User Guide: Getting the most out of the Olympus E-M5

Richard Butler, Timur Born | Product Reviews & Previews | Published May 7, 2012

Getting the most out of the Olympus E-M5

During the process of preparing the review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 we spent quite a lot of time trying to work out how every little setting worked. Also being in the fairly unusual situation of having tried to describe the menu options of most Olympus cameras over the past couple of years, I thought it'd make sense to share the things I've found, alongside the findings of dilligent E-M5 owner Timur Born.

Some of these are fairly obvious and some are a matter of taste, but they're all things that we think most E-M5 owners will at least want to be aware of. So please join us on a journey through the settings you might want to play with on the E-M5.

Throughout this article, all menus and item names are stated in bold and any symbols in the menus replaced with a [description] in square brackets.

First things first:

When you first insert a battery into the E-M5, it'll try to behave like a DSLR - showing the Super Control Panel settings screen on the back of the camera and using the electronic viewfinder for previewing the image. Which strikes me as odd - one of the main things the E-M5 offers over a DSLR is seamless operation, regardless of whether you shoot with the rear screen or the viewfinder. Pressing the Live View button on the side of the viewfinder hump pushes the camera into live view mode, allowing use of the EVF and rear screen interchangeably.

The other thing you might wish to do, when you enter the menus for the first time, is press 'INFO' to stop the camera hiding most of the screen behind very slightly extended versions of the current menu item's name. If you're ever uncertain about an option's function, you can always hit 'INFO' again, just to see if the lengthier wording helps clarify the matter.

The other thing to remember is that the menus tend to require you to press 'OK' to confirm - it's easy, especially when you're trying to go on an change another setting, to select an option and the press 'left' to move back through the menus, only to find your setting change hasn't stuck.

Jump to:

User interface:

Camera function:

JPEG output:

Shooting movies:

User interface tricks and tips

Enabling the Super Control Panel for fast settings changes

The Super Control Panel is one of our favorite user interfaces - it puts all your key settings on a single screen, making it easy to check or change your setup. On the E-M5 it's been made even better by being made touch sensitive, meaning you can simply hit OK to bring the screen up, tap the setting you wish to change, then spin the dial to change it. Alternatively, you can press 'OK' to see a list of available settings.

Strangely, though, Super Control Panel isn't enabled, by default, in the E-M5's live view settings. We think this is one of the most important single changes you can make for making the shooting experience faster and more enjoyable.

 The Super Control Panel gives easy access to the camera's key settings

To enable the Super Control Panel, you need to go to the '[Camera] Control Settings' option in Custom Menu, section D. From here you can decide which user interface is available in the difference exposure modes. You can have more than one interface available in each mode. In general we'd suggest the Super Control Panel - marked as LIVE SCP in the menus - as being ideal for giving you the quickest access to the most functions, all on a single screen.

Once you've made LIVE SCP available for the shooting mode you're using, simply press the OK button from live view and the Super Control Panel should be overlaid as in the screen shot above. If you have left 'Live Control' engaged, you can switch between the interfaces by pressing INFO when the settings are displayed on the screen.

Choosing live view displays and configuring Highlights & Shadows

There five main live view display types available on the E-M5, four of which are optional. As with Super Control Panel, the one we think is best is disabled by default. The available views can be selected by visiting Custom Menu D, '[Thumbnail]/Info Settings' - 'LV-Info.' We'd suggest disabling the histogram, which is rather small and hard to read, and enable the 'Highlights&Shadow' view.

Highlights & Shadow indicates the under- and over-exposed regions of an image by replacing them with blue and red, respectively. This gives an immediate idea of which detail you risk losing with your current exposure. They're also easy to interpret, even in bright conditions where you can't see fine contrast differences on the screen.

Highlight & Shadow simulation

Better still, the threshold at which the camera indicates under- and over-exposure can be defined in Custom Menu D, 'Histogram Settings.' Depending on how you process your images, you're likely to want to experiment to find settings that suit you, but a setting of 250 - 5 usually provides a good safety-net.

The same options also exist for the electronic viewfinder and are customized in Custom Menu J - '[EVF] Info Settings'. This menu option only has an effect if you've selected Style 1 or 2 from the 'Built-in EVF Style' option at the top of Custom Menu J. These viewfinder styles offer a smaller image preview surrounded by a black or blue information panel but do have the benefit that you can choose a live view display independently of the one you've chosen for the rear screen. We've tended to stick with the default 'Style 3' which exactly mimics the rear display and uses the entire viewfinder area (but also means you have to use the same preview options you selected for the rear screen).

Buttons and dials

There are three primary configurable buttons on the E-M5's body, with the option of another two, if you're willing to give up direct access to AF point selection on the four-way controller. The three primary buttons - Fn1, Fn2 and REC have a wide range of options that can be configured in Custom Menu B - 'Button Function.'

If you also want to use the 'Right' and 'Down' arrows on the four-way controller as configurable buttons, you'll need to change the '[Four Way] Function' to 'Direct Function.' The two buttons can then be configured separately. With this option chosen, AF selection becomes a mode, accessed by pressing 'Left' on the four-way controller, and requiring a press of 'OK' to confirm each change.

A full list of the available button options is included in our Olympus E-M5 review

When configuring buttons, there are a couple of things to remember - Fn2, if set to 'Multi Function' allows access to four functions (including magnified live view), so you may find it the most useful option. To switch between functions, simply hold down Fn2 and spin a control dial. Also, only four of the functions that can be assigned to Fn1 are available in movie mode (AEL/AFL, Off, Digital Teleconverter and AF Area Select) - if you select anything other than these, Fn1 will act as focus acquire/hold when shooting movies. More detail can be found later in this article.

Click here to read page 2 of our User Guide to the Olympus E-M5

Modifying camera functions

Quickly disabling/enabling the EVF eye sensor

The EVF's eye sensor is part of what makes the E-M5 shooting experience so seamless when you switch between electronic viewfinder and rear display panel. However, there are times it can be a little over-sensitive. Triggering the sensor will switch the camera straight to shooting mode, which is great if you want to quickly grab a shot, but slightly frustrating when you're trying to show someone a photo and it disappears as they point at it.

There's no way of adjusting the sensitivity of the sensor (and it's sensitive enough that you'll want to switch the camera off when it's hanging 'round your neck, to avoid burning through the battery by having the eye sensor keeping the EVF on). However, you can easily access the menu setting that disables and enables the function.

Hold down the live view button on the right-hand side of the viewfinder hump and you'll be taken straight to the 'EVF Auto Switch' menu option, usually found in Custom Menu J.

Configuring Auto ISO

There are three settings that affect the behavior of the Auto ISO system and allow it to be fine-tuned to your needs. The first thing to do is define an upper limit - the E-M5's image output is very usable a long way beyond the ISO 1600 limit that's set by default. We were entirely happy for the camera to choose an ISO up to 6400, which can be set in Custom Menu E - 'ISO-Auto Set.'

By default, Auto ISO is concerned about camera shake and will push the sensitivity up when it reaches 1/Effective Focal Length or 1/60th, whichever is faster. However, the lower limit threshold can be raised, for instance if you're trying to retain fast enough shutter speeds to freeze action. The 'Flash Slow Limit' setting in Custom Menu F effectively sets this threshold. It's not a documented feature, but it's worth knowing.

Image stabilization in the viewfinder...

For the first time in an Olympus, the E-M5 has the option to stabilize the camera's preview, rather than just engaging IS at the point of capture. This means you can gain the benefits of image stabilization when shooting with long lenses (which can be awkward to compose and focus with, given the way they exaggerate any camera shake). Changing the Custom Menu C setting 'Half Way Rls With IS' to 'On' means that the preview will be stabilized when you half-press the shutter button.

...and for legacy lenses

If you want to retain this stabilized view, even when you're manually focusing legacy lenses, there's another setting you'll need to change. 'LV Close Up Mode' on the second page of section D of the Custom menu defines whether half-pressing the shutter cancels live view magnification. Changing this setting to 'Mode 2' allows you to combine the camera's magnified live view with its image stabilization.

Don't forget, before you race to set 'Magnify' to one of your function buttons, it is already quickly available by holding the Fn2 button and spinning the control dial. Once selected in this way, Magnify can be engaged just by tapping the Fn2 button, making it easy to change its function if you're swapping between Micro Four Thirds and legacy lenses.

Finally, it's worth knowing that stabilization is, by default, disengaged when shooting continuous bursts of images. To enable it, you need to use the '[Continuous] + IF Off' option in Custom Menu C and set it to 'Off.'

Faster viewfinder (and Autofocus)

The E-M5 offers a high-speed, 120Hz live view refesh rate, offering a smoother live view experience. However, our testing suggests it also gives improved AF acquistion times. The view is slightly more pixelated but not to a degree that's troubling. The setting can be found in Custom Menu J, and involves setting 'Frame Rate' to 'High.'

There's a price to pay, of course - in low light, you more quickly lose the ability to correctly simulate exposure compensation (the most Exp Comp. brightness you can represent drops progressively as light levels fall, until you can only show up to +1EV), and, in extreme low light, you can lose the ability to find focus at all. Until you reach that extreme autofocus is faster but, for working after dark, you might prefer the reliability brought by reverting to the 'Normal' refresh rate.

Optimizing JPEG settings

Fine-tuning the JPEG output

Having tested the noise reduction and sharpening settings as part of review, we felt that the E-M5 applied more noise reduction than was really needed, then added rather over-enthusiastic sharpening to crisp things up again. We'd suggest changing 'Noise Filter' (which is what Olympus calls high ISO noise reduction) down to Low or Off. This setting is the second option in Custom Menu G.

Once you've turned the noise reduction down, it's worth easing up on the sharpening, too. This can be adjusted from the Super Control Panel and we'd recommend a setting of -1.

Shooting Super Fine JPEGs

JPEG - Fine JPEG - SuperFine

Olympus offers a uniquely low-compression JPEG option on its cameras, called 'Super Fine'. Compared side-by-side with 'Fine' JPEGs, there's no appreciable difference indeed even performing a 'difference' comparison in Photoshop, you'd be hard-pressed to see what's changed. Generally we feel that, if you want to retain maximum editability, you're better-off shooting Raw, rather than larger-than-probably-necessary JPEGs. However, if you do wish to do so, '[IQ] Set' on the second page of Custom Menu G will allow you to specify the size and quality settings available when shooting.

Making Auto WB less 'warm'

Some people have complained that the Auto white balance produces images that are a touch too 'warm' and orange. Obviously you could apply a little white balance fine-tuning, applying a little negative correction to the Amber axis (the E-M5 will remember a different adjustment for each preset - which is excellent, so long as you remember you've applied it). But, there's also a menu option to change the behavior of Auto WB. Custom Menu G - '[WB Auto] Keep Warm Color' can be set to 'Off' if you want less of an orange tint to your images.

Click here to read page 3 of our User Guide to the Olympus OM-D E-M5

Things to know about movie shooting

There are a couple of quirks in camera behavior worth knowing about if you're going to shoot movies with the E-M5. These aren't so much about settings changes as trying to explain undocumented behavior. Once you understand exactly how the different buttons have and interact, you may find you're able to achieve more than you might expect with the camera's movie capabilities.

Movie behavior

A lot of the camera's AF behavior in movie mode is rather clever and (you might be spotting a theme by now), is not really documented in the E-M5 user manual. The first thing you need to know is that whatever AF mode you specify when in movie shooting mode (or in Custom Menu A, 'AF Mode' - 'Movie') is the one you'll get when you hit the REC button, whether you're shooting from Movie mode or a stills shooting mode.

Autofocus and Function button behavior:

Also worth knowing is that C-AF behaves differently when in movie mode. Depending on which lens you use (and it's particualrly good with the 12-50mm F3.5-6.3), the camera will perform a slower focus change, rather than racing to find the subject. Also worth knowing about is the 12-50's L-Fn button, which is set to be AF-Stop, by default. Holding the button down stops the camera trying to refocus, and when you release it, the camera will try to focus slowly and smoothly to the new subject.

As mentioned earlier, only four of the functions that can be assigned to Fn1 are available in movie mode (AEL/AFL, Off, Digital Teleconverter and AF Area Select). Setting it to Off, or to any of the settings from stills mode, will cause the Fn1 button to act as focus acquire/hold while shooting movies. Digital Teleconverter and AF Area select are only available until you hit the REC button - once shooting has begun, Fn1 has no effect. AEL/AFL will work during movie shooting if the camera is in movie mode - press REC from a stills shooting mode and it has no effect.

Being able to use AEL during movie shooting is useful, as it's the only way of influencing exposure as you shoot. However, the ability to perform AF-acquire/hold can be useful too. Unlike the dedicated AF Stop option that can be applied to L-Fn, pressing the Fn1 button causes the camera to try to jump quickly to the new subject and releasing it causes it to do the same again.

The 12-50mm F3.5-6.3's lens function button can be configured to be AF-Stop, a function we'd really like to see available on other function buttons.

The interesting thing is that the two buttons can even be used together. Once focus has been held, whether by the L-Fn button, Fn1 button or a half press, you can hold the L-Fn button and release the other buttons. Release the L-Fn button and you get a a smooth attempt to refocus. However if, when holding L-Fn, you press and hold the Fn1 button then, when you release L-Fn, the camera will attempt to perform a fast jump back into focus.

Another knock-on effect of Fn1 acting as AF acquire is that, if you shoot with C-AF+TR in movie mode, the Fn1 button tells the camera to start tracking whatever is now in the selected AF area (chosen before the movie shooting was started).

Letting the Fn1 button be AF acquire does mean that you lose AEL, but that can be assigned to Fn2, if you need both features. It means you lose the handy Multi-function feature from stills shooting but, if you're recording video in which you need to be able to lock exposure and control refocusing, it's likely that you're mainly focused on video shooting.

Overall the E-M5 is a very capable camera, even without delving around in the menus but, depending on how you want to shoot, you may find some of these hints and tips make it even more enjoyable to use.