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Point And Shoot Upgrade: Compare DSLR vs Micro Four Thirds

Updated on July 12, 2011

When I was in high school, I used to carry around the latest digital camera that was available. An old Fujifilm Finepix. Not exactly the most cutting edge piece of technology but good enough for a simple point and shoot. It was packing on a hefty 3.2 megapixel sensor. Amazing at the time. I used it to take snapshots of friends, family, and scenery. It was my go-to camera. As the years pass, I've gone through many newer variations. I upgraded after a year, then a friend lost my camera which called for another upgrade. I gathered lots of pictures and it became normal to bring my digital camera wherever I went. A few years went by and I stopped taking pictures. I've decided to get back into it and was faced with a choice. Should I buy a DSLR or a Micro Four Thirds?

I decided to get back into photography because I missed it. It was a fun little hobby and the pictures I took brought back many memories. It's fun to look at past photos and reminisce for a while. I also used much of my photos for graphic designing.

Having been out of the photography world for quite some times, there was a lot I needed to catch up on. When I retired from photography, the rated mega-pixel at the time was about 5. Today, regular point and shoots often exceed 10MP. I purchased another point and shoot. It was the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH22. It was great. I felt like I picked up where I left off. After taking lots of snapshots, I wanted more. Don't get me wrong, I love this camera. It is a great point and shoot but I wanted something better. Taking simple photos were fine, but I got bored of it. I wanted to take more than just web optimized pictures. I wanted to move into amateur photography.

I Needed More

A DSLR was a natural path to follow. I didn't need to get a professional DSLR, just an entry level one. The Canon EOS Rebel T2i became my first choice after reading lots of reviews. The T2i(known as the 550D outside the US) is a great DSLR in the $700-$1000 price range. This came with a kit lens of course. If I shop around, I could even find it for less.

Is A DSLR The Answer?

I love the features of a DSLR. When I decided to get back into photography, I was a bit intimidated by all the buttons and menus of a DSLR. I settled on a point and shoot and I don't regret it one bit. Now, I needed to take the next step. I love the controls of a DSLR. After taking hundreds of shots with my Lumix DMC-FH22, I got bored. All of the shots look pretty much the same. I wanted more control. A DSLR will give me that control. I want the ability to open up the aperture and create buttery smooth blurs instead of that artificial stuff you do with Photoshop. I wanted to take good low light photos without digitally removing noise via post-production.

Canon T2i (550D)
Canon T2i (550D)

Obviously, a DSLR has its benefits. Superior low light performance. Speed. More control. Just an overall better quality camera compared to a point and shoot. There's a few things that turned me off. The price and the bulk. An entry level DSLR will run anywhere from $600-$1000. That's much more expensive than my $160 point and shoot. I suppose this is to be expected. DSLR's have never been cheap. The other problem I have with DSLR's is the size. They are bulky. With my small point and shoot, I can easily drop it in my pocket and forget it was there. This means I will be able to take it wherever I went. With a large DSLR, it's much harder to bring it with me. I can't help but feel like a tourist carrying around a DSLR everywhere I went. I'll have to be in a “shooting mode” in order to carry around a bulky DSLR. Other than that, it's much easier to leave it at home.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1
Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF1

My Other Option

My other option is a Micro Four Thirds camera. The Micro Four Thirds(MFT) is a new standard created by Olympus and Panasonic. I'll spare the technicalities as that can be wiki'ed easily. Basically, it is a standard that is “almost” as good as a DSLR but not quite. The sensor is smaller and the image quality is not as good. There are some more disadvantages. The MFT standard exposes the sensor to dust whenever you are changing the lens. Because of how this standard is designed, it is not possible to use a through-the-lens optical viewfinder. Instead, the MFT standard only allows for a digital viewfinder. Aside for some other minor differences, the main thing that separates MFT and a standard DSLR is image quality. MFT cameras actually produce great images. If you are a pro level photographer, you will notice a difference but for me, a MFT is fine. It's not often that people can spot artifacts over a web optimized image.

GF1 vs Nikon D700
GF1 vs Nikon D700

Size Does Matter

The main advantage of a MFT camera is it's size or rather lack of. They're still larger than compact digital cameras, but much smaller than a full blown DSLR. This will allow me to take the camera more often than I would with a DSLR. If you don't know what a MFT camera look like, imagine a large compact digital camera. That's basically, how they look. The small size is mainly due to its design. MFT cameras do not have a mirror and prism. This makes them smaller and lighter than their DSLR brothers. Although they lack a true optical viewfinder, the electronic viewfinders can give real time previews of white balance and exposure. This electronic viewfinder can also artificially add more light making it easier to view in low light conditions. Although MFT beats DSLR in size, they are still relatively expensive. A standard MFT camera with kit lens will run about the same price as an entry level DSLR. About $600-1000 new.

The Stealth Approach

I am a conservative person. I like my privacy. With a DSLR snapping shot after shot, I can imagine it bringing unwanted attention. I mean, how would you feel if someone with a big clunky DSLR is taking pictures of you? Now imagine a smaller MFT. You still might want to punch me in the face but they still feel much less threatening. People usually treat MFT cameras the same as they would a compact point and shoot. Being able to bring the camera anywhere and take pictures freely is what I rather have. I'm not convinced that I need a DSLR. A MFT camera is comparable in terms of image quality albeit not as well. The compact size and portability makes up for it. My work keeps me online so I want to have a camera that scales well with the web. I don't need to print out pictures so the quality of a DSLR is not really needed. A DSLR will probably last me longer since I can always upgrade the lens and the market is more established but I think I will enjoy a MFT better. I rather have the camera with me and take a shot than to regret that my camera is at home because I was too lazy to carry it.

No one will notice me!
No one will notice me!

Which 1 Is Right For You?

You should get a DSLR if you plan to be more serious with photography. There are more lens available and the potential image quality is greater than a MFT camera. there's also more options available for you to choose from. The Nikon D90 is also a good choice if you are looking at an entry DSLR. A MFT camera is still a great alternative. They have proven to be very good in terms of image quality and practicality. They are more compact than a DSLR which makes them great for portability. You should get a MFT camera if you value portability. Potential image quality will not be as good as a DSLR but it can still hold its own with it's relatively large sensor. Although the selection is growing, currently, you are limited to choosing either a Panasonic or an Olympus. The Olympus PEN E-PL2 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF2 are the latest MFT cameras available today.

Final Thoughts

If you're like me and want to move up from a point and shoot, a DSLR or a MFT are both very viable options. Specs look good on paper but other variables like real life usage might be a deciding factor. For me, it was portability. You may not care for a small camera. In that case, get a DSLR with no regrets! Sony and Samsung have made mirror-less cameras also but they are not MFT. They use larger APS-C sized sensors that is common on standard DSLR's. It's fair to mention these as potential options if you are looking to step up from your compact digital. Thanks for reading.

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    • AJReissig profile image

      Alex J. Reissig 5 years ago from New Richmond, Ohio

      I considered the 4/3 format, but instead went with the Sony A-55. While not quite as compact, it is still pretty small for a dslr, and allows me to still use the sony/minolta lenses I already have.

      Great hub though; very well thought out!

    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 6 years ago

      Roel, the picture of the D90 next to the m43 is for size comparison and I can see where your comment is coming from.

      To this day, m43 cameras remain very expensive in comparison to DSLRs. We use a GH2 and it is much smaller than my t1i. I think for the consumer market, m43 is the future. You're right. You should really ask for help when picking out an expensive camera. 500 or so bucks isn't much for one but it is for someone just getting into the DSLR market. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Roel 6 years ago

      I understand the difficulty in making the right choice.

      However, when you talk about portability and size of a DSLR, you compare a four thirds against a D700 which is a professional class DSLR and an entry level

      On the subject of costs, you can get a entry level DSLR like the Nikon D3100 with kitlens for 550 dollars

      The Nikon d3100 is a true entrylevel SLR, the D90 is not in my opinion. It is one class above.

      So, when you try to make a choice, please ask at the store what is right for you

    • Adroit Alien profile image

      Adroit Alien 6 years ago

      Very nice photos Jan, You are very talented. Actually, I would recommend you getting a DSLR. You seem to have an eye for good composition. Maybe even make $$.

    • profile image

      Jan W 6 years ago

      Hey thank you for writing this article, i have bought myself hte lumix dmc g3 and its really good i think, the image quality is quite as good as my friends' dslr cameras.

      check out my pictures if you need reference. no photoshopping done at all.

    • profile image

      Y.C. 6 years ago

      Thanks, I really enjoyed the reading.


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