More on full frame versus Micro Four Thirds (MFT)

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My previous post on why I think full frame cameras will die out and be replaced by smaller sensor devices such as Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras spurred quite a few comments on Facebook, and coincidentally I have come across a few other articles on the same topic in the past few days, so I thought I would add a few more thoughts in this post.

First, I came across this post at Petapixel by Chris Corradino, entitled “The Battle is Over: My Micro 4/3 Camera Outsold my Full-Frame DSLR”. He makes several of the same points that I did, and expands on various arguments in favor of MFT cameras. He says “The idea that bigger is better has come and gone. Your new photography philosophy should be ‘less is more'”.

Depth of field

One of the comments made by full frame shooters is that they prefer the narrower depth of field that you get with an equivalent lens on a full frame camera.

So for example a 100mm lens on a full frame camera at f/2.8 has a narrower depth of field than a 50mm lens (100mm equivalent) lens on a micro four thirds (MFT) camera does at f/2.8. If you are shooting portraits or certain other subjects this can be a good thing. I think this argument is often overdone though. According to a nice little depth of field calculator app on my iPhone (Simple DoF), for the lens and aperture values I mention here, on the MFT camera the depth of field is 12” at a distance of 10 feet, and 3.8” on the full frame. So while you’ll get a different look, certainly you can nicely blur the background in both cases. For a lot of my wildlife photography I actually prefer to have a slightly larger depth of field – it is still nice to blur the background in lots of cases, but you also want to get the key parts of the subject in focus, and have a little leeway if you focus in slightly the wrong place on a fast moving subject.

Chris pointed out in his article that there are plenty of situations where it is beneficial to have a larger depth of field at the same aperture, and I also talked about this in a discussion on my original post. Especially for landscape and cityscape photography, you generally want to maximize the depth of field. When you need a larger depth of field, being able to get this with a wider aperture on MFT lets you use a faster shutter speed (and/or a lower ISO) compared to a full frame camera, which is a good thing in many situations.

There are plenty of MFT lenses with wide apertures, so it is easy to get a narrow depth of field and nice blurred backgrounds when you want to.

So overall I think the argument about depth of field is a two edged sword, and arguably MFT has more advantages than disadvantages here.

What are Nikon and Canon doing?

A friend shared a link to this article on Nikon and Canon plans in regard to mirrorless cameras. This reinforces some of the things I said in my original post about disruptive technology and how the incumbent players in a space tend to respond too slowly to disruptions. I was especially interested in the fact that the article focuses on how both Canon and Nikon are rushing to deliver full frame mirrorless cameras. As I said before, the big drawback with full frame, whether mirrorless or not, is the size of the lenses. It makes absolute sense that Canon and Nikon would focus on full frame in order to protect the investment of their existing customers in full frames lenses. However, this is another classic example of how market leaders miss key disruptive innovations by focusing too much on their existing customers. For me the key disruption going on is not just mirrorless cameras, but mirrorless combined with smaller sensors, as we see with MFT.

Of course it is a big step to change systems because of the investment in lenses in particular, so it will take some time for existing users to migrate. But I continue to feel that the advantages of smaller sensor systems, and the corresponding smaller and lighter cameras and (in particular) lenses, are already very compelling and will become even more so over the next few years.

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