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Why I shoot Micro Four Thirds?

Why I shoot Micro Four Thirds?
March 6th, 2020

If you have watched one of my vlogs you may have seen that I shoot using a Micro Four Thirds camera specifically an Olympus OMD Em1ii. This system has gained a reputation for being an inferior choice to some other systems out there. So why do I still shoot Micro Four Thirds?

What is Micro Four Thirds?

You may be wondering what I mean when I say Micro Four Thirds. This refers to the sensor size, going back to the old Four Thirds format created by Olympus and Kodak, which captured an image in 4:3 format compared to the 3:2 format of an APS-C camera, and the micro refers to the need to reduce weight while using this format.

What did I use before Micro Four-Thirds?

I got into photography around the same time that digital camera was starting to become affordable, and at that time I started shopping for my first digital SLR. I’d always played with film cameras as a kid, but was never serious about this. This may be where I get my love of film cameras from, but I digress.

When I got my first DSLR I did a lot of research around brands, as this is probably a choice that will affect my purchases for a long time going forward. I chose a Canon 350D after finding a reasonably priced package that had a standard wide-angle kit lens and a telephoto zoom lens which more than covered my needs. Since this purchase, I’d just upgraded the body when I saw a feature that I found useful such as a rotating flip-out screen and upgraded my lenses when they failed beyond repair or I wanted to try something out creatively such as a fisheye.

The last Canon Camera that I bought was a Canon 80D which was a fantastic camera that enjoyed using but really struggled with. I found the autofocus difficult to use and could never get on with it.

My first Micro Four-Thirds camera.

Over the last couple of years, I have really got into street and urban photography, mainly in cities and towns local to me. As a non-driver, I am reliant on public transport to get around and the last thing I wanted to do was carry a load of kit on a bus or train, so was looking for a small camera that allowed me the same control as a DSLR.

My Olympus EM10ii
My Olympus EM10ii Micro Four Thirds Camera

I looked firstly at a Canon M50 which would have allowed me to use my existing lenses via an additional adaptor, but I was a bit disappointed with the reviews and frankly it didn’t reduce the weight much. I’d looked at the Fuji system which are fantastic cameras but beyond my budget. I then looked at Olympus.

I remember my Dad having an Olympus Film Camera in my youth so this brought back happy memories, so I settled on an Olympus E-P5 which I loved but was disappointed as the viewfinder was an added extra of around £200 at the time, which I only found out after purchase. I was lucky enough to be able to return this and swap for an EM10ii.

Is Micro Four Thirds inferior?

I read many reviews about the Micro Four Thirds and that it was an inferior choice compared to a Full Frame or APS-C camera, so for about two years, I shot two systems. Using my Canon for landscapes and shoots where I was looking for the highest quality shots for my portfolio and the Olympus for street and urban where quality is less important. As I used the system and took more photographs I realised that I didn’t need those extra pixels, I wasn’t printing above A3 and quite frankly I was mega impressed by the quality I was getting from the prints that the EM10ii produced.

If there is one feature that would make me buy into the Olympus system it would be the Image Stabilisation, it’s absolutely fantastic and has saved me a few times while out on the streets. I normally shoot my street photography on a 25mm F1.8 lens from Olympus which is the Olympus equivalent of the nifty fifty. A sensor on a Micro Four-thirds is 50% smaller than a full-frame sensor, so has a 2x crop factor, which means a 25mm works out at a 50mm equivalent. This really makes a difference on a telephoto lens as a 150mm lens is the equivalent of a 300mm lens.

I have taken a handheld shot with a 1s exposure time and it came out perfectly sharp, this is where the Image Stabilisation really shines.

Losing a few pounds

I remember going on a meet-up to Llandudno with my Canon Gear and coming home with aching shoulders and back, then thinking that I needed to slim down my kit. I’d been using my Olympus for a while now and I’ll be honest I didn’t think I was going to take to it. The Olympus seemed to have more options, bells and whistles than a camera I’d ever used before. The more I used the Olympus the more I loved it. I could pack my camera, three lenses and a full vlogging kit (that’s a post for another day!) into a small 22l bag, which was easier to carry and more importantly didn’t hurt my back. I do use a bigger bag when I need to carry more, such as hiking, but when I just need to carry my kit, this more than suffices.

My Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22l
My Lowepro Photo Hatchback 22l

So I bit the bullet, sold all my Canon gear and bought an EM1ii, using the leftover money to buy some kit to supplement my photography. I can’t tell you the improvement that buying a set of good quality filters has brought to my photography, but that’s a post for another day.

One of the features I love about Micro Four Third is how interchangeable the lenses are. There are a number of manufacturers that are part of the consortium that develops Micro Four Thirds. They are all on one unified mount that makes choosing lenses easy and made the decision to go fully into the Micro Four Thirds system a simple decision. My existing lenses for the EM10 fit onto the EM1ii without any fancy adaptors.

It’s not a perfect system.

I’m not going to write this article without talking about some of the improvements I would like to see in future versions. As a vlogger I quite often use my stills camera as a secondary video camera, and one of the disappointments I have with the EM1ii is the autofocus in video mode, its a shame really as the autofocus in stills mode is excellent, but it can struggle in some situations when recording video, but it can be worked around once you get used to it. I’ll be honest that I was probably spoilt having come from the focusing systems of the Canon cameras which I still think are one of the best out there. Is there room for improvement on Olympus, yes definitely.

An image shot at ISO3200 using an Olympus EM1ii
An image shot at ISO3200 using an Olympus EM1ii

Another disappointment for me is also the low light capability of the Olympus cameras, you do get quite a bit of noise when going above ISO1600. It doesn’t bother me much if I’m shooting landscapes I tend to use a tripod so can get away with using long exposures and low ISO. When I’m shooting street I quite like a bit of grain in my shots as it gives a gritty feel to my shots.

One of the reasons I choose the Olympus was the WIFI function. Having the ability to transfer images to my iPhone or iPad and edit in the field is such a revelation for me, but the WiFi is a little temperamental. It will often disconnect while downloading an image, lose connection for no valid reason. We have had WiFi in devices for a number of years now, so it shouldn’t be that hard to do.

So to end am I happy with my choice. YES! The difference in weight has really made the decision worthwhile and it actually made me take more photo’s as my EM1ii goes everywhere with me. I can honestly say that I have been taking photos that are as good with this camera as I was with Canon. I couldn’t be happier.

4 comments on “Why I shoot Micro Four Thirds?”

  • Posted by Graham Thompson

    Good post Mike. Getting my Olympus EM10 MkIII was the best thing I ever did. I am sure there is better out there but it does everything I need and more. I have shot more pictures, with a higher keeper rate, in the few months I have owned it than I did with my previous cameras in over a year.

    I use an old Lowepro small sling bag which carries everything camera kit wise and I don’t have to take it off to access any lens, filters, batteries etc meaning I am more likely to grab it on the way out.

    I also had Olympus 35mm film cameras, OM10, OM1, OM2 and a Pen compact over a period of time. I even chose my EM10 in silver because of the memories of my OM film cameras.

    • Posted by Mike Chesworth

      Hi, Thanks for commenting. There are some excellent Olympus camera’s in your history. I quite like the silver versions of the Olympus cameras, but my lenses would have looked out of place being black.

      Yeah, the one reason I shoot more is how much lighter my kit is now, and the EM1 has certainly helped with is.

      Keep clicking.

  • Posted by Mike Chesworth (Australia)

    Good read Mike. The weight is such a big factor when on the move. I sold my Canon gear for a Sony a7iii, yes, full frame but much smaller and more versatile. I also use a Sony a6000, which is a crop sensor – cracking little camera, especially on the street and for sports.

    • Posted by Mike Chesworth

      Hi, Thanks for dropping by and reading the vlog. It’s great to meet another namesake from the other side of the world, it’s a small world! I have heard some good things about the Sony Cameras but they are a bit beyond my budget, but if you can afford one, then good on you. The most important thing is that it works for you, and worth it just for the weight reduction. I look forward to seeing some images from the camera. Thanks once again for commenting, and I hope that you’re keeping safe on your side of the world. Take it easy!

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