Note: Unless specified otherwise, all shots in this article were shot with a pre-production Panasonic Lumix GX7. Panasonic is quick to point out that the final image quality of the production model may differ from the samples shown here. And I do apologize, while I'd love to share the original 16MP files for download, the Internet here is as fast as snails racing.
By the time you finish reading this article, you might hate me. Not just because I got to spend two days previewing one of the hottest new cameras of the second half of the year, but also because I got to do it on Fraser Island, a scenic island on the east coast of Australia.
Located 200 kilometres from Brisbane, Fraser Island is a Australia's sixth largest island and a World Heritage site. The island is teeming with plant life, the place we're staying in looks like it have been built inside one of the rain forests of Singapore, except that you don't sweat buckets in the daytime and you can wrap yourself up in a jacket at night and still feel cold.
About that hot new camera; the Lumix DMC-GX7 is Panasonic's latest Micro Four Thirds mirrorless system camera, or as Panasonic calls it (with an admittedly snazzier name); a DSLM (Digital Single Lens Mirrorless) camera.
Now, it sounds like the GX7 is a successor to the two year-old GX1, but Panasonic reps here remain coy about the six-digit jump; yes it's a numeric leap because the GX7 represents a specs leap forward from the GX1, no, we can't definitely maybe rule out a GX2 completely coming in the future or who said what?
In pictures the GX7 looks underwhelming, but pictures don't do the camera justice; this is a physical object you'll need to see and hold to understand. The top plate, which comes in either silver or black, reflects light the shiny way a magnesium alloy frame does, and not the way dull plastic would. The DSLM camera feels surprisingly good in the hand, almost like it's holding you instead of the other way around. It's no exaggeration, I've tested dozens of cameras and the GX7 could quite possibly be the most comfortable one I've ever held.
The GX7 is heavier than the GX1, and feels dense like a solid machine does. It's also larger, and if there's one big reason for the bulking up, it's the built-in Live Viewfinder (LVF). It's not a first for mirrorless system cameras, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 has one built in as well, but the GX7 takes it one step further by making it a tilting LVF which can stand straight up to 90 degrees.
It looked like a rather silly proposition at first, but while using the camera my narrow point of view had itself parted wide open; my enlightenment showed me how the tilting LVF combines the advantages of an LVF with a tilting monitor.
The LVF responds quickly with little lag, and Panasonic says it reproduces nearly the entire AdobeRGB colour space. As to why that's a big deal, consider that many smartphones today still can only display up to the limited sRGB colour space. There's a minimum of rainbow artefacts, which are the red, green and blue dots you sometimes see when you move your eye quickly across a projected image.
There's minimum shutter blackout even when you're shooting in bursts, nothing more than what you'd expect when shooting with a DSLR camera, and certainly faster than the blackout you'd experience with a Sony SLT DSLR. Now, when you set the camera to automatically switch between it and the rear LCD using the eye sensor, there's a split moment of hesitation before the image comes on in the LVF. And it's not as luxurious as a large EVF like Olympus' latest VF4, but neither is it as big, nor is it an additional accessory you have to tack on.
All in all, it's a pretty capable live viewfinder, even in low-light.
If Panasonic wanted to make the GX7 a smaller camera, they might have done so by cramping the buttons together, like what Olympus did with the E-M5. But am I glad they didn't. The buttons have breathing room and it makes the whole camera easy to use (seriously, have you tried pressing the tiny Play button on the E-M5?). Panasonic has also put in twin control dials, a Mode dial, a hot shoe and a built-in flash. The back of the GX7 now more fully resembles a G6 or GH3 than a GF-whatever the number is.
And of course, the GX7 comes with a touch-screen, which boosts the camera's usability and user-friendliness by about 100 percent (I just made that number up). I've written it about a million times by now, but if you've never read a single review I've written, the best thing about the way the G-series' touch-controls are implemented is how they complement the physical controls not replace them; you can use either or and both any time to get what you want done.
It makes for a rewarding user experience, and Panasonic is one of the few Japanese camera companies with a UI which mostly makes sense (please never take away the Q. button, which opens up the Quick Menu overlay with your most essential controls).
Well, rewarding except for the Touch Pad AF, which sounds good in theory: While using the LVF you can use your fingers to swipe AF points on the inert rear monitor, but which in reality my big nose always turns on by accident. Luckily the GX7 is highly customisable, you can turn this feature, and many other functions, off.
It all sounds saccharine, but I haven't found much fault in my short time with it. The GX7 is responsive and feels good in the hands. The LVF is a welcome addition and it helps when shooting in bright environments. The AF speed is fast as always with Panasonic's G-series cameras and the image quality from my production model looks promising (check out that ISO 12,800 shot of the watch above).
Okay, it isn't weather sealed like the Olympus OM-D E-M5. While the GX7 is the first Panasonic mirrorless camera to come with built-in image stabilisation, it doesn't come with the E-M5's leading-class 5-axis image stabilisation. And while battery life could be better, rated at 320 to 350 images per full charge, it actually does better than the GX1, which was rated at 300 to 340 images, and also ranks well against the Sony NEX-6 which gets 360 images per charge and the Fujifilm X-E1 which gets 350 images per charge.
Now let's talk price. The GX series is one where, unlike with the GF, prices are not going to go down. Panasonic has given us a ballpark figure of the GX7's retail price with the new 20mm f/1.7 kit lens and it's in the region where the Olympus E-M5 was at launch, somewhere around S$1,600-1,700 (which is where the Olympus E-P5 ended up too). When the GX1 launched, it was somewhere in the S$1,200-1,300 range. Oh money, what are you going to do when I run out of you.
Anyway, don't hate me. Panasonic has done a lot of nice things with this new camera, and I'll do my best to get my hands on one when it launches in late September or so for a full-on proper review. Until then, this is one instance of HardwareZone signing off from Fraser Island, Australia.