I am a big advocate of Micro Four Thirds cameras, and the Olympus OM-D E-M5 in particular. These cameras are capable of making great photos that sacrifice nothing to their bigger DSLR brethren (just about every photo in the gallery on this site was taken with my E-M5), are compact and lightweight, and are feature rich. With Micro Four Thirds cameras in particular, you have access to great lenses that other 'mirrorless' cameras simply do not, too.
One thing Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras are not, though, is intuitive out of the box. Combining feature rich with unintuitive can be a recipe for trouble, unfortunately, and the E-M5 suffers from this problem. Once the camera is set up properly it can be easy to use, but getting there is not easy. Olympi, and the E-M5 in particular, are obtuse.
So at the suggestion of my friend Doug Kaye, I put together this short guide to setting up an E-M5. This article won't cover everything there is to E-M5 - get something like David Busch's guide to the camera if you want something like that. Actually, I haven't the slightest clue if that book is worth buying, but it is the first hit when you search for "guide to E-M5" in Amazon. Instead, I'm taking an enthusiast's photographer's perspective of "when I got my E-M5, what would I have wanted to know so that I could stop fighting my camera and start making photos?" After the camera is set up, you should only ever have to go into the menu for a very small number of things, hopefully. You'll probably end up setting the camera up very idiosyncratically, too and render the camera unusable by others unless it's in iAuto mode, but you're the one who'll be using the camera 99.99999% of the time, and making sure it works for you is what matters.
Note: This guide should also be useful for users of other Olympus Micro Four Thirds cameras, but I can't vouch for that, since the only other one I've used is the original E-P1, and that has an extremely primitive version of the E-M5's menu system.
Activate the Custom "Gear" Menu
The first thing you need to do when you first turn on your E-M5 is enable the Custom, or "Gear" Menu (okay, the second thing, after you set the date, time, and language in the Wrench Menu). Almost all of the work you'll need to do to set the camera up properly is done here.
To enable the Gear Menu, hit the Menu button, go down to the Wrench Menu, and select the Gear/Accessory Port Menu Display option. Turn on the Gear Menu. Don't bother with the Accessory Port Menu at this time, unless you have the Olympus Bluetooth PenPal or for some reason are using an external EVF with your E-M5.
Activate the Super Control Panel
The Super Control Panel (SCP) is the key to efficient E-M5 usage. It allows almost instant access to just about every function you'll need on a day-to-day basis, other than bracketing, remote flash control, and memory card format. Yep. It does just about it all. Why Olympus doesn't have it activated from the get go is beyond me. Inexplicable decisions by Olympus UI designers is a consistent theme with this camera.
In the Gear Menu, go to Gear D, and then Camera Control Settings. Activate Live SCP for all modes.
I would turn off Live Control; it gives you the same options as the SCP, but it requires a lot more button presses and, quite frankly, doesn't do it as well. It's rather useless. I don't even understand why it's an option when the SCP is so good.
To use the SCP, go back as if you were going to take a photo, and hit the OK button. If the SCP doesn't show up, hit Info until you see the menu in the photo above. As you can see in the image above, , you can change all of the normal shooting parameters including ISO, White Balance, metering, drive mode, focus point, and RAW or JPG. But it does even more: you can change the gradation and contrast in JPG's, the picture mode, even what the Function 1 button does. Like I said, you can pretty much do it all. Spend some time getting comfortable with everything you can do here, because you'll be living here when adjusting settings.
Another cool trick with the SCP: you don't need to go into each function to change it: just highlight the function you want to change (say, ISO), and use the dials to change the setting. Super Control indeed.
TIP: Activate Menu Explanation Overlays
Hit the Info button while anywhere in the Menu. You'll get detailed explanations of what each function controls. It's nice to have. You can always hit Info again to make the text boxes disappear.
Gear A: A Is For Autofocus
Let's go through each of the Gear Submenus that I think are important to hit first. You can (and should) spend time with each function to understand what it does, but these are the highlights so you can get shooting quicker.
In Gear A, AEL/AFL lets you choose whether the camera focuses on a half press of the shutter, or with the AEL/AFL button. You'll need to assign a button to AEL/AFL for this to work, either the Fn1, Fn2, or Video Record buttons. I prefer to have AEL/AFL set to Fn1 (we'll get to how to do that in Gear B).
Make sure the AF Illuminator is on, also. It's very helpful in low light.
Finally, turn on Face Detection to i. The camera is pretty good at focusing on the nearest eye with this active. While this is a function that can be handled from the SCP, I wanted to point it out here.
Gear B: Button Functions
The button function submenu in Gear B is where you (unsurprisingly) assign various functions to the various buttons. The E-M5 doesn't have all that many buttons compared to something like a Nikon D7100, so how you set the few buttons you have is critical to enjoyment. Play around with these functions to get the settings you like. I must have changed them around several times in the first several months before I got the set up that works for me. You can see how I have my camera's buttons set up in the image above.
The dial function and direction settings in Gear B is similarly worth playing around in to get it to work the way you want it to. Dial direction in particular is personal. For example, in Aperture Priority mode, I prefer for the aperture control to be on the rear dial and exposure compensation on the front dial, and for clockwise rotation of the rear dial to increase the aperture size (lower f stop) and clockwise rotation of the front dial to increase exposure compensation. You may find that you prefer everything reversed.
Gear C: Image Stabilizer Optimization
Set the Sequential Shooting + IS Off option to Off. With it off, the image stabilizer works when shooting continuously. Yes, you have to choose "off" to have something on. Another example of sheer inexplicability.
Also set Half Way Rls With Is to On so that image stabilizer will continue to work while you're holding the shutter button down, which is useful when shooting continuously, and keeps the image in the viewfinder stabilized when holding the shutter halfway down.
Gear D: Other Options
A couple more highlights on what you should set up in the Gear D menu.
- The Checkerboard /Info Settings change what information overlays are available while in playback mode and live view mode. While in Live View (or playback), press Info to cycle through the various overlays. You can also set many image thumbnails you can have displayed in playback mode.
- Turn off Live View Boost. You want to be able to see the effect of exposure compensation. That anyone - let alone someone who is in charge of designing a menu for a camera - could consider turning a great function of Live View off to be 'boosting' a feature is mind boggling.
EDIT September 9, 2013: Commenter Sergio Azenha's note explains what the Live View Boost funciton does:
"The Live View Boost is actually quite useful (if not invaluable) when shooting with studio lighting. Imagine a studio where the normal indoor ambient light is 1/20s at f/8, for example, and I set my strobes to pump out enough light to expose the photos at 1/200s and f/8... if I set my E-M5 to M mode and 1/200s f/8 and f I don't turn on the Live View Boost the LCD/EVF will turn black and I won't be able to see anything because the ambient light needs 1/20s but I'd be at 1/200s. Live View Boost allows me to be able to see enough to actually compose the photo! ;)
"Furthermore, the term "Boost" in the setting makes sense because it boosts the LVF or EVF to get a viewable image even if the settings you chose were too dark."
Gear E: ISO & Timers
Gear E's ISO-Auto Set option lets you limit the ISO range that the camera will choose in Auto ISO. I prefer to set it at 3200; the E-M5 has a tendency to go to higher ISO's to maintain as short of a shutter speed as possible, preferably no longer than 1/2*focal length. So if you have a 25mm lens on the camera, the E-M5 wants to set the shutter to no longer than 1/50. The camera has such great image stabilization, however, that you can have longer shutter speeds and still get sharp results. So by limiting the ISO range to 3200 in Auto ISO, I force the camera to give me longer shutter speeds to compensate. Blurry images are rarely an issue. And if they are, I just manually select a higher ISO, which is easy in the SCP.
Two other options of note in Gear E relate to the bulb mode and long exposures. The BULB/TIME Timer option lets you set the maximum time for a bulb mode or long exposure shot. Live BULB and LIVE TIMER option let you pick the intervals for a live view of what the camera is recording while in those modes. Very useful stuff when shooting long exposures.
The Anti-Shock function lets you build in a delay from when you hit the shutter button to when it actually goes off. It can be useful if you find that you're constantly getting blurry images from hitting the shutter button too hard. The increments are 1/8 second, 1/4, 1/2, 1 second, 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 seconds. It's won't always be on; you actually activate it in drive mode in the SCP. I prefer it to be off because it adds a lot of options to the drive mode selector, and I don't use it enough to be worth keeping, but you might find it worth keeping there.
Limited intervalometer Hack: Olympus didn't see fit to build in a proper intervalometer for some reason. You can get a limited one, though, with this minor hack with the AntiShock function. Set the Antishock to the time you want, and then select an antishock continuous burst mode in the drive menu in the SCP.
You'll get a delay from the Antishock setting, and as long as the shutter button is held down (or a remote shutter release is held down), you'll keep snapping photos. So, you can do a series of images taken 30 seconds apart with this. It's not a replacement for a proper intervalometer, but it's something.
Gear G: Noise and Pixels
In Gear G, set the Noise Filter to Low or Off, especially if you shoot in RAW. Your post-processing application of choice can do a better job. Leave Noise Reduction on Auto, though: this function takes a dark frame right after a long exposure and then subtracts the noise from the original image. It's very helpful on long exposures.
You can also set the resolution and quality of the images here. See the weird left-facing triangle with 4 dots trailing with 'Set' after it? That's Pixel Set; it sets the size and quality of JPG's. I'm not sure how that icon makes people think of pixels. Ugh. Olympus needs to hire someone who likes its consumers and uses cameras to design its menus.
Anyway, go in here and make sure that at least one of these is Large Super Fine. You'll notice that initially, none of these are preset to Large Super Fine, or Super Fine of any size. The only explanation to me is that Olympus thinks its users who are spending nigh $1,000 on a camera care more about memory card storage than they do on the quality of their files. I can't imagine that's really the case with anyone who buys an E-M5. Go ahead and set at least one of these to Large SuperFine. Even if you only shoot in RAW, it's good to have quick access to quality JPG's in case you want to offload an image quickly to an iPad or phone using a wifi-enabled SD card.
Gear H: File Name Prefix and Copyright Info
You can set a custom prefix for your files in the Edit Filename dialog. It's a nice little thing.
Copyright info, though, isn't a little thing. Make sure you put your copyright info here so that every photo automatically has your copyright info inserted into metadata.
Gear J: EVF
Here you can set the EVF to display the info the way you want it to. I prefer Style 3, since it overlays the shooting info over the image in the EVF, but you may like having the info under the image (Style 1 or 2)
You can also enable or disable the EVF autoswitching here. Remember that the button on the EVF itself will also enable/disable the EVF autoswitching too, but just until the next time you power the camera down. If you do disable EVF autoswitching, you can bring up the SCP on the LCD still, though. The SCP will just appear against a grey background with the EVF still functioning.
Shooting Menu 2
You only need to worry about 2 things in here, and once you set the camera up properly, you'll probably only go into the menu for these 2 things, plus memory card formatting in Shooting Menu 1.
The first is Bracketing. When you want to shoot a bracket of images, here's where you do that. You have exposure, white balance, flash (FL), ISO, or even art modes. You can even stack the brackets. Make sure to turn the bracket off when you're done, or you'll mess up a bunch of shots.
The second is Flash RC Mode, or Remote Control mode. When you turn it on, go back to take a photo, and hit OK, and then Info until the flash control shows up.
Shooting Menu 1
And we end with Shooting Menu 1. Only two functions here are worth mentioning. First is card setup. If you've used a digital camera before, you know what it is.
The second is pretty cool: Myset. Myset lets you save a series of settings, and switch back and forth very quickly between them. Let's say you do a lot of bracketing. Rather than go into Shooting Menu 2 every time you want to do a series of brackets, you can just save your baseline settings to Myset 1 and your bracketing settings to MySet 2, and just go into the MySet menu to switch between the two. You can store up to 4 MySets.
I hope you found this useful; if there's anything you think is missing or confusing, please let me know and I'll try to help and/or supplement this article.