User Review: One Month with the Panasonic GX7

This post comes at an interesting time as the newest (and highly anticipated) camera to grace the micro four thirds platform - OMD EM5 Mark II - was announced last week. Some may consider the Panasonic GX7 old news at this point: it was released over a year and a half ago, its ergonomics, image quality, and applications have been covered by many others, and a very good three part review comparing the GX7 to OMD EM5 has been published by Tyson Robichaud. Here, my goal is to not be redundant but provide some examples of what I like about this camera and describe how it has changed the way I shoot and share images. 

When looked at alone, the GX7 is all the camera an enthusiast photographer could ask for and besides sensor size, it gives entry level and mid range DSLRs a run for their money. It is capable of producing great images and the camera itself is highly customize-able. What attracted me to the camera initially were a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000, the ability to shoot in silent mode and remote shooting/sharing via WiFi. A feature that I found useful after the fact was it's articulating built in flash. It has allowed me to take some product shots which would have required me to use an off camera flash if I wanted the same results using the EM5. The articulating kit flash has also proved useful to me in social settings where I am able to photograph people by bouncing the kit flash off of the ceiling.

For this shot I placed my EM5 on a table covered in black fabric and pushed the table up against a wall. I then used the GX7's articulating kit flash to bounce light off the wall onto the scene. 

I like that ISO, white balance, drive mode and AF area have dedicated buttons on the GX7 vs initially having to remember what each of the unlabeled buttons were assigned to on the EM5. Another great implementation on the GX7 is that you are able to directly toggle between AF and MF. However, I prefer the super control panel of the EM5 over the Q menu of the GX7. The Q menu is still good though and allows you to quickly change a host of  camera parameters without digging into the menu. The tilting EVF is nice but I rarely use EVFs in general unless I am shooting macro or fast moving subjects (usually birds) in which I need to steady the camera using my face. Here, I prefer the EM5 because I have found my nose and other parts of my face change the AF point when I use the EVF on the GX7. Another thing to note is that I like how the GX7 feels in my hand over the EM5 but that the EM5 has a better battery life. I do not see a difference between the two cameras when it comes to image quality, high ISO output or AF when using native lenses - both are great performers.

After using the GX7, one thing that I wish my EM5 had was focus peaking. I know there is a hack, but the real thing is SOOO much better. This feature is great when using legacy lenses and the only instance I found it interfered was when I was trying to manually focus on stars because it got in the way of critically focusing on the extremely tiny point sources.

In regards to astro-photography the GX7 has a one up over the EM5 due to its "constant preview" option (Custom menu 5/8 - switch to ON). Here you are able to "preview the aperture and shutter speed effects on the recorded image". The EM5 does this automatically in Manual exposure mode (M), but the GX7s live view also changes according to the ISO value you choose. I found this to be useful while capturing the heavens because I was able to compose for the shot before taking it. Here, I mount the camera to a tripod and ensure the shutter speed is relatively fast (~1/60) but change the ISO to its highest setting (26,500). This results in a very noise -but detailed enough- preview allowing me to compose using the ball head on the tripod. After composing, I tighten the ball head, lower the ISO back to 200-800, increase the shutter speed (<10 sec) and use remote shooting to capture the scene. I wasn't able to replicate this method with the EM5 and while shooting stars with it I had to "compose blindly".

One thing I found lacking with the GX7 compared to the EM5 is related to differences in magnification modes while shooting. Firstly, I like that I can assign magnification to one of the fn buttons on the EM5. This is not an option on the GX7 and instead magnification mode is automatically engaged when you change the AF area. While using the EM5 (and especially in conjunction with a legacy lens), I usually compose a frame, move the magnification box to the area I want to be in focus, enter magnification mode, engage IBIS by half-pressing the shutter button, focus, and then fully press the shutter button (while the image is still magnified). On the GX7, I have not found a way to replicate this process because once in magnification mode if you press any other button you automatically exit it. This is not a huge problem but I have had to re-train my brain to alter the way I shoot. Now when using the GX7 I skip magnification all together and just compose while relying on focus peaking to guide what I want to be in focus. This does not work all of the time however and when I end up with a slightly out of focus image, the control freak in me wishes I could replicate the EM5 method. 

Undoubtedly, the one feature that has made me fall in love with the GX7 is WiFi!!! It has completely changed the way I share images and streamlined my workflow. As you may have read about in the past on this blog, I use VSCOcam to edit a lot of my photos (reviews here and here). My workflow when using the EM5 involves importing RAW files from my memory card to Lightroom, applying a "pre-VSCO" preset (sometimes I'll edit further), exporting the files as JPEGs and then uploading them to VSCO using the their uploader. After uploading, they automatically sync to my devices (iPad mini and Android smartphone) and I usually share to social media from there. With the GX7, I just shoot, transfer the images to my phone or iPad and directly edit using VSCOcam (and sometimes Photogene - iPad only). The only problem I have encountered with this process is that sometimes the images I upload do not look as good on my computer vs how they look on the lower resolution screens.

The last thing I wanted to mention is that WiFi inspired me to practice portraiture and actually use all of the off camera flash equipment I had lying around (the photo introducing this post is a direct result). Taking self portraits using remote shooting is simple and I am now able to experiment with lighting set ups on myself before involving anyone else.  Practicing with strobes has given me the confidence to shoot other subjects which is invaluable and something that I was not able to do with the EM5. Interestingly, even though the GX7 inspired me to experiment with portraiture, I tried using it during a session with my partner and immediately switched it out for the EM5. This is because I am more familiar with the EM5's buttons and can fully control it using only touch. The EM5 feels more like an extension of my arm that the GX7 but that is only because I have spent a lot more time with it.

It would be awesome to marry what I like about the two cameras into one amazing device but overall, the GX7 is awesome and compliments the EM5 nicely. I enjoy both for different reasons and find myself reaching for the EM5 over the GX7 only because I started my photography journey with the EM5 and it holds a special place with me. Anyone looking to jump into the mirrorless world should definitely look at the GX7 and I would consider it an upgrade from the EM5. Cherry on top is that the GX7 is relatively inexpensive right now- especially considering its MSRP when it was released. For those already invested in the micro four thirds system getting a GX7 as a second body is a no brain-er.

Extra Image Samples