11.03.2018

Is it true? Is the micro four thirds format dying out? Will it be extinct in no time? And what about DSLRs?

I've been reading a lot of stuff on the web and it seems as though the Camerati have decided that from now until the end of time there will only be full frame mirrorless and that no company will spend even a thin dime to do R&D on anything "less." The predictions have all smaller sensor sized cameras disintegrating into dust, being cast out of moving cars like cigarette butts, and being abandoned by users and dealers quicker than egg salad gone bad. They may be right but are they "right" to think so?

I have several full frame Nikon cameras floating around and I also have an ample number of smaller sensor cameras rattling around in the cupboards in the form of Panasonic GH5s, G9s and GH5Ss. I also have a good sampling of lenses and I'm hungry for more (so be sure to sell them for next to nothing if you are planning to abandon the system --- especially if you are getting ready to dispose of your Leica/Panasonic 50-200mm lens....).

While I may not have a test lab filled with really cool camera test gear I have, over the course of the last 30+ years, shot well over a million frames and I've looked at most of them before tossing the majority in the trash. I've learned a thing or two about the process of photography and the process of making technically good images and I don't think the difference in digital formats is the same thing as the difference between the older film formats that we seem nostalgically tied to as usable analogies for digital.

I've shot over 3,500 images with a Panasonic G9 this week and there are very few I would reject for technical issues. I certainly understand that, with perfect technique, the images I could get from my Nikon D800e might have more useable resolution, overall, and (subject dependent) slightly more useable dynamic range we're really not talking about shocking and massive differences but more in the range of: at 20 by 30 inches and larger I may be getting 5 to 10 % more detail from a print. When viewed on a phone, an iPad, a laptop or even a 27 inch Retina screen I don't think there's enough difference to justify the extra nuisance of bigger, heavier, slower and less stabilized cameras. And when it comes to 4K video my GH5S just mops the floor with even the latest and greatest camera system competitors.

Many will argue that the all important bokeh (and what most people mean when they state this has nothing to do with the traditional, Japanese meaning of bokeh but is meant as short hand for: very limited depth of field as a result of using a wider aperture, on a longer lens, on a bigger format sensor) is not as good on a smaller camera and they might be right. But a faster lens fixes that pretty quickly and a lens that covers a smaller format can be designed to be sharper and better corrected than lenses that have to cover a larger sensors. I would offer as a rejoinder that being able to achieve a deeper depth of focus at a faster shutter speed or lower ISO is perhaps a more important set of parameters for everything from landscape photography to street photography, and even corporate photography, where getting strategic focus zones sharp is more valuable to more users than the obverse. After seeing lots of examples from iPhones and advanced Android phones I would also say that we're at the start of a generation of computational photographers whose cameras or post production programs will offer them a post-shot choice of how much and where they would like the focus to drop off in front and behind a subject.

It's like all those people who tease me for liking to compose in the camera in the square format who wax on and on about how much easier it would be for me to just shooting in a 3:2 or 4:3 format and then crop in post. They'll soon be lecturing us on how much easier (and more realistic it is to do your depth of field control after the fact ---- so you can more effectively fine-tune the results. And yes, they will also use the argument that you don't need to shoot black and white modes in camera because the post production control is so compelling....

If we remove the implied, organic advantage of the bigger format; more control over putting more stuff out of focus, and are instead provided that control by the camera makers or by Adobe, then all of a sudden the need to carry a bigger format camera vanishes.

I've also read lots of puffy writing about how the "real promise" of m4:3 was that we'd all have access to lenses that were so tiny we'd need to handle them with tweezers and so light that they actually float when unattached to cameras. The writers of these screeds huff and puff about how big the (specialty) lenses for the smaller system have become but it's so much bullshit. Yes, the bigger, professional zooms are bigger and heavier. But I've become better acquainted with two lenses for the m4:3 systems that lay bare those exaggerations in the service of choice justification. They are the Panasonic 42.5mm f1.7 and the Leica/Panasonic 15mm f1.7. Both are very small and very lightweight while being extremely sharp and capable, even wide open. If the 42.5mm f1.7 is too much for you to handle then you have medical issues and not camera choice issues....

Just as 35mm photographers re-oriented an entire generation of photographers away from Speed Graphics 4X5 inch cameras, and Rolleiflex medium format cameras, the m4:3 cameras have the potential to re-orient our generations of photographers to leave behind the legacy assumptions about what's necessary to create good work and what is just a safety blanket of justifications based on knowledge that had more to do with film grain and less to do with digital sensors.

The "Aha!" moments for me were my use of the Panasonic G9 and then the GH5S. The GH5S is a wonderful (counterintuitive) portrait camera while the G9 may be the best all-arounder I've yet used. The G9 is fast, facile and the 20 megapixel sensor is easily capable of great results in all the lighting conditions that make any sense to work in. If you need killer low light performance you can certainly drop cash to get faster and faster lenses but do you really always work in Stygian darkness? I heard so much about the limited hours of daylight in Iceland but I've been able to effectively photograph all day long with the smaller frame cameras. If you shoot landscapes you'll want a tripod and if you have a tripod and a still subject you should be able to do miraculous work in any format. Especially as computational features continue to abound, like the high resolution modes on Olympus and Panasonic cameras.

But most consumers are as dumb as a barrel of hammers and if the smaller formats do die off it will be a result of millions and millions of people making choices based on bad information and a mismatch between their budgets and their use profiles because in so many situations the smaller format provides a better platform for the majority of users.

I predict that DSLRs will die a much quicker death as people come to understand the benefits of features like live view, the constant feedback of good EVFs and, yes, the smaller size and potentially smaller lenses. Who would want to start out buying a Nikon D850 if they could start with a Z7 instead? Only people irrationally wedded to the past or people with so many legacy lenses that they feel their only recourse is to eventually be buried with them like Vikings with their ships and weapons....

In three years no new traditional DSLR cameras will be introduced into the market. Canon, Nikon and everyone else will make the transformation away from pentaprism cameras at a rate that will make the advanced amateur embrace of digital (from film) look glacially slow. And that adaptation happened so fast it caught just about every camera maker flat footed.

Whether or not the smaller formats are well represented depends more on people understanding the advantages of the smaller size and of computational features than anything having to do with actual photography. Bigger is not always better. Sometimes just right is just right.

I can't imagine going backwards. I can imagine jumping up to medium format (maybe) but some of that is down to my own nostalgia, having spent well over a decade and a half shooting with Hasselblad and Rolleiflex cameras in the last century. It made sense then for any number of reasons but now, not so much.

I recommend anyone who thinks they MUST have a full frame camera borrow an m4:3 camera (a current one; let's not compare a Nikon D850 with an original 2010 Olympus Ep1...) and actually shoot the kind of stuff that's currently filling up your hard drive, and see what you actually see with your own eyes and not via the poison keyboard from the review site or video channel of a writer/vlogger whose income mostly depends on convincing you to constantly shop and strive for (an elusive and irrational) perfectionism.

All cameras will die off as single use tools once the phone cameras are fully charged up with computational craziness. Consider this, the processor in the latest iPhone is capable of 5 TRILLION operations per second. It has a six core main processor and an embedded 4 core GPU. With the right software in the camera camera it will add so much flexibility to that camera that it's only a matter of mastery before it's capable of handling most people's photography work better than traditional tools; or at least easier. And it's just going to get better and better.

When you can program in the look you want and the processors can execute it perfectly what exactly is the reason to argue about the need for traditional cameras? I've given up looking for traditional metrics in camera evaluation. The GH5 for instance runs rings around the A7xx Sonys for video performance and never, ever overheats. Why? Smaller processors have less energy running through them and they generate less heat. The Olympus EM1-2 kicks everyone else's butts when it comes to image stabilization. Why? A smaller mass 9the sensor) to move and more computational performance applied to image processing. And on and on.

What will die off? First the traditional DSLRs then the full frame mirrorless and finally, at the end of the old school camera extinction event, the m4:3 and one inch sensor cameras. If you hate using your phone for photos and videos you might want to start planning your retirement from the field. Me? I'm putting more resources into my Panasonic stuff and I'm also in line to get an Apple XR iPhone. Might want to use it for stuff. The people on my workshop/tour who've been shooting with their phones are getting astonishingly good stuff. The stuff from us "advanced camera users" looks pretty good too, but only after we sit around at night and do our post processing.

The future is relentless. Bet on that.

26 comments:

David Speranza said...

Preach it, Kirk. As a M43 user since the GH1, I couldn't agree more. I've been shooting professionally (corporate and lifestyle photos and videos) with the lowly G7--and now G85--for the last couple years, and it always pains me to see the overkill that goes into so many people's kits. Even more painful: having to lug around (and pay for) those full-frame beasts. Meanwhile, no client has ever complained about my image quality or the size of my (ahem) tool. If only the marketers behind the smaller-sensor cameras did a better job, we might not be having this discussion. That's why it's always reassuring to have a credible voice such as yours in the mix. Don't ever stop preaching!

Anonymous said...

I have just returned from a wildlife photo safari where the leader was given the latest Olympus gear by Olympus two months ago and felt obligated to use it on this trip. All I heard from him was swearing and complaints about how small the buttons were and how he kept missing shots as the camera would not do what his big DSLR could do.

Kirk Tuck said...

One two points I think you workshop safari leader is full of crap. First, to bring along a camera with which he was not intimately familiar. Two months is a lot of time to get acquainted, set your settings and train your hands. I guess he had other stuff to take care of before leaving the country???? And secondly, I was able to take 3500+ shots in freezing weather with big gloves on and still hit all the buttons on my Panasonic G9 correctly. That he could not do so even without gloves on is mind boggling. The buttons ain't much smaller than those on other cameras. So, other than his camera incompetence and lack of preparation, How was the workshop?

Anonymous said...

1. I surprised you're equivalence denier. Under no conditions or circumstances will m43 sensor capture better IQ than FF sensor. "More DOF at lower ISO" - bad understznding of how iso impacts IQ across formats. On the other hand, whe light is sufficient or no need to stop down, FF is better every time.
2. I have no idea why do you say Panasonic has GH5 has smaller processor than sony. Soze of the sensor or size of the camera ard jn no relation here. And processing power needed for 24mpix is no tangibly different than for 20mpix.

That being said, long live m43.

Carlo Santin said...

The one thing that will keep DSLRs lingering in the marketplace is price. The big guys will be unloading them cheap. They already are fairly cheap, but there will still be so many of them on the market at such low prices that they won't die a quick death. For example, the Nikon D3600 and D5600 are small and about the size of some of the mirrorless products, but much cheaper new than any of the mirrorless offerings. So they will continue to be around for a while I think.

Michael Matthews said...

My, you are in fine fettle. Maybe it’s the cold, clear Icelandic air. Who in his right mind would disagree?

Megamegapixel DSLRs may still offer some advantage in narrow, specialized uses but those advantages will transition out of existence rather quickly. From the day I powered up my Canon G3 — mirrorless, always-on, direct view onscreen in the year 2000 — it has always been the logical path for progress. For a while the nostalgic pull of the SLR form with bright optical viewfinder led me astray. Then the affordable cameras began offering increasingly tiny viewfinders with each iteration and that attraction vanished. Enter Micro 4/3. As the original Macintosh computers used to say upon startup, “Hello”.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I don’t think DSLR is completely dead, it will likely become niche, while ever there are sales in it for someone. There are still kick-starter capaigns to build SLRs - noting they will likely remain niche.
We still have cinema, radio, public broadcast TV etc on top of cable & streaming.
Having said that, various storage mediums have bit the dust: tapes of various formats (except maybe archival storage for technology), floppy disks, and yet vinyl is making a niche comeback.
I see it as being a question of what is the dominant technology - and who knows where that will go in 10 years.
Cheers,
Not THAT Ross Cameron

Anonymous said...

I have spent the last three days photographing a dog agility trial with an OLY EMii and a 40-150. I used the C focus setting and a medium size focus point. The only pictures which were not good were my fault. Sharp, good color and dynamic range. I know what I am missing, having shot the same event with heavy Nikon and Canon cameras in the past. I sort of miss being able to wear my polarized sunglasses and the shallow depth of field of the pro cameras but not the weight and cost of a similar setup with a DSLR. That said, I came home with as many or more keepers and without the aches and pains my old setup caused. I am not jumping ship.

David said...

I think what hits some people is that four thirds lasted just 10 years. Now that micro four thirds is at 10 years, they expect a similar death and rebirth into something else.
However, I think Panasonic amd Olympus finally got it right and m43rds really is the best walk around camera. We just need Panasonic or Olympus to load in all the software magic and the other camera competition will be scratching their heads as to why they didn't. Panasonic was first to do lens correction in camera and not optically and got hammered for it. Now everyone does that. The software fix in camera I see as next big move, but most likely by Olympus this February.

rick-pick said...

Bravo!

Ross said...

Sounds like he has fat fingers ( ;) ), or just a total bias in his thinking. He obviously took that camera with a total negative bias.

PacNW said...

"In three years no new traditional DSLR cameras will be introduced into the market. Canon, Nikon and everyone else will make the transformation away from mirrored cameras ...."

Then can we please stop using the silly word "mirrorless"? It didn't take long to stop calling cars "horseless carriages." I never see a car today and think about it as being horseless.

Anders said...

Generally output from phones are a disaster. Take a look at the new Google Pixel with "computational photography". It just sucks big time. A lot of people are satisfied with the crappy output from iPhones and other phones and so be it. Quality is not a parameter that most people care about. The high end 4/3 cameras from Panasonic and Olympus are simply too expensive to ever become a big success. Why get one of those when a cheap Nikon D3600 about the same size and weight will provide better IQ for 1/5 of the price.

Anthony New said...

My 5-year old Nokia windows phone takes superb pictures in low light. It has a tiny but stabilised 8.7Mp sensor and an excellent jpeg processor, plus it's light enough for hand-holding at slow shutter speeds. What the large-sensor fanboys forget is that a small sensor can capture just as much light as a big one *if you can hold the shutter open longer*. And as someone who regularly uses about four different sensor sizes up to FF, it often can. When necessary I can carry a pocket tripod for the 1/1.7" Canon or APS-C Nex, but I can't for the FF.

And, as Kirk says above, the reasons why an image gets rejected have little to do with either sensor size or lens cost.

Anonymous said...

First mirrorless cameras are m4/3, not pocket cameras.

Anonymous said...

Actually Olympus was doing corrections before panasonics.

Anonymous said...

Why get a flimsy lump of plastic Nikon with limited manual control that can't even AF older lenses by the same manufacturer, when you can buy a Panasonic G80 - which is WR, has a magnesium alloy front plate, touch sensitive flip out screen and IBIS! for about the same money? Some of you do spew some incredible nonsense. And IQ is not any better, sorry, APSC isn't any kind of leap from M43, you're delusional

Unknown said...

This 30mm Leica/Panasonic f1.7 that you mention doesn't seem to exist. Which lens did you really have in mind?
25mm P/L f1.4; 25mm P f1.7 or perhaps the 30mm f2.8 macro?

Kirk Tuck said...

Sorry. I meant the 15mm f1.7 Leica/Panasonic. My mistake.

Kirk Tuck said...

Now corrected in the article....

Anonymous said...

I switched from mobile phone and Lumix GM1 to an Oly Pen-F because I started needing reading glasses. Those reading glasses are never there when I need them so I doubt I will be going back to taking pictures without an EVF. Apparently there are a lot of middle aged men with to much money who have the same problem. If traditional cameras die I hope they will make mobile phones with EVF.

Kirk Tuck said...

I am not an "equivalence denier" I just don't give a fuck. If the camera provides good files and is fun to use it's in the club. Could have the biggest sensor in the market and if it's a dog to shoot then we cut it loose.... And, I meant "smaller sensor" not processor. And yeah, Panasonic does use much faster multi-core processors in their imaging chain and yeah it does work better. Sign the next one.

Kirk Tuck said...

clients don't give a fuck. the only people who seem to care are the pot bellied guys in fishing vests with the giant camera bags over one shoulder and all their camera stuff dangling from Black Vapid straps. Clients just want good seeing and good delivery.

Paul said...

Actually Hasselblad was the first in their H series of cameras.

Paul said...

What I find particularly interesting about the equivalence zealots is that when you start talking about medium format and larger they all start saying that the larger format has no advantage over 35mm sized sensors. I guess that is because they can’t afford to buy medium format.

TONI said...

Nice post, Kirk !

People like Tony Northrup believe that phones will replace m4/3 cameras. If this sounds realistic, I am wondering why an m4/3 cameras would not replace FF and MF cameras ?