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The "Depth Of Field Issue" With Micro Four-Thirds Cameras Is Way Overblown

February 26, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Big Woods At SunrisePanasonic Lumix DMC-GH3 Camera 12mm, f/4, 1/50, ISO 200

One of the compositional techniques I've been working on with my Minnesota SNAs project is layering. I soon realized that shooting at wider apertures caused the background layers to blur into an indistinct mush. With my full-frame DSLR gear, I soon gravitated to an aperture of f/8 for most shots. In addition to f/8 being the sweet spot for most full-frame optics, it also gave me nice definition for the background layers. If I am photographing the structure of a tree, I want that structure to be sharp, regardless of whether the tree is in the foreground or background.

So, what does any of this have to do with the so called "depth of field issue" with micro four-thirds cameras? Well, as I wrote in a previous post, it is true that the smaller the sensor, the wider the range of things that will be in focus. Given that a micro four-thirds sensor is half the size of a full-frame DSLR sensor, they have a wider depth of focus range than full-frame DSLRs. If you love shooting at f/1.8 to really blur the background into nothingness, you'll have a really tough time accomplishing that with a micro four-thirds camera. I've heard and read of many photographers dismissing micro four-thirds cameras for this reason.

Just as f/8 is the sweet spot optically for full-frame lenses, f/4 is the sweet spot for micro four-thirds lenses. From a depth of field perspective, f/4 on a micro four-thirds camera is equivalent to f/8 on a full-frame DSLR (i.e. 2x crop factor). I love shooting at an aperture of f/4 on my GH3. I get an equivalent depth of field to f/8 on my D800 and I get twice as much light to the sensor. That means I can shoot at half the ISO (e.g. 800 vs. 1600) or shutter speed (e.g. 1/125 vs. 1/60). If I do decide to go with a wider aperture, it'll be because I need to get more light to the sensor, not because I'm trying to blur the background. 

Frankly, I think the use of super shallow depth of field has gotten to be overdone. I like the compositional discipline of having to pay careful attention to all the layers in an image. Plus, by stopping down a bit I put my optics in the position of being able to give me their best.


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