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Is Micro Four Thirds Dead? 2019

In News by Stefano Caioni12 Comments
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Is Micro Four Thirds dead? Should I buy a Micro Four Thirds camera? A lot of people are asking this question, from beginners to professionals.

No, the Micro Four Thirds system is not dead. A Micro Four Thirds camera (MFT) is a mirrorless camera that features a Four Thirds sensor. By far the favorite camera by many travel and adventure photographers, the sensor is much smaller than the one of a full-frame or APS-C mirrorless or DSLR cameras. The body itself is much smaller and for a smaller sensor, you also have smaller and lighter lenses.

[UPDATE NOVEMBER 2019 On Olympus Shutting Down Their Doors]
As you know, in the past few weeks, a rumor has spread over the Internet that Olympus is shutting down their imaging division. Olympus provided an official statement to Photo Focus denying this rumor. I invite the readers to take a look.

If you want to learn the main differences between the different camera sensors you can read my recent article Camera Sensors: Full Frame vs Crop Sensor vs Micro Four Thirds

Down below in the article I’ve added a few videos from experts that share different opinions on this matter. It’s really important for readers who are looking into entering the world of photography to have a broad view of the topic before making their choice of buying any camera system. Scroll the page to watch the videos.

First of all a bit of history for those of you who are not familiar with this technology, but if you want you can skip this section and jump straight to read why I think that the Micro Four Thirds system is not dead.

History of the Micro Four Thirds System

Micro Four Thirds Camera

The 4/3 sensor (not micro 4/3) was designed for DSLR cameras with the aim of creating a new, original and entirely digital standard, that allowed the interchange of lenses and bodies from different manufacturers. The Four-Thirds name was chosen because due to their inner working they delivered pictures with a 4:3 aspect ratio as opposed to the 3:2 aspect ratio of SLRs.

Back in 2008 Panasonic and Olympus moved away from SLR bodies and announced the Micro Four Thirds format. Using the same 4/3 sensor, they designed a new camera system that didn’t make use of the mirror. Mirrorless cameras were born.

The range of lenses were very limited at launch, but the two brands strongly believed that this new design would become the standard in the future of cameras and rightfully so I’d say. They were the first interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras and what was impressive despite how radical and revolutionary they were, it’s that they operated a lot like a DSLR. We can say identically.

They were different in the fact that they were significantly smaller and lighter in size than DSLRs thanks to the absence of the mirror box that sits behind the lens. In addition they worked seamlessly in live view from both the viewfinder and the rear screen, borrowing technologies from professional video cameras of that time.

Despite general skepticism and people affirming that Micro Four Thirds wasn’t going to have a future, after 11 years, it’s a fact that many professional photographers have embraced and rely on this system.

In recent times Olympus and Panasonic have released Micro Four Thirds cameras of really high quality with high-end lenses, for more demanding photographers and pros. Today the professional lines of Olympus and Panasonic compete and in certain cases outperform full frame sensor cameras. The range of lenses available is also much wider today and the choice is even more abundant if you consider that you can use Olympus lenses on Panasonic and vice versa.

Pros of The Micro Four Thirds System

Micro Four Thirds Lens

Size and weight are probably the biggest selling point of the Micro 4/3 system. With basically all the other brands on the market now producing mirrorless bodies, the Micro Four Thirds system still has the advantage of relying on much smaller and lighter lenses.

Read my review of the Olympus M. ZUIKO 40-150mm F/2.8 PRO Lens

This is where the real difference in weight and size is significant. You can basically carry multiple Micro 4/3 bodies and lenses in a single small backpack.
Another advantage of the m43 cameras is that their focal length is multiplied by 2x compared to a 35mm-sized sensor. So for example a 12-40mm m43 would be equivalent of a 24-80mm full frame, hence they have an advantage for telephoto work.

Micro Four Thirds cameras are innovative and often explore new features before others. Olympus pride themselves of producing one of the best in-body image stabilization. Features like silent shutter, 4k video, focus stacking, bracketing, touch screen LCD and much more are all “toys” available to m43 cameras.

Price is another positive of m43. There’s a considerable difference in cost between Micro Four Thirds and full frame systems. Now take a look at the following image. It is taken with the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II a m43 sensor camera.

Roys Peak New Zealand

The OM-D EM-1 Mark II is a professional micro 43 camera. It’s not a cheap system, but compared to a full frame one it is. It made me save a lot of money. Also keep in mind that if you’re not a pro you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a full frame system, especially if your images will only be used to share on social media. With that being said, with m43 you are perfectly able to print your work at a really good resolution.

Cons of The Micro Four Thirds System

Even though they have seen huge improvements in low light shooting, Micro Four Thirds sensor cameras tend to struggle if compared to their APS-C or full frame counterparts. A smaller sensor will deliver more noise in dark situations.

A caveat is that thanks to the ridiculously awesome in-body image stabilization Olympus cameras have and a much smaller sensor moving around, you can hand hold them for longer time at slow shutter speed. This way you can lower the ISO sensitivity and mitigate the noise.

The f-stop values are the equivalent of double the number on a full frame. So a f/2.8 m43 is the equivalent of a f/5.6 full frame sensor. This means that you need to know what you’re doing if you want to obtain a shallower depth of field.

Find out what the f-stop (or f-number) is in the article Photography Basics: Aperture.

Another limitation is that you can’t crop your images without significantly losing quality. A smaller sensor also means less megapixels, so again when you shoot you need to pay attention that the composition you want is actually the one you’re framing because cropping the image in post would result in a slightly smaller file size and so smaller print capabilities. Obviously this is meaningless if you don’t have to print your photos at a 9×9 foot size (3×3 mt).

So is Micro Four Thirds Facing an Imminent Death?

Since Panasonic declared that they were working on a full frame camera in late 2018, the idea that the M43 system is going to see its final days has quickly spread over the Internet. Thanks to some YouTube videos like the one above and to some photography blogs.

To me this idea makes no sense and here’s why.

First of all, if you’ve read one of those blogs or for example watched Tony Northrup’s YouTube video (to name one since it’s not alone), those titles are click-bait.

Response videos here

In the video, he clearly says that he thinks it’s not going to happen suddenly, but slowly. Yet titles say “The Imminent death of Micro Four Thirds” or “Micro Four Thirds is Dead”. So watch and read carefully and do your own research before coming to conclusions.

I follow Tony’s channel and I like his work, but I disagree with this way of sharing opinions and news. A clickbaity title is more than acceptable among Bloggers and YouTubers and an understandable marketing choice nowadays, but in this case, it completely conveys the wrong message and confusing to the less experienced audience.

Image courtesy of www.43rumors.com

People have been ‘screaming’ that micro four thirds was going to die so many times and from years ago and yet they are still out there. Look at the table above. According to the BCN Japanese market share analysis, Olympus is second only to Canon. Sony is only third despite the Sony A7III. It doesn’t look like Olympus is dying.

Nobody has ever stated that micro four thirds is better than full frame or APS-C and nobody, neither Panasonic nor Olympus have ever claimed that performances are the same across all sensors or that their lenses will produce the same Depth of Field. But what is certain is that a large number of professional photographers love micro four third cameras and use it regularly to make a living. Micro Four Thirds is a good and successful system and it’s not going anywhere any soon.

I can’t imagine companies that invested years and millions in research, developing something to this level of quality, all of a sudden abandoning it to enter the full frame market where they are completely behind their competitors. Also I don’t see why if Panasonic enters the full frame market and focus mainly on it, micro four thirds should die. What about Olympus? What about Blackmagic videocameras or DJI drones that use micro 4/3?

Many major companies such as Nikon, Canon, Sony, produce more than one sensor size system at the same time. Don’t they all produce full frame and APS-C sensor cameras? So I don’t see why Panasonic should let the excellent GH5 or GH5s systems die just because they now have the full frame Lumix S1 and S1R.

Response Videos

Should I Buy a Micro Four Thirds Camera

So we’ve seen what Micro Four Thirds cameras are. How it determined and contributed to the beginning of the mirrorless era and how innovative Panasonic and Olympus have been in order to push the boundaries of what such a small sensor can achieve.

Micro Four Thirds is still relevant in the industry. But the next question you might ask is should I buy a m43 system? The only answer I can give you is: it depends. Ultimately it comes down to the type of photography you take, on your style and type of work you do. Cameras are tools.

A lot of professionals decide to have the m43 system as an addition to their full frame systems. A particular work assignment might require lighter equipment and less visibility of their gear. Travel and adventure photographers often opt for the Micro Four Third system. A smaller set of lenses and bodies allow you to travel light without worrying to much about paying extra money for your extra baggage and also if like me you love hiking and take photos of locations that require a long walk to reach, it’s definitely a yes.

Micro Four Thirds systems are the best you can get for that type of use. They are not going going away any time soon.
And you? What system do you use and what’s your opinion? Let me know in the comments below.

Find my reviews of Olympus M.Zuiko Pro Lenses compatible with the OM-D E-M1 Mark II:


Best Olympus Micro Four Thirds Cameras

Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II
The flagship camera of Olympus. Impressive high-speed performance and the image quality has dramatically improved compared to its predecessor.
Effective pixels: Approx 20.4 megapixels
Image Sensor 4/3 Live MOS sensor
High speed AF 121-point cross-type phase detection AF and 121-point contrast AF
Built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation for movie and still photos
High speed sequential shooting 60fps
4K video
Screen LCD 3-inch fully articulated, touch panel
Weather sealed
Dual card slot

Read my review of the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Mark II here

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II
Advanced camera for professionals.
Effective pixels: Approx 16.1 megapixels
Image Sensor 4/3 Live MOS sensor
Built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation for movie and still photos
Weather sealed

Olympus OM-D EM-10 Mark III
Compact and lightweight mirrorless that allows you to capture great quality and blur free images thanks to its 5-axis in-body image stabilisation.
Effective pixels: 16.1 megapixels
Image Sensor 4/3 Live MOS sensor
Built-in 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation for movie and still photos
4K video

Olympus PEN-F
Sleek retro design and a powerful sensor and image stabilisation.
Effective pixels: Approx 20.3 megapixels
Image Sensor 4/3 Live MOS sensor
Screen LCD 3-inch fully articulated, touch panel
81-area AF multi point system

Olympus PEN E-PL9
Perfect for first buyers that want something more than their smartphones.
Effective pixels: Approx 16.1 megapixels
Image Sensor 4/3 Live MOS sensor
Built-in 3-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation for movie and still photos
Flip out LCD 3-inch screen
81-area AF multi point system, touch panel

PLEASE NOTE: This article contains affiliate links

Should you buy a micro four thirds camera?

Comments

  1. Hi Stefano
    thanks for a great article.
    Currently trying to find whats right for me. I have a Sony A7ii, but I’m super intrigued by micro 4/3, due to the lighter weight, better tele work due to the sensor size. Also like that looking at the lenses it’s not nearly as expensive and heavy as Sony FE line up. Always bring my camera for my backpack travels. But my main concern for switching is if I still can get some nice bokeh, alright low light photos (even though I rarely need it). Might just be scared of switching due to the Youtube FF hype….
    Should I make the jump to 4/3 ? 😉
    appreciate any response 🙂

    Best Regards
    Emil

    1. Author

      Hi Emil,
      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.
      If you’re considering a micro 4/3 system, you have to consider that for a fraction of the price of a FF lens, you can get a professional lens typically overly engineered and able to deliver some incredible quality overall.

      For example if you read my review of the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro you’ll know what I’m talking about and you can see for yourself that a beautiful bokeh is still possible. Sometimes to get that nice creamy background on a micro 4/3 system it’s just a matter of getting closer to your subject and/or use a longer focal length.

      I don’t like people looking at things through their full-frame filtered glasses, neither evangelizing the micro 4/3 system as if it were better than anything else. They are different. Both find their use among professionals and amateurs. You just need to find the tool that’s more adapt to your needs and that gives you more satisfaction when working with it while creating your art.

      I would highly recommend you to go to your camera shop and try it first. Handle it, test it, see how it feels in your hands and what results you can get with it. Only then you’ll know if it’s something you’d like to invest your money in. ?

  2. There is definitely something I cannot understand…if there are ff cameras same size of mf3 cameras as showed on some videos with the Sony N73, why then should someone buy a smaller sensor mf3 camera which evidently cannot produce the same quality of pics? Is the difference only in the size of the lenses they will be mounting?

    1. Author

      Hi Marco,

      That’s a really good question.

      As I mentioned in the comment above, I try to stay away from the “war” among FF and m4/3 parties. Photography is my passion and cameras and lenses to me are just tools. One has to buy the tool that better satisfies her/his needs and that facilitates the process of creating a piece of art or capturing a moment just for the sake of keeping a memory of it.

      When you say that FF cameras deliver better quality of pics compared to a micro 4/3 I have to disagree. There are countless professional photographers that use micro 4/3 cameras and they are able to constantly deliver amazing images. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      Since you’ve asked, some other advantages are that you always bring with you a lighter system, also usually micro 4/3 brands introduce innovative technologies. Things like silent shutter, in-camera image stabilization, touch-screen LCDs, 4K video, etc were all introduced first by them. ?

      With MFT, for a small fraction of the price and weight of a FF system (camera + lenses) you bring home a very advanced piece of technology and I’m sure we haven’t seen it all yet in terms of innovations. Again, everyone has to use the camera and lenses that more facilitate their work. Stay away from the social media hype around certain products and before spending a lot of money, test the tools first, to see if they really fit your needs.

  3. In a nutshell, I think you need to ask yourself: “is the relatively small incremental improvement in quality worth paying 2x or 3x or 4x more for camera body & lenses that are also heavier and bulkier?”. If the quality is “good enough” for the majority of my requirements, why pay the extra money and have to deal with the extra bulk and weight? I carry my Olympus MFT with the standard 14-42mm lens, a 40-150mm zoom, a wide-angle/fisheye lens, and extra batteries in a 7″x8″x4.5″ LowePro camera bag.

    The biggest issue I’ve experienced with MFT is low-light performance. For me, it’s not an issue often enough for me to spend $3000 vs. $600.

    1. Author

      That’s exactly right. In the end, it’s all about what works best for you.
      Thank you for your comment!

  4. I think there’s room in the market place for Panasonic to have FF and Micro 4/3s. They are not mutually exclusive. FF can be for pros, and M4/3s for everyone else. I hate people announcing something is dead when it isn’t. It lessens their credibility. It is kind of like that “Jesus is Coming Soon” sign that isn’t far from my house and has been there for decades.

    I just switched from a Sony FS7 to the GH5, and honestly, can see very little difference between them. Both shoot 10-bit 4:2:2. Both record in Intra-Frame Codec. Both shoot true 4K internally. Both shoot in log, one S-Log, the other V-LogL. The main difference between them. The FS7 costs $6,500; the GH5 $1,300. The FS7 weigh 8 lbs stripped down and needs a large video bag. The GH5 fits in my backpack. And where it counts the most, in terms of imagery, few people can tell any difference.

    The GH5 is as close to a perfect camera as one can get. It is M4/3. It isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. It can’t because it is just too much bang for the buck. That’s the truth.

    And yes, there is a whole swath of people who shoot on the Blackmagic Pocket Camera, and that’s not going anywhere soon either.

    There’s no reason to buy a mansion when you just need a house. That’s what it is all coming down to. What gets you the most for your money?

  5. Author

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks a lot for your valuable comment.

    The GH5 is an unbelievable camera indeed.
    I wish my Olympus OM-D EM 1 Mark II was as good as the GH5 for videos.

    I agree with what you’ve said and I think that M4/3 systems are and will still be for pros as well!

  6. Tony Northrup, while he loves to put out clickbaity video titles, is unfortunately spot on with his analysis.

    Olympus’ imaging division is bleeding money. Their latest financial report is just cringe-worthy… They have been in the red for several quarters and are forecasting even more losses for at least another year. And this in a continually shrinking ILC market, which is being continually eroded the most at the low end (by smartphones). I just don’t see how they can turn things around given what they’re currently doing.

    Tony’s point about not being able to scale down R&D in a shrinking market is also valid. Which is why Panasonic have a big decision to make as to where they would invest the bulk of their R&D money (FF or MFT). Judging from what they have been putting out lately, it looks like most of that money is going towards the S Series. Which tells me that’s where the profit margins are. Which again makes sense – as Tony points out, sensor size is no longer the biggest part of cost.

    In the same vein, I don’t see a long-term future for Fuji’s medium format either. How many people are gonna buy that? Sony’s position is a little different, since they share a mount between FF and APS-C and are currently profitable.

    The fact that “a large number of professional photographers love micro four third cameras and use it regularly to make a living” is NOT the point. Whether there are _enough_ of those professionals buying enough new gear to support a profit-making venture IS the point. Right now, from Olympus being in the red and Panasonic choosing to go full-frame, the answer looks to be no.

    Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, but I personally think it’s irresponsible to advise people to invest a lot of money in a system with such an uncertain future. Picking up used gear for cheap? sure, why not. Buying new MFT stuff? I don’t think so.

    1. Author

      Thank you for your comment.

      I understand your point of view, and these days there’s a lot of confusion on this.
      I’m sorry to say it, but you’re completely wrong.

      First of all, this article is about Micro Four Thirds in general and not about Olympus only.
      It has been published in January 2019 when the rumors about Olympus Imaging shutting their doors wasn’t even a thing.

      But anyway, just to give you more info regarding Olympus, in the past few days they’ve released a statement to Photo Focus that clearly says that they do not intend to shut down their imaging division. They have clear plans for strengthening their position.

      I’ve updated this article with a link to it.
      I’ll reach out to Olympus in the following days too and publish new updates about it.

      1. Yeah, if I were Olympus’ CEO I would have said the exact same thing. Saying anything else publicly – like “we’re looking to sell the company” – would have greatly damaged morale and decreased their valuation in the eyes of the public even more. You gotta put up a brave face, and he did that…

        But the fact of the matter is that their own forecasts indicate at least another year of losses on the horizon, in a continually shrinking market… and it’s not like there’s any indication of anything that’s game-changing on the horizon. At some point, your shareholders will get tired of losing money with no perspective of turning things around.

        “But, they said!”.

        I would suggest to go back and watch Tony’s video. His first point is centered around what camera companies say, versus what they do.

        Panasonic, the other big player in the MFT ILC space, went full frame for a reason. Yes, they could support both, as long as both are profitable propositions. We don’t actually know how profitable Panasonic’s camera business is, because in their financial reporting it’s bundled with a bunch of other stuff like home appliances in a single business unit. But the fact of the matter is that they chose to invest a ton of money by moving into a crowded FF arena where they had (and still have) a lot of catching up to do. Why would they do that? Again, the smart money is on them chasing decent profit margins. But that’s gonna eat up the lion’s share of their R&D (and marketing) budget. What will be left for MFT?

        Everyone else is either a niche MFT player or using other sensor formats.

        1. Author

          I respect your point of view and thanks again for contributing to the discussion.
          I respect Tony’s point of view as well.

          I would have preferred a less clickbaity title from someone like him, but again, this is marketing.

          My post is about my own opinion that Micro Four Thirds is NOT dead.
          If we want to keep talking about it, people have been saying for decades that MFT was dead. I assure you that one day, sooner or later, we may be right.

          I confirm it once more to the people reading this blog: MFT being dead is a rumor. And we have to take it for what it is.

          Should people buy a MFT system today? Again, It depends, read my post.
          Should bloggers or YouTubers stop recommending MFT gear?
          I don’t think so. Not based on a rumor.

          And just for the record, Tony Northrup keeps promoting MFT gear in other videos on his channel.

          I’m lucky enough to be able to shoot with different camera systems. I love photography, tech gear in general and I’m not paid by any brand.
          I’ll keep promoting what I believe is a good product.

          This website is relatively new, and I’ll definitely put extra effort into writing more reviews about other camera brands as well.

          And actually, if you have any preferences about any camera or lens you want to know about, please let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

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