As smaller units like phone cameras continue to advance in quality and capacity, there’s no wonder why 1-inch sensor and micro four-thirds cameras are also gaining more attention. The question is, which one of them is better?
Today, we’ll talk about the different factors that can set a 1-inch sensor vs. micro four-thirds apart from each other. We’ll also answer some of the most frequently asked questions we get from our readers.
The Fundamentals of Camera Sensors
By the way, we have already published a guide that completely covers the different types of camera sensors. Feel free to check that out as well for more information.
For the purposes of this article, though, allow us to give a quick refresher on what image sensors are.
The sensor is the part of the camera that records the image. Digital sensors replaced the film in analog cameras.
There is a range of sensor sizes available. Determining the right image sensor size to use is one of the first things to consider before buying a camera.
What is a 1-inch Sensor?
1-inch sensors are the digital sensors typically placed in point-and-shoot cameras. They are currently the smallest image sensor for “standard-sized” cameras, as you’ll undoubtedly find a smaller one inside your phone.
What is a Micro Four Thirds Sensor?
The micro four-thirds sensor comes next in terms of size. It is only slightly bigger than a one-inch sensor.
Take note, however, that this is a specialty range that is currently exclusive to Olympus and Panasonic (along with Black Magic & DJI). Curiously it comes by many names: MFT sensor, Micro 4/3rds, and M4/3. Their development comes from the objective of creating mirrorless cameras with interchangeable lenses.
1 Inch Sensor Vs. Micro Four Thirds: Which One is Better for You?
Their main difference clearly lies in the size of their sensors. The question is, how does it translate to images? Hence, we’ll list the different factors to consider when deciding which sensor is best suited for your photography needs and preferences.
Picture a full image in your mind. Let’s suppose that it was taken using a full-frame camera. This means that it used a sensor with a size comparable to a standard analog camera.
As your sensor gets smaller, though, the range of your camera gets more limited as well. This will then result in a cropped image. This is called a crop factor.
While it will seem as if the image has been zoomed in, the crop factor must never be confused with zoom capacity.
Micro four-thirds cameras have a 2x crop factor. On the other hand, a 1-inch sensor has 3x.
Low Light Performance
Are you expecting to capture photos under low light conditions? Here’s a rule to keep in mind: the bigger the sensor, the more light will come through, and your images will be better.
Since they are both smaller sensors, you can expect both 1 inch and micro four-thirds sensors to struggle with low light scenes.
In terms of noise, though, the MFT sensor will still produce clearer photos than those taken by an average 1-inch sensor camera. That doesn’t mean you won’t find 1-inch sensor cameras with excellent low-light features.
Technologies in this field keep growing by the day. In fact, we believe that there will come a time when even smartphone cameras can produce pro-quality images regardless of the lighting conditions.
Depth of Field
As a photography enthusiast, you are probably more than aware of the bokeh effect already. It is a method of taking photos where the subject is in clear focus while its background is blurred. This effect can add focus, interest, and drama to an otherwise potentially flat photo.
These images can be achieved by playing around with your camera’s depth of field or DoF. In a nutshell, DoF is the distance between the different elements in the scene you’re capturing.
A shallower depth of field will help achieve the bokeh effect. That’s because your lens will only focus on the nearest images in the scene. On the other hand, having a deeper DoF will make your background as clear as your nearest subject.
Translating this concept into actual technique, you’ll be able to achieve a shallower depth of field by letting in more light一which is then influenced by the size of your sensor. It is possible to achieve a smooth bokeh effect with a micro four-thirds camera.
Due to its size and crop factor, the focal distance will simply appear nearer than a full-frame. It will be a struggle to recreate the same effect with a 1-inch sensor camera. There are premium point-and-shoot cameras that can accommodate it, but most models simply found a workaround.
They’ve added a smart filter feature that can apply a bokeh effect post shot. Just keep in mind that the result won’t be as refined as an actual shallow DoF.
Interestingly, this is probably the biggest strength of smaller sensors. Since the existing crop factor already adds to that zoomed-in effect, the results are even more stunning when they’re actually zoomed in.
That’s why it’s not a surprise that there are micro four-thirds and 1-inch sensor cameras advertised for entry-level wildlife photography enthusiasts. We have found micro four-thirds easier to handle during tricky focus situations, though, given that their lens allows manual adjustment.
One of the major advantages of MFT cameras and lenses is their compatibility with each other. You can use any MFT lens on any MFT camera body and vice versa, regardless of your chosen models and brands. That is the reason why an MFT is considered an interchangeable-lens camera.
In fact, did you know that you can mount other types of lenses, both modern and vintage, into an MFT body as well? As long as you’ve found the right adapter for it, you’ll be able to swap the stock lens with the quality lenses of your choice.
Meanwhile, changing the camera’s lens is simply not possible with compact cameras. They are designed to have an integrated lens that can’t be replaced.
However, some models allow you to add an auxiliary lens in front of the built-in one.
The size of the sensor can significantly impact the size of the camera body. Thus, micro four-thirds cameras are generally smaller than full-frame ones, and one-inch sensor cameras are even smaller than MFTs. They are not called compact for no reason.
As such, 1-inch sensor cameras are also more lightweight and portable. Some units can even fit into your pocket.
While they probably won’t fit your pocket, MFT cameras are still included in the travel-friendly category. Compared to a bulky DSLR, micro four-thirds cameras are still significantly smaller and more discreet.
Type of Photography
Due to its portability, micro four-thirds are generally used for street photography and travel photography.
As mentioned above, some units are advertised explicitly for wildlife photography. These models will come with added waterproof features.
On the other hand, you can’t expect budget compacts to produce the same quality of photos for more specific niches. That is why most of them are promoted for personal rather than professional use.
Overall Photography Experience and Image Quality
Finally, how do they measure up in terms of overall photography experience?
Since compact cameras are usually targeted at the general public, they also tend to be more straightforward to use. Unfortunately, this also means that they don’t have a lot of manual settings and features.
Micro four-thirds cameras will be more accommodating in this regard. This is the reason why they are more flexible to use in different photography genres.
Next, they have the same battery life. Both compact cameras and MFTs can take around 300 images per charge. That’s due to their electronic viewfinders. They can really drain a battery’s juice.
As for overall image quality, micro four-thirds will get you better photos granted that you have the skill and know-how to take advantage of its more advanced features.
1 Inch Sensor vs Micro Four Thirds FAQs
Still can’t decide? Then here are some FAQs that can give you more information:
1. Is 1 Inch Sensor Good Enough?
It depends on your needs and point of reference. For instance, if you’re just looking for an affordable camera with reasonable quality, then yes, a 1-inch sensor will serve the purpose.
The image quality will be just a little better than those taken by smartphone cameras. In fact, Sharp just released a smartphone equipped with a 1-inch sensor camera.
One of the major advantages of getting a micro four-thirds is its pro-level features and capacity despite its portable size.
2. Is a 1 Inch Sensor Actually 1 Inch?
No, it’s not. The actual size of 1-inch sensors is 0.35″ x 0.47″ or 9 x 13 millimeters.
Think of “one inch” here not as the measurement of the actual sensor but its scope. It comes from an old industry practice, namely the use of television camera tubes.
The old sensors equipped inside one-inch tubes can capture images that are 16mm long diagonally. That’s their scope. If you measure 9 x 13 mm images diagonally, then you’ll get 16mm as well.
3. Does Bigger Sensor Mean Better Quality?
Yes and no. Larger sensors can take better quality images. That’s because they can capture more light.
It is also the reason why professional photographers still opt for full-frame cameras. It’s easy to achieve the bokeh effect, prevent image noise, and ensure clarity with a full-frame sensor.
However, remember that the tool is only as good as its owner. In the hands of an unskilled user, even the best full-frame camera can produce lackluster results.
Which One Should You Choose?
It will all depend on your needs and preferences. If you’re looking for a camera that won’t just free your phone space but can capture better photos, then take your pick from the wide range of point-and-shoot cameras out there.
On the other hand, if you’re a budding photographer looking for an entry-level and portable camera you can practice with, then getting a micro four-thirds is going to be an excellent investment. It is also a fun purchase for more experienced photographers looking for a more travel-friendly unit.
Some genres, such as photojournalism, require more discreet cameras. Lastly, if you’re looking for an all-around pro-level camera that can help your business or career reach the next level (for instance, if you want to cover events or get into wedding photography), then both of these digital cameras are probably not for you.
We recommend opting for a full-frame camera instead as it can handle any lighting situation and accommodate more photography genres with ease.
1 Inch Sensor vs Micro Four Thirds: Making the Right Choice
Digital cameras come in a wide range of camera sensor sizes. The size of the sensor usually determines the size and weight of the cameras themselves.
Hence, it’s only normal for those looking for a smaller unit to consider the two smallest sensors. These are the 1 inch and micro four-thirds sensors.
1-inch sensors are typically built into compact cameras. These are point-and-shoot units that come with an integrated lens. Meanwhile, micro four-thirds are specialty cameras with sensors only slightly smaller than an APS-C sensor.
The fact that they are both smaller compared to other sensors is where their similarity ends, though. Several factors set them apart. For instance, you can mount almost any lens on an MFT camera, but you can’t replace the built-in lens of a point-and-shoot.
MFT cameras also have features similar to a DSLR, while 1-inch sensor cameras mostly have automated settings. Lastly, while it is possible to take brilliant images with either one, the image quality taken by an MFT will still turn out noticeably better.
In the end, it will all boil down to what you’re looking for. We hope that our quick comparison has helped you make that decision, though. Have fun shooting!