Shallow Depth of Field with M4/3

This article shares a selection of flower images and discusses some of the techniques that can be used to achieve shallow depth-of-field with M4/3 camera gear.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO-400, subject distance 860 mm

We should begin this article by stating upfront that it is absolutely possible to create shallow depth-of-field when using M4/3 camera gear. In fact, it is quite easy to do.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO-400, subject distance 810 mm

So much of the sensor size/shallow depth-of-field discussion seems nonsensical to me. It’s like asking two musicians to play the same song with their instruments. One musician has a piano, the other a guitar.

They both play the tune well, then the second musician is criticized because their version didn’t sound like a piano. The point is to be able to play the song… not to have them sound identical. This is at the heart of the pointless full frame versus M4/3 comparisons. They are different tools that can each be used to reach a similar destination.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO-250, subject distance 815 mm

Regardless of the camera gear that you may own, and the sensor inside your camera, there are three things that you can do that affect depth-of-field. You can change the focus distance to the subject. Change the focal length of your lens. And, change the aperture of your lens.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/2500, ISO-320, subject distance 720 mm

A wider angle focal length lens will always have more depth-of-field than a longer focal length telephoto lens when shot at the same aperture. This holds true regardless of the camera format.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-200, subject distance 780 mm

Knowing these simple guidelines enables us to use our M4/3 camera gear to create shallow depth-of-field… as you can see with the first five images in this article.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/1250, ISO-200, subject distance 700 mm

One of the best tools we can have in hand to create shallow depth-of-field is a fast, constant aperture telephoto zoom lens with a short minimum focusing distance. The lens that I immediately grab when I know I want to create shallow depth-of-field with my M4/3 kit is the M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8. I also reach for my Kenko extension tubes… but more on that a bit later.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO-800, subject distance 730 mm

If you check the EXIF data on the images that you’ve viewed thus far, you’ll see that I used a focal length of 150 mm (efov 300 mm) for all of the photographs. I did that purposely as longer focal lengths will always have less depth-of-field than wider focal lengths. And, I kept my aperture set at f/2.8 as that setting produces more shallow-depth-field. You’ll also notice that I got in fairly close to my subjects.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-200, subject distance 725 mm

So, creating shallow depth-of-field with your M4/3 gear is really simple when you remember those three things. Get in close. Use a long focal length. And, a fast aperture. Obviously composition comes into play. Choosing subjects that are more distant from the background in your compositions is also important.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-400, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

There may be times when you want even more shallow depth-of-field with your M4/3 gear. When you do… reach for some extension tubes. As you can see in the image above, shortening our minimum focusing distance when using extension tubes helps us create even more shallow depth-of-field.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-400, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

When using extension tubes it is critical to be able to focus on a very precise point in your composition. So, using a single auto-focus point is highly recommended.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-800, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

We can even isolate an individual stamen in a flower or other small details when using a single auto-focus point.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/320, ISO-320, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

When viewing the above image, you’d have no way of knowing that the background that I chose for this composition was the solar blanket on my pool. As noted earlier, shortening the focusing distance reduces depth-of-field. This can completely mask the background in an image.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-1000, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

Achieving shallow depth-of-field with M4/3 camera gear (and other format systems) is simple to do when you remember three things. Get in close. Use a long focal length. And, shoot with a fast aperture.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 @ 150 mm, efov 300 mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO-200, Kenko 10 mm and 16 mm extension tubes used

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4 thoughts on “Shallow Depth of Field with M4/3”

  1. Nailed it! Distance, focal length, aperture — those are the determining factors.

    Need less DoF? Change one or more of those three parameters! Simple! I don’t know why some people insist you need to change your entire camera system at a loss of perhaps thousands of dollars, in order to get shallow DoF!

    “Tiz a lazy craftsman who blames his tools…”

  2. Tom,
    Thanks for another great article. Did you measure or estimate the “subject distance” you listed on several of your images?
    Jack

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the article Jack!

      The distance to subject is provided in the EXIF data with my E-M1X. I can view this via Windows explorer when I open up a jpeg that was created from a processed RAW file. One of our readers (John TKA) uses ExifToolGUI to view expanded EXIF data with his E-M1 Mark III.

      Tom

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