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Usability vs. Image Quality: Panasonic GX7 or Sony A7?

Discussion in 'This or That? (MFT only)' started by Turbofrog, Nov 14, 2014.

  1. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Legend

    Mar 21, 2014
    This is the last time I expose you guys tn my G.A.S. rants, I promise. (For now).

    A few months ago I was debating a similar question, choosing between the Olympus E-M10 and the A7. Since then, I've had a little bit more hands-on time testing out both cameras, which have coloured my insights a bit. In short, I disliked the ergonomics of the Olympus. I thought the menus were bad, the controls were awkward, the grip was less comfortable (even compared to my GX1) and the functionality was compromised compared to the Panasonic GX7. I liked the IBIS and the Auto ISO settings, but not enough to outweigh the shortcomings for me.

    Prices have also tumbled a bit since last I did this. The GX7 is now available new for about $650 (when you include a $100 gift card), or used for ~$500. And the A7 can be had used for $1000.

    So here are the Pros and Cons, as I see them. I know a few of you have used one or both cameras, so I always appreciate the insights. Or you can just tell me to shut up about gear for the last time.

    Panasonic GX7

    + Much better manual focussing with adapted lenses. Focus peaking is not only more accurate, but more precise as well (tested with my old 50mm/f1.4), and works well in both unzoomed and magnified view, with the magnified view being selectable with a touchscreen. It's the best implementation I've seen on any camera. That's big for me.
    + Touchscreen autofocus is much better for shooting with autofocus lenses, too.
    + Silent shutter is an option for when you want to shoot more discretely.
    + In-body image stabilization is useful for all lenses old and new. It's apparently only worth 1-2 stops at the most, unlike Olympus' magical implementation, but that's okay for me. Coupled with my Canon FD focal reducer, and the abundance of cheaper fast native lenses on M4/3, this seems like it does a lot to erase the A7's low-light sensor advantage.

    - No Auto ISO in M mode. Sucks for using manual lenses. Seriously, it matters.
    - From what I can see, about ~1.5 stops worse noise and dynamic range in ordinary circumstances than the A7. However, I'm most concerned about my GX1's inability to get decent quality in night or dawn/dusk shooting, even at base ISO and on a tripod with long exposures. I'm not sure if this has been addressed with the GX7's significantly improved dynamic range.

    Sony A7

    + Slightly more substantial grip, with all the dedicated controls you could want. I really liked have 3 independent exposure dials, and an exposure compensation dial (that still works in M mode, with Auto ISO! Hallelujah!). Less time fiddling, more time shooting.
    + No crop factor on adapted lenses. Between my GX1 and its focal reducer, I'd now get essentially 3 different lenses for every lens I have using the crop factor. That's cool. And it also means that I can really actually enjoy my Super Takumar 50/f1.4 and 35/f3.5 as they are originally intended. The lower pixel density sensor is also more tolerant of older lenses, to boot.
    + More resolution. I am not a purist when it comes to cropping. There are a lot of circumstances when that's the best way to get a photo. Just my opinion, but this helps with that.
    + Other than a D800 or A7r, the base ISO image quality is basically unparalleled. I would probably end up treating this camera more like a medium format rig for landscape photography than a run-and-gun street-shootin' machine. The ability to do large (20x30") detailed prints appeals to me. That's 200 dpi on the Sony, and 150 dpi on the Panasonic (which also doesn't match the per-pixel quality), which is getting pretty marginal.
    + The low-light performance is somewhat better, though not as much as one would hope.

    + / - Weather sealing? Sony used to claim the A7 is weather-sealed, though now they only say "moisture-resistant," which Sony later clarified to mean "resists changes in ambient humidity." After reading more than a few disgruntled people say that it doesn't work to anywhere near the standards of true weather-sealed cameras, I wouldn't bet my $1000 camera in a rainstorm on Sony's weasel words. Not having a surplus of money to replace broken cameras, I would probably still need to take the same precautions (i.e. ziplock baggy with a corner cut off) as on the GX7. There was potential here, but only led to disappointment in the end.

    - Manual focussing aids were really disappointing to me. Even with the native 28-70mm lens, the focus peaking would either give tons of false positives when set to "High" while being somewhat usable on "Low," but still not being precise enough to nail. Without a touchscreen, magnifying the area you want requires a button press, scrolling a box around the screen, and then another button press. If peaking was on "Low" (because that's how you got it in the ball-park unmagnified) the highlights do not activate when magnified. You need "High" for this. In practice, manually focussing on this camera was slower than on my GX1 that only used touch-screen magnification.
    - The only native FE lens that is worth its price is the 55mm/1.8. None of the other lenses thus far released are really forgivable in terms of price/quality when you compare them to the other camera systems on the market.
    - Shutter shock? Loud shutter? These are a thing on the A7, but pretty minor, I think. No touchscreen.

    Every time I do this comparison I'm drawn to the interface and shooting experience of the GX7, but the ergonomics and image quality of the A7. Honestly, I think both cameras are strongly complimentary to each other, but there's no way I can justify two new cameras.

    I already have some native lenses for M4/3 that I wouldn't be selling, since they do things that are currently not possible with the FE system (20mm fast pancake, 7.5mm compact fisheye, and 14-140 AF superzoom).

    My thinking is that the A7 would expand my shooting envelope a bit - though mostly in terms of contrasty, highly-detailed shots rather than night shooting. I like the idea of using it as a more universal digital back for my growing collection of nice-quality, affordable legacy glass that is fun to use. But my concern is that the manual glass that is fun to use on my GX1 might end up being frustrating on the A7 due to the interface. I think I could resign myself to working slowly and deliberately with the A7, but that would be because I have no choice except to do that. But then there's the siren's call of image quality and more malleable files. If the GX7 is actually a big step up in real-world image quality from the GX1, I think this longing would be less acute.

    I dunno, guys. Paralysis by analysis. I swing between the two, day-by-day...
  2. ex machina

    ex machina Mu-43 All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Jan 3, 2014
    Baltimore, MD
    Does the Sony have built-in Wifi? Being able to control my GX7 from my iPhone has been really useful, especially in a few tight spaces where I had to move the camera up against a wall to fill the frame in my shot -- being able to compose via the phone's display was a shot-saver. Also great for group photos, and while I used it as a standard remote for a while, I now pack a wired remote which is just easier when I don't need to compose remotely.

    Can you swing buying both from a vendor that will allow you to return the one that fails to put the biggest smile on your face?
  3. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    Great technical and feature/function comparison. Figure out which one helps you achieve your vision, and focus only on those items.

    Take into account cost and availability of the lenses you want, too.

    Good luck.
  4. DennisC

    DennisC Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Cheshire UK
    I use several caneras including an Olympus E-M10 and a Sony A7.
    The quality of the images from the A7 is so much better than m4/3 primes on the M10 that there's no comparison.
    It's not necessarily that one camera out-resolves the other but the sheer smoothness and "pop" from FF gives a different quality.

    The Olympus is an ergomic nightmare for me even with the handgrip and the menu system more complex than I need.
    The Sony is light , fits my hands better and can only improve as the native lens choice increases but I wish it had the Olympus's touchscreen.
    I find focus peaking on the Sony to be better than the Olympus and with FF manual focusing tends to be easier because of the shallow depth of field.

    The A7 has wifi and may be controlled remotely although I prefer the Olympus implementation of that.
    The Sony is weather sealed to an extent unlike my M10.
  5. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    "as the native lens choice increases"

    Well, hope that works out for you. I've been waiting for Sony to provide lenses for something like 3-4 years now. It's always new bodies, and rarely any lenses in the sweet spot of relatively affordable and reasonable good IQ.

    Given all that you said above, why do you even use the EM10?
    • Like Like x 1
  6. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Legend

    Mar 21, 2014
    Thanks for the feedback, all.

    ex machina - I will be buying used since it saves me about $300 on the GX7 and about $600 on the A7 when Canadian taxes are taken into account. While I can probably resell either for near what I pay for it, it's not ideal.

    DennisC - I agree with many of your criticisms of the E-M10. Focus peaking is particularly awkward with manual lenses on that camera, part of why I revisited the GX7 which seems superior in all respects except for IBIS. However, what lenses are you using on the A7 to achieve that pop? It's simply not possible for me justify spending another $800-1000 on an FE primes, and the zooms strike me as even worse value. At that point I'd be thinking long and hard about getting an APS-C system with some proper weather-sealed F2.8 glass, or even within M4/3. But that scarcely seems worth it either, since I achieve the same quality shooting with primes on M4/3.
  7. Engawa

    Engawa Mu-43 Regular

    May 23, 2014
    I think image quality is spectacular on pretty much any modern camera.
    I think you should choose a camera you enjoy using. If you enjoy using your camera, you will want to use it and thus use it more often.
    If you think of pictures as possibilities, no pictures exist if you don't have your camera with you.
    • Like Like x 5
  8. DennisC

    DennisC Mu-43 Regular

    Jan 24, 2010
    Cheshire UK
    Actually , the Zeiss 50mm lens that I want is already here and Christmas is coming.

    I first got into m4/3 with the Lumix G1 in 2009 because I travel by air much of the time and weight is a factor.
    Just one year earlier I'd carted a Sony A350 DSLR kit around the World and it wasn't fun so for me m4/3 seemed the perfect solution.
    The main usage is now with the Lumix 100-300mm lens where physical lens size remains an advantage but that's it.
    Body size is no longer an advantage and m4/3 sensors don't seem to have kept pace with products like Sony's 1" sensor although when fitted with my 20mm f1.7 or 45mm f1.8 my EM10 does a good job as a back up device.

    Perhaps the new f4 300mm lens may be the lens to enthuse me again.
  9. WT21

    WT21 Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 19, 2010
    I have both, and don't agree. 1" sensor is fantastic for it's size. Modern m43 sensor is still better. That's different, of course, than m43 vs. Sony FF sensor.
  10. usayit

    usayit Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    * No intention to shoot Sony AF lenses? -> AF is not important (A7 is better than A7R in AF)
    * No intention of replacing the MFT camera? Got a good set of optics for MFT?
    * FF rig to enjoy adapted lenses?
    * Landscape photos?
    * Intending on printing large?
    * High quality adapted lenses?
    * An improvement in high ISO than my current cameras?

    I realized that if I answered "yes" to most/all of those questions, then there is no reason to consider the A7... only the A7R. IMO, the A7 and any of our MFT cameras are too close in use; general all around photography. My current MFT system being difficult/impossible for the A7 + FE lenses to beat in real world use; especially in value/price and packaging (size and weight). A7 would be collecting dust. The A7R on the other hand is more specific... something t take on specific occasions that is not ideally met by MFT.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. tomO2013

    tomO2013 Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Oct 28, 2013
    The A7/r is a camera that stumps me. I can appreciate why people get excited by the prospect of a smaller camera body with a larger sensor (we are sold everything these days that bigger is better) but when I look at the A7 system as a whole I just cannot see any advantages over Em1/Em10/GX7 for my shooting habits unless I had a bunch of older 35mm range finder glass that I wanted to use or I needed that extra resolution in landscape and wasn't prepared to get the resolution via alternative methods (I've seen 100 megapixel stitched landscapes before from the D700 and that is 12mp ) etc...
    Image quality is not purely about the sensor - it's the marriage of sensor, image processor and glass. More importantly it's the person standing behind the camera.
    Either system will produce fine art quality prints in capable hands. I'd be picking the camera that you feel most comfortable with.

    The only way to fully resolve that 36mp sensors potential in the A7 is to bolt it to a tripod and slap some native FE glass out front that is capable of resolving all that detail and currently not all FE glass is built equally on that front. The doubling of megapixels does not correspond to a doubling of vertical resolution. Vertical resolution increases are closer to 50% and again is highly dependant on perfect tripod technique to get that 50% benefit - thereby limiting the versatility of the camera itself. In his D800 review Ming Thein observed that with perfect handheld technique he would be lucky to get 22-24mp resolution out of the D800. In normal hand held shooting, the envelope of differences between the A7r and EM1 are not as significant as made out by those who own one or the other system ...
    My findings would echo those of what pekka potka found on his blog .... http://www.pekkapotka.com/journal/2014/6/16/sony-alpha-7r-once-more
    In his review at A1 print size, he found very little difference in real world prints.

    The a7r is a fantastic camera and I feel needs to be shot as if it was medium format to really get the best from it but the versatility of something like the GX7, EM10 or EM1 mated with well optimized glass and IBIS might mean that you get better quality images from the Olympus or Panasonic bodies.
    • Like Like x 2
  12. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2013
    Like someone had already said well; modern cameras with modern sensors all take great pictures. If you are to print all of them out professionally with the Oce Lightjet printer @ A1 - A4 and spread them out, very very few people would be able to tell the difference between full frame, APS-C and m4/3. Very few. The only ones who could tell are the ones who are used to printing big and the eyes are used to a certain level of detail. But seriously, experts determined that our human eyes CAN NOT resolve sharpness and detail more than 300 dots per inch. Even if you have an image and can print up to 600 dpi, your eyes would have a hard time telling apart an image printing @ 300 dpi vs 600 dpi. But a 600 dpi file is bigger plus also requires a more expensive camera and lens to achieve that. But at what cost?!?

    People need to remember that m/43 is a cropped sensor format, which means it excels well on subject matters that require a long or longer lens setup if you are shooting with full frame. A full frame camera is ideal for low light and wide angle applications. They are all tools for different purposes. But the internet always seems to imply that everyone must drive a Porsche Cayenne or a Ferrari or a Lotus because they are the best. Why bother with a Honda or a Toyota Prius or even a bicycle. They are inferior.
    It's the person's insecurities that is the center of this problem NOT the cameras as they are just fine.

    For general photography usage, m/43 format works really well for about 90% of what most pros would do anyhow. When it comes to specialized applications, full frame could be a supplement, but currently the Sony FE system is very weak. Unlike Canon and Nikon glasses which are at the top of their game and performance, there are only a few handful Sonys that can allow the 36MP to resolve to its full. And then, there's the Zeiss Otus and Sonnars and so forth. Again, the Porsche Cayenne and the Ferraris for and at what costs?

    The best way to improve your photography is just go out and shoot and get to know your camera well. If Art Wolfe and Vincent Versace said that they barely exploit 20% of their camera's abilities, what makes you keep upgrading to one camera to another. You have mastered 100% of your last camera? I highly doubt it, because if you bought an A7 today, I can guarantee you that when the Sony A9 comes out next year, you'll dump the A7 for A9 because it will even have more POP and probably more megapixels and DR. But most people are just going to store those megapixels and fat DR on their hard drives rather than printing and showing your works to the public. The same with some people to the extent that their Porsche Cayenne or their Land Rover off-road experience is riding over a curb.
    • Like Like x 3
  13. tjdean01

    tjdean01 Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Feb 20, 2013
    If you simply cannot justify two cameras, then m4/3s is by far the most versatile. Lower cost as well as you can keep your fish, 20, grab a 45, etc., all for low costs.

    But, why insist on only one? If you're thinking of buying an OMD or GX7 and 2 of the following lenses for m4/3s: 42/1.2, 75/1.8, 25/0.95, 40-150/2.8 or anything else expensive then you're already near $3000 so buying both cameras might actually be the cheaper way to go.

    You can get a GM1 for like $350 on Ebay already and a PM2 for less than that. Buy 4-5 of the cheap, small, good lenses--fish, 14, 20, 12-32, 45, 60 and 40-150--and have a small m4/3s kit. For you you said you already have the 14-140 and the 20, so that's a good kit right there! And then get an A7 and adapt glass for it. A 28, a 50/1.7, and a 135/2.8 (or whatever). You're under $3000 here. Two cameras is a pain but they have different uses.
    • Like Like x 1
  14. Lisandra

    Lisandra Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 16, 2010
    A7 is great. But I wouldnt trade it for my m43s gear.
    If you want AF you can use the mirror adapter for full frame that works great, well thats if you dont mind being stuck with the center points.
    wrote a bit about it here with photos:

    I can also tell you for sure that as of now, alpha glass is just better than native FE. The native 55 1.8 is great for sure, but not a miracle compared to the much cheaper 50 1.4. Sure sony lenses are expensive as holy hell, but a lot of them are re-branded minoltas that you can get on ebay in great shape. watch out for the old ones, AF is horrible even with phase detection. Problem with that is that youre stuck with fairly heavy glass. For legacy lenses the original angle of view is great, but focus peaking doesnt work 100% of the time. Wish I could say it works 90% of the time, but no. Often it givess me the outline exactly where I want it focused and when i go to magnified view its off by sometimes quite a bit.

    Where does that leave you??? it leaves you at square one. Id say definitely: native glass shooting? the GX7 hands down. you can gett anything from 24mm to 600mm in native for not that much money. And its good glass too, not crap. Even the 14-140 super zoom (especially the new one) is the sharpest super zoom ever. And if you want exotic, you have the nocticron or the amazing 75mm 1.8 which at f4 produces the sharpest results that **in my entire life** i have ever seen.

    Legacy? the a7. having the angle of view the makers intended is a blessing. you know what? not legacy, but wide angle. you can slap the ridiculous 8-16 canon fisheye or the amaaaaazing sigma 12-24 (pay extra for the second version, its worth it) and get the angle of view. Shooting at 12mm will change your perspective on life.
    • Like Like x 3
  15. bikerhiker

    bikerhiker Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2013
    I agree with Lisandra that the Sony Alpha glass are better than the FE, except for the 35mm and 55mm prime and maybe the 70-200 f/4. Other than that, people don't realize that m/43 is a cropped sensor, but the lens focal length DOES NOT change format to format. A 20mm lens on the m/43 is a 20mm lens. A 20mm lens on the Sony A7 full frame is a 20mm lens. The only thing that changes is the field of view (FOV) of the lens due to the difference in the image circle. Sensor size determines the size of the image circle and henceforth the circle of confusion for DOF coverage. You get shallower depth of field with full frame (no surprise there). But what people don't realize is that, to compare a Sony A7 against an E-M1, you need to compare the perceptual megapixel based on the SAME focal length. So therefore, a Sony A7 needs to have its 24MP cropped 2x down to 6 Megapixels to have the equivalent FOV as a 20mm lens would be on the E-M1. Since very few Sony FE lenses can really muster up to 36MP; I think the FE 55 is around 29MP which about 7 MP cropped 2x to match E-M1. Most of the m/43 lenses can do 5 to 6 P-Mpix easily all the way to 11 P-Mp for the Nocticron! Guess who's going to be sharper?!? Nocticron @ 11 P-Mp vs FE 55 cropped 2x to match @ 7MP?? So I'm not surprised N wins. Which is also why when we compare both lenses at their same respective focal lengths and matched FOV (full frame needs to crop), then we see that really the 2 horses are equally competitive. The Sony Alpha glasses extend the performance throughout other focal lengths.

    But people make a mistake of comparing a 20mm m/43 lens to a 40mm focal length full frame and claim full frame is the winner, because of this stupid equivalence theory being insinuated on the internet! Focal length and field of view are not the same.

    Why then do we not shoot full frame if we don't crop the sensor and get full resolution?!? Because the needed long focal lengths and reach of full frame lenses are much bigger and heavier than the equivalent m/43. Take a look at the new Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 and compare that to a Canon or Nikon full frame 200-400 f/4. I carried a 200-400 f/4 full day and I tell you just to get the sweet full 36MP off my D800 is taking a big toll on my old body especially on the Olympic and FIFA circuits. You need to be prepared to carry the beast and carry it for the full 30 match days, as carry-on on the plane for FIFA and a month of Olympics (main and Para). Or use a 70-200 f/4 with a 1.5x sensor crop with less megapixels. It's all relative.
  16. Lisandra

    Lisandra Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 16, 2010
    indeed it is all relative. I didnt like that much the native 70-200 f4, but its a good lens.
    At any rate the tittle says usability vs image quality, and if thats the case, then get the GX7. unless youre talking at over 3200-6400, image quality is gonna be equally fantastic when viewed at normal sizes. And Ive printed m43s stuff over 6 feet long regularly and the quality is there. corner to corner sharpness is one of the fantastic advantages of the native m43s lenses, and that on a big print sticks out like a sore thumb. The zeiss 24-70 (alpha) is so ridiculously soft everywhere but the center all the way to 5.6 that you wouldnt believe it. At f2.8 its so soft away from the center that the image looks almost distorted
  17. gryphon1911

    gryphon1911 Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Central Ohio, USA
    I went through the same issues as many in IQ versus usability.

    I went through it with the m43 and Fuji selection. Some feel the Fuji cameras allow for better IQ and at higher ISO, I just never gelled with the function speed of the cameras or the sluggish AF. I'd rather have a more functional and responsive camera and get the shot.
  18. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Legend

    Mar 21, 2014
    Hey guys, appreciate all the insights coming in. I'm really not trying to make this a referendum on FF vs. M4/3 (which is too often where these threads end up). To be clear, it's totally impossible for FF (in any form factor, mirrorless or DSLR), to really replace M4/3 for me. Unless they get into the habit of releasing slow, high-quality zooms (like f5.6-f8 or something) in order to match the size, weight, and price of M4/3 options. So I won't be getting rid of my GX1, but complementing it instead.

    @ bikerhiker - While I'm not sure that I've "mastered" my GX1, I am constantly butting up against its limitations. Both handling-wise, as well as sensor-wise. I want more direct exposure controls, I want an EVF, and I want focus-peaking. Those are pretty non-negotiable, and easily understood reasons for an upgrade. Sensor-wise, it's primarily dynamic range, in contrasty and low-light situations. In order to combat shadow noise even at base ISO I've taken to aggressive ETTR metering, but in a lot of circumstances you can't compensate very far before you run into highlight clipping. So if I have a tripod, I'll sometimes take 3 1-stop bracketed HDR exposures. But the tone-mapping is a pain, it messes with my Lightroom workflow, and it's obviously entirely unusable for any image with movement in it (even landscapes on a slightly windy day). It's also a lot to have to do to work around a pretty fundamental limitation. Yes, I could not shoot under contrasty situations, but dramatic light often makes for interesting photographs.

    From what I've seen, I know for sure that the A7 will be able to perform in those circumstances. What I don't know is whether the GX7 is sufficiently improved over the GX1 to also eliminate those problems. For instance, the GX7's 2 extra stops of dynamic range make my 3-bracket HDR shots unnecessary. That's a huge benefit. The nature of its shadow noise at 1600-6400 ISO also appears to be a lot better than the GX1's, with less blotchiness and extreme chroma, even if the overall quantity of luminance noise isn't that much different. That's okay by me - I don't need hyper clean looking files.

    Most of my lenses are legacy film lenses, though, so there's always going to be that little nagging feeling about wanting to see them as they were originally. Whether it will just end up revealing soft corners and more disappointing aberrations, I'm not sure, but I expect that the larger, lower density sensor with its thinner optical stack should definitely be more tolerant.

    I guess really what I should do is download some RAW files from both cameras from somewhere like Imaging Resource's test galleries and see if the difference from the A7 really calls to me or not. But they aren't usually ideal images to stress test the cameras very much...
  19. Steven

    Steven Mu-43 All-Pro

    May 25, 2012
    I didn't see Evf quality or size mentioned. Sony has a much bigger and nicer Evf than Panasonic .
  20. Keep in mind that while the GX1 sensor has plenty to recommend it, it is one of the harshest in Micro 4/3 when it comes to highlight clipping.

    I reckon that any camera with a sensor that captures at least 12 stops of DR will cover the majority of scenarios unless you're specifically looking for HDR-type processing effects.
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