Selfies are a big deal right now and, increasingly, manufacturers are looking for ways to make would-be snappers shun their smartphones for a dedicated camera. The latest camera to jump on this bandwagon is the Panasonic Lumix GF7, the latest interchangeable lens compact system camera to join the Micro Four Thirds ranks.
However, it's not the first camera to offer a selfie feature by any means, with Olympus and Sony also playing a similar game in their respective Pen and Alpha series. Perhaps more to the point, almost two years back the earlier Panasonic Lumix GF6 model had a similar 180-degree tiltable LCD screen for selfie snaps, but in the GF7 the hinge has been modified for simplicity and to make room for a built-in pop-up flash too.
Whether you give a hoot about selfies or not, to suggest the GF7 is only about them would be to do it a disservice. We get that the company has grabbed onto this camera's key feature and waved it around in a frantic marketing bid, but selfies aside, and as with its predecessor, it's a grand entry point into the world of compact system cameras.
Juggling the design around has also enabled Panasonic to shave extra millimetres off the Lumix GF7 design. Not by loads, mind, but its 106.5 x 64.6 x 33.3mm dimensions feel small in the hand without being squat or overly fiddly in operation.
To keep that size down furthermore the bundled 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 (24-64mm equivalent) lens has a collapsible design to keep it from excessively protruding from the body. A twist of the barrel will see it take on fuller form, a necessary action to get the camera to operate. Well, with this particular optic attached anyway: you only need to look to the wide range of Micro Four Thirds lenses available on the market to take a different point of view, from pancake prime lenses to telephoto zooms, it's all available.
We've been tinkering with a pre-production GF7 camera more than a month prior to this announcement to get a feel for what it's all about. Selfies aside, it's a speedy little snapper with bags of potential, stepping onward where the GF6 left off.
Although it's not a drastically different product all in all, with various feature nips and tucks taking place for all-round improvements rather than a major overhaul.
Principle to those tweaks is the autofocus system. It's really rather good, able to focus in low-light conditions to -4EV and with considerable speed too. No surprise given the sensor readout has been doubled from 120 frames per second to 240fps - and that rapid amount of data provides a huge number of "samples" for heightened tracking and response with minimal lag.
We've been using the GF7 with its standard lens around Ham House and Gardens in Richmond, London, and it's fared rather well. And that's just with the standard lens attached. We're particularly keen on the full area AF meaning edge-to-edge focus is possible right across the rear 3-inch, 1,040k-dot screen, which is also touch-sensitive for ease of use. Makes tapping on a subject for a snap nice and simple, ideal not only for entry-level shooters, but anyone looking for a quick and simplified experience.
With the screen pulled out and into its selfie mode, there are some additional modes like Face Shutter which will take a shot once a face is recognised, without you needing to fuss with a second arm to take the shot. There's also a Buddy Shutter option for two faces close together (which we didn't get to test, Billy no mates), and a Jump Snap mode which utilises a synced smartphone's accelerometer to detect motion and take a snap when you and your mates and doing the "classic mid-air shot".
Synching the GF7 to a smartphone via the WiFi app is a simple QR code process but - and finally - Panasonic has opened the gateway with what the application can do. Previously we were faced with needing a Panasonic Lumix Club login to get anything done, but now there's direct upload to Facebook, Twitter and other favourites. We'll need to have a more extended play with this to get a fuller feeling about it, but it's a step in the right direction.
Under the hood of the Lumix GF7 is the same 16-megapixel sensor and Venus processing engine as found in the earlier Panasonic Lumix GX7. Yep, it's F vs X. However, the GX7 seems to be Panasonic's go-to base sensor for using in the majority of its cameras. From the fixed-lens Lumix LX100 through to the small-bodied Lumix GM5, they all rely on the same sensor tech.
Image quality, therefore, is dependent on choice of lenses more than anything, with each camera theoretically equally capable. That's no bad thing, although we never found the GX7 to deliver the cleanest of shots at higher ISO sensitivities.
On the video front there's a lack of ultra-high definition 4K capture, but this time around the GF7 boosts its capture abilities to 1080p50. That's double the 25fps option of the GF6.
In addition there's the same maximum 1/16,000th sec electronic shutter option as found in the Lumix GH4 - which is great for near-silent operation - along with 5.8fps continuous shooting.
The Panasonic Lumix GF7 is small and lightweight. It might lack muscle when it comes to build quality, but it certainly doesn't lack clout in terms of performance. The build is likely a nod to an affordable price point - although there's no final word on that just yet. What we do know, however, is that the GF7 will hit the shelves in March.
Whether a selfie fan or just a photography fan looking to get a small scale interchangeable lens camera, the GF7 looks like a fine option. We'll bring a full review later in the year to see if it's got the guts to see off the Olympus Pen E-PL7 and Sony Alpha A6000 models.