M43/ MFT Reviews – An Invaluable guide or further confusion?

Speaking as someone who reviews cameras himself, I sometimes wonder how useful I am. Do I inform or am I just adding to the background noise and confusion? I’m asking because I have just read a forum post which quotes figures from a technical test showing that pictures taken with a particular lens are sharper on some MFT cameras than others.

That defies logic. A lens is a sharp as it is. Nothing changes that. If I put any of my lenses on my GH3 or GX7 Panasonic or my Olympus E-PL5, they all look razor sharp to me. So when some technical report tells me they aren’t all as sharp, I question my own perception. For myself, I always fall back on my own perception. If it looks sharp, it is sharp.

I have been into MFT cameras and lenses for quite a long time now and I can honestly say that I have never come across a bad MFT lens. There may be bad ones in the sense that they have been whacked in transit or even the maker’s quality control has slipped but bad optical design, no. It seems to me that now lenses are computer designed, poor lens design is thing of the past. Differences in lenses, especially zooms, are now more a matter of where the unavoidable compromises are made.

For myself, I am prefer a lens where centre sharpness is maintained across a zoom range and if necessary corner sharpness is sacrificed. If you shoot a lot of architectural imagery, you will prefer a compromise which sacrifices centre sharpness to greater consistency right cross the frame. The fact is though, that outside of specialized applications, you cannot now buy a lens that is not fit for purpose.
12-50

A while ago I borrowed an Olympus 12-50mm f3.5-6.3 zoom from my friends at SRS Microsystems Most of the the reviews I’d read about this lens praised its versatility but made it plain that it was not the sharpest tool in the box, so I was surprised at how enthusiastic Chris Harland and the guys at SRS were about the lens. I soon found out why. Not only did it have a good wide zoom range, light weight, power zooming, close focus and good price – it was plenty sharp. As sharp as the very top of the range f2,8 zooms? No. But still as sharp as anyone save an accutance addict could want. So where did the half-hearted press stem from?

Here’s my theory. When you work for a magazine, you get all the latest equipment sent in for review. Much of that stuff is exotic and expensive to the ordinary amateur. How do you justify £1000 for a lens when the central heating boiler needs fixing? But to a reviewer, the personal cost is zero and you have handled all the exotic f0.95 lenses and high speed zooms out there. A lens like this little Olympus turns up and it is interesting. But the technical tests show that it doesn’t set the world on fire. You’re a reviewer. Just as a car tester who has just driven a Ferrari finds a Ford Focus slow, so our lens reviewer finds the little Olympus’s the optical performance ‘not the best’, ‘ordinary’.

None of those statements are untrue but they don’t reflect the judgement of someone like me, who without any testing equipment just has to look at the results to see that subjectively it looks like a good lens. Of course, there is also a problem with a subjective judgement in that a lens would have to be pretty awful for me to deem it bad. And then you start to look like a fanboy.

So, invaluable guide or further confusion? My answer would be ‘both’. And if that doesn’t confuse you, nothing will.

22 thoughts on “M43/ MFT Reviews – An Invaluable guide or further confusion?

  1. Bob Fairbairn

    Reviewing all the reviews, talking to several photographers who have the GX-7 has convinced me that it is the right camera for the jobs I need it to do. I am adding one to the stable! It will be on a studio shoot this week if the weather holds, camera is delivered and the shoot happens!

    Reply
  2. Bob Fairbairn

    David,
    I recently watched your videos on the GX7, 17mm, and GM1. A couple of times through and it almost feels like you are ready to move to smaller cameras! Where you used the GH3 and ELP5 for your “modes”. How are you feeling now. IS the GH3 the big beast you do not want to carry any more?

    I am being a bit light hearted here, but it is of interest. I have paired my fleet of cameras down to two EM-5’s so that I have the SAME camera with me all the time so there is no camera operation confusion.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Hi Bob. No, the GH3 is still my main camera for when I go out to take pictures. It feels right and with the zoom from 7 through to 300 and the seemingly unlimited battery life with the grip, it seems to add up to my perfect camera. Until a better perfect one comes along, that is :-).

      I think what you have done with the E-M5s is an excellent idea since you can get much more instinctive and confident control over your cameras by using one model only. That’s what I did in my newspaper days, Nikon F#s only. On size, actually I find the GM1 quite limiting after longer use – especially the lack if swivelling monitor and EVF – and it really only suits me as a camera to have with me all the time, a kind of super version of the LX3 I used to have.

      Reply
      1. Bob Fairbairn

        David,

        Thanks for the response. I kind of figured that the GM1 would not be enamoring for a long time, still it is a compelling camera as a “super” Point and Shoot. The GX7 really interests me as it has a couple of things that compel me, the EVF is really interesting and it is a bit smaller with the power of my EM-5. The pricing makes it interesting to put a prime on and carry around. The EPL-5 is smaller, and the GX7 is more “powerful”.

        I may just go rent a GX7 for a couple of weeks to see how it works for me in the studio. Meanwhile I will just use the Eyfi card to send the images to the iPad while I am in the studio.

        I have a friend that has GH3’s and he really loves them. I used one at a convention for about an hour and I was impressed with the way the camera felt in my hands!. I had already invested in the OLY’s and was not open to looking further. The EM-5 does not have the battery life and the handling is different from the GH3 but I am settled into how they work for now.

        All of this discussion helps to make better decisions on the equipment we use. I thank you very much for sharing with the community. Your candor, humor and thinking out-loud has helped me to understand how you use your cameras and how it compares to what my use cases are.

        RJF

        Reply
        1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

          Good idea to rent one, I think to see how it performs for you in the studio. I’d be happy with either GH3 or E-M5 as my main camera, just that the GH3 feels so right in my hands and I prefer the bigger size. But both cameras are superb, beyond anyone’s wildest dreams even 10 years ago. I’d really miss the articulated monitor and battery grip on the GH3 but I’d love to have the IBIS of the E-M5.

          What’s so great about MFT is that you have these choices and a change of camera body doesn’t mean changing all your equipment – in fact you could run a GH3 and E-M1 side by side if you wanted. How I’d have loved it when I was working if I could have put some of Canon’s best lenses on my Nikon alongside the Nikkors.

          The GM1, yes, I said in my video that if you wanted a tiny camera this was it but that if size was not the over-riding factor in your choice then there were value better cameras. As I get to know it better, I am finding more limitations. For example, if you set i.Dynamic to operate in stills mode, it does not have a menu item of its own in the movie menu and applies to both both movie and stills. There are several setting like that, in fact.

          Thanks for your remarks in the last paragraph, I really appreciate them and I’m learning from others all the time.

          Reply
      1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

        There’s a lot less choice in that case. My favourite is the PanasonicsGH3 with battery grip, with the GX7 or OMD better for a smaller camera. The OMd and the GX7 are both top quality cameras and you’d need to try them for yourself to decide. At that level performance isn’t an issue, just the way it feels and functions.
        Personally I prefer the Panasonics but I couldn’t justify that on grounds of personal taste but I’d be happy with either. You could always fit an accessory EVF to a Pen but I find them a bit ungainly myself and by the time you’ve bought one it’s cost you nearly as much as a GX7 anyway.

        Reply
  3. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

    I’d look at a Panasonic G6 body or maybe one of the Olympus Pen models if you don’t need an EVF.

    The Pen has the in body stabilization which would be handy with the 12-50.

    Reply
    1. nsphuoc

      Thank you. I used GF1 and really like it a lot. But the ISO is terrible. GH1 is better for night photo but I like small body like GF1.

      I’ll google G6 and olympus. Thank for your advice.

      😀

      Reply
      1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

        I’d say the Olympus E-PL5 would be perfect for you from what you say. Small but with swivelling monitor and image quality as good as anything in MFT.

        Reply
  4. nsphuoc

    Hello. I’m using a panasonic GH1 body. Do you think I should buy this lens? I really want to buy a lens kit for my body. Sorry about my English. Thank you so much.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      No problems with the English – what lens do you mean by ‘this lens’? I mention so many!

      Reply
        1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

          Yes, if there is one ‘do it all’ lens that is probably it. Wide angle to portrait and a good semi-macro facility, as I said in my video, if I had to have only one lens this might well be it.
          I’ve seen the sharpness criticized but I had no roblem with it at all.

          Reply
          1. nsphuoc

            Oh, thank you so much. It’s really helpful for me.

            But I don’t like GH1 body that much. You think what body should I upgrade if I need?

    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Sorry about that – semi-technical subjects are always a bit difficult in a language other than your native one.

      Reply
  5. MIke

    I own an Olympus EM5 and I think it it really versatile; now I’m planning to buy this 12-50 lens; I’ve also read reviews about it; people focus more on its “weak point” than on its versatility. You have splash and dust proof – lens with a good zoom range, so dont expect this to be the best out there. I think you have to see this lens in terms of your own necessity; depending on what you need; this lens could be the best or the worst for you; I totally agree with you on this entry…..

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      As you say, it could be just what you need or not very useful at all. If I were only allowed one lens this might be a good contender. Handy power zoom for smooth video focal length changes, nice wide 12mm and slightly longer than normal 50mm maximum, almost macro facility.

      Reply

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