Olympus has just released firmware version 4.0 for the OM-D E-M1 (de) and version 2.0 for the OM-D E-M5 Mark II (de). I haven't seen an announcement on their website yet but the updater software can already download and install both camera and lens updates. One tip that took me a few tries to figure out: when connecting the camera to the computer, select "Storage" from the camera screen, otherwise the Olympus updater software won't be able to see the device.
It's a free upgrade and brings a lot of exciting new features to both of those cameras. Unfortunately for me as an E-M1-only owner, some of those are for the E-M5II only. Before upgrading keep in mind that the upgrade process will wipe all your settings from the camera!
Update: After having played with the new firmware for a day now, I've updated the sections below with some observations and new discoveries (in bold). I will also try to put a sort of E-M1 guide page together with useful settings and little quirks.
It looks like finally the E-M1 is getting an electronic shutter mode which will be great for situations where the loud mechanical shutter is not appropriate. I don't know who made that decision but the heart symbol for the silent shutter (next to the familiar rhombus for the anti-shock mode) is kinda cute. However, be aware of the limitations: rolling shutter (if panning while taking a shot) is worse and flickering lighting such as florescent lights or projector lamps can make photos shot with electronic shutter nearly unusable.
Update: The electronic shutter setting is in the second camera menu (menu button, then on the second page down). Select Anti-Shock/Silent, then pick a silent delay (0 seconds for no delay but no mechanical shutter), then half-press the shutter button to go back to photo shooting mode and select drive mode Single Silent (heart). This is a lot of setup but once it's done you can quickly switch between mechanical and silent shutter using the drive/HDR button on the top left of the camera body. I'm looking forward to using the electronic shutter in my timelapses to go a bit easier on the mechanical shutter mechanism.
Focus Stacking and Bracketing
The biggest feature additions are the new modes for focus stacking and bracketing. Both do essentially the same thing, that is taking a whole bunch of pictures with the same exposure settings but slightly different focus points. This is particularly useful in macro photography where the depth of field usually is very small. It works with compatible auto-focus lenses such as Olympus's M.ZUIKO PRO lens series (de) by automatically shifting the focus point after each photo.
In focus bracketing you will end up with all of those photos and you can post-process them however you like (similar to Panasonic's new Lytro-like focus-later technology). However, when focus stacking is selected, the camera will do all the magic inside and produce one photo out of 8 individual ones, all with slightly different focus points. This should result in a macro shot where the whole subject is in focus.
Update: It works - as long as nothing in the frame moves. Focus stacking only works with the electronic shutter and it's so quick that it can easily be done hand-held. I don't have a dedicated macro lens so I couldn't really shoot any meaningful examples but it turns long focal length f2.8 into "everything is in focus" which is pretty cool. When focus stacking is selected, it also keeps all 5 individual files on the card so you can post-process them later. Some of the little but great improvements that I haven't mentioned in the original article are:
- the menu system remembers where you left off last time so you can quickly play with settings without having to go through pages and pages to find it again,
- not only are there more colours for focus peaking (red or yellow is so much better than black or white!) but the intensity can also be changed,
- histogram, level gauge and over/under exposure indicators can now be displayed at the same time: this is huge because previously I had to jump through all the different options with the Info button to get my camera level, then get the exposure right; you can selected two different custom modes to cycle through using the Info button and selected which parts you want on each screen - the settings are under Menu - Gear D - Info Settings - LV-Info.
Simulated Optical Viewfinder
The S-OVF mode disables some of the "live view" features in the viewfinder, such as boosting the light levels. This means that it won't assist the photographer in bad lighting conditions but on the other hand, you'll see exactly what a true optical viewfinder would see, that is it depends entirely on the currently selected aperture on your lens. White-balance compensation is also turned off for a "truer" image. I think most of the time a appreciate the assisting features of the EVF and I use the histogram to accurately determine whether my exposure is good, so I can't see myself using this mode too much but it's still a free new feature that could come in very handy in certain situations (e.g. when not using the histogram for some reason).
Update: I probably didn't get it fully right in the paragraph above because I didn't know how optical viewfinders used to work. When S-OVF is selected, exposure compensation is completely disabled so you see pretty much exactly what your eye would see outside the camera. If you want to judge exposure you have to go by the metering number - the histogram doesn't help at all because it only turns what's currently in the EVF into a graph which means it won't change as you alter ISO, aperture or shutter speed (because the OVF doesn't change). To see the photo as it will turn out when you press the shutter you have to do two things: 1) go back into normal EVF mode, and 2) turn off Live View Boost under Menu - Gear D - second page. This is my preferred setting because it gives the least unwanted surprises, and I've mapped the S-OVF to Fn2 so I can change to it if I want a more realistic view.
There are a few upgrades that apply to video only, such as a new picture profile (E-M5II only) and synchronised recording with an Olympus audio recorder. I don't own either so sadly, video won't receive any useful improvements (I was really hoping for focus peaking during recording but at least they are adding more colours to choose from for the outlines). Another minor addition is the slate tone generator which I assume can be assigned to a button. Using this probably looks more professional than snipping your fingers in front of the camera when recording audio with an external recorder.
For the E-M1 there is another good and bad update for video: a new framerate. It's great that Olympus has added 24p but it is also still missing 60p to become a useful sports and documentary video camera (which otherwise the rugged and weatherproof body and the in-body stabilisation makes it perfectly suited for). I don't quite understand why Olympus is adding features like timecode (and those awful movie effects) first before improving on the essentials.
The PRO lenses will also receive a new firmware which will add support for disabling the MF clutch. I only usually use the clutch to switch to a true manual focus while shooting video. When shooting photos I have previously pressed my back-button-focus button just to find it didn't do anything because the clutch was still on manual focus. This update might help in those situations.
So overall it's a great update and we should keep in mind that not all manufacturers release such improvements for free. However, there are still features missing that I'm sure the camera would be capable of handling. They might arrive in the future with another free upgrade despite the E-M1 Mark II probably not being too far away anymore. I'm optimistic because in this upgrade Olympus has added features to the E-M1 that at first looked like they were for the E-M5II only.
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