One of the common criticisms of M43 is the formats in ability to produce really shallow and dreamy Bokeh or the common interpretation of what shallow depth of field (DOF) is.
If the designers of photographic gear were to start from scratch (as the consortium responsible for Four Thirds and then M43 basically did), ignoring their legacy of 35mm film format (itself a format born of convenience only), then their choices are many. None are perfect, all have strengths and weaknesses.
The right amount of DOF is subjective. Many modern portraitists are interested in very shallow DOF as a modern fashion and strong creative tool.
Like a lot of fashions, this is in direct opposition to past techniques in the same field. Many early photographers, right up to the 2000’s regularly cursed shallow DOF limitations forced on them by slow films, cumbersome lighting rigs, mediocre fast lens performance and far too finicky focussing requirements (and sometimes the needs of even larger formats). Many top portraitist would call f8 dangerously shallow DOF!
Personally, I more often than not struggle to get the required DOF in many of my images, even with the perceived benefit of extra DOF when using M43. What I do appreciate, is the usability of all of the apertures available to me. Even with M43, I prefer f2.8 to a wider aperture.
All images EM5 mk1.
The new Olympus (and older Panasonic Leica) f1.2 lenses offer comparable DOF to f1.8 lenses in the same effective full frame focal lengths, so are still usable for more than semi-gimmicky super shallow “Bokeh monster” ff 1.2 lens and can therefore be used at their maximum apertures on a more regular basis. Olympus has even gone to great lengths to make the background even more cohesive and inclusive by furthering their practical application of “feathered” Bokeh.
On the flip-side, even the M43 advantage can sometimes not help enough. My 300mm f6.7 slow zoom regularly surprises me with how little error room I have.
Would I like the DOF of a full frame again after using m43?
No, not really. Actually, no thanks.
For portraits, I prefer a more gentle transition than the fashionable fast drop off look. personally, I find smoother and slower transition far less distracting and limiting than faster DOF drop off. It seems that most of the portrait images I grew up appreciating had more DOF than I realised. We associate f1.8 on a portrait focal length with good portrait technique, when many working pro’s would seldom use a wider aperture than f4.
The wide aperture style also tends to create flatter looking images and to further increase Bokeh, subject to background distances are often increased, reducing environmental connection. Often the most moving images of people I have witnessed included more than a little situational context. Lack of context equals lack of story, equals a subject without support or connection. Far too many portraits (for my tastes anyway) have become head shots with pleasantly blurred but irrelevant back drops.
For landscapes, there is no practical difference in the field. My f11 is the full framers f22, but that allows me shorter shutter speeds at identical ISO settings.
I can even resist the lure of super fast lenses, although I would like a little more speed at longer focal lengths (a 200 f2.8 maybe?) and I do miss my 40-150 Pro a little bit sometimes.
In low light, I have no fear of using the widest apertures available to me. This gives me a 2 stop (shutter speed/ISO) DOF advantage over the full frame user (who has other high ISO advantages), often evening out the equation, except a M43 lens is effectively twice as long.
Add to the above, the accuracy of mirrorless focus and the seemingly effortless wide open quality of M43 lenses and the DOF advantage of full frame cameras can seem less enticing.