Full Frame vs. Micro Four Thirds: Do You Really Need the Extra Megapixels?

In the endless search for perfect image quality, many of us feel it's a given that we need more megapixels from our camera sensors. So when you make large printouts from a full-frame camera and a Micro Four Thirds camera, do the results tell the same story?

In this comparison video from Marc Newton, he walks around Southend-on-Sea in England and takes some documentary images to be used in an exhibition. First he takes some shots with a full-frame Canon 5D Mark IV, and then he takes some shots with a Micro Four Thirds Olympus OMD EM-1. If you're not sure what a Micro Four Thirds camera is, it's a smaller, mirrorless camera that first came about in 2008 and has a crop factor of 2x in relation to full-frame sensors (APS-C format cameras generally have a crop-factor of 1.5x).

He takes the shots he likes to his regular printer and gets two printouts from the full-frame Canon and two printouts from the Micro Four Thirds Olympus, each at 100 centimeters on its longest edge. Both Newton and the printer then survey the prints and try to establish if there's a difference in quality across the four prints.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Firstly, do extra megapixels in a sensor really matter that much in terms of image quality? And secondly, if the Micro Four Thirds Olympus can produce large prints equal to that of a full-frame sensor at half the price, is there really any need to spend more than $2,000 on a body?

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Iain Stanley's picture

You could go like some people here in Japan and cover your car seats entirely in plastic. Though you might be mistaken for Dexter 2.0

Ganidu Balasuriya's picture

Size of photodiodes of the 35mm is lager than 4:3 sensor photodiodes. So the 35mm can capture more light and dynamic range than 4:3. Also higher mega pixels can create better sharp images.

Jacques Cornell's picture

35mm captures more light than smaller AND larger formats ONLY because lenses with physically larger apertures are available for 35mm. Noise is not related to sensor size, it's related to aperture size because it's the larger aperture that delivers more light to the sensor. OTOH, larger pixel wells do loosely correspond to greater dynamic range. Also, as long as you have roughly 180-240ppi at a given output size, more pixels don't make a sharper image.

Brook Brown's picture

MFT also has twice the effective DOF relative to FF for a given aperture, focal length and framing. Not good if shallow DOF is your thing.

Gordon Cahill's picture

But conversely, fabulous if you want more DoF at a given aperture.

Glass half full and all that.....


Andrew Morse's picture

Honestly, if we're only comparing photos taken in even light with little movement or peripheral equipment, why not throw a cell phone camera or P+S into the mix? Lots of cameras hold up well when conditions are ideal, but for everything else bigger sensors often pick up the slack.

Iain Stanley's picture

I’m slightly embarrassed to throw this out there but some of the photos my wife takes of our daughter on her new iphone when we’re out and about at the beach in good light are quite stunning, especially the colour renditions.....I like to believe it’s my coaching that has made the difference :)

Joshua Boldt's picture

NatGeo photographers were making great photos back in the early 2000's with the first digital cameras and blowing them up immensely. Joe McNally had a highway billboard made from of one of his first digital NatGeo covers from a 1.3 MP (or maybe 2 MP?) camera, and they made tons of posters from it and sold large prints... don't think anyone really cared too much what size the sensor was or the megapixels.

Iain Stanley's picture

Very good point. I have a few friends from that era who still use old film cameras (albeit with some slight adaptations) and take the nost outstanding images for print. In many facets of life we tend to get caught up in this FOMO mentality and feel compelled to move with the media trends, rather than our real needs

Jeff McCollough's picture

I don't get all the hate against FF cameras.

Iain Stanley's picture

I don’t get all the hate against anything. Mirrorless, DSLR, MFT, APS-C.....if they take images that meet your needs and you’re happy, what difference does it make to others......but alas, if the world was so understanding and pleasant, I’d have nothing to write about!!

OK there is so much wrong with this experiment. First of all, any comparison is valid only if the frames compared are as identical as possible, framing and exposure, etc. Then printing them large. How about shooting a registration chart at various shutter speeds, ISO, and aperture?

But these days the price difference in body and lens between m43 and full frame is not that big. If you don't travel a lot. Full frame is the better deal.

Have you actually looked into full system prices? I don't think so, especially comparing the middle of the lines.

I own both M43 and full frame cameras. Both excellent for what they do. I'm glad they are both there. As to DOF, about 90% of the time more is better. It's seldom anyone needs just one iris of one eye sharp and the rest of the photo blurred. Certainly none of my clients have ever asked for that. And, separation from background is a mostly focal length and distance choice.

user-156929's picture

I do a lot of industrial/architectural photography and a lot of the time I can't choose focal length or distance. Everyone has different needs and desires.

Bernd Stoeckl's picture

LOL - if someone seriously needs this advise or is concerned they need to learn the handicraft of photography.
That's the problem with amateurs trying to be PRO without understanding the matter really.
There are jobs and sujets where you can use a Micro 4/3 there are others where you bump into serious limitations with it when you want to achieve a certain result.
And the last one IS the important question.

WHAT do you want to achieve?

Respectively have you even thought about BEFORE pressing the shutter knob?

Because if so there is no conflict between FF and 4/3 you should know what gear to use before.

But if you walkaround a bit and shoot around a bit and print a bit - well that's a different story then.

And if you make the mistake to believe the camera does the creative work for you then even worse.

Jacques Cornell's picture

My A2 size glossy prints from 16MP RAWs, whether from my 1Ds MkII or my GX7, are as crisp and detailed as I could want, even viewed close up. In my view, 16-20MP is plenty even for A1 size prints. Bigger than that, I'd want more. It's pretty simple. Also, using a proper 3-stage workflow for interpolating and sharpening can increase your print potential by at least one full print size.

Are some of you bickering mo11th ons having fun or being serious? What matters is the finished image, plain and simple. This is why I miss the good old days when there wasnt all this techno bullshit and photography was exactly that...photography. You had to get by on skill and talent rather than the latest techno terminology crap. Should of converted my garage into a darkroom. Some of you should post some of your work with some of your techno bull comments so we can see if any of you are even worth paying attention to.

Im a little tired so Ill end this session with this. I have never had any issues with noise at any level which is why I prefer to work in total silence. Good night all.