Micro Four Thirds Versus Full Frame

Posted Feb. 18th, 2023 by Daniel J. Cox

I recently stumbled on a video by Pangolin Photo Safaris that nicely explains the pros and cons between Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and Full Frame camera systems. The only disappointment was that the gentleman representing MFT didn’t exude much confidence.

He gave some good arguments for the Olympus OM-1 and 150-400mm gear he was shooting, but he was a bit hesitant overall. I would have loved to have the same discussion with the lovely young lady taking Full Frame’s side.

Peacock photographed with Olympus OM-1 and 150-400mm at 1000mm
Peacock photographed with the Olympus OM-1 and 150-400mm lens at 1000mm

Either way, they both gave good arguments for their respective camera systems. I’m a huge fan of Micro Four Thirds which I started trying in 2008. I began the system with Lumix gear but have now switched almost exclusively to Olympus–now called OM Digital Solutions.

One of the very positive attributes of the MFT system, which they didn’t mention, is both Olympus and Lumix share their lens mount. So if like me, you decide to move from one brand to the other, your lenses still work. No more having to sell all the lenses you spent a lot of money on to move to a better camera. Above is one of my videos comparing the two categories of cameras.

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There are 10 comments on this post…
  1. Dane VarkevisserOn Mar. 4th, 2023

    I was less impressed by the video. The argument that somehow full-frame cameras are much better in low light and less noisy because they are more capable at higher ISOs is flawed. It is flawed because MFT has a two stop advantage in achieving any given depth of field and to compensate for this full-frame cameras must either bump up their ISO or reduce their shutter speed to achieve the same. Now if using a full-frame camera you have to increase ISO to achieve the same depth field and same exposure, the playing field is suddenly levelled out. The advantage is lost. It is true that it is easier to achieve a shallow depth of field and therefore subject isolation with a full-frame system, but this is played up as being some sort of trump card for full-frame cameras. Anybody who knows how depth of field works will understand that this is not huge advantage and a shallow depth of field can easily be obtained using a MFT system. If anything MFT has the advantage when it comes to depth of field, because for any given depth of field, MFT has a two stop advantage making it easier to achieve more depth of field. Surprisingly, the one area where larger sensor cameras have their biggest advantage wasn’t mentioned. That is the ability to shoot moving subjects small in the frame and crop. The image quality of MFT is already very good. Most people including professional photographers would be hard pressed to tell whether an image was taken on a MFT or a full-frame camera. I don’t recall the video making any mention of the class leading image stabilisation in MFT cameras and lenses nor the class leading weather sealing of the Olympus pro cameras and lenses. With constant advances in computational photography, sensor technology and AI software, I can personally see full-frame cameras being relegated to niche cameras in the next ten years as smaller sensor cameras gain more and more advantage. I often feel the arguments for larger sensor systems are more about people trying to justify spending enormous sums on their kit. None of this is to say they are not good systems. But you are paying a premium for somewhat dubious advantages or advantages that are not necessarily material and at the same time paying a lot for products that are less featured, portable and durable than their MFT counterparts. There has been a lot of hype around larger sensor cameras in recent years and for a lot of it, it is just hype.

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      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 7th, 2023

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Dave!

  2. Greg McCroskeryOn Mar. 2nd, 2023

    Daniel,
    I wish you had been part of that discussion also. It is a very good video, but I feel there were a few points glossed over too quickly. For example the shallow DOF issue, to me is a ‘biggie’. I learned in photography 101 that in most cases your subject should be in crisp focus. In portraits, be it human or animal, the question should be asked, “What is the subject? Is it the face, the head, or the eyes?” Just as in macro photography, I often feel that what is in sharp focus in many images is not necessarily what the actual subject is. When I see a bird photograph, I generally want to see the entire bird in focus — not just his eye!

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      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 2nd, 2023

      Your comment regarding depth of field is similar to what most of my students prefer as well. There are times extremely shallows DOF is interesting but like all things in photography there is compromise. Thanks for your input.

  3. levitt parkesOn Feb. 21st, 2023

    I really liked the video, it was very balanced and showed a very professional approach to the comparison. Have been an Olympus and Panasonic MFT and earlier four thirds systems and appreciated the review. The pro gear really is very good and pricing wise I can have top notch equipment at a more affordable price point which does mean a lot to me, weight is also a huge factor and as I have got older the sheer bulk of FF equipment has become limiting in its use. I personally love FF for the lovely creamy backgrounds and low light ability but as said sometimes you have to accept a bit of a compromise in life to keep doing what you really like.

  4. Peter NorvigOn Feb. 21st, 2023

    I think micro 4/3 is great, and I appreciate the size and weight difference between, say, a 600 f/4 and the Olympus 600-equivalent 300 f/4. But for me, a better trade-off is to go to a crop-sensor (for me, Canon), so I’d only need a 400mm lens to get to 600 equivalent. And I can use my lenses on either crop or full-frame cameras, so I get the best of both. My analysis: https://docs.google.com/document/d/18Ch1MIMTEF8rRX02UF3QHaxsKEh0k4SYTV7xzPgx9nM/edit?usp=sharing

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      Daniel J. CoxOn Jun. 22nd, 2023 (10 months ago)

      Thanks for the info Peter. Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.

  5. Mircea BlanaruOn Feb. 19th, 2023

    I’ve watched your video and I was impressed!!! What I don’t like at these camera lenses is the size and price. Perhaps you don’t care about that, but for me both minuses are very important!!! The quality of your images is absolutely great and I hope from the bottom of my heart that micro 4/3 standard will continue to produce beautiful and affordable cameras!!!!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 19th, 2023

      Mircea, thanks for the nice comments. I agree with your lack of enthusiasm for size and price. However, compared to the Nikon system I used to shoot, the OM System combination is much, much smaller and cheaper. Example: A Nikon 600mm F/4 is $15,500US. The Olympus 150-400mm F/4.5 is $7500US. Less than half the price and with the OM you get 400mm more reach since 400mm becomes 800mm in the world of Micro Four Thirds. Add to that the 150-400mm’s built in telecnverter and you now have 1000mm for $7500US. So comparing prices between these two highly professional lenses, the OM/Olypmus wins hands down. Not to mention the Olympus is probably the sharpest lens I’ve ever used. AND you get the benefit of a zoom. Now let’s take your critique of size and weight. The Olympus is 4.6 x 12.4 inches at 4.1 pounds and the Nikkor is 6.5 x 17.2 inches at 7.2 pounds. So once again the Olympus wins again.

      To be fair, the Olympus’ price of $7500US is still very expensive. And thankfully OM Digital Solutions has an answer for that in the 100-400mm f/5-6.3 (200-800mm equivalent) that is only $1500US, is 3.4 x 8.1 inches, and weighs only 2.4lbs. So they have the lower priced option covered very nicely. It too is very sharp. Not the sharpness of the 150-400mmm but pretty darn close.

      Hope this helps put this lens into perspective. Thanks for stopping by to join the conversation.

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