The State of Micro Four Thirds

Posted Sep. 29th, 2018 by Daniel J. Cox

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. 

Palmetto gecko, Namib Desert, Namibia

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.

Jaguar (Panthera onca) catches a caiman. Pantanal, Brazil

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.

White-tailed eagle in flight, Hokkaido, Japan

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.

Whopper Swan, Lake Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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.

Horned puffin in flight, Alaska.

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.

Light painting the baobab trees at Baobab Alley. Madagascar

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.

Butterfly in Namibia.

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?

 

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There are 19 comments on this post…
  1. Stuart AndrewsOn Oct. 6th, 2018 (2 months ago)

    Hi Dan, not sure if you ever received the link for the video FF v M4/3 but just in case here it is.

    Kind regards

    Stuart

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 6th, 2018 (2 months ago)

      I watched this. It’s really impressive. Thanks for letting me know about this.

  2. Louis BerkOn Oct. 2nd, 2018 (2 months ago)

    I’m delighted that Panasonic has entered the full-frame market but mainly because I believe they will obtain market share, which means revenue and profits and they can plough this back into more research and development.
    My personal feeling is that at some point in the future enthusiast/prosumer photographers will realise that full frame (FF) is an archaic and arbitrary size for sensors which is a half-way house of no real benefits. I could list many reasons for m43rds being more ‘useful’ than FF but the most obvious is size and weight. If you want to see the future of mirrorless for prosumers then you need look no further than the Fuji GFX50s and 50r, or if your pocket is deep enough the Hasselblad X1D. There is no need to limit sensors to the size chosen by Oscar Barnack back in the early 20th century because of the availability of cine film. Sensor size should be based on benefits not a standard.
    The m43rds sensor may at present be limited by its poor signal to noise characteristics versus FF but FF is limited in the same way by pixel density. Fuji and Hasselblad have both demonstrated that larger sensors do not mean larger/heavier bodies. I can fit my Fuji GFX50s and 45/2.8 into a tiny Crumpler bag which is nothing short of amazing. But of course I am not that amazed because I can take my G9, 200/2.8, two TCs and several batteries, food and drink(!) with me in the smallest Think Tank backpack for hiking across countryside. Try doing that with any full frame camera and equivalent lens system!
    But don’t get me wrong I love the fact that Panasonic has gone FF because I estimate that their bodies and lenses, especially with the alliance with Sigma (more than Leica for obvious cost reasons) will appeal a lot more to consumers stepping up from the smartphones and APS-C cameras than the competition.
    However, my caveat is that I hope it benefits the m43rds community. I am already anxious to see what benefits the new firmware announced for October for the G9 will bring. I would be even more pleased to see a BSI m43rds chip in a G9 at some point as a way of improving high-iso performance. If I could get clean images at iso2000 out of the G9 when shooting birds in flight I would be a very happy person. I can hold a 400mm m43rds lens a lot easier than a 400mm f2.8 FF lens!
    Personally, I am moving away from m43rds for architectural and landscape photography but only because Fuji has created a system with a size weight advantage which is the exact parallel of m43rds but in the MF segment. That said, if someone asks me to cover and event, I find it very hard not to use my G9, 12-35 and 35-100. So small, so inconspicuous, so quiet.
    Perhaps, if Panasonic do enjoy the success they deserve for their new venture at some point in the future we will see a third product line of MF based mirrorless cameras?
    Just my two cents

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 2nd, 2018 (2 months ago)

      Thanks Louis for your typical great input. Love having you join the conversation.

  3. Ian ClimieOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

    Follow up to my post on FF vs MFT 1 metre prints, I forgot to add the link – and Dan prompted me to do so . . . must be an age thing!

    Here is the link:
    https://fstoppers.com/education/full-frame-vs-micro-four-thirds-do-you-really-need-extra-megapixels-292411

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

      Thanks Ian. Will take a look. Really appreciate your input.

      PS- I’ve posted this image before. It’s a frame I shot with the Lumix GH4 and the Olympus 40-150mm lens. This image is printed to 24×36 inches, print only not the frame. The details in this image are stunning.

      Raven Spirit a Fine Art Print 24×36 inches in size, without frame, hanging in our home in Bozeman, Montana

  4. Ian ClimieOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

    Slightly off topic but not a lot! Over at fstoppers there is a video comparing quality of 1 metre sized prints from a full frame Canon 5d Mk IV and a micro four thirds Olympus OMD EM-1. An expert at a print shop could not tell the difference!

    Still love my GH5 and sincerely hope that Panasonic keep up the pace in developing the mft system.

    Hope you are enjoying the snowy Rockies!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

      Ian, I just checked FStoppers and could not find the article you mention. Would love to see that. Any chance you ca track it down and ad the link to these comments. Thanks so much for sharing the info. Would love a link.

  5. George ShubinOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

    This year, I turn 70, and arthritis is beginning to yelp at me from my hands and feet. I had a small stroke a little over a year ago, and I am not able to hike the distances that I used to and be confident with my stability.

    For several decades I was a Canon shooter, loving the equipment as well as the art. But the joy of getting out and about was beginning to wane, because of increasing inconvenience. Four years ago, after a lot of reading and research, I thought I’d better investigate those new-fangled MFT cameras that were touted as small, light, less expensive, and offered comparable image quality to the big guys’ systems, so I bought a Panasonic GX8. Little by little our love affair bloomed into lifelong commitment. My wife liked it so much I got her a GX7 and sold her Rebel T5i.

    It has now been almost 6 months since I have lugged my Canon gear out. I think I am emotionally near to the point of actually considering selling by beloved Canon equipment. It’s been a long, slow breakup, and neglect is a sad way to end, but life goes on and one adapts to new possibilities under new conditions.

  6. Dan OhOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

    I wonder what the impact of Global Shutter will be on M43 camera body. My hope is sharper image, better dynamic range and less noise in dark settings. I was hoping that was the news at 2018 Photokina. To my disappointment it was Instead Full Frame S1 and S1R. S1 and S1R did not have a “wow effect” on me. If it is “me-too” factor with 2 card slots then why not mature Sony R7iii system? My bottom comment is hope Panasonic will introduce Global Shutter sensor on M43

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 3rd, 2018 (2 months ago)

      I think we’ll get it Dan. I honestly believe MFT will reap the benefits of Panasonic being a larger player by having both MFT and Full Frame.

  7. Dean SwartzOn Oct. 1st, 2018 (2 months ago)

    You have, once again, shined a beacon to help us navigate the darkness!

  8. Bill TylerOn Sep. 30th, 2018 (2 months ago)

    I don’t know where the market is heading. But I’ve used formats ranging from 4×5 film down to cell phone cameras. I still own a substantial amount of FF DSLR gear, but it mostly sits in the closet. MFT does what I need, I can make 16×20 prints that look fine technically, and I can carry a very full kit of equipment in a reasonably-sized backpack. None of that works with FF. And making the bodies mirrorless won’t make the FF lenses smaller or lighter. In fact, with higher resolution sensors constantly coming along, the lenses are likely to get even heavier as more glass is needed to achieve ever finer resolution at the sensor. There’s certainly a place for FF, but MFT has a ton of advantages for the photography I do, and I hope it stays around a long time.

  9. Rene ThebergeOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

    I’ve already arrived at the point an earlier poster mentions: with arthritis in my hands, wrists, shoulders and neck, not to mention three herniated disks, carrying around heavy equipment hasn’t been possible for several years. I just about gave up photography (after 40 years) when my physician told me to stop carrying my Nikons and Mamiya RZ67 around or I would be crippled for life. About that time I discovered Micro 4/3 in the form of the Olympus OMD. That was 6 years ago, and well into my 70’s, I’m still able to practice my beloved art.

  10. Portrait of David and Shiela Glatz

    Dave GlatzOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

    Agree shooting fast moving subjects in motion is a thrill. If I use FF or mirrorless to get the images I want and do with them what I want, who cares? If Fred uses M43 gear to accomplish his goals that’s great. I’m happy for him. Why does it have to be “us” vs “them”? Frankly the implication that all of us “dinosaurs” who still shoot DSLRs with telephoto do it just to impress people is kind of insulting. I could care less what anyone else thinks.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

      Sorry Dave, didn’t mean to insult you. Like you said, “who cares”. Whatever works for you is what’s important.

  11. Portrait of Jane Scott Norris

    JaneOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

    Been anxiously waiting for you to weigh in on this LUMIX news. I sure hope MFT continues because some of us are approaching an age where we may not be physically able to use the big DSLR gear, especially on travel. I’m not there yet but I’m anticipating continuing to travel well into old age but not with my Canon gear. I already just take the LUMIX gear for family travel; it’s the Ferrari factor at play. I don’t want the family to think the trip is about Grandma’s photography but I want to get some great shots.

  12. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    JayOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

    Dan, I am not worried about mft at all. I think to level the competitive field, panasonic is developing atleast 2 lines, FF and mft included, while every other camera company already has at least 2 sensor sizes.

    In the end, I ask myself what i want to shoot and how i want to do it. MFT is perfect for me for long telephotos and wildlife where one has to travel , hike and weight becomes a sig issue. If i have to shoot landscapes, then hi res mode on MFT or maybe a “portable” medium format like fuji gfx50R when available. For true black and white landscapes, I am still using medium format mamiya 6 / fuji 6×9 with kodak tri x. I love the experience of shooting with these old unsupported cameras that still deliver fantastic images and are so portable. I guess different tools for different jobs, just as I have a hammer, wrench and a screwdiver in my toolkit :)) However, portability seems like my number 1 requirement in any system and MFT delivers big in this regard! my 2 c
    Best,
    Jay

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 29th, 2018 (3 months ago)

      Great input Jay. Thanks for that.

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