Micro 4/3 vs DSLR – Which is Better and What Will People Think?

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These days, there are a lot of photographers pondering whether or not it might be a good time to consider getting rid of their DSLRs and moving over to mirrorless cameras.  There have been major advancements in mirrorless technology over the last several years that has brought about major improvements in autofocus, high ISO performance, Image Quality, etc., and we’ve witnessed the release of new mirrorless systems like Sony’s NEX 7 (and now, the NEX 6), the Fuji X-Series Cameras (X-Pro1 and X-E1) and the top of the line micro 4/3 cameras from Olympus and Panasonic, the OM-D E-M5 and the Lumix GH3.  But have the advancements in mirrorless technology come far enough?

In the video above, Hybrid Photography Pioneer and MC Contributor Will Crockett (DiscoverMirrorless.com) answers a reader’s question about the autofocus performance on the Panasonic Lumix GH3 vs his Canon 650 (aka T4i) – and as Will states in the video, in most circumstances you can indeed have confidence in the autofocus performance on the GH3.

There’s no doubt that the micro 4/3 system is the most developed of any mirrorless camera system today.  There are more high quality micro 4/3 lenses available than for any other mirrorless system, and since both Panasonic and Olympus make m43 cameras, they seem to be quickly pushing each other to new heights, and soon there will be many more companies joining the micro 4/3 party.

So is it the right time to go mirrorless?

As we have reported on this site, David Taylor-Hughes of SoundImagePlus is currently facing a similar dilemma as he is paring his rather impressive camera collection (He has the Sigma DP Merrill cameras, a Nikon D800E, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 and a Panasonic Lumix GH3) down to just 2 cameras.  Though David is a mirrorless enthusiast, he has stated on many occasions that he would have a hard time parting with his Nikon D800, but in a new article on SoundImagePlus, he seems to indicate that he is leaning towards keeping his micro 4/3 cameras, the Lumix GH3 and the OM-D E-M5.

We’ve been following David’s story, and though nothing is yet written in stone, he does state that “For my own part I seem to be drifting slowly towards the decision that the OM-D and GH3 are the two cameras I’ll keep. Nothing is decided yet, but I don’t seem to want to use anything else currently.

Not a bad choice, in my mind.  These are two superb cameras that produce great results.  They’re smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts, and since they’re both micro 4/3, he’ll be able to swap lenses between the two without using adapters (travel small, shoot BIG!).

Image is everything

Yeah, the GH3 and the OM-D will pop out some high quality images, but that’s not quite what I’m talking about here.

You see, in assessing some important intangibles that are driving him in the m43 direction, David lays out the following revelation…

“So what is it that has changed things, why have these two cameras suddenly moved things along, and seem to have “authenticated” m4/3 as a serious digital camera system and format?

Well for me the answer is relatively simple, but involves admitting what many of us don’t really like admitting. They look right.”

Ahhhhh.  The Big Green Hairy Monster that is confronting many who are contemplating the switch to mirrorless has finally revealed itself…  “What will people think if I show up with a tiny mirrorless camera system?”

In an industry that is so driven by image, from the quality of those that come out of your camera to the coolness factor of those whose images you capture, one thing is clear.  Perception is reality, and many ProTogs don’t feel that they’ll be taken seriously if they don’t show up with a 75lb. camera system with bazooka-like lenses.

One of the first people to tackle that big green monster is our good friend, street photography guru and MC Contributor Giulio Sciorio (SmallCameraBigPicture.com and DiscoverMirrorless.com).  You see, G was one of the first bonafide pros to make a wholesale switch to mirrorless, originally to an Olympus PEN Mini and OM-D, and now he’s also added a Panasonic Lumix G5 and GH3 to his camera lineup.

In his excellent article entitled “How To Overcome the Fears of Using Micro 4/3 Cameras in a Professional Environment“, G tackles the top issues confronting pros who are considering adding (or switching to) mirrorless systems, and guess what sits on top of the list…

Fear #1 – What will my clients think?

Here’s how G addresses the perception issue…

“Q – If I show up to a job and the client is expecting X and they get Y then I could lose any further jobs from them in the future.

A – Since photography sales is a long-term relationship based sale, not a one time retail based sale, you want to be sure that your client is confident that you will do the job right.

Often times, my client’s job is on the line if they don’t put on a good show for their company or client, so looking professional needs to be a priority. If I show up not looking like the person they were expecting, then I’ll make them look unprofessional, and not only will I risk losing a client, I could also risk my client losing their job or client as well.

So how did I address this gear fear? Since photography is a “show me” business not a “tell me” business, I strive to show my clients just what I can do with a small camera. In December during Art Basel Miami, I shot street portraits of artists and art lovers. The shots came out great and I told all my clients about it. They already knew that I had the PEN, but it was typically kept in my case while I was shooting their jobs with the 5DMKII.

My clients’ reactions to the Art Basel Street Portraits were very positive, so when I told them I did the project with the tiny PEN, they were really impressed.

What I communicated to them is this –

  • The camera is fast and small, with a large chip so the quality is very high.
  • Since the camera is small, the subjects were more relaxed than if I shot with a large SLR and since it was also very fast I was able to capture the moment quickly and move on.

When I asked them how they felt about me shooting for them with a small camera The reaction was positive. Here’s an actual email –

Having a camera that people are used to as being “professional” does play a role at least in an environment when your career is on the line. It takes a lot of work and resources to earn a client’s trust but it’s so easy to lose a client if you don’t handle the challenges in a professional manner.  (Read the rest of Giulio’s Excellent Article Here)

So Which is Better?

In the end, that question will ultimately depend on your intended use for the system.  There may still be some tasks that are better left for DSLRs, but not very many, and there are many takes that are better left for mirrorless.  For 95% of photographers, mirrorless systems can and will do everything you need just as good as (and in many cases, better than) a DSLR.  Mirrorless cameras are much better suited for Hybrid Photography as well, and since technology is progressing rapidly, you can look for any remaining gaps to be closed in the not too distant future.

Buy the Panasonic Lumix GH3 and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 on Amazon Here

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