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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Photographers- It's Time to Reconsider Micro Four Thirds

Photographers- It's Time to Reconsider Micro Four Thirds
November 2018, Carl Garrard

With 2018 almost out of the way, I've been paying extra close attention to the camera market lately. As many of you know, the camera market is over saturated with excellent cameras and excellent used deals. Prices on excellent cameras drop faster than a Tito Ortiz k/o over Chuck Liddell. No matter what brand/mount you are looking at, used deals can be found everywhere. With the camera market clearly shifting a large portion of it's efforts to full frame mirrorless, it's time to consider what your needs really are as a photographer. Large in part, I've always ignored m4/3 as a serious system because of its early day image quality based on the sensors they used at that time. All this changed for me when they introduced the OMD EM5 in 2012 with its 16mp sensor, but like many of you, I was already fully invested into larger sensor systems. Today I rethink it all.
OMD EM10 II Value?

Four thirds sensors have reached what I call the point of diminishing returns as far as sensor quality in the industry. What I mean by that, is there's this sort of invisible line of practical image quality that we all  need for most photography. Olympus and Panasonic sensors have reached that point for some time now obviously, but now, prices of bodies are so good on older cameras (and even some really new ones) that the exceptional glass both companies offer really makes more sense to invest in than ever. In short, the systems look much more appealing because the balance is definitely there between optical and sensor quality, and sensor quality will only get better from here.

One of the many m4/3 cameras I'll be evaluating. The OM10 mk II offers incredible value, but most importantly incredible capability. 

Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II Mirrorless Digital Camera with 14-42mm II R Lens (Silver)

What I like about the system is that generally speaking lens quality is higher than APS-C and FF systems, while being less expensive, smaller, and better featured. I don't have to stop down the lenses as much to achieve more depth of field or image quality, and that means I can keep ISO's pegged at base almost all the time. This means that high ISO image quality isn't nearly as important as others would have you believe.

The system is also huge, supported by lots of third party makers as well. And while there's some mock excitement generated by camera companies and the press about FF mirrorless, practically speaking I don't think those systems are affordable, or the right size for most photographers. The industry needs these new systems, but that doesn't mean you do.

For most people, the micro four thirds system would not only now be adequate, but probably offer more than they need. Using some of the more modern cameras and lenses lately, I've been convinced of both Panasonic's and Olympus's capability overall as a system. They offer a huge array of bodies and lenses that hit this sweet spot of practicality that frankly just wasn't quite there when the system was first introduced. But it's improved vastly, and the system has just about anything a photographer would need, for less, and in a smaller system.

Image quality from the 16mp and 20mp sensors especially has taken such a great leap forward, and will continue to incrementally get better. This means you can feel safe investing in the system because this department is covered. I know that suggesting investing in m4/3 now seems counter to what you'll read by the press and marketing from other makers, but think about it. Really think about it. Do you really need a full frame system? The grass isn't necessarily greener there, because all systems  have pros and cons. The key I think, is to buy into a system that has the best balance of price, size, and capability to your individual needs. I think with m4/3, it offers a better overall balanced system that would meet most photographers needs on a more practically balanced level.

To help you decide, I will be doing more m4/3 reviews on my site in the coming months highlighting certain bodies and lenses that I feel are the best used and new deals in m4/3. I've found an incredible amount of valuable and capable bodies and lenses in the used and new market that if you used, would really make you reconsider investing into bigger and heavier and more expensive systems. On top of that, you may even gain some advantages instead of lose them- which has been largely the way of thinking of many photographers about m4/3 and unfortunately continues to be.

Stay Focused.



  1. Carl: most of the time I agree with and support your excellent views and postings.

    But I can't agree with your initial assessment of M4:3. Even the Canon 5D Classic (the original) trounces M4:3 when it comes to pure image quality.

    Having owned several generations of micro four thirds cameras and lenses — including the Panasonic G1, GF1, GH1 and a range of Olympus models — I'm well-acquainted with M4:3 in general and am aware of the advantages M4:3 presents.

    But when all is said and done, dollar-for- dollar, APS-C and full frame still represent, to me, better value, far better handling, superior build and significantly better imaging.

    Yes, progress is progress and time marches on, with mirrorless slowly-but-surely coming into its own as the system of choice for a great many enthusiasts and pros alike.

    But progress, in whatever form, doesn't always means better (as you well know). I will put an "ancient" Canon 1Ds II or Nikon D700, both with good glass, up against any M4:3 you can name and come out ahead shot after shot ... and either one of those cameras is available used for much less than some of the best M4:3 bodies.

    M4:3 has its place. I grant it that 100%. But sensor size matters and always will. If a superior imager that's also small, light and well-built is the goal, an APS-C Leica X Vario at about $900-$1,000 used is a better option than M4:3, up to and including ISO 3200. For higher ISOs, a used APS-C Fuji X-E2 or XE-3 might be a better choice than the Leica (except the X Vario lens is a best-in-class optic; it's almost impossible to obtain its qualities in other non-Leica lenses).

    Then there's the Sony full frame A-range cameras. An A7 II with their 28-70 OSS lens is, warts and all, pretty hard to beat by ANY standard.

    It will be interesting to see how your M4:3 analysis unfolds.

    - Steve

    1. I happen to disagree with most of your assessments, Steve. Image quality of M43, particularly the latest generation is definitely ahead of APS-C, I can see this day by day, when I compare even older images taken with my EOS 7D an/or images taken with my previously owned OM-EM 1. and by far better with my GH5 or G9. particularly dynamic range and now even also image quality in general. In many ways, IQ of those new M43 cameras and their superb lenses is ahead of images taken with my FF Canon 6D with the exception of very high ISO starting at ISO 3200. And talking about the first 5D: If you critically look at images today, the quality was very poor and even at high ISO (it was absolutely un-usable beyond ISO 800) M43 would easily beat it hands-down nowadays. used in tandem with Pana-Leica lenses wide open, my G9 these days can compete even in stage-photography with an EOS XD1 Mk 2 if you know how to handle it in post-processing

  2. Hi Steve! Good to hear from you. I wouldn't expect you to be in the range of photographers that this article is about. When I say most, I mean everyone but us 10% semi/pros, pros, and prosumers :). These days, convenience trumps almost everything for a vast majority of people, don't you think?

  3. I'm not sure "convenience" is at the top of the heap of features for the OM-D and others like it. It's a pretty complex camera, as are the newer Panasonics. Indeed, mirrorless body designs and feature sets seem to have headed in the direction of being DSLR look-alikes. Anyway, we could go on and on about this. As mentioned, it will be interesting to see how your views of M4:3 unfold.


  4. By convenience, I'm referring to the size of the system overall. Its much smaller and more convenient compared to larger systems. :)

    And FTR, I'm not making a "switch" to m4/3, merely rethinking my stance on the system overall. I think others ought too as well, at least re-consider.

  5. If size, weight and simplicity are important requirements, then fixed lens, M4:3 cameras like the Panasonic LX100 II and the new Leica D-Lux 7 make more sense to me. Also — and if one can handle its narrow focal lengths of 28mm, 35mm and 45mm — the Ricoh GR II or III are amazingly good cameras ... and their APS-C! Each to his own Carl.

  6. To folks like you and me, sure :). Think of the average Target shopper or soccer mom.... that's my focus on this article, mainly.

  7. Steve it is funny that you only quote having used first generation models M43 cameras. Back then IQ was not good but the recent MFT cameras beat the Nikons I used to own in almost every aspect except AF-C (then I don't use the top level MFT cameras like G9 or EM1 ii). These cameras are a joy to use. You are right that bigger sensor cameras will always have better IQ (why don't we all change to Medium Format much better than FF...) but I agree with Carl that MFT have now reached the IQ level that is good enough for most uses, including pretty large prints where proffessionals fail to tell the difference. The IQ on MFT now equals what we got from our bigger sensor cameras some years ago, and most users were happy with that IQ back then. The sensor is only one factor for IQ. Lenses, IBIS and not least the software engine is very important (even if you shoot raw) and in those aspects MFT are second to none.