The State of Micro Four Thirds
With this week’s announcement of Panasonic jumping into full-frame cameras, I’ve heard lots of MFT enthusiasts worrying about where MFT may or may not be heading. This move is one I would have never predicted, but then I do my best to never say never. Regarding where it’s all going, I have no crystal ball and I can assure you the folks in Osaka have not found my phone number or email. But… I’m relatively confident those of us who love the smaller cameras will have lots of great years left with these unique photographic tools. And… I believe we’ll have many new technologies in lenses and cameras that will keep us sufficiently up to date with the latest and greatest.
Editorial Note: I’ve dropped several images within this post to 1) hopefully make a fairly dry subject matter interesting and 2) to challenge you to tell me which ones were shot with full-frame and which were shot with Micro Four Thirds.
As I mentioned, there’s been a lot of anxiety over the state of MFT. But I think the angst is seriously unwarranted. One of the arguments for Panasonic needing both full-frame and MFT systems is tied to choice and prices. I’ve personally experienced this many times—the consumer visits a camera shop looking for a camera and becomes convinced the only option that makes any sense is full-frame.
That potential buyer has read the adverts and perused the forums that espouse full-frame as the only choice. However, they’ve neglected to read the alternative forums that point out the plusses of MFT. To be fair, full-frame is the absolute best option for the highest quality images you can get other than maybe medium format. But it’s equally fair to say that MFT has its own advantages that are typically ignored since the conversation starting point is almost always about full-frame. If there’s no full-frame, the dialog seldom goes any further.
If the camera shop has full-frame, the buyer now asks to see that special trophy that happens to have a lens attached and sensor enclosed. Holding it, fondling it, and looking through the viewfinder with excitement, the buyer quietly asks about prices of lenses and body. “What?” is often the response along with the reflex associated with a hot potato as they nearly drop the camera on the counter. “Ouch!” he proclaims, “do you have anything cheaper in this same brand?” “Of course we do,” says the clerk, “but it’s an APS-C sized sensor.” “OK, not a problem”…. and so it goes. This buyer now walks out the door with a device that, in many regards, is considerably less of a camera than what he could have with MFT. But Lumix never gets a chance because the bigger brands have both options.
In short, the need to introduce a full-frame Lumix is as much about bringing the buyer in as it is about ultimate quality. Furthermore, the full-frame S Series cameras will give Lumix the chance to incorporate their world-class features into a camera that many feel is the best sensor size. But if the buyer squirms about price, Lumix now has a second option, just like Sony, Nikon, and Canon. It’s all about playing the game.
I want to make it clear that as much as I love the idea of Panasonic having another serious choice, I’m also frustrated that the technology for the smaller cameras hasn’t gone as quickly as I had hoped. I personally feel that had Panasonic been able to give us a better sensor and the best autofocus of any camera being made, development of a full-frame system would not be necessary. The sensor part was always going to be a stretch, but it was certainly something to shoot for since that’s what’s needed to counter the full-frame competitors.
Autofocus is another technology that just hasn’t equalled, let alone surpassed, the larger more dominant players. And exceptional, predictive AF-C—unlike high quality sensors—IS, already, well established by more than one major player. I recently had a chance to photograph flying puffins with the Sony A9 that gave me results I’ve never seen from ANY other camera. Not Nikon, not Canon, and unfortunately not my beloved Lumix. Capturing wild animals in breathtaking action is a drug that only the dominant camera players seem to understand. Once again I refer to my experience leading a couple hundred people per year, for the past 10 years, to some of the world’s most exciting wildlife destinations. These folks have proven to me that getting a fabulous action picture of just about any animal, is more powerful than heroin. They all want it, and most of them will spend any amount of money to get the gear they believe will help them do it. Follow this link to see the photos our Natural Exposures Explores have taken from around the world.
In closing, all I can say is photography is as exciting as I’ve ever seen it in my 40 years of being a photographer. I can only imagine what technologies are just around corner. I give Panasonic a lot of credit for not throwing in the towel and truly committing to a long game. They have one hell of a steep hill to climb, but I actually think that offering two systems will benefit each, by sharing technology and the ability to gain larger market share. Combine that with the L-Mount Alliance with Sigma and Leica, and they have the potential to change the world of photography like nothing we’ve seen since the first 35mm Reflex. Did I mention I do my damndest to never say never?