If you don’t want to lug your Blackmagic Cinema Camera to shoot video on your next trip to the coast with the kids and dogs and you’d like to get some great stills too, take a close look at the Lumix G7. Itâs small, lightweight, costs less than $800 and fits perfectly in that middle ground between your main camera and your smartphone. In fact, to be fair, the image quality and features make it come a lot closer to your main rig than you might expect.
The Lumix G7 features a micro four thirds 16-megapixel MOS sensor powered by the Venus Engine 9 processor built into an interchangeable lens camera package that fits nicely in your hands. The design is a bit retro, sporting large mode dials on the top but with direct access to many programmable function buttons, control dials, cursors and high resolution live viewfinder and articulating monitor, there is nothing old fashioned about the Lumix G7.
For video, it takes a small crop from the center portion of the sensor then scales down to 4K, HD or VGA formats that give you a 2x crop factor. One of the most exciting developments of current cameras is increasingly capable autofocus in movie mode and the Lumix G7 features powerful and usable AF options for videographers.
Most of us like having as much direct control as possible over our camera’s main functions such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation. While the Lumix G7 excels in providing very intelligent fully automatic modes, the basics are only a fingertip away. In fully manual mode, the front dial controls the aperture, the rear dial the shutter speed and function buttons one and three control exposure compensation and ISO respectively.
While the Lumix G7 excels in providing very intelligent fully automatic modes, the basics are only a fingertip away.
The Lumix G7 gives you additional direct control of dozens of features with six assignable function buttons on the camera body and another five nested in a pop out window on the right side of the touch screen. Depress the Disp button a few times and you’ll have all the key camera operations at your fingertips. Touching on Fn launches an intuitive drawing of the camera and all the assignable function buttons letting you program each with most of the camera’s features. Yes, you are still digging a few levels down to make things happen, but Panasonic has made this process as intuitive as possible, even providing a description crawl at the top of the screen which is painfully slow but still helpful.
The layout on the top includes the on/off switch, drive and shooting mode dials, front and rear control dials, function buttons one and six, a stereo microphone and the movie record button. This record button is a bit too small and lacks enough travel when you press it, making it hard to know if you really started recording by feel alone. We liked the placement of the stereo mic on top of the hot shoe as it reduces the chance of your fingers accidentally covering the inputs.
Controls on the back of the Lumix G7 are well laid out and easy to reach with your thumbs. At the top is function button five, the flash release, the LVF diopter adjustment wheel and the AF/AE lock button surrounded by the AF type selection lever. The layout on the right side of the back include function buttons two, three and four, playback, display and menu buttons, four cursor controls and the small speaker.
The Lumix G7’s connections for wired remote control, HDMI and AV/Digital outputs are on the right and the mic jack is on the left side placed above where the articulating monitor can swing out. With no cable locking accessory, you’ll need to be careful when moving the monitor. The only thing missing to make the Lumix G7 a full-featured video camera is a headphone jack for monitoring audio. The battery and SD card slips into the bottom of the Lumix G7. It is a minor annoyance, but the door does not self lock; you have to slide the locking switch back into place unlike what we find on most other camera models.
Quality 4K and More
We used the Standard photo style for most of our tests and recorded clips in each resolution of the MP4 and AVCHD formats. The 4K image quality is very good but a bit contrasty. It was easy, however, to add an in-camera Highlight/Shadow adjustment curve, use the Intelligent Dynamic setting or add the High Dynamic filter to greatly improve the detail in both the light and dark areas.
The color, sharpness and resolution of the 1920 x 1080, 1280 x 720 and 640 x 480 files in both types looked very good for their respective resolutions but also a bit contrasty without adjustment. We noticed some color banding in gradients that is usual with color sample ratios of 4:2:0 in 8-bit. Auto white balance worked very well even in mixed light conditions except skin tones seemed a bit too saturated. We could not see any strong moirÃ© patterns when shooting horizontal lines. The leaning effects of rolling shutter are moderately evident when quickly panning. Overall, we were impressed with how good the daylight video looked for a sub-$1000 camera.[video:18454]
Low light performance is less impressive. Rather than introduce excessive noise into the video just for the sake of peering in the dark, Panasonic limited the ISO in movie mode to 6400, far short of the extended sensitivity of 25,600 in photo mode. This makes the G7’s low light sensitivity about that of what we could see with our eyes, which is somewhat lackluster given the low light performance of other cameras such as the Sony a7S.
We really liked the shooting assistance of the zebra pattern that is selectable between 50 and 105 percent, the real-time histogram, three guideline patterns, the highlight display and the horizon level gauge. The only thing we felt was missing were 4:3 safe area guidelines.
Viewing our setups and reviewing our shots on the articulating three-inch 1040K pixel monitor was a joy. The monitor is very touch responsive and accurate, and we loved the ability to reposition many display elements such as the focus area weighting and live histogram by a simple finger drag. You can position the monitor at just about any angle and we found it easier to view images outside in sunlight than many other cameras we’ve reviewed. Direct sun will still require you to provide some shading or, with Eye Sensor AF, you can choose to auto switch from the monitor to LVF when your eye is positioned near the LVF.
Zooming is only possible with power zoom lenses and the kit lens we used for this review was not one of them. The zoom ring moves smoothly, but it has a fair bit of resistance so we could not get any usable zooms while handheld and only marginally usable ones on a solid tripod. If you only have the kit lens we used, you’ll have to do your zooming the old fashioned way; by moving the camera closer with dollies, jibs, sliders or Steadicams.
You do need to be careful that you don’t forget to adjust some menu settings when in Movie Mode. Some features, such as the optical stabilization, are only accessible in photo modes but are not available to select when in movie mode. To add to the confusion, page 222 of the manual indicates OIS is not even available in movie mode. Don’t worry it is, and it does a good job at smoothing out minor jitters.
We found the audio quality very good testing with our wireless Sennheiser EW-100 lavaliere microphone system. There was no apparent mechanical or internal processing noise from the Lumix G7. The built-in stereo mic works well for simply documenting sound but quality drops dramatically with distance from the subject.
Auto Focus for Real
The G7 has four AF types: Single, Flexible, Continuous and Manual along with six modes; Face/Eye Detection,Tracking,49-Area, Custom Multi, 1-Area and Pinpoint. The G7 focus uses contrast rather than phase detection but Panasonic improves the responsiveness and accuracy with their Depth-from-Defocus technology that senses changing distances from the subject. It still may not be quite as quick or accurate as phase detection found in more expensive cameras, but it works surprisingly well under bright conditions. It will slow and hunt a little as light dims. To help us out in low light, we liked the ability to manually touch up focus after using the AF.
We used the touch screen to pull focus using AFF but got mixed results. We focused between two high contrast test charts that each filled about half of the screen. It took differing amounts of time to focus from near to far even when focus area confirmation blocks confirmed we were touching only on the target areas. Speed and consistency improved by selecting Quick AF in the menu.
The Continuous AF type tracked moving subjects well using both the Tracking and 49-point modes if they were following a predictable path. On one dolly shot where the camera approached a coffee cup, the G7 slipped out of focus momentarily but quickly reacquired the target. We found it odd that Continuous focus only operates when recording so you can’t preview the AF response in advance of recording. AFS/AFF modes, however, do work while not recording. Face Detection worked very well and we really loved how, in manual mode, as soon as you turn the focus ring, the G7 enlarges a user definable center area. You can also adjust the amount of magnification of the focus area by using the front and rear dials. This is one of the best implementations of focus assist that we’ve seen.
4K Photo Power
Yes, the Lumix G7 takes great photos, too. In fact, the additional photo-specific features packed into this small package almost make you forget it shoots 4K video. You’ll not only find amazing built-in HDR, intelligent scene detection, 4K photo extraction and face/eye detection but also an incredible Face Recognition ability that lets you register a face and the G7 will automatically focus on that face for future photos complete with naming the subject in metadata, even noting their age if you plugged in their birth date.
Panasonic highlights the G7’s 4K Photo modes and yes, it is pretty cool for capturing the perfect action shot. It certainly gives new meaning to the term, “run and gun.” There are three modes; 4K Burst, Burst Start/Stop and Pre-Burst. With 4K burst you hold the shutter button down for the length of your shot. This mimics the way traditional still cameras operate, complete with a rather cheesy sound of a mechanical shutter. The Burst Start/Stop starts when you first press the shutter button then stops when you hit it again sans sound effects. The 4K Pre-Burst records a second before and after you hit the shutter button. The method for reviewing the potentially large number of images is very intuitive. You simply use the cursor buttons to scroll a set of 60 frames at a time and when you find the one you like, you select and save as an 8 megapixel photo. The photos we grabbed from our test footage showed a little noise in the darks, but the overall images looked quite good. But remember these are essentially 4K video frame grabs and the full 16 megapixel stills have more image quality.
Other Cool Features
The smartphone/tablet Wi-Fi control option is very useful, especially if you want to avoid touching the monitor when controlling focus â or power zoom with capable lenses. It does require either an iPhone or Android with a relatively current OS and you have to download the Panasonic Image App. Once installed the G7/smartphone connection sync is easy and we were remotely controlling our G7 in just a few minutes. Other reviewers have noted the process can be buggy or complex, but this was not our experience. The smartphone image lags the G7 monitor a little, but unless you are watching both at the same time, you probably won’t notice.
The Lumix G7 includes an automated diffraction compensation setting that attempts to counteract the image softening that happens with small apertures. While it applies to movie mode we could not detect any improvement in sharpness shooting at f22.
Snap Movie lets you quickly shoot a short 1920 x 1080 MP4 clip between two and eight seconds. You can easily transfer these clip via Wi-Fi to a Smartphone or tablet for sharing online. The G7 comes bundled with basic video editing software called PHOTOfunSTUDIO and Silkypix, a RAW photo editor. PHOTOfunSTUDIO is very basic, guiding you from transferring images to your hard drive to simple clip joining or “retouching” that lets you do clip trimming and simple image manipulation. Remember, if you are planning on shooting a lot of 4K, be sure your computer is up to the task.
The Lumix G7 is small, lightweight, powerful and while not perfect, it gives you good 4K video for an incredibly low price. AF is a real asset in most situations but low light video quality is lacking. The Lumix G7 has lots of features which results in lots of menus â perhaps too many particularly if this camera is designed for the casual user. For less than $800, the Lumix G7 is a great camera to take on your next vacation. Plus it’s a snap to make your friends envious by instantly sharing your shots.
- Good looking 4K in a compact design for less than $800.
- Decent autofocus.
- Wi-Fi control
- Lots of video and still options.
- No headphone jack for monitoring audio.
- Amount of options may be confusing for casual users.
Format: Mirrorless Interchangeable Micro Four Thirds
Sensor Type: MOS
Size of Sensor: Micro Four Thirds (17.3 x 13.0 mm)
Pixels on Sensor: Approx. 16.84 actual, 16 effective megapixels
File Formats (video): MP4, AVCHD
Maximum Video Resolution: 4K/UHD (3840 x 2160)
Focus: 49-point contrast detection system AF, continuous/single servo, “flexible,” manual
Shutter Speed (still): 60 -1/4000 sec
Shutter Speed (video): 1/25-1/16000th sec
Sensitivity: ISO 200-25600 (100-25600 in extended mode)
Program Exposure Modes: Aperture Priority, Manual, Programmed Auto, Shutter Priority Lens Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Lens f Stop: f/3.5 – 5.6 on included 14 – 42mm kit lens
Image Stabilization:Â optical
White Balance: Manual/preset/automatic
Viewfinder: 2,360k dotÂ OLED EVF
LCD Monitor Size: 3-inch
LCD Monitor Resolution: 1040k dot
Frame Rates: in MP4; 4K-24p/30p, 1920×1080-30p/60p, 1280×720-30p, 640×480-30p; In AVCHD; 1920×1080-60p/60i/30p/24p
Video Out: HDMI Type D Micro / VIERA Link
USB Terminal: Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0)
Mono/Stereo Recording: Yes
Audio Input(s): 3.5 mm Stereo mini jack
Audio formats: AVCHD- Dolby Digital 2ch, MP4- AAC 2ch
VU Meters:Â Yes
Manual Audio Level Controls: Yes
Headphone Jack: no
Recording Media: SD, SDHC, SDXC, UHS-II compatible
Memory Card Included: no
Wireless Remote: WiFi control options
External Battery Charger Provided: Yes
Battery Type: Lithium-ion 7.2V, 1200mAh, 8.7Wh, included
Onboard Video Light: None
Accessory Shoe: Yes
Brian Peterson is a commercial video producer and certified Steadicam owner/operator.