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Is Micro Four Thirds Dead? 2019

In News by Stefano Caioni

Is Micro Four Thirds dead? Should I buy a Micro Four Thirds camera? Hey but what is a Micro Four Thirds camera? Talking with non experts about photography and cameras, I notice that it’s often not clear to them that, not only there are different camera brands, but cameras are also categorized based on the type of sensor they have. So what are Micro Four Thirds Cameras? And is the Micro 4/3 system still worth buying in 2019?

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. 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 lenses.

First of all a bit of history.

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.

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 professionals as well. 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 m43would 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

In low light 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 even though they’ve recently improved a lot compared to old models. A caveat is that thanks to the ridiculously awesome image stabilization they 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 lose a lot of 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.

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

Conclusion

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? I think the short answer is: it depends.
Ultimately it comes down to the type of photography you take, on your style and type of work you do. A lot of professionals decide to have the m43 system as an addition to their full frame systems. A particular work assignment might require a lighter equipment and less visibility of their gear. Travel and adventure photographers often opt for a 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!
And you? What camera do you use? 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:

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Should you buy a micro four thirds camera?
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