No, Micro Four-Thirds (MFT) is not dead! I feel like at least once a year I have to write this down. I’m often asked, “MFT cameras can’t keep up with a full-frame like Sony, why bother?” To be fair, 5 years ago that question had Canon instead of Sony in it so I guess Sony should’ve stopped making cameras then. In either case, it’s a really ill-informed question equating sensor size as the only determining factor in what makes a good camera or worse, a good image.
Micro Four-Thirds is not dead: Two new Micro Four-Thirds Cameras
Recently, both OM Digital Solutions and Panasonic announced new MFT cameras with two very different end-users in mind. OM Digitial Solutions’ new flagship, the OM-1, leans heavily on computational photography and sturdy (read: tank-like) camera construction that was a major feature of the Olympus brand they purchased. The OM-1 boasts features like being freezeproof to 14-degrees Fahrenheit, bird, eye, and object tracking being aided by a new, faster, imaging processor (computational photography). The improved AF focusing options in the OM-1 speak to their investment in computational photography – allowing the camera to take much of the guesswork from ensuring tack-sharp focus at a distance. For many wildlife photographers, this will undoubtedly be a plus.
On the Panasonic side of things, they also recently announced a new MFT flagship – the Panasonic GH6. We’ve known about the inevitability of the GH6 for nearly a year – Panasonic said as much when they announced the GH5 II – but that doesn’t mean that the official announcement was any less impactful, especially for videographers and streamers. Streamers and video creators can rest easy, Panasonic is also leaning into the world of computational but their efforts behind improved video features like improved high ISO image quality and digital stabilization.
MFT is definitely still alive and (incrementally) innovating.
Micro Four-Thirds: still an attractive option
The reason why MFT remains such an attractive option depends on the type of photographer/creator that you identify as. The smaller bodies and rugged construction of the OM Digital Solutions options are definitely attractive options for photographers that want to get off the beaten path. Being able to pack light and still have the long reach of super-telephoto lenses cannot be understated. If you’re doing any kind of outdoor shooting, you’ll appreciate the weight savings a smaller camera system like MFT offers.
For videographers and streamers, Panasonic’s GH series of cameras absolutely changed the game. Personally, the GH3 completely changed my opinion of what was possible in MFT systems when it came to video. The GH6 continues the tradition of pushing the limits of what the system offers for videographers – in many ways, Panasonic’s video quality besting even Sony’s a7SIII (just take a look at that high ISO image quality in the Panasonic G9).
Nothing is perfect and that includes MFT and the two biggest companies making those cameras. While I’m happy to see that there’s a real interest from both companies to continue to produce MFT cameras and even dip their toes into the world of computational photography, the truth is they need to do a lot more than dip their toes. In order for MFT to have long-term viability, they must fully embrace what smartphones are able to do with much smaller sensors. That means improved low-light performance, AI-assisted bokeh, and improved stabilization. While it’s usually not common practice in the camera world to have such aggressive innovation, with MFT it is an absolute must. OM Digital and Panasonic have to give photographers a reason to leave their smartphones in their pocket and incremental changes won’t cut it.
Despite that short rant, my initial comment remains unchanged – MFT is not dead, in fact, it has the potential for a long life ahead. Let’s just hope that manufacturers recognize the need to push the boundaries of what a camera can do and recognize that their real competition isn’t Sony, Canon, or Nikon but instead Apple, Google, and Samsung.