MFT Rising

The Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system was started by Olympus and Panasonic back in 2008 for mirrorless interchangeable-lens digital cameras. The format contains the same sensor specs as the Four Thirds system, but the MFT design doesn’t have a mirror box and pentaprism, allowing the camera bodies to be even smaller with a shorter flange focal distance (roughly 50%). Because of this reduction, lens manufacturers can create smaller and lighter lenses than typical DSLR lenses.

In 2010, one camera that was going to jumpstart the MFT video world was the Panasonic AG-AF100. But with an oddly shaped, bulky camera body and lack of good MFT lenses, the AF100 never caught on with filmmakers. Full-frame sensors like the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and Super 35mm-sensor cameras like the Sony FS100U ate Micro Four Third’s lunch.

A still from Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color, which was shot with hacked Panasonic GH2 cameras.

This format war was mainly about the sensor. Your typical 4/3-type sensor measures 18×13.5mm, with an imaging area of 17.3x13mm. It’s roughly 30% smaller in area than APS-C-sized sensors and 75% smaller than full-frame ones. One drawback to using a smaller 4/3-type sensor with a similar pixel count, compared with a large full-frame sensor, is the limit of light exposure to the sensor, which usually will result in an increase in noise and a decrease in dynamic range. Also, because of the sensor size, there’s a 2.0x lens crop compared to a full-frame. For example, a 50mm prime lens on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III would have the same field of view as a 100mm lens on an MFT system. Compared with APS-C, the crop factor is 1.5x, which still affects your lens choices. This makes it difficult to shoot wide-angle landscape-style shots on common lenses.

But before you go and write off Micro Four Thirds, there have been a number of new developments and factors that may sway indie filmmakers who are looking for professional-quality video capture. And, more importantly, MFT cameras and lenses won’t break the bank.

THE LUMIX HACK FACTOR

Panasonic (www.panasonic.com) went all in with Micro Four Thirds by releasing an inexpensive Lumix digital camera system that, likepthe Canon EOS 5D Mark II before it, became very attractive to low-budget filmmakers. Released in 2010, the DMC-GH2 is a compact, mirrorless MFT system that contains an electronic viewfinder, a fold-out touch-screen LCD and continuous autofocus while shooting video. What makes the GH2 a good camera solution is its low $900 price point and decent (at the time) bit rate, which captures 1080/30p video at 24 Mbps.

In the past few years, led by Magic Lantern and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, hacking the firmware of your DSLR to obtain high-end digital motion-picture camera features, including RAW capture, has become all the rage on digital filmmaking blogs.

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