Micro four-thirds: Is it getting too big for its roots?
One of the great assets of the micro four-thirds system is its small size and low weight. That's received wisdom among photographers. Lenses that would reach into the next street and weigh a ton in full-frame or, worse, in medium format, fit the pocket when reduced to the relatively small m4/3 format. That’s the theory, anyway.
The system, flushed with success, is growing not just in terms of unit sales but in the size of the equipment. Bodies have put on the ounces and the waistband is becoming strained — you could not call the 725g Panasonic GH5 a tiny body for instance. The Leica TL2 tips the scales at a frugal 384g despite its much bigger APS-C sensor.
But it is in the lens department that we’ve seen the more extreme evidence of system bloat. True, these new fast lenses are highly capable. We’ve had the 42.5mm f/1.2 Leica DG Nocticron and the 12mm f/1.4 Summilux for some time. By m4/3 standards these are bulky and heavy lenses. But they are dwarfed by the latest Pro primes from Olympus.
The 25mm f/1.2 — an example of which I own — is a superb lens with impressive performance. But at 440g it is over 100g heavier than an equivalent 50mm Leica Summilux-M. At 90mm it is 37mm longer than the Summilux, even without the substantial 38mm hood in place. Even the heavy Leica Noctilux is 10mm shorter and hardly fatter than the Olympus 25mm.
f/1/2 all round
The trend continues as Olympus is seeming to standardise on the fast f/1.2 maximum aperture for its new PRO primes. On the way is a 17mm little brother for the 25mm, another monster by the look of it, and there is a 45mm f/1.2 in the offing.
Micro four-thirds started as a lightweight system, based originally on the PEN format, and the featherweight and tiny lenses created a really compact travel system offering a wide distinction between the new format and then existing APS-C outfits. Like all good things, though, m4/3 has been growing steadily in girth. It’s like looking at a 1963 Mini alongside a 2017 Mini — a completely different vehicle. Only the name and that centre console is left. Similarly, the original Golf was a tiny conveyance compared with today’s car.
Look at it another way, though, and micro four-thirds has really grown up. It is now a wide-ranging system with something for everyone. While those who strive for excellence will be in the market for the bulkier cameras and the Leica DG or Olympus PRO lenses, there are lightweight cameras such as the PEN-F and a plethora of lenses to suit those who value small size and weight above out-and-out performance.
There is a snag, though. As the system grows in size and scope the gap in size and weight between the best m4/3 and APS-C offerings narrows. Take the Leica TL2, for instance. It’s actually a very lightweight body and the lenses, although not as fast as these new m4/3 professional designs, are very light and extremely competent.
It's a similar story with other manufacturers. The Fuji X-T2 body weighs only 504g compared with the Panasonic GH5 at a portly 725g. Even the Panasonic GX8 at 487g is only a feather lighter than the X-T2 while the flagship Olympus OM-D E-M1 II is actually 70g heavier than the Fuji.
There are still many reasons to choose micro four-thirds but size and weight is no longer perhaps the biggest deciding factor. There are big advantages, undoubtedly, when it comes to really long telephoto lenses where the m4/3 sensor promotes economy of scale.
But both in terms of cost (the Olympus E-M1 and the Panasonic GH5 both cost north of £1700 compared with the Fuji X-T2 at £1,350) and weight, today’s leading m4/3 cameras are pushing the boundaries. Many might wonder why not go for the larger sensor if there is little to be saved in size, weight and cost.
What do you think are the main reasons to choose m4/3 over APS-C?