For anyone who has been following my recent travels either through my Facebook, Twitter or Google+ will more than likely have noticed that I have been exclusively using a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds system for all my photo and video work whilst in Romania. Over the next few blog posts I wanted to try and explain the reasons I had behind trying out the system, my impressions of the Panasonic GX7, GH3 and GH4 and then finally discuss if it will become a long term move for me.
It’s been an interesting journey learning a new system with new menus and new controls. Hopefully through the next few posts I can help you out if you are currently contemplating a similar move to a Micro Four Thirds system.
Why Make The Move?
For the last few years I have been travelling the world with my two trusty Nikon D7000s and a set of zoom and prime lenses (11-16 f2.8, 20mm f1.8, 35mm f1.8, 50mm f.14 and 85mm f1.8). Compared to many travel photographers this is still a pretty lightweight set-up at around 4kg. However, even 4kg becomes cumbersome when you have to carry it over long stretches of challenging terrain or when you are trying to squeeze it into the ever shrinking hand luggage restrictions.
Another problem is that despite the reasonable weight, it’s still a ‘big’ system and is hardly subtle in use. In street photography scenarios having a system that is more compact cannot be underestimated. It also means that valuable baggage space is taken up with camera gear meaning I have to travel with bigger bags which are more of a hassle and generally make the travel part less enjoyable.
This dilemma lead me to start looking into smaller camera systems. I know there are many travel photographers who have dived into the Fuji X System and it’s a move I considered myself. I considered the Fuji system for quite some time. It is well regarded for it’s image quality although a few things worried me enough to put me off taking the leap.
Despite it being a compact system and having compact bodies, it’s APS-C sensor means that the lenses are still bigger than I’d hoped. The other problem I had was with the AF, to some degree it has apparently been upgraded in the latest X-T1 but it still lags behind Panasonic, Olympus and most larger DSLRs. A lot of my work is shot in low light and having poor AF in a scenario I find myself shooting in regularly is not something I want to deal with. My D7000s are not great in low light and so any camera system that will AF in low light accurately will make my life so much easier.
Why Micro Four Thirds?
For many years I had kind of dismissed the Micro Four Thirds system. My preconceptions were that it was a system that was designed for families who want something a bit more than a compact point and shoot camera but didn’t want to get a larger DSLR. Looking back this was a pretty stupid presumption for me to make and in the end my preconceptions were shattered once a friend suggested I check out the Panasonic GX7.
The benefits of the smaller sensor are more than you would imagine. The obvious benefit is that the lenses can be much smaller because they have a smaller image area to cover. This means that you can get wonderful lenses such as the Panasonic Leica Summilux 15mm f1.7 that weighs only 115g compared to the 520g Sigma 20mm f1.8 I use on my D7000. It isn’t just a weight difference though, the Panasonic Leica lenses are some of the best primes I have ever used in terms of image quality.
One of my favourite benefits of the smaller sensor is the increased depth of field when shooting in low light. Normally when shooting at f1.4/f1.8 on a full frame or crop sensor camera you are working with very shallow depth of field. This isn’t too bad if you are shooting a portrait but for any image where you want to get some environment into the shot, having more depth of field is great. It also means you can shoot at higher apertures to get the same depth of field leaving you with a lower ISO and less noise.
One of the things I was most apprehensive about was the electronic viewfinder. Funnily enough that turned out to be one of my favourite features. Having the ability to see exposure and histogram information in real time is a revelation. The fact that you can use it to view your shot images in bright sunlight when the LCD is often difficult to see also means that it’s much easier to make sure the shot is right at the time of shooting. The EVF also means that you can set the cameras to silent mode which unlike DSLR quiet modes is actually 100% silent, perfect when you wish to be unobtrusive.
The last thing that swayed me towards a Panasonic Micro Four Thirds was the incredible video quality. With the new GH4 shooting high quality 4K video and the GX7 and GH3 both sporting decent HD standard video recording it would make shooting short documentary work much easier than it is on my Nikons. Having the ability to shoot both high quality video and stills means that I can produce better and more in-depth work and hopefully take on even more ambitious projects.
Is Micro Four Thirds a Viable Solution?
I certainly think Micro Four Thirds is a very capable system for travel photographers. The lightweight, high image quality and excellent video means that anyone shooting multimedia work for a living would benefit from a hybrid system such as the Panasonic Micro Four Thirds cameras. I’m not going to give the game away as to whether I will be ditching my DSLRs as that will be the subject of the next few posts.
I will however end with this conclusion. If you are considering a smaller camera system, get your hands on the GX7 for a short while, for a camera that costs between £600-£800 new I’m starting to think it may be the best value buy for any camera right now. It does have a few negatives and many positives and it will depend on how you shoot whether it is the camera for you. If you want to see more of the work I have been shooting on this camera, check out my Facebook page for the images from Romania.
DISCLAIMER: Some of the links in this article are also affiliate links. If you do decide to buy something using the links on this page, it will not cost you anymore however I may earn a small commission from your sale. It is not going to buy me a yacht in Monaco or pay for a trip anytime soon but it does all help to provide me with the means to continue travelling and photographing this amazing planet.