Is m4/3 a "Poor Mans Leica"?

I found that I was getting a lot of visits yesterday from Dpreview via a couple of threads that were discussing the relationship of  m4/3 and Leica. In particular whether m4/3 was a "Poor Mans Leica" and just how close, or otherwise, one was to the other.

It coincided with me looking at one of the entertaining videos from Kai at Digital Rev, on using Leica lenses on m4/3 cameras. 

If you do use Leica lenses, as Kai makes the point, its hardly going to be a "poor mans Leica" since some of their lenses cost almost as much as the M9.

I read an article recently on Leica Rangefinders and the writer asked the question as to whether if this was any other camera would we all put up with the difficulties?

In the light of the above I wonder if things are the wrong way round. I don't see m4/3 cameras as an alternative to, or as a cheap form of a Leica. Because I use an M9, and because of the quality of the files that I get from that camera, it is inevitable that I will compare everything else I use with its results. However, I don't use the M9 all the time, because it simply won't do everything I want.


The above image could have taken with a Leica, but would have involved lying on the ground to get accurate focus. A GH2, AF, articulated touch screen and a gorrillapod made it much easier.

Likewise this picture.


There's no doubt that for landscape images that fit within the limits of where the M9 works well it is difficult to beat for sheer quality of image.



Though something like a GF1 with Lumix prime lenses can't produce the same quality as an M9, there's no denying that its easier to use. If you asked me the question "If I didn't shoot pictures to make a living would I use the Leica M9?" my answer would probably be no. I do definitely get more pleasure from using a camera like the GF1 with its AF lenses. However since the situation is that I do shoot pictures to make a living, it is obviously in my interest to shoot with the best quality equipment I can afford, in order to produce the highest quality files. For landscape photography it is expected that images will be of the highest possible quality and also of a suitable size to enable large scale reproduction, or heavy cropping.

That doesn't mean that a m4/3 camera isn't capable of getting close to that. If it wasn't then I wouldn't use it.

Panasonic GF1 14mm f/2.5

Panasonic GF1 14mm f/2.5

Panasonic GF1 14mm f/2.5

Panasonic GF1 Voigtlander 25mm f0.95

The above images were all taken on a GF1. The likelihood is that these will be used as editorial images in newspapers, magazines and brochures or on the web. Probably at small sizes. They would be capable of going to A3 in a magazine for example, though if cropped could be beyond the limit of what a 12MP m4/3 file can do well.

However in the same afternoon I came across a landscape shot that would have really worked better on the Leica.

Panasonic GF1 14mm f/2.5

Since I didn't have it with me, I took the picture on the GF1. Not ideal but for most uses it will be fine.

A situation where AF lenses would have been more appropriate was shortly after taking the landscape image this swan appeared. I had a Zeiss 50mm fitted to the GF1 and I had no time to change the lens or focus properly. Consequently this was the only shot I got that was in focus. A shame since the swan then passed between some reeds lit by the late afternoon sun.

Panasonic GF1 Zeiss 50mm f/2 Planar

There are also situations when I'm out with the Leica on its own when I take pictures that will probably never take advantage of the quality. Like the two below.



So m4/3 as "poor mans Leica" isn't a phrase I'd use, since a Leica isn't the answer to all my photographic needs. I did have a camera that gave me all the quality and convenience I could ever want. It was a Nikon D3X. However then weight and size issues come into the equation, and the situation occurred that I simply wasn't prepared to carry it for the same distances that I can using either my M9 or m4/3. Of all the cameras that I use the Panasonic GH2 is probably the most versatile. The Pentax K-5 is close, but doesn't quite produce the sharpness the GH2 does at low ISO's, particularly when I use my m-mount lenses on it. 

m4/3 works very well for me at the moment, and I don't see it as inferior to my M9. It doesn't quite have the wonderful look of the Leica files, but its surprisingly close. I live in hope that eventually someone will bring out a camera that has the quality of the M9 and the features of a DSLR in a package with the size and convenience of m4/3. It would save me having to use 3 different systems. The rumour of a Nikon "Pro Mirrorless system" is tantalising and the thought of a Fuji X100 with a larger sensor and interchangeable lenses would probably be ideal, however both of these are just fantasies at the moment.

Words - David
Images - David and Ann