I have been waiting in purgatory an endless time having to resort to using my gigantic, heavy Canon 1D Mark III dSLR all this time whilst salivating over the news that at last we have an Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera that has so many great features and ticks all of the important boxes for what an enthusiast photography would like, and now I have managed to find one available in a shop today.
If you want all the features and reviews of this awesome camera, check out my wiki resource here.
It is a very deceptive camera, tiny but with awesome image quality even at ISO 1600 and above, super fast AF with super easy just touch the screen on the subject you want in focus and almost instantaneously, focus is achieved and the picture taken before your subject knows what has happened and if configured with AF beep off, almost silently.
But despite this apparent simplicity, it has loads of awesome functionality for which you will need to read the electronic manual to get the most out of (not the hard copy which has almost no information in it).
If you have ever watched videos of the very funny Kai trying to use the E-M5 with its default settings, you will understand why he gets frustrated with it, particularly with its choice of subject to AF on.
This little blog is my step #1 into how I would configure this incredible camera so that YOU can take control.
Charge the battery for the mandatory 3 hours 1st charge – this is best practice for lithium ion batteries.
Turn the camera on with the lever at the rear bottom right (yes, for some reason, presumably lack of space, Olympus has followed the Canon example here which is a bit annoying).
You will note that it will automatically switch between the rear LCD screen and the electronic viewfinder if you place the camera to your eye or accidentally put your hand bear the EVF’s proximity sensors. This functionality can be turned off, and indeed if I was at a conference or a concert, I would turn the rear screen off totally to avoid distracting others. Pressing the INFO button repeatedly determines what is displayed on the rear screen, including nothing as an option.
Firstly, let’s get our focus system optimised!
On the top right of the camera, you have 2 dials which by default control shutter speed, aperture, and exposure compensation depending on which PASM mode you are in, and for zooming in on the image in playback or magnified view modes – I would leave these defaults as they are.
Near these dials there are two customisable function buttons, Fn1 and Fn2, by default Fn 1 is set to AEL/AFL lock and Fn 2 is set to multi-function (each function is selectable after holding it down and turning a dial), again, I would leave these as they are BUT we will change a menu option so that in MF mode, the Fn 1 button activates AFL ONLY and not AEL which is the annoying default.
To set this, go to Menu by pressing the Menu button, select Custom Menu (the cog wheels icon), select AF/MF then AEL/AFL then for MF set mode 3, and this will mean half-down shutter will lock exposure while AEL/AFL functionality which we have left assigned to Fn 1 button with activate AF briefly then lock the AF.
While you are in the Custom Menu system (see Disp/PC sub menu, Beep icon), you may want to turn the AF Beep noise OFF – just look for the green AF confirmation light instead, it will be much less distracting for others and your subject.
This is a brilliant way to set focus and far less frustrating – just leave AF/MF mode for Still Picture in MF and you have a great hybrid system just like most professionals use.
Now let’s instruct the camera how WE want it to auto focus instead of having it select random objects.
While still in the AF/MF part of the menu system, ensure Full-time AF is OFF (we don’t want the camera continuous hunting for things to AF on when we are not even taking a photo), AEL/AFL should now be S1/C2/M3, MF Assist set to ON (as we want the magnification assist to be activated as soon as we start turning the manul focus ring on the lens), AF Illumination set to OFF (this is really distracting for subjects, and this camera works pretty well in low light without it if you use wide aperture lenses), Face Priority set to AF on near eye if doing a single person portrait (some may prefer to turn this off but it seems such a cool feature for portraiture).
So far so good, but it is still going to AF on a random subject, so let’s fix this by reducing the AF area to JUST the central square, then YOU can CHOOSE the subject by composing the scene with your desired subject in the centre, lock AF with Fn 1 button then re-compose (if you want to swap to touch screen AF or half-press shutter AFL, just set AF mode to S-AF instead of MF).
To change AF selection to ONLY the centre square, in photo mode, press are rear arrow button, and this will display the AF area grid. Press INFO button and this allows you to select Face Detect mode via left/right arrow buttons (we have already done this via the menu system earlier so can ignore here), and the size of the AF region which is adjusted with the up/down arrow buttons – use the down arrow to get to just one AF region, and ensure this region is in the centre by again pressing INFO button to leave that mode so you can use the arrow buttons to move the AF area around.
Now to optimise manual focus ease of use:
As mentioned above, ensure MF Assist set to ON (as we want the magnification assist to be activated as soon as we start turning the manual focus ring on the lens).
But what if we are using a legacy lens where moving the manual focus ring cannot activate the magnified mode?
Simple, the Fn2 button is left in Magnify mode (hold it down to select this), press it twice and you are in Magnify mode.
Let’s enable the shutter release to activate IS to help us focus more accurately. In the Custom Menu, go to Release, then set Half Way Rls With IS = ON, this will mean that if you are trying to do manual focus with magnified view, you can half-press the shutter release and the image stabilisation will become activated making it MUCH easier to gain accurate manual focus, especially with telephoto lenses – very cool indeed. If you don’t shoot much manual focus, you can leave this to be set OFF.
The IS works fine in magnified view mode activated by turning the manual focus ring BUT on a legacy lens, when we half-press the shutter button to activate IS, we now lose Magnify mode – let’s fix this by setting LV Close Up Mode to mode 2 (this is under Custom Menu, Disp/PC).
If you want to swap between AF and MF modes quickly in case you want to use the touch screen AF rather than the Fn1 button to AF, then assign a button to MF toggle – perhaps the REC button if you do not intend doing movies, or if you are not using legacy lenses, then assign it to Fn2 button where it works very well indeed as a toggle. Of course, this can be also done via the Super Control Panel but that is more cumbersome.
No wonder Kai couldn’t get focus working well, it is such a complex business
Now let’s optimise our image quality.
Olympus cameras are well known for their superb out-of-camera jpeg colours, so most of us can leave the default Picture Mode to Natural (although using Vivid can speed up the AF even further as it gives more contrast!), but Olympus cameras are also known for their heavy handedness in applying noise filter and sharpening, so I prefer to set Noise Filter to LOW (in Custom Menu, Color/WB menu BUT leave Noise Reduction to Auto as this is needed for long exposures) and you may also want to reduce Sharpening within the Picture Mode menu.
For some reason, Olympus in their wisdom has set the white balance to display warmer than normal colours, you may wish to turn this OFF via the menu item under Custom Menu, Color/WB WB Auto Keep Warm Color = OFF.
Unless you are shooting low light action shots where you need a fast shutter speed and a very high ISO, set Custom Menu, Exp/ISO, ISO-Auto Set, High Limit to 800 instead of 1600 or 3200, after all hopefully you are using the nice fast, wide aperture lenses, and you have the world’s best image stabilisation system on board! But if you need it, ISO 1600 is still very good image quality on this camera, and if it stops subject blur then it is worth it’s weight in gold!
Shoot in RAW + jpeg. Olympus by default has set the camera to only give you jpegs, that’s fine when you are just playing with it, but when you get down to taking your memorable shots, make sure you get them in RAW too!! RAW gives you the best image quality when it comes to playing around in Lightroom, etc to change white balance adjust contrast, etc.
Wow, that is a hell of a lot to change from the defaults, and we have only just touched the surface of what options are available with this machine!
Now for some initial observations:
The shutter is much, much more quieter than my Canon 1D Mark III dSLR, and it shoots just as fast at 9-10fps depending upon your SD card speed – sure AF is only on the 1st shot at this speed but then my Canon doesn’t do a great job at continuous AF anyway.
Did I mention that the AF was incredibly FAST!
I cannot seem to work out how to only playback images via the EVF instead of the rear screen like I could do with my Panasonic GH-1 – I love this as people around you hate you distracting them at conferences or concerts at night by chimping at your images on the bright rear LCD screen – hopefully someone can tell me how, and if not possible, hopefully Olympus adds this in a future firmware update. This is also very important to me as I need reading glasses to look at the rear LCD screen but I don’t need glasses looking through the EVF, so I would really, really love to be able to playback images through the EVF.
My Olympus FL-36R flash will automatically set shutter speed to flash sync 1/200th sec (you need the new flashes to sync at 1/250th sec), but if you put the flash onto a hotshoe adapter which does not pass through the TTL pins, you can use any shutter speed you like without resorting to the output draining SuperFP mode, but you obviously lose TTL exposure and as the shutter speed increases from 1/250th sec, you get increasing vignetting across the TOP of your image such that by 1/640th sec the flash is only exposing the bottom half of your frame. Nevertheless, this technique may be handy for some shooting fill-in flash inbright sunlight outdoors if they can place the subject fully in the exposed area – very handy for portraits!
Manual flash output can be adjusted from full all the way down to 1/64th of maximum power output (unlike the poor flash functionality of the Panasonic cameras!)
The build quality seems very good indeed and the ergonomics of the dials and buttons seem very good with a few annoying faults in the design:
- the optional HLD-6 grip does not provide adequate index finger grip to overcome the camera imbalance enough to allow one to hold the camera and lens with one finger as I could do with the GH-1 or the Olympus E510, but then I guess only silly guys like me would risk dropping their camera by doing so anyway.
- whilst you can customise the rear arrows not to move the AF point around, the up arrow cannot be customised other than for the default exposure compensation mode (seems a bit strange as I would have preferred to set ISO here as with my old cameras) and the left arrow, perhaps quite rightly, stays as an AF selection tool. So you can customise only the right and down arrows to options such as flash mode, drive mode (eg. burst speed).
Apparently if you want traditional Olympus colors from your RAW files you should use the supplied Olympus Viewer software. The good news is that Lightroom 4.1 will have support for RAW files from the E-M5, and the beta version is now available for download from Adobe.
DON’T FORGET TO READ THE ELECTRONIC MANUAL on the CD!!!!
FINALLY, if you are in Australia, BUY from an Australian store, the pricing is very reasonable, you get 2 years of Australian warranty (you don’t get that for purchases overseas) AND Olympus Australia will send you a MMF-3 weathersealed Four Thirds adapter for free as a rebate but only if you purchase before May 31st 2012. Make sure you get a nice wide aperture lens as well, such as the 45mm f/1.8 portrait lens!
Now to go and have some FUN with this camera, I can’t wait to try out my Canon 135mm f/2.0L lens on it and have it with a 5EV 5axis image stabilisation system and shoot at 9fps with the very quiet shutter with no mirror vibrations or noise!
Yes Canon and Nikon fans, that is a telephoto reach of 270mm in 35mm terms at f/2.0 aperture with 5EV IS and capable for 9fps at great image quality of 1600 ISO if needed, and accurate manual focus using magnified live view and IS support – just awesome!!!
I put my Canon FD 500m f/8 mirror lens on, set IS to 500mm, and on a cloudy day, accurate MF with magnified view plus IS was easy and fast even hand held at 1000mm super telephoto, and the photo was pretty damn sharp even at 1/125th of a second hand held – that is pretty awesome!
Not to mention trying out videos whilst walking with the IS activated and hopefully no need for a cumbersome, big, heavy video stabilisation rig as with all other video cameras.
Hopefully, not too many people will buy it because I don’t want everyone realising what a great powerful compact tool this is which lets you leave the big tripod and lenses at home, and walk around the city at night shooting hand held shots at 24mm equivalent focal length with the 12mm f/2.0 lens at ridiculous 1/5th sec shutter speeds and still taking great shots at ISO well below 1600.
It’s bad enough every Tom, Dick and Harry has a camera and devaluing the worth of photographs by sheer volume, let alone if they actually had a great camera like this one!
PS…. I have created a more extensive settings page for the E-M5 on my wiki – see here.