Is Micro Four Thirds the Optimal Sensor Size for Mirrorless Cameras?

Many Nikonians would have been overjoyed if Nikon’s mirrorless cameras had been announced with an APS-C sensor instead of a 1-inch one, but are DSLR-sized sensors the best fit for smaller interchangeable lens cameras? Michael Johnston over at The Online Photographer says no, arguing that Micro Four Thirds is the optimal size:

APS-C sensors work fine in fixed-lens mirrorless cameras, such as the Leica X1 and the Fujifilm X100. And while NEX is making its own splash and winning its own adherents, many have pointed out that the over-large sensor is distorting the size of the lenses, preventing them from being miniaturized in proportion to the cameras. On the other hand, Micro 4/3 really does seem to have it right: the sensor is big enough, but not too big; small enough, but not too small. The cameras are right-sized, the lenses are right-sized. Everything’s in balance. Everything fits.

Since one of the main reasons for going mirrorless is compactness, perhaps APS-C sensors should be left to larger DSLR-sized cameras like the Sony A77 (which has been getting some glowing reviews, by the way).

Micro 4/3 is the Big Kahuna [The Online Photographer]

Image credit: Goldilocks by violscraper

  • Persio Pucci

    if only the X100 was affordable… let’s hope Canon learns from the others’ mistakes.

  • lloyd -

    I wish all this terminology for camera sensors was more uniform.

    It might just be me not remembering which is which but I find it hard to keep track of the sizes for all of these.

    four thirds
    APS-C (canon)
    APS-C (nikon DX, pentax, sony)
    full frame
    Micro 4/3?

    I’d like them to all go by their mm size, such as full frame = 35mm

    however I do understand we have a lot of mm things on a camera, focal length, filter size etc

    some number based naming system which lets people know the size.

    That being said. i like the idea of EVIL camera, but I’d want some prime on it. I can’t imagine a canon 24-70mm 2.8f on a EVIL.

    my wrist!

  • Anonymous

    Nex is fine if you stick to the 18-55 lens. Unless you want to replace your Dslr system with the nex-7. The Nikon system is a total joke. Too expensive, too small a sensor, too ugly and no viewfinder. I can’t see a single reason to get one over micro 4/3rds. 4/3rds is the sweet spot in price performance and size if you want to stick to 1600 iso max. Now that Olympus has solved the focus sped problem for contrast autofocus, the next goal is better iso performance, a built in viewfinder like the nex-7 and better cheaper lenses. Personally, I am sticking with my dslr for now.

  • Anthony Burokas

    I see a big hole in the market yet to be filled… a large sensor (or just very high quality) compact travel zoom. I mean, if Fuji has problems keeping up with the demand for a $1200 fixed focal length camera that is made specifically for high image quality, imagine the market for one with an internal 12x zoom and it still fit in your pocket (none of the removable lens cameras are “compact” once you add a lens.)

  • Donald

    Leica M9 has full frame with reasonably small lenses, now if it only had autofocus, would be remade as EVIL system and some other things from this century, that would be awesome.

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  • zf

    Four thirds and micro 4/3 has exact same sensor size.

    Digital full frame has nothing to do with 35mm. It’s 36x24mm. But back then, when it’s film, where the width is 35mm, though only 24mm actually used to take pictures.

  • Anonymous

    This is just a myth. The NEX with a kit lens is about the same size as ANY m43 camera with its kit lens (not counting the unreleased powerzoom). Weight will be less. Quality glass for either platform makes for comparable sizes: a G3 with 25 or 45 mm plastic Leica isn’t noticable smaller than e.g. 5N with the 50mm or 24mm CZ.

    But the lens lineup for NEX is currently smaller, and doesn’t contain many pancakes. However, if you want to judge the system on its technical merits, you will have to compara similar lenses and packages. And they are quite similar.

    Of course, the tiny m43 sensor, 40% smaller than the NEX sensor, will result in somewhat smaller lenses, but not extremely so, and not 40% as the image circle itself will not be 40% smaller (basic geometry).

  • Chris

    I’d lilke to know why none of these camera manufacturers have the ability to actually make a compact full frame camera? They made tons of them in the 80’s and 90’s e.g. the Yashica T4, Leica Minilux, Olympus Epic, etc… Those cameras were awesome and I would definitely pay top dollar for that instead of some stupid retro clunky removable lens camera!

  • Henning Nilsen

    Ehem. Look at Leica’s lenses. Full frame camera.

  • Eric Knape

    Would also be nice if it didn’t cost almost as much as a Nikon D3x… I get that it’s a full-frame Leica and it’s image quality is tops, but dang, talk about boutique. Then you add the lenses…

  • Flgraphics

    why on earth would any manufacturer take steps backwards toward using smaller sized sensors?

    doesn’t make any sense to me

  • ShamB

    ‘The cameras are right-sized, the lenses are right-sized. Everything’s in balance. Everything fits’

    image quality.
    Low light advantage (portable cameras are more likely to be used in social gatherings etc).

  • Asylum Photo

    Samsung NX cameras seem to do APS-C with compact lenses… I’m not sure why Sony is having so many issues…

  • Asylum Photo

    I think a big part of the reason is that film is more flexible in how it receives light, whereas digital sensors have to receive light in a pretty strict manner. 

  • deadlock

    …if you take pictures of some drunk friends you typically use flash :) We must get over this religion of low light. I take photos of Milky Way using ISO 800. I mean, realistically, it’s not worth inflating cameras and prices because of 2% use cases in low light. Want good low light pictures? Buy full frame camera.

  • James

    Thank you! I was thinking the same thing!

  • James

    Gripe about the EOS M sucking at AF all you want, but it packs a beautiful APS-C Sensor.