The Telephoto Power of Micro Four Thirds

Posted Mar. 3rd, 2019 by Daniel J. Cox

Full-frame camera hype

There’s been a lot of press in the past four months about the excitement of full-frame cameras. Panasonic jumped in with a new fabulous full-frame system, the Lumix S1, and Lumix S1R. Nikon and Canon finally awoke from the dead and offered their versions as well. It’s a great time to be in photography, but full-frame cameras still require full-frame lenses. Full-frame lenses are big, heavy, and expensive. And this is where MFT excels. Below is a new PDF you can download that shows the 62 different MFT lenses and their respective manufacturers.

You can download this new PDF brochure detailing the many lenses in the MFT system

I’m excited to someday have a chance to shoot the new Lumix S1R. I may even add it to my gear bag for landscapes. But I won’t be using it for my general wildlife and nature work. I just don’t want to carry the lenses or pay the higher costs of owning the system. For that, I’m sticking with my beloved Lumix MFT system.

This last week I came back from our Yellowstone Winter photo tours where I was shooting the Lumix G9 with the Olympus 300mm and 1.4X teleconverter. That’s 840mm F/4 in full-frame terms, and nobody on the trip came close to the reach I had.

Telephoto power of MFT

Let me share an interesting anecdotal story that happened on the first of our most recent two Yellowstone winter trips. There was a very lovely lady who has traveled with us for years. For many of those years, she’s seen me shooting the smaller, lighter, and less expensive Lumix system. Many trips back I encouraged her to start thinking about the benefits of the smaller cameras. She agreed but brought up her concerns. Things she had heard like, “They have more noise” and, “You can’t print as large.” That conversation with her was many trips ago, and since she was not convinced I eventually quit offering my thoughts.

Barrow’s golden-eye, Yellowstone National Park. Similar view of what would have been seen at 400mm with a fullframe camera.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when she joined us in Yellowstone. She was excited but somewhat hesitant to tell me she had purchased a brand new Nikon D850. I expressed enthusiasm and congratulated her on a wonderful choice since the D850 is a fabulous camera. I encouraged her that I know the Nikon system inside and out. I was excited to help her get up to speed with her new camera. The next four days we did just that.

This image showing the same photo with the extended reach of the MFT lens.

During those four days, she came to me with some questions about specific images. Her photos, in some cases, were very similar. In fact almost exact replicas of what we had shot together standing side by side. The difference, however, was mine were much closer than what she was able to get with her Nikkor 80-400mm zoom. I was using the LUMIX G9 with the Leica 200mm and a 1.4X teleconverter, an effective reach of 560mm as opposed to 400mm with the Nikon lens.

Some people are very surprised at how much closer my images look than what they’ve shot. However, it’s nothing more than an illusion. Mine are shot with a cropped sensor, so in other words, my camera is cropping the image, just like the cropping so many do who shoot full-frame cameras. Mine are cropped in the field, with no time needed sitting behind a computer in post processing.

I never mentioned any of this to her since she’s a dear friend. Once somebody makes a commitment to a camera they absolutely love they have no interest in being told something different.

But it’s the lenses that make MFT so compelling. Not only do we have over 64 lenses being made and delivered for the MFT system, but they’re smaller, lighter, and much less expensive. There is some truth to the fact we have to deal with more noise at high ISO settings. It’s also true I hesitate to print my MFT images larger than 30×40 inches. But the other benefits so outweigh the two issues I just mentioned that MFT is, in my humble opinion, the only way to go for the vast majority of wildlife and natural history.

This view of a male bighorn sheep is what I captured with the Lumix G9 and Olympus 300mm with 1.4X teleconverter.

During my entire two weeks in Yellowstone, I saw only three of the traditional Canon and Nikon 600mm and 500mm telephotos. Even our snow coach driver commented he sees very few of the big black Nikkors or white Canon lenses any more. It’s changing fast, and I’ve always been keen on keeping my eye on camera technology that moves my work forward. I’m convinced the smaller, lighter lenses allow me many more images due to mobility than the slightly better quality you MIGHT see in a full-frame image. For that, I’m eternally grateful to Panasonic Lumix and Olympus for keeping this amazing system alive and growing.

Size and price

Dan compares the Nikon 400mm F/2.8 and the new Leica 200mm F/2.8 at Bozeman Camera.

Forgive me if I’ve offended anyone in the publishing of this post. But I’m not going to quit pointing out the benefits of the smaller MFT system. I personally think we’ve all been brainwashed by the big three and that must be exposed at all costs. When a Leica 200mm F/2.8 costs one-third the price of a Canon, Nikon, or Sony, which one do you think the camera manufacturers would like you to buy? It’s not the $2500 Leica I can tell you that.

I don’t want this system to die. Thankfully I’m seeing more and more people shooting the smaller cameras. But we need to keep asking for more from Lumix and Olympus, and we need to support them. Any questions about all of this let me know in the comments below.

Add Your Voice!
There are 18 comments on this post…
  1. Christian FürstOn Jun. 20th, 2019 (5 months ago)

    Hi Daniel,
    I fully agree with your assessment of MFT in comparison to 35mm-format sensors and equipment.
    Anyhow, as much as I love my G9 plus PL zooms and primes I was having more and more problems shooting on stage (theatre, opera, ballet) professionally.
    Unfortunately modern directors tend to reduce artificial light on stage, and if you have to shoot at a ballet-rehearsal these days, 1600 ISO is the bare minimum you may need for good results (at a minimum of 1/250 for movement of dancers. 3200 ISO, however, really is the maximum for decent quality right now with MFT when you need professional results. At a recent rehearsal for a Hamburg-Ballet premiere-showing (director is New Yorker John Neumeier) more or less all pictures were taken at 6400 plus (up to 12 800). I took them with my recent acquisition, a Fujifilm X-H1 which feels a bit like my G9 but simply handles low-light definitely better, But it is already so much heavier!! (still lighter than “FF” cameras). Additionally I bought the 1,2/56mm (85mm in FF) for street and indoor. For all the other purposes, particularly birds and wildlife and travel, I stick to MFT and love it.
    One more remark: I personally love my 2,8-4/50-200 + my 1,4 converter and use this combination all the time, but I was never really happy with the PL 100-400. And i am not too happy with my 2x converter in combination with the 50-200. I am not convinced, however, that it’s the lesser optical performance of this converter since using higher shutter speeds seems to solve some of the deficiencies of that lens.
    AND I made one promise: Should Panasonic manage to offer a new G9 (Mk II or other) with an MFT sensor capable of 6400+ I shall happily sell the APS-C Fuji, even though that is an excellent camera!!! I simply can’t ignore the fact that at my age of 73 this year weight simply matters, and it makes a big difference if you have to carry a (ff equivalent) 70-200/2,8 lense weighing 1 KG (Fuji) or a 2,8/70-200 (35-100) weighing 350 gramms for 3-5 hours during a rehearsal. Long live MFT

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 5th, 2019 (4 months ago)

      Thanks for the detailed insight Christian. I’m confident we will at some point get new sensor technology that will end most of the issues you have to deal with. It’s only a matter of time. Until then I rely on DXO PhotoLab 2 for my high ISO work. Have you tried this software?

  2. ChristopherOn Apr. 13th, 2019 (7 months ago)

    Daniel,
    I recently sold my last piece of Nikon equipment and my transistion to the G9 is complete. What a blast I am having with this amazing camera. It is somewhat of a photographic epiphany after being a loyal Nikon user for 30+years to now be a “MFT G9 guy”.
    Although the Leica branded MFT lenses are a little out of my price budget right now, I am very surprisingly well-satisfied with the Lumix 14-140mm, Lumix 7-14mm and Lumix 100-300mm lenses.
    I also want to importantly add that your blog is the primary reason I made this shift. It all makes sense, and the quality of the images is of no compromise to my eyes.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 13th, 2019 (7 months ago)

      Great to hear from you, Christopher. Your story is very similar to mine. The smaller gear put the FUN back in my photography and for 98% of all the images I shoot, I see no discernable difference from the full frame, Nikons, I used to shoot. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. Reinhard MaagOn Mar. 7th, 2019 (8 months ago)

    After two years I traded my Vario Elmar 100-400. It’s mechanics did not work smoothly (high initial reistance when zooming) and inspite of it being weather sealed it took in an awful lot of dust. I traded some other m43 gear and became a partial ‘apostate’ (it’s close to religious fervor this format dispute and discussion, I confess). Living north of 49th means low winter light and my E-M1 (or the G85) just would not allow fast shutter at ISO1600 or less (I wasn’t happy with ISO3200). I kept the light Lumix G zooms, the 20/1.7, and the M.Zuiko 12-40/2.8, arguably my best lens. Going ‘bird hunting’ is with a newly acquired Nikon D7500 and a Sigma 100-400 (two very satisfying ‘hardly used’ acquisitions; TC 1.4x a vailable too …makes effectively a f8 out of the Sigma zoom). Altho’ the M.Zuiko 300/4.0 is time and again the lens delivering very convincing results (not just online, a friends captures as well), it’s beyond my reach, and for a light m43 kit I deem it too heavy. So, I made my compromises and I’m happy with both my largely Lumix containing m43 kit (the interoperation of the stabilization!) and the weightier APS-C combo which does allow operation in scant light and shutter no slower than 1/2000 and sensitivity at or below ISO4000.

  4. AlexOn Mar. 7th, 2019 (8 months ago)

    Hello Daniel,

    thank you for your reply and your thoughts.
    I definitely agree regarding your opinion that full frame is overkill for a lot of people out there.
    People should start to consider their skills and their field of operation and put more emphasis on that.

    I wish you a good time in Borneo! Hope to see some images soon 🙂

    Best Regards
    Alex
    Alex

  5. Bob HamiltonOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (8 months ago)

    Daniel,
    Have you tried the Lumix 2x tele-converter with the 200mm f2.8 lens.
    I used it extensively on my recent Japan trip, in conjunction with the G9 cameras, and it worked a treat and produced extremely (surprisingly) sharp results. With a reach of 800mm equivalent at f5.6. what’s not to like? So much so, that it’s now pretty much a permanent fixture on that lens.
    If you’re interested, examples can be seen in the “Japan” galleries of my website.
    Kind regards,
    Bob Hamilton
    www.bobhamiltonphotography.com

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 6th, 2019 (8 months ago)

      I’ve tried the 2X and have not been happy with the results. Maybe I have a flawed copy. More tests to come.

  6. AaronOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (8 months ago)

    Thanks for the reply Daniel I couldn’t agree more for the jungles of Borneo I had my leica 100-400 on the kinabatangan river and in the rain forest discovery centre in sepilok and definitely needed that dual I.s for the lower light shooting hand held at very low shutter speeds, if you have time I recommend the sepilok rainforest discovery centre just up the road from the sun bear conservation, I was there in November and a diversity
    Of birds and other wildlife especially the banded kingfisher which the locals have not seen in years. Look forward to seeing the pics. Thanks Aaron.

  7. AaronOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (9 months ago)

    Hi Daniel great article as always. I’m loving my mft system with my bird photography, I can hike all day and not get sore plus fit everything else I need in my backpack to get to my location. How did you like the Olympus 300mmf4 on the g9 would you recommend that over the pana/Leica 200mm2.8 for birds? Keep up the great work always enjoy reading your articles and seeing where you are in the world.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (8 months ago)

      Thanks for the kind words, Aron. I’m actually loving the Olympus 300mm on the G9. That said, I do still prefer the 200mm F/2.8 due to the Dual IS and the Depth From Defocus (DFD) we get by using a Lumix/Leica lens. Just this morning I’m packing for a trip to Borneo and was going to take the Olympus 300mm. At the last moment, I pulled it. The Lumix/Leica 200mm with the 1.4X teleconverter gives me just short of what I would get with the 300mm. But I get the added benefit of Dual IS and DFD. Dual IS in the jungles of Borneo could make a big difference. Stay tuned.

  8. AlexOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (9 months ago)

    Dan’s comments in italics.

    “Sorry Alex, you will not convince me the Leica 200mm F/2.8 is inferior to the Nikon or Canon 400mm F/2.8. It’s not. You can play the full frame superiority game all you want but I’m not buying it. I shot the full frame gear for 35 years and anybody who still thinks they need it for “competition” or their jobs, are drinking the cool-aid the big three have poured down our throats. What I call brain-washing. “

    Hello Daniel,

    It’s not my intention to convince you about anything and I do not sell anything and I just share my thoughts 🙂
    Regarding the PL 200 I haven’t said it’s inferior to any other lens, in fact I love this lens. I just said it’s expensive in comparison to a full frame 200 2.8 (let’s just leave the equivalence stuff apart). On the other hand, it really delivers an outstanding image quality.

    “Regarding your argument about smaller lenses having tighter tolerances; I’m not buying that either. My guess as to why the MFT lenses are more expensive than their full frame “exact” equals is most likely due to fewer sales.”

    Well, I can tell you that for example, the compactness of the PL 100-400 makes it so complicated to repair that it can only be repaired in Japan (at least they can’t repair it here in Europe). I have my third copy of this telephoto lens, and both times I’ve got problems with it, Lumix had to replace the whole lens. So I think the pricing is a mix of a lot of circumstances around the compactness, service for the lens and of course also the sales numbers.

    “If we base the success of MFT gear on photography competitions that are judged by photographers rather than clients we’ll never prove our point. Photographers have always been more impressed with what gear they use as opposed to what is necessary. Photographers who have bought into the full frame hype are the ones behind the camera shop counters, sitting in judges seats, writing for the magazines, all most all of them biased. Biased because showing up with a big white or black lens makes them at least look like they know what they’re doing. I’ve seen it over and over again on our photo tours. The ones who show up with the big 600mm F/4 is worshiped on the spot by those who see it. “

    Sorry, but for me that all sound’s like a conspiracy against smaller sensors. That all looks a little overdone to me. Regarding the biased judges, meanwhile, I’ve also seen pictures from 1″ bridge cameras and drones being elected to the best pictures side by side with pictures from full frame cameras.

    “Finally, I’ve never met Bence Mate but using him as an example of one who supposedly knows better is hard to understand. Mr. Mate captures some great images but his reputation was built on shooting through glass. Do you really think we should be judging the quality of images shot through a window as examples of the highest quality for either system?”

    Bence Mate not only shoots through glass. In fact his last elected picture for the WPY contest was a travel shot of bird racks on cyprus, shot on a 1dx. My point is that Mr. Mate surely knows of the advantages of the smaller MFT system, but he still prefers to work on full frame for his personal work.

    My point is that our personal requirements as photographers differ from each other and everyone has to make his own decision based on his preferences. If someone is willing to carry double the weight for one or two stops of ISO improvement and easier editing of RAW files than this is fine for me. Maybe most of them have a reason to do so.

    As an industrial graphic designer and photo editor, I prefer to work with full frame and medium format files, because in my opinion, the files are easier to edit (nearly no-brainer). For my private work, I also prefer to work with MFT for my nature photography. For me, it’s the golden middle of lightweight, image quality and still good enough in its editability. I don’t like to hike fifteen miles with a bigger sensor and bigger lenses for the 5-10% of low light work I may do. But on the other hand, I pay the compactness with a more challenging workflow on the photo editing part. Everything comes at a price and with compromises.

    Best regards
    Alex

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 5th, 2019 (8 months ago)

      Fair enough. You have some very good points. My position however is based on the hundreds of mostly enthusiast photographers I work with each year. Most have no experience with some of the reasons you give for using a larger sensor camera. For many, all they know comes from the kid behind the camera counter who dreams of being a professional someday. These sales people have tremendous power over the uneducated. For the vast number of people taking pictures, full frame is extreme overkill. The kid behind the camera counter is biased by his dream to be a big league photographer at some point. This biased point of view gets passed on and the next thing you know everybody thinks the only quality cameras are Full Frame.

      Another mind-boggling example of how brainwashed photographers are relates to the iPhone. I can’t tell you how many photographers on my trips will pull out there iPhone to show me a photo they shot with it. They’re full of excitement and disbelief at the quality. Yet the next moment they’ll turn around and suggest the full frame cameras are the only way to go because of the ultimate image quality. I tell them if they really think an iPhone is something, try stepping up to a MFT camera. When explaining it this way they often agree. If they think an iPhone is superb, a much larger sensor MFT camera would obviously be a big step up. But the iPhone and full frame cameras get all the hype. So that’s what people know.

  9. Portrait of Jay Murthy

    JayOn Mar. 4th, 2019 (9 months ago)

    Dan ,
    After having tried olympus em1 mII and G9, i have come to love the m4/3 sensor for wildlife and birds. My fav lenses are Pan leica 200 f2.8 and olympus 300 f/4, oly 40-150 f/2.8. Recently, i happened to get a nikon d500 with 300 F/5.6 PF lens ( hugely discounted by amazon due to a mistake on their end- long story) . The combination is lighter than oly 300f/4 or leica 200 on g9 or the EMII and the nikon caf on d500 is excellent. I personally prefer lightweight gear that performs very well in the field. I think with the PF primes, Nikon is offering a very good, light weight alternative. I look forward to the inclusion of phase Fresnel technology in 4/3 lenses, to make them even smaller. I hope to do a detailed comparison with the d500 plus 300 f/4 PF +1.4TC (630 f/5.6 FF equiv) , EM1mII plus 300 f/4 (600 f/4) and G9 200 f/2.8 plus 1.4 TC (560 f/4), especially for birds in flight . My bias is that the performance will differ based on operator error. But still, I am curious to see how these excellent combinations compare in my hands. Exciting times!
    best,
    Jay

  10. William BunnOn Mar. 4th, 2019 (9 months ago)

    I could not agree more. My G9 with Leica 100-400 is an excellent set up. Amazing stabilization, good reach for birds.
    I am concerned that Panasonic is entering the full frame market. Even though they insist they are not abandoning MFT, they are obviously not able to continue to improve and bring new products to market as often.
    I will never buy a heavy full frame. My opinion – develop faster longer lenses for MFT. That is where the weight and cost saving are most valuable.

  11. AlexOn Mar. 4th, 2019 (9 months ago)

    Hello Daniel,

    I understand your point, but in a few things I disagree. You are complaining about full frame lenses, because the equivalent lenses are costing more? In my opinion, you get what you pay for. If I would need the two stops of ISO improvement over a MFT sensor, I’d have to pay the price of the additional glass to fill out the sensor size. Im happy, that we have the choice of different manufacturers and sensor types. Every manufacturer has it’s one philosophy, and it’s our job to analyse and to pick the best choice for ourselfs. I really can’t see any brainwash that needs to be pointed out. The fact that you and I choosed to use a lightwight system, does not mean that we are the smart ones, and the other people are brainwashed. 😀

    Beside that, the MFT System is not as cheap as you say. The Leica 200mm is still a 200mm, even if it delivers the 400mm equivalent crop. For full frame you can easily get a 200mm 2.8 for under $1000,- so we can’t talk about the MFT system as being a cheap system. Similar to other industries (the outdoor gear for example), this light weight minimizing and optimizing of the gear comes at a price. The production tolerances for a good copy of a premium lens such as the PL 200 2.8 are much smaller, than they are for full frame, so of course the MFT lens has to be more expensive than one would expect.

    If we want to point out the capabatility of the MFT system compared to the bigger systems, we should stop complaining about other systems and better win some competitions with our MFT gear. But even your lumix colleague Bence Mate still prefers his 1dx for competion purposes 😉

    kr
    Alex

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 4th, 2019 (9 months ago)

      Sorry Alex, you will not convince me the Leica 200mm F/2.8 is inferior to the Nikon or Canon 400mm F/2.8. It’s not. You can play the full frame superiority game all you want but I’m not buying it. I shot the full frame gear for 35 years and anybody who still thinks they need it for “competition” or their jobs, are drinking the cool-aid the big three have poured down our throats. What I call brain-washing.

      Regarding your argument about smaller lenses having tighter tolerances; I’m not buying that either. My guess as to why the MFT lenses are more expensive than their full frame “exact” equals is most likely due to fewer sales.

      Your comment regarding the need to “win some competitions with our MFT gear” I can say I’ve been doing just that. I’ve been winning numerous competitions per month via assignments that I get paid for with my MFT gear. If we base the success of MFT gear on photography competitions that are judged by photographers rather than clients we’ll never prove our point. Photographers have always been more impressed with what gear they use as opposed to what is necessary. Photographers who have bought into the full frame hype are the ones behind the camera shop counters, sitting in judges seats, writing for the magazines, all most all of them biased. Biased because showing up with a big white or black lens makes them at least look like they know what they’re doing. I’ve seen it over and over again on our photo tours. The ones who show up with the big 600mm F/4 is worshiped on the spot by those who see it.

      Finally, I’ve never met Bence Mate but using him as an example of one who supposedly knows better is hard to understand. Mr. Mate captures some great images but his reputation was built on shooting through glass. Do you really think we should be judging the quality of images shot through a window as examples of the highest quality for either system?

      Thanks for stopping by to add your voice. Though I didn’t agree with much of what you said, I do appreciate opposing views.

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