hans groen


experience with mft / micro 4/3

Since 2006 I have been using Olympus cameras (‘again’, for I owned an OM10 in the 1990s, but lost that one on a holiday trip). I started with the Four Thirds E330. At the time it felt I need to replace the body, Micro Four Thirds had become the ticket. To be honest, if Minolta would have stayed in the camera business, I might have stayed with that brand. I had a Dimage D7 which I enjoyed very much; the design was rather a mirrorless slr with a fixed lens (but a very good 28-200mm/2.8-3.5 equiv.). When Minolta sold the camera business to Sony, I looked for Olympus for a replacement: they make very good lenses, as I knew from experience, and I thought the concept of the Four Thirds system to be very sensible: smaller equipment for the same focal length. Olympus’s OM-system already was a very compact design, they even had the Pen, a ‘half-full-frame’ system, so I trusted they would be able to get the FT-system going.

Well, smaller size?

FT promised more compact equipment, but that seemed much harder to achieve than they probably thought at first. The first generation bodies and kit lenses. The professional lenses were quite substantive, also in price — the DZuiko 14-35 was the equivalent of the fullframe 28-70 zoom, but then Olympus gave that lens a constant aperture of 2 in stead of 2.8. The lens sold (still sells) for about €2000 (in 2021) . A D.Zuiko 35-100/2 is available for €2847 … Likewise, my workhorse, the 12-60/2.8-4, is a fairly substantial lens, comparable to a 24-120 zoom lens for full frame, and available for €999 — mind you, 24-120mm is still an achievement!

I think what Olympus underestimated was that halving the focal length means a more spherical lens. At the smaller focal lengths, the lens is closer to a marble shape. And because depth-of-field-wise the aperture multiplies with 2 too, so the equivalent of the workhorse 70-200/2.8 mm for full frame, means a 35-100/1.4. And then the lens has to be about 70mm diameter to get an f1.4 at 100mm (f=focallength/lens diameter). Count your blessings, the original f2 zooms for FT were already very expensive, getting that much glass for an f1.4 zoom in a marble-like shape is really a thing.

Then one has to deal with distortion. A traditional 28mm lens almost always shows some visible distortion. It is correctable with glass, making the lens bigger and heavier. The 12mm of my 12-60 lens needs some extensive correction, and the mustache remnants at 12mm  are the witness. Eventually the designers gave up optical correction at the extreme wide-angel: they do it in software, via the lens profile that gets loaded into the jpeg-engine or your raw-software. So my former Lumix 14mm/2.5 relies on correction in the software, but it is not a very expensive lens. I do feel a bit cheated when I see that the M.Zuiko 12-40 for which I would have to pay about €800 also is corrected via the software.

The 4/3 standard works out to be very advantageous for the tele side of ‘normal’, providing light equipment for wild life, travel and nature photography where carrying around loads of equipment is either not practical, or just (physically) impossible. And what I read, it is among the wild life people that MFT is seen as a real and viable option.

Journalists could have embraced the system too, were it not for the higher noise produced by the image sensors and the lack of wide aperture lenses at launch.

Resolution

I do not care much about resolution. For my needs at the moment, the 20Mp are more than sufficient; in case I need more, there is a high-resolution option via pixel shift. My Minolta D7 had 5Mp and with some minor fiddling one can get very nice images already with that pixel count. Always ask yourself: how often do I have to produce a razor sharp A0 poster with my camera. The biggest jump that I experienced was when I got the E-M10 which has no AA filter.  There is a definite clarity and crispness in the images, instead of the in comparison slight cloudiness from chips behind an AA filter.

The bigger issue with 4/3 is noise, because the chip is smaller the photocells are also smaller. I think 4/3 will always drag a bit behind the bigger chips, but again, I do not care much. See it as a feature, as people used to go wild about the graininess of 6400ASA film. But if you need smooth pictures in low light, full frame is the option.

What I would like

Lenses for 4/3 are either fairly cheap, or very expensive, but nothing much in between. There are a couple of handy zooms in the 35-100mm, or 40-150mm range for around €200,-, but they all have an aperture of 4-5.6. If you want 2.8 constant, you pay at least 4 times that amount. What I would like is a 30-120mm/f4 zoom for somewhere around €500. Then a pancake-like 14mm/f2 which is optically corrected. And a 135mm/f2.8 telelens, preferably with a close focus of about 0.5m.  All for €350-600. The Korean Samyang already produces some of these primes; it should not be too difficult to make them autofocus for MFT, or at least connect the aperture. But I definitely challenge Olympus to develop these kind of in-between lenses, as they will make all the features of the OM-d E-M1ii work on their products.