Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field

Started Apr 11, 2013 | Discussions thread
Anders W Forum Pro • Posts: 21,466
Re: Rethinking 4/3 Depth Of Field

al_in_philly wrote:

A lot of the questions about m4/3 (as well as 4/3) as a viable professional format seems to revolve around either low light image quality, moving target focussing speed, or depth of field.  With the development of better and better sensors, the low light image quality issue is discussed less and less; the focussing issue is only an issue for those who frequently shoot moving objects as in sports photography; so lately, it appears that the biggest question regarding m4/3 centers around the inherently longer depth of field for a given aperture compared to the larger FF cameras.  In virtually every discussion, the shallower DOF of a FF camera is seen as a benefit.  Maybe it's time to rethink that--at least in some applications.

I do the majority of my shooting in very low light situations without a flash.  I started out shooting at night with a (then brand new) Olympus e-510 and a Pan/Leica 25mm f1.4.  I know, great lens choice, not best choice for a low-light camera, but that's what I happened to own when what became a three year nightime photo-shoot opened up for me.  Those photos BTW have been published in a variety of newspapers & magazines, as well as having two gallery shows of them.  Now I'm shooting different very low-light subjects with an OM-D and the m4/3 version of the PL 25 1.4, and I couldn't be happier.  Why?  A big part is because of the depth of field that combo gives me.

Like many others, I too like to seperate my subjects from their background a bit by using the selective focus which wide apertures afford.  But often, I don't want to obliterate all the background, or foreground, definition, just soften it enough to tell my viewers wher to plant their gaze in the picture.  So, if I'm shooting in a dimly lit bar or a city street at midnight, my OM-D produces "just right" images at f1.4 and an ISO of 3200, typically yielding a shutter speed of between 1/30 and 1/80 sec, depending on how dark the lighting is.

Of course, I could shoot FF at 2.8, but then I'd also be shooting at an ISO of 12800 for the same shutter speed.  Even as good as FF images are, the OM-D at 1/4 the ISO will always look better.

Yes, it will. The point is hardly new though. I have made it many times over already. When shooting at higher ISOs and when DoF is in short supply, the E-M5 (and other cameras with the latest MFT sensor) will beat most FF cameras. In the scenario you are describing, the E-M5 will be ahead by about 2/3 EV in terms of dynamic range compared to cameras like the Nikon D800 or the Canon 5D3. Among current FF cameras, only the D4 can match the E-M5 in this particular case.

But there's more.  You know all of that about focussing speed on ILC cameras?  Well the added DOF frequently lets you grab images of moving tagets that are as focussed as an SLR, since there is 4 times more distance which is in an acceptable focus range on an m4/3.  When you're shooting with a 6" DOF your focus has to be absolutely perfect--when your DOF is 2' for the same reolution, you have a whole lot more room for "error."

No, I'm not saying that m4/3 can always FF cameras (or larger) in all situations, but what I am saying is that the discussion of such is far more nuanced than most people realize; and sometimes, just sometimes, the current crop of m4/3 can pull off stunning results that "Pro" cameras might struggle with.

Think about it.

 Anders W's gear list:Anders W's gear list
Panasonic Lumix DMC-G1 Olympus OM-D E-M5 Olympus E-M1 Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-45mm F3.5-5.6 ASPH OIS Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F4 ASPH +28 more
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