DSLRs have hogged the limelight for long enough.
But a time of change is upon us. The emergence and subsequent improvement of mirrorless technology has seen these systems surge in popularity, but most of the focus is solely on those DSLR-equivalent mirrorless cameras.
Micro Four Thirds systems sometimes get lost in the noise, and it’s a massive shame because there are some absolutely fantastic Micro 4/3 cameras out there.
So we’ve rounded them up for you in our best Micro Four Thirds cameras article, a follow-on to our best Micro Four Thirds lenses piece.
What is a Micro Four Thirds camera?
A Micro Four Thirds camera (or 4/3, if you prefer) is a range of cameras that have a 4/3 of an inch sensor, hence the name. The system, developed by Panasonic and Olympus, has a smaller sensor than APS-C or Full Frame cameras, and while this does affect image quality is also brings with it plenty of benefits.
All of these benefits are outlined below.
Why buy a Micro Four Thirds camera?
Size and weight
The biggest advantage in the Micro Four Thirds system is the size and weight, or should I say the lack of it. Because of the mirrorless design and the smaller sensor, many Micro Four Thirds cameras are extremely compact.
This also allows for smaller lenses, meaning many camera and lens setups can easily be carried in a coat pocket. This understandably makes them extremely popular for travel photography. Many photographers also use Micro Four Thirds systems as backup or secondary cameras behind a full-frame setup.
Micro 4/3 systems have been around for a fairly long time and, combined with both Panasonic and Olympus being heavily invested in the system, the result is a massive array of lenses that are compatible with every Micro 4/3 camera on the market.
Third party manufacturers have also joined the party, further increasing the already burgeoning lens selection.
The lenses on offer range from cheap, beginner friendly superzooms all the way up to high end professional lenses, and we’ve outlined some of our favourites here.
Micro Four Thirds systems often see the very latest camera technology introduced before their DSLR counterparts. For example, things like 4k photo mode, 6k video, in-camera stabilization and high resolution stacking have all been pioneered by Micro Four Thirds.
Best Micro Four Thirds cameras
Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkIII
Best for: Wildlife and action photographers
- Multi-selector (Joystick) for quick selection of the AF area while looking through viewfinder
- Dust proof/Slash proof/Freeze proof magnesium alloy weather sealed construction
Despite the incredibly confusing naming system, Olympus’s OM-D range of cameras has long been a frontrunner in the Micro Four Thirds world.
The OM-D E-M1 MKII offers some of the best performance Olympus has to give. It can capture as many as 60 frames per second in burst mode, and that’s RAW files too. This drops to a still impressive 18fps in continuous autofocus mode, making it ideal for action and wildlife photographers.
It’s also extremely well sealed from the elements and if its 20 megapixel images aren’t enough for you you can use High Resolution mode, which takes multiple images and combines them into a massive 50 megapixel image or, if you’re using a tripod, up to 80 megapixels.
Need more? It also records Cinema 4k at 24fps and standard 4k at 30fps, high speed video as well as boasting 5-axis in camera stabilization (up to 7.5 stops), two SD card slots and a vari-angle touchscreen.
Basically, it has pretty much all the features a photographer would want from a camera, although if you’re more serious about videography it’s perhaps not the best option.
Panasonic Lumix G9
Best for: The photographer/videographer hybrid
- Professional photo and video performance 20 3-Megapixel (Plus 80-megapixel high-resolution Jpeg or raw in-camera image) micro Four Thirds sensor with no low pass filter to confidently capture sharp images with a high Dynamic Range and artifact-free performance
- Rugged splash or freeze proof design durable magnesium alloy body withstands heavy use out in the field and is freeze proof down to -10-degrees splash or dustproof construction with weather sealing on every joint dial and button
The little brother to the more expensive Panasonic GH5 below, the Panasonic Lumix G9 is perfect for those who pursue both photography and videography.
The 20 megapixel sensor is the same as that in the GH5 and offers gorgeous image quality, and the 6.5-stop rated 5-axis stabilization is second only to the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkIII above.
It also offers High Resolution mode, yielding a RAW file of some 80 megapixels, 20fps burst mode and a host of video options.
These include 60fps 4k video capabilities, with the added benefit of being able to pull single frames out in 4k photo mode. There’s also high-speed video recording of 180fps in Full HD.
To top it off, there’s weather sealing, a beautiful electronic viewfinder, dual SD card slots and an autofocus system that allows focus to be achieved in a reported 0.04 seconds.
Best for: The discrete photographer
- New 20 Megapixel Live MOS sensor with 50 Megapixel High Resolution Shot mode
- Operating temperature: 0 to +40℃ (operation) / 20 to +60℃ (storage). In body 5 Axis Image Stabilization
The Olympus Pen-F weighs in at just over 400 grams but still managed to pack in a beasty 20 megapixel sensor and a host of impressive features.
It has a 50 megapixel high resolution mode, 5-axis image stabilization, a maximum shutter speed of 1/8000 second and a 10fps burst capacity. Not to mention the looks… It’s an all metal construction and looks beautifully retro.
The JPEGs that come out of the PEN-F are gorgeous as well and the handling is reminiscent of the days before the digital era.
Something’s got to give though, and that something is the video capabilities. It’s still capable of shooting Full HD video and 4k timelapses, but you won’t find any high speed video or 4k recording here.
But if you’re a true blooded photographer, especially a street photographer or one that values discretion, this tiny camera is absolutely fantastic.
Panasonic Lumix GH5
Best for: The videographer
- Professional photo and video: 20.3 Megapixel micro four thirds sensor with no low pass filter to capture sharp images with a high dynamic range and artifact free performance
- Splash or Freeze Proof Design: Freeze proof to 10 degrees the durable magnesium alloy body withstands heavy use in the field; Splash or dust proof construction with weather sealing on every Joint, dial and button
Sporting the same sensor as its slightly cheaper brother, the Panasonic G9, the GH5 packs a host of video features to nudge it more towards the videographers out there.
The low pass optical filter has been removed to increase image sharpness and an upgraded processor offers improved performance. It also has all the other expected features such as the class-leading 7.5-stop 5-axis stabilization and a decent 12fps capacity in burst shooting mode.
But where it really shines is in the incredible video capabilities. Not only can you record 6k videos, but there’s a 6k Photo mode that allows you to pull 18 megapixel images from 6k footage, which records at an impressive 30fps. Oh, and you can shoot 4k videos at 60fps, which is a feat in itself!
It also boasts that Panasonic weather sealing that would allow the GH5 to survive something out of the Old Testament.
Olympus OM-D E-M5 MkIII
Best for: The jack of all trades photographer
- 20MP live MOS sensor
- Portable, weather sealed design
Significantly cheaper than the Olympus OM-D E-M1 MkIII, the E-M5 still boasts some impressive features if you’re not overly concerned with that incredible 60fps burst shooting mode.
The OM-D E-M5 MkIII still offers an impressive 30fps burst capacity, that 20 megapixel sensor and a host of other features such as 5-axis stabilization, weather sealing, 50 megapixel High Resolution mode and 30fps 4k video recording.
In fact, the lower continuous burst shooting, the battery life and the lack of two SD card slots are the only areas it falls behind it’s more developed brother.
If you’re looking for a solid camera that does everything well, rather than anything spectacularly, then this is a great option.
Best for: The photographer on a budget
- Fine Detail Performance: 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensor with no low pass filter resulting in a near 10 percent boost in fine detail resolving power over existing 16 megapixel Micro Four Thirds sensors
- Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera Kit: With 2 super compact lenses 12 32mm F3.5 5.6 and 45150mm F4.0 5.6, shoot lighter and faster with the modern hybrid photography performance of a mirrorless camera and nearly half the bulk of most DSLRs
If you’re looking for a more budget friendly option, the Panasonic GX85 boasts a ton of features at an impressively low price. You can buy it from Adorama with two lenses for under $500!
While it doesn’t have some of the more cutting edge technologies, it doesn’t slouch by any means. The 16 megapixel sensor delivers very good images and it unsurprisingly has the standard 5-axis in-camera stabilization system.
Add in features such as a tilting touchscreen, a surprisingly impressive EVF, 4k video recording (30fps), 4k photo mode and 4k Post-Focus mode and you have a lot of camera for a relatively small amount of money.
If you’re not looking to drop four figures on a camera that you plan to use for holidays or as a second shooter, you’re unlikely to need more than this.
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Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.