More than a decade after their release, Micro Four Thirds cameras are still a perfect tool for filmmakers and photographers who look for quality, portability and versatility in their kit. So let’s look at a system that has changed the market and the indie filmmaking world since it appeared.
What is a Micro Four-Thirds camera?
Micro Four Thirds (MFT) is a camera standard launched in 2008 by Panasonic and Olympus. The name refers to the sensor’s aspect ratio (4:3). The size of the sensor is 17.3 mm x 13 mm, which makes it approximately 25% of a full-frame sensor. When Panasonic introduced the system, its philosophy was clear: good quality images in smaller cameras and lenses. They achieved that by eliminating the mirror of the DSLR camera and reducing the flange focal distance. This feature makes the MFT system compatible with an infinite number of lenses via an adapter.
Another aspect to consider is the field of view. Due to the sensor’s size, the camera has a crop factor of x2, meaning that when you put a 50mm full-frame lens in a Micro Four Thirds camera, it becomes a 100mm lens. So to get the same field of view of a 50mm lens, you need to mount a 25mm lens.
The system was borne mainly with photographers in mind. Then, however, brands started incorporating video into their cameras (the Panasonic GH1 was the first). Over the years, the system developed thanks to the release of cameras like the Panasonic Lumix GH5, a flagship for a generation of filmmakers in an era where filmmaking itself was changing (Youtube, social media content creators, vloggers, etc.)
One of the merits of the MFT system is that its affordability and capabilities allowed many new filmmakers to start producing high-quality videos with these cameras.
Pros and cons of the MFT system
Micro Four-Thirds cameras are compact, lightweight and perfect for traveling and small setups. Lenses are also smaller than their full-frame and APS-C equivalents.
One of the aspects that make the MFT system excel is its functionality. You will find all the options you need to film and take pictures. For example, you can film with a small pancake native lens for a travel video or put an anamorphic cinema lens for narrative filmmaking. In addition, the development of active adapters such as the Metabones Speedbooster, which increased the camera’s field of view and the lens’s maximum aperture, opened many possibilities.
MFT cameras share the same lens mount, no matter which model and brand. This does not happen in full-frame, where your brand choice affects the lenses you can use. So you can pair an infinite range of lenses with an MFT camera. You can also use a lot of lenses from other systems with an adapter.
Micro Four-Thirds cameras are usually cheaper than Super 35 or full-frame cameras, so you can build your system at a fraction of the cost if you go for MFT.
The main downside compared to full-frame sensors is image quality. Micro Four-Thirds cameras are still a step behind. However, more often than not, this quality loss is not significant, and for most situations, they will get you more than you would expect.
Low light performance
If you need to shoot in low-light situations, using a full-frame sensor for a cleaner image is safer and will give you less noise and artifacts at high camera ISOs. But you can solve this with faster lenses.
Depth of field
Due to the size of the sensor, you won’t have that shallow depth of field you would with a full-frame camera. Luckily, the ”bokeh equals cinematic’‘ trend ended years ago. Movies are not shot at f/1.2, isolating the subject from everything else, and DoPs generally stop down the aperture to put the characters and locations in context and show the art direction and other elements in the scene. However, if you are also into photography (portraits, for example), a full-frame camera could give you that extra bokeh needed for certain shots.
How it makes you look
Unfortunately, there are still many people who consider that bigger is better. Even if the result is the same, there is a perception that it’s ”more professional” to show up with a big camera for a paid project. Some clients pay, and they want to see gear in action, not only the result.
In the end, it’s your work, talent, composition, a good script, good acting, lighting, etc. These factors will determine your job’s quality. Steven Spielberg would film a better movie with an old camcorder if he had a good story and crew than he would with the last full-frame camera, a bad script and bad actors.
Get unlimited royalty-free 4K footage
What types of creators would need an MFT camera?
Micro Four-Thirds cameras are perfect for many situations, especially these days, with companies hiring creators to produce video and photography on the same package.
Travel filmmakers and vloggers
Due to their size and portability, MFT cameras are the perfect gear for traveling or vlogging. And although full-frame and APS-C cameras have reduced their size recently, when you include the lenses and the whole setup, it adds up. When every gram counts, the MFT system shines, allowing you to carry all your equipment in a backpack.
A Micro Four-Thirds camera could be the perfect companion for creating online content. You are usually under a budget as a beginner, so there’s no need to spend a fortune on the latest full-frame camera. Versatility, a flippable screen, good autofocus and enough image quality for your creations are all you need.
MFT cameras, in general, give you photography and video in the same package. This is awesome for filmmakers who take pictures or photographers who shoot videos. Clients and companies are demanding this versatility more and more, sending one shooter to do all the job. Not having to carry 2 cameras is also an advantage!
Small production companies
Filmmakers who need quick setups and long battery life in weddings, corporate videos, etc., will also take advantage of the Micro Four-Thirds system. Knowing your gear will get the same results and image quality as with bigger cameras.
Stock footage filmmakers
Creators filming casual stock footage or traveling a lot will also benefit from these systems. Some of the best MFT cameras record high-quality clips in 12 bit and professional formats such as Pro-Res and RAW, with features like high FPS and log profiles to grade later. That’s excellent for stock footage.
MFT is a perfect system for hobbyists who want to step up from their smartphones to an interchangeable lens camera system. You will notice the difference in quality and options and improve your skills. So if you choose Micro Four-Thirds, you won’t need to spend a fortune on your camera system.
To sum up, MFT cameras are lightweight, cheaper, compatible with lots of mount and lenses, offer good quality and are adequate for many jobs. While full-frame and APS-C cameras have bigger sensors and better overall quality, you need to ask yourself what your goals are. Are you taking pictures for billboards or posting videos on social media? Are you filming feature films for the big screens or videos for people to watch on their smartphones? If you’re pixel peeping, go for a full-frame camera. But, if you need versatility, good quality and price, MFT could be the perfect solution.
Best Micro Four-Thirds cameras for 2022
For well-known reasons, we have experienced a decrease in camera releases in the last 2 years. The good thing is that creators have put more emphasis on content creation than on following the unstoppable rhythm of the market. The other good thing is that cameras released some years ago are still relevant in 2022. So let’s check out some of the best Micro Four-Thirds cameras, in no particular order.
Panasonic GH5 II
Image via https://www.panasonic.com/
When Panasonic launched the GH line, many filmmakers found an alternative to the dominant Canon line (5D MKII, 7D). The first camera (GH1) was a real innovation. The brand released a hybrid camera with an electronic viewfinder, an interchangeable lens system and a bigger sensor than camcorders had.
The video capabilities were excellent, improving as the new models appeared. And when the GH5 was launched in 2017, Panasonic tore down the wall: filmmakers and production companies found all the features of a pro video camera in the body of a mirrorless that could also take excellent pictures.
In 2021 they updated the camera with the Panasonic GH5 II.
Like its predecessor, it has everything you can dream of in a video camera of this size and price: fantastic image quality, professional video features, anamorphic mode, etc. It is also a superb photo camera. Battery life is one of the best on the market, and its color science has improved. It also includes the V-Log profile with the camera.
Cons: If you own the original GH5, maybe you want to wait for the GH6 as it doesn’t have the best autofocus system.
Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 4K
When Blackmagic released the BMPCC 4K, many filmmakers and small production companies switched to the system and never went back. It has fantastic image quality in a dedicated video camera, amazingly intuitive menus and all the possibilities of an MFT system regarding lens compatibility. Add adapters like the Metabones Speedbooster increased its field of view and made it compatible with full-frame lenses. The camera records RAW and ProRes up to 120fps and has a 5″ touchscreen LCD that is a pleasure to use. Add to all that a license key for Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio, and you get a powerful all-in-1 piece of gear.
Why is it still relevant in 2022? Because the BMPCC4K is perfect for indie commercials, documentaries, corporate videos and short films. It is hard to find a camera with this price and these features on the market. Also, the constant updates add and improve different features, such as the number of fps you can record.
Cons: you will have to spend extra money to make it functional (short battery life, rigging options, storage, etc.), and if you need a hybrid camera, its limited stills function won’t be enough. Also, it’s not the perfect camera for vlogging or YouTube due to the lack of a flip screen.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III
Image via https://www.getolympus.com/
If you are a photographer who also needs to shoot video for your clients, this camera could be your option. It is versatile, fast and compact, being maybe the smallest professional photo camera on the market. It features more than 20 megapixels, a precise focusing system, UHD 4K video -with an HDMI output supporting 4:2:2 8-bit color-, OM-Log profile for extra latitude in post-production… and the jewel of the crown: the 5-Axis Sensor-Shift Image Stabilization. You have to test it to believe it: it’s not like a gimbal, but it’s close. So if you value portability, an all-in-one solution and your main focus is photography, we highly recommend this Olympus camera.
Cons: Video capabilities are not as powerful as the other models in this list.
Panasonic LUMIX BGH1 and Z CAM E2 M4
Images via https://www.panasonic.com/ and https://www.z-cam.com/
If you want to build your camera, starting with box-style modular systems is an excellent way to start. Because these cameras don’t have screens or viewfinders, you can choose your models and rig them up the way you want. Their small form factor makes them perfect for drone or gimbal work too. Both cameras record video in professional formats. The Z CAM supports ProRes 422, and the LUMIX BGH1 offers the most common Panasonic formats up to 10-bit 4:2:2, incorporating VariCam Look workflows such as V-Log L.
Finally, although Panasonic is a more established brand with well-known customer support, Z CAM listens to its users and constantly improves its cameras via firmware updates. In addition, their community is growing on social media, giving feedback and solutions to other users.
The future of MFT cameras
Will Micro Four-Thirds cameras disappear? Sooner or later, like everything else. The questions are: ”when?’‘ and ”does that affect your choice?” The 2nd question depends more on your needs as a filmmaker. You can create for years with 1 camera and its many available lenses.
The 1st question is more complicated. First, smartphones have substituted point-and-shoot cameras, and many of these models were Micro Four-Thirds. With the improvement of mobile phones as tools for taking images, many casual and new photographers have decided to get a phone with a powerful camera instead of buying a small camera.
Olympus, who had been the only brand that remained faithful to the MFT system, announced in the middle of 2020 that it was selling its camera division to an investment fund, alerting many users. Why did this happen? According to Olympus, it was “to cope with the extremely severe digital camera market, due to, amongst others, rapid market shrink caused by the evolution of smartphones.” However, despite all this uncertainty, Olympus MFT sales were pretty good in Japan in 2020.
After developing some of the best MFT cameras, Panasonic started its full-frame line and L mount alliance with Leica and Sigma. However, the brand has officially supported the MFT system, even launching new models during this period of uncertainty. The GH6 has indeed been delayed several times, but we have to consider that all brands are suffering from the global silicon shortage, silicon being one of the components used to make the cameras.
It’s hard to tell what will happen. Maybe the expected GH6 could be the player deciding the future. The company says it will be released in early 2022, with a newly developed Micro Four Thirds sensor and the new Venus Engine processor. Maybe these and other new features could renovate the system. How the filmmaking community will receive the camera could give us a clue into the future of MFT.