Micro Four Thirds cameras are in a category between compact digital cameras and digital single lens reflex cameras. They have sensors much larger than compacts, are mirrorless and use interchangeable lenses. M43 cameras offer near-DSLR quality images in a smaller package.
What is a Four Thirds Camera?
The story of the Micro Four Thirds Camera has its roots in the Four Thirds Format introduced by Olympus and Kodak in the early 2000s. It was designed as a more open platform allowing for the lenses of different manufacturers to work with each others camera bodies.
Also the Four Thirds system was designed from ground up optimized for digital sensors. This, along with a host of other technical qualities of the new sensor, made it possible to create lenses which were smaller compared to those used on a typical DSLR.
But the Four Thirds cameras were only marginally smaller than DSLRs. A considerable number of compact camera owners were left scratching their heads wanting to upgrade but held back by the reluctance of having to carry around a bulky camera.
Enter the Micro Four Thirds Camera
All this changed in August 2008 when Olympus and Panasonic launched the Micro Four Thirds camera generation. They created a Four Thirds sensor-based camera but without the bulky mirror assembly and pentaprism.
In place of the traditional Optical View Finder (OVF) mechanism, an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) was implemented. This drastically reduced the bulk and the weight of the overall camera system. This also made it possible to make Micro Four Thirds lenses even lighter and shorter compared to the Four Thirds lenses.
These changes to the camera body and the lens properties makes Micro Four Thirds camera an ideal step up for those who don’t want to put up with a bulky DSLR.
Advantages of Micro Four Thirds cameras
- Bigger sensors; compared to almost all compact cameras, a M43 camera with its larger sensor produces better image quality and has better low light performance.
- Considerably less bulky and lighter compared to a traditional OVF-based DSLR or Four Thirds systems.
- M43 cameras often have many of the same features and capabilities of DSLRs.
- Use interchangeable lenses; lenses designed specifically for M43 cameras are smaller and lighter, and some cost less. DSLR lenses can be used with an adapter, though they may need to be focused manually.
- Provide better control over Depth of Field (DOF) compared to most compacts. This allows for better subject separation, which is ideal for portrait photography.
- The Electronic Viewfinder makes it possible to overlay important information on the viewfinder. Effects of changing ISO, White Balance and other settings are visible in real time.
- Crop factor: the crop factor, also known as focal length multiplier, of M43 lenses is typically 2. For example, a lens with a focal length of 300mm is the 35mm equivalent of a 600mm lens, good news for those who like shooting with a super telephoto lens.
Disadvantages of Micro Four Thirds cameras
- Lack integrated optical viewfinders: because M43 cameras are mirrorless, there is no optical viewfinder. Some cameras include an electronic viewfinder. An optical viewfinder accessory can be purchased separately.
- Smaller sensor results in poorer low light performance and reduced image quality compared to DSLRs.
- The larger crop factor has a downside, too, making depth of field wider. This reduces the amount of subject separation capabilities.
- Photographers used to large DSLRs may find the small size of a M43 camera a disadvantage since adjusting settings can be more difficult.
Is a Micro Four Thirds camera right for you?
If you have been waiting for a chance to upgrade from a compact camera to something more flexible but have been reluctant due to the size and weight of currently available DSLRs, then a Micro Four Thirds camera may be for you.
Or if you already shoot with a DSLR but have been on the lookout for something smaller as a backup or a complement to your main camera take a look at the Micro Four Thirds option.
With many models to choose from and a good and fast growing lens collection, Micro Four Thirds have established themselves firmly in the modern camera universe.
MFT lens compatibility
As the author explains more fully in the commenting section below, Micro Four Thirds lenses from one manufacturer will work on MFT bodies from another manufacturer. Four Thirds lenses will work on a Micro Four Thirds body with the correct adapter. However, you may loose some functionality such as auto focus and some metering modes. The only way to be sure about compatibility is to do research before buying.
Related reading: Other mirrorless cameras