Micro four-thirds and macro photography

Posted on by Mike Evans

This close-up natural-light shot was taken at f/4 and 1/125s, handheld, using a Panasonic GX80 and Olympus f/1.2 25mm. The object here is to have the whole of the camera, including the front inscription of the lens, in focus. With smaller objects, such as insects, and macro photography, the wider depth of field at faster apertures is an asset

Wider depth of field at any given aperture is often cited as a disadvantage of micro four-thirds. But often it is actually an advantage. The smaller m4/3 sensor means that there is approximately a two-stop variance in depth of field from full frame. Thus, an f/1.4 full frame lens will give you a much tighter area of focus that the same aperture stop on the smaller sensor — which equate to f/2.8 on the full-frame sensor. But it would still be an f/1.4 in terms of light gathering capabilities.

The search for wonderful bokeh and extreme subject isolation by means of a very narrow depth of field has become something of a fetish among some photographers. It sort of looks, you know, professional. 

Yet there are  some instances where a wider depth of field at faster apertures can be an advantage. For instance, I normally use m4/3 for handheld, natural-light product shots because it is often good to have a wider aperture from a lighting point of view while ensuring that the whole of the subject, such as a camera, is in focus. It is possible to use a faster speed and a wider aperture without spoiling the shot with an ultra-narrow focus area.

This also brings advantage to macro photography. Robin Wong of the Ming Thein blog has written a compelling piece on this subject but in relation to insect photography in particular. As a former Olympus employee, Robin is a great fan of the m4/3 system and finds that the second-to-none image stabilisation features, particularly of the OM-D cameras, to be a great asset when doing insect macro work. But more depth of field is one of the biggest advantages of the format:

“Generally seen as a weakness of the Micro Four Thirds format, the difficulty in achieving very shallow depths of field becomes an advantage with insect macro. While most photographers want beautiful bokeh, and throw the background as far out of focus as they can, macro photographers, want to have as much depth of field as they can get away with. If the depth of field is too shallow, you can only see the insect’s eye in focus, for example, but you want the wings of the insect and the patterns on the body in focus as well, given how beautiful they can be.  As a rule of thumb, Micro Four Thirds will give you twice as much depth of field as a full frame system will for a certain f-stop.”

Read the full article here.

Robin finds that the excellent stabilisation systems of Olympus cameras help with insect photography. But the wider depth of field at a given aperture is also a big plus for the m4/3 format (Photo Robin Wong)