Micro Four Thirds for Nature Photography Part 1: MFT Advantages

In this first article in the “Micro four thirds for Hybrid Nature Photography” series I want to point out some of the advantages of using smaller-format cameras for nature photography. I personally use Micro Four Thirds (MFT) cameras and lenses, but many of the tips in this series would apply to other mirrorless cameras as well.



Image Quality

OM-D waterfallWhat good is a camera if it doesn’t make images that meet your standards? The top-of-the-line MFT cameras (currently the Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Panasonic GH3) use 16mp sensors that are capable of beautiful image quality. The lens selection for the MFT system is extensive and there are some truly amazing lenses in the lineup. If you are printing, uploading to the web, shooting for clients or selling stock photography (as I do), you will not be disappointed in the IQ of the MFT system. Even high ISO is not a problem for these cameras. I’m happy to shoot at ISO 1600-3200 for many subjects with no complaints. Of course, this depends on the situation and your mileage may vary.


Size Matters

OM-D in Costa Rica

The first thing that attracted me to the MFT system was the small size of the components. Nature photography generally involves working “in the field”, and that means you have to carry all of the tools you need. If your tools are smaller they are that much easier to carry. There is a lot more to this size advantage than small camera bodies.

Since the sensor in the MFT cameras is smaller than full-frame or APS-C sensors, the lenses for the system can be much smaller. There are some fantastic MFT lenses that are a fraction of the size and weight of their “full-frame” counterparts. Most photographers will only carry one or two camera bodies, but tend to bring a lot of lenses. Small cameras are great, but small lenses are even better. With the small cameras and lenses comes smaller accessories as well. You can use smaller, lighter tripods and smaller camera bags to carry it all. My full frame Nikon kit filled a carry-on size rolling camera bag, while the same amount of MFT gear fits into a small backpack.


Depth of Field

Custer state parkOne reason some “experts” knock cameras with smaller sensors is that it is not as easy to get the shallow depth of field look (blurred background) that is popular for portraiture. There are several MFT lenses with wide maximum apertures (especially longer focal lengths) that can create a beautiful out-of-focus background, but for nature photography we usually like the depth of field to go the other way…

No matter what you’re shooting, the smaller 4/3 sensor makes it easy to get maximum depth of field. That means with a wide angle lens (12mm for example) your landscapes will be sharp front-to-back at around f8. For wildlife, the greater depth-of-field helps to get an entire animal in sharp focus without stopping down the lens and losing valuable shutter speed.


Switch Hitters

Micro Four Thirds cameras (especially those from Panasonic) are known for their professional quality video recording. They are also designed so that you can easily switch between still photos and video recording by simply pressing one button or the other. Take my word for it: when you’re shooting wildlife, the ability to switch between stills and video quickly is a huge benefit. You also get an LCD’s and EVF (Electronic viewfinder) for framing pictures. For hybrid nature photographers that means you get the same great auto focus speed for video that you get for still photos. The Panasonic Lumix GH3 does an excellent job of tracking focus during video recording as well.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZggpRWcauE?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

These are just a few of the things I like about the Micro Four Thirds system cameras for nature photography. Stay tuned for the next article in this series where I will point out specific lenses and accessories that make hybrid nature photography easier with MFT cameras.

I would love to hear what you like about the system (or other mirrorless systems) in the comments.

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About Rob Knight

Rob Knight has been a professional artist in Atlanta, Georgia for over twenty years. He’s been a photographer for more than half of that time, Adobe Certified Expert since 2009 and an educator since 2010. Whether in the mountains of his home state of Georgia or the rain forests of Costa Rica, Rob loves to chase beautiful light and help other photographers make beautiful images. Visit robknightphotography.com for more information.

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11 Responses to Micro Four Thirds for Nature Photography Part 1: MFT Advantages

  1. Ed May 4, 2013 at 3:13 am #

    The things that are lacking are professional quality lang lenses. A 150/2.8, a 200/4.0 and a 300/5.6 would be most welcome. No need for a faster lens since at 5.6 I have enough DOF not to need to stop down much but I would like to see it perform near it’s maximum full open though. Prices would be around 2000 dollars for each lens and since the lens openings are not to big they could also be relatively compact. Now a 150/2.8 is in the bleachers (Panasonic) but I would like to see these other 2 lenses ASAP (so Tamron/Sigma) it’s time to jump into the great hole left by Panoly…..stop making more of the same, and think about USP theory.

    • Rob Knight May 5, 2013 at 10:41 am #

      Thanks for the comment, Ed,
      I totally agree with you. I’m hoping that Panasonic sneaks a teleconverter out with the upcoming 150mm f2.8.
      I have been using the Panasonic 100-300mm lately with surprisingly good results. With good support (tripod), faster shutter speeds (> 1/500 for stills) and stopping down to around f8 I have been getting god results for stills and video

  2. Synthetic Tone May 6, 2013 at 2:44 am #

    Interesting article. Covers a couple of the questions I shot at you in a message previously.

    I did some research and it looks like even the faster lenses are less in cost than APC and full frame counterparts which is great for those without lots to invest.

    I also like that technically, you get more reach out of the lenses too with the 2x crop factor so my 45-175mm will be equivalent to a 90-350mm on a full frame or 35mm.

    Ohh… might be showing up to next meetup holding a GH3 with 12-35mm ;)

    • Rob Knight May 8, 2013 at 9:12 am #

      That’s right! Some MFT lenses are more expensive than others, but they are still less expensive than their full-frame or APS-C counterparts. Great glass for a great price is a win-win as far as I’m concerned :)

      That 12-35mm f2.8 is a killer!

  3. John Rappold May 6, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    As an amateur, I’m glad that you mentioned taking several lenses for landscape work. I sometimes take as many as 7 lenses with my GH3 and GH2, all packed in a rather small backpack. I mentioned elsewhere on this site that I like to shoot timelapse with one cam, and video or stills with the other at the same time. I have to admit that most of my shooting is with the 7-14 f4. I love the contrast of that lens, but I do get into a rut of using it too much.

    • Rob Knight May 8, 2013 at 9:19 am #

      Thanks for the comment, John.
      Part two in this series has my take on my favorite lenses. I like that I can carry sevral MFT lenses easily, but I personally use good zooms as much as possible. Zoom lenses allow me to carry less gear and spend less time changing lenses. Plus when you are in the field there are times when you can’t “zoom with your feet” without stepping off of a waterfall or something :)
      I haven’t tried the 7-14mm. I had the Oly 9-18mm but I had a really bad copy.

  4. tbymrtn May 13, 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    What is the grip on the EM5 in the opening picture? Looks like a great way to have better grip on the camera without having to buy the Oly grip.

    • Rob Knight May 20, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

      That is the Really Right Stuff grip. It ataches along with the L-bracket. It works very well, but I do miss the position of the shutter release on the Olympus grip sometimes.

  5. George October 22, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    Just came across this post now, a little late, but I have to say, I love m4/3 as well.
    You’re right, the quality of the images is fantastic and more than enough for shooting stock.
    And the size/weight of the gear is perfect!
    I don’t even use a camera bag anymore. Instead I wander about with my fishing vest (converted for photo gear). Two bodies, 5 lenses total, filters, holders, batteries and other goodies all on/in the vest and easily, quickly accessible. Heck, I even clip my tripod to a hook on the back of my vest.
    I can wander about Algonquin for hours and hours at a time, hands free, with no discomfort or weariness due to gear load.
    Try that with the larger formats.


  1. Micro Four Thirds for Hybrid Nature Photography | Rob Knight Photography - May 8, 2013

    [...] first installment highlights what I consider to be the advantages of using MFT gear for nature photography. The small [...]

  2. Micro Four Thirds for Nature Photography Part 3: The Accessories - May 15, 2013

    [...] the previous articles in this series (Part One and Part Two) I have explained what I consider the benefits of using MFT cameras for hybrid nature [...]

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