Get Luminar Neo & ALL Extensions for less than US$8 Per Month
Skip to content
Home » Full Frame vs Micro Four Thirds – Opportunistic Photography

Full Frame vs Micro Four Thirds – Opportunistic Photography

full frame vs micro four thirds

I love full-frame cameras and have cherished my Nikon D750 since I bought it in 2014. However, having stumbled across a bargain on a brand new Olympus OM-D M5ii – I decided to give Micro Four Thirds a shot.

Full frame fatigue

As a self-professed full-frame fanboy, I believe full-frame cameras to be the perfect blend of high-image quality and performance. With a full-frame photo count exceeding 15,000 – I still believe this to be the case today.

But last month, the family and I headed off for a holiday, and for the most part, my Nikon D750 stayed behind and guarded the hotel room while I snapped away with a tired iPhone SE.

For me, the problem with full-frame cameras is two-fold. First of all, they are and always will be heavy. Even with my lightest lens, a Nikon AF-S 50mm F1.8, my D750 weighs a kilogram, not counting the zooms inside my bag.

Secondly, carrying a full-frame camera with a typical zoom lens makes me look like a photographer. And I don’t want to look like a photographer, especially when playing with my kids at the park or indulging in some street photography.

In contrast, I’m effectively invisible when taking photos with my smartphone, and it’s evident in the pictures themselves as no one is looking at me. Nevertheless, my iPhone SE falls well short of my photography needs. Something needs to be done.

Something

Sometimes, life presents a solution. In this case, I accidentally found a brand new Olympus OM-D M5ii with an Olympus 14-150mm F4-5.6 lens for US$500. A bargain if there ever was one.

But even so, the Olympus M5ii is a seven-year-old camera and no match for a full-frame camera, not now, and not way back in 2015. Therefore, I added it to my cart and awaited delivery.

Micro Four Thirds vs Full-Frame

Having owned and used my Olympus OM-D M5ii for a few weeks, Micro Four Thirds makes a lot of sense. While the advantages of Micro Four Thirds are somewhat challenging to communicate, these advantages are self-evident when you’re using one. First, let’s begin by addressing the Micro Four Thirds elephant in the room.

Image Quality

Full-frame cameras’ sensors are four times larger than those in Micro Four Thirds. This means a full-frame camera can gather four times as much light at any given exposure for superior image quality.

McLean Falls – Catlins NZ. Taken with a Nikon D750

Alternatively, a full-frame camera’s sensor can gather the same amount of light as a Micro Four Thirds sensor in one-quarter the time – ideal for high-quality images of moving subjects. But in practice, the difference between full-frame and Micro Four Thirds is less than you might think.

Blurry Full Frame Photos

When I first began using my Nikon D750, many of my photos were blurred because I had not used a small enough aperture for adequate depth-of-field.

Of course, I got used to it and learned never to use anything less than F4 for group portraits and at least F11 for landscapes. But because I’m using smaller apertures, I’m losing light and accessing higher noisier ISOs.

Quite a size difference, despite the D750 packing just an 18-35mm lens vs a 12-150mm.

In contrast, there’s no reason to go beyond F5.6 with a Micro Four Thirds camera, which often renders the image quality debate a draw. However, this is a battle Micro Four Thirds can win and often does, thanks to its remarkable image stabilization.

Four Second Exposure, anyone?

Remarkably, you can take a photo handheld at 14mm (28mm) using a 4-second shutter speed. Now, I admit, it takes a few goes, but it does mean sharp photos at “faster” shutter speeds such as 1 or 2 seconds are a given.

This is hugely advantageous when taking photos of static scenes in low light, particularly when smaller dimmer apertures are required to extend depth-of-field. Which, in practice, means golden hour landscape shooting and interior shots.

Due to its extended depth of field at larger apertures and spectacular image stabilization, I’ve found my Olympus M5ii to have a vice-like death grip on its base ISO, producing clean sharp images as a result.

Limitations

Of course, Micro Four Thirds has its limitations. For cases where shallow depth-of-field is acceptable or desirable, my full-frame camera can hit its stride.

And if you are photographing a moving subject in low light, image stabilization counts for nothing. Instead, you need as much light as possible, as quickly as possible. In other words, the larger the sensor, the better.

For the photo below, a fast shutter speed was required to capture the bird without motion blur. And because I only care about the bird, I could use a large light-soaked aperture and blur my background. These are the shots full-frame cameras are made for.

Opportunistic Photography

Full-frames are large and heavy – especially once you’ve attached a decent zoom lens. Thus, in recent years, I’ve found myself carrying my Nikon D750 only when I know there’s a guaranteed photo opportunity at the end of my journey.

For instance, I was exploring an area known for its Seal colony; therefore, I was expecting some good photo opportunities.

Lost Opportunities

Consequently, my smartphone’s picture album serves as a record of lost opportunities. A history of all the great photos I could have taken if only I had brought the right camera and the right lens.

For example, the image below was taken in a City library. We were passing the time, and I wasn’t expecting a photo opportunity. But one turned up anyway.

Opportunistic Photography – just another day in a library. Taken with iPhone

A constant companion

And it is here where Micro Four Thirds shines. Despite a combined weight of less than 700 grams, I have access to every focal length between 28 and 300mm full-frame equivalent. And thanks to the M5ii’s outstanding image stabilization, I don’t need to haul my Manfrotto Befree Advanced tripod unless I’m shooting with ND filters.

In other words, I’m ready to take a photo of whatever comes my way, and I’m already yielding images I would have missed.

Conclusion

Micro Four Thirds might be the most underrated and misunderstood camera system ever made. Its advantages are difficult to communicate on paper, and it’s easy to fall into the bigger-is-better mindset that has sold many full-frame cameras.

But in hand, the benefits of Micro Four Thirds become immediate and apparent. Of course, you’ll appreciate the smaller size and weight, but you’ll also be surprised just how easy it is to capture high-quality images despite its sensor’s modest dimension.

You’ll also realize that in the real world, a Micro Four Thirds camera can outperform a full-frame camera – particularly in static low-light scenarios that demand extended depth of field.

Yet this is not to say Micro Four Thirds is better than Full Frame and if I’m planning to take once-in-a-lifetime photos, I’ll grab my Nikon D750 and all its accessories.

But when a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity shows up unannounced, my Olympus M5ii and I will be ready.

A penny for your thoughts – add your opinions below.

More about Gear

Nikon Z 17-28mm F2.8 Compared – Do we really need this lens?

An affordable, fast aperture, wide-angle lens for Nikon Z mount. but how does it compare with the Nikon Z 14-30mm F4

Canon RF 24mm F1.8 Lens – Canon hits it out of the park (Again)

The Canon RF 24mm is a small, well-equipped, light-weight lens for Canon’s RF mirrorless camera system

Canon PowerShot PICK

Record yourself playing tennis, skating, and playing with your dog.

Olympus 14-150 mm F4-5.6 II Review – Worth buying in 2022?

An affordable, sharp, do-it-all lens for Micro Four Thirds.

Full Frame vs Micro Four Thirds – Opportunistic Photography

I love full-frame cameras, but I only carry it when i’m expecting to take photos. But what happens when a photo opportunity just shows up?

SD Cards Explained – SDHC vs SDXC and Speed Ratings

In SD Cards Explained, find out the difference between SDHC and SDXC, UHS-I and UHS-II, and why Write Speed is so important.

Canon RF 15-30mm vs RF 14-35mm F4

Battle of the wide angle zooms. Canon RF 15-30mm vs RF 14-35mm F4. Which would you buy?

At this point,

2 thoughts on “Full Frame vs Micro Four Thirds – Opportunistic Photography”

  1. Thanks for sharing your observations and impressions. I too shoot with two different systems, a Nikon Z9 and D500, and, for now, an Olympus EM-1X.

    The joy of using the EM-1X with the Olympus 150-400 for wildlife still photography is immense. I get the reach that I salivate over for the 600mm and 800mm Nikon primes, without the weight or costs.

    The problem is low light performance. Given the choice between adding my name to purchase the Nikon 800mm f6.3 vs the OM-1 camera, I’m choosing the OM-1 since the improved iso level and the noise at higher iso is much better than that with on the EM-1X. I suspect that the OM-1 will extend my shooting time to at least equal to that expected with the 800 mm f6.3.

    1. Hi Wayne. I think the people who can most appreciate Micro Four Thirds are those who have hauled large full-frame kits. I love full-frame – but it’s more than I need most of the time. The OM-1 looks excellent. The 50 fps with Tracking + Subject recognition mode should bag you a few keepers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.