Olympus E-M5: Basic Operation (Part 1)

It’s probably unwise to write detailed and time-consuming articles about the E-M5 when the E-M1 is already shipping and many of you are throwing envious looks towards the new body. But at Photographically Curious we are very happy with our two E-M5 bodies (Katja’s is only a week old 🙂 ) and feel no urgency to upgrade.

Because the E-M1 and E-M5 are so similar, this series of articles should help owners of both models to get the most out of their equipment. Many voices on the internet have criticized the OM-Ds as being difficult to set up and operate, and I agree — while the initial set up is indeed time-consuming, if you do it right, the day-to-day operation is a breeze.

Let me show you how!

Mode Dial


  • iAUTO
    • Intelligent automatic: turns your advanced camera into a basic point-and-shoot — with automatic exposure, auto WB, focus with all AF areas and standard functionality of all buttons and dials — so it’s perfect for letting someone else shoot with your camera. For example to take a picture of you while you stand in front of Taj Mahal or the Colosseum.
  • ART
    • Art filters: Instagram-style JPGs, not useful for serious photography.
    • If you shoot RAW + JPG, the JPG gets “artsy-fied” but the raw file remains (as expected) unaltered.
    • Use the OK button to switch from filter to filter.
    • Custom functions assigned to buttons and dials remain active.
  • SCN
    • Settings for predefined scenes (portrait, sport, macro, etc.): Useful for new photographers, but I suspect not of much interest to the typical OM-D shooter.
    • Use the OK button to select a mode matching your scene.
    • Surprising: custom functions assigned to buttons and dials are ignored (@Olympus: why in SCN and not in ART?!)
  • Movie
    • Press the button with the red dot to start recording a movie, press again to stop recording.
    • While recording, press the shutter release to take a still picture.
  • M
    • Manual exposure: set the aperture with the front dial and the shutter speed with the rear dial.
    • Most useful for scenes with complex lighting, for taking pictures at night on a tripod or when using manual flashes.
  • S
    • Shutter priority: set the shutter speed with the rear dial and the camera automatically selects an appropriate aperture value.
    • Exposure compensation: make the image lighter or darker with the front dial.
    • Most useful if you want to freeze or exaggerate motion.
  • A
    • Aperture priority: set the aperture value with the rear dial and the camera automatically selects an appropriate shutter speed.
    • Exposure compensation: make the image lighter or darker with the front dial.
    • Most useful if you want to control the depth of field (DOF).
    • The favorite exposure mode of many advanced photographers (including me).
  • P
    • Programmed exposure: the camera sets both the aperture value and shutter speed automatically.
    • Program shift: change the combination of aperture value and shutter speed using the rear button. Note that this dial does not affect the brightness of the image, since wider apertures are offset by shorter shutter speeds and vice versa. Program-shift unifies aperture-priority and shutter-priority in a single mode of operation.
    • Exposure compensation: make the image lighter or darker with the front dial.

Buttons on the Rear


  • MENU
    • Shows or hides the menus where you perform many camera settings (discussed in much detail here).
  • INFO
    • Switches between different kinds of information displayed in the viewfinder or on the rear display.
    • In the menus you can enable or disable the kinds of information that INFO cycles through. One possible information kind is “Image Only,” so you can see the entire image without any distractions.
  • Up, down, left and right arrows
    • Select the active AF point.
    • Move the active point past the edge to activate all AF points thus instructing the camera to focus on the subject closest to it.
    • Press any of the four buttons again to activate a single AF area again.
  • OK
    • Display the LCP or SCP (discussed below), from where you can control the most important camera functions.

The Live Control Panel

By default, pressing OK brings up the Live Control Panel (LCP):


While the LCP is nice, there is something much better…

The Super Control Panel

The Super Control Panel (SCP) is great. It displays all important camera functions in a single screen and lets you change any of them with just a click or two. However due to some mystery, the SCP is disabled by default (@Olympus: do yourself a favor and make the SCP the default screen).

To turn the SCP on and the LCP off, go into the menus and select the following:

• Custom Menu
     • D: Disp/Beep/PC
          • Control Settings
               • P/A/S/M
                    • Live Control: Off
                    • Live SCP: On

Now pressing OK at any time will bring up the SCP on the rear monitor or in the viewfinder (whichever is active at that moment):


Note that in the settings above we enabled the SCP only for the P/S/A/M modes. You can enable it for the other modes — iAUTO, ART, SCN– but if you are using these modes, you probably do not want to control the settings manually anyway.

Note also that if you enable more than one control screen for any mode, you can switch between the screens with INFO. The camera remembers which screen was displayed last, so it will present that one when you press OK again.

In the SCP do any of the following to select which setting to modify:

  • tap on the setting on the touch screen,
  • rotate the rear dial,
  • navigate to the setting with the four arrow buttons.

To change the value of the highlighted setting:

  • rotate the front dial,
  • press OK, then turn the front or the rear dial,
  • or press OK, then press the left or right arrow buttons.

Functions You Can Control with the Super Control Panel

In this section I’m only going to discuss settings that are less common or unique to the E-M5. I will not discuss general photographic concepts like single vs. continuos AF.

  • ISO
    • Auto ISO: I don’t use it. I’d like to, but on the E-M5 the Auto ISO implementation does not take the superb in-body image stabilization into account (@Olympus: please fix this!!). As a result the camera chooses rather short shutter speeds and higher-than-needed ISO values.
    • 200 — 3200: Set according to the amount of available light.
    • 6400 — 25600: I find the noise too strong, so I don’t use these.
  • Flash Mode: choose among all imaginable modes
    • Slow: Allows me to mix ambient light into the flash exposure by manually setting longer shutter-speeds.
  • Flash Compensation
    • -1.3 or -1.5 EV: I use the flash mostly for filling-in the shadows and not as the primary light source.
  • Image Stabilizer: in-body image stabilization on five axes. Works extremely well with all lenses regardless if you are shooting still images or movies.
    • IS Off: I turn IS off only when the camera is on a tripod.
    • IS1: for general still-image shooting.
    • IS2: ideal for shooting movies or for horizontal panning in still images.
    • IS3: for vertical panning (which I almost never do).
    • Note: To enable optimal image stabilization with legacy lenses (all those without electronic contacts), go into the IS mode selection and press INFO. This allows you to select the focal length printed on the lens (not the multiplied focal length adapted to m43!). If you forget to do this, the camera will stabilize as if the lens had a focal length of 50 mm and the results may not be optimal.

Columns two and three in the SCP are logically grouped, so let’s look at them together:

  • White Balance:
    • AWB (Automatic White Balance): Most of the time I use this setting.
    • > 1 <: Recall or set a custom white-balance value: press INFO, point the camera to something color-neutral, then press the shutter release. No image is taken, but the white balance is set accordingly. If you are using a specific lighting setup over and over, store its WB here so you don’t have to calculate it every time.
    • > 2 <: Recall or store a different WB value.
    • CWB (Custom White Balance): allows you to set a specific color temperature (in the field immediately to the right). I almost never use this setting.
  • A +/-0: add amber or blue to the white balance chosen by the camera
  • G +/-0: add green or magenta to the white balance chosen by the camera
  • Drive Mode
    • single shooting
    • high- and low-speed continuous shooting
    • 2- and 12-second self-timer
    • Anti-Shock shooting (you have to enable it in the menus first): the camera waits for a short moment after the shutter release was pressed (so that all vibrations have died down) and then takes a picture. I used to be a fan of this setting for shooting on a tripod, but now I prefer to turn off the anti-shock mode (to reduce clutter in the menus) and use the 2-second self-timer instead.
  • Metering Mode
    • ESP: Matrix metering, the default setting, used by most photographers.
    • Ctr-Weighted: I prefer this mode because it’s more consistent and predictable. Since I constantly keep an eye on the histogram, I know that I have to overexpose for snow scenes and underexpose at night.
  • AF Mode: These are discussed in the next article.
  • AF Area:
    • Use the arrow buttons to select which AF area is active.
    • Push the selected area “out of the frame” to activate all AF sensors, push any arrow again to return to a single AF area.
  • Image Quality
    • RAW: for me there is no alternative.
    • JPG: if you have to work very quickly, do not have enough space on your memory card and the lighting is OK.
    • RAW + JPG: not very useful since it takes a lot of space on the memory card. Working with RAW files in Lightroom is just as easy and intuitive as working with JPGs, so I use RAW all the time.
  • Aspect Ratio
    • 4:3: My favorite aspect ratio.
    • 1:1: Also a favorite of mine.

Columns four and five are also logically grouped together:

  • Picture Mode: only relevant for JPG, so I keep it at 3. Natural and don’t spend any time with it.
    • Actually, this setting and the next four also affect the way the camera renders the image in the viewfinder or on the rear display, and some people like to adjust these so that the viewfinder displays a “more pleasing image”. I find the viewfinder very good in its default setting, so I have no need to tweak any of these settings.
  • Sharpness: See above.
  • Contrast: See above.
  • Saturation: See above.
  • Gradation: See above.
  • Face Recognition
    • 🙂 i: Recognizes faces and focuses on the eye which is closer to the camera. Works very well.
  • Color Space: this setting is only relevant for JPGs, so don’t worry about it if you are shooting RAW only.
    • sRGB: Use this option if you don’t completely understand color spaces and color profiles. You lose a few color nuances, but you can be sure that your images will display correctly on all devices. I always use sRGB when I export JPGs from Lightroom.
    • Adobe RGB: A color space with “a few” more colors than sRGB. JPGs in the Adobe RGB color space should only be viewed and manipulated in applications that are color-management aware. Since Lightroom and the Preview program on the Mac are color-aware, I use this setting on the very rare occasions that I shoot JPGs.
  • Fn1 Function: Discussed in detail in the next article.
    • AEL/AFL: My preferred setting.


Reviewing Images

While viewing an image:

  • Press INFO to switch between different information screens. Which screens are selectable is specified in the custom menus (discussed here).
  • To go to the previous or next image:
    • Rotate the front dial.
    • Press the left or right arrow buttons.
    • Swipe a finger across the touch screen. Keep the finger on the edge of the display to scroll continuously.
  • To zoom in or out:
    • Rotate the rear dial.
    • Tap the touch screen and move the magnification slider up or down. Double-tap on the magnification icon in the lower-right corner to display the full image.
  • Vertical images:
    • In the Playback Menu the default setting for Automatic Rotation is “On.” This means that vertical images are displayed smaller and with wide blacks stripes to the left and right. Turn the camera 90° to see the image in full size without the black stripes.
  • To add up to 30 sec. of audio to an image:
    • Display the image, then press OK and select the microphone.
    • Images with added audio are indicated by a musical note.

When viewing only a portion of an image (magnified view):

  • Slide your finger on the touch screen to pan within the image.
  • Double-tap the touch screen to cancel the magnification.
  • Rotate the front dial to view the previous or next images while keeping the crop unchanged. Very useful if you made several images with the same content and want to decide which one is sharpest or which one has captured the decisive moment.
  • Press INFO, then scroll through the images with the left and right arrows keeping the crop unchanged.
  • Press INFO multiple times to cycle through magnified and non-magnified view.

When more than one image is visible (zoomed out view):

  • To go to the previous or next images:
    • Rotate the front dial.
    • Use the arrow keys.
    • Slide your finger up or down on the touch screen.
  • Double-tap the touch screen to cancel the zoomed-out view.

To protect an image from erasing it accidentally:

  • Press Fn2.
  • Formatting a card erases all protected and unprotected images.

A Few Random Functions

  • The optical sensor that turns on the viewfinder automatically when you raise the camera to your eye is active at all times, so be careful when using the touch screen. If you move your hand too close to the viewfinder, you will trigger the viewfinder sensor and the rear screen will be turned off.
  • To cancel the self-timer during its 12-second delay press any of the following: OK, MENU, Down arrow, or Right arrow.