There are good arguments for photographers walking away from full frame/FX and APS-C/DX, instead going for medium format and Micro Four Thirds (MFT). This may be where cameras are heading in the future anyway.
Before you raise your hackles, hear me out. I should start by saying there is nothing wrong with your camera. All big brands make great models, and if what you own is probably perfect for your purposes. I’m not going to argue with that. Furthermore, if you are a competent photographer, I am sure you will be able to adjust your shooting techniques for getting the best out of any system you use. I also understand that you have invested a lot in the system you use and have an interest in it not becoming obsolete.
However, if you are thinking of changing your camera system for any reason, and there are a multitude of reasons why people do, or you are considering buying an interchangeable lens camera for the first time, then please mull over what I have to say.
The most compelling photography usually happens when we push parameters to extremes. Very fast and very slow shutter speeds typically produce better results than those that sit in the middle. Super wide-angle and telephoto lenses regularly bring us more exciting images. High- and low-key images look great, as do those with a lot of contrast and very little. Then, photos shot at low level or very high up generally hold more interest than those taken at eye level. When we shoot between those extremes, the photographs can become, for want of a better word, meh.
Challenging the conventions of the herd and shunning the commonplace can enhance your creativity, letting you stand out against the rest.
Therefore, should we consider choosing interchangeable lens cameras at the largest and smallest end of the range? If so, pushing the boundaries means that, instead of full frame and APS-C, we should think about the medium format and Micro Four Thirds.
I can already hear the steam coming from under your collar, but let me explain further.
The Argument Against Full Frame and For Medium Format
Again, I reiterate that images shot with any camera can be superb. There’s nothing wrong with the full frame you have. It's well made, and you take superb photos with it.
Nevertheless, the results of images best suited to larger sensor cameras are not the same on full frame as can be achieved with a medium format camera. Moreover, medium format is relatively rare, whereas full frame cameras, while maybe not 10-a-penny, are widespread. Shoot with a medium format camera, and the result has a greater chance of uniqueness.
Then, on top of that, there is the price overlap, which is growing. Medium format cameras are coming down in price. A Fujifilm GFX 50S II retails at $3,999 while a Canon EOS R5 is only $100 less, while the EOS R3 is $2000 more. Additionally, the physical size of medium format cameras is shrinking, making them more versatile in the field; the GFX 50S II (149.9 x 104.1 x 86.4 mm) is about the same size as a Canon 5D Mark IV (150.7 x 116.4 x 75.9 mm).
Yes, there are some functionality differences, and the overall cost of a medium format system is more. Nevertheless, If you've been arguing in favor of full frame over crop frame cameras, then, logically, the same arguments apply to medium format over full frame. Therefore, you should upgrade.
The Argument Against APS-C and for Micro Four Thirds
Here's looking at the other end of the sensor-size scale and why Micro Four Thirds (MFT) may push other crop sensor formats from the market. Getting back to my introduction, this is about taking advantage of the extremes, and like medium format, MFT is an extreme.
I want you to forget the boring arguments from the usual detractors of crop frame cameras. They are usually driven by two factors: justification for their own more expensive choice and commercial interest. The arguments are skewed too, only presenting the supposed disadvantages and none of the advantages of crop frame systems.
Moreover, their criticisms aimed at MFT are invariably based on comparisons with a full frame. But that is comparing apples and oranges. A better comparator would be with other crop-sensor formats, such as APS-C and Nikon’s DX.
Just like the comparison between full frame and medium format, a big advantage of MFT is that their images are rarer than those shot with the ubiquitous APS-C cameras. This difference will help your photos stand out from the crowd.
There is not a huge difference in sensor size between MFT and APS-C. But because MFT is slightly smaller, it is more capable of taking advantage of the crop factor benefits.
What are the system's advantages? Firstly, it is the reduced perspective, bringing background subjects closer to the foreground for any given focal length. That crop factor also means that the same focal length can be used to achieve a greater effective magnification, thus allowing wildlife photographers to get closer to the subject with physically smaller lenses. Similarly, macro shooters have a greater magnification too.
You will often hear the uneducated complaint about the depth of field (DOF) at particular f-stops of MFT cameras. However, DOF is only partially affected by the aperture. Proximity to the subject, focal length, plus viewing size of the image also have a bearing. MFT just needs a different way of working, and you can say the same about any system. There are fast lenses with great-looking bokeh available at all focal lengths; MFT shooters can and do blur their backgrounds.
Additionally, we photographers don’t always want the shallowest depth of field; just because you have an f/1.2 aperture doesn’t mean you will be shooting at that setting. For example, with a portrait, we may want the whole face in focus and not just the eyes. There are also times when we want to add background detail for context, and MFT can do this at a wider aperture. Then, with landscapes, we often want back-to-front sharpness, something that's easier to achieve at a wider aperture with MFT.
With the massive advances in modern sensor technology, the image quality of MFT is so good that any real-world differences in quality between it and APS-C are redundant. After all, look at the excellent quality of modern cell phones. Their sensors are far smaller than MFT, yet for a few photographic genres, people are shooting more than adequate photos with them.
If you want further convincing, look at the photographs taken by the top pros that use Micro Four Thirds. For example, in Joe Edelman's photography, you would be hard-pressed to tell his photos apart from those shot on any other system.
On top of all that, there are the practicalities and ergonomics of shooting. The MFT system brings huge advantages in size and weight. With the aging population, a smaller, lighter system that delivers outstanding results is massively appealing. This advantage doesn’t just apply to older photographers. Having previously worked in outdoor education, I know mountain guides, sailors, canoeists, and hikers who happily carry the rugged, weather-sealed, and diminutive OM-D cameras on their adventures.
The small size and weight of MFT make the cameras great for genres as diverse as travel, landscape, wedding, wildlife, and photojournalism, plus everything in between. Their discreteness suits street photographers too; larger systems become obvious and can get in the way.
Will Canon and Nikon Catch Up?
Sadly, for their dedicated fans, it will probably take time for Canon and Nikon to catch up. Historically, those brands were regularly late to the game in adapting to the latest advancements. They were behind in adopting mirrorless, slow implementing in-body image stabilization, and, even now, Canon hasn’t restyled their cameras to the more attractive modern look that even Nikon has finally embraced with the Z fc.
Moreover, when they have finally made changes, the results from those brands have, at times, seemed rushed and inadequate. The Nikon 1 system was a flop, and the Canon R5 was brought to market with an overheating problem.
So, let’s hope, if they do ever swap to medium format or even MFT, they learn the lessons of their past and don't launch before they have properly tested their cameras.
Back in 2017, Sony was believed to be developing a medium format camera with a curved sensor, and new patents for the design of lenses have been trickling in ever since. If that happens, and Nikon and Canon don't catch up soon, they will either miss the boat or rush out another poorly conceived model. I wonder if there will be any other surprise announcements around the corner from other brands.
Thinking out of the Box About Camera Systems
Do you shoot full frame? If so, are you tempted to switch to medium format now that they are becoming more affordable? Or, if you were starting afresh, would you reject medium format in favor of full frame/FX? Alternatively, has the convenience and the quality of contemporary cameras in the smaller MFT system already made you abandon a larger format?
If you managed a camera brand, and in the context of the rapidly-shrinking market, would you take notice of the steady leakage of customers to both the bigger and smaller formats, would you be pushing your research and development department to change tack? Would medium format and MFT be in your game plan?
There are, of course, counterarguments for my point of view. As always, I welcome a friendly discussion about that in the comments. Thanks for reading.
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I feel I’m gonna need some popcorn for these comments.
You might want a raincoat too, as it will be raining bs
It’s actually torrential at this point.
Best Comment sofar 😉
The headline should say: "Is this the most controversial article on FStoppers?" :).
It kind of isn’t when you read it though is it… he is merely saying that if you push the boundaries either side of the middle ground that APS-C and 35mm provide you can obtain some advantages. Ie ultra long lenses that are compact on M4/3 and stunning image quality for those who don’t need high performance but want the very best images.
There is a reason Joe Cornish and Charlie Waite etc like to carry a Phase One around… obviously the GFX is smaller sensor, but it’s still a step up from full frame and provides the coveted 4:3 aspect ratio many like. I’d love to own one as a Landscape shooter who primarily uses a tripod, but I just don’t shoot enough to warrant it.
Likewise an Olympus with long lens would be epic for a compact birding setup.
"if you push the boundaries either side of the middle ground that APS-C and 35mm provide you can obtain some advantages…"
Remember, when you follow the masses, the "m" is silent.
Good point, but how about if the FF sensor is inside the same size of MFT camera body with the similar lens and weight, is there still a practical reason to change or "upgrade" if that is the right terminology.
Between BW and Colored film I think majority of the viewers could tell which one is which, but I don't know if many could tell which one was taken from APS-C MFT FF or MF, may be some I guess.
I believe thats physically impossible.
Just compare any FF brand body and lens setup to the equivalent MFT body and lens setup, when not factoring in DOF.
You can simply design significantly slower lenses for FF and you are left with essentially the same size. You can make a 24-80mm f/5.6 which won't be much larger than the Oly 12-40mm f/2.8
Canon and Nikon dipped their toes into this already: notice the newer kit lenses are slow and small? And Canon's tiny super-telephoto 600mm and 800mm? The Olympus 300mm f/4 is not any smaller than a Canon or Nikon 300mm f/4 and if you want to talk equivalents, it's significantly larger than the aforementioned Canon RF 600mm
I love M4/3 - but I'm very well aware of its benefits and limitations, both as a photographer and from an engineering standpoint as an automation vision system developer. Trying to put lipstick on it doesn't do anyone any favours.
M4.3 may have some advantages, but none overcome the basic elements of the human hands size. In actual practice, there is no real reason to favor 4.3 over aps.c which has developed a real ecosystem
If anything, the size and price advantage over the full frame are razor thin once features are factored in
Standardized tech has evolved in other disciples without hampering advances
The same Sony ecosystem supports the a7iii and the a1 with a 4:1 price spread
And the a7c proves that the full frame can achieve a compact, pocketable (jacket) size size and weight
Moving to "medium format" takes a toll on size ... Not the sensor as much as the glass
One can easily imagine that the next iteration of sensors and their related processors will obviate much of that advantage
The problem with APS-C's "real ecosystem" is that most of the good lenses have been developed for full frame. I shoot both DX and m43 and I really wish that a lens like the Nikon 200-500 had been made for a smaller sensor. For weight reasons I am restricted to PF lenses. On the other hand, you get the full benefit of weight reduction for Fuji or m43 because lenses are made for those sensors, specifically. This becomes very relevant for longer focal lengths.
Just got MFT, $260, used Lumic G5, kit zoom lens.
I'm 75 and ok physically; however, the MFT is SO light AND agile to shoot.
My Bronica S2 is so heavy; but my Rolleicord iii (1953) is so light.
I am selling off my D90, F4, etc, and will go into the sunset with 4/3rd items.
My "heavy" exception is my Nikkormat FT3, a 35mm camera, with a 21-35 zoom.
Lee in Denver Colorado USA
What is MFT?
MFT = Micro-Four-Thirds, also referred to as m4/3, m43, m4:3.
What are the real pros to shooting m43 in comparison to APS-C? How does noise for one especially with today's aps like LR, C1 or Rawtherapee? What about price and wide angle lenses?
Main benefit to m4/3 is lens size and IBIS is so much better...main negative is extra noise...
Not to mention availability of a huge range of native AF lenses.
The noise issue is a non-issue if you are working at ISOs up to 400 and only making prints up to 11x14.
I shoot a Canon R5 professionally but I have a m43 for fun and the prints are superb. Everyone assumes I shot them with my R5.
So many never print their images I wonder why they even care about these issues.
Agreed 💯. I shoot Sony and Olympus and not a single person has ever been able to tell which print was shot with which system. Nor do they care. The only people who care about this stuff are other photographers on blogs and forums (most likely to justify their own decisions???).
Plus, DXO deep prime has pretty much invoked the magic card on the higher noise output of m43. It's incredible.
With appropriate processing, my MFT images make crisp, detailed prints up to 24". Shot with a GX7:
11x14 is within the capabilities of a 12MP superzoom with a 1/1.7 sensor and a decent lens. Shot with an FZ35:
I have a weatherproof f1.8 fisheye that is 180 degrees diagonally. If I have noise that isn't easily countered with Lightroom, I simply use Deep Prime (competitors are probably adequate). I can hike or bike all day long with six lenses in my backpack. Rarely need tripod but do often bring one. Olympus (aka OMDS)has neat features like "Live Composite" - google it, it will blow your mind.
First off, I would like to thank you for producing yet another interesting, well written, and well thought out article.
Inasmuch as switching from "full frame" to medium format .....
As one who likes to print at 48" by 32" and 60" by 40", I would absolutely love to have the image quality and depth of field that medium format cameras yield. But for my telephoto wildlife photography, the medium format system is completely impractical. They do not make any MF lenses that offer the narrow angle of view that I use for most of my wildlife imagery. And even if they did, the lenses would be so enormous that I would not be able to transport them afield, let alone afford to buy them.
The 300-800mm f5.6 lens that I currently use weighs 12 pounds and is 24 inches long. To get the same angle of view, and to get full advantage of the larger sensor's DOF capabilities, I would need something like a 500-1100mm f5.6 zoom on a medium format body. Can you imagine how big and heavy such a lens would be?!!! And the cost - I've no doubt that such a lens, make to high quality specifications, would be well over $25,000, which is way way way more than I will ever be able to afford.
Also, I need autofocus that is awesome at tracking subjects that are moving rapidly and erratically, and fast burst rates. Sadly, I don't think any current MF body/lens combinations are up to those tasks.
I do not know why MF cameras and lenses do not have the amazingly fast and accurate autofocus tracking ability that full frame and APS-C systems have. Is there something about the systems themselves that make that impossible? Or is it just that most people who use MF don't shoot sports action or birds in flight, and therefore the MF manufacturers don't see a need to invest millions of extra dollars into AF tracking improvements, when most of their customer base do not need it?
But yeah, if there was a MF system that cost the same as I spend on DSLRs and lenses, and that gave the same angle of view with no more size or weight, and the same relative maximum aperture, then I would switch in a heartbeat! I would LOVE to have my super big prints look better and more finely resolved than they do. And I would love to have even shallower depth of field available to me for those times when I need the gear to blur a background because there is no way to get enough subject/background separation any other way.
Well said! Medium format also doesn’t have a good wide angle lens selection, at least with Fuji, the widest lens is a 17mm full frame equivalent
It's not a 17mm ff equivalent .... but a 13 mm with the LAOWA 17mm MF, you also have a 18 mm ff equivalent and a 24mm FF equivalent and the 20-35 is coming ... I don't understand your comment.
Forgot about the laowa, forgive me. I’m really not trying to disparage Fuji. When the 20-35 gets here, Fuji will be more competitive with ff for wide angle photography. However, ff will still be more versatile with 12-24mm, 14-24mm and 16-35mm zooms commonly available. For me, prime lenses are impractical. Imo, medium format shines in a studio environment. If you spend a lot of time out doors and like to photograph a mix of landscape and wildlife like myself, ff is hard to beat.
I'm only shooting landscape with my GFX50s II i'm really happy with ;-) ... action and wildlife is another story that's right, but that's not what it's aiming for and it was not a case for me.
--- "are you tempted to switch to medium format now that they are becoming more affordable?"
Hell, no. :P
1. AF nowhere near Sony and Canon
2. The web is the equalizer no matter the format. Case in point, samples from DPReview: https://www.dpreview.com/sample-galleries/3125129958/fujifilm-gfx-50s-sa...
There's nothing magical or unique or "that medium format look" about 'em.
I downloaded a few of their raw files and viewed on Capture One. They look no different than my Sony files. And no different than the Canon and Nikon files that I also downloaded.
3. 1080p/30fps. Lol. It's 2022. I'm trying to do more video, so yeah, nope.
It is unfortunate that medium format systems have these shortcomings, compared to the "full frame" mirrorless and DSLR offerings.
Why can't medium format cameras have world-class tracking autofocus? I would think that with more light entering the camera through a larger lens opening, that they would be able to offer even faster, more accurate autofocus than "full frame" cameras. So why don't they?
And why don't they have much faster frame rates? Many of us don't care about a camera being a bit bigger and heavier ... so why can't they just add another processor and a larger battery so that larger files can be handled more rapidly, allowing faster frame rates similar to what we have with other cameras. I mean, if a typical full frame body can now do 20 frames per second at 40 or 50 megapixels, then surely a medium format camera should be able to shoot at 8 or 10 frames per second ..... right?
Yep, I agree. But, seems it's not their focus. -- pun intended. :)
Heavier pieces of glass to move around?
And as Eddie says, it's not their primary focus.
The argument you're making here for 35mm is the same argument I was trying to make for M43rds when my system was being continually trashed by "full-frame" users. These "your system sucks compared to mine" arguments, are silly, and many of us feel compelled to defend our format because we are getting good results. A couple of years ago, I purchased a "full frame" (just call it 35mm) EOS R, because of all the hype about how much better that format was over m43rds. Guess what? That's not what I have discovered. In fact, in almost every possible type of shooting environment, I can get equally good results from my six year old Olympus E-M1. In the same way, I think a good photographer should be able to get equally good results from his 35mm sensor as from a "medium format" sensor.
Hi Chris, That's the point I make in the article, Chris. If proponents of full frame make that argument against MFT, then they must, logically, make the same arguments when comparing full frame to medium format. I agree that it isn't a great argument, and the main thrust of my article is that going to extremes makes better images. Thanks for joining the discussion!
My photo equipment includes both M4/3 equipment, and a brand new Fuji GFX 50 Sii, for some of the same reasons you give. The Oly and Pana cameras and lenses replaced some very nice, but very heavy Nikon DSLRs and lenses. Once I got the M 4/3, the Nikons were never used. I travel a lot and the Nikons were too heavy and intimidating. I understand the limitations on M4/3, so I kept experimenting, and got a Sony full frame and lenses, but I sold them because they were not as fast and practical as the M4/3, and contrary to reviews, they were inferior in performance to my other cameras.
Recently I starting shooting more landscapes, portrait, and architectural photography, and decided to up my game. I rented the GFX, and a Cannon R5 to compare and decide what to buy for my new interests, and there is no comparison, the GFX is my new camera. I love the shooting experience and the fantastic definition and colors. I know the strong and weak points of each system, and I use them to their advantage.
I’m not a professional, although I have sold some of my images, had some exhibitions, and got a few photos published, but for me photography is a hobby that I intend to keep for a long time. I’m 73.
SMH. This is how we statt 2022 in photography and FStoppers? Insane pretzel logic?
My dad sent me a box of pretzels yesterday and they're pretty good! lol
I am even more extreme than MF / M43.
I just keep my Sinar LF and my iPhone.
The "modern look" of the Zfc? Isn't that a retro look?
Yes, agreed...for the owner of FF thinking smaller, APS-C isn't smaller enough. And going the other way, MF produces gorgeous photos that really stand out.
What the world needs...ok...what I need...is an Android-based MFT camera with computational photography and internet capability built in.
Somewhere, in an alternate universe where Samsung didn't abandon purpose built cameras to commit to smartphone photography, what you need exists and is thriving.
Edit to add to that thought:
I'm optimistic that this rapid tech shift that kinda "obsoleted" lower to mid-range cameras for typical consumers, as well as high-end compacts to a certain extent, will balance out again. As a newer generation of photographers catches the passion through their phone and desires that now under-represented market segment, we could see it bounce back to some degree. That would be cool, at least.
By the 'modern' look I meant the contemporary attractive styling and not the obsolete lumpy shapes of the last decade. Sorry, if that was confusing.
'What the world needs...ok...what I need...is an Android-based MFT camera with computational photography and internet capability built in.'
Personally I think having a much better wireless option than currently available to transfer photos to a smartphone would be the best option. Having Android (or iOS) in a camera would just add to many unnecessary problems. Startup time will be too long and the issue of having to keep the OS updated on older cameras or risk them becoming obsolete, battery life plus a number of other issues. It just seems so much easier to make cameras work seamlessly with smartphones instead. Imagine trying to browse the internet with the unsuitable form factor of a mirrorless camera.
I've got extensive kits of MFT and 35mm gear. They're nicely complementary. I don't see any reason to go medium format, though, as my a7RIII already provides plenty of detail for huge prints, and the availability of affordable f1.4 primes simply can't be matched by any medium format system. As I shoot moving subjects a lot in very low light (e.g. 85mm, 1/200, f1.4, ISO 25,600), this matters a lot.
I was listening to a podcast earlier, and the intreviewee said "if you are not producing good images on your current gear, you are not going to produce good images on different gear".
You really can be gear limited. Especially with moving objects in low light. Even worse if those objects are far away and you have poor lighting.
I'm not so sure that that is always true, William.
I have tried, and failed, to take excellent, detailed images of the sun with my FF DSLR and 800mm f5.6 lens. My attempts thus far are absolutely horrible. After speaking at length with some dedicated solar photographers, they told me that there is simply no way that I will ever be able to get results like theirs with my current gear. They then go into details about the immense telescopes they use and the methods they use to connect their cameras to these telescopes.
So, the podcast quote that you posted is not always true. I can not get good solar images with my current gear. But I am damn sure that I would be able to get good solar images with a dedicated large-aperture telescope and the proper adaptors.