Until I went on safari last year, the best camera I had was a Canon point and shoot. I knew I wanted a better camera for the trip, so I started researching DSLRs. I had a few concerns however. One was size and weight. We were going to be traveling in small planes and we had strict weight limits on our luggage. Also, I wanted a camera that I would feel comfortable ‘walking around’ with, and I wasn’t sure that’d be the case if I got a big DSLR. And I wasn’t crazy about spending several thousands of dollars, especially since I was just beginning.
My research quickly took me in the direction of Micro Four-Thirds cameras. M4/3s is a standard for cameras and lenses that’s currently supported by Panasonic and Olympus (plus some additional lens makers). M4/3s cameras are smaller than traditional DSLRs because they’re mirror-less. A traditional DSLR has a mirror inside that directs the light to the viewfinder when focusing. When the shutter is pressed, the mirror swings out of the way exposing the sensor. This takes a lot of room and requires a large camera body. M4/3s cameras do away with the mirror by using an electronic viewfinder. Another factor is lens size. M4/3s cameras have smaller sensors than larger DSLRs. This means that the lenses can be smaller. For example, a 20MM M4/3s lens is equivalent to a 40MM full-frame lens.
Besides size, M4/3s cameras have another advantage; it’s a standard supported by multiple camera makers. Unlike Canon, Nikon and the other traditional DSLR manufacturers, who each have their own incompatible standards, a camera body by Panasonic will work with a lens by Olympus (and vice versa). It greatly appeals to me to have a camera/set of lenses that are supported by multiple major manufacturers.
On deciding that I was interested in a M4/3s camera, I had to pick which one to buy. The Panasonic GH2 had just come out and was receiving great reviews. It was smaller than a normal DSLR, but not as small as a point and shoot. It’d fit in my hand well. I was also interested in video, and the GH2 does great video.
It is true that the best M4/3s cameras don’t yet equal the best in DSLRs, although the quality gap is shrinking. And actually, many people think that the video capabilities of the Panasonic GH2 are as good as or better than the new Canon 5D Mark III, a camera that costs over $2000 more and is considerably larger in size, especially when you factor in the lenses. In my experience, the quality of the GH2 has been more than good enough for my experience level and types of pictures I like to take.
I’m happy with my GH2. It’s the right size for me. I’m confident that because multiple manufacturers support the standard that my lenses will be useful for many years to come, even as I upgrade camera bodies. As we plan our next safari, I look forward to taking it back to Africa.