Well, that time is upon us. It’s nearly the end of the year, and what a year it’s been for the Micro 4/3 system and the mirrorless industry as a whole. This past year saw the rise of several new cameras, a bunch of new lenses and the overall maturity of the system as a whole. 2012 was the year that I think Micro 4/3 stepped into the mainstream: where cameras finally improved to meet the image quality of many of their APS-C brethren, and the system gained many new lenses to help mature the system. I think most importantly, 2012 was the year where both Olympus and Panasonic really focused on the serious shooter, and the system is much better for it. I’m also going to choose what I feel were the most important additions by naming my Camera of the Year and Lens of the Year. So let’s dive in and take a quick look at the year it’s been:
Six new cameras were introduced in 2012, with a seventh (the Panasonic GX1) coming just before the end of 2011. All but one of these six new cameras featured 16 megapixel sensors, finally leaving the far too often used and sub-par 12 megapixel sensor that was found in all previous Olympus Pens and some of the remaining Panasonic line as well.
Camera of the Year: Olympus OM-D E-M5
While the Panasonic GH3 (which I’ll discuss in a moment) is essentially as capable, no camera for Micro 4/3 has made quite the impact as the Olympus OM-D E-M5. (Read our full review) The OM-D made waves for its retro looks and very high performance. It’s a visually striking camera, with a solid magnesium weathersealed build, tons of external controls, a new in-body IS system, fast frame rates, a capacitive touch screen, fast autofocus and an outstanding built-in EVF.
However, the biggest contribution to the Micro 4/3 world with the OM-D is its outstanding sensor. While performing only slightly better in the high-iso department than the 16 Megapixel sensor introduced in the Panasonic G3 and GX1, the OM-D’s 16 megapixel sensor was the first for the system to offer DSLR-capable dynamic range. The OM-D’s 12+ stop RAW dynamic range far outstrips previous Micro 4/3 cameras, is competitive with most APS-C DSLRs, and even bests every camera in the Canon lineup in that department.
The new 5-axis in-body IS system is revolutionary. While Olympus cameras have had IBIS for years, they were marginally effective and nowhere near as good as the optical stabilization offered by other companies. The OM-D’s IBIS, however, is dramatically improved. I have found it to be capable to between 3 and 4 stops for most focal lengths, and still effective to 2 full stops even at extreme telephoto lengths. The IBIS has changed my approach to photography and made it more fun. If I’m out at night and didn’t bring my tripod, I can still take night photos. I can shoot in dimmer light indoors. Combined with fast primes, this camera enables a new level of low light capability that even most full-frame DSLRs can’t manage simply because there are very few full-frame prime lenses with image stabilization in the wide to short telephoto range.
In addition to the new sensor and great IBIS, the OM-D also was the first Micro 4/3 camera to be weathersealed and the first to offer an add-on external battery grip. It offers 9 frames per second continuous shooting and a great EVF. This camera gained wide acceptance not only by Micro 4/3 photographers, but by photographers at large. Many prominent professionals have added the OM-D to their kit as a lightweight alternative to their bulky DSLRs,
All these things combined make the Olympus OM-D E-M5 an easy choice for Admiring Light Camera of the Year.
While it came later, Panasonic also released a very high end camera this year, in the just recently shipping GH3. The GH3 is really the first Panasonic camera that could be considered pro-grade. It’s big for a Micro 4/3 camera…about the size of some smaller DSLRs, but it packs a wallop. Featuring a similar sensor to the OM-D, the GH3 has excellent dynamic range and good noise control, put into a body with excellent ergonomics and a wealth of external controls. Panasonic upped the EVF resolution with the GH3, providing a clearer view with faster refresh, and made further refinements to what was already the best single shot autofocus system available for mirrorless. Additional welcome features include a full electronic shutter and tilt-swivel rear screen.
While stills have been improved with the GH3, they’ve made even bigger improvements on the video side. The Panasonic GH2 was widely regarded as one of the finest HD video cameras available, and the GH3 ups that considerably. The GH3 is capable of filming full 1080p video at a variety of frame rates, and can record at a bitrate up to an absurd 72 Mbps. If you are a videophile, this is your camera.
The GH3 is weathersealed and made of magnesium alloy and also has an available battery grip. I haven’t had the chance to get my hands on one of these yet, but I hope to be able to get a review unit sometime in the next several weeks. The GH3 is an expensive camera, but its range of capabilities may be well worth it, especially for those photographers who also do quite a bit of video work.
Panasonic also released the G5. The G5 utilizes a modified version of the 16 megapixel sensor found in the excellent GH2, and while the G5 followed relatively closely after the G3, it was a welcome addition. The G5 returned to the large grip found on all previous G-series cameras (save for the G3), and upped the ISO capabilities to ISO 12,800. The G5 is a solid, well rounded camera geared towards the stills photographer who wants usability and functionality in a reasonably priced package. If you don’t want to shell out the $1,299 for the GH3, but want a camera with an integrated viewfinder and good image quality, the G5 is certainly worth a long look.
Olympus was also busy towards the end of the year, putting the outstanding sensor from the OM-D into its Pen range with the E-PL5 and the E-PM2. These are rangefinder style cameras, and while they still have in-body IS, they retain the older standard version rather than the OM-D’s outstanding 5-axis IS. However, if you’re looking for a small camera with great autofocus and a top notch sensor, these are great cams to take a long hard look at.
15 thoughts on “Micro 4/3 Year in Review”
Great article. I just got the GH3 and the Olympus 60mm Macro, and couldn’t be happier with both. Got into the system with the GH2 in 2011, and with my recent purchases my Nikon stuff will be retired. Another nice lens that I believe was released this year is the Samyang/Rokinon/Bower 7.5mm fisheye. A fun and very reasonably priced niche product. Hope to see more Micro 4/3 lenses from them.
I have heard great things about the Samyang 7.5mm. However, it was released in September of 2011, so no inclusion here. 🙂 Thanks for reading!
And ftanks for your blog and articles, Jordan. It’s a very good source for well balanced reviews : technical & practical. Matching pretty much my expectations.
Keep up the good work and happy shooting,
Thank you! I appreciate the feedback!
Just a quick note to say thanks for this article and for all the others over the past year. I really like your subjective style of reviewing kit as it makes a refreshing change from specification driven reviews. Your photos are also inspirational and a great showcase for what Micro 4/3s can produce. Keep up the good work!
BTW I currently own a GH2 and am trying to decide between a GH3 and OMD. Any thoughts? How do you find the 12-35 on the OMD – do you miss the Panasonic baked-in lens corrections?
Thanks for your kind words! I don’t own the 12-35, but I had it for a week for testing/shooting/review. As to the corrections, the distortion corrections are still accounted for in the Olympus files, but CA is not. However, with Lightroom 4.1’s CA correction tools, it’s a single check box to get rid of the vast majority of any CA present in any lens.
As to GH3 vs OM-D, it’s hard to say. I should have a GH3 review unit sometime in January, so I hope to complete my review around that time. From looking at specs and early tests, image quality is extremely similar between them, so it’s down to better video on the GH3, and probably better ergonomics (and slightly better autofocus), vs smaller size and in-body IS.
For me, I’ve come to quite love the IBIS on the OM-D, but Panasonic bodies are really well thought out ergonomically.
As it is E-M5’s retro design is ergonomically clearly below GH2.
With landscape grip from that expensive grip set grip from camera becomes little better than from GH2 because of having better place where to keep thumb in rear. Besides that rear controls are equally point&shoot cramped and tiny.
While overall GH2 didn’t have exactly good ones (because of size limitations) E-M5’s settings are even more based to on screen menus instead of direct physical controls.
GH3 clearly corrects most of GH2’s ergonomical flaws. Like way too small grip which along with lack of space in rear causes thumb accidentally pressing buttons when carrying it. Also there are now rear and front dials which are ergonomically positioned. (vs. E-M5’s 50y old tech of the time limited unergonomy)
Also making focus mode switch separate instead of GH2’s, hard to use with cold fingers/gloves, tiny lever under knob is welcome. Along with better spacing and size of all major controls.
Olympus sure got great sensor now and IBIS and Live Bulb are exactly innovations which we should be seeing in digital age but after making some of the more ergonomical bodies in entry level DSLRs they seem to have lost ability to put tech in modern ergonomics package.
With that and GH2’s below entry level DSLR ergonomics I had to give Panasonic christmas gift and ordered GH3 yesterday. (another shop still has it in stock here in Finland)
-10C temperatures with wind don’t tolerate any fashion Point&Shoots which can’t be operated with gloves so I need utilitarian camera comfortable to handle instead of fashion decoration.
Great wrap-up & great site. We are fortunate to have your energy working in the MFT camp!
It was my understanding that the sensor in the G5 was a “locked” (not full resolution muti-aspect capable) version of the sensor found in the GH2. I’ve seen this information on several sites. Can you confirm this as fact, please?
Hey jman, Michael is right the g5 sensor is the non multi aspect version of the gh2’s sensor. Great stuff as always!
Thank you. Article has been updated.
G5 hacked can unlocked MA-feature.
Do you have any info as to how the G5 can be hacked to unlock the MA-feature. I would love to have that option.
Great article. I think the system needs an equivalent to the excellent Olympus 50-200 f/2.8-3.5
Keep up the good work Jordan!.