Let me ask you a question. Do you want to carry a heavy camera around with you or do you want something light and easy to use? Do you want to carry lots of lenses around or do you want smaller lenses that cover a large focal range so that the whole thing is easy and you can focus on taking photographs? It’s simple isn’t it. The camera that most of us carry with us everywhere is on our phone. Who wants to be bothered with a heavy camera? Only a small community.
We need small light cameras that give us professional results.
But there are smaller options available. The Micro 4/3 system isn’t getting anything like the coverage in the press that it should. And it should because it’s good and it’s small and the images are great. Let’s take a look.
We need to look at Micro Four Thirds
The Micro 4/3 system has been around since 2008 when it was first proposed by a consortium of Olympus and Panasonic. The idea was to achieve a range of mirror less cameras with an interchangeable lens system used by both brands. Thus you can take a lens from Panasonic and put it on an Olympus and you can take a lens from Olympus and put it on a Panasonic Micro 4/3 camera. The sensor size is relatively small in comparison to other cameras which are termed full frame. Full frame gives the impression that there is somehow a standard but in reality this is taken from 35mm. There are much larger sensors than full frame however most sensors that are used in photography are considerably smaller than the Micro 4/3 sensor. In reality then Micro 4/3 is actually a reasonable size in comparison to most sensors used in photography.
Most cameras used today use much smaller sensors than micro four thirds. Much smaller! They are in our phones.
Compared to most of the cameras in use today the Micro 4/3 camera has a larger and better sensor. So-called full frame cameras [ and medium format cameras for that matter] are often much more expensive and yield good results but at somewhat of a cost in terms of price and size and weight. You know that you’ve got a full frame in board if you carry it for very long. Personally I am used to carrying rigs but even then I prefer to travel lighter where possible.
The Micro 4/3 sensor and camera uses an electronic viewfinder. The electronic viewfinder has been an absolute revelation for photography and you will doubtless have seen in the news if you follow photography that cameras manufacturers are almost tripping over each other to release mirror less cameras that feature electronic viewfinder’s. 2018 has been a landmark year in this respect.
If it were about size why do we get given small cameras and then huge lenses?
It appears to be a somewhat confused market because on the one hand the manufacturers are producing smaller cameras while on the other hand they are producing larger and heavier lenses. When it comes to establishing a lightweight system that gives extremely high quality images then the Micro 4/3 system is an option that you have to take a look at. It is light, fast, produces high quality images and has some simply amazing lenses.
Light and fast. Its what the market wants!
It is true that in low-light situations, and we’re not talking about evening but rather much later into the evening, full frame sensors will have an edge because they will not produce as much noise. Any subjective comparison however of full frame sensors in low-light situations will show that while they do produce a relatively noise free image depending on how careful you are setting them up, they do produce a soft image. Whether this is desirable depends on your type of photography.
The Olympus OMD EM1 Mark 2 is simply amazing
The micro 4/3 answer to this has been to develop industry leading image stabilisation technology within the cameras. For example the Olympus OMD EM1 mk2 has unbelievable image stabilisation and, the company has just released a sports version which takes it even further. Image stabilisation allows you to shoot in lower light with low shutter speeds so that you do not need a high ISO setting for the image and therefore the sensor will not generate the noise that you are trying to avoid. It takes some work to get your head around this approach but once you get used to it you wonder why other companies haven’t really adopted it in the same way. Perhaps they are committed to a specific size of camera or a specific size of sensor. However, the public are voting with their feet when it comes to sensor size.
At a recent beauty spot I watched as people came to take photographs. Only one in 30 were interested in carrying a heavy camera. But most people were taking photographs using their mobile phone and the mobile phone was taking good pictures using a sensor considerably smaller than that found in the Micro 4/3 system. I believe that camera manufacturers are missing out on a major market because of concentrating on producing heavy cameras that produce good quality images but that simply do not find a market among a lot of people. People do want smaller and lighter cameras which is why they are very happy to use their mobile phone. People say that we are a photography society but when they do that they are referring to their phone. So any company that is able to produce smaller and lighter cameras that provide excellent image quality has clearly got a good handle on what the majority of people are looking for. And I would suggest that the majority of people are probably going to be extremely happy with a micro 4/3 camera. They are very very good indeed.
Because there has to be a standard for lenses in terms of establishing a lens size, lenses are based around the 35mm image. Thus a lens may be termed a 50 mm lens or a 135mm lens and this directly relates to a 35mm sensor. If the sensor is smaller then the factor by which the sensor is smaller affects the actual focal length perceived when looking through the viewfinder. So for example when a 50 mm lens is placed on a micro 4/3 camera where the sensor is considerably smaller than the 50 mm lens gives the field of view of a 100 mm lens or exactly double. The 135mm would effectively be a 270 mm lens.
Micro Four Thirds Lenses are amazingly sharp
In the world of Micro 4/3 the lenses are designed to take advantage of this feature. This allows very small lenses to give an incredible range of focal lengths and interestingly remarkable depth of field and remarkable sharpness of image. In my experience I have never produced images as sharp straight out of the camera as those that I have taken using the Olympus Pro series lenses on a micro 4/3 camera. So Olympus for example produce a 12 to 100 mm lens which in 35mm terms is a 24 to 200 mm lens. Can you imagine a company in 35mm land trying to produce a 24 to 200 mm lens and trying to make it of the same quality as the pro series that Olympus have produced? It would be ridiculously huge and incredibly expensive. Also Olympus have produced a 40 to 150 mm lens rated at F2 .8 which provides the equivalent focal length of an 80 to 300 mm lens at F2 .8. The nearest comparable lens in 35mm world is the 70 to 200 F2 .8 which has nowhere near the reach. And I would have to say in direct comparison of image quality the Olympus lens is simply amazing.
I always have at least two cameras with me and one of them is always micro 4/3. I’ve yet to walk into any situation where the micro 4/3 camera couldn’t get the shot. And it’s light and easy to use. It has the benefit of excellent speed and quality while at the same time everything that I need is right there in my hand. The lenses, are simply amazing and they have a sharp definition and the contrast that I wish some of my other much more expensive lenses could achieve.
I had the idea that micro 4/3 was the poorer neighbour to the full frame camera. I guess that’s the way that it’s marketed. I tried going with larger and larger sensors and I have shot with some of the most esoteric glass on the market. In some situations I’d have to say that the image quality of the larger sensors leaves the Micro 4/3 sensor behind. But that area of image taking is very small and there were ways of working around it using the Micro 4/3 sensor. I just had to learn a different way of shooting. On a recent trip I took two full frame sensors and one Micro 4/3 and returned from the trip with 900 images taken on the Micro 4/3 system that were easily a match for everything that I’d taken in full frame. And if I’d been taking the full frame equivalent of some of these lenses I would have needed a trolley. I didn’t because micro 4/3 system has amazing lenses that are light and have beautiful character.
Olympus are filling a really important need and people are voting with their feet. We need small cameras or else a lot of them are left on the shelf at home.
Can you imagine a 35mm lens rated at 24-200mm with an F4 constant and with sharp crisp performance? It would be huge and expensive. It would be ideal but it just isn’t there. Yes there are some alternatives but these are quite soft. I’m referring to a lens with pro specs that is sharp and meets the demanding expectations of professionals. Yet Olympus have achieved this with an F4 lens rated at 12 mm to 100 mm. Remember that you double the figures. The 12 mm to 100 mm lens is in effect in 35mm terms a 24 to 200 mm lens. Not only did Olympus produce a lens of amazing optical quality in this focal length, but they also were able to build in image stabilisation. Olympus understand the value of putting image stabilisation into the camera body, but they can also double up by adding image stabilisation to the lens as well and get the two forms of image stabilisation to work together. Using this lens equipped on the Olympus camera we have managed to handhold images in low light at 1/8 of a second that have been perfectly sharp. Something simply not achievable in the handheld form using any other camera system.
One of the most amazing lenses in 35mm photography and that most camera companies like to produce is the 70 to 200 mm lens in F2 .8. Most wedding photographers want this lens equipped on their camera when they shoot a wedding. And I’ve certainly used it myself and achieved excellent results. However, Olympus have been able to produce a pro series lens rated at 40 mm to 150 mm. Now remember that this is doubled which makes it 80-300 mm. And this lens is an F2 .8. That’s right, it gives you the equivalent focal length of the professional lens as produced by the major camera manufacturers but gives you the extra 100 mm of reach while giving you the same optical brightness. What’s more, this lens is incredibly sharp. It can even be equipped with a 1.4 extender which gives it the equivalent focal length of 112 mm to 420 mm. So two lenses in one and interestingly with the optical extender, the lens becomes a constant f4. This makes it a considerably better lens than many of its competitors.
And just how good are the images from the Olympus cameras? They are so good that many wedding photographers have no difficulty whatsoever in using them regularly and we now use an Olympus digital camera, being the Olympus OMD EM1 Mark2 as our reference system for reference for focusing speed and image quality.
Bear in mind that it is a 20 megapixel camera. So its a good size. Don’t let megapixels confuse you. A 40 megapixel image is considerably larger than a 20 megapixel image. Megapixels relates to size of image and not image quality. A 50 megapixel image is not that much better than a 20 megapixel image. It is simply bigger. Once you understand that the megapixel information has been misapplied to quality as opposed to image size, suddenly you have to take a look at the photo industry again and realise that 20 megapixels is enough for anybody. We can easily print images from a 20 megapixel image in large format up to 2 m high, with no discernible difference in quality against larger megapixel images. 20 megapixel is plenty of area to work with. The Micro 4/3 system is well worth considering. And I would recommend that people take another look at it.
As we said in the outset. People are leaving heavy and large DSLR cameras and large heavy cameras per se at home. At one time people got caught up in the hype and bought lots of them, but it’s amazing how many of these cameras languish at home, having been retired from use in favour of the mobile phone. I would argue that if the cameras were smaller and lighter people would probably enjoy using them more. And you can easily put together a Micro 4/3 system which is very small indeed based around the 20 megapixel sensor. Take a look. There are lots of options available. In fact, Olympus make a 12 to 40 mm F2 .8 version of their pro lens, which has an equivalent focal length of 24 to 80 mm. Think about that. While the competitors are giving you a 24 to 70 mm focal length Olympus give you 24 to 80 mm and the lens is very, very sharp. One of the things you quickly learn using the Olympus system is that you don’t need to apply anything like the amount of sharpening to their images than you do with full frame or 35mm sensors.
The micro 4/3 system can easily meet the requirements of most photographers on the market for a camera today. Don’t fall for the full frame 35mm frame hype. Look closely. It may be what you need it, but I’d be surprised if you don’t find that the Micro 4/3 system is much more appropriate. Next time I go to a beauty spot I hope that more than one in 30 will be carrying a camera. Perhaps some will be carrying a small, lightweight camera and getting amazing results because they reinvestigated the world of the Micro 4/3 sensor.
Below I’ve included some full frame images. But most are from the Olympus. Micro four thirds. Look at the quality and you won’t see any step up or down.