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I am an unabashed fan of the Micro Four Thirds format. I sold all my DLSR gear and am using MFT gear for just about everything. As a professional photographer, I am probably stretching it a bit by shooting only MFT, and here are five things that the Micro Four Thirds format needs to change the conversation, dethrone Nikon and Canon, and eliminate the notion that you need a DSLR for professional work.

1. More Players

Four Thirds (which led later to Micro Four Thirds) came about just seven years ago. The original members of the Four Thirds consortium were Fuji, Kodak, Leica, Olympus, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sigma. There were early rumors Nikon would sign on but they didn’t formalize those plans based on the research available to me. Since the advent of Micro Four Thirds, (2008) Fuji, Leica, Sanyo have essentially dropped out of the game and Kodak only recently announced a new MFT camera. Sigma has only produced a single MFT lens. Olympus and Panasonic are responsible for the vast majority of MFT gear. This limitation works against the MFT format. One more major player could change the playing field forever. Nikon is notorious for being difficult to work with. Canon is bigger and less likely to feel threatened by opening up its technology to MFT. But even if it were some other company (Sony likely to get involved since they own a big piece of Olympus now) got involved, it would matter. And it has to happen in my opinion for MFT to really dominate.

2. Pro Support

Canon has Canon Professional Service, Nikon has Nikon Professional Service and MFT makers – nothing. If you are a professional you need access to quick repair turn around. You need access to gear loans. You need the ability to test new gear. Currently, sending an Olympus camera for repair can take four to six weeks. How do I know? It happened to me. If the MFT camera makers want more pro uptake, which is essential to bring the consumer buyers on board, then they need to offer pro support. It’s a major failing that can easily be addressed. Canon started charging for CPS. Olympus and Panasonic could offer the same service and if they are concerned about cost, just charge money like Canon does. I’d rather have quick, reliable turnaround on repairs and know I can count on my gear being available when I need it than keep a few hundred dollars in my pocket.

3. Education

The manufacturers need to invest in more education and photographers who use and support the Micro Four Thirds format need to jump in and help. I am doing my part. My pal Rich Harrington and I are working on training for Micro Four Thirds systems. There are one or two books, but there needs to be more. New photographers especially will need help making the switch and without the proper educational materials out there, the system will have a harder time gaining market share.

4. Spokespeople

Canon has the Explorers of Light. Nikon has a less in-your-face system of Nikon mentors. Olympus has just a few people representing its products but ALL the MFT makers of lens and/or bodies need to work with high-profile photographers and other thought leaders in the field to get better representation. Because the mindset (right or wrong) of most new photographers is “Gee that guy made that picture with that camera so I could too.” Without the prominent voices in photography singing the praises of MFT gear, it will take longer than it should to gain MFT acceptability.

5. More

MFT just needs more. More of everything. More lenses, more fast glass, more accessories, more tours & workshops, more fixed aperture zooms, more bodies, more manufactures (as mentioned above) more, more, more. This format is in my opinion, a real common sense choice for lots of photographers. But the MFT market penetration is not nearly what it could or should be, because the manufacturers have been timid to really commit to the MFT format. Olympus and Panasonic are starting to ramp up here and I applaud them both for it. But we still need more of everything. When that happens, you’ll start to see even the cool kids shooting MFT.

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Join the conversation! 27 Comments

  1. Here’s hoping. I’m on the OMD bandwagon myself.
    I feel like I am seeing less mf3 equipment in the big box stores. Definitely needs more promotion.

    Mike Valore

    Reply
  2. What about the Canon EOS M? Im not 100% sure but i thought that was a MFT camera. I looked it up and it doesnt say anything about MFT, but i believe it is a mirrorless design. Either way all i know is that if I dont win any of you contests for a 5D my next big camera purchase will be a MFT.

    Reply
  3. But isn’t this lack of “everything” an exact reason NOT to go the micro 4/3 route?

    Reply
  4. Thank you for finally opening up comments on this forum ! The forum will grow and become interactive, better than a one way pipeline. Thank you!

    Reply
  5. I just purchased my OM-D on Monday. After shooting with Canon for almost 10 years and I’m not looking back. I think for most people (not all pros, but the average consumer) the MFT lens lineup has enough to offer at the moment; variety of telephotos; primes; wide angles. I work in a small camera shop and all the customers who have made the switch are more than happy with what is currently offered. That being said, it definitely wouldn’t hurt for them to add some more fast zooms to their line up. Not everyone wants primes.

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  6. they definitely need more than just the effort by Olympus and Panasonic Lumix. Meaning there has to be more makers joining the MFT. It’s like what’s happening to the mobile device. Why Sony, LG, Samsung, Asus, Huwai,…are running Android OS?? It’s more than just lobbying others to perhaps persuade them to do it. They need a central power, dominance in order to have it done. You see Sony is doing well with the NEX, why bother joining the MFT? Fuji is committed with their retro style digital rangefinder, they’re satisfied. Nikon and Canon simply do not need MFT, their names say it all. This is only my interpretation :)

    I think the current path would lead manufacturers to making full frame sensor on more compact body while at the same time keeping the price at the ‘affordable range’. I think what MFT has been great keeping the price down for anyone to own a kit.

    Probably the sensor technology would one day overcome the full frame competition. I do believe full frame is just the current industry standard and it’s set by man, can be changed by man.

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  7. IMHO, MFT has a Herculean task ahead of it. I loved my Olympus film and Four-Thirds cameras. But Olympus didn’t make the short list when I replaced my system last year. Deserting Four-Thirds didn’t help them. Neither did going *years* between releases of their top-level E-series cameras. Being largely ignored by the third-party market (makers of lenses, speedlights, and other accessories) doesn’t help Olympus’ case, either, because it indicates they don’t even have mindshare, let alone market share. And there were many of the issues you noted in this article.

    I wish Olympus success, I really do. The more quality camera manufacturers, the better. But Olympus needs to address some of the long-standing downsides of MFT (like ISO noise). And they really need to bump up the marketing and get more manufacturers on board. After all, what’s the point of an “open” system if no one but your own company partakes?

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  8. I used the MFT system for over 2 years, I largely agree with this post. Sigma and now Tamron are supplying lenses in MFT mount, I have personnal experience of the Sigma 30mm f2.8 lens and very impressed with it, especially at the very good price. Long live MFT.

    Reply
  9. [...] blog is a commentary on the post linked below at Photofocus: Five Things That Need To Happen If Micro Four Thirds Is Hoping To Take Over The World. [...]

    Reply
  10. I wrote a quick blog on Scott’s post, but I’m wondering what the big advantage is for MFT beyond size? As a guy with a D300s that is uninterested in a D7100, I know it isn’t all about specs, but it seems like MFT fares poorly vs. mid-level prosumer cameras for ISO, DR, etc. It seems like such a small sensor would struggle to create narrow depth of field and bokeh – is that accurate? I see a lot of challenges, and I’m honestly trying to understand what the lure and payoff of MFT is. Looking forward to the comments!

    Reply
    • One of the advantages of MFT is supposed to be its openness. For better or worse, your D300s locks you into Nikon bodies and F-mount lenses (or lenses adapted to F-mount). The original premise behind Four-Thirds (and now MFT) was that you could pick, say, a Panasonic body and a prosumer-grade wide-angle Zuiko lens, or an Olympus body and a Sigma lens, and so forth. But I think Olympus needs more companies on its team to truly fulfill that premise.

      One could consider the quality of the JPEG processing on Olympus cameras — for the shooter that doesn’t want to bother with RAW files, the JPEGs out of most Olys I’ve seen are quite well done.

      But the other primary advantage, really, is the size. The camera you have with you always takes better photos than the one that gets left behind because it’s too bulky or (less of a problem with today’s better all-in-one zooms) the lenses are too big. Stuff an MFT body and a couple of lenses into a fanny pack/bum bag and you’ve got a go-anywhere kit that well exceeds the capability of an expensive point-and-shoot or some of the lower-end ILCs.

      Reply
  11. Isn’t this classic chicken-and-egg? MFT is not going to be taken seriously as a ‘Pro’ format unless it has all (or most) of the things you list, but manufacturers aren’t going to invest in all those things unless there’s a market. I can’t see Canon and Nikon ever adopting MFT when their pro cameras are sold by promoting the benefits of full frame sensors. It would be hard to convince people that a sensor 1/4 the size was going to give comparable images.
    It seems to me that MFT will be stuck as a pro-sumer format for people who want better quality than point & shoots, but don’t want the bulk of a DSLR. Even if there are reasons why MFT is better than a DLSR, it’s largely been sold on the convenience of the size and that’s the impression that sticks. I think that can also hurt adoption – it can be hard to justify spending more than you’d spend on a DSLR on something that looks like a point & shoot.

    Even if Sony were to join MFT, I think it’s still going to be seen as a consumer brand. Sony & Panasonic are not known as pro camera companies and it’s been a long time since Lord Litchfield was using the original OM series to take portraits.

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  12. @GadgetGav

    Well like I said these are the things that need to happen but your comment fails to take into account one big factor – the manufacturers go where the market goes. And there’s more interest in mirror-less now than ever before. Both Canon and Nikon have made mirror-less cameras. Not MFT but mirror-less – that is an evolutionary step recognizing these smaller sensor cameras. Whether or not they will take the full leap is up to them.

    And at one time neither Canon or Nikon were known as pro camera companies. Everyone starts someplace :)

    Reply
    • IMO, mirrorless is a whole different thing than MFT. If the idea behind mirrorless is to take bulk and cost out of the camera body, even Olympus aimed at the same target with their porro-finder E-300 almost a decade ago. And Sony has offered translucent mirror cameras with larger sensors for years now. MFT is not necessary for creating smaller SLRs, as almost every other camera manufacturer has shown with their ILCs (though I still think Olympus offers a better small DSLR than some of the other ILCs out there).

      Reply
  13. @scottbourne
    I know the manufacturers will follow the market, but that’s part of the chicken-and-egg problem too. Will Olympus and Panasonic (and maybe Sony) generate a big enough market draw to pull in Nikon and Canon? As you pointed out, even as Nikon and Canon do come into the mirrorless market, they’re doing so with their own sensors and mounts, not joint MFT. Unless those product lines are going to be very short lived, that would seem to be a clear indication that those two are not going to be making MFT cameras any time soon.
    You’re right that everyone has to start somewhere, but I don’t think Panasonic or Sony have the focus (no pun intended) to make their still camera lines pro-friendly. They both have great cameras in the TV and film making space, but seem to regard still cameras as consumer items. Olympus used to be a pro brand, and I hope they get back there. I agree with you though, that without those changes you call for, I can’t see it happening with MFT.

    Reply
  14. The biggest thing micro four thirds has going for it is ease of use at good prices which ultimately is what consumers want.
    Over and over again I meet Joe Blogg consumers who have purchased canikony DSLRs and have never got the best out of them because they have a steep learning curve, so in the eyes of the consumers they have purchased an expensive dead duck that largely sits lonely and neglected in the cupboard at home!

    If Olympus and Panasonic can get this message via marketing and word of mouth across they will gain further market share and sales especially as canikon really that period of having to transition their DSLR owners (of all levels) to their future mirrorless offerings…

    Reply
  15. A lot depends on how you intend to display images. If it’s via print, you need greater definition. If it’s on the web, detail is not as important.

    I can’t believe most people posting on camera related blogs and forums are printing large format. Most — like myself — are probably displaying on the web. In which case m4/3 is more than adequate.

    I have a Sony a57, a Nikon v1, and an Olympus E-PL5 (I’d like to replace it with the OM-D when the price comes down). I’m not a working professional; all are great for web. So each time I go out, I consider the level of detail I’m after and choose accordingly.

    For some situations, the v1 is all I need. It’s small, gives great results, but I can tell the difference between the various formats.

    I agree with the post but wish m4/3 equipment was priced lower. Every time I consider leaving m4/3, I find it’s still the best compromise out there.

    Reply
  16. While I agree, that there are many ways to improve the customer support for the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system, advertisement, etc. the situation here is actually the best among the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera (MILC) systems . There are 54 native MFT lenses from twelve optical companies, which are currently available or soon to be available, including 42 lenses with full electronic support beside the Auto-Focus. That is more than any other MILCs.

    Regarding the cameras, besides above mentioned Panasonic Lumix G, Olympus PEN&OMD, JK Imaging/Kodak PixProS1, there are upcoming:
    Black Magic Cinema Camera with complete MFT-mount;
    Polaroid iM1030/iM1232 and
    industrial/security MFT cameras by SVS-VISTEK and Entner Electronics LUCY-MFT20 and LUCY-MFT40
    each with support for Micro Four Thirds lenses.

    Reply
  17. Thanks to Scott of the post and to the various comments from everyone else. I think everyone, including Scott may be overlooking some critical factors and players in the m4/3 format. A small bit of background before I back up my statement.

    I was a previous Canon 35mm SLR film camera owner and always carried Canon P&S digital cameras. In August 2012, I jumped into the m4/3 format with an Olympus OM-D E-M5. I’ve now got the Panasonic 14mm & 20mm primes, the Olympus mZD 45mm prime, and an Olympus ZD 70-300mm telephoto zoom (with the necessary adapter). I believe change is the only constant, so I can’t say I’m in any format for good, but its hard to imagine jumping out of m4/3 when the format is really maturing quite well. I’m a budding enthusiast, but certainly in my very early days of taking photography more seriously.

    Now to the logic behind my original comment. First, Olympus 4/3 ZD lenses are some of the finest optics available in the last decade, so they are certainly not going to let the current lens owners, nor the embedded R&D behind those lenses die on the vine. They will find a solution to unify 4/3 and m4/3 to make use of these lenses. I hope it comes sooner rather than later, but I strongly believe it will come eventually.

    Second, beyond the nice and inexpensive primes from Sigma, some smaller third-party manufacturers already have some excellent offerings in m4/3. For example, SLR Magic has released several highly regarded, m4/3 native mount (though only manual) lenses. Samyang has a highly regarded fisheye. Voigtlander presents its typical strong offerings. And Schneider Krueznach is releasing two m4/3 primes I believe later this year.

    And just check out the m4/3 options at Olympus to see what is already possible even with professional rentals. The previous list doesn’t account for some of the cinema lenses by Zeiss for m4/3.

    Third, which brings me to the amazing innovations on the cinema side of the m4/3 format mount with the folks at Black Magic Designs (including their new disruptive technology in their pocket cinema camera).

    I believe that the Panasonic GH2 hack’s success in drawing independent filmmaker interest into the m4/3 format, followed by the phenomenal usability and performance of the GH3 via its stock video firmware are suggestive that this format has already created a seriously strong presence in the videography/cinematography industry. The new Panasonic G6 is also being touted as another great video m4/3 body.

    And novel innovations like the Metabones Speed Booster lens adapter are further icing on the cake for the m4/3 format.

    Andrew Reid at EOS HD suggests that by giving approximately the same field of view and increasing the light hitting the sensor by an entire f/stop, the speed booster adapter goes a long way toward shrinking the gap between the full frame and m4/3 sensor size for these adapted legacy lenses.

    I’m sure I’m missing something, but these are just a few of the reasons why I’m excited about being a m4/3 user! I’m not trying to bad mouth any other manufacturer or format as they all have their pros and cons…and in most cases they are all well past the point of sufficiency now anyway. I’m just smitten with my E-M5 and the system I’m growing within!

    Reply
    • Hi Hal thanks for the comment. We do not allow links in our comments. Also, I am not overlooking anything. We have already on this very blog mentioned some of the things you do. I have three of the Black Magic cameras on order even. I have a review coming any day on the Novoflex adapter, etc.

      I don’t see how anything here changes the basic thesis of my post – which is – for MFT to become truly acceptable, especially for pros, there needs to be more of everything.

      My post wasn’t intended as a white paper on everything currently available for MFT or on everything we need for it to go forward. But rather, as a kick in the pants to all the manufacturers to get on board this train and get serious about supporting those of us who love MFT. In that regard, you and I share the same passion. I love my MFT cameras and want to see more options that will help me move forward.

      Reply
  18. Interesting reading everyone. I’m a wedding pro who is looking to dump his Nikon gear for MFT. I used to shoot Oly cameras before going pro but jumped to nikon for the lowlight performance. The main reason for wanting to change is size and wait and not wanting to look like a pro shooter at my weddings. I shoot in a documentary style and hate have a big DSLR with a wopping lens on. Everyone notices you when you walk into a crowded wedding reception.

    The reason for posting is that point 2. of the article mentions pro service. This is one of my main concerns. However while browsing the Olympus website this morning I cam across there ‘Service Plus’ page for the EM-1. From what i can tell its Free if you register your Em-1 purchase with in 4 weeks and sign up to their newsletter.

    Benefits include – Dedicated Hotline, Fast-Lane Repair, Personal Pick-up Service, and 6 months extra warranty.

    Its nice to see Oly are looking to keep the pro photographers happy. Just need to get my hands on one to make the final decision.

    Reply
  19. 2. from the article talked about needing pro level support.

    If you go to the uk olympus website and click on the E-M1 links, at the bottom of the page is a section call ‘Service Plus’

    DESIGNATED HOTLINE
    Call your personal E-M1 specialists

    FAST-LANE REPAIR
    Have your product returned to you extra-fast

    PERSONAL PICK-UP SERVICE
    The most convenient transportation for your E-M1

    6 MONTHS EXTRA WARRANTY
    We strongly believe in the longevity of our products

    Being a Nikon pro looking to change in the next year or so this is very welcome!

    Reply
  20. I realize this is an old article/thread, but it may be worthwhile to revisit these suggestions to see where we are today.

    1) Tamron is now in the game, at least dipping a toe in. The Kodak Pixpro S-1 is now on the market…you can buy it. So that’s something.

    2) Olympus might want to make its pro support available to OM-D E-M1 owners. Isn’t that supposed to be the unifying camera?

    3) How about educating customers to even know it exists and getting it on store shelves? I don’t see ANY new Micro Four Thirds cameras on store shelves at Best Buy, Fry’s or even our only real local camera shop in Indianapolis, Roberts Camera. They all sell them online-only. The Fry’s location here has a whole vacant aisle that used to be devoted to cameras. The stands are now sitting there empty. This is an ENORMOUS store with lots of obscure stuff, but they don’t carry any Micro Four Thirds cameras on their shelves probably because they don’t think they will sell well.

    4) Olympus got the hint on this one with the Olympus Visionary Program.

    5) This is happening. Olympus has multiple new Pro lenses either on the market already or on the roadmap to hit the market soon.

    I want to add a sixth thing that really needs to happen: better autofocus tracking for fast-moving subjects. The OM-D E-M1 does have phase detect autofocus on the sensor, so that’s something. But it’s still no match for even an entry-level DSLR…let alone an E-5. They apparently did this just to appease the Four Thirds crowd, but they need to keep refining this AND push it down the product line to the Pen series and whatever the successor to the OM-D E-M10 is. They’ve gotten the EVF lag time very low (although it could always be lower)…with improved autofocus for sports and wildlife, they could really make some waves. Until that point, for many professional photographers, the OM-D E-M1 is still relegated to “second camera” status. And for hobbyists like me using an E-PL5, it’s way out of my price range just for that one bit of still unrefined technology. I’d be better off going out and buying a Nikon D5300 2-lens kit than getting an OM-D E-M1 body to use with my existing lenses…both in terms of speed and cost.

    Panasonic has started to get a clue about this problem with its Depth from Defocus functionality, but it’s not clear if that’s going to make a major difference for sports and wildlife shooters. And it’s only available in the GH4 and, for some reason, the FZ1000 point-and-shoot model right now.

    Fast AF tracking for moving subjects is possible for mirrorless — we know this because the Nikon 1 series does it very well…at least in good light. It’s no D4, but it’s leaps and bounds ahead of Micro 4/3 in this area even though the sensor is smaller. It’s well past time for Micro 4/3 to address this deal-breaking problem. At least they’re STARTING to work on it.

    Reply

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