Micro Four Thirds Is Dead? Well, Not for Me

Micro Four Thirds Is Dead? Well, Not for Me

It’s often read and repeated: Micro Four Thirds is dead! Olympus’ camera department has been sold and full frame mirrorless is currently ruling the game. Am I the only one who doesn’t care?

Recently, my beloved Nikon D750 went corrupt. I still love that camera, and whenever I get the chance, I will send it to get repaired. However, when the universe closes one door, it opens at least another. While one part of my heart broke with my camera, the other started beating faster. It’s a good reason to buy a new one, after all.

I was flirting with another system for a while, and most people would consider it a regression. But before you declare me mad, let’s take a look at the facts.

Size Matters

On a professional basis, I use my camera for travel photography and documentary work. Besides that, I also photograph a lot of landscapes, mostly for myself.

In the past, my Nikon D750 served me well on all of my journeys. My only problem: It kept me from being spontaneous. Wearing it on the waist was a little disturbing after a while, and I am definitely not a camera strap kind of person. Thus, my camera was either packed in a camera bag, or I carried it in my hand. For my projects, it was fine to only get the camera ready when I needed it.

Sometimes, unexpected opportunities turn up. Here, I was happy to have a small camera in the pocket of my rain jacket.

Every now and then, I had the feeling that I missed some shots — surprising impressions on the street, scenes which passed before I could get the camera out of my bag. Even in landscape photography, I was often too lazy to unpack my gear whenever there was no clear “keeper” in sight. Being frustrated about the restrictions of constantly traveling with heavy, albeit not the heaviest camera gear, I got myself a little everyday cam, an Olympus E-M10. Even though this camera could never reach the quality of my full frame Nikon, I love it. I could keep it basically in any pocket and get it ready whenever I wanted.

With a 17mm prime lens attached, I shot as many photographs with it as I did with my Nikon. I also used it for filming my trips and even some smaller commercial projects. As it always happens, I soon started thinking about upgrading it to the OM-D E-M1 Mark II, which I eventually did.

What Do I Shoot?

Of course, it was a hard decision to make. After all, you’ll lose many advantages when you “downgrade” from a full frame system to a sensor that is only half the size. The beautiful bokeh of wide-open portrait lenses, the amazing dynamic range, and not the least: the amazing detail at 100 percent magnification.

Dynamic range isn't one of its strengths, but it's still okay.

Isn’t that everything a photographer can dream of? Well, it depends. After I honestly reflected on my needs, I found that I hardly use any of these features. The last time I shot on f/1.8 was when I shot some business portraits for friends from university. And even there, f/5.6 would have been a better choice! I don’t need soft bokeh for my rough documentaries, and when I shoot landscapes, I can also use filters and HDR to compensate for the lack of dynamic range.

Full resolution of my ORF-files in comparison to what is needed for a National Geoographic-sized spread page at 300 dpi.

Even the resolution of my entry-level MFT would still be good enough for magazine-size prints. Let’s take a magazine with a spread size of 13 x 9 inches. Even though it’s unlikely that I’ll be asked to shoot for this magazine too soon, the resolution needed to fill it with 300 dpi is only 3,900 x 2,700 pixels. (10.53 MP) For web purposes, I’d even need to resize my pictures.

But Still: Why MFT?

High ISO quality is far from delicious. But how often do I really need it?

Hence, what I really need is a weather-sealed camera that I can carry wherever I want. But why MFT? Actually, the Olympus OM-D E-M1 is even 0.1 mm wider than a Nikon Z 7 and 6 mm wider than a Sony a7S III. Except for its smaller height, It’s not even that small. And even if I don’t need more than 20 MP, why not have them for a little crop?

So, here is the real reason: lenses and prices. I can get a new Sony a7R II for about the same price as my Olympus OM-D EM-1. But I can’t get a 24-70mm equivalent cheaper than my 12x40mm f/2.8 M.Zuiko. I also can’t get it smaller.

What Was That Tripod Thing For?

I haven’t shot with too many of the latest full frame cameras yet and have never checked their IBIS. Even if their stabilization systems can outdo mine, I’m quite sure that I can’t get better stabilization for the same price. In fact, I shot some photographs with a shutter speed of four seconds. They weren’t tack sharp, but were usable.

I still carry a tripod with me for landscape photography. After all, it helps me work on my compositions and get everything into the frame that I need. It keeps the composition fixed whenever I wait for better light, and I even use it to protect myself from wild dogs every now and then. Yet, it’s not the end of the world if I leave it at home. In most situations, I will be ready to shoot handheld with low ISO values, even in low-light conditions.

Handheld at 1/15 sec? No problem at all!

The Perfect Travel Companion

In conclusion, I found the perfect camera for most of my purposes. I saved a lot of money in comparison to some other systems, which means I can spend more on travel expenses and the organization of some private projects.

While I’m on the road, my camera is always ready, too. Lightweight and small, I even carry two prime lenses along with my zoom lens. The (non-PRO) M.Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8 together weigh below 250 g and fit into every pocket. My E-M1, E-M10, and three lenses make less than 1.5 kg in my bag and yet cover almost everything I need, including a backup body.

It's not about the sensor, it's about the light. Most of the time...

So, what does it teach us? Whenever discussing the best camera and what’s “dead,” we should take a look at our (and others') needs first. For me, the Olympus MFT-system fits best — at least at the moment. Others will prefer a different sensor, a different brand, different lenses. The market is full of individuals with individual preferences. If I ever switch to fashion, wedding, or studio portrait photography, I certainly will grab my full frame camera and only use my MFT system as an everyday solution. After all, Olympus also produces the most beautiful cameras, in my opinion.

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25 Comments

S Browne's picture

Right on, brother!

Tony Northrup's picture

I might have been the first to declare MFT dead, and I don't disagree with anything you've said here. Obviously the word "dead" is a metaphor, since a lens mount was never alive in the first place. It's also a verbal shortcut, since saying "dead" is simpler than giving a detailed background into the finances and future viability of multiple participating organizations.

To me, at least, for a product infrastructure like MFT to be "alive" there needs to be active development and innovation. I don't think that's in the cards for MFT long-term (though the GH6 launch should be interesting). The turning point for this, in my eyes, was in 2018/2019 when Panasonic focused their R&D on full-frame and Olympus started showing losses for their imaging division on their quarterly financials.

But is your MFT camera dead? No. 8 tracks still work, too, and people probably still enjoy them, but the infrastructure for 8 tracks is certainly "dead". As someone who helps consumers make buying choices, I wouldn't recommend someone invest in a new 8 track system. But if they already own it, by all means, keep enjoying it!

Nils Heininger's picture

Hey Tony,
I also think that no beginning photographer should be afraid to start with a "dead" system. Some years ago, I started with a D3300 and a version of SDP ;) , later went to full frame, needed new lenses and now found another system to serve my lower needs well, cheap, and light. In fact, I think most people switch their system at some point in life, anyway. Of course, it's self-deception to defend your camera just because of the sunk costs, when you really shouldn't invest in that 300mm Zuiko and rather spend it on a D500 or something.
After all, I think it's nice for beginning photographers to know that they aren't stupid or mistaken, just because they shoot on a smaller sensor. In some cases it might even outdo the disadvantages.

Scott Marder's picture

Tony, you make an interesting point about the need for active development and innovation to consider the MFT system alive. That remains to be seen. Certainly, there has been none for several years. We will see if the new OM Digital Solutions changes that. If not, over time, I agree the MFT system will likely go the way of the 8 track.

Having said that, there is a fundamental difference between an 8 track and a MFT camera. 8 tracks were large, difficult to use and sounded terrible compared to modern audio systems. In contrast, a MFT camera can produce images that rival full frame cameras under many conditions. MFT cannot match the dynamic range or low light capability of full frame, nor will they create the same bokeh that full frame can. Yet, for many uses, MFT images are indistinguishable from full frame. And, for some uses, MFT is actually superior, such as for travel, hiking and other activities where weight and size are critical.

I will likely never give up my full frame bodies for low light uses, such as weddings and events, or for commercial jobs that require the utmost resolution. However, then I hike and travel, I prefer the smaller MFT system, and am happy to give up some performance in exchange for a lighter system.

Stephen Strangways's picture

With the exception perhaps of Leica cameras, you don't "invest" in cameras. You buy them. And then you use them. If cameras and lenses are available today that fit your needs, buy them and shoot with them and enjoy them. What future innovation may or may not take place doesn't matter.

Does shooting with a 40 megapixel camera give you photos with more resolution than shooting with a 20 megapixel camera? Sure, but shooting with a 20 megapixel camera gives you far better photos than sitting in front of your computer and staring at lens road maps or constantly refreshing rumor websites.

Nuno Santos's picture

Glad you took a look to this article, as you were in fact one of those who proclaimed the death of this system, as recently the death of DSLRs and other systems. Each one lives in the best possible way, and if the videos with death in the title have more adherence, why not, because we all have bills to pay. Controversy will always be a way of generating discussion and interest from a commercial point of view for a youtuber. This type of approach is for the masses (content viewers) and not for the smaller groups of photographers or the ones who make a living out of photography. Like your last video, DSLR are dead ... well, where is the Leica S3 that is just released, the Leica M system, where is the PhaseOne XF system, the Hasselblad H system, the Pentax K3 III, the future K1 III and probably another generation of the 645 line. These are small numbers compared to other systems ,. of course, but apparently with sufficient financial return for all these systems to continue the development, as I believe will happen with M4/3. Sometimes Tony, a more humble and tailored approach to another type of audience, could open space for you to grow up in other communities, which normally represent the majority of professional photographers, who really make a living from photography.

S Browne's picture

I think 'dead end' is probably a more apt metaphor than 'dead'. There's nothing dead about MFT cameras, but if manufacturers have stopped working on development then MFT has come to the end of the road as far as further improvements.

Sam Tang's picture

“since a lens mount was never alive in the first place.” What BS.
Just admit it Tony, you were screaming loudly that MFT is dead for YouTube traffic.

Simone Sharmanay's picture

I agree Sam Tang . He posted that ill-informed, inaccurate video back in 2018, so that's an awful long death scene. Meanwhile new cameras and lenses keep appearing and lots of people are swapping over to MFT because of the lightness of the gear and the fantastic lens quality. Perhaps he could try writing something positive and supportive for a change, but maybe that is against his nature.

sam w's picture

the analogy for 8track has really emboldened me to go buy more m43 gear, if a crap tape deck from the 70s can still work 50 years later, then I'm excited to see how long my m43 gear can survive.

Tom Reichner's picture

I recently heard "dead" described/defined as something for which new, innovative technology is not being developed. I think this is a sound working definition for the way people use the word "dead" within the context of photography gear.

Hence, when companies stop putting R&D into new features and advancements for DSLRs, then DSLRs are dead. When auto manufacturers stop putting new, innovative technology into cars with gasoline engines, then gas engines will actually be "dead", even if millions upon millions of people still drive them on a daily basis.

So, according to the aforementioned definition of "dead", is micro-four-thirds dead, or not?

I mean, are manufacturers still developing new, innovative technology for the MFT format, or not? If not, then MFT is dead, even if thousands and thousands of people are still using them to produce compelling imagery.

Willy Williams's picture

MFT is certainly not dead for me. I use the wonderful Lumix G9 body with Pana-Leica lenses in real estate photography. The images that result are wonderful. Consider, please, that most images to be used in on-line RE work must be no larger than 2048 x 1536 MPxls per MLS demands. I have to down-size images from ~20 MPxls to just over 3 MPxls to put them online. The only place I find MFT lacking is in low-light work, due to the pixel pitch of the sensor. Aside from that, I have no complaints regarding image quality. As yet, no full-frame bodies provide a better feature set for my needs than the G9. The Lumix S1 and the Nikon Z6 II are the closest competitors in terms of feature set and a high pixel pitch. One day I may move to a full-frame body, but only when the feature set proves to be better for my needs. YMMV...

Troy Straub's picture

I love my Panasonic GX85! with a small backpack I can carry a ridiculous amount of kit. Camera body, kit 12-32 lens, 14-140, 100-300, 25mmf1.7, 4mm circular fisheye, 45mm macro, Olympus 60mm macro, 26mm extension tubes, raynox 250, Godox tt350, flash diffuser , plus spare batteries and cards.

Ed C's picture

Another angle on this is MFT is the dominant sensor type in drone photography by a very long shot. Now I get that isn't what we're talking about here but it seems to me that give some breathing room. There will be MFT production. How/if it fits into an interchangeable lens product long term???

Doug Walkey's picture

I can't disagree with any of your points. I shoot Olympus MFT every day and have no plans to switch. With any photo system, there are trade offs. The actual 35mm film was a huge trade off between carry-ability and image quality. Today the rules have changed.

Another rule that has changed is "click-bait". I'm not accusing you in any way, after all your article was on the subject you specified. Others (You know who you are) are known for milking controversy for every click it's worth.

Leon Kolenda's picture

For me, I don't care about Investment in Camera gear, I have 3 cameras. One is a G9 with five lens's and a number of items to go with it in a kit. I use it in my Studio and for landscape work, It prints 24x30 all day long! 95% of on-line printers can't print a true 16 bit file, go ahead and call a few and you will see, they all convert to 8bit, so dynamic range has it's limitations in the printed world, and Micro-Four-Thirds works beautifully for On-Line and Social-Media.

The support for MFT will be there for a Long Time, well after it is even done being MFG. There are a lot of great Len's for this format, and because of that, it will last. Look at Nikon, how many different lens's style's that are the same MM and for the same format, and many still use and buy them today. I buy cameras that fit Needs! My G9 is a work horse. But, I also have a Nikon Z6 and 2 lens's, 20mm f1.8 Z mount, and the 24-70mm F4 Kit lens. I use that kit for Astro and low-light, night-sky shoots. It works very well picking up where the G9 lacks in regards to it's low-light limitations.

Then I just got a Fuji X100V, APSC camera, that I love for a, take with me everywhere camera kit. So like I said No investment, just cameras for my needs. I have always asked my self, where are these images going and what kind of photography will I want to be doing, and that decides what camera gear I buy. Not one camera format for all types of photography, and travel. Sensor size and resolution are way over played. With todays AI Software developments, like PShops New Super Rez feature, and there only going to get better and better, along with other App developers creating the same thing, sensor resolution and size are not the important features any more, I think dynamic range, and ISO improvement is where RD should go. So, is MFT Dead, maybe to the Camera MFG's but it will survive.

S Browne's picture

Agree. I've used Panasonic MFT cameras since their inception and currently shoot a G9 too. I've been tempted a few times by the full-frame sirens, but exactly as you say, you can't see the difference when photos are posted online or printed. And I also agree that photo editing has shrunk what few advantages full-frame has. On the other hand, software will never shrink the size, weight or cost of full-frame lenses. I'm not a professional photography, but I once sold a 30x40 canvas print on canvas to someone who saw my image online. The print was gorgeous and as sharp as you please even up close, and I mean much closer than a normal viewing distance. Even I was amazed.

Ivor Rackham's picture

I couldn't agree with you more on this, Nils. I shoot with Olympus professionally and sevral of my colleagues here in the UK are switching over. There is an exciting line-up of equipment coming on Olympus's road map. The newly released Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO Lens is an amazing bit of kit, and there are hints of more exciting stuff on the horizon.

Having spoken with Olympus UK employees behind the scenes, I know they are confident about the future of the brand. Furthermore, there are top photographers here in the UK switching over to MFT because of the lightness and compactness of the kit. That coupled with the excellent quality of the glass, and the determination of the new owners of Olympus to make the brand work, I think the future is bright for the format and that brand, especially as Olympus has a long history of innovation that is continuing.

Furthermore, Olympus cameras are among the top four bestsellers in Japan.

Of course, there are doom-sayers and those with a vested interest in running the brand and the format down, as well as the click-baiters who know they can get people reading their negative reviews. They've been doing that for years, but it is still alive and kicking. Perhaps it's time they ate humble pie and admitted they are wrong.

Teemu Paukamainen's picture

"Perhaps it's time they ate humble pie and admitted they are wrong."
Never going to happen. Their loss though. :P

Michele Albrigo's picture

I don’t “buy cameras”, I rather “buy lenses”, and then cameras as a consequence. Right before the pandemic hit, I’ve settled for an Olympus 12-100 f/4 pro and a Panaleica 100-400, for landscape and travel photography. I did not get to use them very much, but I’ve never looked back to my FF kit, when I lug them around in a backpack for an entire day. Quality wise, the 12-100 is the best lens I’ve ever owned in 13 years across pro gear of many vendors, and I’ll probably squeeze every image I can out of it. MFT is a sweet spot for my use case, and it’s very enjoyable for other situations, like events, portraits and other random stuff.

(I have an E-M1 II and a G9 for dual-IS)

Kurt Hummel's picture

The EM1X and the 150-400 F4.5 are interesting but not for $9500. I would love to try the combo one day and hope OMD is able to keep things going so maybe I can.

Jerry Dalton's picture

I am a passionate hobbyist and I have two digital camera kits, Nikon, including a Z7 and M43. I love my OM-D. I take far more pics with the OM-D because it is my go-to travel, adventure, street, and carry every day camera. And it’s more fun.

Roger Cozine's picture

I agree with everything you've said. Plus full frame is both overrated and unaffordable to most people. For amateurs and budding professionals, the cost of a full frame camera forces you to make sacrifices that aren't necessary. A micro 4/3 or apsc camera can deliver on both photo and video quality while keeping things compact and affordable. Camera companies seem to have forgotten that not everyone can afford these new offerings. I shoot exclusively with Sony APSC, even Sony has failed to support it's non full frame platforms. If it weren't for Sigma, Tamron and Rokinon... I would have went back to micro 4/3.

jean pierre (pete) guaron's picture

No, it's NOT "dead". Some people love it - others love something else. That's how the world functions.

And people are entitled to run their businesses in this world, without this constant stream of comments suggesting they are about to go broke, go out of business, stop innovating, etc etc. It not only damages the businesses themselves - and Olympus hasn't been the only target for such nonsense, either! - but it damages the employment of all the workers in the companies these clowns keep targeting. It damages the interests of people who've already committed to the product of these companies. It damages the interests of all the suppliers to these companies, and the retail stores who are holding inventory of their products.

In short - they should shut up and stop trying to cause damage to everyone else.

Jacob R. Oskam's picture

Just being legally retired after more than 45 years professional photography I am more than happy with my Olympus MFT kit. Not to brain-fogged yet to remember lugging around with multiple bags loaded with large heavy gear I can tell you that there is nothing so refreshing to have a camera that performs better as my good old Nikon F3 with top of the line lenses, or with some software tweaking even better as my Rolleiflex 6008 with lenses so big that any similar Olympus focal length can make a full 360 rotation in such a Carl Zeiss or Schneider lens without doing any damage [lol]. My worn-out spine is truely pleased with the light weight.
BUT :
Like many of us I suffered from ' if it can be better it has to be better ' , and fooled myself hoovering from Olympus to Nikon (D3 , D700 , D810) to the entire Fujifilm X series up to the new X-T4 . But always kept my Olympus.
Recently was literally sick of my own indecisiveness and said 'Jacob you are retired now , make up your stupid mind ! Fuji or Olympus what will it be ?' - Now you know my history you will understand why i fell in love with the analogue interface of Fuji X , but their hopeless menu system always nagged me. And the only 3 months old X-T4 somehow does not nail it for me , to little buttons , somehow a not every intuitive interface , silly lens hoods keep on falling off and after two months lost my eye-cup , also happened twice on my X-H1. But on the end I could live with Fuji was it not for less image quality.
Whaaaat do I hear you say ?!
Yes and let me explain: Fuji X has a great but complicated sensor. The only perfect raw conversion app for fuji is CaptureOne20 (trust me I tried the lot) , but CaptureOIne20 is not the most intuitive app around. It has brilliant functions but it has tried to hard to 'be different'. But the Raw conversion rocks ... almost.
For Olympus I use DXO Photolab , version 3 was very good but version 4 is seriously better. It pulls out more quality off the Olympus RAW as that CaptureOne does from the Fuji file. Other RAW conversion apps always struggle with the Fuji sensor to come close.
But there it did not end:
The last edition of Photoshop has this magic 'enhance' function where one can double the output size of a RAW image. I tried that on both Olympus and Fuji and suddenly even an old fart like me was momentarily speechless and blown away. The already incredible sharp Olympus image became a format one could easy sell as a full frame original from any top pro camera. I went back and forth between images and simply could not believe what I was seeing. The same stunning sharpness as the 'small' original Olympus format but at a 2x as large metric dimension (4x file size) .
So back to the main question: Is MFT Dead ?
No I don't think so - thanks to the improved RAW conversions by DXO and Adobe it just came alive even more.
Why is the upgrade cycle of Olympus Pro cameras so slow ?
Simple:
With the OMD EM1 mark II Olympus did put out such a high standard that even the MX1 or the mark III did not really change much in quality. Their Pro lenses are already the best of the best , the cameras are extremely durable - all that is missing is the glamour of owing and lugging around a nice BIG FAT 'full frame'.
Be honest to yourself: How big do you print? How often do you print your images at all? How often do you get images published in a magazine and if so ...at full spread or just even a small editorial ? Regardless , for each of those the Olympus will fit the bill.
"Yeah but I crop my images" I hear you say? Seriously ? ... I crop in my camera but that is a subject to talk about in an other story ...