5 years on - How far has m4/3 come?

Nothing special about the above two images apart from the fact that they were taken 5 years ago with a Panasonic G1 + 14-45mm, the very first m4/3 camera and lens and they look virtually identical in terms of image quality to pictures I took a few days ago with my GX7. 

The rumor sites are talking about the 'latest?' Olympus Pen.


I just wonder in a blind test how many people would be able to tell the difference between pictures shot with this (if and when it appears) and the G1. I know I'd struggle. Sure, operationally m4/3 cameras have evolved and there has been some improvement in high ISO quality, plus a few more MP's have been added, but the similarities between m4/3 images I took then and now are more noticeable than the differences. And could I still be using that G1 + 14-45mm to produce images only marginally different to what I'm producing now? Well yes of course I could.

The G1 was revolutionary when it appeared and the whole small, light, high quality, mirrorless group of cameras come directly from that. Without the G1 there would be no GH4, no X-T1 no A7r. NEX / Alpha, Fuji X, Samsung NX et al wouldn't exist and we would all probably still be using some version of a DSLR. At the time I and others were surprised at the quality the G1 produced. At low ISO's the equal of a Nikon D3 or D700. Though now we accept quite easily the fact that this small sensor can compete with the likes of Nikon and Canon and their 'big boy' mirror slappers. Yes some people took some convincing, but the never ending stream of 'I sold my 10 Canon DSLR bodies and 30 lenses for a GF5 and 20mm lens and now I'm happier than I've ever been in my life and artistically fulfilled in a way I could never imagine.' type posts seems to indicate that this alternative method of creating pictures is gaining acceptance and credibility. 

So m4/3 is now established in it's own right. To a large extent though I feel that the constant releasing of minor and often meaningless upgrades dilutes this. It's obvious that this new Olympus model is virtually identical to the E-M10 and not much different to the last Pen. Plus how much of what it offers could have been included in firmware? Fuji are showing the way with this. All of a sudden I have a new better viewfinder in my X-E2. From a firmware update and free. So who is the company I'm going to feel well disposed towards to in the future? The one who support and improve the camera I've already purchased (and I have to get this in, the one who include lens hoods with their lenses at no extra charge!!!) or the one who is constantly bombarding with me new models that in fact offer very little new.

And the fact is that when I talk about my m4/3 outfit these days, by that I mean Panasonic. Because that's what I use, apart from a couple of admittedly very nice Olympus lenses. Now I'm sure it seems I'm always having a pop at Olympus. That's because I am. I pretty much see them as the followers in this partnership. Panasonic are the innovators, the technicians and the driving force behind this format. Olympus are the stylists, the ones who make the pretty cameras and a few great lenses. But for me it's Panasonic who are pushing this format into becoming a serious professional tool. I've never had any desire to buy an E-M1, apart from it looks nice, but the GH4 is a camera I'm going to have to fight hard to resist, assuming I want to. And that's because it has so much more of what I want and what I can use. 

For me the great advance in m4/3 has been the lenses. That 14-45mm kit zoom was a great lens, but now there are lots of great lenses. Again I have to say that the majority of these are made by Panasonic. Yes the 45mm f/1.8 and 75mm f/1.8 are top class but that's about it as far as I'm concerned. I do really like my 17mm f/1.8, but a great lens it's not. The Panasonic W/A zoom, superzoom and kit standard zooms are all better as far as I'm concerned. Plus the Panasonic fast primes apart from the two I mentioned above are also my preference. Then you have the 2 power zooms which are incredibly useful for video. And of course there is lens OIS, my preference over IBIS and making the Panasonic lenses that have it provide IS on both Panasonic and Olympus cameras, something which can't be said for Olympus lenses. 

So m4/3 has come a long way with regard to some things, not so far with regard to others. It seems that it has made inroads into camera markets all over the world with the exception of the U.S. But then that's their loss!! In a world becoming increasingly dominated by electronic publication the 16MP limit is probably not going to hold the format back and Panasonic have put their cameras at the forefront of the video hybrid market. I'm as enthusiastic about the format now as I was when I first tried out my G1 for the first time and even though I use other systems and sell off lot's of my m4/3 gear from time to time, I keep coming back to it. I still think that it has the highest quality per pixel ratio of any format out there which can be seen by how the latest sensors compare to APS-C ones. Plus that sensor allows for some extraordinary lenses that are still light and small. I have been worried about where the system is going in the past, but these days I have far less misgivings. The future is bright, the future is m4/3.

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