Micro Four Thirds vs Full Frame for Wildlife and Nature Photography

The question ‘Which format should I use?’ has been asked considering that the earliest days of photography, and it’s simply as appropriate now in the digital world as it was in the pasts of sheet film. Here, Will Cheung takes a long look at whether Micro Four Thirds or the full-frame format is best for nature and wildlife photography.

Whenever the concern of which format to utilize arises, there’s never a definitive answer which’s simply due to the fact that we are all different, be that physically, economically or in regards to expectations and what we desire from our photography.
So here we’ll be taking a look at the pros and cons of the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) and full-frame format for wildlife and nature stills photography; of course, much of the conversation points will use to other subject categories too, so if you just shoot landscapes or pictures, it’ll still be worth sticking with us.

We’ve broken down the conversation into bite-size portions.
olympus OM-1 and Canon EOS R5 cameras

MFT vs full-frame: the electronic cameras

Micro Four Thirds is supported by 2 camera brands: OM Digital (formerly Olympus) and Panasonic. In full-frame format, the list is longer so there’s more choice: Canon, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, Sony and, remarkably, Panasonic.

In MFT, the highest resolution is found in the $2198/ ₤ 1799 body just Panasonic Lumix GH6 which has 25.2 MP under its bonnet, while the top OM-System model is the $2000/ ₤ 1979 Olympus OM-1 with 20.4 MP. Both brands provide less expensive and mid-priced designs plus smaller sized options, see our guide to the very best Small Mirrorless electronic cameras.

Life is not almost resolution and how many pixels you shoot does not specify you as a professional photographer. But the reality stays that if you want great deals of megapixels full-frame is the place to be, with the Sony A7R V at $3898/ ₤ 3999 boasting a massive 61MP.

Slide down the cash ladder and pixel count drops too. A well priced full-frame mirrorless is the Canon EOS R, a 30MP camera that can be had with a 24-105mm f/4 -7.1 lens for $2499/ ₤ 1919. Go DSLR and the 36.4 MP Pentax K-1 Mark II costs $1797/ ₤ 1699 and the 26.2 MP Canon EOS 6D Mark II is even more affordable at $1199/ ₤ 1299 body just.

Read our Best Full Frame mirrorless video cameras to buy in 2023.

The MFT format OM System OM-1 body sells for $2000/ ₤ 1979 while the full-frame Canon EOS R5 is $3399/ ₤ 3999. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Canon EOS R5 · f/22 · 1/160s · 105mm · ISO100.

MFT vs Full frame lenses
MFT vs full-frame: the lenses.

While there are simply two MFT electronic camera brands with the very same lens install, the photo is really various in the lens market with options from Olympus/OM-System, Panasonic, and third party suppliers including Laowa, Samyang, 7Artisans, Tamron, Voigtlander, MEIKE, Sigma and more. See our guide to the very best Micro Four Thirds lenses in 2023..

Not surprisingly, the full-frame market enjoys enormous assistance, however there are a lot more lens installs out there and some systems are better provided for than others. A key contrast here is the really minimal 3rd party lens support with simply a few manual focus lenses available for Canon EOS R mirrorless electronic cameras compared with the widespread support for Sony’s E-mount.

In regards to lens choice, there is plenty to bring in users of both formats but availability aside, the advantage of the smaller sized format is that lenses are generally more compact.

Here the OM 100-400mm f/5 -6.3 IS lens (left) towers over the Canon RF 100-400 f/5.6 -8 IS USM. The OM lens and MFT format with its 2x crop element does offer a comparable 200-800mm.
Micro four thirds camera sensor
Canon EOS R5 · f/22 · 1/160s · 56mm · ISO100.

MFT vs full-frame: the crop factor.

The Micro Four Thirds format is based upon a sensor size measuring 17.3 x13mm while the full-frame format is nominally 36x24mm.

Do some sums and the diagonal of MFT measures 21.6 mm against 43.2 mm for full-frame, so practically precisely double, which gives us the 2x crop factor that is always discussed in format contrasts.
OM 300mm lens and Canon 600mm lens
Micro Four Thirds sensor. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Canon EOS R5 · f/22 · 1/160s · 100mm · ISO100.

The 2x crop element is very important when we discuss lenses. A lens’s focal length is a fixed specification so a 50mm lens is a 50mm lens no matter the electronic camera format in usage. In practice, however, use a 50mm focal length lens on an MFT video camera and you get the ‘equivalent’ field of vision of a 100mm lens.

With the lens off you can see how little the MFT sensor is, while the full-frame sensor appears huge. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Canon EOS R5 · f/22 · 1/160s · 100mm · ISO100.

This 2x crop applies to all focal lengths however the genuine practical advantage begins with longer focal length lenses, which is a plus point for fans of nature photography.

A 400mm lens utilized on MFT offers the equivalent of a 800mm view (in 35mm equivalent terms). See our examples below. With both lenses a remote topic will be the very same size, however on the smaller sized MFT format it will be more frame-filling compared with the 35mm shot which will need cropping to give the same composition.

Handled an OM System OM-1 with 100-400mm zoom at 400mm (800mm equivalent). Image credit: Will Cheung.

OM-1 · f/6.3 · 1/1600s · 400mm · ISO3200.

Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with RF 100-400mm zoom at 400mm. These shots were taken at the exact same focal length and from the very same spot, so the size of the subject is rendered the very same size on each sensor, however the 2x crop factor of the smaller format suggests the subject fills the frame more. The images are shown uncropped. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Canon EOS R5 · f/8 · 1/160s · 400mm · ISO400.
MFT vs full-frame: weight and bulk.

Let’s look at some actual products to highlight possible weight cost savings. The OM System 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens sells for $2800/ ₤ 2399, weighs 1.47 kg and procedures 22.7 cm long. Canon’s RF 600mm f/4 L IS USM weighs two times as much at 3.1 kg, is more than double the length at 47.2 m and its price is $12,999/ ₤ 14,179.

We are comparing apples with pears, however it is the closest we can get, and the reality remains that the MFT 300mm lens, which offers a 600mm equivalent in 35mm equivalent format, is a very much more compact plan, not to point out a good deal cheaper.

The weight savings with video cameras are less remarkable and it depends on the models being compared. The full-frame Nikon Z7 II body weighs 615g while the MFT Panasonic Lumix GH6 body only is actually heavier at 833g although the OM System OM-1 is lighter at 599g body just.

Spread weight cost savings throughout a video camera or 2, plus several lenses which is possibly a big useful benefit for nature employees, specifically those who travel, but it is simply one aspect, albeit an essential one.

The OM 300mm f/4 IS PRO IS is half the length of the Canon RF 600mm lens and half the weight, however thanks to the MFT’s crop element you get the exact same field of view on both formats.
Will Cheung showing how to hold camera steadily without tripod
MFT vs full-frame: handling.

You’ve seen how much larger full-frame telephoto lenses are compared to MFT choices, and this has an influence on numerous elements of electronic camera handling.

Clearly, there are challenges to carrying and using heavier package and that’s certainly a major element why many photographers are scaling down to the MFT format.

Lugging heavy set around is one thing however it’s rather another to effectively handhold a substantial telephoto lens for any prolonged length of time, so an assistance of some sort is advised. The physically longer and heavier lenses demand a solid tripod, and that in turn adds to your concern.

Many cams have in-body image stabilisation (IBIS) which is a fantastic benefit, but that still means you can’t drop your shutter speed down too slow. As a hand-holding guide, the reciprocal rule still uses– ie a 300mm lens requires a shutter speed of at least 1/300sec– and while having IBIS means you can drop one or two stops slower, you still need to take care. How sluggish you can in fact go depends upon your hand-holding skills, the lens and even whether it’s breezy or not.

It’s not constantly useful to utilize a monopod or tripod in nature photography, so you require to make certain your handholding abilities are fit for purpose. Supporting the lens with the left hand while keeping the left elbow tucked into the body is actually important, and squeeze the shutter release efficiently while breathing gently. Image credit: Will Cheung.

Canon EOS R5 · f/8 · 1/500s · 81mm · ISO800.
MFT vs full-frame: image quality.

It wouldn’t be fair to make definitive image quality contrasts throughout various formats due to the fact that the sensors and lenses are various, but we can take a look at statistics and some shots taken at the very same time utilizing the Canon EOS R5 and OM System OM-1.

The OM-1 is a 20MP MFT electronic camera and its raw files open up to give an image size of 5184 × 3888 pixels. Assuming 300ppi, and no software application interpolation, that gives a print size of 17.2 × 12.9 in/ 43.6 × 32.7 cm. The full-frame 45MP EOS R5’s raw files open to 8192x5464pixel files which equates to a print size of 27.3 × 18.2 in/ 69.3 × 46.2 cm.

This illustrates the relative size various in the Micro Four Thirds and full-frame formats. The diagonal of the MFT 17.3 x13mm format is almost precisely half that of 36x24mm complete frame.

Plainly, the larger format has more possibilities when it pertains to making big prints and has many more pixels to play with, when you have a little topic that you want to amplify into.

Cropping an MFT picture to make a small subject a decent size can imply a less crisp, more fuzzy image specifically if a high ISO is used. With great editing such problems are easily fixed..

Image credit: Ann Healey.

OM-1 · f/5.6 · 1/500s · 300mm · ISO200.

This meadow pipit was taken with a 300mm f/4 lens on the 20MP OM System OM-1 and the full, unedited image procedures 5184 × 3888 pixels so there is plenty of possible to crop into the file. The cropped image measures 1888 × 1416 pixels so it’ll print out to 6.2 × 4.6 in/ 16x12cm at 300ppi.

OM-1 · f/5.6 · 1/500s · 300mm · ISO200.

MFT vs full-frame: ISO matters.

The basic premise is that the smaller sized the image sensing unit the higher the quantity of digital sound produced as you progress up the ISO ladder. Digital noise looks like tiny coloured or neutral specks in your image and it’s more obvious when shooting in really low light particularly in the shadows area.

As sensing unit innovation has advanced, the unfavorable impact of digital sound ruining photos has actually minimized and recent video cameras with back-side brightened (BSI) or stacked sensing units are impressive even at greater ISO speeds like ISO 6400.
Will Cheung, MFT versus Full frame, Canon Eos R5
Long lenses and less than ideal lighting are part and parcel of nature photography and having the ability to use greater ISO settings with self-confidence is very important. You can see in our example how excellent it can be with images on an OM System OM-1 and Canon EOS R5.

The excellent news is that the current noise reduction software application is extremely capable at dealing with grainy photos. Adobe Lightroom has actually recently gained Denoise AI to embellish its all-round workflow skills while Topaz Denoise AI and DxO PureRaw 3 are also staggeringly good at cleaning up high ISO files.


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