This topic has been discussed basically since the system was released over 10 years ago. Predicting the death of Micro 4/3 at this point is like predicting the end of the world; people make their predictions, and soon enough the date passes, and new predictions are made. So, in this article, I want to discuss the major advantages to the system so that we can see where this system shines and who it will shine for. Enough of the doom and gloom I say, it has been around for over a decade, so let’s look at why it is still such a viable and popular system!
Before we get into all that, however, let’s break down a brief history of the Micro 4/3 system so that we can better understand its place in the market, and generally, what it has done to shape the market! This new “mirrorless” system was first introduced in 2008 through a partnership between Panasonic (Lumix) and Olympus. The announcement was truly groundbreaking, though most were unable to predict its impact at the time. The next few cameras released by Panasonic and Olympus radically reshaped the future of the entire camera industry. What was so revolutionary? Quite simply, they removed the mirror box that was inside a typical DSLR and began using an electronic viewfinder instead of the standard optical viewfinder. In other words, the mirrorless revolution began! On top of that, both Panasonic and Olympus shared the same Micro Four Thirds mount, meaning the options for lenses was instantly doubled. Imagine, all of a sudden, cameras could be much smaller due to both the sensor size and lack of mirror, and the typical problem of a new camera system, i.e. lack of lens and camera choice, was completely solved.
Ok, that’s all great stuff, congrats to Panasonic and Olympus, but let’s address the elephant in the room, what does Micro Four Thirds even mean?!
Well, obviously the marketing team really dropped the ball on this one. Basically, “Micro” refers to the smaller camera size since there is no longer a mirror/pentaprism and “4/3” is a description of the size of the sensor, which is about half the size of a “full frame” 35mm sensor. While this is a descriptive enough name for the system, it’s not exactly winning any prizes in the name department, but the cameras on the other hand ARE winning prizes, so let’s look at why!
- Sensor size. Because the sensor is smaller, the camera CAN be smaller, much smaller. Is the camera smaller all the time? Nope! And that’s one of the things that’s so amazing about the system. Panasonic (Lumix) has taken advantage of the smaller sensor and packed their cameras with INSANE 4k video features, high bitrates, impressive codecs, and industry leading sensor stabilization. Seriously, the next time you are in a camera store, ask to take the cap off a Lumix camera and you will see the sensor floating inside as if it is some sort of David Blane magic trick. It’s actually crazy and still continues to shock me.
- Lenses. Oh the lenses! Because of the smaller sensor, Panasonic (Lumix), is able to leverage this “disadvantage” into a major advantage. Let me explain: on a full frame camera system, a high quality, fast aperture, wide angle lens is HUGE. SERIOUSLY HUGE. On a Micro 4/3 system it’s the exact opposite. In fact, Lumix is able to make super high quality, better resolving, professional lenses, at a fraction of the size of larger sensor cameras. Go check out a Lumix (Leica) 12mm f1.4, and compare it to a Sony 24mm f1.4 and let me know which you’d rather carry all day, both being stellar lenses!
- Lenses. Yup, another section about lenses! You can easily and cheaply adapt almost any lens, including old film camera lenses, to a micro four thirds camera due to the mount design and short flange distance. That said, if you want the best quality autofocus I would always recommend sticking with native Panasonic glass, which ranges from amateur to professional quality. Want to mount a cheap 50 dollar lens to the camera? No problem! Want to mount an expensive 2000 dollar lens to the camera? No problem! What’s the size difference? Hardly anything! What’s the difference in image quality? Astounding!
- System maturity. While most camera companies (I’m looking at you Nikon and Canon) are only now coming out with their first and second iterations of mirrorless cameras, Panasonic has been doing it since 2008! That means lots of cameras and lenses to choose from, both new and on the secondary market. It also means that a lot of the initial bugs that companies go through when developing new technologies have been worked out. So while Nikon and Canon will most likely continue to have some growing pains in their mirrorless systems for the next camera or two, Panasonic has had over 10 years of customer feedback to tweak and perfect the system, or, mostly perfect the system ;) Yes Panasonic, we’re still waiting for phase detection autofocus…
- Greater depth of field. Ok, so we all love that blurry, creamy background in photos and videos. The blurrier the better, right? Well, not really. Of course subject isolation is a fantastic creative tool, but too much of a good thing can start to become a bad thing, and we’ve all seen countless videos where the subject is constantly moving in and out of focus because the depth of field is too shallow. Where Micro Four Thirds shines here is that when a lens is set to an aperture of f2, you will be getting the approximate depth of field of an f4 aperture on a full frame camera, when your field of view is the same. This is wonderful for video as it allows you to gather in the amount of light you need for the shot, while not creating a depth of field so shallow it becomes hard to keep the subject in focus.
- Crop factor. Micro Four Thirds has a crop factor of x2 to a full frame camera. That means that a 25mm lens on a micro four thirds camera will present the same field of view as a 50mm lens of a full frame camera. This becomes a massive advantage for wildlife photographers! Think of how crazy big and expensive a Nikon 400mm f2.8 lens is, or a cheaper but equally large Nikon 200-500 f5.6! Now, just think, for a Micro 4/3 camera you only need to mount a Lumix 200 f2.8mm lens, or a Lumix 100-300 f4-5.6mm lens to cover those ranges/fields of view!
- Price. The truth is that camera sensors are expensive. The fact that the Micro Four Thirds system uses a sensor half the size of a full frame, 35mm sensor, means that the cameras can be much more affordable. It also means that you can invest your money where it really counts, which is in good quality glass to mount in front of the sensor. Over the past 12 years, Panasonic (Lumix) has made a name for the 4/3 system by cramming TONS of professional photo and video features into extremely affordable cameras, part of what has made that possible is the smaller, more cost effective, sensor.
So there you have it, my top 7 reasons why the Micro 4/3 system is still such a viable option!
Is this camera system dead? NOT AT ALL. In fact, even if Panasonic stopped producing Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses tomorrow, the system would not be “dead” as there are so many 4/3 lenses and cameras in the hands of dedicated photographers and videographers. I would confidently invest in a 4/3 kit, like this one, and if you’re “downsizing” from a larger sensor camera I think you’ll be surprised how much more often you opt to take the camera out with you. We’ve all heard the line “the best camera is the one you have with you”, and the 4/3 system is a perfect companion to this philosophy.