Why Micro 43

Why I committed to the Micro Four Thirds Format.

When I was initially in the market to buy a camera, I was thinking of getting a traditional DSLR.  I shopped around and looked at several cameras, leaning towards the usual suspects like Canon and Nikon.  My mentality at the time was the camera creates the beautiful pictures, not the photographer (boy, was I wrong).  My brother kept raving about how great and revolutionary his tiny camera was and that the images it produced rivaled that of most intro to mid-level DSLRs. In retrospect, I am very happy my brother pushed his old Panasonic GF-1 on me (so he could upgrade to the GH2) and he was right, these cameras are ground-breaking.  I want to break down why this format works for me (and safe to say, for my brother) and hopefully it inspires you to try one out.

An abused Panasonic GF-1 with a 20mm f1.7 prime lens

Price: Go to Amazon today you will find several micro four thirds (or m43) cameras.  You will probably find the high-end ones on the top of the list, but scroll down a little bit you will find some gems going for well under $500.  In fact, you might even run into older models with a kit lens going for $300 to $400.  Luckily for us, the price of m43 bodies continue to drop as the heavy-hitters like Panasonic and Olympus continue to invest in mirrorless cameras and advance the technology (more on that another day).  When I first bought my Olympus OMD em-5, I paid $1,200.  Now you can find it going for as low as $890; not a bad deal for a pro-sumer camera.

The Olympus OMD with the 75mm f1.8 prime lens

Lens Selections:  Like Nikon and Canon, m43 cameras have a wide variety of lenses to select from (this was not true when I first bought the camera), whether it's proprietary glass from Olympus and Panasonic or third-party manufacturers like Sigma, Rokinon/Samyang or SLR Magic just to name a few.  However, one of my favorite things about these cameras is the adaptability to old/vintage glass.  Because the mirror was removed from the body, the flange distance from the lens mount to the sensor was shorten dramatically. Older cameras and DSLRs today require a significant amount of distance to effectively allow the mirror to flap up and down for every shot.  To make almost any lens usable on a m43 body, you would need to do is buy an appropriate adapter to add back that space for that particular lens mount.  Among my favorites to use are old Pentax SMC Takumar prime lenses (fixed focal length with no zoom) and Olympus OM glass, all of which can be purchased on EBay for a small sum of money.  Practically hundreds of photographic options due to the mirrorless design of m43 cameras (more on this another day).

The Olympus OMD with Legacy Glass - OM 135mm

Lens Optimization:  Canon and Nikon offer some of the sharpest lenses in the market period.  They are reliable, robust and come in varying colors, of which white is the cream of the crop. On full-frame cameras, they simply shine.  However, most of the camera bodies accessible to the public aren't of the full frame (FX) type. In fact, most of the bodies you see around the necks of tourists, moms, and myself included, are of the cropped sensor family or the (DX) type.  Like the m43 family of cameras, the DX bodies have a smaller sensor size relative to that of the Canon 5D Mark III or the Nikon D800, as an example.  That doesn't necessarily mean it takes better pictures or are inherently inferior, but the Canon/Nikon glass worth upgrading to are optimized for the full frame bodies and NOT the cropped sensors.  Whether you are looking at the Sony Alphas (formerly known as NEX), the Fuji X-Series or even the Samsung mirrorless cameras, all of their glass are manufactured to work with their native sensor size.  The Olympus 75mm lens seen below is considered to be one of the sharpest, if not the sharpest lens available, period.  It hardly leaves my camera and is the lens I defer to for all of my paid assignments.  The 75mm is just that good. In my opinion, Panasonic and Olympus offer some fantastic fixed focal length options that is not only affordable, but designed to perform at its best on m43 cameras.     

A personal favorite - the Olympus 75mm f1.8 prime - the sharpest lens I own

Electronic View Finders:  I must admit, I do not have much experience working with DSLRs and any gripe I have is merely a matter of personal preference and a lack of time spent using an optical view finder. When I do use a DSLR, I tend to miss having an Electronic View Finder (EVF). For one, I love being able to fine focus through my OMD's EVF using the magnify feature.  This feature allows users to electronically zoom into a point in a frame to allow for fine-tuning/proper focusing  - this becomes more important when shooting at larger apertures, as the depth of field becomes shallower.  When using adapted lenses that do not have autofocus, I find myself using this feature frequently.  Second, EVFs give me a better idea of exposure.  Before I even depress the shutter, I get instant feedback from the sensor about my photo being over/under exposed or if my subject is lost in the shadows due to back-lighting. I have recently gotten heavily addicted to strobist work or off-camera flash photography and boy does having this kind of feedback improve my workflow and efficiency. One of the things you will hear people say when working with flash is to expose for the ambient light. I no longer have to take 3 or 4 shots to get that proper ambient exposure, I simply look through my EVF to see if my background or ambient light is set properly.    Again, this is my personal preference and not a jab at optical view finders.       

Image Quality: Simply put, I am amazed at how vivid and sharp some of my photos can be.  I will let future photo essays speak for themselves.

These small-sensor cameras are sharp - just look at the detail in the beard

Size/Being that Guy:  As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you.  I have read many  reports of people leaving their hulking DSLRs home because of weight issues or limiting themselves to 1 lens, as it becomes a chore to lug around the gear. Although this was not always true, m43 cameras are versatile enough to be the camera you take with you to Disneyland (as I tend to do quite often), the camera you use to capture those priceless moments at family parties, and even my first option for a professional shoot.  To top things off, you can carry a wide variety of glass in a small messenger bag without fear of breaking your back.

Being discrete is also something I value.  In my honest opinion, some of the most memorable shots I've taken are the ones that are candid, especially capturing laughter.  I've noticed people's demeanor tend to change once they are aware someone is pointing a camera at them, thus changing the overall feel of the shot. Although I do love portraiture, there is something to say about capturing raw emotion and people in their truest form.  Finally, I love that my camera of choice is not threatening.  In fact, it is sometimes mistaken as a point & shoot, which is great if special events have restrictions against "high-end" DSLR type cameras.  My brother had his Panasonic GH-2 inspected at a concert and was allowed to enter with the camera, as it was deemed incapable of taking professional level photos and videos.  Little do they know the accolades his little camera has achieved in the aforementioned areas.

Nothing can beat capturing a candid laugh. It's pure, organic and  memorable

The reasons why I committed to this format evolved over time and were not founded by the above factors.  It was a matter of influence that initially got me interested in shooting mirrorless and boy was I happy with the results.  If you happen to be in the market for a new camera, try out a m43 body.  Your wallet and back will thank you.

So say we all,