I don't often say things deliberately designed to be controversial, although this might be construed to be one: I think Micro 4/3 might be sufficient for most photographers.
I have a basis for comparison. I currently have three cameras* in use, and two are full-frame (FF) DSLRs. But I find myself wondering again and again (each time I shoot with the FF DSLRs, to be honest) if I really need what they have to offer.
It's easiest to see the advantages of FF when I compare it to the APS-C camera by shooting the two side-by-side. FF does have a quality edge. I especially appreciate the big, beautiful TTL viewfinder images. Photography, of course, is a long tradition of compromises between image quality (as it is conventionally understood) on the one hand, and convenience coupled with quality that is "good enough" on the other.
I first wrestled with that when I shot with a 4x5 for a summer on a faculty grant, in 1987. Up till then I had been thoroughly besotted with 4x5. However, I ended up deciding that for me, the greater convenience of 35mm resulted in better pictures—for my understanding of "better." (The experience also resulted in one of my most controversial articles ever.)
A caveat, first: I certainly wouldn't presume to argue with anyone who prefers (or desires) FF, even if they don't technically "need" it for any specific reason. (As I always say, I strongly believe everyone should use whatever camera floats their boat, whether it be an 11x14 view camera or a pinhole, a Lomo or a Leica. Your choice is your choice.)
...However, I wonder if perhaps we've now reached a real watershed for "good enough quality." The current 16-megapixel 4/3 sensor in the various current top-line Micro 4/3 cameras is so good that it seems like it might suffice for all but specialty and professional photography. And it's not too bad for those either.
The OM-D E-M5 and I failed to bond, but its results were very pleasing. The quality from that sensor exceeds that of 35mm film. It exceeds that of most DSLRs, even high-end ones, from before about 2009. I can't see that the APS-C sensor in the NEX-6 is any better. And its files will make very nice prints up to sizes that would satisfy probably 90% of photographers.
And all things being equal, it's easier to shoot with a smaller sensor. Handier lenses, more depth-of-field, more portable outfits. And all, generally, easier on the wallet. What's not to like.
Micro 4/3—and mirrorless in general—has not really caught fire with the European and North American publics at large. But, given the quality of the current 16-MP sensors, the size of Micro 4/3 equipment, the many adapters available, and especially the delightful and beautiful range of lenses on offer** for the system, Micro 4/3 seems like quite the place to be for enthusiasts these days.
Consequently I think TOP's next serious camera review series will not consider the A7's or the Df, but will consist of a comparative look at the Panasonic GX7 and the Olympus OM-D E-M1.
Along the way, I'll try to make honest assessments of their output compared directly to the result from my full-frame cameras.
I imagine I'll learn something along the way, anyway, for myself if not for others.
*The other is an APS-C digital compact. Namely, they are: a 36-MP Nikon D800, a
24-MP Sony A900, and a 16-MP Sony NEX-6. The two Sonys together
give me the two lenses I want: a 35mm-e normal lens in the form of the Zeiss 24mm ƒ/1.8 E-mount lens on the NEX-6, and a short tele for portraits on the FF camera, in the Sony 85mm ƒ/2.8 SAM A-mount lens,
a lens that's descended from the Contax/Zeiss 85mm ƒ/2.8 Sonnar T* with
which I have a lot of history. The Sony might be a little better than the older Zeiss as far as I can tell (see the illustration).
**The chart at the link is not quite up to date.
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Drew D. Saur: "I think that there is something else at play...it's possible that from a sensor standpoint most photographers don't need full-frame, but full-frame cameras currently typically come with many other significant features (like extremely sophisticated autofocus and speed) that aren't yet seen in smaller-format cameras. This might change, but the full-frame manufacturers still seem to be endowing their newest offerings with features that make the cameras compelling for reasons other than sensor size."
Mike_C (partial comment): "I had the chance to play with E-M1 and 12–40mm ƒ/2.8 for quite some time at a local camera store's trade show (with genuine Japanese reps from Olympus, yet) recently. I then gave the D7100 a try at the Nikon table. I'm one of those bitter clingers (to the D300) waiting for the mythical D400. After directly comparing the E-M1 and the 'best' DX Nikon the E-M1's advantages in smaller size—but not too small as the E-M5 felt— excellent-seeming construction, IBIS, weather-proofing and the existence of a line of wide-angle primes (which Nikon still has not done for DX!) sold me on the E-M1 (and 12–40mm ƒ/2.8)."
[Note: Whenever a comment says "(partial comment)," the full comment can be found in the Comments section. —Ed.]
psu (partial comment): "For me full frame is not an image quality question. The only reason to use it is so that your 35mm format lenses behave 'correctly,' with the right FOV and depth of field. That's why I bought a D700 back in the day...but I finally got tired of carrying it."
Howard (partial comment): "I just bought an Oly E-M1. I have had only Micro 4/3 cameras for two years; before that I used a 6x9cm view camera and Canon 5D and Canon 5D Mark II's. For me, I'm getting consistently better images from the E-M1 and before that the E-M5 than I obtained from any other of the above cameras. I now rarely use a tripod. I am much less static, and much more likely to experiment."
Craig (partial comment): "What bugs me about it is that most native Micro 4/3 lenses are either more expensive than I like, or badly flawed (or both!). Olympus and Panasonic both have adopted the attitude that severe barrel distortion isn't a problem because the camera fixes it up for you when generating JPEGs. Even their wide-angle prime lenses suffer from this, though most of the longer primes are better (the Leica 25mm seems just about perfect aside from the price tag). I find this distortion unacceptable because 1.) I prefer to work with RAW files using my choice of processing software, which may not know how to automatically correct for their lenses' defects; and 2.) distortion correction blurs the image the farther away you get from the center."
Eli Burakian (partial comment): "For my job, where I'm shooting in low light all the time, the advantages of full frame are obvious. As a backpacker shooting landscape images, smaller frame cameras make so much sense. The entire kit shrinks considerably both weight- and size-wise."
Pete (partial comment): "I agree entirely Mike! I've got my own dragoon—a Canon 5D Mark II purchased nearly five years ago. Yes it's a joy to view through the brighter, larger finder, and the 21-MP files viewed at 100 percent are swoon-worthy. But 18 months ago I got a Lumix GX1 and now take 90 percent of my pictures with it."
Bryan Geyer (partial comment): "Do you need FF? Well, yes, you do need FF if you care about big prints with 'near exhibition' resolution quality. I personally define 'near exhibition' resolution quality as a print that's capable of preserving five line-pairs/mm detail. And if you want to record that detail in a 16x24-inch print you must start with a full-frame original that captures 85 line-pairs/mm detail. If the original was anything smaller than FF, the enlargement factor would then have to exceed 17X, so print resolution would degrade."
Bryan Willman (partial comment): "I have experimental data that yes, I do need full frame. I tried Micro 4/3, was not happy, could not get done what I wanted to get done."
Curt (partial comment): "I just so enjoy using the smaller, more nimble bodies and lenses with Micro 4/3. I agree with your main argument: the image quality is more than good enough, and the fun factor (for me) is higher."