Rethinking Micro Four Thirds


In the photographic world, bigger is generally accepted as better.  That’s regarding the sensor, of course.  Larger formats, such as the forthcoming Fujifilm medium format camera system, will yield better results than the 35mm full frame sensor which beats out an APS-C cropped sensor which exceeds a micro four thirds one which is better than a compact camera sensor which…

Sure.  Most imaging tests will bear this out.  Bigger sensors allow for better light gathering ability and, simply put, that translates.  If you make your money on producing big prints and someone can clearly recognize these advantages, you’d be a fool to not shoot with the largest sized sensor either you can afford or carry (bigger sensor generally means bigger and heavier bodies and lenses and that can be an important practical consideration).

But then there are the smaller sensor apologists who shoot with, let’s say micro four thirds bodies, and who contend that you can get professional results just the same with those systems.  Good technique, better than average lenses and sound processing technique can go a long way to closing the gap with bigger sensors.  Oh, and the sensor keep improving all the time, blah blah blah.  It’s worth pointing out that a goodly number of those apologists are sponsored by the camera companies and so you’d be wise to take what they say with a grain of salt.

Then again, the proof is in the pudding.  I myself have been prone to point out the differences between my micro four thirds shots and the Fujifilm X mount images I’ve taken.  The simple and, in my experience, incontestable truth is that you can extract greater quality from the Fujifilm files.  Shadows open up better and when the light goes down and ISO goes up then the noise profiles are quite different with the APS-C sensor results being superior.

But I’ve been rethinking this of late.  For example, the shot above is the iconic and oft taken nighttime Roman coliseum composition.  This was taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 at an ISO of 1600.  In my view, it cleaned up quite nicely.  Note that Olympus’ amazing in body image stabilization allowed for a .5 second handheld capture and I see no evidence of shake.  I have images in my library from this camera taken at 1 and 2 seconds and they looks quite good.  That’s impressive.

Additionally, the smaller lenses of the micro four thirds mount help contribute to an overall smaller and lighter package which is one of the promises of mirrorless cameras in the first place.  For a while, I was shooting with a Sony A7ii full frame camera but once I added a full arsenal of lenses, I did not experience quite the size and weight advantages over my Nikon D750 kit as I was expecting.  Additionally, on these smaller bodies, I had to add extra batteries and a screw on grip or battery pack in order to make the hold more comfortable.  Once this takes place, you lose the advantage even more.

Will I ever depart my preferred mount, Fujifilm X?  Not likely.  But I am rethinking micro four thirds, particularly as I see the capabilities of the new Olympus OM-D E-M1ii and Panasonic GH5 cameras.  Stay tuned for more on this topic…

One comment

  1. I’ve been astonished by the quality that some people can eek out of a 4/3 sensor. It’s worth having a quick look at Tara Tanaka’s amazing bird photography on Flickr – she uses a 4/3 camera stuck on the end of a birdwatching telescope, but the results are amazing.

    For me though, I think the difference between 4/3 and (say) full frame isn’t so much about resolution or dynamic range etc; it’s more about the depth of field control that’s achievable with the larger sensors. I really like using focus to isolate my subject, and I find it much easier with a larger sensor. I’ve now settled on Fuji APSC as a compromise, but it was a hard leap of faith to let go of my full frame stuff…


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