Interesting topic huh? Micro 4/3 (or simpler M4/3 from now) was originally developed for amateur. Original 4/3 format failed to compete with the larger sensor cameras in terms of image quality. They never had the ‘small’ form factor that was suppose to win over the larger DSLRs either. So soon people forgot about them. But then, the M4/3 arrived which pretty much changed the entire CSC market (Compact System Cameras) and the mirrorless camera world. Still many were skeptical about the ideas. I remembered the first time when I enquired about the Panasonic G1 camera in a camera store in Hong Kong, the salesman even laughed at me, “What future does mirrorless camera had? Those horrible EVF just can’t compete with proper pentaprism and you don’t have lens choice either.” Well, that was 4 years ago.
M4/3 essentially inherited the 4/3 sensors so it was still lacking behind the larger sensors rivals. But what M4/3 did and the original 4/3 didn’t was the form factor. With the introduction of Olympus Pen and the Panasonic GF series cameras, they soon became the new breed of small system cameras with inter-changeable lenses. Because both companies shared the lens mount and format, both could use each others lenses. In 2013, there are lots to choose from, from fast zoom to high quality primes.
So fast forward a few years, M4/3 has matured and quite tastefully too. With last year’s Olympus OM-D, undoubtedly the kind of M4/3 and one that can truly compete with in the high end market and top end APS-C sensor DSLRs (see my review here). A healthy competition between the forerunners, Panasonic and Olympus, too. Both companies making great products that aim at different audience. Olympus seems to concentrate on making high quality primes and excellent photographic tools and Panasonic is aiming at the multi-media generations with very professional video capable cameras.
I personally like Olympus and what they have done in recent years. Since the introduction of their retro-looking digital PEN cameras, I thought they were definitely on the right track, at least commercially. However, their specification nor sensor were as good as the Panasonic’s rivaling products, in my opinion. But everything changed when the OM-D arrived last year. The extensive specification was so good that it could rival a top end APS-C DSLR from Canon or Nikon. Even the tiny M4/3 sensor went through a overhaul that not only increased the resolution without sacrificing noise performance, but it bettered it by far and with superior wide dynamic range that can compare to larger sensors. It can now easily compare the noise and dynamic range from base ISO all the way to around ISO 1600.
That’s pretty good for small sensors and when the camera is mated to Olympus’s latest super fast primes, like the M Zuiko 12mm f/2.0, 17mm f/1.8, 45mm f/1.8 and the lovely 75mm f/1.8, you will rarely need higher ISO settings. Oh, I forgot to mention the lovely Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 which is a fantastic fast standard prime that will butter your trigger finger.
So why would a professional need a M4/3 camera? The answer is pretty simple. I am a professional wedding and travel portraits photographer, I am falling in love with the small form factor of my Olympus OM-D. The image quality is very much enough for the use of reportage wedding photography and street photography. With 16 mp, some may say that it’s a tad low in today’s standard but I must say that 16 mp is more than enough for an A4 print and with some proper processing, you can get an A3 print with high quality result. And 99% of my clients these days only need digital files for web use only! So 16 mp is more than enough. Because M4/3 cameras have almost-silent shutter, it’s way more discrete than the traditional DSLRs. After using the OM-D for a while, I almost think my Canon ESO 5D Mark II is like a ‘cannon firing’ everytime I press the shutter button. When mated with those fast primes, you are talking proper high quality files.
Moreover, professional wedding photographers like myself will appreciate the deep depth of field when shooting indoor group portraits. I use Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM a lot in this situation but even at f/2.8, first it isn’t fast enough that I need to up the ISO to get some background. It’s common for any wedding photographer to shoot large group photos indoor like hotel receptions or restaurants. But the only problem for many is the compromise of depth of field and overall exposure. I could easily get every one in focus by setting my aperture in f/5.6 or 6.3 and use a couple of flashes but most likely you won’t see the background because it’s too dark. To compensate that, I will boost the ISO to much higher like 1600 to get some background showing in the final image. However, using a M4/3 means that I could achieve the same result by using f/2 or 2.8, a whole two stop faster but retaining the same depth of field. One disadvantage or in my case, an advantage is the much deeper depth of field in M4/3 format. Many ‘modern’ photographers love the shallow look but it isn’t all that good in some situation when you want to get everything in focus, even with ultra wide in full framers. So thank goodness to the new generation of M4/3 cameras, I can now shoot better indoor large group photos.
Also, I use a 5D Mark II for wedding and sometimes it’s a little too ‘noticeable’ and noisy in some locations. This is when a smaller and quieter camera is better. OM-D also has a very fast burst rate which is good for doing continuous shots of confetti or bouquet throwing. But for wedding portraits, I still use my 5D with Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM or Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. It isn’t because OM-D can’t take portrait but it is because these are the type of photos that my clients will enlarge it and print them on large albums or canvas prints and in this case every pixel counts.
So when I used to carry two 5Ds, I now have only one and my OM-D as my second and spare camera.
This year, Olympus introduces the new PEN which is essentially an OM-D without the EVF. So take your pick and both are equally stunning cameras to use. I use camera as my tool so I don’t usually upgrade my cameras that often. Either of these cameras can serve you for the next 4 to 5 years for sure. Save some money and get those gorgeous primes!!
One last thought too, either the new PEN and the OM-D have metal bodies with weather seals, that’s more than enough for any professional photographers to use in almost any circumstances, especially in UK! (our lovely British weather!)
Have a good day.
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