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I currently have a Nikon D90 and a few DX and FX lenses. I am thinking about changing to Micro Four Thirds (as it's a drag carrying around a big DSLR all the time, and my most important shoots are on long hikes) and wondering if the mass and bulk savings is meaningful, and if so by how much.

I've done a little tinkering in a spreadsheet and am coming up with a mass savings of 30-40%, and I'm wondering what the real world is like.

[In contrast with the earlier question about Micro Four Thirds, which focuses on the sensor and IQ differences, here I'm more concerned about the (in)convenience level of transporting the gear. Earlier versions of this question were not so clear on that, and I am sorry for the confusion.]

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possible duplicate of What are the disadvantages of a Micro 4/3s camera versus a DSLR? –  mattdm Mar 15 '11 at 2:02
    
I think this is mostly a duplicate of the above-mentioned post. But maybe you could make it more specific? But not so specific as to be useless to others. :) What field of view do you normally shoot with on your long hikes? –  mattdm Mar 15 '11 at 2:06
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"APS-C" actually refers to a sensor size. Did you mean "DSLR" instead then? Consider the Sony NEX cameras which are mirrorless but use an APS-C sensor... –  thomasrutter Mar 15 '11 at 4:36
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Since it got lost in the confusion, I'm gonna repeat myself. :) This is going to depend on what lenses you plan to carry. The Panasonic GH2 + 100-300mm lens weighs 912g; the APS-C Pentax K-r + 40mm pancake weighs 634g. (Of course, the GH2 + pancake is less.) –  mattdm Mar 15 '11 at 12:47
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As a compulsive mountain hiker I know that this is an important question :) Considering the weight of my backpack, the small weight differences you mention are not important. Bulk though, is important, but you know your needs best. But, most importantly, in the mountains it gets wet, so weather resistance is vital, which is why I carry a Pentax K-7. And in hot weather, as I have watched my sweat drip onto my camera, I have been also grateful for its weather resistance. –  labnut Mar 15 '11 at 17:37

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

This question still has no accepted answer, so let me try to answer it more concretely.

Yes, it is. Now, I am sure there are multiple ways of measuring, so observations may vary.

If you are aiming for the least possible weight, each Micro Zuiko lens is usually lighter than nearly all APS-C compatible lenses given an equivalent field of view. There are exceptions on some focal-lengths (like the Pentax 21mm F/3.2) but, when considering a whole set, the size difference is significant.

For an article I am writing, Olympus sent me all their Micro Four-Thirds lenses. So here is a shot of lenses covering the 9 to 300mm (18 to 600mm equivalent) next to a 300mL juice (for scale): Micro Zuiko Lenses covering 9 to 300mm

The lenses here weight a total of 865g: M.Zuiko 9-18mm F/4-5.6, M.Zuiko 15-150mm F/4-5 and M.Zuiko 75-300mm F4.8-6.7.

To cover the equivalent field of view on an APS-C camera, lenses covering 12 to 400mm would be required. The lightest ones I could find weight a total of 1824g: Tamron 10-24mm F/3.5-4.5, Tamron 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3 and the Tokina 80-400mm F/4.5-5.6.

Of course, this is not an exact match. There are slight differences in focal-lengths and maximum aperture. A closer match may be possible (perhaps with small gaps in the range) but I doubt that much coverage can be obtained with lenses taking up about the same space as two 300mL juice bottles.

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I think the easiest way to answer this is visually, using camerasize.com. Your D90 combination is already small and light for dSLRs, so you won't see as much as say, someone using a full frame body and 24-70/2.8 + 70-200/2.8 combo would.

I've swapped out your selection of the EP-2 + viewfinder for an EM-5 (integrated viewfinder: 400g) since used prices are pretty good now. As the Nikon 70-300 isn't in the camerasize database, I used the Sigma 70-300 instead; adjust accordingly.

50mm/1.8 vs. 20/1.7
70-300 vs. 45-200 OIS [450mm vs. 400mm equiv.]
70-300 vs. 100-300 OIS [450mm vs. 600mm equiv.]

The savings do depend upon the individual lenses you're looking at.

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I personally do not think so (based on your description considering mainly bulk and mass). In the film days I had an Advantix DSLR, which was a smaller body that had smaller lenses. While it was lighter and more compact than the more traditionally sized DSLR I have today, I found that generally anything that needs a case means you have around the same level of bulk to deal with around you. For longer hikes weight can certainly be an issue but bulk I think is more of a problem for most people in day to day use.

That is not to discourage you from getting such a system, I just did not find that I ended up carrying a smaller camera system around more often than the larger system I have now, again the savings are mainly in reduction of weight.

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Just for what it's worth, there is an alternative: Sony's NEX series EVIL cameras are pretty much the same size as micro-4/3rds, but have an APS-C sized sensor. They've recently signed up Zeiss, Cosina, Sigma and Tamron to build lenses and generally support the mount they're using, so while it may not have quite as many companies involved, it's still a fair number of solid companies that should provide a pretty reasonable range of lenses. At a guess, there's a pretty fair chance that at least one of those will start to build bodies as well. Like micro-4/3rds, the flange distance is short enough to allow adapters for almost any existing interchangeable lens.

Edit: I should add that IMO, the reduced size and weight of micro-4/3rds is probably less a result of the format change that of eliminating the entire SLR mechanism. A pentaprism is a big, relatively heavy chunk of glass. The mirror and ability to flip it out of the way dictates a minimum distance from the lens to the shutter, and so on.

I think, however, there's one more factor to keep in mind: micro-4/3rds (and non-micro 4/3rds before it) were/are originated primarily by Olympus. Olympus has been placing an emphasis on their cameras being smaller and lighter than the competition for decades. Even back when they were all building full-frame 35mm SLRs, the Olympus OM-1 (for only one example) was substantially smaller and lighter than the Canon F1 or Nikon F. Likewise, for decades Olympus lenses were generally the smallest and lightest in their category, but were still excellent both optically and mechanically.

In APS-C SLRs, Pentax's line is rather similar. They're substantially smaller and lighter than almost anything else, with no compromise in either optical or mechanical quality. That's not to say that a Pentax SLR competes with micro-4/3rds or NEX in size or weight, but it does show that size and weight can often be reduced without changing formats or losing quality.

Edit2: I have to disagree with the claim that NEX 5 lenses will "necessarily" be any larger or heavier than equivalent micro-4/3rds lenses. At least based on current lineups, it looks to me like most weight differences depend more on features and construction than the difference in sensor size.

For example, it's absolutely true that the Olympus 14-140 mm lens is considerably lighter than the Sony 18-200. It's also true that the Sony uses a metal body, includes image stabilization, and every review I've seen says the build quality is extremely good. By contrast, the Olympus uses a plastic body, lacks image stabilization, and about the best anybody seems to be able to say about its build quality is that it doesn't seem to cause any major problem in real use.

If you want image stabilization and better construction you can get that in the Panasonic/Leica 14-150mm lens -- but it also weighs about the same as the Sony (a tiny bit more, AAMOF).

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But do the Sony NEX lenses also end up with reduced weight/bulk? –  mattdm Mar 15 '11 at 13:17
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@mattdm: Yes (unless you use an adapter to fit a full-size lens, of course). At least so far, the overall size/weight of camera/lens is on a par with u4/3rds. The minimal size difference that others have pointed out also means there's relatively little gain in terms of lens size/weight. –  Jerry Coffin Mar 15 '11 at 13:37
    
Well okay then. :) –  mattdm Mar 15 '11 at 13:38

I would just like to add to the NEX comment that while the body is smaller than current mFT cameras, the lenses are necessarily going to be larger and most likely also heavier than mFT lenses of equivalent focal lengths and maximum aperture.

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I can't comment on Jerry Coffin's edits directly, so I'll do it here. Yes, the Olympus lenses lack IS, but that is because Olympus has sensor-based (i.e. in-camera) IS. (Pentax also does this, by the way, and I'm guessing this lets them make slightly smaller lenses than other lenses for APS-cameras.) And while NEX lenses may be comparable in size/weight to some m43-lenses, the smallest possible size you can make NEX lenses is going to be greater than the smallest possible size you can make m43-lenses because the latter has a smaller sensor area to cover. –  skrytebane Mar 15 '11 at 20:30

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