Micro 4/3 cameras have become an extremely popular topic of discussion because they are not only smaller and lighter than most DSLRs on the market, but they also have DSLR-like features that have made several photographers scratch their heads and say, “I wonder….”
Personally, I put an Olympus EM-1 (high-end micro four-thirds camera) in my Amazon shopping cart and had it on pre-order but eventually got “camera shy” and cancelled the order. In this post I want to walk you through some of the benefits and drawbacks to micro four-thirds cameras so you can make the decision of what camera system is right for you.
But before we get into the merits of choosing micro four thirds or sticking with a DSLR, I want to recommend you check out Derrick Story's new site TheNimblePhotographer.com. He has put together a really nice site with lots of tips for traveling light with photo gear. Definitely worth checking out.
Okay, let's get to work…
A few of the nice benefits to these Micro Four Thirds cameras are:
- Smaller camera body because no mirror is used in the body which adds significantly to the bulk of the camera.
- Lighter and smaller lenses because they do not need to reproduce as large of an image onto the sensor.
- Price, sort of. Micro 4/3 cameras are in an awkward stage where an industry standard price has not been settled. Panasonic seems to be competing at low price points, but Olympus is charging mid-range DSLR prices for their Micro 4/3 cameras.
- Cutting edge technology. For example, the Olympus OMD allows you to continuously see a photo appear brighter and brighter as you leave the exposure open during a long exposure at night. Then you simply stop the exposure when the preview looks good. That's amazing!
- Extreme portability
- DSLR-like features (such as manual settings, hot shoe, and more)
- Significantly longer focal lengths. A 100mm lens on a micro 4/3 camera is like a 200mm lens on a full-frame DSLR. This is terrific for wildlife and sports photographers (at least it would be if the autofocus were improved on micro 4/3 cameras…)
Now you are toying with the idea of giving up your DSLR and switching to the lighter and smaller Micro Four Thirds camera, aren’t you? There might be a lot of positive trade-offs, but first you need to decide what type of photographer you are. Once you have determined that, we can go through the shortcomings of the Micro 4/3 cameras. For some photographers, there are simply too many downsides to justify making the switch.
Some things to be aware of before you swap out your DSLR for a Micro Four Thirds camera:
- No optical viewfinder, or no viewfinder at all. For me, no viewfinder is a deal breaker. Fortunately, the electronic viewfinders are getting better and better to the point that it beats optical viewfinders in some respects.
- Fewer lenses – The lineup for micro 4/3 camera lenses is improving constantly, but it still is nowhere near the DSLR lens lineup. If there were a good super telephoto lens available, I'd be more likely to buy a micro 4/3.
- Slower auto-focus – If you are shooting any type of action, you will likely be disappointed with micro 4/3. Some of the newer cameras are improving dramatically, but it still isn't up to where DSLRs are.
- Inferior low-light performance – Because of the small sensor size these cameras have, they don’t support low light situations quite as well as most DSLRs. That isn't to say they are terrible in low light, but that in general they aren't as good. I certainly wouldn't recommend micro 4/3 for night photographers, but shooting indoors or in low light situations you'll do just fine.
Above, I asked you to consider what type of photographer you are. Think about that again now. If you are doing any type of sports action photography, wedding Photography, wildlife Photography, or landscape photography (plus any closely related subcategories of those), I would strongly suggest that you hang on to your DSLR for those shoots until these kinks are fully worked out.
If you are a more casual photographer (or if you have difficulty holding heavy things), then the Micro Four Thirds camera is probably worth serious consideration given all the pros. Also, Micro 4/3 also makes an EXCELLENT camera for even professional travel, street, or event photographers.
However, there is nothing (short of money, of course!) that would stop any photographer who owns a DSLR from getting one of these nifty Micro Four Thirds cameras and using it as a second camera. There is certainly a place for these cameras in the industry. It could be extremely handy when you’re going somewhere and need to pack light but still need a nice camera. In time, we can bet on seeing the technology in these Micro Four Thirds cameras start to show up in future DSLRs.
So if there are so many benefits to micro 4/3, why haven't I committed?
A few reasons, really. Although I like the micro 4/3 sensor size and think it has some really nice benefits for shooting wildlife, sports, and other long lens photography, the system does not have good long lenses available yet. Also, I think most photographers have bought in on what the camera manufacturers want us to believe–that full frame cameras are “better.” For this reason alone, I think the bulk of the photography crowd will be gravitating to mirrorless full frame cameras like the Sony A7r.
There are some serious limitations to the Sony full frame mirrorless bodies that were announced only a few weeks ago. One of the major limitations is that it has no wide angle lens available AT ALL. As a landscape photographer, that is a deal breaker. But regardless of what I think of the drawbacks to full-frame cameras, I think that is where the industry is headed. And if photographers flock toward Sony, the money will as well. And where the money is–there too will be innovation.
I expect to be shooting a mirrorless camera as my primary body within the next year, but the time isn't yet until a few kinks are worked out in the next iteration, and the lens lineups fill out a bit.
What about you? Would you consider switching or picking up a mirrorless body over the next year?