My latest foray into FF mirrorless - and why I'm sticking with m43

pdk42

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This is a variant of a piece I posted over on Nikon Cafe. To cut a long story short, I've been looking at FF again. It started with me playing with a Z6 on a recent pilgrimage to B&H. Wow I thought - this is a NICE camera and the lenses look great and fairly compact. Then, a couple of weeks later I was sucked into the dementor-like vortex of gloom and despondency that was triggered by the E-M1x launch (it's amazing really that the launch of a range-topping camera could have caused so much angst!!).

I ran a Canon 5dii plus a bunch of L lenses before I got into m43 and I swapped because (a) I was fed up of the size and weight, (b) m43 was just better from a shooting perspective and I started enjoying my photography more, and (c) the IQ was pretty close for most of what I did.

But that was in 2013 and FF has moved a long way since then, especially mirrorless; and m43? - well not so much! So, I thought - well, now might be the time to return to FF. So I invested quite a bit of time looking at the current state of the Sony A7 system and the new Nikon Z system. You know the sort of thing - reading reviews and opinion pieces until 2 in the morning :), playing with sample raws, building shopping baskets on popular retailer web-sites, making lists of how much my m43 gear might be worth. I'm sure you've all done it (haven't you? ;)).

I also paid a visit to a local photo store (amazingly, these things still exist in the UK!) and spent an enjoyable couple of hours with an A7iii and a Z6 (thanks to Tom at London Camera Exchange in Leamington - fantastic store and people!). I went in planning to buy a Z6, but I came out with my wallet still firmly closed. Here's why...

  • There are things that my EM1.2 does that neither the Z6 nor the A7iii do that are important to me. I'm talking about things like Livetime, Livecomp, over/under indicators on live view, handholdability of several seconds when using sync IS (e.g. with the 12-100), and 60 fps electronic shutter with frame count limiter (for HDR or other image stacking reasons).
  • Lenses - to get even near a lens range that matches my m43 setup I'd be into building a kit of comparatively large, heavy and expensive lenses. On the Z that would mean a number of adapted F-mount lenses (which wouldn't be small) and on the A7iii it would be worse - stuck either with mediocre, cheaper lenses or crazy big and expensive G Master versions.

  • Sensor performance on m43 is obviously inferior, but at low ISO and with using a few stacking tricks when need be, I can get it very, very close. I seldom print bigger than A3+ at which the output is stunning from m43. Even when I have printed larger I've still been very happy with the results if I carefully prepare the file. For on-line posting to Flickr etc, even m43 is overkill.
So, that's my decision. It's been an interesting exercise to look at the Z6 and FF mirrorless world again and I really thought that I'd jump.

Of course I'm mainly a landscape guy. It might be a different conclusion if I were into portraiture, sports or such. It might even be different if I were starting from scratch, but right now m43 is capable of meeting my needs/wants. And just to re-confirm that thought, I took a few shots today on a walk and looking at them now on the computer I'm really bowled over by the image quality - here's a simple example with the EM1.2 and the 12-100:


Tom o'The Wood
by Paul Kaye, on Flickr

My core lens kit is the PL 8-18 and the Oly 12-100 and they both deliver corner-to-corner pin-sharp images with fantastic punch, colour and micro-contrast - even wide open. So long as I keep the ISO down to 800 or lower (which for landscape is pretty easy) then the output is stunning and perfectly capable of being printed big.

And for landscapes, I love the Livetime feature. I use it very often shooting daytime with ND filters. Not only is it useful for judging the right exposure time, but you can do real-time "burning in" of parts of the image using a mask in front of the lens during exposure. For example, here's a shot I took on New Year's Eve with the EM1.2 + 12-100. It's a 32s exposure with LiveTime and I used a make-shift mask on the sky (a black fabric filter case in fact) to "burn in" the canal without blowing the sky. That's something I couldn't do either the Z6 or the A7iii and it's a fantastic way of managing DR in typical landscape scenarios. Aside from the Livetime trickery, the image quality in this shot is superb too. I printed it yesterday at A3+ and hung it on the wall.


Winter Light in Bruges
by Paul Kaye, on Flickr
 
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Glad to see you’re sticking around. I, too, was very disappointed by the EM1X launch, and contemplated full frame for a bit. But I came to the same conclusion. For what I shoot: landscape, wildlife, travel and food, M4/3 is still the best all-around option. Even though I probably won’t be getting the E-M1X (at least not at this time), I won’t be leaving micro 4/3 anytime soon either.
 
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Congratulations on your decision! The MFT format and Olympus cameras have a lot to offer, but other cameras have a lot to offer as well. Ultimately, it's up to you, and you seem content and confident with your choice; I applaud you for your efforts. Live composite and focus bracketing are two features that I ( I have personal needs/wants and I know what other features Olympus offers) find really good to have in a camera along with weather sealing. It's OK to be upset with the event that we will not mention and to rant a bit, and you did what a lot of folks will do; closely look at the competition and see if Olympus and their direction is best for you. Props to you for daring to question! And congratulations again on having confidence in your decision!
 

Robstar1963

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Thanks for posting @pdk42
I’m in a similar boat
I’ve been disappointed by the EM1X and have previously considered moving to Fuji but every time I get anywhere near actually moving away I pull back when I realise that there is no other system available that offers the same range of lenses which enables me to shoot Motorsports the way I do with as little size and weight
I usually go to events with two bodies and two long lenses within two camera holsters side by side in a light trolley
Both Lens/body combinations are available to change at will and within moments and I still have room for food, drink, a coat and other stuff for the day in the trolley
I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do this with lenses of equivalent focal lengths and reach with any other system so for all of my disappointment with M43 I’m pretty sure I will still be here this time next year with or without that blasted EM1X :2thumbs:
 
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Thanks for taking the time to share this information. I'm sure there are a lot of people in the same boat. This is more information for them to be able to use to help them make the right decision for them.
 

bikerhiker

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It's a shame Olympus did not promote their E-M1X with their own top dog Sports photographer who had shot during many Olympics and other professional events with Olympus cameras.

I first saw him during the 2010 Winter Olympics shooting with the Olympus E-5. Yes, E-5 competing against Nikon D3s and D3 and Canons. His name is Hiroyuki Yakushi.

Pro Gallery | OLYMPUS OM-D

2010 Winter Olympics coverage. Note the noisy E-5 and its high ISO performance, but still not bad for national publication in Japan. Still the man could keep up with us!
And who said the Olympus E-5 can't keep up with the D3 and D3s?!?

https://www.joc.or.jp/publicity/olympian/2010/02.pdf

Today with his latest works using the OMD E-M1 Mark II

Pro Gallery | OLYMPUS OM-D

And another top photographer Michael Chan from Canada (my side of town)

Pro Gallery | OLYMPUS OM-D

and the rest in the Olympus Pro gallery.

I have a simple rule. Keep learning and improving my skills to be on par with the best. If I'm better than these best photographers, then it's the equipment that's limiting me. If I am not yet better than them, then it's me that I need to keep improving. Simple way to cure GAS forever is to NEVER let your skills be at a stand still. GAS comes usually because you have stalled your skills and think to continue forward is to buy new gear. That's your ego and pride telling you, but if you look at the professionals, pride never interfere with their skills and mastery. If they think they need better gear, they will naturally move on. They didn't, so that means Olympus gear can still be very competitive in its own way. I'll be interested to see what Hiroyuki Yakushi can do with the E-M1X in 2020 Tokyo, which I think is truly a camera finally be-questing his calibre of work and skills set.

These people are my inspirations always.

Hope this helps..
 

ac12

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For me, one thing that will keep me in m4/3 is the long lenses.

To get a 12x lens, in FF I would need a BIG 600mm stovepipe, where I can use a much smaller 300 on m4/3.
That makes a huge difference in logistics of carrying and transport of the gear.
And the cost of those long FF lenses is significantly higher.

I made my own rule that I will NOT get a FF lens longer than 300mm, a 6x lens. That is about the size/weight limit of what I am willing to haul around. With m4/3 a 300mm lens is a 12x lens, or double the reach of the FF lens at the same FL. BTW my O-75-300 is smaller and lighter than my old Nikon 75-300.
 

Levster

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I’m often tempted to investigate other systems when I come across something that annoys me with mu43. @pdk42, I remember you mentioning that the high ISO performance was a concern when looking through family shots, and this is my main concern too. Although I know that I can get better image quality, it always comes at a cost (usually financial!).

I’ve tried Sony FF and as I was already shooting f/1.4 lenses on mu43 (thank you Sigma!), to realise the ISO improvement on FF would mean that I would also need f/1.4 lenses on FF. What would be the point in getting 2 stops of ISO performance improvement and then using a lens 2 stops slower! I wanted a 35mm lens to replace the Sigma 16, but it quickly became clear that the Sony FE lenses were either massive (1.4 G master or Sigma/Samyang) or smaller but two stops slower (Sony/Samyang f/2.8). There was also the issue of body performance when compared to Mu43, which meant looking at a £1600 A7iii to get decent AF performance. My first foray into FF resulted in a quick back track for the reasons of cost and size.

I’ve recently tried Fuji in the shape of an X-T20. I certainly noticed the resolution improvement with a 24MP sensor and the autofocus seemed more accurate than my old G9 (which forever would focus on a random thing behind the subject (usually a person) that I was aiming at). But, although the f/2 primes are nice, I’m more of an f/2.8 zoom person with a prime or two for people shots. Fuji’s strange aversion to IBIS means that their only f/2.8 standard zoom lens is only stabilised on one of their camera bodies (X-H1). There is also the issue of only having OEM AF lenses, which means that the system is pretty expensive for fast primes. So for this system cost and features (stabilisation mainly) were the reasons I back tracked on this system.

The final system that I haven’t tried is the Sony A6000 series. On the face of it, a system built upon an A6500 and the Sigma 1.4 primes would be pretty awesome. However the system doesn’t have any E mount f/2.8 lenses, so I’m left with the question of would I really notice a high ISO quality improvement if I’m stuck using f/4 Sony E series lenses when compared to f/2.8 lenses on Mu43?

So, as of now I’m back with an Olympus E-M5 Mk II (outstanding value for money) and an Olympus 12-40/2.8 (again, outstanding value for money). Will I be tempted to shop around again? Yep! Should I be? Probably not! For an amateur photographer the Mu43 system offers so much value and choice. When you factor in the size advantage, no other system matches the size + cost + versatility of mu43.
 

Gromit

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Many thanks for a superb, and M43-affirming post, Paul. :)

I too get the FF itch - in fact I also own a Sony A7RII with a couple of short primes. Sure its IQ can be stunning (and that Sony FF sensor's DR lets one get away with huge exposure latitude) but as you rightly say, in favourable conditions it's quite surprising how little EM1.2 lags behind. I often ask myself the question, 'should I go for broke and make the Sony my main camera - and slim down on M43 to just the Pen F and a couple of primes?' That's one which I cannot answer with any clarity.

They always say your best camera is the one you have with you at the time - and that, more often than any other for me, is the EM1.2.
 

WT21

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Thanks for the post. I'm not quite following what you did on that landscape shot you included (the second one). Anyway of coaxing from you a separate, more detailed post on that process? :)
 

pdk42

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Thanks for the post. I'm not quite following what you did on that landscape shot you included (the second one). Anyway of coaxing from you a separate, more detailed post on that process? :)
Sure. In fact, I'm thinking it might be fun to do a video of the technique. However, I'll start with something written down.
 

ijm5012

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Paul,

Glad to see you've made a logical decision by weighing up the pros/cons of making the switch. Many times I think people here always hear about the "superior IQ" of full frame, however there are some trade offs as well. Lenses are typically bigger & heavier, and there are many features that Olympus has that are missing from FF cameras.

This goes to show that it's really worth doing your homework on a system when you're thinking of switching so that you can fully understand what will be missing once you make the switch. This exercise shows that sometimes the grass isn't always greener.
 

Xx123456xX

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I’m currently thinking about moving to FF (either Z6 or A7III). I’ve been wanting better low light performance since I got my GH5, and I thought the GH5s might be the solution, but after seeing comparisons, I think FF might be even better for my wants.

I do realize I would lose the weight/size advantage, but my three lenses, two of which are adapted FF lenses, are all fairly large compared to similar MFT offerings. Additionally, not only do I use the bulky GH5, I use it with the battery grip, which further offsets the weight/size advantage.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I currently have only one native lens. Although I do have one of the system’s most expensive bodies (plus expensive accessory), I haven’t invested enough to dissuade me from changing.

At the moment, the only thing holding me back is the crop factor advantage for pseudo-macro and distant wildlife.
 

Wisertime

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I’m currently thinking about moving to FF (either Z6 or A7III). I’ve been wanting better low light performance since I got my GH5, and I thought the GH5s might be the solution, but after seeing comparisons, I think FF might be even better for my wants.

At the moment, the only thing holding me back is the crop factor advantage for pseudo-macro and distant wildlife.
I think the 150-400 F4 + TC will be a game change for that niche. Smaller and much more affordable than a FF alternative. For all the FF advantages, M43 has other options going for it feature-wise and more affordable as an entire system. If you don't need a barn full of lenses and your focus on one thing like portrait, Astrophotography, Landscape, the difference in cost is certainly less and you get some advantages FF offers. M43 does allow the serious amateurs do dabble with all sorts of lens types and genres without breaking the bank.
 

pdk42

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I’m currently thinking about moving to FF (either Z6 or A7III). I’ve been wanting better low light performance since I got my GH5, and I thought the GH5s might be the solution, but after seeing comparisons, I think FF might be even better for my wants.

I do realize I would lose the weight/size advantage, but my three lenses, two of which are adapted FF lenses, are all fairly large compared to similar MFT offerings. Additionally, not only do I use the bulky GH5, I use it with the battery grip, which further offsets the weight/size advantage.

As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, I currently have only one native lens. Although I do have one of the system’s most expensive bodies (plus expensive accessory), I haven’t invested enough to dissuade me from changing.

At the moment, the only thing holding me back is the crop factor advantage for pseudo-macro and distant wildlife.
I think in your case then it would make sense to go to FF. If low light use is important, then m43 isn't the answer.
 

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