Which digital SLR is best to compliment the almost mandatory Micro Four Thirds kit?

Written by Gary on January 17th, 2010

My previous post lists the pros and cons of Micro Four Thirds camera system.

Perhaps the next question is – which dSLR is best to compliment the almost mandatory M43 kit?

Every photographer will have their own special needs which will sway their final choice, but reasons to add a complimentary dSLR include:

  • substantially better image quality at high ISO or really shallow depth of field – if this is your main aim, it doesn’t make much sense to go for a cropped sensor camera as the gain is quite marginal – better to go for a full frame or Canon 1D.
  • substantially better sports AF and burst rate performance – a Canon 1D, Olympus E3/E5 or Nikon pro dSLR, Canon 7D or Nikon D300s
  • a particular lens-camera combination such as Nikon 85mm f/1.4, Canon 135mm f/2.0L, Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
  • 20+ megapixel full frame – are you sure you want 20+mp? – oh well – try Canon 5DMII or very expensive Nikon or cheaper Sony
  • weather-proofing – most recent pro dSLRs are weatherproofed
  • better remote TTL flash system – perhaps over-rated as manual flash is more reliable in complex scenarios, but most dSLR systems have good remote TTL flash options although Nikon is arguably the best, while wireless remote TTL with PocketWizards gets more support for Canon, and none for Olympus at present.
  • compatibility – obviously, Olympus Four Thirds dSLRs offer the maximum compatibility, then Canon as their flash system can be used in manual mode.
  • tilt-shift lenses at wide angle – full frame Canon or Nikon dSLR (you can use tilt shift on cropped sensors including M43 but you don’t get the wide angle that you can on full frame)

Some suggestions of dSLRs:

  • Olympus E5 when it comes out his year:
    • will provide TTL flash and Four Thirds lens compatibility
    • adds at least 5fps burst rate, weather-proofing, and beautiful Four Thirds lenses such as 150mm f/2.0 (ie. 300mm f/2.0), 35-100mm f/2.0 (ie. 70-200mm f/2.0) or 14-35mm f/2.0 (28-70mm f/2.0), allow remote TTL flash
    • the ZD 50mm f/2.0 macro lens is a superb lens optically and makes a fantastic manual focus macro lens on the M43 cameras with superbly fast manual focus on the Panasonic cameras.
    • Olympus menu structures and buttons should be more similar as on Olympus M43 cameras which makes for ease of use.
    • Olympus will be bring out more contrast detect AF compatible Four Thirds lenses which allow faster AF on M43 cameras.
    • Thus, rather than replace Olympus Four Thirds dSLRs, M43 may actually make having this system even more sensible for when you want to use lenses that are just too big for M43, or you want to shoot birds in flight, etc.
    • in the interim, the Olympus E30 may make the most value for money sense although its not weatherproof.
  • Canon 1D Mark IV:
    • 1.3x crop weatherproofed pro sports camera with 10fps and HD video – hard to fault except its big, heavy and expensive
    • can use Canon flash units and cables on the M43 cameras but  TTL capability is not available
    • can use Canon EF lenses on M43 via cheap adapter but must set aperture while on the Canon camera
    • new EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II lens or the much smaller, lighter EF 135mm f/2.0L
    • perhaps a 24mm f/1.4L II lens
    • if you can’t afford this or you need more telephoto reach in a Canon, then a Canon 7D may be an option.
  • Canon 5D Mark II:
    • comments as for 1D Mark IV but 21mp full frame, not weatherproofed and AF is not optimised, but a cost effective full frame option to get full wide angles and nice with a 24mm f/1.4L II lens or 17mm tilt shift lens.
    • if you need weatherproofing, then a very expensive  Canon 1Ds Mark III
  • Nikon pro dSLR:
    • not a great match as nothing much is compatible, and currently the full frame dSLRs are very expensive while HD video is not as good, but they do have some nice new lenses and the flash system is probably the best around.
    • can use Nikon lenses on M43 but the new G ones do not have aperture rings and thus aperture will need to be set on a Nikon camera first – I presume this will work as it does with Canon lenses.
    • eg. Nikon D700 or D3 with 85mm f/1.4 lens, 14-24mm f/2.8, etc.

7 Comments so far ↓

  1. Charles says:

    I’ve thought about this. I’d either go Oly for the reasons you listed above or a 135 sized sensor camera. If there was a reason Oly wasn’t acceptable it would be for high ISO and super narrow depth of field. Canon has a better range of fast primes, Nikon has better high ISO and arguably better zooms. Canons F4 zooms make less sense, as you’d probably bring the m4/3s system with you when you need portability. I’d go with Nikon FX, 14-24, 24-70, 70-200, 50 1.4, 85 1.4 and 135 f2 probably. Wish they had a good wide fast prime with AF. Body is probably the 3DS. I know it wouldn’t get as much use though.

    Telephoto works both ways I guess. Oly has better lightweight (and cheaper) options with big reach, but weaker bodies (at the moment) Guess it depends if ultimate quality is your aim regardless of price, size and weight.

  2. admin says:

    Hi Charles, on a full frame, professionals would stick with their f/2.8 zooms 24-70mm and 70-200mm because they need to be sure they can get what they need.

    The rest of us would get better quality and bokeh opportunities by using a few fast primes to replace these heavy lenses hence 24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4 or 1.8, 135mm f/2.0 and perhaps a 300m f/4.

    The f/4 zooms whilst more portable than their f/2.8 counterparts are closer in image results to M43 lenses and I agree would be less attractive.

    I still want Olympus to make a compact 200mm f/2.8 Four thirds lens because this is where their strength is – hand holdable wide aperture telephoto reach.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree, but if you are going dual system and not getting at least one or two of their best lenses I’d ask why you are doing it in the first place. If I needed light and fast I’d get some MF primes for M4/3s. I suppose fast wides like canons 24 1.4 don’t exist, but at that price you are getting into pro equipment. If you are going dual better
    to make sure the two setups you buy cover situations and that’s why I picked those options. Realistically you might not use some lenses and money does limit your choices.

    I’d rather see some fast primes over the 200mm, but if it was more compact than the 50-200 I can see it being useful.

  4. admin says:

    I agree there is little point getting a mediocre or slow aperture lens on a full frame – you may as well use your M43 kit.

    Thats why I love the ZD 50-200mm on my E510 to compliment it, plus my Canon 135mm f/2.0L and 17mm tilt shift on my Canon 1D MIII (I don’t shoot sports or birds).

    I just would like a more compact lens than the ZD 50-200mm – and I think a 200mm f/2.8 prime would fit the bill nicely indeed – especially if it was Four Thirds and could CDAF for M43 as well.

  5. admin says:

    and it would be really cool if they brought out a 11 or 12mm f/1.4 M43 lens – that would be awesome but I suspect it will be a slow, crappy f/2.8 🙁

    at least make it f/2.0 to give us another stop of low light capability.

  6. Ned Yeung says:

    My pair, which I absolutely adore, is the Olympus E-P1 Pen for the “essential mFT” system, and the Olympus E-3 for my main professional DSLR.
    This combo is ideal for several reasons… I have on one hand the most compact, portable, high-quality system available, and on the other hand a heavy-duty all-weather pro system which can handle all kinds of inclement weather, long days of shooting with large lenses, good optical viewfinder capabilities, and very efficient controls and external jacks for syncing lights and such.
    The beauty is though, that my expensive Zuiko lenses all fit on my Digital Pen with a simple $200 Panasonic adapter, allowing me to use the innoculous Pen as a second backup body whenever I’m shooting with my E-3… a backup body which I barely even notice in my bag because it’s so small!
    In my opinion, this kind of combination gives me the best of all worlds… If the E-3 could be replaced with an “E-5” or come what may, with the same rugged body but improved TruPic V image processor, that would make the combination beyond perfect. 😉

  7. admin says:

    Hi Ned, I agree with you, that combination is perhaps the most sensible combination, and would be awesome for bushwalking!

    My Canon 1D MIII adds a few features such as 10fps of blurred photos, and a larger sensor, but it is just too heavy and big for longer bushwalks.