Olympus OM-D camera secrets – Ten hidden menu tricks to make life easier

Written by Gary on December 25th, 2017

One of the most frequently questions I get asked is HOW DO YOU SET THIS OPTION? I CAN’T FIND IT ANYWHERE!

All of the Olympus OM-D and PEN cameras are incredibly customisable, and whilst this makes them very versatile, the down side is that this requires more menu options and this, compounded with the ever increasing number of functions available has resulted in the menu system become complex and often non-intuitive to navigate, partly thanks to largely sticking to an historic menu structure – although it still beats the Sony menus.

The title is a bit of a misnomer – none of these are actually hidden in the invisible sense – they are just often hard to find, and often to achieve a single goal requires delving into different parts of the menu system. Some do become disabled in certain modes but that is a different story.

Thankfully, with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, Olympus have changed the menus a little to avoid the need to have to scroll through each sub menu to hunt for an item.

Tip 1: activate the Live Super Control Panel (SCP)

The Live Super Control Panel (Live SCP) is my favorite go to interface for changing picture taking settings quickly.

This is made possible by ensuring cogwheel menu D1, Control Settings, P/A/S/M has the Live SCP checked and Live Control unchecked.

When in either P/A/S/M mode on the top dial, pressing the OK button in normal picture taking mode will bring up the SCP interface (as long as flash RC Mode in camera 2 menu is turned OFF in which case the RC Mode screen will display and you need to press INFO button to display the SCP screen).

Whilst you could have Live SCP checked for the other modes (iAUTO and ART), it makes more sense to use the other options, Live Guide, and Art Menu respectively, for these modes.

Tip 2: simplify the interface by removing rarely used function options

There can be a multitude of function options to trawl through, so here is how you can reduce them.

The “Drive” setting:

Delve into the cogwheel menu D1 and open up the drive/self timer settings section where you can check or uncheck various drive options you would like displayed in the drive setting options.

My preference is to nearly always use electronic 1st shutter mode (the diamond modes) as this will not adversely affect your images (although some suggest there are artefacts when shooting in LED lighting), and for shutter speeds slower than 1/320th second it will eliminate the mechanical shutter-induced sensor shake which may result in images being less sharp than they could be. There are times when I may use a full silent electronic shutter, so I would leave this option in for usual drive and for burst rates (which are for faster burst rates) but perhaps not for the self-timer modes.

Thus I would deactivate the following options:

  • normal low burst (just leave the diamond and silent L burst active)
  • normal self-timer for 2sec, 12sec and custom
  • silent self-timer for 2sec, 12sec and custom (it would be rare to need a silent mode on a tripod with a self timer – but you may have a use for these, I can’t think of any as the HiRes mode has its own built-in self timer option)

The “Picture mode” setting:

The Picture Mode is used to vary how the jpeg output is rendered and impacts on how the camera meters the exposure, perhaps the white balance, and can impact on the AF speed depending upon the select level of contrast.

If you shoot RAW mode, then this setting is mainly to help you pre-visualise and in some situations help AF and exposure, as the RAW files can be used to create these styles in Olympus Viewer on your computer.

You can set the Picture mode for the next photo via the Live SCP or via the main camera menu which allows you to also customise each of the Picture Modes.

You can decide which of these Picture Modes are visibly available in the options by going to cogwheel menu D1 and open up the Picture Mode section

Historically, the main picture modes most photographers used here are:

  • Vivid – this is my preferred mode as it adds more contrast to enable slightly faster AF function
  • Natural – I’m not sure I have much use for this
  • Portrait – I might use this if I am going to share a portrait jpeg before I get back to my computer
  • Muted – I’m not sure I have much use for this
  • Monochrome – this is handy if one wishes to previsualise use of filters in B&W work, or for infrared photography using an IR filter, and by eliminating the B G color channels, the auto exposure is less likely to blow out the red channel

i-Enhance is designed to maximise dynamic range in the captured jpeg, while e-Portrait adds further “flattering” portrait look to your jpgs – you may wish to uncheck these and exclude them for simplicity, but use them if it suits your style.

“Custom” Picture Mode allows you to effectively create your own extra setting while using any of the above Picture Modes with a custom contrast, gradation, etc. This could allow you to quickly change from one version of a Picture Mode to another (eg. you could effectively have two “Vivid” modes each with different saturation levels).

Color Creator style is quite unique to Olympus and allows you to have more extensive control over the “white balance”, color rendering, saturation, contrast curve, etc BUT remember it does mean you cannot select a White Balance option while this is active.

With the E-M1 Mark II, Olympus has added in all the ART filters to the Picture Mode option IN ADDITION to being able to select these via the “ART” mode on the PASM dial. If you rarely use these then by all means, you could uncheck these from the list of options BUT be aware, that doing so also removes them from the ART mode options (but not from ART bracketing).

Tip 3: optimise magnified focus functions

Occasionally, autofocus is difficult, fails, or keeps focusing on a different subject, and in these situations, you need to resort to manual focus, and for accurate manual focus, it pays to activate the magnified view screen, or at least have focus peaking active.

As an aside, if not using a tripod, then ensuring image stabiliser is ON is greatly beneficial.

I prefer to allocate one of the function buttons to the task of activating magnified view (you could let the camera do it automatically when it detects you moving the MF ring, but I find this problematic as it switches off too quickly).

In the cogwheel menu B, you will find the Buttons item – choose a desired button (I usually use Fn2) and set it to Magnify.

Then you just press the allocated button once to bring up the magnify region (use the arrow keys to move this around) and press it again to enter magnify mode (use the top dial to change the degree of magnification), adjust focus then either take the shot or exit Magnify mode by pressing OK button.

There are some useful settings which can assist you further in this mode:

  • cogwheel menu C2: Half Way Rls With IS = ON
    • this will ensure the image stabiliser will be activated whenever the magnify screen is displayed, or the shutter release button is half pressed, this makes it MUCH easier to visualise your manual focus accuracy
  • cogwheel menu A3 MF Assist:
    • Magnify = ON (magnify screen automatically activated when MF ring moved but turns off only a short time after you stop turning the MF ring – hence I like my dedicated button for magnify to help me when MF is more difficult or I want to use LV Close Up mode 2)
    • Peaking = ON (focus peaking will automatically be activated when MF ring moved even if not in magnify mode (ie. Magnify = OFF)
  • cogwheel menu D2, LV Close Up Settings:
    • LV Close Up Mode:
      • LV Close Up Mode 1 will close the magnify screen when shutter button is half pressed
      • LV Close Up Mode 2 is my preferred option as this will activate S-AF while still in magnify mode even in MF mode allowing more precise AF when the AF is activated (either the shutter button half press or the allocated AFL button if you have set “back button AF” using cogwheel A1 menu, AEL/AFL to M3) – NB. does not work if magnify screen was brought up automatically – only works when magnify screen is activated manually with a button.
    • Live View Boost = ON will allow your viewfinder to be optimised for brightness when in magnified mode
  • cogwheel menu D3, peaking settings – can make the focus peaking easier to visualise by changing its color, etc.

Tip 4: create a “back button” autofocus lock mode:

Frequently, you may wish to use the camera’s AF to gain focus but then wait before you take the shot, but if you do this in the usual default mode, half pressing the shutter button to take the shot will result in the camera again trying to lock autofocus immediately before the shot and this could delay the shot or make you lose focus if your subject is moving, etc.

Professional photographers have long addressed this issue by re-allocating AF from the half-press shutter to a rear function button – hence the “back button” focus.

This is very easily achieved on Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras by putting the camera into MF mode (NOT the lens MF clutch which is available on some Olympus lenses) and then pressing your allocated function button to request the camera to activate AF temporarily.

BUT for this to work you need to:

  • set cogwheel A1 menu, AEL/AFL to M3 – I usually have this set to S1/C2/M3, so that in S-AF mode, the half-press shutter button activates S-AF as per usual, and in C-AF mode, the half-press shutter button activates C-AF as per usual, and in MF mode the AFL/AEL function is required to activate S-AF, AND,
  • allocate a rear function button to AEL/AFL – this is done via cogwheel B1 menu Buttons – I usually allocate the button which has AEL/AFL marked on it (on the original E-M5 there was no such button and the closest was Fn1 button)

Tip 5: Generate the desired size jpegs for those documents you need to “scan”:

99% of the time I just shoot RAW files and I use Lightroom or some other software to generate the jpegs.

But sometimes you just need to get it done quickly without post-processing, or the material you are shooting does not require the extra size overheads of RAW files or large jpegs, for example, if you just need to photograph a hundred documents and they only need to be 1200 pixels wide, then you can change your File size and quality to just a small jpeg with normal compression – but how do you do this?

Simple, just delve into the menu system again:

  • cogwheel menu G: first icon setting which is the jpeg quality for each of the 4 jepg custom settings where for each setting you allocate a size (large, medium, small) and a compression quality  which affects file size in Mb and the degree of compression artefacts (Super Fin, Fine, Normal, Basic).
  • cogwheel menu G:pixel count setting which allows you to allocate how many pixels for each of the medium and small size jpegs.

Then when you go to camera 1 menu and choose the File size and quality (these are icons), you will have a choice of the 4 jpeg options you have set above with or without a RAW file.

Don’t forget that whenever you are not using RAW files, you need to pay particular attention to the Picture Mode setting and white balance setting if these will be important for your output.

Be aware though that if you don’t include a large jpeg as one of the file types (eg. only shoot RAW or shoot with a small jpeg only), you will have a highly compressed image to zoom in on during playback which makes it hard to assess critical focus at 10-14x zoom until you get back to the computer – or you go to the trouble of creating an in-camera RAW edit to a large LF jpeg.

Tip 6: Display highlight/shadow warning and Live Histogram in Live View

Whether you are shooting in manual exposure mode or an auto exposure mode, it is very handy to be able to see if any of the highlights in areas where you want details will be blown out with the selected exposure BEFORE you take the shot so you can adjust the exposure more efficiently than is possible with any current dSLR.

Severely underexposed regions will have blue blinkies while blown highlights will have red blinkies.

To enable this, you must first ensure the extremely hard to find menu item for this is activated:

  • cogwheel menu D1, Info Settings:LV Info:Custom 1 or 2: check the Highlights and Shadow option AND the Live Histogram option
  • NOTE: you can set the exposure parameters for this display in case you want a more conservative warning such as setting the highlight warning to display for a channel value of greater than 245 rather than the maximum value of 255 – see cogwheel D3, Histogram settings

Now when you are composing your shot, just use the INFO button to toggle through the displays until it displays the Live Histogram which will also display the shadow/highlight blinkies as well as Live Histogram for the area covered by the selected AF region which is displayed as green in the Live Histogram – very handy indeed!

Tip 7: capture better fireworks images by using Live Composite mode

New Year’s Eve is coming and that means firework displays – the Live Composite mode can provide a unique way to capture night images as you determine the base exposure for the ambient environment while the camera adds each subsequent firework to your image – also works well for star trails and car head light trails.

Unfortunately, there is no really intuitive way to use Live Composite – although it is easy once you are aware of how to find it and how to set the exposures. Of course, you will need a tripod for this mode.

You access Live Composite by adjusting shutter speed – take it past the 60 secs (oh, yes, Olympus is the ONLY camera brand that has a timed 60sec exposure – all others stop at 30secs then you need to resort to a cumbersome BULB mode and they don’t have a Live BULB or Live Timed to make this easier either – this is another reason why many night photographers love Olympus cameras) and you get BULB, then Live Timed, then Live Composite.

The first shot will become your base exposure according to the ISO and aperture you have set, while the exposure duration for each image including the base exposure is set in a hidden menu:

  • cogwheel E menu: Composite Settings – this is your exposure duration

The camera will keep taking repeat exposures until you terminate it by pressing the shutter button again once you are happy with the image on the screen BUT only new brighter parts of each subsequent image get added to the original image – this helps to avoid the base ambient regions from becoming over-exposed with a long exposure.

For more information see my wiki page.

Tip 8: E-M1 Mark II users only: set a focus range limiter within the camera

Many lenses have a focus range setting which allows you to speed up the acquisition of autofocus by not allowing the lens to travel the full range of focus, and this can also ensure the camera does not focus on a foreground or background object depending on the situation and focus limiter option.

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II takes this a massive step further by becoming the ONLY camera to allow you to dial in a closest focus AND a distant focus on any compatible lens. You get to specify the range from zero to infinity with 0.1m precision!

This can be incredibly useful – imagine trying to use AF on fish swimming behind glass and the camera always locking focus on the glass instead of the much more difficult moving fish – now you have a method whereby you can tell the camera to ignore anything closer than 0.5m for instance, and ignore anything further away than 1.5m – now that is way cool indeed!

Likewise at sports events you can adjust it so that it does not focus on the background or foreground spectators.

This will work in both S-AF and C-AF modes.

First of all you need to work out what your focus range should be:

  • option 1: guess it (eg. 10-50m)
  • option 2: use the camera to calculate the distance:
    • ensure your AF limiters are turned OFF
    • set AF mode to Preset MF and press INFO then you can AF on whatever spots you like and it will give you the distance read out on screen with 0.1m precision – memorise these distances.
    • don’t forget to put the AF mode back to S-AF or C-AF.

Next, you need to set the distances in the AF Limiter option via the hidden menu item:

  • cogwheel A1 menu, AF Limiter
    • you get to set up to 3 preset ranges – just dial in the near and far distance in meters and make sure you leave the menu with it turned ON to one of the settings and you are done!

See more information on my wiki page here.

Tip 9: View finder is too dark shooting indoor flash – turn on Live View BOOST!

The default setting for your viewfinder display is an almost WYSIWYG simulation of the end jpeg image output – fantastic for pre-visualisation of what you are wanting to achieve and for roughly assessing exposure.

BUT start shooting in low light or indoors with flash units in manual exposure mode to ensure ambient light is very under-exposed so it does not affect your image and suddenly you can’t see much as the viewfinder is only displaying what the ambient exposure will look like – and that is DARK!

Fortunately, Olympus has kindly added a Live View BOOST function which essentially is designed to provide a bright viewfinder image whatever your exposure is as long as the scene is not extremely dark and beyond the limits of the Live Boost gain.

In fact with the latest cameras they have added a 2nd Live Boost option designed for extremely dark conditions but this is not so easy to use as it adds a LONG viewfinder refresh lag time – so if you are re-composing or trying to focus – this must be done very slowly! I usually prefer Live Boost 1 for my astro shots due to the much faster viewfinder refresh rate.

Now where is that Live Boost function and how do I enable it?

Well it is pretty easy once you know where to look:

  • cogwheel D menu, Live View Boost
    • on the early cameras such as the Four Thirds dSLRs, and the E-M5, you only had one option On/Off
    • in the later cameras, you can set this value to Off/1/2 depending upon which mode you are in
    • you will probably want it off for “Others” and “Live Composite”, and ON for “Bulb/Time” and temporarily for “Manual shooting” – I generally shoot all my flash photos in Manual exposure as the shutter speed can be used to determine how bright the ambient scene is displayed on the final image, and the aperture for how shallow the depth of field will be. If using manual mode in brighter light, I would set Live Boost to OFF.

One big downside to using Live Boost is you no longer get to see the ambient exposure nor any Picture Mode effects, but at least you can see your subject in darker rooms better if you don’t have modelling lamps.

Tip 10: Set up your own custom modes

Prior to the E-M1 Mark II, the Olympus cameras allow you to save your current settings as one of four custom user defined modes called MySet, which although not to hard to find in the menu – setting them is via the camera 1 menu Reset/Myset you just have to make sure you hit OK enough times to lock them in to a particular MySet.

These cameras required you to allocate a Myset to a button to be able to use it (yes, that would be in cogwheel menu B – Buttons).

Thankfully, the E-M1 Mark II has made life so much easier:

  • the Mysets are now called Custom Modes and you now only have 3 instead of 4 but that should suffice for most people
  • setting these are now through the renamed camera 1 menu Reset / Custom Modes
  • importantly, you are now able to allocate these Custom Modes to one of the three new Custom modes on the PASM dial marked C1, C2 and C3 which makes accessing them so much faster and much more intuitive

Now I might set up custom modes as follows:

  • C1: my standard way of shooting, ISO 200, AWB, IS on auto (or 1 if using earlier cameras), Aperture priority, electronic 1st shutter, S-AF, single point AF, Live Boost OFF
  • C2: for shooting sports with C-AF, ISO 800, AWB, AF region expanded and burst mode active, Live Boost OFF
  • C3: perhaps the third mode for Milky Way astroscapes with Live Boost ON, ISO 1600, White Balance set to 3400K, IS off, self-timer set to 2 secs, manual exposure with shutter set to 20secs, RAW mode, etc.

More tips:

You can see a LOT more information on how to get the most out of your Olympus camera on my wiki here.

I would also highly recommend J. Andrzej Wrotniak ‘s excellent and exhaustive Olympus OM-D E-M1 II account of all the menu items and his suggested settings (these don’t always match my preferences but we all have different requirements and needs).

Hope you all have a safe festive season and have fun shooting.



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