Setting up the Olympus E-M5

Olympus E-M5

General Tips

The Olympus E-M5 is a very slick little camera. Indeed, the size is deceptive considering the large range of capabilities for the camera. As with most DSLRs and ILCs (Interchangeable Lens Compacts), the body is only half the equation when it comes to making images. The other half is the choice of lens. There are quite a few choices (more than 30 micro 4/3 mount lens models are currently available). That said, when one takes range, size, price and convenience into account, it shouldn’t be too hard to find a suitable option. Note that because of the size of the pixels (3.8 microns roughly), most lenses are sharpest between f/5.6 and f/8.0 and quality drops dramatically past f/11.

The E-M5’s 16MP imaging sensor is the best currently available in a micro 4/3 camera, both in terms of dynamic range, and in terms of noise at higher ISOs. Still, if you are picky about quality, it’s best to stick to lower sensitivites where possible. Regarding metering, the E-M5 does a decent job, but it’s worth remembering that when it comes to digital, exposing to the right and shooting RAW does give you a significant boost in quality. On average, the E-M5 exposes a bit darker than I’d like. In any case, the great advantage of an EVF-based camera is instant exposure information, so I recommend making full use of the live histogram.

Image Settings

Once the Super Control Panel is enabled (see Cogs D settings section below), pressing the OK button pulls up an overlay of almost all the major image-related settings. I stick to the defaults in general, with the few tweaks noted below. The SCP is easy to quickly navigate using the arrow keys or dials.

Setting Recommended Value Comments
ISO Lowest possible (200 for starters) The E-M5 will allow you to go all the way up to ISO 25600 sensitivity. Above ISO 400 though, you will see significant shadow noise. Some like the AUTO option, but I find it ramps up sensitivity too rapidly.
Saturation +1 The colors in the default ‘Natural’ mode are good, but for a little extra punch, I add some contrast. There’s also a ‘Vivid’ mode, but that’s too bright for my taste.
AF Area Center point only The camera has a sophisticated AF system. However, left to its own devices, it can choose to stick the AF point almost anywhere, so it’s best to set it yourself to a known value. It can easily be shifted when necessary, using the arrow buttons.
Size RAW or Large Fine + RAW If you shoot RAW, that’s all you need. If you need JPEGs, Large Fine is the highest quality option for the E-M5 that’s useful (there is a Large Super Fine option, but it offers no practical advantages in quality over Large Fine). On the whole, the E-M5 does produce nice JPEGs.
IS Off, save when necessary I still subscribe to the IS-can-help-but-can-also-hurt school of thought. At high shutter speeds, it can only hurt. At low shutter speeds, it generally helps, save when on a tripod. Adjust accordingly.

Camera Settings

The E-M5 can charitably be described as having a cornucopia of customization options. To me, it appears that the engineers decided to throw in everything but the kitchen sink, then had second thoughts and threw in the kitchen sink as well. The result is what is indubitably the longest selection of camera customization options on any digital camera, ever. The two saving graces are that a few of them are quite handy, as some of the defaults (particularly the choice of dial functions) leave a bit to be desired, and that there’s a pop-up menu that describes what most of them do, obviating the need to carry the large manual around. Still, it’s daunting to say the least.

Below are my personal preferred customizations, where they differ from the camera defaults.

Section Setting Recommended Value Comments
Cogs A AF Illumat. Off In theory the AF illumator helps the camera focus in low light. In practice it doesn’t help much, and can be distracting (especially in museums etc.)
Cogs B Button Function Fn2 = Magnify For manual focus lenses, it’s nice to be able to conveniently zoom the view in and out. When using autofocus, it also serves to let one shrink the size of the AF box, which by default is quite large.
    (Four Arrow) Function = Direct Function I don’t generally change the AF point much, so I’d rather have the ISO and shooting mode options readily available.
    Right Arrow = ISO It’s helpful to have the ISO readily accessible.
  Dial Function

A = rear(+/-), front(Fno.)

S = rear(+/-), front(Shutter)

My right finger rests naturally on the front dial, so it makes sense to have that for the primary dial in aperture priority mode. Similarly, in shutter priority mode, I have shutter speed on the front dial.
Cogs C Half way Rls with IS


When half-pressing the shutter, engage the image stabilization mechanism (if IS is enabled).
Cogs D Control Settings – P/A/S/M

Live Control = Off

Live SCP = On

Enable the Super Control Panel for controls. Hitting the ‘OK’ button brings up virtually all the useful shooting settings.
  Info Settings – Playback Info

Image Only = Off

Highlight & Shadow = On

Histogram = On

The hightlight and shadow indicators and the histogram are useful to have readily accessible when reviewing images (switch between the various modes using the ‘Info’ button).
  Info Settings – LVInfo

Highlight & Shadow = On

Level Gauge = On

Image Only = Off

Likewise when shooting, the level gauge indicator and highlight/shadow blinkies are helpful, but the image-only mode isn’t particularly necessary.
  Displayed Grid Thirds Rule of thirds grid is often useful for composition.
  Beep Off Prevent the camera from beeping when it achieves focus.
  USB Mode Storage Lets the camera be connected to the computer directly to download images/update firmware without needing to set the USB mode each time (as in auto)
Cogs E ISO Step 1 EV For ISO, 1/3 steps is unnecessary.
Cogs G Noise Filter Off Most cameras call this ‘Noise Reduction.’ For low ISO JPEGs, it robs the images of sharpness and is not needed. For high ISO, I’d advise shooting RAW to begin with. The ‘Standard’ setting is actually quite aggressive.
  WB Auto – Keep Warm Color Off In theory this makes images using AWB in normal conditions look more normal, but in my experience it simply makes them look excessively yellow.
Cog H Priority Set Yes When you hit delete, have the camera initially select ‘Yes’ rather than ‘No’ (you still have to press ‘OK’ to confirm.
Cogs J Info Setting

Highlights & Shadow = On

Image Only = Off

These settings have the same impact as the Info Settings in section D, but apply when using the EVF instead of the LCD. Not sure why they had to separate them, but oh well.
  Displayed Grid Thirds  
Cogs K Touch Screen Settings Off You can use the touch screen to change settings. I prefer not to though, and it’s easy to accidentally activate.
Utility Menu Rec View Off Because the camera is using Live View and an EVF, there’s really no point in having the captured image displayed for a few seconds on the screen, especially since ‘Record View’ on Olympus cameras does not allow you to magnify the image to check focus (you must hit the Playback button to do this).

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