Is M4/3 good for macro?

Discussion in 'Olympus Cameras' started by mesmerized, May 3, 2016.

  1. mesmerized

    mesmerized Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 18, 2012
    Dear Users,

    I'm asking this question out of pure curiosity and nothing else. I've just watched a short video review of Olympus 60mm lens where the reviewer claims that due to its small sensor M4/3 cameras are not great for macro photography. Could you share your opinions on this matter?


    Last edited: May 3, 2016
  2. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    Actually for lots of macro the smaller sensor is an advantage as you gain effective DoF for a given angle of view, with full frame you end just up stopping down...

    There's advantages to it sure, however it's not a free lunch by any means.
    Last edited: May 3, 2016
    • Agree Agree x 3
  3. There are advantages and disadvantages to different formats for macro, but his one cited reason doesn't make any sense. You get more of the subject at life-size with full frame? Huh?

    Who cares whether it's life-size? Due to the 2x crop 4/3 format can get the same subject to fill the frame with a lens only doing 1:2 macro. A 4/3 format 1:1 macro lens can fill the frame with a subject half the size compared to a 1:1 35mm format macro. If I print an 12x8 of a spider filling the frame, will anybody know whether it was shot with m4/3 at 1:2 or 35mm at 1:1?

    There seems to be an obsession with what the specifics of 1:1 (life-size) macro are, but almost no-one talks about why it matters. Sure, if you're talking about absolute system MTF, a larger higher resolution sensor with a well matched lens is theoretically capable of producing finer detail than a smaller, lower resolution format.

    It somewhat overlooks the fact that the bigger the format (and lens) the harder (and more expensive) it is to effectively design quality optics to match. It also overlooks the fact that you will need to VERY carefully control the system in order to achieve such detail - any motion of either subject or camera system will negate most differences. Bigger camera systems are harder to keep steady, bigger shutters produce more vibration, etc. If you want to see a major difference, you probably need a fixed mount with still subject on a windless day, combined with mirror lock-up, electronic shutter, electronic first curtain, etc.
    • Agree Agree x 5
    • Like Like x 1
  4. eteless

    eteless Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jun 20, 2014
    I didn't actually watch the video so I overlooked something so silly...

    You can get more of the subject in frame with 4x5! or 8x10! or 12x16!
  5. jrsilva

    jrsilva Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 1, 2012
    I think Mark's Macro work done with micro 4/3 gear speaks by itself:
    Macro Illustrated
    • Agree Agree x 12
  6. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    As already said, with macro one big problem is often DoF, this means to stop down the FF lens more canceling many of the bigger sensor advantages (not all, I think DR is not affected for example).
    Even if you keep the same aperture, with macro you often use some kind of artificial light so you shoot at base ISO and the difference at base ISO with good light is very small. Compare the E-M10/Pen-F (RAW, 200 ISO) with the 5D mk3, Sony 7S mk2 or the Nikon D5 here (I suggest these as they have a comparable resolution):

    Olympus OM-D E-M10 Review

    @jrsilva@jrsilva if I remember correctly many of the sample shots on Mark site are shot with an "ancient" G1 or an humble DMC-FZ50...
  7. jrsilva

    jrsilva Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 1, 2012
    Yes, and he is using a Panasonic G6 and Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm Macro.
  8. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 10, 2010
    Kiillarney, OzTrailEYa
    well ... my advice is: try reading threads here instead of Zombies of Moronity making illogical claims

    Watering The Ants ...

    some images from that above thread ... you can look at the rest ... Anyone saying its no good for Macro is trying to sell you something. As it happens I have this bridge going really cheap ... PM me for details and my bank account numbers






    This nocturnal ant handicapped by a dented head.
    Four Portraits *Macro

    Things That Fly ...
    • Like Like x 10
  9. hazwing

    hazwing Mu-43 All-Pro

    Nov 25, 2012
    I agree, Marks work speaks for itself.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  10. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 10, 2010
    Kiillarney, OzTrailEYa
    to Quote Mark:
    • Informative Informative x 1
  11. mesmerized

    mesmerized Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 18, 2012
    These pictures are just mind-blowing...

    As for what wjiang said... I don't thing I got the point, but my knowledge of macro photography is super limited.

  12. Mark's examples are a superb example of what skill, experience and using the right tool for the job mean, more than the absolute technical factors of the equipment.

    Even so, such examples of excellent insect macro with m4/3 don't actually demonstrate the specific weaknesses or merits of the format for macro. If you can set up a static rig with a 36 MP FF monster and a high quality macro lens to match you can bet it will give higher detail with less noise than a 20 MP m4/3 combination, it just takes work, money and preparation to get there. A high resolution shot from the latest pixel shifting Olympus bodies might do just as well. In my opinion, however, both would be too cumbersome for field work with live insects, and actually quite overkill for most macro applications. For specific scientific set ups (think cameras mounted via adapter to microscope rigs), a bigger sensor might actually make a meaningful difference.

    As for the specifics of what 1:1 (aka 1x magnification) actually means:

    You can make a similarly framed photo with a smaller, shorter focal length lens that requires less magnification, provided you are happy with the resolution and noise characteristics of the smaller sensor when enlarged to the same output size. It's not coincidence that I used 50mm as an example - Olympus happened to make an excellent 50mm f/2 4/3 macro lens that only did 0.5x magnification, but could do a similar framing job to a 1x macro lens on 35mm.
    • Agree Agree x 2
  13. Phocal

    Phocal Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 3, 2014
    • Agree Agree x 1
  14. piggsy

    piggsy Mu-43 All-Pro

    Man, I don't know if any of the advice in that video is really so great. If you use the technique suggested ("use f11 and crank the ISO up") I am not sure you will get great pictures on ... anything much? Maybe the a7s2 will save you there? There are plenty of people using 1" and sometimes even smaller cameras to do pretty neat macro work and I don't think it's really amazingly relevant unless you have some other factor in it (eg it has to be macro video of a lightning fast bat eating centipede shot in a cave under moonlight) that would complicate it. There are a dozen other things I would say are more relevant to macro work than sensor size of a camera or generation of camera sensor or whatever.

    case in point - those ant pics. Only one of those is an early generation m43 shot, the rest are even more ancient gen 1/1.8" shots. In your opinion did the sensor size make everything but the last one look bad?
  15. Klorenzo

    Klorenzo Mu-43 All-Pro

    Mar 10, 2014
    I always thought that 1:1 macro means that you can take a subject that has the same size of the sensor and fill the frame with it. So for m43 this could be a small post stamp and you get a 16MP reproduction of this thing (with the O60 for example).
    Now if I take a FF sensors with a 1:1 macro lens (Canon 100/2.8 L for example) I can no longer fill the frame with this same post stamp at minimum focus distance, is this correct?
    So I have to crop down the image to one quarter(?) to get the same framing. So even with the best sensors around I'm going to get a final image with a lower resolution and with the same noise characteristics of an m43 sensor.

    If I've not lost something somewhere this means that crop sensors have a big advantage when comparing "1:1" macro lenses of their own systems and you need to move to something fancy like the Canon MP-E 65mm to get similar or better results (in terms of final/print magnification and resolution). Correct?
  16. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 10, 2013
    yes, m43 is just fine for macro. Granted, if you're mostly interested in studio work you might be able to build a better "rig" with other systems.
    M43 has three big advantages for me:
    1) excellent small macro lenses (I had a Nikon camera with the 105mm VR before, which was a great lens, but I left it at home most of the time because of weight)
    2) great stabilization - allowing for handheld (or monopod) closeup shots
    3) thanks to the smaller sensors you can do nice close-up shots even with the m43 standard zooms. (Examples below) I even got some nice macros/closeups with small sensor compacts or my phone. A smaller sensor can be an advantage too :)

    oh and 4) with the latest firmware updates some Oly cameras got a 'focus stacking' feature, which can save a lot of time

    these shots are technically close-ups (rather than macro) but done with the Olympus standard zooms & handheld:

    18147834961_194cee09b8_c. Wild Columbine by tilman paulin, on Flickr

    15360901888_30b3043a62_b. more tears by tilman paulin, on Flickr

    20231223352_3ac4f74910_c. three days at the beach by tilman paulin, on Flickr

    22834661963_7384bc9e33_c. Untitled by tilman paulin, on Flickr
    Last edited: May 3, 2016
    • Like Like x 6
  17. Yip. That was the other half of my example - take a 1x macro on 4/3 and you can fill the frame with a subject half the size compared to 1x on 35mm. Again though, the obsession with 1:1 is rather pointless, it's almost a marketing thing now to label a macro lens 1:1, nobody seems to make 0.5x macros anymore because it sounds silly. But then look at the Olympus 12-50 with its 0.36x macro mode - that's giving the same framing as a 0.72x macro on 35mm, not bad (it's obviously less sharp and not as flat field like a true macro though).
  18. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Mar 21, 2014
    Yes, M4/3 is good for macro.


    Photo taken by a rank amateur (me), with no artificial lighting, at ISO 800, using a clip-on macro diopter on a notoriously average telephoto (Panasonic 100-300mm) in highly diffraction limited territory (f/11).

    This image printed very well at 16x20" and is hanging up behind my couch right now.

    You may have much higher standards than I, though.
    • Like Like x 4
  19. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Legend

    What about all the cool macro focus features on m4/3? In camera focus stacking, focus bracketing, post-focus with 4k, etc. Focus is always the hardest part of macro, so those are very nice features.
  20. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Legend

    Exactly right.

    The sensor-to-subject magnification ratio made sense when we were using film, because then your subject would be the same size on the negative as it is in real life. And this would be true, regardless of the size of film you were using. You could hold up the negative to a light box and there's your 15cm spider taking up 15cm wide swath of film area.

    To be honest, it was the same with the focal length crop factor when using film. Say you shot a 50mm lens on 35mm film, and then used a 50mm lens on 110 film to take a picture of the same subject from the same position. If you then placed the negatives side by side, you would see that the elements of the photograph are all the same size on the two negatives. An item taking up 10cm of film length on the 110 film would take up 10cm of film on the 35mm frame.

    With film of similar quality, when making print enlargements, the size of the subject on the negative essentially dictated the resolution and quality of the prints you could make. So 1:1 meant the same film area on any sized film and film area dictated the maximum print size and quality.

    But in the digital realm, we don't see the "negative". We see pixels projected onto a screen or printed on paper. The size of the subject on the sensor is irrelevant on its own. What is relevant is what can get me the most quality pixels of my subject. So instead of just comparing magnifications at sensor level, we need to compare what can get me the most low-noise pixels of the subject/framing I want. 4/3 gives a very nice balance of sensor size for this. It is small enough that the pixel density/crop factor is high. But it is large enough that we still get nice low-noise images. I think 20MP 1" sensors might be even better, but m4/3 is up there at the top and has some more useful features and high quality native macro lenses.
    • Agree Agree x 3
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