It's this the beginning of the end for Micro Four Thirds?

Started 6 months ago | Discussions thread
razorfish Contributing Member • Posts: 675
No, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

The beginning, marking the period when there still existed a relevant quality difference between micro four thirds and 35mm sensors. 35mm zealots still imagine this difference matters to practical photography, but their time for honoring themselves will soon be at an end. The 35mm sensor is a remnant from the days of analogue film, only still with us because of the large user base who owned glass designed for 35mm when digital sensors started to appear. Nikon and Canon should just have stuck with the APS-C digital sensors which were used in the first DSLRs, launching a new series of leaner glass specifically designed for that format, and slowly phasing out their 35mm lines as film disappeared. Had there only been Nikon, the market could have moved in that direction, but Canon, being the market leader with a huge number of photographers deeply invested in glass designed for 35mm film, saw the potential to create an "upgrade path": Two different lines of cameras, one "cropped", for "beginners" and "amateurs", and one "full" for "professionals" and anyone else "serious" about their photography. So appeared the perplexingly labelled "full frame" DSLR with a sensor grossly oversized for anything digital. A “full” frame certainly 35mm has never been. Rather, it was a small format in analogue film (actually, we should still refer to it as small-frame, since medium frame is a larger sensor). Without all those photographers already owning 35mm lenses, the 35mm DSLR would have failed miserably due to the size and cost, but for those photographers it was a delight to finally be able to use their old lenses with their intended fields of view again, so initially there was a market for it. The “quality difference” compared with APS-C was never what made the 35mm DSLR sell, and today this difference is less relevant than ever. Of course, a 35mm sensor will always be able to deliver higher resolution than APS-C or micro four thirds, and of course it will always deliver a cleaner output given an equal resolution. But that difference is today purely theoretical.

35mm vs APS-C today can be compared to the average guy driving to work in a 245 mph Ferrari Enzo, vs in a 230 mph Ferrari F12. There is no way the Enzo will get him to work any faster, because both cars vastly outperform his driving skills. Even Lewis Hamilton, arguably the best driver in the world, would not be able to get to the destination any faster in the Enzo due to the nature of the roads not nearly allowing 200+ speeds. Today, 35mm sensors, APS-C sensors and micro four thirds sensors have all plateaued around 20-30 megapixels, because that’s all the market requires. This is also well beyond the resolution that was obtainable with 35mm film. With a good APS-C or micro four thirds sensor, such a resolution gives great flexibility in sensitivity and more DR than anyone will ever need. Some manufacturers are desperately cramming in 40+ megapixels in order to distance their 35mm camera models from their APS-C ones, but this is not due to real market demand. How many photographers are actually printing wall billboards? Even more ludicrous is the ISO and DR chase going on. ISO 51200 anyone? Or how about “rescuing” an image file that was underexposed by about 8 stops? Sure that looks cool in theory, but for practical photography it is nothing more than exercises demonstrating that the 35mm sensor is vastly oversized, with accompanying vastly oversized lenses. Those impressive specs do sell some cameras, just like some people buy Ferraris for driving on ordinary roads, but ultimately, the size and weight savings and/or focal length flexibility offered by smaller sensors and lenses are advantages of infinitely higher value.

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