KISS. Keep it simple, stupid, as a wartime US Navy motto has it. I always try to but recently a comment appeared on  my ‘Why I Use Micro Four Thirds’ video saying that the whole  point of Micro Four Thirds was compactness and simplicity, to reduce gear. The writer was very certain of himself and his views in a way that I can only envy.

In fact, one part of me agreed with him but another part  strongly resisted his premise. The point of MFT to me is that it is simple and compact – if you want.  A Panasonic GX7 with a 17mm f/1.8 Olympus lens is about as simple as it gets. But if your interest is in photographing wild life then that camera lens combination won’t get you far. You’ll either spook the animals or make a meal for them. So a much more complicated set up with a long lens, tripod and maybe remote control might be more appropriate. MFT can do that, too. A Panasonic GH4 with Olympus 40-150 f/2.8 zoom and its converter is far from compact or simple – but it is still comparatively so and that seems to me to be the point.

I like looking at and doing all kinds of photography. Street stuff of people, landscapes, insects buildings and portraits, musicians and still life, it just goes on. My correspondent seemed feel only one type of photography had any value or meaning and that was what could be done with simple equipment. It reminded me of a person I travelled with once who regarded himself as a music lover but would only listen to Dixieland jazz. That myopic view is not so much a love of something as, at best,  having a very small comfort zone, at worst a symptom of OCD.

Look at the wonders of NASA’a library. Is that not photography? The World Press Picture awards? Oxford Scientific’s work. Are they not photography? They are not made with simple equipment. I think that an obsession with using ‘simple’ gear is just as much an obsession with gear as someone who collects the stuff. When you see a picture you like, how do you know how many cameras the person who took it has? Do you care?

To me, it’s all in the picture. You like it or you don’t. It’s often interesting to know what camera was used  for a picture. It doesn’t actually tell you much because most pictures could have been made on most cameras. But It would be wrong to say it tells you nothing. In my case, I’d been training as a photographer for about 3 years when I first started looking at Henri-Cartier Bresson’s work. I was interested that he used what was then known as a miniature format camera – 35mm to you and me. The smallest acceptable format for a press man at that time was 6×6, usually in the form of a Rolleiflex and that was what I was using.

While my newspaper would never accept the results of such a camera, knowing that camera Henry Carter’s  work was done on told me that the results from such a camera  ought to be acceptable. The Leica M3 and 50mm lens that he used matched my Rollei for angle of view – both being standard lenses – but the Leica’s relative compactness and speed of use with its thumb lever wind made it a much better camera for photographing things reportage style, as they happened, rather than watching what happened and setting it up to happen again press photographer style.

In that sense, my correspondent was right. It is about compactness and simplicity. The problem with the purist view is that there is more to it than that.  The camera and lens that is good for street work will not necessarily be the camera for a war situation. Here is a shot I took during the first Gulf War in Tel Aviv. It shows a Patriot missile zapping across the skyline (it actually hit the incoming Scud missile just where you see that blip. For this I had a motor drive equipped Nikon camera permanently set up on a tripod with a 24mm F2 (I think) lens on a tripod. As soon as the air raid siren went off, I could go out on the balcony and wait for a shot. Basically, just press the shutter button and fire at 5 frames per second hoping for the best. Here’s the shot.pro040

What, I wonder, would my purist friend have done in this situation? How would his one camera and lens fits all solution have worked? I had to have more than one camera ( I had 4, actually) or else I couldn’t have left one out on the balcony. It had to have a fancy wide-angle on it. And a motor drive. And a tripod. Purist it is not, yet in the context of its use, it is as simple as I could make it.

I am unashamed to say that I use whatever combination of equipment I feel is necessary to accomplish an end.  It is all Micro four Thirds, though. At its simplest, a GM5 with 17mm F/1.7 Olympus lens. At its most complex, my camera bag with f/2/8 zooms and 2 camera bodies, macro lens, filters, lens converter, spare SD cards…and there’s probably more.

I’m always put off my stroke by people with utter certainty in their lives but I feel better after writing this. There is far more to photography than any one individual can define. It is about making images but what is the harm in enjoying great technology at the same time? Of saving up and getting that new lens, the anticipation of it arriving, trying it out for the first time? Who is t say that it won’t improve your photography?

We’ve always had puritan photographers but I sometimes think they are more about stopping other people’s fun than promoting better photography. The Micro four Thirds philosophy is not about compactness and simplicity in itself.

The thinking behind it and the reason for its growing popularity is that it can do pretty much anything a DSLR can but will always be smaller and lighter. Not small, note, but smaller, not light but lighter. There are two ways of using smaller, lighter. One is to save your back. The other is to carry a bigger range of equipment.

I use MFT for both depending on my mood and needs at the time. My correspondent prefers to limit himself and his gear and that’s fair enough. But when he remarks that ‘you don’t need fancy equipment if you know what you are doing’ it rankles. Is my Nikon on the balcony fancy equipment? If you want to photograph missiles, no. If you want to photograph people in the street, possibly.

But surely it’s the picture that counts. In a lifetime in photography, I have never seen anything that convinces me that owning and using a lot of equipment makes you a bad photographer. Even less so that owning one camera and lens makes you a good one. It just sounds like petty snobbery to me.



21 thoughts on “KISS

  1. Robert/MedicineMan4040 on Flickr

    Do you have a Gx8 in hand yet?
    I promised myself I would not leap until seeing your review….holding my breath 🙂

    1. Post author

      I’m working on it but it takes a while to really get to know a camera. But so far, very positive.

      1. pete

        I didn’t wait for you review…. 🙂 I picked mine up Saturday.

        My thoughts?

        Love the viewfinder, really love it!
        Focusing is quick…… i’ve only used the 14-140 on it. def faster than GX7 and seems faster than GH4.
        The shutter seems more responsive than the GH4 when you press the shutter release it just seems faster.
        Not tested high iso but I thought there was more Dynamic range in contrasty situations

        dislikes? I don’t like fn7 !! the one on the front. in the wrong place. They’ve gone with a different battery to the GX7…… using G6/7 battery ….. luckily I had a few old spares !

        They NEED to put in body stabilisation in other cameras!!!

        1. Post author

          Focusing is fantastic, isn’t it? The GX8 is looking like it’ll be my favourite camera of all. I’m still using it all the time not only to test it but from choice.

  2. Robert/MedicineMan4040 on Flickr

    More of your brilliant- ‘But I’ve been in a recording studio with guitarists who will try amp after amp, guitar after guitar to get their perfect sound. By the time they’ve done that, they are too tired or fed up to play their best. There’s a parallel there, I think.’
    Daniel J Cox on his blog has a recent post/test printing LARGE images-comping the G7/GH4/and his honking FF Nikon. Bottom line for me again WHY carry these big leviathans! But back to BIFs. I do feel (or dream) that the Oly 300 F4 is Oly’s realization/acceptance that yes there is a market for wildlife shooters who are willing to pony up for premium mFT lenses; maybe the Leica 100-400 G is the same ‘aha’ moment for Panasonic.
    Now that would be a quandary (sp?) for me, if both of those were suddenly on the market today. That and the gut saying that the OMD M1 mk ii or the GH5 will finally nail autotracking to allow BIFS. David, I keep saying BIFs but it could just as easily mean bear running down the trail in my neck of the woods.
    I did come back to see what you thought of the GX8 with hands on me thinking SURELY if anyone deserves a pre-release experience it is Mr. mFTs !!!
    I would already have pre-ordered the GX8 but the boss, well she has laid down the law=must get rid of something first. The GX7 is on the market, so far no takers 🙁
    Anyway I’m waiting with baited breathe for your review on the GX8. PLEASE turn it on in 4K Video or 4K Photo and point a garden hose at it!

    1. Post author

      I’m looking forward to the GX8 too, as soon as it goes on sale. Of the two new long lenses, the Olympus would be the pick, I would think. For birds in flight you do need aperture and the Panasonic zoom is 1.5 stops slower at the long end. For bears, I’d need a wide aperture too, since I’d be in flight. Maybe someone will come up with a lens that shoots over my shoulder!

  3. Robert/MedicineMan4040 on Flickr

    Absolutely love your blog and am endeared to your Youtube reviews on anything MFT. Honestly I have a really big problem called photography and your reviews do not help!! Ha! Actually they do–help me open the wallet for more gear.
    As an example I just added the 14-140mm G=wow! I do say wow and in the room I’m typing in I can reach a Tamron 150-600mm, a Canon 28-300 L, a Canon 100-400 mk.ii, oh there’s a Sony FE 24-240mm here too. That doesn’t make me an expert on super-zooms, nor does owning an FZ1000 but like you love primes I love super-zooms 🙂

    OK enough dribble….a serious question for you please.
    Have you already ordered or obtained the GX8 ??????
    As a distant memory on a Youtube comment you might remember an older (me) backpacker who carries a GM-5 as his backwoods camera of choice. I tinker with a GH4 a bit too….nope, never shot video with it and probably never will; but the GH-4 is my favorite macro camera for field use with the remarkable Venus 2:1 lens–here’s an example
    But back to the GX8. I also have a GX7 and like you carry it as a backup to my main body (no not the GH4, usually a 7D mk ii).
    If you’ve pre-ordered the 8 what are your expectations? How significant will the increased sensor size really be?
    But the MOST important question is will it stabilize my Oly 40-150mm Pro ??? Now that is a combo to contend with! Well until the Leica G 100-400mm arrives on scene!
    Thanks so much for being out there Mr. Thorpe and presenting MFT like only you can.

    1. Post author

      I’m glad you like the reviews and blog. That’s a fantastic shot of the wasp ( I don’t think we have that type here) made even better by the fact that it looks busy doing something which somehow makes it more lifelike. One of those shots where patience is as important an attribute as technique!

      I’m not particularly interested in the 100-400 zoom as the 40-150mm with 1.4x is long enough for anything I do. The hope would be that being a Leica designated lens, it will have the sharpness that the 100-300 doesn’t at the long end. Expensive, though I expect but a fantastic lens for bird, wildlife and sports photographers. I won’t buy one but I can’t wait to get my hands on one, nonetheless.

      Yes, I have a GX8 on order and I’m looking forward to getting it. I have to say that the 20mp sennor doesn’t excite me greatly and if the noise performance is the same as the 16mp.I’d have preferred that technical improvement to have been used to lower noise on the 16mp. If it’s noisier, I’d actually regard it as a step backwards. My main hope is the same as yours, that the stabilization is good enough to keep the 40-150mm still. From early reading, it doesn’t seem so but it’s early days yet.

      Your last remark intrigued me because I hadn’t thought of myself as representing MFT but here I am after years using every type of camera and finally settling on MFT exclusively. I suppose I represent it well because when I decided 5 years ago that DSLRs weren’t the only cameras that could do what I needed, I was open to any suitable replacement. So MFT was a carefully researched and thought through choice for me. With hindsight it was the best decision I could have made, witness your comment mentioning super zooms, ultra long zooms, high speed zooms, tiny cameras and big ones – all MFT. I thought the system would grow when I bought into it but I could never have foreseen the wealth of choice and price points it would offer.

      One thing would make the system perfect for me – Panasonic introducing in body stabilization up to Olympus E-M1 standards. They could justify it by making it cooperate with in lens stabilization so well that it was even better than the E-M5II. In the meantime, I await my GX8! Great to talk with you, Robert.

      1. Robert/MedicineMan4040 on Flickr

        Wonderful insight as always.
        I could jump on the GX8 but something inside is telling me to wait, me
        thinking the GH5 will have IBIS…and if not the OM-D M1 Mark II will have even
        better IBIS and HOPEFULLY a vastly improved focus tracking.
        The only thing I cannot do currently with MFT is BIF…whether it’s the L 100-400 G or the
        Oly 300mm F4, once ‘real’ tracking is in place then I too can say goodbye to the heavies (EOS bodies).
        I’m not saying BIFs are not possible with MFT. I’ve done OK with the seemingly instantaneous
        focus ability of the GH4, but truth is it is just easier with the 7Dii.
        David, when you get bored (and I bet that is a rarity in your busy life) look at these two pics, taken
        this morning after a bit of a hike….don’t look at the EXIF just yet, only after you’ve looked at both-
        I’ll tell you before you look one was taken via a heavy EOS body and equally heavy lens and the other with a MFT body and equally lightweight lens!
        When I see results like this I know your choice is mine! Long live MFT 🙂
        p.s. that wasp was very much alive 🙂 This one however was not-

        1. Post author

          The comparison is interesting because it encapsulates the whole IQ question. There is no noticeable IQ difference between the two shots. I could argue that if the two images were used to make 24″ prints you would see a difference and it would just about be be true if you took 300dpi as your criterion and viewed the prints from 12 inches away. But I can’t tell 300 from 200dpi at normal viewing distances so in practice I’d see no difference. Since I don’t make prints that big, let alone bigger and even the biggest on screen or web image only needs a width of 4000px, MFT performs just as well as full frame.

          The trouble is, it is hard for many photographers to let go of FF quality whether they need it or not. For me, and for you the imperceptible trade off in quality for the convenience of the MFT format justifies it completely. But I’ve been in a recording studio with guitarists who will try amp after amp, guitar after guitar to get their perfect sound. By the time they’ve done that, they are too tired or fed up to play their best. There’s a parallel there, I think.

          Fantastic shots – the wasp one makes you realize that there is no fictional monster in the movies as weird as the real life beasties we share our world with. Looking at that exciting terrain, it’s great that a smaller camera allows you to enjoy the hiking as well as the photography.

          Birds in flight, that really is the peak of difficulty, much more so than sports. Any camera that can focus and expsose – and the photographer keep the creature in frame – well enough reminds me of Dr Johynson’s remark about the dog that talked. Johnson’s remark about the dog that talked. It’s not so much what it says as the fact that it can do it at all!

  4. Guy


    I prefer having the right tool for the job rather than using the same tool for all jobs as everything starts to look like a nail if you only have a hammer.

    My very amateur take on MFT is that the combination of a good body and 3-4 lenses can make the format the right tool for any photographic job with the added bonus that the toolbag won’t break your back to carry.

    Might not be so easy on the wallet though…

    Any chance of a G7 review?



    1. Post author

      Hi Guy

      It’s true that MFT is not cheap. I think it is generally good value and there are bargains there like the Sigma lenses. But the stuff you’ll want to keep, the lenses, no, not all easy on the wallet.

      The G7, I’m hoping to get hold of one ASAP but it’ll be August before I can do much. At first look it seems to be the GH4 for the rest of us.

  5. pete

    TBH do what ever floats your boat….. there are no rights and wrongs.

    if I go to somewhere I’ve been many times I might choose one camera one prime lens……

    I just spent a week in Devon and Cornwall and just took the 12-32 35-100 15 and the GM5 / GF7 very light good IQ ……. you were so right about that 35-100, so sharp. Think that’ll be my city break kit with the 25 for evening strolls around the city. Light and flexible

    another day i’ll take a GH4 14-140 Gx7 with 7-14 and the 100-300, 15 and 25…….. depends how feel….. still much lighter than my old Nikon kit…..

  6. Allan Gould

    David, I agree wholeheartedly about your comments.
    But your videos – you must do something as they induce GAS in me. I had been paring my system down to take to India in a few months when I saw your video re the Panasonic 14-140mm II 3.5-5.6 lens. Went to test it out and before the right hand side of my brain could react, they had my money and I had the lens. Very happy with it – thanks.
    It fits the bill in having a minimalist system ie EP5 with the 14-140mm lens – but because the primes are so small I’m also taking the 12, 45 and 75 mm primes. So i figure I have the best of both worlds while still keeping everything in a small bag.

    1. Post author

      I’m as enthusiastic about the MFT system as you are but it does offer too many tempting goodies sometimes. But when you think about your system, you cover almost anything that might come up on a trip yet without making a chore of the photography.

      It’s not GAS you have, it is a keen eye for what is necessary to take to India!

  7. Bob Fairbairn


    I am glad that you respond in such a gentile manner. I am far from the purist view but I do understand the need for simplicity. I also find M43 systems to fill that need rather well. I can scale up and down as I need. Walk around might just be the iPhone, or the EM5 MKII with the 17 or the 25. Vacation could be a single camera and the 14-150mm to cover it all. I can fill the bag and handle anything I want to. Well almost, maybe when the Oly 300mm hits,,, AHHH well. What I find “pure” about m43 is that you can scale to almost any need and still not break your back, but you can break the bank!



    1. Post author

      Haha! Good point, breaking the back is one thing but the bank is another. I love the flexibility of the MFT system, a tiny camera for the pocket or a bigger one with more controls and capabilities. But all the same quality and lenses. Something previously impossible to achieve.

  8. Gianguido

    Could not agree more…

    It’s also interesting to compare photography to other art forms, visual and not. During my brief training as a painter we’d often be asked to complete an assignment with some sort of arbitrary limit(s): sketch this piazza in 3 minutes, chose a colour and paint a scene in monochrome, draw this same finger until yours are sore…
    It’s all well and good to place limitations for pedagogical reasons, or to self-impose those limitations on a project. But who would argue that Stevie Wonder is not an artist because of the range of instruments he can play? Or a dancer not an artist because of the range of styles they can adopt?

    So, dear minimalist, KISS if you want. And, next time, try using only vowels to tell me how to photograph – I think your writing would benefit from such a limitation 😉

    1. Post author

      Great analogy with Stevie Wonder. I agree with you totally, to impose a limitation can be interesting as an exercise but is simply limiting in a wider context.

      1. Gianguido

        I find comparing photography to music solves most silly questions: “Wow nice picture! you must have a good camera!” gets a “Oh yeah… It is a good one. Same brand as John Lennon’s microphones” or “Did you modify it with photoshop” gets a “Did Karajan modify Beethoven’s symphonies when he directed his orchestra to brighten the strings and fatten the bassoon?”. These types of answers usually get some silence, if only momentarily…

        1. Post author

          Good ploy. I’ve worked with many many musicians over the years and been surprised at how many are attracted to photography.


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