You frequently read that Olympus cameras have a terribly confusing user interface and menu system. You also read that they are crazily customizable. In a way both are true and one is the cause of the other. Mostly
Let me explain it for the E-M1. It works the same for all Olympus cameras, but the E-M1 has the most buttons of all.
You customize the functionality under “Menu > Cogwheel > Button/Dial/Lever”. There you can customize the dial functions for each of the P/A/S/M modes, change dial directions and customize the new lever, that was introduced with the E-P5. You can also change the mode dial functions for “iAUTO” and “ART” to instead choose one of the four “Myset” presets, and finally you can change the meaning of almost all buttons. That’s what we look at now.
The E-M1 has two function buttons “Fn1″ and “Fn2″, a red (Record) button, two buttons on the front, right of the lens mount, conveniently reachable with the fingers of the hand holding the grip, there is an AEL/AFL button, some lenses like the 12-40/2.8 and the 12-50 also have a button on the lens, and if you have the battery grip, you get two extra buttons.
All of these buttons can be changed to quite a number of functions, all of the buttons are essentially equal, their labels are nothing but suggestions. I’ll call them the fully programmable buttons.
There are two more buttons on the left shoulder, on the knob with the power-on switch. One of them is for HDR and one for AF modes. They can be changed by switching the lever, under the condition that the lever is set to one specific of its five modes. Let’s forget the lever though. I still have not figured out what to do with it. I’ll tell you as soon as I know
Let’s look at the fully programmable buttons. You can dedicate them to exposure compensation, ISO, white balance, AEL/AFL, record, stop down (preview), one-touch white balance, home position of AF point, peaking, magnify, changing to “Myset 1/2/3/4″, and a lot of other functions, but interestingly enough you can’t directly program a button to change aspect ratios.
Aspect ratios are only available as a sub-function of the “Multi Function” button. If you press the Multi Function button and hold it, you can use a wheel to change between the functions clustered under “Multi Function”. If you press it normally without holding it, it presents the “current” function, that is the function that you’ve chosen when press/holding Multi Function the last time. In other words: Multi Function “remembers” the function last chosen, even if the camera is switched off, and the “current” function is also saved to “Myset” presets.
Fine, you ask, but what button is the “Multi Function” button? Well, of course any fully programmable button that you program it to
Thus I have set aspect ratio selection as “current” function of “Multi Function”, and on my camera “Multi Function” is programmed to be the relatively prominent red button.
So far we have touched the concept of “Myset” presets, but without deeper explanation. Basically you can capture the current camera state in any of four “Myset” slots. This includes the complete customization. Of course you don’t want the buttons to have completely different functions in different Mysets. That would be confusing and slow you down while shooting.
In my opinion the best way to configure your camera is, to first completely ignore the Mysets. Configure the fully programmable buttons as you like. Try things out, use the camera for a few days, make adaptions. After some time you will have a configuration that you like. This will be what I call the “Basic Configuration”. Save it to “Myset 1″.
Before saving a configuration, make sure that you choose sensible values for ISO, aperture and or shutter speed in the P/A/S/M modes. Remember: everything will be saved. Thus when you ever recall “Myset 1″ and you have the mode wheel in position “A”, the aperture value will be reset to the saved value. Same for ISO, white balance, aspect ratio, picture mode, just everything.
You save to Mysets using “Menu > Camera1 > Reset/Myset”. There you have five menu entries, “Reset” and “Myset 1″ through “Myset 4″. “Reset” can be chosen to reset the camera, either “basic” functions only, or “full”, meaning everything but date and copyright settings. The lines of the Mysets will either show “No Data” (nothing stored in that position) or “Set”. Initially all Mysets will have “No Data”.
If you move the cursor to “Myset 1″ and press right, you can either “Set” or “Reset”. With the up/down arrows you can toggle between the two, with “Menu” you go one menu level back, with “OK” you choose an option. “Set” saves the camera’s current state to that “Myset”, “Reset” deletes the recorded data of that “Myset”. In both cases you get asked before the actual change happens, in both cases you can back out with “Menu”.
Back one menu level higher (in “Menu > Camera1 > Reset/Myset”), if you see “Set” in the line of a Myset, you can just use “OK” to recall those settings.
It’s easy to confuse what is save and what is recall, because in both cases you see the text “Set” and in both cases you activate it with “OK”. In one case you “set” the camera to saved settings, in the other case you “set” the “Myset” to remember the current state. Just remember that saving to a Myset happens one menu level deeper than recalling. Btw, saving to a certain “Myset” also switches to that “Myset”.
OK, now you should have a Basic Configuration in “Myset 1″. Just to make sure, recall it and then immediately set “Myset 2″ to that configuration. Now both Mysets have the same state. From there you can customize “Myset 2″. Make any changes you like and save to “Myset 2″ again.
Currently I use only two “Mysets”. On the E-M5 I have used three, one of them for HDR, but on the E-M1 that’s sufficiently convenient with the dedicated HDR button. Thus I’ve set “Myset 1″ to my “normal” shooting settings (A-f5.6, S-1/15s, ISO Auto 200-3200, WB Auto, Picture mode color/normal). “Myset 2″ is the same, but with ISO Auto 200-6400 and Picture mode monochrome/orange filter. Another typical use for a Myset would be to save an ideal configuration for shooting with manual focus legacy lenses. I don’t do that, two Mysets are enough for me.
The only other difference between the two Mysets is, that in “Myset 1″ I have configured “Fn2″ to temporarily switch to “Myset 2″, and in “Myset 2″ I have configured the same button to switch to “Myset 1″. Switching is temporary in the sense that the camera automatically switches back when you press the button agin, turn the mode dial or even turn the camera off.
This is also a source of confusion. Remember: upon turning on, the camera is always in the “Myset” that you’ve chosen the last time via the menu. I’ve stumbled upon it, because suddenly the camera was always in B/W after turning it on. Well, I had activated “Myset 2″, my B/W mode, via the menu, then switched to “Myset 1″ and color via “Fn2″, and then I had turned the camera off. The switch to “Myset 1″ had been temporarily, thus after turning it back on, the camera was still in “Myset 2″.
That’s about it. It is an incredibly flexible system and it’s easy to use and configure, once you understand the logic behind it. Just make sure you take the time to find your “Basic Configuration” first, and only then you customize with Mysets. Also make sure to always know what Myset is active before saving something. If you don’t know, change to a Myset with a known configuration, for me that’s “Myset 1″, the Basic Configuration.
Cool? Confusing? Crazy? Tell me
The Song of the Day is “The Hardest Button To Button” from the classic 2003 White Stripes album “Elephant”. Hear it on YouTube.