Outdoor Photography and Videography

Tobi Wulff Photography

Home / Essays / 2016 / January / My (rather late) Guide to some Olympus OM-D E-M1 Features and Quirks

My (rather late) Guide to some Olympus OM-D E-M1 Features and Quirks

During my first big outdoor trip with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) I found a few new ("hidden") features and quirks that I want to share.

HDR modes

In the dense Fiordland forests I experimented with the E-M1's HDR modes and found that, unfortunately, the camera itself doesn't really produce any useful, good looking HDR images (JPEGs). However, whether HDR1/2 modes or one of the multi-frame +/- EV modes from the HDR menu are selected, the camera will also automatically engage the high-framerate interval shooting mode so that the shutter only has to be pressed down once to capture all the exposures at a (theoretical) speed of 10 fps. If you want to make use of this feature you shouldn't set the "H" framerate to anything lower than the maximum. Note that in the modes HDR1 and HDR2 you won't get the individual exposures as RAWs - you only end up with one HDR image produced by the camera.

As described in the next section, the last used HDR mode cannot be toggled on and off with a press of the HDR button on the left-hand side of the camera the way you can toggle the other bracketing modes. Therefore, I had to sacrifice another Fn button and chose the one on the Olympus PRO lens since this is the only lens I regularly use for this kind of photography. My smaller lenses that lack the L button are typically used for portraits, wildlife or timelapses.

Quickly toggle bracketing

As opposed to the HDR functionality (which annoyingly has to be switched on and off with a separate Fn button), bracketing can be toggled with a quick press on the HDR button when the button lever is in position 2 and "lever2+left buttons" (the last item in the gear B menu) is enabled. The really cool thing is that a long press (more than 1 second) of the same button will take you to the bracketing menu where you can select between different modes (ISO bracketing which uses different ISO levels, AE bracketing which is similar but in addition varies the shutter speed as well, ART bracketing among others, and the new focus bracketing). Why can't toggling HDR work exactly the same way, it's basically the same thing??

ISO bracketing

I think this is my new favourite HDR mode for handheld shooting because it takes one exposure but delivers 3 different RAWs at +/- 1 EV (e.g. at ISOs LOW, 200 and 400). For many situations, that is enough coverage unless you're dealing with extremely high-contrast scenes. However, this also means that there is only one exposure and the camera delivers 3 different files with different light amplification so it is not the same as actually producing different exposures with longer or slower shutter speeds. Anything other than the base ISO of the camera (200 on the E-M1) will introduce noise and/or limit colours and dynamic range. Here are some interesting, yet slightly confusing discussions around this topic on Photography StackExchange.

One more note on AE bracketing which is similar to ISO bracketing because it does vary the ISO but also takes multiple true exposures at different shutter speeds: contrary to the E-M1's HDR modes, high-framerate interval shooting does not engage automatically so you'll have to set this separately if you don't want to press the shutter multiple times.

Interval Quirks

This, to me, is clearly a bug (although I can see why Olympus did it) and destroys the expectations of precision one might expect from the built-in interval timers used for timelapses and multiple self-timer exposures. Which features exactly do I mean? First, there is a self-timer mode where the user can enter a custom value (in seconds) for the camera to wait, and how many pictures to take at which intervals (also in seconds). The other feature is the timelapse mode where the user can set the interval between shots. Unfortunately, both modes suffer from one common problem: the interval timer only starts once the image (RAW, JPEG, or both) has been written to the SD card. Not only does this introduce an additional delay, it's also inconsistent as writing to the card does not always take the same amount of time.

I can see why Olympus did this, at least for continuous shooting like it is done in the timelapse mode: if it takes a while to write all data to the card, shooting more photos during that time will result in the internal buffer slowly filling up until the camera won't be able to take any more pictures. However, I didn't actually find this to be a problem, and here is both how I tested it and how I work around it when I want to shoot timelapses with interval times faster than the normally achievable 2-3 seconds.

You'll have to use a remote trigger than plugs into the camera. These can be bought for very little money on sites like Amazon. Then, enable the H framerate anti-shock mode (the one with the rhombus) and set your desired interval time (which can be fractions of a second) as the anti-shock delay time. Unfortunately, you'll have to go into the main menu to do this. An option to access this mode quicker is to save it as a MySet and make it accessible through a Fn button or a position on the mode dial. However, to change the interval time you'll still have to do a lot of navigating in the gear menus. Once the shutter remote is pushed down and locked, your camera will happily shoot timelapses at interval times below 1 second. This has worked fine with a reasonably fast and large SD card like the Transcend 64 GB UHS-3 Flash Memory Card (de) down to 1/2 and 1/4 s for many hundreds of shots.

Quickly access focus peaking settings

While the viewfinder or LCD is displaying focus peaking (either because assist is enabled and you've turned the focus ring, or because you've pushed a Fn button that has been assigned to peaking), a press of the INFO button will pop up a small menu that lets you adjust peaking colour and strength without having to trawl through the main menu. I wouldn't be surprised if this quick-access feature works for other things as well but I haven't noticed any yet.

Please use the comment section below or head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr, 500px and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.