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Mirrorless Camera Maniac: Switching from Full-Frame to Micro Four-Thirds

For years, I trusted my Nikon D800 kit to produce images for my clients. I knew the system inside and out, and was comfortable with it. But as time wore on, there were some pain points (literally).

I regularly shoot corporate events. Oftentimes, these events require a hefty 70-200mm lens — even with my Peak Design Slide strap, this combo gets tiresome. What’s more, lugging all my camera gear around was tedious and often unrealistic for what I needed. I was also beginning to realize that my D800 was technologically behind, compared to other camera systems from Panasonic, Olympus and Sony.

After spending almost two years debating a switch away from my D800 kit (that’s right…I said years), I finally jumped when I tried the Panasonic Lumix GH5.

So, now a little over a month into my micro four-thirds life, I’ve learned a few things that have helped me make transition as painless as possible.

Switching to a Panasonic GH5 from my Nikon D800 setup was a breath of fresh air. Photo by Cathy Seaver.

Why Switch?

For me, there were several reasons why I decided to switch away from my trusty Nikon setup. But one reason kept on coming back to me — video.

For years, I had never considered getting into the “video” game. But clients continued to request it more and more — after four requests in the first quarter of this year, I realized that I needed to adapt.

While the D800 could take video, it was cumbersome at best. Past attempts to make a halfway decent video were met with disappointment — I could never get my focusing exactly how I wanted it to be.

Know What You Need

Like I said, it took me almost two years to settle on the GH5. Why? I simply couldn’t find a replacement that met every need of mine.

As I shoot a lot of low-light events, I needed a camera that could keep up, both in autofocus and sharpness. I didn’t want a ton of grain embarking on my photographs.

I wanted was a camera that still felt like a DSLR, without all the weight — dedicated function buttons, custom setting options and a hefty grip. On the software side, I wanted a menu system that was easy to understand, and similar to my Nikon.

But I also wanted lenses that could match my current kit. I had invested in Tamron’s 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. And they were great for what I needed. For my new camera, I needed a kit that could match (or exceed) this. I initially ended up getting the Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 (equivalent to the 24-70mm) and the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 (equivalent to a 80-300mm). So far, both lenses have really exceeded my expectations in terms of performance.

Furthermore, I also needed to keep in mind the accessories I use. My AlienBees needed to work with them, and I needed a speedlight with TTL settings so I could quickly shoot at events. I ended up investing in a new PocketWizard system, as well as a Nissin i60A. For my filters, I decided to keep my Vu filter system and instead invest in filter ring adapters (which ended up working out great).

The GH5 has made major improvements when it comes to low light and autofocusing. Photo by Cathy Seaver.

Things to Keep in Mind

Going into my first shoot, I had no idea what to expect out of the GH5. I did my homework, however, and found out how the event would be organized, and what shots I needed to capture. I know the kit I had would do the job well…I just didn’t know how well. There were a few things I noticed though, during my first few shoots:

One, getting a shallow depth of field requires more work. Using a f/2.8 aperture is more like using a f/5.6 aperture on a full-frame camera if you’re shooting from the same distance. This made me invest almost immediately in the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 lens, just to have that option for portraits and other creative needs.

Secondly, while low-light performance is improving, I can still see a slight difference between my D800 and GH5 images. You’re dealing with a much smaller sensor (roughly 1/4 the size of a full-frame sensor), so this makes sense. It’s a small difference, but you’ll see more noise on an image shot at ISO 2500 with a micro four-thirds camera than a modern-day full-frame camera.

Third, if your camera has a touchscreen, it might be an adjustment. For me, I was hitting the touchscreen with my nose, causing me to change focus points. I turned off all of the touchscreen functionality, with the exception of being able to change settings on certain interfaces.

The GH5 kept the DSLR-like feel that I was so used to, and had a comfortable button and menu system. Photo by Cathy Seaver.

Test and Research

As I mentioned above, it took me almost two years to finally find the right fit for me. I tried the Olympus OM-D E-M1, only to be turned away because of the menu system and button placement. I tried the GH4, which was close, but I was concerned about its low-light capabilities. I even considered the Sony full-frame mirrorless system, only to realize I was going to have to win the lotto in order to fund it.

When I tried out the GH5, I did a lot of research on it. It was a pre-release camera at the time, so I knew I was taking a risk. I held on to all my core Nikon gear for a few weeks before even thinking about selling it, just in case things went south.

Get out and talk to the experts. I knew a few Lumix photographers, so I drove them absolutely crazy with all my questions. But I am so glad I was able to pick their brains, and am happy to pay the favor forward.

Conclusion

If you’re thinking of switching to a micro four-thirds system, I can’t promote it enough. It’s a dynamic system, offering a plethora of options for both photo and video. It’s unleashed my creativity, and re-ignited my passion for photography. It’s much easier to take my camera everywhere now, and I still get great quality images from it!

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