Why I went Micro 4/3 system

Why I invested in Olympus mu43 (micro 4/3) system.

 

I have been a canon user right from the start. When I started photography in 2007 or so, my main interest was wildlife photography. At that time, the most common lens for wildlifers was the canon 100-400 of which there was no equivalent. I think many wildlifers went canon because of this lens (in 2004-2009). Thereafter I got interested in bird photography and in bird photography, reach is everything. So I started with a 400/5.6, then got a 500/4 and now I have a 800/5.6. In terms of bodies, I went through 350D, then 40d, 7d and then 1Dm4. Although new bodies continued to come out, I never felt that the technology was sufficiently improved to justify the expense especially since you could rent the latest equipment. Like the 7DM2 was supposed to be awesome but I didn’t really like it all that much.

 

On my Africa trip in 2015, I had rented the 1dxm2 and the 200-400f4 (it’s a wonderful lens) and on another trip, I had rented the 100-400 II, 7DM2. In my first trip, I was actually juggling 3 bodies, one had wide angle 10-20mm, one had 100-400, other had 800/5.6. Afterwards, when I came back and looked at the photos and thought about my experiences, I realized few things

  1. The current gear had gotten too heavy, too expensive and too unwieldy. On calculation later, I realized that on that trip, I had taken along gear worth almost $25000/-
  2. In juggling all the heavy equipment, there was a distinct chance of something falling and breaking.
  3. I was spending too much time photographing stuff and not enough time looking at stuff because the equipment was so bulky and unwieldy.
  4. There was not a significant enough difference between the output of a 1Dm4 and a 1dxm2 in many cases. The technology was crawling along, not improving in leaps and bounds. Sure, the autofocus was much better but there were few occasions for using a much better AF. The noise profile was better but not by that much. In the wide open masai mara and Serengeti landscapes, high iso (above 2000) was very rarely needed. Metering, responsiveness and color etc were already fantastic.

The year after that, I visited to a place called Mishmi hills which is a remote cottage in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. The place is famous for small skulking birds like warblers. You walk along the road which is bordered by bushes and trees on both sides.

 

The guide plays a bird call and that particular bird comes out onto the bush for a few seconds. Obviously, you have to be superfast to catch the bird coz they go right back into the bush once they realize there’s nothing interesting to see. You get between 5-10 seconds in most cases.            This was very difficult to achieve with the heavy gear i.e. 800/5.6+1dm4. The other thing was that we would walk on average 15 kms (highest being 22 kms) on those Himalayan roads, looking for birds. And that really killed me. I realized then that I needed lighter gear.

In fact it got to a point that I lost interest in taking out my gear and shooting stuff just due to the sheer size and unwieldiness of the equipment. Even the 7d and 18-200 seemed too heavy (it weighed combined 1.5 kgs)

 

 

Enter Olympus

A photography friend recommended that I check out the Olympus system. Luckily they have a program where they send you the equipment and you can try it out. It just felt very natural in my hands. Handling was great, customizability was extremely good, lens quality was fantastic, lens weight and cost were awesome. Going into Olympus, I knew a few things were not in favor of the mu43 system (so called micro 4/3rd of which Olympus and Panasonic are leading proponents). I knew the noise profile would be poorer. The counter to this was the IBIS is phenomenal and allows handheld shots at really low shutter speeds and also the wide range of affordable fast lenses.  Of course, this would only work when the subject isn’t moving. The other problem would be that due to the smaller sensor, bokeh would be affected. However, the handling was good enough that I decided to take the plunge. I bought the em1 mark 2 and a bunch of lenses.

 

So what are the basic reasons for going for the mu43 system

  1. Cost: Below is a table of the cost differences between the 2 systems at the time of writing.

 

Lenses

SONY OLYMPUS

70-200 f/2.8

$2,500.00 $1,400.00 40-150 f/2.8

90mm macro

$1,100.00 $400.00 60mm macro
85 f/1.8 $600.00 $300.00

45 f/1.8

600 f/4

$13,000.00 $2,800.00 300 f/4
16-35 f/2.8 $2,200.00 $1,200.00

7-14 f/2.8

85 f/1.4 $1,800.00 $1,150.00

45 f/1.2

$21,200.00

$7,250.00
without 600/4 $8,200.00

$4,450.00

Camera Bodies

SONY

OLYMPUS

A7 III

$1,800.00

$1,600.00

EM1 III

A6600

$1,200.00

$1,000.00

EM5 III

A9 II

$4,500.00

$2,400.00

EM1X

 

 

These are the approximately comparable bodies and lenses. Obviously, autofocus and noise profiles of the sony bodies are so superior that you cannot really compare it to Olympus bodies but I think this is the closest possible comparison. In terms of lenses, mu43 lenses are obviously cheaper, allowing you to buy better glass at a much lower price. Bokeh and noise can be taken care of in some sense by using faster glass i.e. f/2.8, f/1.8, f/1.2  all of which are very affordable in the Olympus lineup. I have not mentioned about Panasonic or other third party mu43 lenses.

  1. Size and Weight: Need I say more….On the left is my canon 800/5.6 and on the right is the Olympus 300/4. On Olympus body with 1.4xtc the combination becomes 840/5.6 equivalent. Image quality is very good with this combination.

 

 

 

  1. Customizability: People have raved about the customizability of the Olympus system. Wrt canon enthusiast bodies like 90d or 7dm2, its certainly very customizable, but as compared to canon 1dm2, its less so, especially in AF. Still the level of customization offered is mind boggling and takes some getting used to.

 

  1. IBIS: This is a cracking feature. If theres one thing that can offset the advantage that full frame sensors have wrt noise, it’s the In Body Image Stabilisation=IBIS. This uses a sensor shift technology so that all the image stabilization is done in camera regardless of lens. I have taken sharp handheld photos at 1/200s at effective focal length of 1200mm. That’s about 3-4 stops of effectively lower shutter speed. Obviously the subject cant be moving, but this is a game changer in many many cases.

 

  1. Focus stacking and bracketing: Another awesome feature that has really changed the macro game atleast as far as I am concerned. The best part is, u can do the focus stacking handheld. I rmeber I used to really try to get good depth of field with my earlier setup ie.e canon 7d and the well reviewd 10mm macro IS. The Olympus system is phenomenally good for macro. The 60mm macro lens is excellent and I think much better than the canon 100mm macro IS
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

  1. Bells and whistles: Olympus also has other bells and whistles which are intriguing. Live composite, high resolution mode, pro-capture. These are all very interesting things which add to the value.

 

  1. Weather sealing: Weather sealing is fantastic and you can basically wash it under a waterfall in most cases and still be ok.

 

 

 

In comparison to FF or APS-C sensor cameras: drawbacks and fixes

  1. Noise: mitigated by IBIS and faster lenses. Obviously wont work as much for moving subjects where yu need high iso for high shutter speed.
  2. Bokeh: mitigated by using faster lenses.
  3. Focus speed: I am not fully convinced about focus speed and accuracy of BIF (Birds in Flight). I think there’s a bit of hit and miss as compared to canon 1dxm2, but its about the same as I got on the canon 7d2. This could be because I am mis-handling. After all, I bought the system in end February 2020, just before the lockdown and I haven’t been able to really test it on the field yet. But my skills are improving I think. I am getting a better keeper rate than I used to. The em1M3 is supposed to do a much better job wrt BIF. I will write a blog on AF later. However one shot AF and AF for regularly moving subjects is very fast and accurate. No complaints there.
  4. Dynamic range: The .orf actually seems to be hiding much more detail than I anticipated and the available dynamic range is much closer to the FF output than I expected. I think though that you need to have the right raw converter for .orf files. ACR may not be the right tool. Its something to explore more. In other words, I can push the .orf file much more than I could the .raw files. Another blog maybe

 

For different genres of photography and based on only my admittedly very brief experience with the mu43 system, I feel as follows

  1. Macro: Don’t even think about it, just go for it
  2. Studio/portraits: Olympus skin tones are regarded amongst the best. There are a wide range of affordable portrait lens on offer.
  3. Wedding: Good: Sometimes you need high ISO for wedding and in this particular case, the noise profile could be a problem
  4. Street: Excellent: There’s a truly fantastic collection of lenses for street photography. Things like live composite etc, just add to the usability
  5. Travel: Excellent: I think the 12-200 lens is unparalleled in reach. I know it ounds counter-intutive that I am recommending a 16x zoom lens, but really, its not bad. Coupled with the light weight of olympus bodies and the decent macro performance of the lens, I think it’s a all-in-one travel setup which is unequalled.
  6. Wildlife: Good: There may be issues with shots requiring high ISO and very fast AF speed. But for 98% of the cases, it should be adequate
  7. Sports: No idea, but I suspect AF speed will be a letdown as I have experienced in BIF
  8. Astro: no idea but would be interesting to try.

 

 

All in all, I am quite pleased with the switch to mu43. The main difference is that now I am eager to grab the camera and do photography if I see something interesting rather than dreading to lift the camera, which used to happen with my earlier setup.

 

Girish Vaze

Why I went Micro 4/3 system

One Response

  1. nicely presented….useful ,especially for those who are out on field for a very long duration……

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