Micro Four Thirds vs. Full Frame Nikon (Fx) – Part 1

April 18, 2016

I have seen many discuss how the Micro Four Thirds format compares to Full Frame. Now first of all, I understand all the arguments around the fact that “Full Frame” itself could be described as a cropped format so that aside, I think the comparison happens due to the fact that they are two popular formats and people like to compare things to either help them make a decision or to validate a purchase.

I have been using a Micro Four Thirds camera since the Panasonic GF1 which I loved for many reasons, although on reflection I did find the output from it a little muted for my tastes. But it was my first serious camera and one of the main things I loved about it was simply the fact that it had great IQ in a body that didn’t look like your typical bloated consumer DSLR. As a result of the GF1 I became a fan of m43 and the Olympus EM5 was the camera I really fell in love with. I bought it as soon as it came out and that in itself is testament to how much I wanted it as I tend to wait a while before buying anything. But with the EM5, it was a perfect combo of form and function. Yes the buttons were a bit squishy but the weatherproofing more than made up for it. And yes, some of the buttons were in odd locations but I adapted.

Lizard with EM5 and Olympus 75mm 1.8

Then the final piece of the puzzle that has led me to have a good idea of the pros and cons of both formats was my purchase of the Nikon Df a few years ago. Again, this was a camera I found attractive as it combined such an amazing sensor in a body that wasn’t too bloated and heavy. As most of my photography involves travel, I love any camera that gives great IQ without having to drag around many kg’s of weight.

Shot with the Nikon Df and the incredibly cheap Nikon 50mm f1.8D

I have used these camera a lot with most likely 100,000+ pictures taken and have given me a solid grasp of what each format excels at and in summary I think both have their place, and each have their strengths and weaknesses and as photography is a recreational hobby for me I think it’s good to be honest and say the only person that actually notices the difference in my photographs… is me. 🙂

Micro Four Thirds benefiting from greater depth of field at wide apertures with the 40-150mm f2.8

But I realize many people wonder debate over which format to go with so below I have went into a little detail on different areas of each system and pros and cons:

Focus and AF systems

Interestingly one of my main interests is aviation/airshow photography. It is a hobby I have shared with my father since childhood and find it quite therapeutic trying to capture that perfect shot. With that in mind, it might surprise people that my first reasonably serious camera after the GF1 was the Olympus EM5. But I loved the look of it from the moment and coupled with the 100-300mm Panasonic I learnt a huge amount about the workings of the EM5 and how to get the most out of it. So I think my advantage at that time was I couldn’t compare between contrast AF and phase detect AF, which was probably a good thing as I now know the rate of keepers with the EM5 was probably around 20% vs 90%+ with the Nikon Df.

Love the look of the images from the Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8 Macro

Some of the main issues with the Olympus when it comes to C-AF were the blackout when you took a picture and trying to quickly work out what had happened directly afterwards coupled with the challenges of using C-AF which was ok… but not great. With a lot of practice I got some shots I was quite proud of but I can now say having used the Nikon Df (which itself was given a pretty hard time on its AF performance) at a couple of airshows is that the EM5 c-af doesn’t get anywhere close to phase detect. I know that might be slowly changing with the likes of Sony making great strides with C-AF but I still think for fast moving action, I would prefer to have my Nikon with me. I am not sure with the new Olympus 300mm f4 and the Panasonic Leica 100-400mm whether these improve things any but I am under the impression for at least the short term, reliable af tracking is still a couple of generations away.

Another shot on the ground with the Panasonic Leica 45mm f2.8

For subjective comparison, below are some taken with the Df combined with the Tamron 150-600mm and Sigma C 150-600mm:

Winner: Nikon Df/Fx

Build quality

Now this is specific to each camera and not representative of a format as a whole. I love the compact, but high build quality of the EM5. You can throw it in a bag and not worry about it. The only part of it that has consistently failed me was the eyepiece around the viewfinder… that thing must have broken off around 5 times. Thankfully replacements are easily found but a nuisance to have to pay for. The Nikon Df by comparison does not suffer from the particular problem but does have its own issues – namely the rubber grips that have slowly moved their way across the camera from their original placement giving a sort of sad looking sag to the front of it! It doesn’t affect the use at all, its mostly just annoying and obviously affects any resale value. The paint on the Df has also rubbed off over time which I don’t mind as it has been quite heavily used.  The final issue with the Df that I have not experienced with Micro Four Thirds is oil on the sensor. I didn’t notice until someone pointed it out but my Df after around 6 months of use had a sizeable build up of dirt or oil that I cleaned off with a little device that was recommended via a dpreview forum.

Winner: Olympus EM5/Micro Four Thirds

Please follow this link to part 2 of this article