Tuesday, 19 July 2016

366 Project Month Five - Micro 43s May

After my time consuming April Portrait Project finished, I wanted an easier month in May. After considering Macro May and Mobile May, I finally settled on Micro 43s May. Alliteration was an important thing to consider in May.

Camera with bright 30mm & 85mm f3.4 primes that weighs just 500g and fits in my coat!
Late last year I picked up a Panasonic GM5 with the Leica branded 15mm f/1.7. I was really impressed with the image quality for the size and weight, but the moment I bought a Sony RX1RII I largely neglected it.

So, the question I wanted to answer in May was: can a camera costing a quarter of the price, and half the weight, of a Sony RX1RII really compete? Clickbait warning. The answer might surprise you!

Note: This 366 summary may be a bit more about cameras than photography compared to my other posts.

A little bit of background

For the uninitiated, you might be curious how a camera with a 15mm f/1.7 lens can compare to another with a 35mm f/2 lens. The short answer is sensor size. As can be seen above, the sensor in the GM5 is quite small compared to the RX1RII, which has what is known as a full frame sensor.

In practice, this means the GM5 with a 15mm f/1.7 behaves similarly to a 30mm f/3.4 lens if talking in full frame terminology. Compared to the Sony RX1RII, the Panasonic has worse low light abilities, is less able to blur out the background, and worse dynamic range (the ability to capture both darkness and light in the same image). However, it will still capture a very similar field of view.

The advantages of the smaller sensor

The advantages of this smaller sensor is that the GM5 is substantially smaller the Sony RX1RII. It may not look so different online, but it means I am able to fit the GM5 with lens attached into my coat pocket. There’s no way I’d be able to comfortably fit the Sony there.

It is worth adding that the GM5 also differs from the RX1RII in that it is an interchangeable lens camera. This allows me to put a telephoto lens into my other pocket, and I have a complete 35mm/85mm combo for the same weight as the Sony.

So what difference did this make in use?

With respect to controls, there is a lot of similarities between the cameras. Both have a viewfinder in the corner, both have an aperture control ring on the lens, and both have a similar angle of view (if using the Leica 15mm f/1.7). However, the fact I could keep the GM5 in my pocket meant I was much more likely to have it with me. It was the end of autumn in Melbourne. If it were summer, there probably wouldn’t have been this distinction)

What difference did it make in image quality?

Due to a rather busy June, I didn’t really start to collect my thoughts and favourite images from May until the start of July. Many of these photos I only had on my phone in Instagram resolution, so after I started going through them on my laptop, I was quite shocked that some of them were taken with the GM5. In my memory, I had thought most of them had been originally taken with the Sony.

That is to say, once a photo has been processed and reduced to Instagram resolution, there is very little to tell them apart – whether they came from the slightly outdated tiny sensor GM5, or the massive full frame bleeding edge RX1RII.

If I had used the Sony here, I could have easily brought up the shadows on the customers – but would that have improved the photo?
Even when I look back at the images on a high-resolution display, there is little difference between them. If I had taken side by side photos, maybe then the higher resolving power of the Sony would become apparent, but even then I suspect you may need to zoom in to really see the difference.

Did I waste money getting the Sony RX1RII?

This all raises the question that if there’s so little difference between the two cameras, but the Sony is four times the price and twice the weight, is it a rip off?

Well, in the sense of value for money, yes. There’s just no way the images are four times as good as what the Panasonic combination can provide. Especially if you’re just posting to Instagram. If that’s your only goal, even a Micro 43s camera is overkill.

At the time of writing, I have finished my first six months of this project, and I hope to soon compile into a printed book. It will be interesting then to see if there is any apparent difference. Maybe it's time to consider printing even larger copies and seeing if there can see a difference.

Will I consider selling all my full-frame gear and just using Micro 43s?

In the past, I have considered this. I had gone from using a Nikon D700, a full frame camera, to an Olympus E-M5. At the time, I found the difference between the image quality between them wasn’t so remarkable – and I found the Olympus a more enjoyable carry everywhere camera. But, I could never bring myself to sell all my Nikon gear.

Now, in a real world sense, I find the practical difference between the images from them smaller than many people may claim or want to believe. However, there is no doubt in my mind that a full frame camera can’t both deliver more detailed images and give you more options than an equivalent generation Micro 43s camera. So for me, I don't plan to divest of all my full frame gear. In fact, I am still trying to decide if I have a place in my heart for Micro 43s.

In fact, there was one photo I tried to take with the GM5, but the dynamic range required for it was just beyond the sensor's ability. I could have used exposure bracketing to get around this (taking multiple shots of different brightness then combining in computer), but when I later tried with the Sony RX1RII, only one capture was required.

But, to discount Micro 43s as just a toy camera is absurd, as they’ve already overtaken older generation professional DSLRs. If you're trying to decide if Micro 43s is right for you, I plan to continue these thoughts in another post soon. However, for the purpose of my 366 Project I've already deviated in this post too far from photography and into camera geekdom.

A photo like this, with lots of fine detail, is one where I think the Sony would have delivered a better result.
You can read about my experiences from other months here.
If you want to follow along in my journey, you can see how my 366 project is progressing on Instagram: @andrew366

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