Feature photo by pittaya. Photo above by Ole1981

Documentary photographer Ryan Libre demystifies the latest in camera technology. Learn how to be a travel journalist — check out the curricula at MatadorU today.

As a professional photographer, I place very high demands on gear in terms of quality, flexibility and full features. Now with the new Micro Four Thirds system, it seems I can get 95% of those things with only half the size and weight of an average DSLR camera.

Here are a few facts to know about Micro Four Thirds cameras.

It has an interchangeable lens system.

You are not limited to the built-in zoom range of a point and shoot camera, and you’re also not weighed down by the bulk of a DSLR. Even the best built-in zoom lenses on compact cameras can’t shoot wider than 28mm and do not have apertures wider than F/ 2.8. With a Micro 4/3rd, you can use the Panasonic 20mm F/ 1.7 fast lens to capture great shots at night or a Olympus 7-14mm wide angle zoom lens to get all your friends in the group photo.

It is an open format.

This means that any lens can work on any camera body regardless of manufacturer. You now have access to a larger variety of lenses available and you can be sure the camera system will not go defunct because a single company closes shop.

Photo by bfishadow

There is no shutter sound

Part of the reason the Micro 4/3rds is so small is because it doesn’t use a mirror; similar to the expensive Leica camera system.

An added benefit is its noiseless shutter which makes it perfect for street, travel and documentary photography.

It has a 2X crop factor.

This means that when a lens says 20mm, it is actually shooting at 40mm in the traditional 35mm sense. Most DSLRs have a 1.5 crop factor.

The benefit of this is they can make a 55-200mm zoom that is tiny and affordable but actually lets you shoot to 400mm.

The 4/3rds sensor size means more effective use of your lens and more photo size options.

Most DSLRs have a 2/3 sensor that is rectangular in shape. Camera lenses are circular so all the area outside the rectangle is essentially wasted. The 4/3 format is closer to a square and uses more of the images the lens is capturing.

Smaller Camera = Smaller Everything

Because the sensor format is redesigned and the mirror is taken out, you can get very compact camera bodies. But the true benefits really start to show when you see how small the lenses are. Smaller lenses mean smaller filter sizes, and lower prices. This also means half the battery size and a smaller tripod. It all adds up to a much lighter, more affordable, and more portable camera bag as well as less intrusive photo-taking.

There are two (2) body types to choose from.

You can choose from the really small flat bodies that are about the size of a deck of cards or a larger body with a hand grip and a few more features. Or you could buy both for the price of one semi- pro DSLR body and carry them both or bring just one out for different shooting occasions.

The availability of various accessories is currently expanding.

A few accessories available now are various flashes that work wirelessly, external microphone adapters, and external view finders. Many photojournalists and wildlife photographers have been using the Micro 4/3rds system for several years already.

You can control depth of field

No matter how solid a compact camera is, they will always have nearly unlimited depth of field. This means that almost everything within a scene is in focus all the time. Though the Micro 4/3rds format is smaller then some point-and-shoot cameras, it gives you a lot of control over how much of the photo you want in focus, thus allowing you to control depth of field.

*In the MatadorU Travel Photography course, you’ll learn the skills you need to become a travel photographer.