Advice on picking an older micro 3/4 camera.
February 2, 2018 6:54 PM   Subscribe

I’m considering seeing if I can pick up an older micro 3/4 camera used. I have 2 cannon DSLRs, and I love them, but it’s a pain to travel with because of the size of the body and lens. I was playing with a friend’s Panasonic lumix gf1, and realized something like that could fill the “need glass, but not always a big camera” when traveling. Looking for used to same some money.

I know little of micro 3/4 cameras, like issues that might exist regarding compatibility of lenses or not, etc. I am pretty comfortable with DSLRs (and SLRs). I’ve currently got a cannon 30d and 60d. My hope right now is to find someone selling a set used, on the cheaper side of things, so I can try out the camera system and see if it really is useful to me.

I’m not sure how “old” I should be looking for. What’s gonna be too old, and what is going to be pricy still. I don’t know which makes I should be looking at, and certainly not the model. But for example, I don’t mind if it can’t take perfect night shots in low light like some of the modern high-iso cameras. Decent megapixel would be nice, but it doesn’t have to be close to the top end of the range. Printing a nice 8x10 would likely be good enough.

Please share your experience and suggestions for this type of camera. Thank you!
posted by [insert clever name here] to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Big fan of the Lumix ones. They have many Leica lenses. Never been sure if they are just branded that way or what, but I don't think Leica would lend out their IP for shit lenses.
posted by sanka at 6:58 PM on February 2, 2018

What's your budget? You can certainly save money by buying an older camera body, but the lenses tend to hold their value pretty well.
posted by halogen at 7:56 PM on February 2, 2018

You can get adapters to use just about any lens with any micro 4/3 camera
posted by lollusc at 7:57 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Honestly, there are so many good cameras produced in recent years it's hard to go wrong. Any major brand camera that had good reviews when new within the last 4 or 5 years will still produce good images today. As far as megapixel count, unless you anticipate having to crop your images a lot, anything 12 mp or higher will produce great 8x10s. (In fact, I've printed 20x30 inch images I shot with my Nikon D40 6 MP camera years ago with good results.)

I'd look for the features you consider important, like lens availability, handling, etc. and look within your budget for cameras that meet that criteria.

I'm not sure what your budget is, but Lumix cameras, as mentioned, are very good. Also consider the Sony a5000. You might also consider some recent higher end "point and shoot" cameras, misnomer, really, because the good ones allow full control as well as point and shoot simplicity. My main camera is a Nikon DSLR, but I regularly my Fuji X20 and Pentax MX-1. They have smaller sensors than a 4/3, short zoom non-changeable lenses, but produce great images, have super-macro mode, and handle great.

When you narrow it down, search Flickr for images taken with the cameras you're interested in to check out image quality and other info about them.
posted by The Deej at 8:01 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Check out the Canon mirrorless, I have an M10 and the 22mm lens and it's pocketable, literally. I love it. Why Canon? Because the lenses are affordable, a good balance of size vs function and with the APS-C sensor and a $40 adapter you can use your existing EFS and EF lenses on there. So for the price of a camera body, the 50mm 1.8 ELS lens you already have, a $40-200 adapter you have a tiny body with two very useful fast primes that you can take 90% of your photos with in a small package. The other EFM lenses are slow but surprisingly good. And tiny. And silent. And cheap. You can get a used 55-200 for under $200 or an 18-150 for the same or the very excellent 11-22 for around $300-400. They're aren't super fast but anything bigger or faster than that and you may as well shoot SLR as you are not saving any weight and lose ergonomics with the small cameras.

I looked at all the systems (I'm a Nikon SLR person so open playing field on small cameras) and this was the best one I thought for a carry everywhere camera. Didn't like the Sony colors or prices and the lens are laughably expensive for crop lenses. Ditto for Fuji but less so, they were the runner up. Nikon had too small a sensor for me to invest plus their menus are so annoying. Olympus an Pentax are really nice but I could get a bigger sensor in a smaller package in Canon. I'd look through Flickr albums for each model, the colors are quite different. I know people who shoot Sony and love the colors and it definitely works for their aesthetic but that's personal preference.

Having said that the autofocus in the M10/ M100 sucks for moving objects so you'll likely want to go for a somewhat newer/ higher end body. I plan to upgrade to a used M5 here this month because I want a viewfinder but the M6 is the same camera but cheaper. 24MP. They have dual pixel etc AF and are supposed to be basically an 80D in a smaller body.
posted by fshgrl at 9:11 PM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Depending on how cheap you want to go, I'd be inclined to avoid the twelve megapixel generation, not so much for the pixels in the later sixteen megapixel models, but because they have better metering, focus etc.

I myself prefer the Panasonic menus, some people really love the Olympics colours, however. You could get a used omd em5 quite cheaply, which represented a noticeable step up in quality when it came out about six or seven years ago. Panasonic cameras from around the same time are likewise fine.

I only stopped shooting with my g5 which is seven years old I think this year. Quality was fine, I only upgraded for features like wireless panorama etc.

Id be looking at second hand GM models if I were you. They are insanely small.

Let us know your budget.
posted by smoke at 9:13 PM on February 2, 2018

Also to add to my post, do consider a good point and shoot. I have a Canon Powershot S95 which is about 9, maybe?, years old and I've printed 10x13" and one 10x20' print from it and they look great! From Costco! Good enough to hang on my wall. I was surprised too. I'm sure the new ones are much better and they are truly pocketable.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 PM on February 2, 2018

My little lumix was like $100 new with a nice short profile lenses a few years ago, how much cheaper do you need to go? Lumix are gold, grab one and have fun.
posted by Iteki at 11:55 PM on February 2, 2018

Knowing your budget would help a lot, but since the main reason you gave for M4/3 was size, I'll only half-apologize for suggesting a trailing generation FujiFilm X-T1 or X-T10, which would tick the "compact" box, but with Fujifilm's X-mount, which will affect lens availability.

Both models are inexpensive by now, but take very nice pictures. Given an upcoming Fujifilm X-series release mid-month, a lot of them might be hitting the used market (or even X-T2s, the next generation). Of the T1 and T10, The X-T1 is the higher end model and offers more manual control.

The f2 "Fujicron" lenses (23mm, 35mm) are compact, weather resistant, and relatively inexpensive (for the line), and there's a less well reviewed but generally fine 27mm/f2.8 pancake for maximum size savings.

Personally, I think the Fujifilm cameras are more fun than others I've owned. You get plenty of manual control, they're weather resistant and feel very solid, the film simulations are useful, and there's a decent variety of lenses (though not a lot of inexpensive ones, except a few manual focus Rokinons).

On the downside, there's poorer lens selection overall compared to M4/3.
posted by mph at 12:34 AM on February 3, 2018

I know little of micro 3/4 cameras, like issues that might exist regarding compatibility of lenses or not, etc

As far as I know, there are only two companies making m4/3, Olympus and Panasonic, and their lenses are cross compatible. The only caveat to that is that Panasonic tends to build image stabilization into the lenses, Olympus into the sensor, so if you get a Panasonic and use an Olympus lens, you might end up with no stabilization. There are other DSLMs, but they aren't m4/3, and to use any of those lenses you'd need an adapter.

Agreed with other posters that 12MP is plenty for what you're talking about, but also that there are other reasons to consider newer models if you can afford it. That said, I've got a Lumix GF3 that I got because it was about the smallest form factor available on the market at the time, not the best (though not poor) on any other metric, and I'm perfectly happy with it, even though I mostly shoot on Olympus lenses which means as noted above no image stabilization, and I don't use a tripod. I don't print my photos though, and I suspect few (but not none) of them would look great if I tried. The shots I get with my Panasonic lens usually look fine at 8x10 though.
posted by solotoro at 5:21 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Adding to what solotoro said -

Micro four thirds (m43) sensors come in 12, 16 and 20mb with varieties of each. I've owned 3 different Oly OMD bodies (dropped one, one died, the current is healthy) all with 16mb sensor. My backup body is Oly's first m43 camera, the E-PL1 with a 12mb sensor. In good light with a prime lens, it's hard to tell the difference between shots with 12 & 16mb sensors and the same lens. In low light, there is a significant difference in the shadows.

Oly's naming convention on the non OMD models is E-P# - premium line, E-PL# - mid line, E-PM# - smaller, lighter and easier to use. Basic physical details at

But you wanted recommendations. First, avoid the OMD EM5. It breaks. It's the most unreliable of the OMDs. They couldn't even design a viewfinder cup that would stay on. Second, I prefer OLY for the inbody IS so I don't know much about Panny. The Panny GX-7 was discontinued recently. My friend is totally happy with his. The Panny GM bodies were the smallest m43 bodies. They're discontinued. Consensus was the controls were hard to manipulate by adult men with avearge size hands or larger. Plus the battery life was poor.

And it must be mentioned that almost everyone hates the Oly menus at first. There is a learning curve but PLENTY of online guides for it.

If you're an enthusiast I'd start with a E-P# body. But there isn't a bad one in the E-P(anything) bunch. However, there are 3 generations of LCD screens. It's easier to evaluate images with the newer models.

If you can find a used E-P(anything) kit with either a Panny 20mm f1.7 or an Oly 45mm f1.8, buy it because the only reason not to love those lenses is because you don't like the focal lengths. Oh, in full frame terms the 20mm m43 lens is a 40mm, the 45mm is a 90mm.
posted by Homer42 at 5:51 AM on February 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oops. Forgot to add this. A M43 specific forum has the Native Lens Sample Image Showcase of users photos. Separate threads for each lens.
posted by Homer42 at 5:57 AM on February 3, 2018

Seconding the Canon mirrorless. The 22mm f/2 is very nice and very small, and makes a good walking-around setup. Add Canon's EF-to-EFM adapter, you can use any of the other Canon lenses you already own.
posted by bradf at 8:40 AM on February 3, 2018

Personally I’d avoid any of the 12 megapixel m43 cameras simply because they might be too old. Olympus has been selling 16 megapixel cameras for a few years now, and you should be able to pick up an “old” one for a reasonable amount of money. I’m still happy with my OM-D E-M1 and PEN E-P5 and I think they were released four years ago.

Between Olympus and Panasonic there are plenty of models to choose from. Olympus cycles its PEN Lite series (E-PL#) pretty regularly although the base specs don’t seem to change much. They’re about to release the E-PL9, which is rumored to pick up the new quick menu interface introduced in the OM-D E-M10 iii (aimed at beginners and hobbyists), but otherwise probably still the same sensor they’ve been using since the E-PL5. Panasonic, on the other hand, cycles its GF line in pretty much the same way.

If you just want to test the waters I’d get one of those two series, choosing based on ergonomics, your preference of image stabilization, and maybe JPEG quality of that matters to you (Olympus has a really good JPEG engine but lousy, complicated menus; Panasonic cameras are maybe easier to pick up, but sometimes criticized for their JPEG output, with “plastic” or “waxy” skin or “aggressive sharpening”).

Basic lens compatibility is great across the board. If you get an older Panasonic without in-body stabilization (IBIS, in the lingo) you’ll only get the benefit of stabilization if it’s built into the lens. Some newer Panasonic bodies have IBIS, and it’s been a major selling point for Olympus for a while. If you want to adapt SLR lenses you’ll have better luck focusing if you step up to the OM-D E-M1, since it has better focus aids than the smaller bodies do.

Fuji and Sony bodies are indeed also great, but if you’re concerned about size and weight the smaller image circle of m43 makes for smaller, lighter lenses. I’m regularly tempted by Fuji’s X100 series as a one and done thing without any lens swaps. Canon’s mirrorless lineup was crippled and noted for terrible focus until the release of the EOS-M5 and M6, so the earlier models aren’t very attractive and those two are probably too new to be available cheap.

In conclusion: for lightest weight go for a 16 megapixel PEN Lite or GF. If you want lighter but not necessarily lightest, look at the Canon M5 or M6, Sony, or Fuji.
posted by fedward at 9:33 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently decided to go all in on small cameras and looked at a lot of the above. One very useful site is called camerasize comparison. It lets you look at the size of various cameras WITH the lenses attached. Here are some of the suggestions above with a walk around wide to medium zoom (f4 - f3.5-6) attached.

Here they are with something approximating a 40-50mm (in 35mm format) fast prime (f1.4-f2) attached. Not a direct comparison (Sony also has a nice pancake lens) but interesting.

With a fast prime portrait lens (70-90mm FF equivalent f1.8-2).

Hover over each camera to see what lens is attached and click on it to see what lenses are available and to attach them. Unfortunately it doesn't have the price as some of them are jaw-dropping.

Once you start playing with the zooms or longer lenses you might use (keeping crop factor in mind) it becomes apparent which one you want.

As an aside, firmware updates fixed much of the focus issues on some of the earlier Canon mirrorless cameras, but not mine alas. You can check that online. Also for landscapes etc it doesn't matter and they do have AF+MF mode with focus peaking in Very Bright Red, which works for me most of the time. I wasn't blown away by any of the AF on the small cameras. None of them are great in modern terms. For sports I'd stick to an SLR for sure.
posted by fshgrl at 11:00 AM on February 3, 2018

I made the exact move you're contemplating. Went with an Olympus E-PM2, and tried out a bunch of lenses. My travel kit is that body, a Panasonic 20mm 1.7 prime, and the Olympus 45mm 1.8, sometimes the cheap 40-150mm if I need zoom. I think it all cost me something like $3-400 used, all in. So much lighter - at this point, you couldn't pay me to pack a dSLR.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:54 AM on February 4, 2018

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