An Excellent Camera

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After dorking it up for many years, I recommend:

Micro 4/3 Cameras:  

  • My choice for a balance of image quality and portability (size and weight), especially as a complete camera system where you often carry more than one lens. 
  • Image quality is excellent, allowing 16″ x 20″ prints that look fantastic (and probably larger too!), and usable high ISO values up to 6400.  
  • Much smaller than full frame and even many APS-C cameras, especially the lenses.  Super zooms and telephoto lenses are much lighter and reasonably sized, and prime lenses can be downright tiny.  This allows you to take several lenses with you in a small and light bag.
  • Large selection of micro 4/3 lenses available.  Wide angle, telephoto, macro, zooms, fast primes, etc.  Lenses are compatible across brands in the micro 4/3 system.
This image was taken after hiking up thousands of feet of elevation gain in Kings Canyon National Park.
I appreciated my light weight and portable camera!

I use and recommend micro 4/3 cameras.  I’ve been using micro 4/3 camera equipment for many years (purchased with my own money), including a mashup of Panasonic and Olympus products, and am sharing my personal experience with them.  I currently own an Olympus E-M1 body (the original Mark I) , and a mix of Panasonic and Olympus lenses. Everything works great, and I’ve taken thousands of photos I’m proud of. The recommendations below are a mix of equipment I own and what new equipment I would buy today if I was starting over or upgrading.

Interchangeable lens cameras are really camera systems. No one lens can do everything well, so having multiple lenses in your collection allows you to have specialized lenses for different purposes. If you don’t think you’ll ever buy more than one lens, see my alternative recommendations below for a high quality fixed lens camera.

If you want to save some money, I highly recommend buying used camera equipment on eBay.   Great deals can be had on excellent equipment as other people sell their old stuff to get the latest shiny new toy.  Used camera hardware in great condition can often be had for half price vs. new. Just because a piece of equipment was replaced by the manufacture with a newer model, it doesn’t mean that equipment is obsolete!  A camera that took great photos 3 years ago still takes great photos today. Lenses in particular are great opportunities to buy used, as a lens can often be the latest model for 10 years or more.  

Two main brands in the micro 4/3 world are Olympus and Panasonic. While Olympus and Panasonic camera bodies are very similar with similar capabilities, their higher end lenses have notable differences.  Most of Olympus’s best zoom lenses (the Pro series) have a constant f/2.8 aperture, so they are better for low light, but are bigger and heavier.  However, Olympus just released a new 12-45 Pro f/4 lens, and will likely continue to release more Pro f/4 lenses in the future. Panasonic’s best zoom lenses (the Leica series) have a f/2.8 to f/4 variable aperture, and are lighter but with a bit less low light capability than a constant f/2.8 lens.   I value portability, so I prefer the smaller and lighter lenses, and can live with a bit less light gathering ability. I view a f/4 constant aperture zoom lens as the ideal portable lens for general photography in decent light.  

Olympus currently has the only high quality super zoom lens, the 12-100mm f/4 lens.  If you want one lens with high image quality and real wide angle and telephoto capability, this is the lens for you.  While this lens seems a bit big and heavy for micro 4/3, this lens can not be matched by any other interchangeable lens camera system – a 24-200mm full frame equivalent constant f/4 aperture pro level lens, super sharp at every zoom position, simply doesn’t exist on other larger sensor camera systems, as it would be prohibitively large and expensive.  Most other super zooms tend to be a bit soft, but the Olympus 12-100 is delightfully sharp.

Pick your lenses first, then your brand of camera, to maximize certain advanced camera capabilities.  While all micro 4/3 lenses work on all micro 4/3 bodies, there are some minor limitations when mixing brands.  Olympus lenses are not officially supported by Panasonic’s DFD autofocus system, and may therefore be slightly slower to focus or poorer at continuous autofocus for action shots.  Also, dual image stabilization (where both an image stabilizing lens and image stabilizing sensor work together for the highest level of stabilization) is only possible when combining particular same-brand camera bodies and lenses.

I use and recommend the micro 4/3 camera system.  I have purchased many items in this system with my own money, and am sharing my personal experience with this equipment.  The bold items in the tables below are things I personally own (or have owned), the remainder are other items that I would consider as similar equipment in another brand, different needs, etc.  The lenses listed are those that I consider to be a good value – good image quality, reasonable size and weight, and reasonable cost. There are “better” lenses available, but many are rather large and/or expensive, and for me are less desirable on a compact micro 4/3 camera system.

High End Olympus BodyE-M1 (better continuous autofocus)Mark IIIMark I
Mark II
Mark III
Mid Grade Olympus BodyE-M5 (smaller)Mark IIIMark II
Mark III
High End Panasonic BodyGX SeriesG9G8
Mid Grade Panasonic BodyGXX SeriesG95G85
Camera Bodies
DescriptionOlympus NewOlympus UsedPanasonic NewPanasonic Used
Wide Zoom9-18 mm f/4-5.69-18 mm f/4-5.68-18 mm f/2.8-48-18 mm f/2.8-4
Normal Zoom12-45 mm f/412-45 mm f/412-60 mm f/2.8-412-60 mm f/2.8-4
Telephoto Zoom40-150 mm f/4-5.640-150 mm f/4-5.645-175 mm f/4-5.645-175 mm f/4-5.6
Super Zoom12-100 mm f/412-100 mm f/414-140 mm f/3.5-5.6**14-140 mm f/3.5-5.6**
Super Telephoto Zoom75-300 mm f/4.8-6.775-300 mm f/4.8-6.7100-300 f/4-5.6100-300 f/4-5.6
Wide Prime12 mm f/212 mm f/2n/a*n/a*
Normal/Wide Prime17 mm f/1.817 mm f/1.820 mm f/1.720 mm f/1.7
Normal Prime25 mm f/1.825 mm f/1.825 mm f/1.725 mm f/1.7
Portrait Prime45 mm f/1.845 mm f/1.842.5 mm f/1.742.5 mm f/1.7
Macro Prime60 mm f/2.860 mm f/2.8n/a*n/a*
* Panasonic only makes a rather large and expensive 12 mm f/1.4 lens, and an overly expensive 45 mm 2.8 macro lens.  In these cases, I recommend the Olympus alternative, even on a Panasonic body.
** The Panasonic 14-140 is versatile and incredibly light and compact, but disappointingly soft.  It’s fine, until you compare it to a very sharp lens. The Olympus 12-100 is much bigger and heavier, but delightfully sharp.

Recommended Alternatives for Different Needs

Micro 4/3 cameras might not be for everyone.  While I love the balance of image quality and portability, some people may have differing priorities and needs.

I recommend mirrorless cameras vs. DSLR’s.  Mirrorless cameras are more usable and compact (see below for details).  

If you need the very best picture quality:  Sony full frame mirrorless camera systems. Full frame cameras with up to 61 megapixels (!) and a wide variety of high quality lenses will provide the best possible image quality short of a $10K+ large format camera system.  Sony autofocus systems are also now reaching the abilities of pro-level Canon and Nikon cameras. I’d start my search with the a7R III.  42 MP should be enough!  The downside of any full frame camera system is the size and weight – the lenses in particular are large and heavy.

Canon and Nikon have recently released their own mirrorless camera systems, but as of early 2020, their collection of lenses specifically for these cameras is still small.  They do have adapters to use their older DSLR lenses on their mirrorless bodies, but that is one more thing to add size and weight. Nikon has a better collection of smaller and lighter lenses, Canon seems to be focusing first on giant exotic lenses with big apertures.  In a few years, I would expect both Canon and Nikon to have a very large collection of excellent lenses.

If you want to trade just a bit of size for a bit better image quality:  An APS size mirrorless system. The options with the biggest selection of lenses are Sony E-mount and Fuji X Series systems.  The Fuji bodies have lots of direct control knobs on the camera, avoiding the need to dig into menus for every adjustment. Fuji is also dedicated to the APS size sensor, while Sony is likely using far more of their resources on their full frame line.  Sony, however, is known for its excellent autofocus, and put the same autofocus technology of its pro level cameras into its consumer level cameras also. For Fuji, I’d start my search with the X-T4, and for Sony, the A6600.  Nikon also has a new APS mirrorless camera, the Z50, but very few APS lenses are available.  This would be an option if you only wanted a couple basic zoom lenses.  I don’t recommend putting full frame camera lenses on APS bodies. They work, but are a waste of glass, size, weight, and cost, since the small sensor is only using ½ the light from the lens.

If you need a tiny camera, with more capability than a cell phone:  Sony RX100 series single fixed lens cameras. These cameras cram a sensor nearly as big as micro 4/3 cameras into a very small package.  Currently, the RX100 Mark VII is the latest model in this series.  The Mark VI and Mark V are also still available as new, but likely cheaper used on eBay (Mark V / Mark VI).  The Mark V has a brighter lens for low light shooting, while the Mark VI and VII have much greater telephoto capability.  All versions of this camera are rather expensive for a “point and shoot” camera, but are very impressive. If you can live with a single lens, these cameras are a great and even smaller alternative to a micro 4/3 camera system.

If you need a great cell phone camera:  the latest Google Pixel or iPhone. I don’t always carry around my real camera, but I always have my phone, and I’ve taken wonderful pictures with it.  I’m often surprised how good the photos from a phone can be in good light. See my recommendations for a cell phone.

Keep reading to Dork It Up!

I’m a photography enthusiast.  I’ve been using semi-pro level digital camera equipment for the last 16 years, and I enjoy the photos I’ve been able to capture with it.  

Image taken with a wide angle 12mm Olympus f/2 lens, with a 32 second exposure (on a tripod) at ISO 1250. The wide aperture of a prime lens was needed to keep the ISO and shutter speeds reasonable. A longer shutter speed would have caused star trails, and a higher ISO would have reduced the image quality.

Functional Requirements (in order of importance, for me):

  1. Image quality
  2. Speed and ease of use, in particular for action
  3. Portability (size and weight)
  4. Affordability

Image Quality

Digital photography image quality has come a long way in the last 20 years.  Every interchangeable lens camera made today gives excellent image quality, and many point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras give surprisingly good image quality.  By image quality, I mean sharpness, detail, and color rendition that holds up to cropping, zooming in, and printing enlargements to hang on the wall.

Digital cameras have digital sensors that gather light and record the image.  Generally, as image sensor size increases, so does image quality – bigger sensors gather more light.  “Full frame” cameras have the biggest sensors short of medium format cameras ($10K+!), while cell phones have the smallest sensors.  See the figure below for a comparison of various sensor sizes. When there is a lot of light (outside on a sunny day), nearly every camera made today provides acceptable image quality.  Differences in image quality become more obvious in poor light (indoors, evening, etc.). Cameras with bigger sensors are better at gathering what little light there is, while smaller cameras start to really struggle.  

“Crop factor” is a term that attempts to describe how the angle of view of a given lens focal length changes as sensor size decreases.  The angle of view of a 100mm lens is 1.5x smaller on an APS-C sensor than on a full frame sensor (the smaller sensor “crops” the image).  It is more useful to think of this number as a “focal length multiplier”, where a 100mm lens has 1.5x more telephoto reach on an APS-C sensor.  This is why smaller sensor size cameras can have smaller lenses – a 50mm focal length lens will have the same angle of view on a micro 4/3 camera as a 100mm focal length lens on a full frame camera.

The question is, how good of image quality do you need, and in what types of conditions?

I have found that micro 4/3 cameras provide the balance of image quality and portability that I need in a multi-lens camera system.  I want to be able to make great looking images in nearly any light, and these smaller cameras can do just that. I can make 16″ x 20″ prints that look great.  

Yes, the image quality from larger sensor cameras is better.  They can maintain better image quality in near darkness, are better for REALLY BIG prints (24” x 36” or larger), and you can crop off half the photo and still have resolution to spare.  However, I typically don’t need this level of performance. If I were a professional photographer, I’d probably want the absolute best image quality, but I’m not. I need good enough image quality, with a camera that is small enough and light enough that I will actually take it with me on a regular basis.  See more on portability below. Also, lots of megapixels from full frame cameras create images with very large file sizes, which will fill up your hard drive faster, and slow down your workflow. Make sure you actually need all that resolution.

Image quality from cameras with very small sensors like cheaper point and shoot cameras and cell phones can be great in good light (outdoors with some sun), but is still often very poor in low light situations.  High end point and shoot cameras like the Sony RX series use larger sensors than cheaper point and shoots, approaching the image quality of micro 4/3. These are a great option if you want something small with just one built-in lens.

Another aspect of image quality is depth of field, or how much is in focus in an image from near to far.  For some images, very shallow depth of field is desirable. An example of this is for portraits, where the eyes and face of a person must be sharp, but a blurred out background is very pleasing to the eye, isolating the subject.  Other images are better with lots of depth of field. An example of this is landscapes, where you may want the flowers near you and the mountains behind them to all be in focus.  

Depth of field is controlled by physics, and will be reduced with longer focal length lenses and wider apertures.  Cameras with bigger sensors use longer focal length lenses, will have less depth of field for a given aperture and angle of view, and can achieve a very thin plane of focus if desired.  Cameras with tiny sensors (like smartphones) use lenses with tiny focal lengths, and as a result the ability to have a blurred background is very limited (unless using software “portrait mode” tricks that digitally blur the background).  Micro 4/3 cameras are in between. If you want a blurry background, select a wider aperture lens (a f/1.8 or faster prime is best), and/or a longer focal length, and keep some distance between your subject and the background. I find the depth of field of micro 4/3 ideal for most situations.  An f/4 lens is perfect for general use, while a f/1.8 lens is perfect for portraits. On full frame, there is often too little depth of field, forcing you to stop down your aperture and increase your ISO or shutter speed to increase depth of field. 

Image taken with Olympus 45 mm f/1.8 lens, a great lens for portraits with some background blur.

The continued advancement of cell phone cameras is amazing, but they can’t match a real camera for all situations.  New “night sight” modes really do improve low light photography by taking multiple photos and combining them for better detail, and “portrait” modes use software to digitally blur the backgrounds pretty well.  But a real camera and a little more effort can beat the image quality of any cell phone camera in challenging situations.

Speed and Ease of Use

To capture images of things or people that move, a camera needs to be fast.  This means it needs to turn on fast, focus fast, take multiple pictures in rapid succession (to capture that perfect moment), and be able to keep focus on moving subjects. 

Nearly all interchangeable lens cameras do the first three things adequately well.  Modern cameras have quick computer processors to respond quickly to commands, can typically shoot at least 5 frames per second (adequate for all but professional news, wildlife, and sports photographers), and are blazingly fast to capture focus on a static subject in good light.  Many cameras have face detection, making it even easier to focus on your subject. Accuracy and speed of continuous autofocus on moving subjects is more challenging, and often only the highest models in a camera brand’s lineup can do this well. These more costly models also often have larger memory buffers, allowing you to shoot larger numbers of pictures in rapid fire mode before the camera has to slow down to write the images to your memory card.

Some cameras have even more speed – they can shoot 60 images or more per second using special electronic shutter modes, and can even temporarily store images they saw before you even hit the shutter.  These features are likely only essential in very particular situations – my camera doesn’t have them, and I’ve never wished for them. One typically doesn’t need to take photos of their kids at 60 frames per second – in fact, having that many photos to sort through after you are done shooting is a huge burden.

Point and shoot cameras are a bit slower than interchangeable lens cameras, but have improved dramatically in recent history.  Motorized zooms on these cameras still feel slow. Cell phone cameras often struggle with speed – opening an app, focusing on the right thing, and taking a succession of  images is more challenging and slower on a phone, but it gets better every year as new phones are released.

Ease of use also includes notable features like image stabilization, auto ISO customization, settings memory banks to save and quickly recall your preferred camera setup, etc.  Most cameras perform adequately in this area. Image stabilization is crucial to getting sharp pictures in dimmer light, preventing camera shake and blurred photos. Most cameras have some sort of image stabilization.  In-body stabilization is preferred, so that you will have it no matter what lens you use.  

Other aspects of ease of use are more qualitative – are the camera buttons and menus setup in an intuitive way?  Does the camera fit your hands well? These can only be learned by playing around with different brands of cameras in person.  

Mirrorless cameras have some unique aspects that improve usability.  Mirrorless means there is no mirror that flips up and down like in an SLR (single lens reflex) camera.  When you look through the viewfinder, you are looking at a small LCD screen showing what the camera sees, instead of through a prism and out the lens.  Today’s mirrorless viewfinders have come a long way. They are sharp, bright, with quick refresh rates to keep up with movement. I have come to like mirrorless viewfinders better than optical ones on SLRs.  You can see what the picture will actually look like before you take it, including adjustments to exposure that you make. With an optical viewfinder, you have to take the picture first, then check if exposure was good.  I also appreciate using the camera’s LCD screen (rather than the viewfinder) to compose pictures, especially when taking pictures of kids. It’s hard to get a kid to smile or laugh when they can’t see your face buried behind a camera!  Mirrorless cameras allow use of the LCD screen for composition natively, without use of limited “live modes” on DSLRs.

Micro 4/3 cameras have adequate speed and ease of use for my purposes.  I choose the top of the line micro 4/3 camera bodies for their superior continuous autofocus capability (to track my moving kids and pets), but all micro 4/3 camera bodies are plenty fast enough for more static subjects.  I have an older camera body (Olympus E-M1 Mark I) that is a bit slow on face detection (which is helpful to avoid having to focus and then recompose), but newer models have much improved face detection.

Be careful with tiny camera bodies if you plan to use larger lenses.  The lack of a meaningful grip on some models will make it very difficult to control the camera with a longer telephoto lens!


The camera you have with you will take better pictures than the one you leave at home.  Picking the biggest, heaviest, best professional camera does you no good if you aren’t willing to regularly take it on your hike in the mountains, or to the playground with your kids, or to an event with friends.  If you are being paid to take pictures, you’ll carry what you need to create the best images to sell. If you are taking pictures for fun or personal enjoyment, I suggest something smaller that is less work to haul around.

When carrying a single camera body with a single lens, a smaller camera is noticeable and appreciated.  However, it’s when you want to carry multiple lenses that smaller camera systems really stand out as an advantage.  Bigger cameras need bigger lenses that gather more light to project on their bigger sensors. They also need longer focal length lenses to see the same angle of view (a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor provides the same angle of view as a 25mm lens on a micro 4/3 sensor).   As a result, lenses for full frame cameras can be very big and heavy, especially if you need a fast lens with a wide aperture, or a strong telephoto lens.  

The pictures below show comparisons of camera bodies with single lenses attached for the three main sizes of mirrorless camera systems:  micro 4/3, APS-C, and full frame. In the captions, the weight of the combination is provided. Notice how the size and weight difference between the systems becomes more dramatic for wide aperture zooms and/or strong telephoto lenses.  It is noted that perfectly equivalent lenses are not available across all systems. Red font in the picture captions indicate differences in lens specifications due to an exact matching lens being unavailable in that camera system.

Cameras with 16-35mm f/4 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark III w/ Panasonic 7-14 mm f/4 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 300 g = 880 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 10-24 mm f/4 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 410 g = 1017 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 16-35 mm f/4 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 518 g = 1175 g)
Cameras with 24-70mm f/2.8 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Panasonic 12-35 mm f/2.8 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 305 g = 885 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 16-55 mm f/2.8 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 655 g = 1262 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 24-70mm f/2.8 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 886 g = 1543 g)
Cameras with 24-105mm f/4 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark III w/ 12-45 mm f/4 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 254 g = 834 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 16-80 mm f/4 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 440 g = 1047 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 24-105 mm f/4 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 663 g = 1320 g)
Cameras with 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Panasonic 14-140 mm f/3.5-5.6mm lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 265 g = 845 g)
Sony A6600 w/ 18-200 mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (503 g + 460 g = 963 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 24-240 mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 780 g = 1437 g)
Cameras with 24mm f/1.8 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Olympus 12 mm f/2 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 130 g = 710 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 16 mm f/1.4 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 375 g = 1047 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 24 mm f/1.4 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 445 g = 1102 g)
Cameras with 50mm f/1.8 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Olympus 25 mm f/1.8 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 136 g = 716 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 35 mm f/1.8 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 170 g = 777 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 50 mm f/1.8 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 186 g = 843 g)
Cameras with 85mm f/1.8 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Olympus 45 mm f/1.8 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 115 g = 695 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 50 mm f/1.8 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 200 g = 807 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 85 mm f/1.8 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 371 g = 1028 g)
Cameras with 70-300mm f/4-5.6 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark III w/ Olympus 40-150 mm f/4-5.6 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 190 g = 770 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 55-200 mm f/3.5-4.8 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 580 g = 1187 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 854 g = 1511 g)
Cameras with 70-200mm f/2.8 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark II w/ Panasonic 35-100 mm f/2.8 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 357 g = 937 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 50-140 mm f2.8 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 995 g = 1602 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657g + 1480g= 2170g)
Cameras with 200-600mm f/4-5.6 full frame equivalent lenses (or closest possible option):
Olympus E-M1 Mark III w/ Panasonic 100-300 mm f/4-5.6 lens (micro 4/3) (580 g + 520 g = 1100 g)
Fuji X-T4 w/ 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6 lens (APS-C mirrorless) (607 g + 1375 g = 1982 g)
Sony A7RIII w/ 200-600 mm f/5.6-6.3 lens (full frame mirrorless) (657 g + 2115 g = 2772 g)

The table below provides the weights of various camera systems, with common combinations of lenses that a person might carry.  

Camera w/ Superzoom and 50mm prime lensglb
Micro 4/3 (Olympus E-M1 III)9812.2
APC-C Mirrorless (Fuji X-T4)12372.7
Full Frame Mirrorless (Sony A7RIII)16233.6
Camera with normal f/2.8 zoom, f/2.8 telephoto zoom, and 50mm prime lensglb
Micro 4/3 (Olympus E-M1 III)13783.0
APC-C Mirrorless (Fuji X-T4)24275.4
Full Frame Mirrorless (Sony A7RIII)32097.1
Camera with set of 3 prime lens (24, 50, 85mm)glb
Micro 4/3 (Olympus E-M1 III)9612.1
APC-C Mirrorless (Fuji X-T4)13523.0
Full Frame Mirrorless (Sony A7RIII)16593.7
Camera with normal f/4 zoom, telephoto f/4-5.6 zoom, and 50mm prime lensglb
Micro 4/3 (Olympus E-M1 III)11602.6
APC-C Mirrorless (Fuji X-T4)17974.0
Full Frame Mirrorless (Sony A7RIII)23605.2

As can be seen in the table above, a micro 4/3 system is often half the weight or less than a full frame system.  Taking several pounds off the weight in your camera bag is very noticeable, and can mean the difference between taking it with you or not.

Mirrorless cameras save some size and weight compared to DSLRs bodies.  This is most noticeable in the camera bodies, but the lens can be a bit smaller as well.  The lenses still have to project light on a same size sensor, and still require the same focal lengths.  

The APS-C systems from Nikon, Canon, and even Sony, are sometimes lacking in lens selection, and a compatible full frame lens must be used to get the desired focal length or aperture.  Using a full frame lens on an APS-C camera is a waste of money, size, and weight. Much of the light projected by the full frame lens will fall outside of the APS-C sensor. A dedicated APS-C lens can use much less glass, and therefore be smaller and cheaper.

Differences between lens sizes become more pronounced as focal lengths increase.  The smaller sensor camera systems allow longer equivalent focal lengths in smaller and cheaper packages.  Some of the longest focal length lenses are not even available on larger camera systems.  

Need more portability?  A compact point and shoot camera like the Sony RX100 series with high image quality will still give you excellent images in a tiny package.  You will be limited in either telephoto or low light capability (or both) depending on what camera you choose, but this can be worth it if you only have room for a small camera and still want good images.  Truthfully, if you don’t intend on getting multiple lenses, there’s not much point in getting an interchangeable lens camera system – just get a fixed lens camera and call it good.

The most portable camera is the one you probably already have in your pocket, your smartphone.  Today’s high end smartphones take surprisingly good photos, especially of static subjects you can get close to in good light.  I’m very impressed by the camera on my Google Pixel phone, especially the HDR (high dynamic range) capability, where it brightens up shadows and tones down bright spots automatically and naturally.  Newer iPhones and Google Pixels take amazingly good portraits, complete with convincing background blur. Their short focal length lenses can’t blur backgrounds optically, so they make up for it with clever software.  I’ve taken many great photos worthy of hanging on the wall with my smartphone. Where smartphone cameras quickly feel inadequate is in poor light (at dusk, in the shade, or indoors), for action (anything moving), and for things you can’t walk right up to (little telephoto capability).  Cheaper (non-flagship) phones typically have inferior cameras – the camera is the first thing to downgrade to reduce the price of a phone.


Photography is a primary hobby of mine, so I choose to splurge on better camera equipment.  I keep camera bodies for 4 or 5 years before upgrading, and high quality lenses will easily last a decade or more, so I get a lot of value from my purchases.  Choose your equipment wisely for the long haul – buying cheap at first and then upgrading later is more expensive than buying what you really want in the first place.

That said, you don’t need to spend an arm and a leg to get excellent image quality and usability.  Entry level camera bodies and lenses still take excellent photos. The entry level bodies often have the same sensor (or nearly so) as the higher end models, but can be more limited in autofocus speed, and might be missing advanced features.  Entry level lenses are still sharp enough to make great enlargements, and are often smaller and lighter too, but are not quite as tack-sharp as higher end lenses, and will not have the bright apertures useful in low light situations.  

Do not forget about prime lenses!  They are smaller, lighter, more affordable, and provide sharper images than most zoom lenses.  They are wonderful for portraits with blurred backgrounds, and any shooting indoors (low light).  The lack of a zoom changes the way you take pictures, sometimes for the better. You will think harder about composition, often resulting in a better picture.  Zoom with your feet as needed. It’s actually a refreshing and pleasant way to take photos.

Buying used in an excellent option for saving money on camera equipment.  The cameras from several years ago are still great. Get good condition used equipment for half the price of new, as people upgrade to the latest gear and dump their old stuff for cheap on eBay.

Options Considered

I got into digital photography in 2003 with a decent point and shoot camera, then a Canon APS-C digital SLR in 2005.  I accumulated a nice collection of lenses over the years. Around 2010 I discovered the micro 4/3 system, and decided that smaller photography equipment would fit my life better.  As a hiker and backpacker, the lighter weight camera is easier to carry up mountains and down the trail. As a father, a smaller camera fits better in a small bag next to diapers and wipes, and is easier to sling over my shoulder while carrying an infant.  Even for just a walk in the park or a trip to the museum, I am more likely to take something more portable. As a bonus, because of the rapid improvements in digital cameras, I was able to get a more capable camera (16 megapixel Panasonic GH2) that was half the size of my old one (8 megapixel Canon 20D).  I sold my Canon gear and never looked back.

I’ve enjoyed the micro 4/3 camera system, and have no strong desire to go to a larger system.  

Options to consider before buying a camera should focus on the purpose that your photography gear is for.  Match the equipment to your needs, and especially focus on size vs. image quality. Once you’ve decided on a format size, then determine if mirrorless vs. DSLR is right for you.  Once you decide on those points, differences between brands and models are far less significant. Picking your desired lenses first is often a wise choice, since its the lenses that lock you into a system or brand.

Image taken with Panasonic 100-300 mm lens. If not for a smaller camera system, I would not be taking a 600 mm equivalent lens on a casual trip to the zoo with my kids!


I use and recommend the micro 4/3 cameras. I paid for them with my own money, and am sharing my personal experience with them.

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Dork It Up Yourself

There are a gazillion websites devoted to photography on the internet.  Here’s a few that I sometimes follow. – Lots of good info on camera gear, broken down by a sharp and opinionated author.  He probably wouldn’t agree with my recommendations above! – a great site with info on the very best gear (including stuff I can’t afford) and technique (including painstaking methods for maximizing image and print quality that I’m not patient enough for).  This site used to be free, but now requires a paid membership for much of its content. – Useful camera reviews, and a very active forum with even more useful info.   They also have standardized image quality tests for comparing cameras. – keep up with the latest news on all things micro 4/3’s. – a useful site for comparing the size of cameras and lenses. You can create your own custom camera comparisons, similar to my comparisons above. (The comparison photos above were not created on, I created them myself for this post.)

Here’s a great comparison of the Olympus E-M1 Mark II vs. the Panasonic G9, two high end micro 4/3 camera bodies.  The Olympus E-M1 Mark III has a few upgrades from the Mark II, but the comparison is still valid and useful.

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