free
hit counter

Full Frame vs Micro Four Thirds

I apologize, that was a click bait title and a very dirty trick. Especially because the two can’t really be compared any more than you can compare a pickup truck and a passenger sedan. You are in the market for either one or the other. One will work for your situation and the other will not, at least in most cases.

Yet, when looking for information on Micro Four Thirds cameras (M43), this type of title comes up often. It gets annoying after awhile. I’m assuming most reading this know something about cameras and
photography and specifically about the advantages and disadvantages of
both systems.

Regardless, like the truck and the sedan, one camera will fit your needs more often than not and for the few times it won’t, there are plenty of work-arounds.

I’m not going to tell you which camera was used to make the photo above. I have both a full frame Canon 5D MKII and a Lumix GX9. There are plenty of ways, if you really want to know, to find out which camera made that image. I won’t tell you because it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the image was made, it exists.  For each camera, I  have several lenses, very good lenses in fact. But one of these cameras is much easier to carry around than the other. The camera that is easier to carry around makes it more likely to be used and that, more than the size of the sensor, is what lead to the image above being made.

The internet is filled with debates that border on religious fervor concerning this and I will not add to that other than to say, if you’re photographing inside of a cave, at night, and want it to look like daytime; then you will need the full frame sensor, a good flashlight, and some time to reflect on who hurt you so bad you need to get that type of shot. That is unrealistic and highly specific to the point of absurdity, but yet, very close to actual arguments being made about cameras today.

So why am I writing this almost a full year after the internet claimed M43 is dead? Well, because for one thing, it isn’t dead and two, it might actually be about to get bigger.

For the past year I’ve been shooting almost exclusively with the Panasonic Lumix GX9. I picked it up primarily to have something small and light. The idea was that I would get a small pancake prime and a walk-around zoom (24mm-70mm). Here I am almost exactly a year later and not only do I have those lenses, but also an 85mm Leica F1.2 & a 30mm Leica F1.7. 

Not only did I double the amount of lenses that I thought I would get, but I bought the highest end lenses available for the system. Why is this important? Well, I only have five lenses for my full frame camera and it took me about five years to get them. It took that long because they are expensive and required some serious consideration before purchasing. The M43 lenses on the other hand, while being some of the more expensive offerings, were only half the price. I could literally buy two of every lens and spend the same amount of money as one of each the full frame lenses.

The best part about the M43 lenses is that they are SMALL! Full frame lenses are simply, huge. Excellent, but huge. I had very high hopes for mirrorless full frame. I never switched to Sony when they showed up early to the party because the ergonomics of their bodies didn’t work for me, and the few lenses were gigantic.

When Canon finally showed up I was preparing to jump immediately, pre-order even. And then came the mount change….WTF? Forever it seems the advice was always to invest in glass. Which I did, very carefully, sometimes waiting months considering buying a lens before pulling the trigger.  A large part of the reason to jump to full-frame, back in the day, was that buying lenses WAS an investment. So why not buy the best and the most likely to last for years to come? Now I need to start over? The worst part was that the new lenses were way more expensive than the previous version they were replacing. In some cases nearly twice as much. 

I had to take a step back and rethink everything. Certainly wasn’t going to jump on the first version of the EOS R. I needed to see how the adapter would work and decided to wait for some reviews to see if it was worth it or not. In the meantime, I picked up the GX9. I really wanted something smaller and the EOS R was smaller, but now that I would have to wait on that to see if it was a flop or not, the GX9 was supposed to be my rebound girl.

I ended up proposing her.

By the time reviewers and critics came around on the EOS R and enough information was available on using the adapter with old lenses, it was too late. I was having too much fun with the GX9. It was easier to bring with me on trips or outings with the family. Not as easy as my beloved Ricoh GR Digital III (2010 version), but close enough. What’s worse, by using it so much, I had time to compare it to my 5D MKII in similar situations.

The result of this is that from my unscientific comparison, in real world use, the GX9 is as good, if not better than the 5D…………….even at higher ISO. I know that there is almost exactly ten years difference between these cameras. You can’t compare them. I know this because it’s the first thing I said to you in this article. Let me explain.

It’s true, you can’t compare the cameras or the tech, but you can compare the results. The results I got, shooting both cameras in similar situations, I saw no difference in output. Now if the 5D was good for me ten years ago, is still good for me now, but the GX9 is as good now and the GX9 is lighter, smaller, with smaller lenses and easier to pack on trips……then that’s a win in my book.

So now looking forward, the EOS R replacements are on the horizon. Decisions need to be made. The R5 is on it’s way (soon-ish considering the pandemic) with rumors of the R6 on it’s heels…………..Except, I’m not that interested.

The new cameras will be slightly more expensive than my 5D. I will need to buy the new RF glass, eventually. As more lenses come out, the price seems to climb higher for each release. Plus, they will always ship with a slap in the face, as they replace the exact same weather sealed “L” lens I already own.  Oh, and one more thing. Because so much attention is given to video these days, the new R’s will shoot 8K video. Great for video people, but the monster file sizes due the unnecessary high pixel count will require at least a reconsideration of workflow, if not an outright new system all together.  Yes, the new glass is better image quality, and yes you can shoot at smaller file sizes. But you don’t buy a Porsche to only drive it in first gear to the supermarket down the street.

Where does that leave me? I have no need for more than 20-30 megapixels. I’ve sold images printed at 20”x30” that were made with that GRD III (that I mentioned earlier) and that was a point and shoot camera. The short answer is that I simply don’t require the level the the new EOS R cameras have gone too. I need something in between the  R and the R5 / R6 and I needed it a while ago. 

While I love the GX9, it’s not quite right for me. We’ve decided to call off the engagement and remain friends. The rangefinder style is great in some situations, but I prefer the ergonomics of the SLR form factor of her sister the G9. 

I think there will be a lot of other photographers in the same boat regarding the full frame mirrorless cameras. I don’t think M43 is going to go away and with the release of the Olympus EM1 MKIII, there is still a place for M43. It just might be time to say good by to Canon and full-frame, as I sell some of my lesser used “L” glass to pick up a G9 and get more handheld shots like above.