What Impact Does Sensor Size Have On the Quality of Your Photographs?

Micro Four Thirds offers some definite advantages over full frame when it comes to the size of the lenses, but what compromises come with it — and what role does equivalence play?

Landscape photographer, James Popsys, runs you through the difference between shooting on his Panasonic G9 and his Panasonic S5. If you’re thinking that full frame automatically clinches it in terms of image quality when shooting in low light, remember that you also need to consider equivalence, which Popsys explains.

One thing to correct Popsys upon: the Micro Four Thirds system may have a sensor with a ratio of 4:3, but — slightly confusingly — this is not how Micro Four Thirds gets its name. The 4/3” measurement actually refers to an antiquated system based on the vacuum tubes once used inside video cameras. For example, while you might think that the 1” sensor found inside the Sony RX100 might be huge, it actually measures 0.35 x 0.47 ” (9 x 12 mm). A Micro Four Thirds sensor (which is not a smaller than a Four Thirds sensor — that’s the same thing) measures about 0.71 x 0.53 “ (18 mm × 13.5 mm).

All of that before you try and get your head around equivalence. Good luck!

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33 Comments

Jeff McCollough's picture

MFT is dead.

Jacques Cornell's picture

You wish. You know what's dead? Sony APS. Too bad, too, because all it needs is a front dial and a couple of decent f4 zooms and f2 primes at mid-range prices. Sigma's f1.4 prime trio is killer, but it's not enough. As a Sony 35mm shooter, I'd be all over it. But, as it is, I'd rather stick with my GX9 and the much more extensive MFT lens lineup.

JEREMY MOORE's picture

Sony sells plenty of their A6000 series bodies. I have a GX85 and G9 too...but Sony still has a few legs up on us with APSC

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

When it comes to APS-C, one have to wonder about what the future holds for Canon. Canon's EF-M hasn't seen new lenses for years now, and there aren't any APS-C RF camera bodies (yet?); it seems Canon is focused on FF RF bodies & lenses right now.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I see Jeff can't even make a reasoned argument about my post. Sad.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Why should I when you just start acting like a jerk and insulting me.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I didn't insult you until you called happy MFT users "fanboys". Ya gets what ya sows.

Desmond Downs's picture

Let's see how many "thumbs down" the original comment gets :)

Jeff McCollough's picture

Bunch of MFT fanboys I bet.

Petr Svitil's picture

lol, I don't even own a MFT system and I disagree with you

Jacques Cornell's picture

USERS, not "fanboys". Troll.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Wow you are a very polite and nice person.

Jacques Cornell's picture

"Fanboys". Yeah, you are a very polite and nice person. NOT.
You're a troll, and rude, too. Back atcha.

Jeff McCollough's picture

All I ever see you do on here is troll people. I think you should take your MFT and take some pictures to relax buddy.

Jacques Cornell's picture

As if "fanboys" is not trolling. Look in the mirror.

Jeff McCollough's picture

*yawn*

Jacques Cornell's picture

Back atcha, troll.

Luca Santirocco's picture

It depends on the photographer.
A good one could use a 20 yo Canon 300D and produce great images.
People on the forum, usually tech guys and not professional, can't get a good shot without the last hardware and software available.

David Pavlich's picture

True, however, put a pro on pitch with a 300D and a 1DxIII. Pretty sure that the pro will get more keepers with the 1DxIII. Gear does matter.

Luca Santirocco's picture

I think no one could distinguish between the two photo

Ed Wojtaszek's picture

Interesting video. For me, Lumix G9 and 25mm prime on the street in daylight, aging and trusty Nikon D750 for natural light, flash, and low light with any lens. MFT is probably dying, but the Lumix G9 and GH5 remain popular for video used by vloggers and YouTubers. The size of the MFT camera and lens is a big advantage when you carry it on a long hike, but market forces will eventually kill it. I don't think the format has ever been popular with studio photographers, other professional photographers who need better low light and artificial light performance, or those who don't mind lugging heavy equipment.

Jacques Cornell's picture

A good intro to the topic that touches on something many folks don't realize about the larger format's "noise advantage", which is that in order to realize the benefit, you MUST accept shallower DoF. If the shot requires greater DoF than you can get from an f1.2 prime on MFT, there's absolutely no noise advantage with the larger sensor.

In summary: You can do things with each that you can't do with the other. Duh. The online format battles are stupid.

Also, James sees a noise difference at ISO 1600 because he's processing with Lightroom. Run those files through DxO PhotoLab 4 Elite or the new PureRAW, and that difference will almost entirely disappear. You have to shoot MFT at ISO 3200 or above in order for the difference to remain substantial even after processing with DxO. IOW, at moderate ISO DxO essentially closes the gap, and at quite high ISO DxO narrows it from 2 stops to about 1 stop.

Matthew Turner's picture

Your first point is true except at very low iso. A full frame camera at iso 100 would need iso 25 on m43 for equivalent noise levels, and I'm not sure that m43 cameras go that low. So for photographers shooting on a tripod where shutter speed doesn't matter much, you can get lower noise, better dynamic range and better shadow recovery with a larger sensor.

Jacques Cornell's picture

Except that at base ISO, noise is essentially non-existent unless you're pixel-peeping at 100%. Make a print, or employ a little NR, and it goes away. If you're seeing noise at base ISO, you're looking at pixels, not pictures. Photo buyers care not at all.

Sourov Deb's picture

Crappy with Phase One or Nice photo with a Panasonic DMZ200.
You know the answer.
And, welcome to the world of AI where software can make your old camera raws better.

venkatakrishnan ramanathan's picture

Isnt there something called ISO equivalence, to make the comparison? I am a novice, still I feel ISO 800 on FF might equate to more than ISO 1600 on MFT.

venkatakrishnan ramanathan's picture

In fact as said at 14:20 iso 800 on ff mightl be roughly equal to iso 3200 on mft. Still as Ed Wojtaczek said mft for shoots in good light and travel, FF for low light and indoor studio flash work

Tdotpics photography's picture

Who is taking a picture On the camera I just put on Instagram who cares about the aspect ratio

John Reed's picture

Good balanced overview thanks James. Another practical solution without two completely separate systems - FF and m4/3, is offered by mirrorless now. A high resolution FF body allows for excellent detail and dynamic range in a landscape and can function as APSC for travel, especially with a longer telephoto, so getting much of the size and weight advantage. My Sony a7riv is still 26mp in APSC mode, which works well with the APSC 70-350 and weighs over a kilo less than the FF 200-600. I did also buy a Sony APSC body and standard zoom as well, and the combo weighs less than my m4/3 equivalent, now sold. Canon and Nikon are rapidly building their mirrorless systems which will allow the same flexibility to use APSC lenses on FF bodies that are hardly any heavier than smaller formats.

Nigel Voak's picture

When I picked up the Nikon Z7 at my dealers, I knew that for me M43 was dead.

I wanted a one lens solution for hiking and the choice was between the Z7 +24-200 and the Olympus EM1 +12-100. They weigh about the same, so the choice was obvious, as it would be with the Z5 +24-200 if we want to match price.

From that simple comparison I realised that for those of us who use lenses up to about 200mm , M43 does not make sense anymore. Probably Olympus realised this too when they paid JIC to take the camera division off their hands.

It was a great cost effective system when I bought my EM5 back in 2014, but the system seemed to wither on the vine and lose direction as time went on.

Sourov Deb's picture

"Probably Olympus realised this too when they paid JIC to take the camera division off their hands."
First of all, no. Olympus is more than a camera company. They did that to get rid of some old contracts. And MFT is far from dead. It is shining in the video department. Will continue to do so forever.
And don't forget, nothing in life is perfect. Never was. Never will be.
Something has worked out fine for you that's fine. It does not have to be same for everyone else.

Rosalind Furlong's picture

A lot of men tell me MFT is dead but as a woman I can tell you the weight advantage is huge. It’s not just the camera but the lenses too. The 45mm is tiny. After years of lugging my 5D Mark II on my travels it’s now such a relief to take my EM5 and its 12-200 zoom which pretty much covers everything you need.

Sourov Deb's picture

Bonsoir madame, I totally agree. MFT is rather a blessing is photography. Itnis a perfect combination of quality, size and technology.