Lumix DMC-GF7 - First Impressions
Santa was very good to me this Christmas, and one of the presents I received was a gift card for Henry's Camera, here in Toronto. The amount was sizeable enough that it made me think beyond just buying accessories and seriously consider a thought that's been on my brain's back burner for awhile. A new camera.
 
But not a DSLR. I have an awesome DSLR (Nikon D750) and that puppy and I will have many years together if I have my way. Rather, due to all the travel I do for business, I have been thinking about a portable camera that gives me better resolution and capabilities beyond my iPhone, but can easily fit in my carry on, instead of being my carry on. A good quality compact camera that freed me up from carrying my full frame DSLR when on short business trips, was what I was looking for. But good quality compacts are not necessarily inexpensive and that's what had been holding me back.
 
So, just after Christmas, gift card at my side, I checked out the Henry's web site to see what sort of Boxing Week sales they had.
 
And lo and behold, I discovered the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF7 compact camera. Several things attracted me to this camera:
- I liked the retro styling
- it was apparently quite compact
- it was $300 off the regular price
- it shoots in RAW 
- It sports interchangeable lenses in the micro 4/3 format
 
As I dug deeper into the camera reviews, I found more that I liked, such as a 60-second long exposure setting, flip screen, and manual exposure/focus options.
 
While not of huge interest to me, there is also a boatload of scene and effect settings, as well as some sort of intelligent setting that helps beginners take good photos without knowing much about the camera itself.
 
The potential downsides for me were the lack of a proper viewfinder (EVF or rangefinder style), no hot shoe and no other way to connect an external flash. But I argued with myself (and won) that the idea was to be more portable, so I shouldn't want to be tied down with an external flash. As for the lack of a viewfinder, well, heck, I've been shooting with my iPhone for years without the benefit of a viewfinder. 
My wife was a little leary of me buying yet another camera but in my defense, other than my iPhone, I only owned one digital camera (my Nikon), and when she saw the savings on the camera, she became quite supportive of the idea. 
 
After reading several reviews of the camera I decided the next step was to get it in my hands. So off we went to Henry's, the day after Boxing Day. The local store did not have a demo model, but the sales person was more than happy to pull out the packaged version for me to look at. All the reviews, all the photos, did not prepare me for the initial unveiling. The darn thing was tiny!
 
Well, in comparison to my D750 (heck even my old D7000), it was very small. Much smaller than other comparable compacts like the Fujifilm X-A2, and at a better price point during the sale. So, my new concern was how my big clumsy hands would manage with a small camera body and a bunch of tightly grouped buttons.
 
The nice thing about Henry's is that they give you 2 weeks to figure out if you like what you bought. If you don't, just bring it back with all the packaging and they'll either refund your purchase or let you exchange one camera for another. So I walked out with the Lumix and started putting it through its paces. Below are some of the first images I've made with the camera. Admittedly, I'm still adjusting to the small form factor, but in terms of image quality, I'm pretty pleased.
The Lumix has a nice retro feel, reminiscent of my old Nikon FE2 and FM2. And it does literally fit in the palm of my hand.
One of the first serious photos I took was a "selfie" of me and my son. One of the "features" of this camera is that it has intelligent "seflie" functionality. As soon as you flip the view screen up so that it is facing the front of the camera, the Lumix goes into selfie mode, making it very easy to shoot better, higher quality self or small group portraits. This was shot at ISO 200. The ISO range is anywhere from 100 - 25,600.
These next two shots are of a family friend's tree, all shot at ISO 6400. All things considered, noise is pretty acceptable, and the image stabiization definitely came in handy.
Shooting a few casual indoor images is fine, but it was important to me to see how well I worked with the camera in the field, so I took a drive to the Scarborough Bluffs on Lake Ontario (while it was snowing, of course). I grabbed my tripod and hiked along the base of the bluffs and made several images.
The autofocus was very fast and for the most part, quite accurate. It did however get confused when areas were of similar contrast. I had tried to make a photo of the above milkweed pods and another group off to the left, but the camera simply would not focus on the other grouping as I had wanted. Being so new to the camera, I hadn't quite figured out the manual focus technique (the kit lens has no focus ring). When I got home, I went through the manual focus process and feel confident that if I'd known what I was doing, I could have gotten the shot I wanted with this camera.
ISO 100, f/8, 1/20 sec (on a tripod, of course)
If you look closely, you'll see lots of specks in this image. That's not dirt or dust; it's snowfall. I was very impressed with the sharpness of this image, most notably around the exposed drain culvert at the top of the bluff. Shot at ISO 400, the noise is almost non-existent even when viewing at 200%.
It was quite windy (and chilly) at the lake shore, so I did a lot of my work wearing gloves. I was impressed at how responsive the touchscreen/viewscreen was to my gloved hand. I'd never gotten that level of response from my iPhone!
Oddly, I counted the rusting, twisted carcasses of three bicycles. One can't help but wonder why these bikes were at the bottom of the bluffs, but they made good fodder for a few photos.
ISO 100 f/8
ISO 800. Thoroughly impressed with the detail in this and the other ISO 800 shots.
ISO 800
ISO 800 - again, I'm very impressed with the detail and lack of noise.
The Wrap Up
While my clumsy hands are still getting used to the camera, I'm definitely enjoying the image quality. If I could figure out how to avoid activating menus by accidentally touching the outer edges of the control dial, I'd be ecstatic! But it's more likely that will come with time.
 
If you're looking for a compact camera that gives you excellent image quality and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses, you can't go wrong by checking out this camera.

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