Panasonic's much-leaked Lumix DMC-GX7 is arguably the company's most enthusiast-focused mirrorless camera yet to hit the market. Back in 2011, Panasonic released the DMC-GX1 in a move to appease enthusiasts who grew more and more disappointed as the promising GF-series got smaller and simpler, with fewer controls in the GF2 and GF3 models. The GX1, however, seemed like an interim move, adding minor enhancements to the original GF1 design and changing the badge, while fans watched as Sony's NEX-7 and later the Olympus E-M5 offered more controls and sophisticated features, including a built-in EVF.

While few of the GX7's specifications stand out as revolutionary (aside, perhaps, from its built-in articulated electronic viewfinder), our impression was that it contains plenty of small tweaks and features sure to endear it the enthusiast crowd.

Key specifications

  • 16MP Live MOS sensor
  • In-body image stabilization (works with any lens)
  • Front and rear control dials
  • Flip-up, 1024 x 768 pixel (2.3M dot equivalent) electronic viewfinder
  • 3-inch tilting LCD
  • 3-level focus peaking
  • 1080 video at 60p/60i/24p in MP4 or AVCHD format
  • Built-in Wi-Fi with NFC
  • Magnesium-alloy frame
  • 1/8000 second max shutter speed, 1/320th flash sync speed
  • Highlight and shadow curve adjustments
  • Built-in pop-up flash
  • Large contoured grip

It's hard to know whether to think of the GX7 as being a post-NEX-7 or a post-E-M5 camera - but to an extent that's the point: unlike the GX1, which appeared to be a rather-too-late, warmed-over GF1, the GX7 is a camera that has learned from the increasingly impressive cameras it will have to compete with.

So, despite Panasonic producing an extensive range of image-stabilized lenses, the GX7 incorporated in-body stabilization. This will be a welcome move for anyone hoping to use legacy lenses or any of Olympus's prime lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system. Combined with the 'focus peaking' manual focus aid that Sony re-introduced to its NEX cameras, it promises to make the GX7 one of the more capable options, when it comes to shooting with adapted lenses.

The GX7 is one of a surprisingly small number of mirrorless cameras to offer a DSLR-style twin-dial control system.

But that's not the full extent of the GX7's offerings for keen photographers - a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000th of a second and a flash sync speed of 1/320th suggest Panasonic is serious about appealing to enthusiast photographers. The GX7 is also in unexpectedly exclusive company when it comes to offering a DSLR-like twin-dial control system. There are several mirrorless cameras with two control dials, but remarkably few that make it easy to simply set one to control aperture or shutter speed, and the other to control exposure compensation, which makes the semi-auto Av and Tv modes enjoyable to shoot in.

Wi-Fi

As with most recent Panasonic models - including the G6 and GF6 - the GX7 features Wi-Fi with the option to use NFC to establish a connection and transfer photos simply by 'tapping' the two devices together. Like those other cameras, it allows you to connect the camera to Wi-Fi networks to download your images, or to push them to social networks, but our understanding is that Panasonic hasn't modified its rather labyrinthine setup system.

Much better executed is the behavior with smartphones, where an iOS or Android app can be used to take remote control over almost all the camera's settings. It's also fairly straightforward to connect to a smartphone and pull images off the camera if you want to push them out to social networks yourself.

Silent mode

The GX7 is also one of the few cameras we've seen to use its optional electronic shutter to offer an effective silent shooting mode for discreet shooting. The camera is limited to a sensitivity range of ISO 200-3200 in silent mode, and the flash, AF illuminator and all camera sounds are disabled when the mode is engaged. We were quite impressed with silent mode, several of us commenting that we would likely use it often.

Electronic viewfinder

The most immediately visible new feature of the GX7 is its flip-up electronic viewfinder. We've seen corner-mounted EVFs before, but this is the first built-in unit we've seen for a long time that articulates upwards, allowing for more flexible shooting. The viewfinder itself is built around a 1024 x 768-pixel LCD panel. This has become essentially the standard for high-end viewfinders, thanks to the 2.3M dot OLED finders in several Sony models, and the similarly high-res LCD used in the Fujifilm X100S / Olympus VF-4 viewfinder.

The Lumix GX7's flip-up electronic viewfinder is one of its most distinctive features.

However, the GX7 doesn't use either of these panels, instead making use of a field-sequential LCD. It uses around 780,000 dots that show red, green and blue information, one after the other, rather than using separate dots for each. The only drawback to this unique display method is called 'tearing,' in which colors appear to separate, causing red, green and blue edges left and right of high-contrast areas when panning rapidly. It was still present in the GX7, but not as bad as we've seen before, likely thanks to an increase in the refresh rate.

The EVF's optics give it an impressive 0.7x magnification (in 35mm camera terms) and we're pleased to see a menu option to turn down the sensitivity of the eye detection sensor, if you find it that you're frequently triggering it accidentally. Our only concern is the rather short 17.5mm eyepoint - which rarely works well, especially for wearers of glasses, in combination with high magnification viewfinders (it makes it hard to see the extreme edges of the frame without moving your eye). 

Video

The only peculiar gap in the specifications relates to video - an area we wouldn't expect such an oversight from Panasonic. The GX7 provides plenty of movie control - offering PASM exposure control, a wide choice of frame rates and a choice of capture format - but it doesn't have an option for connecting an external microphone. So although you have a camera that can shoot 1080p video at 24 or 50/60 frames per second (depending on region), or genuine interlaced 60i in AVCHD mode, and at bitrates of up to 28Mbps for the 24p footage, you'll always be limited to using the internal stereo microphones or an external recorder.

Impressions of the body and controls

Shooting briefly with the Panasonic GX7 was enough to tell us that Panasonic has been paying attention in the 20 months since it created the GX1, which has resulted in a camera that should indeed appeal to enthusiasts. 

The top view shows the GX7's tilting EVF, hot shoe, stereo mics, pop-up flash, front dial, record button, mode dial and power switch.

When you first take hold of the Panasonic GX7, it's the rubber-coated grip that stands out. It provides a good hold on the camera, certainly better than that provided by the GX1. The magnesium-alloy body is flex-free, with no creaking or twisting, as we've come to expect. The front and mode dials are just stiff enough that we doubt they'll too often turn accidentally, yet they respond well when turned. The power switch is in good position for fast activation. 

The Lumix GX7 offers plenty of ways to control settings, with four customizable Function buttons.

The rear control dial also serves as a button, by default bringing up exposure compensation in program and semi-auto modes (adjusting by +/- 5 stops in 1/3 stop increments). Turn the dial without pressing it and it adjusts program shift, or the pertinent parameter in shutter/aperture priority modes. When in the Quick Menu, it also adjusts parameters for the selected control.

Rather than leave you to go into a menu or remember a function button to switch between manual and autofocus, the GX7 features a physical switch surrounding the AF/AE lock button, a nice touch. 

Panasonic's new Quick menu looks a lot like the one on Canon's touchscreen SLRs and works about as well, activated with the Fn1 button. Fn2, for its part, brings up the curves menu, adjustable by touch or dial, which allows you to change shadow and highlight settings, and create and save up to three custom curves settings.

Overall, we like what we see. The Panasonic GX7's feature set more appropriately addresses the current market by including important features its predecessors left out. It also includes quite a few new bells and whistles found on competing products, most of which should enhance the experience, hopefully without being too much. The EVF, sensor-shift IS, focus peaking, 1/8000 second shutter speed and extra control dial should please most enthusiasts looking for a little more in their mirrorless camera. We look forward to putting it through its paces when we get a sample in for a full review.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 Real-world Samples Gallery

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 Panasonic GX7 Samples Gallery - published August 14th 2013