Micro Four Thirds Vs. Full Frame: Which One Is Best for You?


micro four thirds vs full frame

Most of us get a headstart in photography by just having an eye for things. What some don’t initially realize, though, is that it takes a lot of learning to produce an amazing image.

A huge learning curve separates a wannabe photography snob and a well-versed, experienced photographer. One of the photography subjects you need to learn about is sensor size, so we’ll look at two in particular. We’ll compare micro four-thirds vs. full-frame and determine which sensor size is the best for you.

The Basics of Camera Sensors

As mentioned, we’d like to focus more on two camera sensor sizes, namely the full-frame sensor and the micro four-thirds sensor, also known as the MFT sensor.

As opposed to the traditional film format, most cameras today have digital sensors responsible for creating the image. Larger sensors are typically considered to produce better quality images.

However, don’t take this as the rule of thumb. As technology advances, we’re starting to see smaller yet equally powerful sensors.

What is an MFT Sensor?

Just as a quick refresher before we compare the two sensor sizes, a micro four-thirds or MFT sensor, also written as Micro 4/3rds or M4/3, comes in different variants, but they all share the same sensor size. It is roughly smaller than an APS-C sensor.

Olympus and Panasonic released the first line of these sensors. They made their debut in the industry way back in 2008, and it has been one of the most popular sensors ever since.

What Is a Full-Frame Sensor?

On the other hand, a full-frame sensor means that the sensor of your mirrorless camera shares the same size as the one equipped on an analog unit. Such cameras are also known as full-frame cameras.

Micro Four Thirds vs Full Frame

Anyway, now that we have a basic understanding of what these two sensors are, let’s go ahead and compare full-frame mirrorless cameras and MFT cameras. We will list down the different factors that distinguish them from each other for your easy reference.

Crop Factor

Suppose you’ve taken a photo using a 50mm lens with a full-frame camera. It will result in a 50mm image.

But what do you think will happen if you mount an MFT sensor on a full-frame camera? That’s right; it will produce a smaller, cropped image.

This is known as the crop factor. Since full-frame sensors are the standard size, they won’t have a crop factor. On the other hand, you can expect one from a smaller sensor like those from APS-C cameras, which is why an APS-C sensor is also known as a “crop sensor.”

The crop factor of a micro four-thirds is even more significant than an APS-C one. It results in images with a 2x crop factor or looks as if it has been zoomed twice. Don’t confuse this with the zoom feature, though, as it is completely different.

Focal Length

The crop factor will also affect your lens’ focal lengths. The standard focal length of a full-frame sensor camera is 35mm.

When you use a different-sized sensor, the focal length will increase and get multiplied by its crop factor. This means that you’ll get 70mm of focal length when you mount a 35mm lens on a micro four-thirds camera that has a crop factor of 2x.

Low-Light Performance

As we have mentioned above, larger sensors typically have a more satisfying image quality. That’s because a full-frame camera can simply capture more light compared to one equipped with a smaller sensor. This also means that they can still perform well under low-light conditions.

Meanwhile, micro four-thirds cameras will have a more difficult time capturing your image without unwanted noise under the same lighting conditions given their smaller sensor size. Fortunately, some techniques can reduce noise when using micro four-thirds cameras. Using the lowest ISO possible can help.

There are models equipped with auto noise reduction features as well. Lastly, professional-grade image editing platforms like Adobe Lightroom and DxO Photolab have noise reduction solutions that can also help.

micro four thirds vs full frame

Bokeh or Depth of Field

Do you want to achieve those images with a smooth bokeh effect? These are the photos where the subject is in crisp focus while the background elements are blurred. You can do this by using a shallow depth of field.

On the other hand, images with a deeper depth of field have a sharper background. That means all the elements in your photo will appear clear regardless of their distance from each other.

The easiest way to play around with your depth of field, aside from tweaking the manual focus, is by adjusting your aperture. Having a large aperture or lower f-stop can create that dreamy blur in your image. Meanwhile, having a small aperture can create a deeper depth of field.

Your camera’s sensors can impact the depth of field that you can achieve as well. However, their differences might not be as significant as you think.

It is still possible to achieve an image with shallow depth using your micro four-thirds. The focal distance will just seem a bit closer or zoomed in due to its smaller sensor and crop factor.

The final result will still vary according to the size and distance of your subject and the current light conditions, of course.

Camera Size

One of the biggest advantages of getting an MFT camera remains to be its size. After all, a smaller sensor won’t require a big camera body as opposed to a full-frame one. That’s also why they also tend to be more compact, portable, and lightweight.

Meanwhile, full-frame cameras are usually bigger and bulkier. While it will still largely depend on the brand and quality of the unit, full-frame cameras also tend to be more durable than their smaller counterparts.

Type of Photography

One of the most critical factors that you need to consider when choosing the right sensor or camera type to use is the category of photography you’re into or currently learning.

Micro four-thirds cameras are great for street photography and travel photography. Although there are units, such as the Olympus E-M1X, specifically designed for professional wildlife photography and sports photography.

On the other hand, we recommend full-frame cameras for those who will most benefit from the bigger frame, such as in event and wedding photography. Their ability to deliver quality photos even in low-light conditions will make evening events easier to cover as well.

Overall Photography Experience

Finally, let’s talk about the overall photography experience. What are the features that you’re looking for in a camera to ensure you enjoy taking photos each time?

Electronic viewfinders, for instance, make it easier for us to capture a fantastic image. Thus, this particular feature makes it at the top of our priority list.

Fortunately, both full-frame and MFT cameras have more advanced features such as image stabilization and reduced image noise.

Micro Four Thirds vs Full Frame FAQs

Comparing the two cameras isn’t enough to help you decide which one works best for your needs and lifestyle. To further help you, allow us to answer the questions our readers most frequently ask when deciding between MFT cameras and full-frame units.

1. Is Micro Four Thirds Better Than a Full Frame?

It will highly depend on your particular needs. As we mentioned above, full-frame cameras typically have better image quality because of their performance even amidst low lighting and high ISO circumstances. A full-frame might not be the best choice if you’re looking for a more portable option, particularly in travel photography.

That doesn’t mean you can’t take beautiful images with an MFT because you sure can. This leads us to the next common question.

2. Do Professional Photographers Use Micro Four Thirds?

Yes, they sure do. A growing number of professional photographers are adding their micro four-thirds to their arsenal. Aside from travel photography, we have a lot of friends who prefer working with micro four-thirds for commercial photography, especially on-site.

Are you looking for a camera to capture those dreamy product photos outdoors? Then you might want to consider getting an MFT rather than full-frame.

Surprisingly, we also know of professional photographers who have gotten an MFT for their personal use. After all, even photographers enjoy taking pictures of intimate moments, even without a big, bulky DSLR.

3. Why Are Micro Four Thirds Lenses Expensive?

Different factors go into the pricing of any product, including camera lenses.

Since micro four third sensors are smaller, this also means that it is more meticulous to manufacture them. There are also a lot of MFT lenses that come with more components than their full-frame counterparts.

You also need to consider the basic laws of economics. Fewer MFTs get produced than full-frame ones, so they usually have a higher price than what you might have originally expected.

4. Can You Use Micro Four Thirds Lenses on a Full Frame?

You will have a more challenging time finding an adapter for your micro four-thirds lenses to fit a full-frame. On the other hand, there are two ways to adapt full frames and other lenses to fit your MFT camera body.

  • Passive Adapting

You can do this by purchasing a metal ring that can adapt the mount of your full-frame lens to fit your MFT. It is the cheapest method and one of the most commonly practiced.

  • Using a Focal Reducer

A focal reducer is similar to the metal ring adapter we’ve mentioned above.

The slight difference? A focal reducer comes with a glass element that can reduce the crop factor significantly. You can expect it to be slightly more expensive, but this is still the route that we personally recommend.

5. Do MFT Cameras Accommodate Interchangeable Lenses?

This is one of the biggest benefits of MFT cameras and lenses. You can mount any MFT lens on any MFT body regardless of the brand and model. They are all compatible with each other.

With the methods we have shared above, you’ll be able to use both modern and vintage lenses to your MFT body as well. Just take the time to find the right adapter, and you’ll be fine.

So, Which Should You Choose?

In the end, the answer will still boil down to your particular photography needs and preferences. If you love traveling and want a unit that can easily fit into any bag, then a micro four-thirds camera might be the better choice for you.

It will come in a more compact size and easily captures photos of various themes and subjects as long as the light conditions are ideal. For instance, you can take both close-up photos of flowers with a blurred background and capture landscapes with an MFT with you.

On the other hand, if you simply can’t stand the crop factor and you’re looking for a workhorse, then you might want to consider getting a full-frame instead. Don’t limit yourself between these two as well. There are different types of digital cameras out there that also deserve to be explored.

Micro Four Thirds vs Full Frame: Are You Using the Right One?

There are three major camera sensor sizes, but the two more commonly compared are the biggest and the smallest. These are the full-frame and micro four-thirds sensors.

There’s still a smaller size after the MFT, but this type isn’t as common as the other three. Not to mention. the larger than full frame, medium format cameras, eg. Fujifilm & hassleblad.

There are a lot of factors that set MFT and full-frame cameras apart, from the amount of light that they allow up to the size of their camera body. Both types can produce excellent photos, though.

In fact, while the full-frame camera is still considered the workhorse between the two, there is a growing number of professional photographers reaching for their MFTs for their shoots. It will simply depend on you, though.

We just hope that our quick comparison will help you make a smarter purchase decision. Good luck!

John Kilmerstone

I'm an Aussie living in Japan who enjoys traveling and photography. Please visit this website and explore the wonderful world of Micro Four Thirds photography. Discover the advantages of carrying a small yet powerful camera system.

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