I often get asked this question as many people are told that you need a full frame camera to do portraiture to get adequately shallow depth of field and nice bokeh blurred backgrounds.
This might apply if you are shooting wide angle lenses but once you hit standard focal lengths and longer, Micro Four Thirds cameras are very adequate indeed – IF you are using a wide aperture lens such as the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7, Olympus mZD 25mm f/1.2, Olympus 25mm f/1.8, Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2, Olympus 45mm f/1.8, Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8 or even the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8 when used at 135-150mm.
A world famous portrait photographer, Sean Archer started off with Micro Four Thirds, and was encouraged to migrate to full frame dSLR which he did, but he is now back using Micro Four Thirds and the Olympus 45mm and 75mm f/1.8 lenses.
I have blogged before of Sean’s beautiful work here.
The Olympus OM-D cameras offer a few major advantages over full frame dSLRs for portraiture:
- image stabilisation with prime lenses allowing you to shoot at slower shutter speeds such as in low light or with fill in flash
- more compact and light – you are more likely to take it with you and not intimidate your subjects
- near silent – great for ceremonies, concerts, and anywhere else where a noisy dSLR is not welcome
- closest eye detection AF for superbly sharp autofocus on the closest eye one of the most desirable features of a portrait (although not 100% reliable but much better than a dSLR, and your subject’s eye does not need to be near the centre of the image as with a dSLR AF point)
There are some downsides compared with a full frame dSLR:
- AF is not so good for moving subjects unless you get a Panasonic G85 or Olympus OM-D E-M1 mark II
- the near silent shutter can work against you if shooting models – they can’t hear when you have got the shot
- the cameras don’t look as big and heavy to be “professional” – never-mind, just carry a few with battery grips attached and external flashes
- less able to gain shallow DOF with wide angle lenses
- less able to gain super shallow “arty” DOF – don’t worry, most professionals won’t use this for portraiture as you don’t get the ear to nose in focus which is what is desirable for most portraits
- ability to use standard f/2.8 zoom lenses for adequate shallow DOF portraits (the Olympus mZD 12-40mm f/2.8 won’t give you the shallow DOF you want)
My favourite lens for portraiture is the Olympus mZD 75mm f/1.8:
Here are some examples from a workshop I ran on a sunny day outdoors without reflectors or flashes to show that you don’t need a full frame dSLR to get beautiful imagery.
You can see more outdoor sunny day portraits of mine using this lens at this blog post.
One can use the Olympus mZD 40-150mm f/2.8:
The Olympus mZD 45mm f/1.8 makes for a nice light, compact portrait lens:
Zombies shot outdoor with an off-camera Orbis Ring Flash attached to an Olympus flash with a orange filter on:
For social events, I love the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 pancake:
Camera, lens and bounce flash kit all fit in a couple of coat pockets!
Here the camera automatically focused on the closest face which is well to the left of what the AF points on most dSLRs would be able to detect, but not an issue with a mirrorless camera!
For Olympus users, they may prefer the larger and newer Olympus 25mm f/1.8 lens with faster AF, or, if you have the money, the very expensive but superb Olympus 25mm f/1.2 lens.
see more of these here.
With Micro Four Thirds, there is a large range of lenses, but if you want shallow depth of field, you do need to choose a wide aperture lens such as f/1.2 – f/1.8 or f/2.8 if focal length is longer than 135mm.