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