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Review Observations on Sony full frame vs micro 4/3. Hint: m4/3 still relevant

Discussion in 'Reviews, Tests, & Shootouts' started by rfaucher, Feb 4, 2019.

  1. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
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    I took the plunge and purchased a used Sony A7R II last weekend and what follows are some observations when comparing it to m4/3. Discussions on full frame vs cropped sensors has been beaten to death and it’s a known quantity. So, let me state plainly that the A7 RII produces better images than my Pany G9 and Pen-F. However, it also makes me appreciate the benefits of m4/3 and justifies why I am going to use both systems. What follows are the reasons why I got into m4/3, what I see as its advantages and why I believe it’s a great system that will not go away anytime soon.

    I have been using m4/3 from the very beginning and have owned a number of bodies and amassed a decent collection of lenses. I started with the E-PL1 to replace a busted Canon P&S. The E-PL1 impressed me with its image quality which was better then what I could obtain with my old Olympus E-3. However, the E-PL1 had mediocre autofocus and was by no means a fast camera, nor was it rugged. Then I upgraded to the EP-3 which was a really good travel camera, but once again, the autofocus was not class leading and its image quality fell apart after ISO 1600. However, when travelling overseas, I preferred walking around and shooting the EP-3 vs my old Pentax K-5 with it’s bulky 16-50 f/2.8 lens. During the day, I left the K-5 kit back at the hotel and took the EP-3 on the streets, it made photography fun again. At that time, the gap in image quality between m4/3 and the K-5 was significant - the Pentax’s RAW files were noticeably better. Moreover, for shooting airshows and birding, almost any DSLR had clear cut advantage for AF and tracking.

    Then Olympus released the EM-5 MKI. It was a game changer. I was astonished at the improvements in image quality, focusing speed, the EVF, the LCD screen, IBIS, weather sealing, etc. It was a system good enough for nearly all occasions and the difference in IQ between the K-5 and EM-5 was no longer that significant. I could get two stops better noise performance in low light with the K-5, but since 90% of what I shoot is during the day, the EM-5 was selected more often. Then I started buying good glass for the Olympus and was quite impressed how much good optics could maximize its sensor. Olympus makes some of the best lenses money can buy.

    Later on I upgraded to the EM-5 MKII, it was an incremental improvements for stills, but it provided many improvements for video. One again, I started buying better glass for the system, including some of Oly’s pro series zooms. Prior to getting the EM-5 MKII, I had also upgraded the Pentax K-5 to the K-3 with its 24 MP sensor. After taking both cameras on a road trip across the USA, I found myself using the EM-5 MKII more than the K-3. When I got home and compared the images, the differences below ISO 3200 were, in my opinion, trivial. Moreover, I preferred the rendering of the Olympus files, even in RAW. In every measure, the Olympus outperformed the Pentax. Shooting with the EM-5 MKII was a far better experience, it nailed focus and exposure every time and I really liked the advantages of a smaller kit. So, I sold of all my Pentax gear and went exclusively m4/3.

    When the Panasonic G9 was released, I was tempted to upgrade from the EM5 MKII and I’m glad I did. Readers of this forum know the G9 is an excellent hybrid shooting machine and it is built like a tank. I also find it works very well when paired with the Pany/Leica 100-400 for birding. DFD focus works well when you know how to use it. Since the G9 is a large camera, there was still a place for smaller body in my kit, so I got the Pen-F and use it with small primes. Once again, shooting with a Pen makes photography fun and spontaneous. To date the G9 has been my favourite camera it is also the most ergonomically perfect design I’ve used. Now that I’ve got the Sony, will the G9 remain my favourite camera? Yes, I think it will.

    Once again, let me get this out of the way: the Sony A7R II has better image quality and excellent low light performance. There is no getting round the fact that at a given aperture and focal length it has shallower depth of field. Allegedly it has better AF tracking than other mirrorless systems, but that is not something I’ve tested yet. In other measures, I think the camera lags behind my G9 and Pen-F systems. Shooting is much more than image quality and one needs to account for the user experience and the system as a whole. In recent years, m4/3 has become so good, I believe one needs to take into account far more than just IQ when comparing systems.

    So, what’s better about the Pany G9? In no specific order:

    Higher quality construction.
    Much better ergonomics (at least for me)
    More intuitive and sensible button layouts (it’s brilliant)
    Less confusing menu system
    Superior EVF
    Flip out LCD touch screen
    Faster low light focusing esp. with Panasonic lenses
    Faster AF-S focusing
    More accurate white balance indoors
    Balances better with larger optics due to the deeper grip
    Video options and codec selections
    The IBIS
    OOC JPGs (this is subjective, but I prefer the look)
    Autofocus joystick
    Touch screen
    Dual SD card slots
    Does not require a bazooka sized lens when shooting birds.
    Higher burst rates
    6K high speed stills mode

    Overall, the G9’s features seem to compete more with the far more expensive Sony A9.

    The Pen-F also has advantages over the Sony. The first and most obvious is size. I can take the Pen-F out on the streets with three small primes and leave the camera bag at home. The extra primes fit into large pockets or a belt pouch. IMHO the Pen-F, is better built and it oozes quality. The Pen’s ergonomics, at least for me, make the camera easier to use than the Sony. Of course, it also has the flip out touch screen which I consider essential. It also has live composite and live bulb modes. Then there is the JPG rendering and the film like B&W mode which I like better than Sony’s.

    Oddly enough, the Sony A7R II makes me better appreciate the advantages of current generation m4/3 bodies and lenses. The Sony A7 line is brilliant though and going mirrorless means full frame systems are no longer heavy behemoths. In Sony’s favour, there are times when one wants a sensor that shoots usable images up to 12000 ISO (which allows for higher shutter speeds in low light). There is a subjective quality to FF depth of field which is nice. Finally, in some situations, one will appreciate 42 MP resolution. I know both the G9 and Pen-F have ultra-high resolution modes, but since they require a tripod and completely immobile subjects, I don’t use them. Other than situations where I require higher ISO performance, very high resolution and shallow depth of field, I think m4/3 will remain the system I use most.

    In conclusion: there is a case to be made for having both full frame mirrorless and m4/3.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
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  2. damianmkv

    damianmkv Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Nov 7, 2014
    Surrey, England
    Interesting that you post this. I started off with Nikon many moons ago with a d3100 then upgrading to a d7000.

    Back in ( I think ), 2014 I bought an e-m10 to test m43...it lasted around 6 weeks before I sold it and got an e-m1, and what started as the kit lens quickly progressed to some pro lenses.

    In the summer of 2017 I was weighing up the e-m1.2 upgrade and tested it back to back with the Nikon d500. My m43 gear was sold and a d500 came. As did a x100t which then went to make way for more Nikon gear..

    After a while, I got the e-m10 mk2 on offer as a travel camera. Even though I have the rx100 mk2, I preferred m43 as a fun set up - some things like 1:1 crops in camera make Instagram posting easier..The DSLR is a little too big for business travel..

    So now I have a FF itch. The cheapest option would be Nikon to use one of my existing lenses but perhaps I could get a Sony a7ii - I'm a little unsure of the original version and the R is too pricey.

    If I scratch the itch ultimately the FF would stay meaning m43 goes. Or vice versa. I can't justify both as well as the d500. Realistically, m43 is a bit of a luxury given how many times I use it but there's something enjoyable about it
    • Like Like x 2
  3. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
    There are plenty of good deals on the Sony A7ii used. However, a used A7Rii in excellent condition can be had well under $2K. Demand for used A7R series are high, so if I find it don't use it much I can sell it off without taking a big hit.

    Before getting the used Sony, I was mulling over buying the Oly 25mm f1.2 or one of the Voightlander lenses and thought for a few hundred more, I can just go FF. Frankly, I would not but a new A7Riii, it's just too much to justify.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  4. Gromit

    Gromit Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Mar 27, 2017
    Lincoln UK
    Excellent OP - and upon reading I find myself nodding in agreement.

    I also have an A7RII - for what I paid (£1100) for mine, in excellent used condition, it's a beast of a camera for the money. I've added the Samyang 35-2.8 and Sony Sonnar T* 55-1.8. The Samyang's tiny (weighs little more than the air it occupies) and the Sonnar is just a peach. No concrete plans to add any more but having owned one before, the Sony FE 85-1.8 is stunning - and not expensive either, nor particularly large.

    Up to now, I've found the 7RII goes nicely with my M43 gear - the Oly bodies provide a neater, much more user-friendly experience. The Sony answers back with incredible IQ when that is the prime objective. The C-AF eye tracking on the Sony is also extremely useful, and works extremely well.
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  5. ToxicTabasco

    ToxicTabasco Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jul 2, 2018
    South West USA
    I agree. All the added features and ability of G9 was what got my attention. Once I handled the camera at the Panasonic marketing event, I had to have it. I'm glad Olympus now has the EM1x. Makes me appreciate my G9 even more.
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  6. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
    Thank you for the positive feedback, much appreciated and it's nice to see rational discussions take place on this forum. Some of the other forums, with titles that rhyme with rumors, often degenerate into toxic cesspools of foolish vitriol.

    I think I'll check out that Samyang 35mm f2.8. I just purchased the Tamron 28-70 f2.8 for the Sony, which should serve most of my needs. As I do not want to spend thousands on Sony/Zeiss glass, I am also purchasing some adapters to mount manual focus lenses. In particular, I'm looking forward to trying out my Samyang/Rokinon 85mm f1.4. It should be a cracker of a portrait lens on the Sony. It will be interesting to see how it fares against the Oly 45mm f1.8, which is a great optic.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2019
  7. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
    Agreed. The G9 is an underrated camera and now the pricing is just right. I also have greater confidence in the G9's weather sealing and same for the Oly Pro series lenses.
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  8. ac12

    ac12 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 24, 2018
    I am running a dual system APS-C/DX Nikon D7200 + m4/3 Olympus EM1 and EM10.
    The Nikon D7200 is used for fast sports, where the EM1 lags behind in performance.
    But for everything else, I have switched to m4/3.
    So two systems each with different strengths.
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  9. Lupin 3rd

    Lupin 3rd Mu-43 Veteran Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2018
    MoCo, MD
    Former Sony shooter, liked the autofocus, OOC Jpegs, and body size with smaller lens very much.

    Disliked the usability, handling with big lens, having to dig through different folders in the memory card to get video files, and most importantly (for me) weather sealing that was and still is just laughable.

    • Like Like x 3
  10. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
    All valid points and based on my limited experience with the Sony A7RII confirms what you wrote.

    One of the reasons I resisted FF for such a long time was the high cost of entry as well massive and appropriately expensive lenses. Things have changed and I was able to get into a Sony FF system with the excellent Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 for under $3000 CAD all in. If the Tamron lens did not exist, I would have most likely avoided getting into a second system. At $1100 CAD it is affordable, relatively small and lightweight and versatile enough to cover almost all needs. I also have a stash of old manual glass that I will use with cheap adapters.

    That said, I will stick to the G9 for long reach telephoto shooting, inclement weather, casual shooting, anything not requiring a tripod, videos and lightweight travel. I have full confidence in the weather sealing and durability of the G9 as well as Oly's pro glass. Like yourself, I don't feel the same about the Sony A7RII or the Tamron lens. The Pen-F will remain, as it is, a wonderful street shooter or grab and go camera with small primes.

    As we all know, there is no such thing as a perfect camera. All systems have their strengths and compromises. However, we are spoiled by excellent technologies and options available across different manufactures and platforms. I'm rather happy about it!
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  11. NWright

    NWright Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 13, 2014
    Excited to hear about your explorations across formats! I started with m4/3 years ago and still do miss some of the features associated with the system. I also had a full frame setup along side a m4/3 setup for some time and found likes and dislikes for both.

    One thing worth calling out in your comparison is the A7rii was released a full 2 years before the G9. I would be interested to see pros / cons for perhaps the A7iii vs the G9 given those two cameras had very similar release price points and were released within about 6 months of each other. (roughly same Gen Tech)

    Either way - happy shooting and enjoy the toys!
    • Like Like x 1
  12. rfaucher

    rfaucher Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Feb 12, 2014
    Ajax, Ontario
    Rob Faucher
    The A7RII definitely feels like older tech. What I miss is a touch screen, AF joystick and dual SD card slots. I know the newer version has a touch screen and a joystick, but all that comes at a much steeper cost.

    In terms of a shooting experience, overall speed and well thought out buttons, the G9 is outstanding. From what I can surmise, the Pany FF cameras will be very similar to the G9, but with a FF sensor and somewhat larger bodies (which I argue is need for most FF glass). For pros or well heeled amateurs getting into FF, I think that will be a selling feature.
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  13. Turbofrog

    Turbofrog Mu-43 Legend

    Mar 21, 2014
    That long list of usability compromises is why I feel like Sony FF only "arrived" with the introduction of the A7R III, and now the A7 III below it.

    The A7 III is the only Sony ILC I would buy today. It doesn't have 42MP, but in every other way it is so far ahead of previous Sony bodies.

    This is a good thing! Both the A7 III and Nikon Z6 are finally at the "good enough" threshold. I'm a cheapskate, and never buy latest generation stuff because I find it is always deep into the category of diminishing returns. But in a couple years, there will probably be an A7 III or Z6 that someone is willing to part with for $1000. And that will likely be the point where I am willing to at least indulge my curiosity without feeling silly...
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  14. inthecage

    inthecage Mu-43 Veteran

    Jun 4, 2010
    Sagamore Hills, Ohio
    M Ferencz
    I have a Pen F and a Sony a7II. I like the low iso ability of the Sony, the autofocus is superior too, but Sony FF small with prime isn't even close size wise to the Pen F and similar prime. You see those photos that compare sizes and it does not do justice. It's big, solid and nice, but I have a FF camera a know it. I'm not sure i'd take it everywhere I take the Pen. In fact I don't. I take the Pen in those situations.
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  15. Saledolce

    Saledolce Mu-43 Top Veteran Subscribing Member

    Apr 17, 2017
    Build quality, ergonomics, weather sealing, the bang for buck of pro glass, colors sooc, these are the strenghts of m43.

    Sony has some awesome products, the FF sensor brings clear advantages in IQ but Sony has edges to smooth. In general Sony is making a better job on AF and all the tracking features, and seems to be listening the userbase. Product version by product version the improvement path is clear, while I cannot say the same in m43 space.
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  16. pdk42

    pdk42 One of the "Eh?" team Subscribing Member

    Jan 11, 2013
    Leamington Spa, UK
    I agree with your comments on the A7iii. I've owned an A7rii in the past but really didn't gel with it. It still felt like a product in the making. I played with a Z6 alot a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be an obvious choice over the A7iii, but handling them both I found they were actually quite close. Maybe the Sony a bit better in fact.

    So, definite progress.
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  17. BPCS

    BPCS Mu-43 Regular

    Oct 15, 2017
    I have noted a few people go chasing FF glory and return, or keep the FF for a few shoots a year. I like one system, battery charger etc and one menu to become second nature. I also like to have many lenses that cover everything focal length wise and also speed and versatility. In FF there are lenses that can be cherry picked to do a better job and also cameras, but cost and size and weight of committing to the whole outfit in FF is just too much.
    • Agree Agree x 6
  18. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    Killarney, OzTrailEYa
    I think there's a few of us doing that with the prices coming down.
    I find that I agree with our conclusion, although I'm still evaluating if I've got sufficient justification for the A7 (and could not better use that money in buying another lens (I see the 35-100f2.8 being interesting) and perhaps a body ... but then it would probably cost a bit more to do that
  19. pellicle

    pellicle Mu-43 Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Feb 10, 2010
    Killarney, OzTrailEYa
    agreed, which is part of why I've kept my GH1 / GF1 combo, for then I can pick between compact body or SLR-alike body and still have one battery and almost exactly the same usage. I would expect that there is not many others in m43 where you could have two different body styles and do that.
    • Agree Agree x 1
  20. red_zergling

    red_zergling Mu-43 Regular Subscribing Member

    Nov 30, 2017
    United States
    I wished Panasonic announced an entry level full frame similar to the rumored Canon announcement this month. I'd like one for some low light portability. Just a fast 35mm and a 12mm to help me with getting better shots in evening social gatherings.

    I've been traveling with my Lumix G9 and I love it. I can't imagine lugging something bigger than the Olympus 12-40 if I needed a versatile zoom but I will try it out at some point.

    Until I see more of the roles m43 has filled, such as the range finder style, I'll deal with removing the noise in post production.
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