I recently read a review written by professional photographer Scott Bourne about the Olympus OM-D EM-5, one of Olympus’s mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs), or what they call the Micro Four Thirds system.
According to four-thirds.org:
A new Four Thirds System standard has been developed to increase the freedom and enjoyment of digital SLR photography.
Enter Micro Four Thirds (MFT). Essentially, you get a thinner camera without the “mirror box” but the same 4/3-type image sensor size. Theoretically, you are able to take the same high quality pictures you take with any DSLR but without the bulk and the physical viewfinder; the viewfinder is replaced by an electronic screen. Furthermore, you can still use interchangeable lenses, even those designed for standard Four Thirds Systems, though you will need adapters. Review the images from four-thirds.org below for more detail.
In his review, Scott Bourne listed what he thought were the pros and cons of the Olympus MILC he tested. To sum up his review, he thought it was worth every penny. As an aging photographer, he is frankly tired of carrying around all the heavy gear. With the Olympus, he can take equally professional pictures but with much less bulk. To add credibility to his argument, he includes pictures he’s taken with the Olympus MFT system. Be sure to at least glance at the photos in his article. I’ve summarized his pros and cons below:
PROS to MFT
1. Stealth (Nobody bothers you because you aren’t carrying around a Canon 1DX, i.e. cops, tourists, other photographers, etc.)
2. Small size
3. Low weight
4. Easy to pack and carry
5. Amazing glass
6. Lower overall cost
7. Options not available to DSLR users (e.g. lenses you can’t get on a DSLR)
CONS to MFT
1. Low-light performance isn’t as good as DSLR
2. AF on moving subjects is sub-par
3. Can’t tether
4. Short battery life
5. Minimal support system (e.g. accessories, etc.)
For me, I think the biggest pros are the portability (small, light weight) and cost. The biggest cons are performance and battery life. The cons are a pretty big deal for most professional photographers and for good reasons. However, to Scott’s point, many photographers don’t really need to worry about these kinds of things based on the photos they are taking:
If you are a PROFESSIONAL sports shooter, wildlife shooter or other action shooter or if you are a wedding shooter who works in venues that don’t allow flash, you should probably stick with your DSLR.
Many of us don’t fall into those categories, especially the professional part. Regardless, some of us aspire for professional quality photography even if we are but amateurs still. There are other great things to be noted about the professional level DSLRs as well. But in general, Scott makes a great point.
I think what is more significant to me is the paradigm shift. I think a lot of photographers will look at the MILC and MFT systems as absolutely inferior. They’ll defend their Four Thirds systems vehemently. But seeing the trends in mobility with phones, laptops and tablets, I bet the smaller, lighter cameras will start to sway consumers looking to get away from bulkier technology. And why shouldn’t they? These systems will only get better. I think it will be important for traditional Four Thirds system photographers to take a good hard look at the MILCs so that they don’t overlook the new technology. I don’t think there will be a swift takeover given the limitations that Scott mentioned in his review. Based on my very limited knowledge and zero experience (I’m taking Scott’s word and photos on authority) I do think that the MILCs have much to offer in terms of mobility and comparable quality.