With all the current-focus on Full-Frame, what does the Micro 4/3 sensor offer, and can it still be relevant in a world where large format is beginning to dominate?
The current market for camera systems is amazing. Lets just throw that out there. There's never been so much competition and innovation for filmmakers to go out and get the images they want. In saying that, lets take a look at the Micro 4/3rds(M4/3) system.
Pioneered by Panasonic and Olympus in 2008, the micro four thirds system was a way to design and manufacture cameras and lenses that were significantly smaller than available DSLR cameras, but offer the same quality of images that a traditional DSLR would produce.
In 2020, these cameras have evolved with professional, fast lenses - and have paved the way of how current mirrorless cameras should perform - especially in the video production world.
But this isn't a blog about the history about the system, this is a blog about how its evolution makes it the perfect tool for quite a lot of different professional photography. So lets get into what sets this apart from systems with a larger sensor.
RELATIONSHIP TO FULL FRAME (FF)
"35mm focal equivalent"
If you're farmiliar with these systems already, you might have noticed that each lens will have a little tag that says '35mm focal equivalent'. In M4/3 the sensor conviniently is 2x smaller than a typical full frame sensor. It's easier to show with a illustration, so here's one I made earlier:
I can't quite remember the focal length of this particular photo, but for arguements sake lets say that this photo was shot on a full frame camera at 40mm. The area representing the M4/3 image size is what the photo WOULD be had I shot at 80mm on the Full Frame camera.
Head onto most forums or facebook groups and you'll see a good percentage of users asking 'whats the widest possible angle on a M4/3 camera' for things like Real-Estate photography and potentially landscapes - This is because having a 12mm lens on a 2x crop would make it 24mm, which lets be honest isn't the widest of lenses - not compared to a 16-35 from the FF library from those well established in the FF market.
But it's the OTHER side of the focal lengths that I think where M4/3 shines, and it's an area I think generally that not many consider - such as sport or music - and thats because I think those photographers have invested in a system yielding amazing results.
So why would you consider changing?
Or, I think more appropriate,
If you're looking into switching your set-up around or getting more involved with live sport / music, why would you choose M4/3 over FF?
I absolutely believe the crop, size and weight are absolutely an advantage for photography.
If we were to compare a 5D.iii and a GH5:
Body Only (5d.iii)
(w) 152mm x (h)116mm x (d) 76mm
Body Only (GH5)
(w) 139mm x (h) 98mm x (d) 87mm
When figuring out how much smaller and lighter the GH5 is, you see it's around 24 off percent.
Note : I'm not about to go into the specifications of each camera and compare, i'm using size as the only comparison - each camera has their use. We can argue about specs all day long , but thats not the point of the blog.
I could compare the 1dx.ii and the Olympus EMX-1, both are built specifically for speed and auto-focus, but we would yield a similar conclusion - M4/3 is smaller, lighter and just as capable of matching DSLR equivalent.
...USE CANON LENSES ANYWAY?
The other great thing about the M/3 mount, is that it's argueably the most adaptive mount in the world. Mounting Canon, Nikon, Zeiss, Leica, Pentax, Takumar, Minolta, Helios, Voightlander are all doable, even if you wanted to adapt an old CCTV c-mount lens. the possibilities are endless and in most cases the image cirlce will cover the M4/3 sensor.
NOT ONLY that, but when mounting a full-frame or a crop lens, you have the ability to use a 'speedbooster' made by companies like Metabones, or Viltrox. These adapters have lens elements in them to reduce the crop factor and make your lens faster
The viltrox adapter I have has a x0.71 focal reducer. So that 24-70 turns into a 34mm vs a 48mm
(focal length * crop) * focal reducer.
And it turns an f/2.8 into an F/2. Which is super, super useful.
And it means if you HAVE something like a Canon 5d.iii, you don't have to get rid of all of your lenses, they're still adaptable, and dare I say better on a M4/3 camera.
NOTE: However , the auto-focus ability will be somewhat hampered by adapting the lens. It'll still work but not as fast as using native equipment.....and if you're using PL or cine-lenses you have nothing to worry about!
PUTTING THE ADVANTAGES INTO PRACTICE
So, the crop, size and weight are in my opinion an awful big advantage. I feel like it's tailor made for environments where you can't be close to your subject. For example, music and sport.
In fact, I take my GH5 and my 40-150mm f/2.8 combo to everything. It's my go to setup, because it's light, non obstructive, and gives me that FF equivalent of 80-300mm. Which is nuts.
In the hustle and bustle of the worlds photographers, here's a few sample images coming up:
ISO 800, f/2,8, 1/400 - 40mm (80mm) Equivalent
ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/1600 - 150mm (300mm equiv.)
These images are all GH5 with that Olympus 40-150mm lens. The first is at the wider end, the second at the longer end - You can really get up super close and really grab the detail from within the pit.
ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/400 - 150mm (300mm equiv.)
ISO 800, f/4, 1/400 - 150mm (300mm equiv)
ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1600 - 150mm (300mm equiv)
ISO 200, f/4, 1/640 - 150mm (300mm equiv)
Hopefully these photos illustrate great looking photos for a smaller and lighter kit. I could have taken a FF equivalent i'm sure - but not having a larger camera and larger lens helped me blend in the crowds a little bit more.
I do think that Bolasie picture is up there with oen of the best photographs I've ever taken.
SHOULD I INVEST?
Look, the point of this blog isn't to say 'hey! you should switch everything over to M4/3 because look how great these photos are!
It's the idea that in the ever-booming market of FF, and having tech blogs cry out about how amazing all these new FF cameras are - less is being said about M4/3. I think in 2020 Pansonic are due some sort of switch up to their M4/3 line-up, and Olympus will no doubt be pushing forward with their camera systems. They are great alternatives against the cost, size and weight of FF, with a similar quality and greater adaptability.