Transitioning to Micro Four Thirds

New 20mm f/1.7 "pancake" lens

For the past two years I’ve been photographing with two families of DSLR: Nikon and Panasonic. The Nikons have been great cameras but I found myself leaving them at home quite often in favor of my Panasonic Lumix G1. The main reason was the G1 was smaller, lighter and, to be honest, more fun because of all the classic lenses I could adapt to it, including Nikkors.

The only thing the G1 lacked was a movie mode so a few months ago I upgraded the G1 to a G2 which, other than a few refinements, can be seen as a G1 with a movie mode added.

Technically speaking the Lumix G1 and G2 aren’t DSLRs because they lack the R: Reflex. There’s no pentaprism and you’re not looking through the lens. Instead the viewfinder contains a small LiveView LCD that you look at, and it sees through the lens. This is called an EVF, or electronic viewfinder. The ones in the G1 and G2 are state of the art: bright and as easy to shoot with as a D90 DSLR.

So, what to call the cameras if not DSLR? DSL has been used, as has EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens). One publication I write for calls them Compact System Cameras. This is all a little awkward so when I’m not writing for publication, I use poetic license and simply refer to the G1 and G2 as compact DSLRs. They’re certainly DSLR-style.

They are, however, a different class of camera in one important sense: they use a Four Thirds sensor, or “4/3.” The 4/3 sensor is somewhat smaller than the APS-C size in my Nikons, allowing the manufacturers who use it — Panasonic and Olympus — to create small bodied cameras with smaller lenses.

The Panasonic G series, like the Olympus Pen series, use the Micro Four Thirds (m4/3) lens mount, which means that any lens made for m4/3 is interchangeable with any m4/3 body from any manufacturer.

I’ve come to love this format. It’s close enough in size to APS-C to give me as much image quality as I need for my hobbyist photography, and the size and weight is just right in my hands.

So, I decided to simplify: to sell my Nikon gear and invest solely into m4/3. I recently sold my Nikon D90 and I traded in a batch of Nikkors of various generations toward the spiffy Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 prime. Coming soon will be an Olympus 9-18mm wide angle zoom.

For the first time in years I’m down to owning only two digital cameras: Lumix G2 and a much-enjoyed Canon S90 point & shoot that is as small as many cell phones. It simplifies my choices as I walk out the door. If I’m going shopping or to lunch with a friend, I strap on the S90. When I go out deliberately in quest of images, I take the G2.

So far the transition has been satisfying. A bit like having your cake and eating it too. By simplifying, it’s made photography more fun. I concentrate more on shooting than fretting over which DSLR to use. Thoreau was right: “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”

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About Gene Wilburn

Gene Wilburn is a writer ~ photographer ~ humanist
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10 Responses to Transitioning to Micro Four Thirds

  1. David Scott says:

    I understand completely. I haven’t been taking photos like I should or would like to simpley because of the weight of my old D50 Nikon. I am looking for a small pocket digtal that will give me the photo quality I want and not bust my pocket book yet have a sense of history.
    In other words I would like to have Leica M9 but that is not going to happen.

  2. Gene Wilburn says:

    Thanks David,

    A Leica M9 — to dream of …

  3. Ron Herron says:

    Interesting. I’m a big fan of old film cameras, Gene, as you know. But I’ve lately been carrying around my big Canon DSLR – except I find it and all the lenses often too bulky. So I got the small Lumix but, even though it has a very versatile Leica lens, I find it doesn’t always fit the situation and I wish I had something with interchangeable lenses.

    I may have to investigate the Lumix G2 … although I really don’t care if has video capabilities, so maybe the G1 would be a better choice.

  4. Gene Wilburn says:

    Hi Ron, you might find a G1 on the used market. Take a look at the GF-1 too — rather rangefinder-like in size and shape.

    Would you believe, I’m now down to two cameras?

  5. Ron Herron says:

    Two cameras? Wow! My wife wishes I would get rid of most of my old film cameras! I’m going to take a look at both the G1 and the GF-1 (which will undoubtedly thrill my bride)! LOL!

  6. Chet says:

    Hi Gene

    It’s ages since I visited your blog. I’m glad I did!

    I’m thinking of getting the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ100. I saw a friend using it recently during my September trip to China and it looked good. I am not looking for a full DSLR – too heavy, too complicated, too expensive (smile) – so I think this might be the camera to move up to from my current point & shoot (Nikon P5100). If not this one, then some other brand in the same category.

    I’m actually a Nikon person, and I think the Nikon P100 is in the same category. Would love your thoughts on both cameras.

    Thanks.

    Chet

    • Gene Wilburn says:

      Hi Chet,

      Hey, nice to see you here! Thanks for dropping by.

      I think both the FZ100 and the P100 are good cameras. The Lumix has more resolution, a swing-out LCD sensor (handy at times) and has a good rep. I’m sure it would give you top-notch results. The Nikon is less expensive and if you’re already a Nikon girl, it’s an easy transition for you. Not quite as feature-rich as the Panasonic but solid in every way. I honestly think you’d be happy with either.

      I’m a tech-driven photographer and would probably opt for the Panasonic myself, though Nikon is my favorite full DSLR brand. As you know, I use a Panasonic Four Thirds and really like its features so I’m probably a little biased.

      Gene

      • Chet says:

        Thanks, Gene. I’m keen on the FZ100’s lens so I will get it. I also found an offer that will let me trade in my credit card points for a discount.

  7. Greg A. Wodos says:

    I was wonderful to read your comments about M4/3’s cameras. I am really liking my Olympus E-P2. It’s a joy to carry around, be it on vacation, while riding my bike around town, or hiking in the mountains (which I can now do almost any time I please!).

    Simplicity is definitely a concept I relate to, though perhaps the issue for me has never really been one of having too much gear to choose from, since prior to the E-P2 my only choices were cell phone camera vs. taking along my clunky cheap old Nikon EM SLR with the one lens I have for it (even though it isn’t much bigger or heavier than the E-P2, I’ve never felt as comfortable with the costs of casual shooting with film).

    I occasionally have wondered if the new Panasonic equivalent might be a good option, but every time I read reviews I find the apparent trade-offs still keep my liking my Olympus best (excellent in-body image stabilization primarily, and to some degree the size and even the metal body). The seemingly better grip and the fold-out swivelling display screen are the two things I envy most about the Panasonic. My only real complaints with the E-P2 so far have been with the rather poor ergonomics of the grip, and the inability to lock out the controls on the back as I find they’re by far too easy to accidentally manipulate while I’m trying to grab onto or hang onto the camera, or even as it bumps along against me while hanging on its strap. You have to put your thumb on the screen to avoid any controls if you’re trying to hold it with one hand which is less comfortable and makes keeping the screen clean even more difficult. To avoid the worst problems when picking it up or as it bounces along I’ve tried recently to cultivate a habit of immediately turning it off when I’m done shooting something, and getting a good grip on it before I turn it on again as it doesn’t take too long to power up and doing so also saves big-time on the battery, at least with the display brightness up full as I usually have it set. I’d like to have an easier way to manually trigger an auto-focus too, as the one button they make it easy to set up for this use is difficult to find by feel and distinguish from other buttons, especially when wearing gloves.

    I would also like to try a Panasonic G 20mm f/1.7 to compare directly against the Olympus M. Zuiko 17mm f/2.8, especially for flash-less indoor photography. AND I would like to find a very small tilting flash for it too!

    I too would like to have an M9 (or whatever’s current and in the same higher bracket if/when I can finally afford one) for even higher-quality images, but I think it’s even further from being a pocket camera at seemingly twice the bulk of my little E-P2 (literally it’s only about 30% larger, but side-by-side the M9 seems to me to be like a big boxy brute — I was very surprised by this the first time I saw one in real life). I can actually get the Olympus into many a jacket pocket, at least with the little pancake lens attached (the 14-42mm is a wee bit too big for many pockets even when collapsed).

    • Gene Wilburn says:

      Greg, nice to hear from you! I really like the E-P2 and understand your appreciation for the camera. If I decide to supplement my G2 with a smaller bodied cam, the E-P2 will be among my top choices.

      The tilt & swivel LCD display on the G2 is often handy, but what I like most about the camera is the EVF. It’s big and bright. I’m able to focus manual lenses while looking through it. It makes the camera body a little larger (it looks like a dwarf DSLR) but it gives a lot in return. It means that I either carry the camera in a bag or around my neck on a strap. There’s no way it would fit into a pocket, unless it was a big, loose pocket on a winter coat.

      BTW, I purchased an Olympus 9-18mm wide angle. Absolutely love it!

      Gene

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