(Pocket-lint) - Welcome to generation selfie. The Panasonic Lumix GF7 is the follow-up to 2013's GF6, complete with flip-forward screen for taking those delightfully pouty shots. And if that premise hasn't got you hooked then fear not - as the latest in the entry-level line of Lumix G models, the GF7 is all about small scale, fast autofocus, and picture quality above and beyond that of a compact camera.
The GF7 wants to be the camera to welcome you into the mirrorless market (think of that like a more adept compact camera with interchangeable lenses) by pitching itself at an aggressive price point.
No, there's no viewfinder like the Sony Alpha A6000, no hotshoe for additional accessories like the Olympus E-PL7, nor other trinkets that some pricier models offer, but as an all-in-one model to kick-start better photography it's an interesting prospect; albeit one with pressure from the company's own Lumix GM1 model.
Having seen the earlier Lumix GF6 and selfie-capable competition from the likes of the Samsung NX Mini, Olympus Pen E-PL7 and Sony A5100, is Panasonic still top dog at this affordable end of the market?
System camera starter
Affordable is perhaps the GF7's defining adjective, hence repeating it twice in two consecutive sentences. With the collapsible 12-32mm lens included its initial asking price is £429, which, somewhat oddly, places it in direct competition with the smaller-scale Lumix GM1 (its £629 RRP has fallen by £200 at the time of writing).
But just because it's affordable doesn't mean it feels cheap per se; the GF7 isn't the very best built Lumix camera in the range, as price dictates, but this small-scale model is well crafted all things considered. Things like the cool-to-the-touch metal buttons up top feel quality, but are offset with cheaper grey-silver plastic ones to the rear, for example.
As a compact camera alternative we can certainly see the appeal - particularly with the touch-sensitive LCD screen for ease of use. The GF7's 106.5 x 64.6 x 33.3mm dimensions (minus the lens) are dinky - although the GM1 is yet smaller - with the 12-32mm lens' size ensuring it's easy to slip into a small bag or large pocket.
Some millimetres have been shaved compared to 2013's Lumix GF6 model too, showing ongoing progress in the balance of scale to operability. There's even a new built-in flash tucked away into the GF7's body, meaning more is on board despite the smaller frame, although the position of the flash lever is fiddly.
The lens can also be swapped for other options, should you want a different angle of view onto the world, or perhaps something with more control that's more optically advanced. As part of the Micro Four Thirds camera range there's lots of lens choice, even if we suspect many of this particular camera's target audience will stick with what's in the box rather than rushing out to buy bundles of pricey optics.
Key to the GF7's functionality is that touch-sensitive LCD, which makes positioning the focus point anywhere around the 3-inch, 1,040k-dot panel a cinch. Indeed all on-screen controls, including menus, can be handled via touch if you so wish, otherwise cycling through options is achieved using the rotational d-pad and OK button to the rear.
Sometimes the touchscreen operation can make for some self-made glitches, such as when a stray finger catches the screen when manipulating the tilt-angle bracket and triggers the shutter, as the screen is very responsive.
You needn't touch the screen when it comes to the selfie mode, though, as the camera recognises that the screen has been flipped to its new position and recognises faces for focus, plus provides a three second countdown before a selfie is snapped.
For shooting mode adjustment there's a dedicated dial up top which can rotate between various manual and auto options, or a single press of the iA button will override the current selected mode and put the camera into its intelligent Auto setting. It's a nifty way to get the camera to take over the base settings if you're not overly familiar with manual controls.
When it comes to autofocus Panasonic has found its swing, offering one of the best solutions on the market. Similar to other G-series models, the GF7 is super-fast to snap a subject into focus, irrelevant of the chosen focus area.
Panasonic Lumix GF7 review - sample image at ISO 800 - click for full size JPEG crop
And there are plenty of options: 23-Area mode to auto-select five or six collated areas for autofocus; 1-Area mode where a single point can be pressed anywhere onto the screen, then adjusted in size through eight different scales using the rear rotational d-pad; Pinpoint which, as the name suggests, pinpoints focus using a crosshair for magnified precise focus, again anywhere on screen; Face/Eye Detection and Tracking for fully automated detection. Of all the options it's Pinpoint which we're particularly keen on, especially as the competition doesn't offer anything by comparison.
This positive autofocus setup is no surprise when looking at the tweaks compared to its predecessor. The GF7's sensor readout has been doubled from 120 frames per second to 240fps - and that rapid amount of data provides a huge number of samples to work with - with low-light sensitivity of -4EV.
It's that last part where the GF7 is a step ahead of many competitors, as we've been able to take shots in moonlight conditions in the depths of the Lake District. Ok, so the system isn't as immediate as when there's good light available, but it gets there, with only a few rare exceptions seeing the camera ditch the designated focus point for a more generalised focus confirmation (a little like the Sony A5100 in that regard).
Panasonic Lumix GF7 review - sample image at ISO 6400 - click for full size JPEG crop
Close-up focus with the 12-32mm lens isn't great either, but different lenses offer different solutions and individual strengths.
And as is typical with almost all compact system cameras the continuous autofocus or tracking mode isn't foolproof either, meaning it won't compare to a decent DSLR. But at this price point such a comparison is hardly surprising.
With earlier Panasonic models the company wanted all image sharing to operate through its Lumix Club. Which isn't what its users wanted, us included.
But, and just like the Lumix TZ70 compact, that's all changed now (although Lumix Club still exists, and is free to sign up for). The latest Wi-Fi app update delivers a much more usable system, with the ability to directly connect to a smart device and share to third party social platforms with ease. Yay.
Panasonic Lumix GF7 review - sample image at ISO 200 - click for full size JPEG crop
After downloading the Panasonic Imaging App it's quick and easy to sync with a smartphone (there's NFC too, for compatible devices), where it's then possible to preview a live image, remotely control the camera, playback images, and share files from the SD card.
There's even a section for geo-tagging images with location data, as pulled from the smartphone's GPS feature. Panasonic seems to have ceased putting GPS modules in its cameras, one for the cost benefit, two for bettered battery life.
Although take that last point with a pinch of salt: the GF7 still doesn't perform very well when it comes to battery longevity. The official stance is 230 shots per charge, but with normal use, a bit of playback, and some faffing around, we found it well shy of the 200 mark. We've been quick to switch the camera off quickly after use to keep the power flowing only when needed, but even so the "three bar" battery system is somewhat vague and you'll be guessing when it's going to shoot its last. So grab a spare battery if you're serious about being out for a full day shooting, whether on holiday or elsewhere.
Image quality: Lumix standard
Over time Panasonic has ceased offering quite as many resolution variants in its G-series range, with the GF7 adopting the same 16-megapixel Micro Four Thirds Live MOS sensor as originally found in the GX7. That's the same across much of the range: from GM1, through to GM5, and G6. As such results from one and the next are effectively the same, differing depending on lens choice.
Panasonic Lumix GF7 review - sample image at ISO 400 - click for full size JPEG crop
That makes for good results, with rich colours, ample detail and accurate exposure. The sensor may not be as large as many of its competitors - it's roughly 40 per cent smaller than the APS-C sensors found in Sony, Samsung, Fujifilm and Canon compact system cameras - but Panasonic, and the Micro Four Thirds camp as a whole, is doing a fine job of closing the gap.
Perfection isn't quite achieved, however, with a few things we've noted when using the camera for both work and personal reasons. First off, the panorama mode is entirely broken, it's implausible for it to auto-stitch a shot together of any worth. Secondly, the higher ISO sensitivities, particularly in shadow areas, reveal colour noise that's somewhat distracting and limits the available range of what you can do with an image - as we found when shooting a pre-release Canon DSLR for a product preview.
From a more point-and-shoot perspective, however, the clear shots we've been getting from the mountain side of Scarfell Pike are admirable at the lowest available ISO 200 setting. We'd like a lower ISO 100 settings, and the lens does have a few flare issues (and there's no lens hood available for it to try and combat this) but the pictures are memorable.
Panasonic Lumix GF7 review - sample image at ISO 200 - click for full size JPEG crop
When the light dips the camera needs to "boost" the sensor's received signal, which is why higher ISO sensitivities may need to be used. As a result, however, is increased presence of image noise.
The GF7 attempts to mask any image noise by targeting different sections of it in different ways: large areas are smoothed out more than dense detail areas, for example. It's not foolproof in this regard, with even ISO 400 shots showing some colour noise in mid-grey sections, such as a well-lit statue against a grey wall. Detail begins to further dip from ISO 800 and beyond, with ISO 6400 fairly soft compared to some larger sensor rivals.
Overall the Lumix GF7 is an affordable way to produce decent images, better than a compact camera by a long shot, but a whisker behind some of the larger sensor competition out there. We like the result we've got, and for the money can't argue too much, but discerning snappers may be left wanting a touch more.
The camera also shoots raw files, but without an Adobe Camera Raw update and without Panasonic's own software with our review sample, we're unable to access and assess our files at this moment in time. An update will follow.
The Panasonic Lumix GF7 gets plenty right, delivering an affordable, easy-to-use entry-level system that's not trying to reinvent the wheel, but build upon the series' heritage. Solid image quality in good light, a decent autofocus system that's hard to beat, improved Wi-Fi and, of course, that tilt-angle selfie screen are all successes in their own right.
Which is great, but there's a notable point to make: the Lumix GM1, which is part of the same family of cameras, offers much of the same and will be a tempting alternative given its smaller scale. The GF7's tilt-angle screen and selfie mode is the crucial difference (something the Olympus Pen E-PL7 also offers, but with an added hotshoe for viewfinder accessory use), meaning a wider range of choice.
Like its GF6 predecessor, the GF7 continues to suffer from poor battery life, and as the twist-to-use 12-32mm lens doesn't switch the camera off it's all too easy to leave it on draining the battery.
The Lumix GF7 is undoubtedly a decent camera, it just happens to be a subtle nudge forward compared to the earlier GF6, and since the GM1 has some along and added its face to the lineup that's also impacted how this model. Saying that, if you're looking for an affordable system camera, Panasonic offers many unbeatable features - especially at this price point.