Thinking of switching to Micro Four Thirds? 3 PROS and 3 CONS

Micro Four Thirds isn’t for everyone. Have a read to see if it’s for you. There are many pros and cons to the m43 system, and for me, the benefits far outweigh the negatives (and there are negatives!) but it all depends on you, and what you want to achieve. So let’s get stuck in.

PRO: Micro Four Thirds Size, both lens and bodies

On the whole, micro four thirds cameras are tiny. Now there are outliers. The new Olympus OMD E-M1X looks like a beast for instance. But generally speaking, micro four thirds cameras are much more compact than their full frame counterparts.

Now you might think, But, the Sony A7ii is positively dinky, why should I compromise the sensor size?

Well, the thing that most people forget about camera gear size is this:

THE LENSES.

There are plenty of compact camera bodies on the market, but what’s the point in having a tiny camera body when you are still stuck with humongous full frame lenses?

 

Both of these lenses are 50mm focal length.

 

Now, of course, size won’t be an issue for a lot of people. How important is it really, so long as you’re getting the results you want? Here are a few things to consider:

A small camera setup, such as the Lumix GX80, or the Olympus Pen F, will enable you to take your camera with you everywhere. Not just for those day trips or holidays.

Have you ever been in a situation when you’re out and about and wished you had your camera with you? It’s a bit gutting isn’t it. So having a compact kit that you can take with you pretty much everywhere means you’ll capture more amazing photos and never have to miss out.

You can fit more stuff into your camera bag

A similar, but perhaps more nerdy conundrum is this: you have your camera, you have something amazing to photograph… but you don’t have the right lens. This annoys me perhaps even more! Because you’ll still stubbornly take a photo with the wrong focal length and it’ll be a sad and disappointing reminder of what you missed. But if the lenses you own are smaller — especially the longer lenses — then it wouldn’t be any hassle at all to put a few more options in your bag.


Here’s another thing to consider. The more you use your gear, the more you’re thinking about your craft, the more damn exciting photography becomes again. This happened to me like a drug when I first switched to micro four thirds. I’d take my camera on a photowalk during my lunch breaks at my old job. I’d take my camera to bbqs and get lovely candid portraits of my friends. Suddenly, photography isn’t something you have to make time for. Suddenly your gear is with you, instead of gathering dust. With smaller gear, photography becomes a part of your every day routine. Isn’t that exciting?

 

Took this photo on my lunch break with my Pen F

 

CON: Astrophotography is more challenging with micro four thirds

This is all a bit niche. If you’re not too fussed about astrophotography you can skip right ahead to the next lovely pro point. But if you are, then it’s definitely worth a read. 

Astrophotography is perhaps one of the most challenging styles of photography because it usually requires you to shoot in high ISOs pretty much exclusively. Which (as we’ll go over later) is a bit of a negative for m43 cameras.

But… there are workarounds. Tons of them! And I’ve been dabbling with astrophotography on and off for the last two years with micro four thirds, and I’m quite happy with my results. Will they ever end up in an astrophotography calendar? Will they ever win any awards? Absolutely not. Could a larger sensor camera have achieved better results in the same circumstances? Quite probably.

But I still think they’re pretty cool. 

If you’re like me, and you dabble in astro, then m43 is more than enough. If it’s one of your main passions in photography, then m43 might not be the best choice for you.

 

Shot on the Lumix GH5 with the 7artisans 7.5mm f2.8 lens in Wales.

 

How to make astrophotography on a smaller sensor better


Live composite mode on Olympus cameras is a great start. For star trails, you can see what’s going on right on your screen and it takes out all the guess work. 

Live composite mode is such a great feature. I’m more than a bit salty that the Lumix cameras don’t have it, to be honest. Live composite isn’t just a live view mode. It’s much more intelligent. What it does is take a base photograph — say for instance a ruin on a hill with stars above it. And then from there, it only adds changing light into the composition. The ruin and the hill stay exactly the same throughout, but the stars get added in the longer you keep your shutter open. HOW COOL?!

Then there are pieces of software that can help. Starry Landscape Stacker for instance. Stack 10-30 photos together and the clever little algorithm figures out which parts are noise and which parts are stars. And it reduces the noise a LOT. To be fair, it would be great practice to use this sort of software regardless of the camera you choose, but it definitely helps in the noise department for micro four thirds.

 

Live Composite mode on Olympus Pen F

 

PRO: Bang for Buck


I think in times of old, there was a purist sort of movement around professional cameras. The flagships were made to be sparse — workhorses — with no frills. While the consumer level cameras got features like wifi and built in intevelometers for time-lapses, and live composite modes, the more expensive cameras seemed to do less for a lot more money. 

I think micro four thirds has flipped this on its head. Other manufactures have followed, to be fair, but I never could wrap my head around why my friend’s £3000 Nikon didn’t have wifi, when my lowly Lumix G7 did. He had to attach a horrid cable to his camera to get the time-lapses to trigger, and I could do it at the press of a button — and have my camera build a video out of the results on the fly at the end even.

I love how feature rich the micro four thirds systems are. I’m no purist. If I’m spending the money, give me ALLOFTHE features. I don’t care if they’re “amateur” or “consumer level”. If there is a feature that can speed up my workflow, or make my life easier, or help me achieve what I want, then HELL YES I want it thank you very much.

And it isn’t just handy features like in-camera stop motion that the micro four thirds cameras have. They often have better video modes — they are the cheapest 4k cameras on the market hands down — and they also boast more generous frame rates in the video department. In the photography department, they often have faster burst modes for the same price points or cheaper than their competitors. Love Love Love.

CON: In professional environments you don’t always look the part

This doesn’t deter me too much because I’m a stubborn little thing. I believe the results are all that matter. If a client has seen my portfolio and wants to book me, then I’d hope they wouldn’t care if I rocked up with a camera made out of cardboard, let alone a micro four thirds camera. I’ve already proven myself, right?

In the real world, however, most of the time this isn’t the case. In wedding photography, the couples are usually fine. We’ve spoken in person and we have built trust, and they’re happy for me to do my thang. But the guests? Hmmm… not so much. 

Almost every wedding has an Uncle Bob. You know, Uncle Bob. He took that photography course back in 1987? And he constantly frowns down at my tiny camera equipment. 


Here’s an anecdote.

My Olympus Pen F used to be my weapon of choice for evening photo booths. The built in custom filters you can create (another point to feature rich!) are absolutely lovely. Honestly, I can’t actually recreate some of them in Lightroom. The built in results are always better!

This comes in so handy for those repetitive, high-volume jobs like running a photo booth. I can set my preset, tweaking it for the environment, and even set my jpeg size to a more manageable web size for the quick social media uploads later, and boom! No editing in post. The camera does everything for me. And at the very same time as a backup I can also save the full sized raws by shooting in Raw + Jpeg mode in case anyone wants larger prints. How cool is that?!

The downside of running a photo booth with a tiny camera are the drunken guests. 

What is that? Where’s your real camera?” one tipsy man said to me, laughing with his mates. 

I told him to see the results before he judges.

And sure enough, I flashed him the final photo from the back of my camera, all polished and edited and wonderful. 

Fair enough,” he said. He gave me a high-five and stopped bothering me.


End results are what matter. But sometimes people who don’t understand photography equate camera size to quality. Which is ridiculous. But it’s a con nonetheless.

 

Me with the GH5, which is one of the larger M43 cameras, and it’s still tiny!

 

PRO: Once you go EVF you never go back


Pretty much all m43 cameras have EVF.

EVF’s — or electronic viewfinders — are a divisive point in the photography industry. There are the purists (they crop up a lot don’t they?!) who think EVF is cheating, or amateur, or whatever. It’s all a bit Marmite: love it or hate it.

Me? I blummin’ love it! What’s not to love? All your settings are there in your eyepiece. You can see instantly whether you’re over or under exposed. You can check things like shutter speed and ISO right inside your viewfinder and change things on the fly without ever taking your eye from your camera.

EVF is a great tool to take out the guesswork.

If you’re new to photography, and your settings are completely wrong, and you look through an optical viewfinder, you’ll have no idea. You’re just seeing what the lens is seeing. You aren’t seeing what the camera is seeing. So you could fire off shot after shot and then only realise later that you were two stops underexposed, or the shutter speed was much too low.

With EVF, you’ll see your issues immediately. You’ll see how the final image will turn out in real time, because you’re seeing what the cameras is seeing rather than just the lens. You can change what’s wrong in seconds and never have a ruined shot.

This isn’t a good option when you’re using flash photography in dark rooms. Because your camera will see nothing but darkness until the flash goes off and illuminates your subject. But — fear not! — You can change the settings of your EVF to mimic an optical viewfinder. An EVF is the best of both worlds. It gives you the choice to either see what the lens is seeing, or what the camera is seeing. Why not give yourself that option?

Seriously, what’s not to love? Using a camera with EVF will bring a beginner up to speed 10x faster. It will enable you to fix any mistakes much faster. Because even experienced photographers make mistakes, or forget to change settings. For instance, during a wedding there can be a lot of settings changes.

There can be lots of going into a dark church, then back out into the blinding sun. It’s very easy to leave your camera on the wrong mode. Imagine if you didn’t notice and took all the group shots with your indoor settings and completely overexposed them all? It sounds silly, but when you’re in the middle of a busy job, trying to organise a huge crowd of people, it can — and does — happen.

Just significantly less often if you use EVF.



CON: Micro Four Thirds in low light situations

I guess this is the elephant in the room. Low light performance. And it’s true — micro four thirds cameras do give you worse results in low light situations. It’s science isn’t it. Tiny sensor equals less light coming in. But before you give up on the idea of m43 entirely, let’s think about this one for a second.

Yes, it’s true that usable ISO levels on micro four thirds cameras are much lower than full frame cameras. Personally I like to keep things lower (preferably much lower!) than around ISO 2000. A full frame camera might give you usable results at ISO 8000 or higher.

But.

BUT!

What makes a good photograph? Isn’t the essence of a good photograph all about light, and how you capture it, and how it illuminates your subject? 

While it’s true that you could take a portrait photo in a dark room, why would you want to? What I’m trying to say is this: the low light performance of micro four thirds is a con, but if you want to get good images you’d use good light anyway. No one would go out with the intention of shooting in those unfavourable conditions, would they? So 90% of the time the low light performance of your camera won’t be an issue.

However, there are times when it is an issue. Like very low lit ceremony rooms for instance. And here we would implement some workarounds.

FAST GLASS: Fast glass is more pricy, but it enables you to let more light into your camera and can combat any tricky situations wonderfully. 


SLOWER SHUTTER SPEEDS: This is all dependent on what you’re shooting of course, but because a lot of m43 cameras have the best stabilisation in the actual world in them, you can afford to drop your shutter speed — thus letting more light in — and still keep your subjects sharp.


HDR STACKING: If your subject isn’t moving, like inside a cathedral, it takes you no extra time to shoot off a few brackets at different exposures. Then you can stack them later in your editing software and have much cleaner images.

And finally, what do you even want to shoot? If you’re shooting street photography, landscapes, travel photography, portraits, product photography, and a hundred other styles, you’ll be in good light anyway and never run into any issues.

If you shoot mainly other categories, such as low light gig photography, low light portraits, or astrophotography, then perhaps M43 isn’t the right choice for you.

 

This room was DARK. And still I got some good results!

 

PRO: battery Life


Science again: smaller sensor means it takes less juice to run. 

This pro point isn’t across the board with micro four thirds cameras, but it’s worth mentioning. I can shoot a full wedding with my GH5 and go through maybe two batteries in a ten hour job. When I shot with full frame Sony, I went through (and I am not exaggerating) seven batteries in the same time frame. 

Conversely, when I shoot alongside people with full frame Canon or Nikon, they can often do several weddings on one single battery. This is because they don’t use the screen much, if at all, and have an optical viewfinder. And their batteries alone are the size of my camera!

So it’s all relative. But coming from my background, I find the battery life to be brilliant, especially given how much I use the screen. Which is a lot.

CON: Shallow Depth of field with micro four thirds


This is another biggie. You can definitely achieve shallower depth of field with a full frame camera. But you can still achieve lovely shallow depth of field with micro four thirds too. I mean, how shallow do you want it? If your background is a complete bokeh-mess, then you may as well have taken the photo on a backdrop in the first place.

Shallow depth of field isn’t everything. Unless it’s your main focus, like a full time portrait photographer for instance, the difference is quite negligible in my experience. But if you do want that super shallow look, maybe micro four thirds isn’t for you.

To get the most shallow depth of field look on micro four thirds you can:

Use a longer lens: a longer focal length, and bringing your subject further away from the background, will make the background more blurry.

Use faster lenses: a fast prime will give you what you’re after.

So there we go! Three pros and three cons, and hopefully a good idea of what the micro four thirds system is all about! Here are some photos I’ve taken in, in what people perceive as challenging situations for my kit. Like low light, shallow depth of field, and astrophotography. M43 are great all-rounder cameras. They’re pretty good at most things. It can be done. But if these styles of photography are your main objectives, there are other camera systems available that might serve you better.