You’ve decided you want mirrorless. Sick of lugging the sack-of-potatoes camera and lens kit around, you’ve read (maybe even here at 2 Guys Photo) that despite a few compromises (battery life and focus tracking being chief among them), you really can have your cake and eat it too. Awesome image quality. Less visits to the chiropracter.
The mirrorless market has evolved quickly with Canon and Nikon still watching and waiting and a few companies going all in, namely Olympus, Panasonic, Fujifilm and Sony. Sure, there’s Samsung… but I don’t have any experience with their line-up and market share stats and reviews suggest I ought not worry about it.
A few months ago, I pontificated about the current mirrorless market (see here), announcing that Fujifilm was rocking it, Sony was trying hard and that micro-4/3 was… eh… “good enough“.
Today, there are three beautiful and popular cameras all sitting atop their respective line-ups. Fujifilm has the X-T1, Olympus the E-M1 and Sony the A7/A7r twins. You could add Panasonic’s GH3 (and now GH4) into the mix, but my earlier experience with the GH2 (awesome for video, average for stills) has kept me away. I may revisit with the GH4. These cameras all shed the rangefinder styling for SLResque dimensions and, importantly, all are weather sealed. That last piece is super important to me.
This post won’t contain full-on reviews, but rather some high level observations. I’ll cut to the quick: the alternate title for this could have been “Why do I keep coming back to m4/3?”
First though, the tussle…
You want a Sony of course because they managed to fit a full-sized sensor into a camera that’s roughly the same size as smaller sensored mirrorless cams. When it comes to sensors, bigger is better, right?
Fufjiilm has beautiful lenses, a top notch APS-C magical X-Trans sensor and good old fashioned coolness with dials and rings to make your heart sing.
Olympus, along with partner, Panasonic, have built out the most comprehensive lens line-up for their mount. And many of these lenses are jewels: sharp, light… beautiful.
But what’s wrong? Why do you tussle so?
Sony’s FE lens line-up is scant, offering slower zooms and even primes that are pricey. More are coming, but today there’s just not much there.
Fujiflm gives you a weather-sealed body but no lenses yet. Two and probably more are coming, but they’re not here now. The one everybody wants, a fast and wide-ish zoom has a 72mm filter size so expect it to be big and probably heavy. And that kind of defeats the whole smaller/lighter thing, right?
Olympus offers the smallest sensor of all. And that has to mean poor higher ISO performance, limited shallow depth of field manipulation ability, and noise at even low ISOs.
What to do? What to do?
Enter the alt title: Why do I keep coming back to m4/3?
Despite the fact that the Oly does have a smaller sensor, the body is beautiful. Buttons and dials abound and it’s the only one among these three that places the shutter button far forward of the strap lug. That may seem like a minor niggle, but it annoys the everlivingcrap out of me to have to reach around the strap, with it leaning into the craw of my index finger, to pounce on the shutter release. What does it have going for it? The beautiful 12-40/2.8 weather sealed lens, awesome AF, usable tracking AF, real HDR bracketing, and image quality that is good. OK, maybe it’s good enough.
Most importantly, the smaller sensor allows for smaller lenses. APS-C and full frame sensors demand APS-C and full frame (or pretty darn close) sized lenses. If I’m gonna go there, I’ll get a Nikon D610 and call it a day (and save a few bucks while I’m at it too).
[Rant alert — note to Olympus: Please!, Please!, Please! hire somebody new to work on your menus. They are the worst.]
Yeah, but what about the smaller sensor? As a photographer, aren’t you really all about getting THE best image quality possible? Well sure, but first of all, my experience with 4/3 is that the image quality is far from bad. It’s quite good actually. And with Olympus’ awesome in-body image stabilization and the mount’s small, super-fast (1.4 and 1.8 aperture) lenses, I can typically get around the increasingly minimal higher ISO constraints.
And speaking of constraints, my learning over the past year has been that pixel level sharpness and absolute noise free images, while nifty for engineer types, does little to make a image interesting or compelling or moving. Composition, good timing, and the artist’s instinct (which I continue to seek) are what truly count. I frequently stare at photos from last century, often made with cameras that today’s engineer types would denounce and I think, wow… why can’t I capture something like that?
The Olympus OM-D E-M1 gets out of my way (exception – see rant above)… it’s fast, it’s sensible, and the smaller lenses means I’m more likely to have it with me when I’m out and about, pursuing that wow.
Sure, Sony and Fujifilm have some real winners on their hands…
… but I do keep coming back to m4/3 again and again. That’s my tool of choice. Look for some images on these pages. Please give me some feedback and let me know how I’m doing. Thanks!