10 August 2014

Panasonic GX7 vs. the Fuji X100 - some unscientific observations.

All the above taken in Shrewsbury today with the Panasonic GX7 and 20mm f1.7 (version 2 of the lens). They were taken in RAW and converted via Photoshop; minimal pp applied. The 1:1 in-camera ratio was used and a couple of them have been cropped a tad afterwards. No colour correction applied in Photoshop.

So, I've had the camera a couple of weeks and what do I think? Well, first off, the rationale for buying this was to have a small, carry everywhere camera that replaced my X100 from Fuji. Why a replacement? Because try as I might, I couldn't overlook the focus problems of the Fuji. Yes, it has updated firmware and yes, I know all about the need for a high-contrast area on which to focus etc, but it was still just too darn frustrating to use and there even remained situations, mostly in low light, when it simply couldn't focus; in such situations you might think that manual focus would be the way to go but anyone who owns an X100 will soon put you right on that. In addition to all of which, my eyesight isn't good enough to quickly determine the focus point on the screen on the back of the camera - again, I'm aware there is a zoom-to-focus function on the fiddly little wheel/switch camera back top right but sometimes there isn't the time to fart about with this. Final word on the Fuji focus problem: a human face taking up 80% of the picture, dead centre - you'd think it would be fair enough for any camera with autofocus made since 2009 to focus on this but nope, not the Fuji - put the tiniest chink of a tree's bark, say, behind the face and the camera would unfailingly focus on that. In addition, the five foot macro requirement got wearing too (that is to say, anything nearer than honestly about five feet required that the camera was switched to macro mode - intensely irritating). Plus, of course, the camera is insanely complicated to get to work in the way you want...

But enough of my inability to master the X100 - how does the GX7 compare? Well, for one thing, it can focus, and pretty close with the 20mm attached. Yep, focussing just works (though my huge nose and left-eyed camera use means that the focus area can change when I bring the camera to my face if I am not careful to avoid schnozzle-to-screen contact) so hopefully no more sharp bark, soft cheeks. Where it doesn't do as well as the Fuji is in the production of the final image. If you could get the X100 to take a sharp photo in the manner that you wanted (which a lot of the time I simply couldn't), the quality of the jpegs straight out of camera meant, in my experience anyway, that the RAW function was redundant - I couldn't produce better finished pictures than the Fuji engineers managed - sky, skin, architecture - all beautifully rendered tonally, colour-wise and in terms of contrast; the Panasonic jpegs are nowhere near as nice in comparison. That said, I'm quite pleased with how RAW files convert (see above), and low-light capabilities seem on a par with the Fuji. The GX7 doesn't feel quite as nice in my hand - it's easier to hold because of the bulge of the grip, and I like the tilting screen, more useful than I'd anticipated - but it doesn't feel as solid. Does it make me want to pick it up and use it? With the pancake 20mm attached to an extent it does but in all honesty I don't think it is a camera people lust after or see and want to hold - it looks like a fairly run-of-the-mill modern compact digital camera whereas the Fuji regularly used to be mistaken for a film camera by people in the street who often admired it and asked questions about it.
A few other things merit a mention: the four programmable function buttons - great. The silent mode - fantastic. The EVF - fine. The much-touted rainbow tearing? I haven't even noticed it. I have had one or two photos spoiled by fairly horrible purple fringing but that's likely a lens issue and hasn't recurred for a while (I need to send the Panasonic people some photos they've asked for to see if it is a problem specific to the lens I got with the camera; I was told it might also be a problem when the camera is set to produce both a large JPEG and a RAW file). Battery life is a bit pants which is probably why Panasonic include two batteries with the camera when you buy it. I don't think overall image quality is anywhere near close to my D700's: even though they are getting a bit long in the tooth now and the gap between them and smaller sensored cameras is definitely narrowing, they won't be usurped on paid jobs by this camera any time soon, just as any of the image quality differences won't make me want to carry around a full-frame camera and requisite lens every time I go to the shops. That said, I will, however, always have the GX7 or something like it with me simply because it is so easy to do so and I've long since felt naked if I step out the door without a camera of some sort.

One thing I wanted from the Fuji but soon realised I'd been mistaken in thinking it could provide was a point and shoot mode - it simply wasn't the camera for that. The GX7 on the other hand, well, in iA mode (intelligent auto) it might just about fulfil this function. However, I should also point out that although I think I want a point and shoot camera, even in iA I still can't help fiddling with exposure compensation, with the picture format, with aperture settings... sometimes the things we think we want we don't, in fact, end up using.

Overall, I'm quite pleased with the camera. It doesn't have the charm or wow factor that would get me excited about going out to take pictures but it is a far less frustrating camera to use than the Fuji and is definitely growing on me. I think it will take many more pictures that I want to keep than the Fuji ever did simply because it mostly gets out of the way. There is much left for me to explore - a lens adapter for my Nikon fit lenses; the wifi and remote control options; how well the IBIS works; maybe even one day the video function. For now, though, I'd give it the following marks:

1. Charm and the"look at me, you know you want to pick me up"factor: 7/10
2. Picture Quality: 7/10 (the Fuji has it beat at 9/10 but only when it manages to take a sharp picture).
3. Ergonomics / ease of use in the hand: 6/10 - it's a bit fiddly and everything is close together; doesn't feel a top quality product especially the flash and the battery door / compartment which, as on the Fuji, feel a bit flimsy.
4. Functions: 9/10 - it pretty much does everything you could reasonably expect it to and you have all the control you could possibly desire.
5. Overall: 8/10 (whereas the Fuji I'd give 6/10 on a good day).

I'm definitely still waiting for a simple to use, beautiful, tactile and small digital camera with autofocus that works and that turns out stunning JPEGs; in the meantime, I'll be happy enough using the GX7 for personal projects and as an everyday carry.

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M, Soho