVF. It’s quite sharp—Panasonic states that its resolution is 2,360k dots—and is fairly large to my eye. Motion is smooth in most lighting, although as with all EVFs, you’ll experience some choppiness in very dim conditions.
The G7 has built-in Wi-Fi. It’s easy enough to connect the camera with your phone—Android users can do it via NFC, and iPhone users just need to connect to the camera via the Wi-Fi network that it broadcasts. It’s easy enough to copy JPG images and 1080p video to your phone or tablet using the free Panasonic Image App—but Raw images and 4K video can’t be sent wirelessly.
Remote control is also available from the app. Full manual adjustment is possible, and you can tap on the Live View feed shown on your phone’s screen to set the focus point. The G7 doesn’t have its own GPS, but if you start a location log in the companion app and ensure that the camera’s clock matches your phone you can add location data to images stored on the G7’s memory card over Wi-Fi.
Performance and Image Quality
The G7 starts, focuses, and fires in about 0.8-second, which is a fine result for a mirrorless camera. It certainly betters the Alpha 6000, which requires 1.9 seconds to do the same. The G7 is quick to focus, locking on in about 0.05-second in bright light, but it can slow in dim conditions. With a lens with a narrow aperture, like the kit lens, it can slow to as much as 1 second, but using a wide aperture prime can speed dim light focus to 0.3-second. The Alpha 6000 shows similar results; it focuses in 0.02-second in bright light, and locks on in 0.8-second in very dim light.
Burst shooting varies based on file format and focus mode. If you shoot in Raw or Raw+JPG format the G7 tops out at 6.9fps for 21 or 17 shots (respectively) before slowing down. Switching to JPG improves the burst rate to 8.6fps; I was able to hold down the shutter button for a full minute while firing images at that rate with no signs of the G7 slowing down. Those figures are with locked focus. Switching to AF-C cuts the shooting rate to 4.6fps, with a solid hit for in-focus images when shooting a moving target. Burst shooting is one of the big reasons we recommend the Sony Alpha 6000 so strongly—it can accurately track subjects while firing images at 11.1fps.
If you need to shoot at an even faster rate, consider using 4K Photo mode. You’re limited to capturing 8-megapixel JPGs (although at your choice of aspect ratio), but the G7 can do so at 30fps and it can keep that pace for just shy of 30 minutes. It’s a great way to get a shot of the perfect moment—the family photo where everyone is smiling with their eyes open, or the moment when a balloon just starts to burst.
By default 4K Photo shoots with locked focus, but you can enable the Post Focus feature to deal with situations when you’re not sure what part of the frame in which to focus. It works just like 4K Photo, shooting a burst of 8-megapixel JPGs at varying points of focus in the frame. It’s not quite like the Lytro Illum, which lets you focus on different parts of an image, but the G7 blows the Illum’s image quality out of the water, and Photoshop wizards can stack or composite images with multiple focus points as desired.
I used Imatest to check the sharpness of the bundled Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II ASPH. Mega O.I.S. lens. You can see our full review for more information on the lens, but it’s pretty typical for a bundled zoom. The lens is acceptably sharp throughout its range, although edges are soft at its widest angle. It’s a mechanical lens, so it’s a bit larger than power zoom alternatives like the Lumix G X Vario PZ 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH. and the Olympus M.Zuiko ED 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 EZ, but still fairly small as zoom lenses go. If you’re just getting started with a Micro Four Thirds system you’ll likely get some use out of it, but if you’re eyeing the G7 as an upgrade you may find the lack of a body-only purchase option annoying.
Imatest also checks photos for noise. When shooting JPGs at default settings, the G7 keeps noise under 1.5 percent through ISO 12800. That’s a strong result for a Micro Four Thirds camera. But a close look at our ISO test image, viewed at full resolution on a calibrated NEC MultiSync PA271W display shows there’s definitely a loss of detail; fine lines are smudged and blurred. That’s also the case at ISO 6400—you’ll need to dial back to ISO 3200 to capture JPGs with crisp lines, and all the way down to ISO 1600 to make the differences between Raw and JPG quality negligible. The Sony Alpha 6000, which has a larger APS-C image sensor and more resolution at 24 megapixels, captures JPGs that hold up better through ISO 6400.
More serious photographers are likely to opt for Raw image capture. There’s no in-camera noise reduction applied here, so details hold up better at high ISOs—there is more grain to contend with, though. Images are crisp, with a fine grain texture, through ISO 6400 when shooting Raw. There’s some loss of detail at ISO 12800, as the grainy noise gets a little rougher. You can push the G7 to ISO 25600 when shooting in either Raw or JPG, but expect rough results in Raw and blurry images when shooting JPG.
Video The G7 is the first interchangeable lens camera to truly deliver upon the promise of 4K video capture in this price range (the NX500 also records in 4K, but its sensor is cropped when doing so and its H.265 workflow is daunting). It doesn’t have quite the same level of pro recording options as Panasonic’s premium GH4, but it is capable of recording 100Mbps 4K footage at 30fps or 24fps, as well as 1080p60 video at 28Mbps, and 1080p30 at 20Mbps, all in MP4 format.
If you want to record 1080p at additional frame rates you’ll need to opt for AVCHD recording—it supports 60p, 60i, 30p, and 24p—and for projects that don’t require high-resolution video you can record MP4 video at 720p30 or 480p30.
But if you have a computer that can handle the editing workload, you’ll likely want to capture video in 4K. The quality will knock your socks off—each frame is an 8-megapixel still. When paired with a stabilized lens, the G7 captures really crisp, life-like footage that has the pop you associate with 4K. Audio from the built-in mic is acceptable—levels are adjustable, but it is prone to pick up noise when shooting outside on a windy day.
Thankfully there is a standard mic input, so you can connect a shotgun mic for better quality in the field or a wireless lavalier for interviews. There’s no headphone jack, so you’ll have to rely on the on-screen audio monitors to make sure your levels aren’t too high or low. Other ports include micro USB, micro HDMI, and a wired remote control connection. The G7 includes an external battery charger and supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC memory.
Conclusions The Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 is one of the better mirrorless cameras you can buy. Even though it lacks the stellar build quality of the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II, its image quality is just a step behind APS-C models at high ISOs, and the Micro Four Thirds lens system is extensive. But the big selling point is 4K video, and the G7 delivers, capturing high-resolution footage that’s rife with detail. The 4K Photo features are a plus for image acquisition at up to 30fps, but you’re limited to 8-megapixel JPG stills. Switching to full 16-megapixel resolution capture slows the rate to a still-speedy 8.6fps, but only with fixed focus. Our favorite camera in this class, the Sony Alpha 6000, outclasses the G7 here thanks to its 11.1fps frame rate, which it maintains with tracking focus enabled. The G7 trumps it in terms of video, but the Alpha 6000 is better all-around, and you can get it for less, which cements it as our Editors’ Choice.