Yes The Micro Four Thirds System is a Compromise!

I read a lot about how Micro Four-Thirds or 1″ or APSC or mirrorless in general are compromises. In other words, they are compromised formats. I actually agree with that, but I do not agree with the notion that DSLR or “Full-Frame” are NOT also a compromise.

First of all, pretty much everything in life is a compromise and that is certainly true of photographic equipment. You want the best available digital image quality? Well, you won’t find that on a “full-frame” DSLR, you’ll have to go up to a medium-format camera but then you will be compromising on cost (as much as a car!) portability, poor selection of lenses, extremely shallow DOF, basically an unusable system for action or wildlife photography, etc.

You go with a “full-frame” DSLR for the lower noise and DOF control? Well, you will have to spend a lot of money on lenses, you’ll have a large and heavy kit, You’ll have great focus tracking but will have to deal with issues like back or front-focussing, etc.

If you go mirrorless you will lose the optical viewfinder and you also lose a bit on focus-tracking of fast-moving subjects. But you gain sensor-based image stabilisation, you gain the ability to see the effects of your settings and exposure in real-time, you gain the ability to see a long exposure building-up in real-time (Olympus), you gain the ability to brighten dark scenes in your viewfinder, you get more accurate single autofocus, the ability to use silent (electronic) shutter, etc.

You want 36, 42, 50 or 100 Megapixels for more detail? You’ll have to deal with more noise, the need to buy better lenses, the need for bigger memory cards and hard drives, the need for a more powerful computer and more time for transferring and processing files, etc. Meanwhile you’ll be throwing away most of that resolution, most of the time.

There are pros who shoot exclusively on iPhones because for them the portability and constant availability is far more important than anything else. The 1″ cameras are sort of in-between the smartphone and the M4/3 in terms of portability and image quality. Again, all different compromises based on what’s most important to YOU.

So any choice of photographic system involves making compromises. Which compromises you make depends on your priorities, your values, the type of photography you do, whether or not you are a working pro, etc.

With 24-70mm f/2.8 IS
M4/3 vs FF, with 24-70mm f/2.8 IS

For me the M4/3 compromises hit the sweet spot. The portability, especially with primes, is just superb. The functionality and technology, with 5-stop IBIS and things like Live Composite is second to none and greatly enhances the practicality and creative possibilities. I give up a bit on image quality but really the IQ is more than sufficient and better than that of my Nikon FF DSLR of just a few years ago. I give up a bit on shallow DOF (which I can mostly compensate with small fast primes) but I gained on deeper DOF for the other 80% of the time where more is actually an advantage. I think 24 Megapixels would be the sweet spot, but 16 or 20 is really just fine 99% of the time. I’m saving on glass. I have a really small kit and a superb system that I really enjoy using and that I am carrying everywhere I go. I enjoy photography again, I am more creative, I have more opportunities to shoot and the image quality is really not an issue at all until you start pixel-peeping instead of looking at the art itself.

To each his own, but I’m very happy to have left behind the compromises of high-cost, heavy weight and very large lenses that mostly stayed at home in exchange for the compromise of 2 stops of DOF and noise and not having enough resolution to print wall murals. So yes, the M4/3 system is a compromise, a compromise that I enjoy very much!