The Magic of Micro 4/3

Posted by on Jan 24, 2017 in How To, Tech, Travel | No Comments

I am a huge micro 4/3 fan. I first discovered this format in 2014 with the release of the mirrorless Panasonic GH4. This camera was groundbreaking for number of reasons:

1) It was TINY. No internal mirror means the physical camera body was a fraction of the size of standard cameras.

2) It was powerful. The pioneer DSLM/DSLR camera to utilize internal 4K!

3) It featured full video functions not found on any other DSLRs. (waveform, peaking, live audio monitoring, zebras… finally!)

4) It was affordable. Less than half the price of competing cameras.

Since the GH4’s release, the micro 4/3 world has expanded greatly with new and exciting options. This guide will let you know about why you should consider this format so you too can reap its many benefits.

Size Matters

The biggest benefit of a micro 4/3 camera is the SIZE. Frankly it is the best camera system you can have for travel or run and gun video/photography. The camera body is half the size of competing DSLR’s, and the lenses are even smaller.

Both the cameras above (Canon 5DmkII on the left, and Panasonic GH4 on the right) have 70-200mm lenses. What would you rather lug around during an outing?

This means you’re not inhibited by your gear and you’ll be more likely to haul it around and get great shots.

Mobility is key. I’ve spoken to many pro photographers over the years and a lot of them are opting for smaller, lighter camera systems to take into the field; I am one of those people.

Lugging around tons of gear is the worst, particularly if you work solo. This format ensures you can still get great quality media, but at less than half the weight and size of other sensor formats. In other words, great image quality without sacrificing portability. Over a 8-10 hour day, you’d be surprised at how those extra pounds add up.

I come from an outdoor/hiking background. The the age old mantra is the same:

Ounces equal pounds and pounds equal pain.

Image above borrowed from

Bottom line: Your gear should not inhibit your ability to get the shots you need. M4/3 can really help here.

You’re a Ghost

M4/3 cameras are very discreet. This brings a host of benefits, the primary one being that you are less visible in public. When trying to shoot candid shots, a giant bulky DSLR or larger format video camera is often a lighting rod for attention.

I remember shooting with my Sony EX1 back in the day. I’d walk down a street and every eye would turn to me… Although comical for a while, it made getting natural and authentic shots of people acutely harder as they were always aware of my presence. When I did shoot them, often they were intimidated or distracted by the camera. You want every advantage you can get. A smaller and more discreet camera doesn’t have these challenges.

Access to certain locations is also severely restricted by the size of your camera. This has been a common theme throughout my personal travels and career.

It’s surprisingly how many museums and historical sites (particularly around Europe) bar professional cameras and equipment from coming onto their premise, even if you’re just a tourist. Does that camera look ‘pro’? Not today.

Almost always they try to charge punishing permit fees or require mountains of paperwork and permissions. 99% of the time this just isn’t an option.

Most people don’t even give my GH4 a second glance.

More Bite Than Bark

Lens wise, the M4/3 format has a major advantage: significantly longer focal lengths. A 200mm lens on an m4/3 camera is the equivalent of a 400mm lens on a full frame DSLR (double it!). Whoa!

If you’re a wildlife or sports shooter this is unreal, even more so when you consider the size of the lens compared to its full frame counterpart.

Quick story: I was shooting in Antarctica two years ago and I got my hands on a 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Lumix lens for my GH4. (~$1,800 USD) This worked out to be a nice 800mm. It was pretty snazzy for shooting penguins.

Think about this: with a 2x extender, plus the crop, this lens would be turned into a sniper rifle able to shoot 1600mm on an equilivilent full frame camera… and it would fit in the palm of your hand. Insanity.

The 1200mm Canon lens is a two handed bazooka weighing over 36lbs and costing $120,000 USD. Perspective.

Final Thoughts

I’ve had extremely positive experiences within the M4/3 ecosystem. My GH4 produces a fantastic 4K image and it’s just so easy to travel with. Sure, it may not be as great in low light and you won’t get the same depth of field as a full frame camera… but all that doesn’t matter when you can’t comfortably take it in the field with you. Also, I’ll likely never have to get back surgery. 🙂

Canon 600mm f/4L, Olympus 300mm f/4, and Nikkor 600mm f/4G. All three of these cameras shoot the same focal length. Guess which one is the M4/3.

Jokes aside, M4/3 are wonderful cameras that are small, portable, discreet and pack a lot of punch. I am eagerly anticipating the release of the new Panasonic GH5 later this year, which will be the big brother to my GH4. The all new Olympus OMD EM1 Mark II is also extremely promising. The future is bright for M4/3!

Happy shooting!

  • Chris

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