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DSLR v. Micro-4/3

I spent a bit of today (+RA all day) checking out some micro-4/3 cameras in camera shops.

They look promising because at typically 0.6kg they are 1/2 the weight of a DSLR, and about 20% smaller all round.

Their specs are amazing, on paper.

The following images are all 1:1 (pixel for pixel) and taken at ~1.2m, with common mid-range zooms. Not a scientific test of course, and hard to do one because the lenses aren’t exactly equivalent, but the performance gap is readily visible.

Olympus E-M1 1/50 F8 with A4 test sheet taking up 20% of the field of view horizontally

As above, test sheet taking up 90% of the field of view

Sony NEX-7, 20% of the field of view

As above, 90% of the field of view

Pentax K3 DSLR, 20% of the field of view

As above, 50% of the field of view

As above, 90% of the field of view

Interestingly, the Sony “90%”-figure performance is not far short of the K3 with a 2008-era cheap zoom lens (17-70). I now have the new 16-85 which very visibly outperforms the old lens.

The test sheet was laser printed so of poor quality, but you can see that in the 90% views.

This is relevant to aviation photography, in as much as you can keep a DSLR in the aircraft even if you don’t want to carry it around the whole time. But if you have to carry something, the micro-4/3 format is not pocket-sized so still needs the same “method” i.e. a waist pack or a backpack or, if you don’t mind looking like a tourist / inviting being robbed, a shoulder strap. The 4/3 cameras are obviously good enough for a lot of stuff, but given their prices aren’t any lower, what you are doing is trading a lower weight and a slightly smaller size for reduced performance. You also get a lot of missing features whereby a decent DSLR can e.g. write jpeg+raw to separate SD cards, some of the 4/3 don’t have a TAV mode (a huge minus with today’s low noise sensors) and a camera on which everything is configured on the LCD takes a lot longer to set up for a shot.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Just an update: I have decided to forget the whole m4/3 or APS scene for the time being and keep the Pentax K3.

Two reasons:

The best current camera (Samsung NX1) has extremely limited lens options (15-50 and 50-200) compared to my 16-85 which I use for way over 99% of my shots, so I would be losing a huge amount of convenience.

The battery life is poor. I can do a whole 1 week holiday (about 30-40GB of RAWs) on one K3 battery and I have one spare battery. With the NX1 you need to carry 2-3 spare batteries. This is another “not-often-discussed in the reviews” consequence of an LCD “viewfinder”. The mirrorless cameras need a lot more power.

2 years from now it will be different, for sure. I would really like a 0.6kg “SLR”

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Peter wrote:

The battery life is poor. I can do a whole 1 week holiday (about 30-40GB of RAWs) on one K3 battery and I have one spare battery.

I would call that an excellent battery life! My DSLR (Sigma SD10 – sort of a Macintosh among the cameras with it’s dedicated followers due to the unique sensor technology) can do 100 exposures on one battery charge at best…

Therefore I bought a MFT camera about five years ago which I always carry with me, from Panasonic (don’t remember the type right now). The image quality comes nowhere close to my Sigma/Foveon camera but the battery really lasts forever. I charge it maybe three times per year. My wife also has a MFT camera and among us we share four different lenses, two zooms and two primes – plus a couple of adaptors to connect them with other lenses and astronomical telescopes. Most of the time I have the 1:1,7/20mm “pancake” wide angle lens on the camera which makes the whole thing so compact that it (almost) fits in a shirt pocket. But I am more and more tempted to replace it with one of the Sigma “Quattro” cameras, maybe the DP0 which also has a wide-angle lens. The image quality of these things is absolutely outstanding (apart from low-light environment). But you need to carry two pockets full of spare batteries which is why I still use the MFT camera.

EDDS - Stuttgart

I am travelling Japan at the moment, and i brought three cameras: iPhone 6, Sony RX100-II and the gigantic Nikon D4+28-300 ED travel lens.

I used the D4 a couple if times, mostly for it’s night capabilities and for very special stuff like the Hiroshima museum … but 75 percent of the time it was replaced by the Sony … which is very small but such a capable camera! I had just bought it before the trip, but already i think that i don’t need more camera than the Sony

And the iphone’s camera is equally impressive. If i wasn’t into photography so much the iPhone 6 would be enough camera for almost everything …

Weird – I think the camera on my iPhone 6 is rubbish except in the best of lighting conditions

EHLE / Lelystad, Netherlands, Netherlands

2 years from now it will be different, for sure. I would really like a 0.6kg “SLR”

A Nikon D5500 is under 500g, with a battery, I believe. An 18-55mm is probably about 200g. So that’s pretty close. And the 5500 is a proper SLR, albeit a fairly low end one. And if you want to up the quality without gaining weight, and maybe even losing some, one of those with a good prime lens will take better pictures that most cameras.

EGTR / London, United Kingdom

Hi Peter (Mundy),
that’s not my experience at all … unfortunately i can’t upload pictures from the iphone to here, but i made many very nice ones the last three weeks … even in lower light situations. But if course the iPhone, like all smartphone cameras, is not a good camera for night shots

My problem is that once I have been spoilt with something like the K3, plus a lens which despite being a zoom is actually really great (bear in mind that not many years ago all zooms were crap) I don’t want to compromise.

The mirrorless cameras are getting close, very close, on raw quality, and there are good amateur photographers doing great work with them (as always, a good subject helps ).

I also want an instantly usable TAV mode (set shutter, aperture, and let the camera set ISO). Virtually all of my shots are done that way but it became possible only with the latest sensors. Then I use Lightroom (or similar) to de-noise anything over ISO 500 – because the noise is visible at 1:1 magnification, even though it isn’t visible at “fit on screen” till you get to maybe ISO 3000.

Phones are OK on the basis that the best camera is the one you have with you (as the old saying goes)

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

The thing which is really helpful holding me, apart from the non trivial amount of money I have “invested” in top notch Canon glass, is that the autofocus in anything less than perfect conditions on any of these cameras (including the Sony a7) is too random, and focusing them manually on an electronic viewfinder doesn’t work for me.

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