BokehComp-1-4

I recently rented a Lumix 35-100mm f/2.8 G Vario lens from LensRentals.com so that I could show you the difference between a 70-200mm lens on a full-frame Nikon and a 35-100mm lens on a Micro Four Thirds Lumix, as well as the value of such comparisons. First of all, let’s define some things:

  • Bokeh: The out of focuss-ness of the background in a photograph. Sometimes photographers use the word to describe the quality of the softness, and sometimes we use it to describe how deep the depth of field is. I’m sure this isn’t the precisely correct definition, but it’s the way the word is used around me.
  • Depth of Field: This is how we talk about how much of the picture is in focus. There’s a certain slice of the world, a plane parallel to the camera’s sensor, that can be in focus. The slice has a thickness or depth, and anything within that thickness is in focus, and everything else is out of focus. Three things affect depth of field: aperture, focal length, and distance to subject. A shallow depth a field (a thin slice) comes from a wide aperture, a long lens (telephoto), and/or a close subject.
  • Full-Frame: This means the sensor in the camera is the same size as negative of 35mm film. Often used to declare superiority, full-frame cameras cost more money, and so do the lenses; I guess feeling superior about my gear helps me justify the ridiculous costs (lenses cost more, too). Trouble is, buying expensive gear didn’t make my pictures any better.
  • Cropped Sensor: Traditionally refers to sensors that are smaller than full frame, and usually specifically the APS-C sizes that are roughly two thirds the size of full frame. All major camera manufacturers offer many bodies in this class. They take full frame lenses, but also have product lines made specially for them.
  • Mirrorless: An unfortunate name describing what a camera doesn’t have, rather than what it is. These cameras are smaller and lighter than their DSLR counterparts. They may or may not have a built in electronic viewfinder. These cameras are generally highly innovative, offering more features and new technology than most DSLRs.
  • Micro Four Thirds, MFT, M4/3: A class of mirrorless camera that is advantageous because it’s an open format–any MFT lens fits and works on any MFT camera (DSLRs require proprietary lens mounts). The cropped sensor is about half the size of a full-frame sensor. The bodies and lenses are incredibly lightweight, and far less expensive for similar features than other professional cameras. Why’s it call micro four thirds? There are a bunch of complicated answers, but one simple thing is that the sensor dimensions have a 4 to 3 ratio (4/3). DSLR’s all have a 2 to 3 ratio (2/3). This means the MFT pictures are a little taller than the wide 2/3 pictures.

Since my Lumix sensor is MFT sized, it’s half the size of my full-frame sensor. That means that a lens that’s half as telephoto yields a similar view. That’s why I’m comparing the 70-200mm with the 35-100mm–they give similar views on the two different cameras. They both have big apertures, f/2.8, and they both have excellent stabilization, so they are very comparable lenses, and when you switch from a full frame DSLR to an MFT mirrorless camera, this is the big question: are my pictures the same?

Let’s take a look. For these images, I shot first with one camera, and then the other and tried to maintain similar framing. Keeping that framing is really tough, but I think we’ll get the point here. Since we’re examining bokeh, I zoomed to the maximum on both lenses for each photograph. (Sorry about some of the lighting changes; we were working with sunlight and clouds.)

BokehComp-1

Nikon Df, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens @200mm, f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 200.

BokehComp-2

Lumix GH4, 35-100mm f/2.8 G Vario lens @100mm, f/2.8, 1/400s, ISO 400.

Examining the background, you’ll see that the bricks behind the woman’s head are definitely less distinct in the top image, which is the full-frame shot. The top step is also a good comparison spot. The bricks in the far background are more distinct in the second MFT image, but I think the horizontal lines are equally visible in the full-frame image, but because of the light change they are less contrasty.

Nikon Df, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens @200mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

Nikon Df, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens @200mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

Lumix GH4, 35-100mm f/2.8 G Vario lens @100mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

Lumix GH4, 35-100mm f/2.8 G Vario lens @100mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

For these two, the light didn’t change, and since I stood in the same spot, they are a very good comparison. The top image’s bricks are softer, and the back of the bench is less distinct, as well. However, my model looks great in both, and one advantage to having less shallow depth of field is that more of my subject is in focus. If the camera focuses on the far eye, both eyes may still be in focus instead of the near one being soft (Hint: in portraits, focus on the eye nearest the camera).

Nikon Df, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens @200mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

Nikon Df, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens @200mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200.

BokehComp-1-5

Lumix GH4, 35-100mm f/2.8 G Vario lens @100mm, f/2.8, 1/320s, ISO 200

Moving in closer, now. Obviously I ended up a little closer with the GH4…which is easy since it’ll focus as close as 2.8 feet, whereas the 70-200mm can’t get closer than 4 feet! Things look great in both images, though, of course, the full-frame image has a slightly softer bokeh.

The Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 on the left offers a similar picture to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (II) on the right. The Panasonic costs $1000 less, and weighs just 12.7 oz (360 g) (less than one pound!) compared to the Nikon's 3.39 lb (1.54 kg).

The Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 on the left offers a similar picture to the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 (II) on the right. The Panasonic costs $1000 less, and weighs just 12.7 oz (360 g) (less than one pound!) compared to the Nikon’s 3.39 lb (1.54 kg).

These are the two lenses side by side. The 35-100mm is smaller than a can of Coke and weighs just 12.7 ounces. The 70-200mm is enormous and weighs 54.24 ounces, not to mention the difference in weights of the camera bodies, too. At the end of a shoot with the 35-100mm I feel fresh and ready to go shoot some more; with the 70-200mm I feel like I’ve been doing bicep curls for an hour.

Verdict

Softer bokeh doesn’t make you a better photographer. Yes, the depth of field is shallower on the full-frame camera when you make a similarly framed picture. And yes, the full-frame camera and lens do cost $2000 more than the MFT setup. I hope you don’t have the same assumptions that I did when I bought a full frame camera–that full-frame would make my pictures better, ’cause it’s just not accurate.

I have two suggestions for everyone reading this blog.

  1. Rent an MFT camera, like the GH4, or GX7, or EM-1 and give MFT a try
  2. Take the $2000 you’ll save on gear (or get for selling it) and do something that really will improve your photography, like coming to Photoshop World.

If you’re really stuck on shallow depth of field, then while your at LensRentals snatch up the Leica Nocticron 42.5mm f/1.2 and watch all your wildest dreams come true.

Anybody wanna buy a bunch of Nikon gear…?


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Join the conversation! 49 Comments

  1. This isn’t a close comparison since the focal length of the lens is what determines the DOF and not the field that the camera has through that lens.

    What’s difficult about smaller sensors is that if you have a lens with the same focal length you have to stand significantly further away from the subject to achieve the same field of view. Which means that you can’t always get the same photo due to limitations in your environment.

    Reply
    • Alex, you’re right about focal length affecting DOF…which is exactly what I said above. This is a perfect comparison because the two lenses give me a very similar field of view. What I see in the viewfinder is what makes a picture. Pictures aren’t defined by what’s out of focus. We get the same photo with these two lenses, though they have different field of focus.

      Reply
  2. I’d love to see a comparison with the Sony FE 70-200 even though it is f4.

    Reply
    • Great idea! The reason I haven’t gone for the Sony system myself is that it’s not really very much different from my Nikon. Since the sensors are large, the lenses also remain large and necessarily heavy and costly. On the Panasonic I get a similar kit at a fraction of the weight and COST.

      Reply
      • I totally get that. I was looking to upgrade to full frame and was a relatively new photographer, so not heavily invested in a system of DSLR lenses. I went from the larger Sony a57 with alpha lenses to the smaller form factor of the a7 with a larger sensor for the landscape and HDR work I do. I will say that the lenses seem significantly smaller and lighter than the alpha mount lenses, but I definitely see the appeal of the super tiny lenses of the micro 4/3 systems. I’m renting the sony fe 70-200 from lens rentals for DragonCon to try it out. I’m interested to see what the bokeh is like given I can only go to f4.

        Reply
  3. 1. Photographers make images – NOT cameras.
    2. You should have also looked at foreground bokeh…
    3. I keep wondering why the inter-webs keep trying to sell me on MFT.
    4. Finally, any entry level DSLR on average, still out-performs MFT by a long shot ( i.e. a D610 + 85mm f1.8 = affordable, pro quality images you can make a living with ).

    Reply
    • 1. That’s right. That’s why I’m sharing my journey of eliminating my worries about needing a big camera. This comparison is a significant part of that journey.

      2. Foreground bokeh is rarely a part of my compositions, but it will be similarly related as the background bokeh.

      3. I don’t know about the rest of the inter webs, but as for me, I’m trying to sell you on MFT for two reasons:

      First, I’ve made a big change and a big gamble, and misery loves company. I need some social proof for myself, and maybe I can lend some to you, too. It always feels better if your friends join you in a leap of faith. :)

      Second, I always tell my friends about good things that make their lives better. This equipment is exceptionally well made, it’s lightweight, and it’s comparatively cheap! Why wouldn’t I tell all my friends about it?!?

      (If someone were supposing that this blog or this author were getting a kickback from Panasonic or other manufacturers, that person would be wrong. This publication has always prided itself on transparency in reviews and advertising. All of our advertisers are listed on every post. No camera company currently sponsors this blog. LensRentals.com, on the other hand, does, and they let me use the 35-100mm lens. Their hope is that you will contact them and rent their gear for yourself. That’s how they make money, and we get great opportunities because of it. Everybody wins.)

      4. “Out performs” is subjective. The cameras you mention will provide a shallower depth of field at a similar aperture and a similar framing–that’s exactly what I demonstrated above. I’ve enjoyed the 85 f/1.8, and I’ve made a lot of money shooting with it. I’ve made tens of thousands of dollars shooting with MFT cameras this summer, with a camera and lens that cost less than the D610 body. That means I’ve got more money in my pocket still.

      I suggest you rent an MFT body and a lens and shoot some jobs with it–practice jobs, of course–give it an honest chance, take some time to get familiar with the controls like you are with your DSLR, and then tell me you can’t make a living with it. I was dubious at first, and it’s taken me exactly one year to turn my opinion around 180 degrees. “Mikey likes it” and I think you will too.

      Reply
  4. In some European countries people can also rent an Olympus camera and/or lens for up to 3 days for free. They’re running a campaign here called “Test & WOW” since a couple of months. It’s a good chance to give it a try and in my opinion a nice way of marketing more companies should do.
    https://wow.olympus.eu/GB_en/index.html (you can switch the language/country in the top right)

    Reply
    • What a great idea! It’s that same kind of thinking that is making the cameras themselves so feature Rich and valuable.

      Reply
  5. What Nikon gear are you looking to sell?

    Reply
  6. Great question, Bruce. Today my 70-200mm sold, as did my 14-24mm. I’ve got the 105 listed, and a D7100 to let go too.

    Reply
  7. One thing that you didn’t mention is that the MFT will have more digital noise than the full-frame. Opening the images at 100% should make this even more obvious.

    Reply
    • It will only have more noise if shooting in low light at high ISOs. A smaller sensor doesn’t automatically mean more noise.

      Reply
      • John, this article is about Bokeh comparisons between similar lenses. There are a lot of things I didn’t mention that are different from DSLRs. The sensor, the camera’s processor, the way you shoot, and the way you finish an image all affect the visible noise. Like I’ve said above, I make my living using these cameras, and that includes shooting at ISO’s of 3200+. I wouldn’t recommend this to you if I didn’t know it could get the job done.

        There are cameras that perform better at some things than others. The GH4 is an excellent camera for most situations.

        Reply
    • @John: funny thing about the m43 “noise”: it is only really apparent in under exposed portions of the frame: hence it’s really just another tool to separate my subject from the background as I tend to under expose my backgrounds to make my subjects POP. I am rather pleased with this quality from my gh-3 and turn up my iso on purpose to add noise(grain) to the background.And rarely do people view my images at 1,2 or 300% on screens or in printed hardcover books.

      Reply
      • Good call, Moto! I’ve not considered noise as a separation tool before. You’ve given something to think about…

        Reply
  8. Lovely. Great composition!

    Reply
  9. enjoyable read :) Great job Levi!

    Reply
  10. Since I shoot architecture and sports, unfortunately MFT doesn’t provide any relief for me. I’d LOVE to be carrying smaller, lighter cameras and lenses up and down the field and around the buildings I shoot. But keys for me are fast auto focus, focus tracking and tilt/shift lenses. I’ll be waiting though ;)

    Reply
    • The autofocus is actually as fast or faster….

      Reply
      • The autofocus may be, but the subject tracking is nowhere near what my Canon 1DX can do for sports like football, basketball and tennis.

        Reply
        • Have you tested or are you just assuming?

          Reply
          • I’ve used both mft and 1dx and it’s no contest. When I’m shooting sports, I can’t afford to miss because of a tracking error.

          • Okay.. glad to see your open minded. I’m finding that the mirror less cameras keep excelling here. I’ve got to tell you though the speed in which they can shoot and the silent shooting modes (truly silent) make them winners for many of my shooting scenarios.

          • I’ve seen them used at a few PGA events for around the green. Autofocus isn’t a big deal for golf and I’m sure the caddies are happy not hearing the shutter clicks.

    • Regarding Tilt Shift, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Unfortunately, there are not yet any MFT tilt shift lenses. However, using an adapter with lens, like the Metabones Speedbooster, you can use your canon TS lens. It will be a cropped view on MFT but less cropped than on APS-C, and you’ll gain a stop of brightness. I do hope to see an MFT tilt shift. In the meantime, I’m rocking the 7-14mm.

      Reply
      • You lose a bit of the image in crop if you do a significant shift with the tilt/shift lens. I wonder how much more you might lose with the adapter & crop sensor.

        Reply
  11. You forgot about option #3 my platform.
    APS-C or Super35.
    The ideal compromise and ideal for film.
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • As I said on Facebook, too: Mahmoud, it’s true I didn’t address APS-C; my transition was from full frame to MFT, and in the stills world full frame 35mm is the standard everyone measures against. Full frame vs APS-C is well discussed elsewhere, so I focused on the extremes.

      Reply
  12. This is a great side by side comparison. I am so happy I switched from DX to an FX sensor now. This MFT vs FX just shows how drastic the difference is in a photo based on lens choice and sensor size. While a photo isn’t defined by what is out of focus, what is out of focus helps direct the viewer’s eye. Japanese art isn’t defined by the large empty space they tend to leave on the page either, but it does make a difference when an artist chooses to use negative space. Same thing applies to bokeh.

    Reply
    • Right on, Chris. I used to be one who verged on making bokeh the subject, but over the years I’ve learned to compose more thoughtfully, and have found that I’m usually stopping down a couple of stops so that i have more in focus. For my evolving style, this smaller system works.

      Also, Since writing this article, I’ve bought the Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens…so I can have my cake and eat it too :)

      Reply
  13. “Cameras don’t take pictures. People do.” Lev’is taken a gamble here and, of course, there are trade-offs, as with anything in life. One of the biggest ones is weight which any of us shooting full frame cameras can relate to. I have a place for my D800 and 85mm ƒ1.4 lens which is when people are paying me to use it. Other times, I have one of those ‘mirror-less’ cameras – a Nikon P7700 – on my hip and love its compact size and light weight. Another things to consider is what you’re doing with your images. If you are shooting ad campaigns, billboards and wall prints, there’s a reason for the larger sensor, file size, etc. Not to mention the perception of showing up on the set for a big shoot with anything less than big guns. Perception is reality for some people, most of the time. But if your prints range to the occasional 8×10 or, as many do these days, only low-resolution digital files for posting on line, it may be full-frame cameras, lenses and their weight are overkill from what you need. Ahh, but here we have ‘need’ versus ‘want.’ There’s no equation to analyze those two! Bottom line, when you look at any print – much like when you read any book – the issue of what you shot it with or what word processor you wrote the book on is simply not relevant. Get the picture? Onward …

    Reply
    • As always, Bob, you’re right on! Regarding resolution, though, my GH4 has a similar resolution to the D4, so I’m really not bad there; I’ve sold very fine 30×40’s off a 12mpxl sensor, as well. But, as you say, the want for lighter and cheaper gear has been my push. I think I have an answer for perceptions, though. When I show up on set with a small MFT camera, and they say, “Where’s the DSLR?” maybe I’ll say, “Oh, I used to those–they’re terrific–same style my uncle used in the Korean War. This is, however, is the latest technology…” :)

      Reply
  14. Instead of vague generalizations about the difference in depth of field and bokeh, why not say what the difference actually is, so people can decide which is best for them. These two setups will give you the same picture if shot from the same place:

    MFT, 50mm lens, f2.8, ISO 100

    FF, 100mm lens, f5.6, ISO 400

    “Same picture” means same field of view (except for 4:3 vs 3:2), same depth of field and bokeh, same noise. Of course this assume both sensors are of the same current technology, and the pictures are viewed at the same size.

    So when the crop factor is 2, as it is for MFT, the reduction in bokeh is two stops of aperture when you go from FF to MFT, and the noise increase is two stops of ISO. To me, those differences are not all that important, and this argues pretty strongly for MFT for all but the most demanding situations.

    Reply
  15. Sherman, those are terrific numbers, and I appreciate you sharing them; but not everyone responds well to numbers. For this demonstration, I chose to the show the difference, instead.

    Also, I’m no longer considering depth of field for my “same picture” definition. For too long, bokeh has been a subject of my images, and I realize now that that was a mistake. With the images above, I hope to impress that we don’t need the biggest apertures to make a good photograph. Creating a good portrait starts and ends with the people, and the bokeh simply serves to help separate them from the background. Therefore, my DOF considerations now starting and ending at that requirement. I’m tired of getting eyelashes in focus and eyeballs out of focus. I welcome the greater depth.

    Also, we should talk sometime about the Noise increase. Packing more pixels into a similar sensor yields more noise, I get that…but there’s also the processor to consider, I think…I’m not a total number guy, so let’s have coffee and you can explain it to me :)

    Reply
  16. each focal length has a different magnification.
    How is it that 200mm shows LESS magnification than 100mm ?
    See the comparison shots.

    Reply
  17. you should measure distance
    instead of relying on visual to maintain image crop.
    Since you are on 2 different cameras, you could set them up one behind the other.
    ( assuming you have 2 tripods )

    btw, try testing 24mm f1.8 full frame and MFT of the equivalent.
    Thats where it all breaks down. There is NOTHING in the arsenal of MFT
    that can compare to that.

    Reply
    • Maximme, I didn’t rely on visual to get a similar crop; I stood in the same place with the two setups–basically what you suggested with two tripods. It’s not that the 200mm has less magnification; it’s that it’s projecting onto a bigger sensor, so filling that sensor with 200mm requires you to stand closer than with 100mm on the MFT.

      Considering the DOF of 24mm f/1.8, we’d be using a 12mm lens with an aperture wider than f/0.95, so you’re right, there’s nothing that compares for the depth of field. My question is…why do I need so little DOF on a wide lens? the Olympus 12mm f/1.8 is very nice and will offer a similar picture. Even though the DOF is technically deeper, I suspect that your picture at 24mm f/1.8 still has a background that can be discerned because it’s such a wide lens. I’m speculating, of course, but I just don’t know why I’d want to shoot at f/1.8 on a 24mm. I’d love it for the low light focusing ability, but even shooting stars there’s no DOF, so a 12mm f/1.8 would suffice.

      Reply
  18. Levi,
    Do you know of any weather sealed mirrorless camera that have an available 105-200mm macro lens?

    Reply
  19. Am I the only person that can seen the narrower tonal range of white, grey and black in the images from the MFT as compared to Nikon?

    Reply

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About Levi Sim

Photography is my life, and I'd like my photography to be part of your life, too. Whether I make pictures with you or help you learn to make your vision pop out of the camera, I'm happy to help.

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Gear, Photography, Portrait, Reviews, Shooting, Technique & Tutorials

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