Menu

3 Key Tips For Shooting Better Still Photography With Your Micro Four Thirds Camera

The Micro Four Thirds format has become increasingly more popular with video shooters over the past year or two (thanks to innovative MFT cameras like the Lumix GH4), but the majority of photographers still prefer to shoot with full frame bodies. That said, throughout this article I’m going to explain some techniques for achieving better results with your MFT camera, so you reap the benefits of shooting this format without making any sacrifices.

I also want to point out that although this site is primarily focused on video production, I am going to start including some articles here and there related to stills photography as well since many of you are doubling as both stills and video shooters. This is the first of these articles.

Why MFT Cameras Are More Popular With Video Shooters

Before I jump into things, I want to preface this article by pointing out a few main reasons why Micro Four Thirds Cameras are becoming so popular with video shooters, to put things in context.

MFT cameras have a very short flange distance, meaning that they can be easily adapted to work with nearly any lens available. This is excellent for video shooters because it is often preferable to use vintage glass, PL lenses, or other specialized lensing options that are often not adaptable to other mounts. Many MFT cameras also have a tremendous amount of video functionality built right in… The GH4 for example offers focus peaking, zebras, audio monitoring, slow motion recording, 4K in camera, and many other amazing features that aren’t available on any full frame camera.

With all this said though, none of these benefits would necessarily sway a stills photographer one way or the other when choosing a camera format for themselves. So what is the big variable that largely prevents stills photographers from adapting the format? The sensor size. 

Although some video shooters like the full frame look, traditionally the gold standard for a video frame size is Super 35mm motion picture film – which is actually very close to the APS-C sensor size. As you can see in the diagram below, MFT sensors are not that far off in size from APS-C, which makes any issues with cropping less relevant than if you were to compare it to a full frame camera for instance.

Sensor-Sizes

So ultimately, the big issue for many stills photographers is sensor size. In order to achieve the dreamy aesthetic that full frame bodies can provide, MFT cameras must be used with very fast and very wide lenses to compensate for the crop factor. So for instance to achieve the look that a 35mm F4 lens would give you on a full frame camera, you would need to shoot with a 17.5mm lens on your MFT camera, set to F2 or below. These aren’t exact numbers, but rather ballpark figures that reflect the differences between the variance in sensor size. Full frame cameras also offer fantastic low light performance and the ability to achieve a very shallow depth of field even on slower lenses, but even still I truly believe that these issues can be easily overcome when shooting on a Micro Four Thirds Camera. Here are a couple of recent images shot with my Lumix GH4:

P1210237

P1210187

P1200941

 

So what can you do to improve the quality of your MFT photos? Aside from all of the usual photography advice that would be applicable no matter what format you’re shooting on, I suggest following these 3 basic guidelines:

1. Use Fast Glass

Probably the biggest concern with shooting on MFT cameras (as we’ve already touched on), is that they don’t traditionally provide as shallow of a depth of field as a full frame camera will. Even so, I can assure you that MFT cameras are capable of a very shallow depth of field – all you need is the right glass. There are loads of extremely fast lenses out there that can be adapted to MFT cameras, some of which will even open up to F0.95 which is certainly way more than you need to achieve a shallow DOF. Personally speaking, when I shoot on any of my fast lenses (even on a MFT camera), I usually don’t use them completely wide open because the depth of field is just too shallow. So even though you may never get the same razor thin DOF that you would on a full frame camera, in a real world shooting environment it won’t matter… And by investing in fast lenses, you immediately take care of the number one concern with shooting on MFT cameras, which is depth of field. The other big advantage to fast lenses is that they will allow more light to hit the sensor when shooting at night, allowing you to keep the ISO setting to a minimum.

2. Never Shoot Above ISO 800

Most full frame cameras have exceptional high ISO performance – in fact that’s what they’re known for. Some full frame DSLRs can easily shoot at up to 12,800 ISO with pretty great results, while MFT cameras on the other hand tend to fall apart after ISO 800 or so. This has never been an issue at all for me though, because even when shooting full frame I prefer not to shoot at high ISOs. At extremely high ISOs, even if the images aren’t noisy, the overall quality, color depth and texture of the image is not nearly as strong as it is when shooting at a more reasonable ISO setting. So regardless of the camera that you’re shooting on, generally keeping your ISO to a minimum (or better yet setting your camera to it’s base ISO), is the way to go. MFT cameras don’t give you any other option since most images taken at high ISOs are pretty unusable for professional work, but if you have fast lenses and a good understanding of lighting, you’ll be alright!

3. Avoid mid-range lenses

A little while back I posted an article focused on achieving a full frame look when shooting on your crop sensor camera, and one of the main points I made there was that you should aim to shoot with wide or long lenses – not mid range. This is simply based on my own personal opinion and experience, but I find that 9 times out of 10 I end up using images from my MFT shoots that were shot on very wide lenses (like my Tokina 11 – 16mm F2.8), or longer lenses like my Nikkor 50mm F1.4. You might be thinking that a 50mm is considered a normal focal length lens, not a telephoto – but remember that on a MFT camera a 50mm is more like a 100mm equivalent. So by primarily shooting with really wide lenses or longer lenses, you are effectively giving yourself a look that is more similar to shooting on a full frame camera. It’s not that you always need to emulate the full frame look in order to shoot a nice image, but there situations where it is ideal and by sticking with this basic principle you are cutting out the focal range that doesn’t traditionally look as great on the MFT format.

Why MFT Is Great

Shooting on a Micro Four Thirds camera should never feel like compromise. There are some huge benefits to shooting on MFT cameras such as their size, functionality, lower cost, availability of lens options, and much more. So once you get past the idea that you need to shoot on a full frame camera to capture great still photos, you will quickly start to see all of the benefits of this small and efficient format. There are many situations where I would be unable to shoot with a full frame camera because it would draw too much attention, or require me to bring a bunch of large lenses that I couldn’t carry with me, and in many of those same circumstances, a MFT camera would be a life saver. There are also situations though where full frame would be a better choice, undoubtably, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only choice. As they say – “The best camera is the one you have with you”, and you’re a lot more likely to have a MFT camera on you at any given time than a big full frame camera!

For more articles like this, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter by filling out the form on the right panel of this page!

 

About Author

Noam Kroll is an award-winning Los Angeles based filmmaker, and the founder of the boutique production house, Creative Rebellion. His work can be seen at international film festivals, on network television, and in various publications across the globe. Follow Noam on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook for more content like this!

20 Comments

  • Reza
    October 19, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    Great article!

    I am fairly new to photography and MFT. I am having a hard time shooting full body portraits of adults with nice bokeh and separation. Could it be possible I am using the wrong lens? I have been using a 25mm f1.7.

    I am leaning towards acquiring the Panasonic 42.5mm F1.7 and moving back from the subject. The 42.5 has auto focus and OIS, which I feel I would need shooting pics on the move. The other lens I am considering is a 17mm , any advice would be greatly appreciated!

    I am attempting to take some epic street fashion photos lol.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      November 14, 2018 at 5:33 am

      You are definitely on the right track. Longer lens further back is what you need. I would even try a 50mm!

      Reply
  • Asher Bennett
    June 13, 2018 at 2:39 pm

    Hi Noam,

    Just wanted to say really great article and really helpful as not many people are talking about how to work a GH4 properly.

    I’m using primarily either a Samyang 85mm or a Panasonic 20mm, am i right in saying that by putting it somewhere around f5 and a shutter speed of 250, I’m more likely to get sharper images than having it wide open with a fast shutter speed? I’ve also experienced this blurriness but only when i have it at f.15 or f1.7.

    Thanks

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      July 13, 2018 at 3:04 am

      Thanks Asher! If you are shooting stills – yes those settings would work well. The motion blur you’re experiencing is likely more based on your shutter speed than your aperture. That said, if you’re shooting video, you’ll want to have your shutter at 1/50 (for 24p) to achieve a 180 degree shutter.

      Reply
  • harith
    May 18, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    The warranty has ended, plus it’s a 2nd hand GH4.
    I try and ask its latest owner for advise to see how he cope with this problem.
    And, this does not happens at all time, that’s what made me thinking if it’s just because of me not being able to use it yet.

    Btw, thanks for your replies. 🙂

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 24, 2017 at 8:55 pm

      No problem at all, and good luck with everything!

      Reply
      • Freddie
        November 3, 2018 at 6:28 am

        What’s a good aperture for gh4 shooting boutique photos

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          November 14, 2018 at 5:43 am

          Interiors? I would shoot at a 4 – 5.6, ideally…

          Reply
    • Jason
      August 14, 2018 at 10:40 pm

      Love your images!! May I ask, what are your settings?

      Reply
      • Noam Kroll
        August 21, 2018 at 9:40 pm

        Thanks a lot Jason! These were all using a standard picture profile on the GH4. Nothing fancy! Most of the look you see was dialed in while color grading.

        Reply
  • harith
    May 14, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    hi Noam,

    I just bought a 2nd hand GH4, and currently adapting myself as a 1st timer MFT user.
    I’ve some difficulties when it comes to photography using my GH4. I currently only have the panasonic lenses 14-140mm.
    My problem is that whenever I try to shoot some photos, the shaking of my hands made the photos ‘shaky’ or blurred..even if I tried with fast speed shutters. I know that the built-in image stabilizer is not that great compared to other cameras which are better in photography than the GH4.

    Can you give me all the possible solution that I can use to overcome this kind of problem later on. I sometimes takes videos in 4K & then I take still shots from the vids. I can’t be using it all the time, right?

    Thanks. 🙂

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      May 15, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Hey Harith! Do you have any examples of images you could share here? With stabilization on and a fast enough shutter speed, you should have really sharp results… I wonder if there is another issue at play entirely, so if I can take a look at an image I think that would help determine where the root of the problem lies.

      Reply
      • harith
        May 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm

        Hey Noam,
        thanks a lot for the reply.
        This is the link to those pictures that I was talking to you about :
        https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B1Pp9dXR-nx5cG4xemxfSHpDdnM

        It really is quite hard to take an opportunity of taking a picture especially candid pictures when in the end the pictures becomes like this..

        Thanks again for your time & help.

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          May 18, 2017 at 4:49 pm

          Wow! That is strange looking. To be honest, I’ve never seen anything quite like it at all.

          Is your camera under warranty? I would suggest taking it in as there may be an issue with the sensor or something else entirely… Definitely doesn’t look like a lens problem. Good luck, and sorry I can’t be of more help!

          Reply
  • pat ellis
    May 30, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    hey noam I wanted to know what are the best setting for the gh4 when shooting photography. should the picture size be at L16m and aspect ratio 4:3

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      June 7, 2016 at 2:24 pm

      Hi Pat – Yes, Keep the aspect at 4:3 since that is native to the GH4. Shooting at L16MP is ideal for keeping your resolution high, and whenever possible shoot in RAW to maintain the most amount of detail and dynamic range. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Liam
    August 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Noam,

    What lens did you use on your GH4 for those photos? Just curious really, they look great. I enjoy shooting with my GH3 but sometimes seeing photos from my friends 70D and another friends T4i (APS-C of course) I feel really dissatisfied with the GH3’s photographic performance. Video wise it’s much better which is the bulk of my work but I do often feel disappointed when using it for stills.

    Liam

    Reply
    • Noam Kroll
      August 27, 2014 at 6:47 pm

      Hey Liam, I primarily used a manual Nikkor 50mm F1.4 lens, which is a really amazing piece of glass that is also quite inexpensive. The GH3/GH4 definitely aren’t as strong with regards to shooting stills as many Canon/Nikon cameras are, but with the right glass and lighting they can produce some amazing results!

      Reply
      • Dino
        July 24, 2016 at 3:24 am

        Hi Naom,

        What missing features in the GH4 makes it less strong than, say, a Nikon 7200? I am just curious because of the comment you made. Thanks. Dino

        Reply
        • Noam Kroll
          July 25, 2016 at 1:39 am

          Hi Dino, great question. It’s not necessarily that one is better or worse, but rather they are just different. For instance the GH4s smaller sensor will make it slightly more difficult to get really shallow depth of field, but in some cases that can actually be a good thing, especially if you aren’t working with a focus puller. Like any camera comparison, it always comes down to your specific needs as a filmmaker, more than which camera is better or worse. Hope this makes sense!

          Reply

Leave a Reply