Light Painting is Easy with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 (E-M5 and E-M10, too)

The Olympus OM-D E-M1 (and E-M5, E-M10) were made for Light Painting.  They give you a feature not found on any other camera that I know of, and that is Live Bulb / Live Time.  Using either of these allows you to watch your image develop in Real Time (almost like developing prints in a dark room back in the “good old days”).  And then you can end the exposure when you think it looks right.

Light Painting is not only easy but a lot of fun and it can yield some unique images for you.  Basically it entails setting up in a relatively dark location so you can use a longer shutter setting, long enough to give you time to selectively illuminate your subject to achieve your desired result.
I won’t go into details here because I wrote about it twice last year.  First using the Fujifilm X100, and later with the Olympus PEN E-PL1.  I not only talk just a little about technique but point you to some great websites about it, too.

The beauty of using this technique with the OM-D is centered in two features known as Live Bulb and Live Time.  (The settings for these two are found in Custom Menu E.)  In a nutshell, these two functions tell the camera to periodically update the live view on the LCD monitor, allowing you to track the exposure in “almost” real time.  Then when it looks right … you end it.
The menu settings allow you set the desired interval for the camera to update the live view, but keep in mind the number of updates is limited.  So you need to space them out to make sure it will cover your needed exposure time.  Also the higher the ISO, the lower the number of allowed updates.

My favorite of the two modes is Live Time for one simple reason.  It lets you start the exposure with a simple press of the shutter button and then end it the same way.  With Live Bulb, you must hold the shutter button down (or use a cable remote with locking ability) for the entire time.

Previously, getting a good exposure while light painting was a function of luck, experience, and trial and error.  Now, with the Olympus OM-D E-M5, we have a tool that can greatly shorten the learning curve and help you get the best exposure the first time.  🙂

By the way, if you’d like more about the nuts and bolts of these features (and Much more), take a look at Gary Friedman’s comprehensive new book about the Olympus OM-D E-M1, available in just a few days at The Friedman Archives,

Setting Up the NEX-7 – Revisited

I recently read somewhere, “Photography is a disease for which there is no known cure.” ( – Author Unknown)  I know I’m afflicted by it and I sure hope it isn’t fatal . . . . . aside from my wife wanting to kill me for exceeding my photography budget! 🙂 

A couple of days ago I “reacquired” the Sony NEX-7. There’s a lot to love there:  A beautiful, black, metal body; 24 Megapixel APS-C sensor; 10 frames-per-second; Terrific EVF (Electronic ViewFinder); and the Tri-Navi control system to give you almost instant access to many of the camera’s functions.  This camera is very customizable with several buttons that can be re-configured to setup this camera to work the way you work.

Many of you may not want your camera setup exactly like I do and that’s okay. We’re all individuals and approach photography with different goals and techniques.  In fact, my settings change from time to time as my current photographic emphasis changes.  But, if you’re new to the NEX-7 or maybe just struggling with the overwhelming customization options, maybe this will help. Here’s how I have mine setup, at least for now.

First, in the Main Menu, go to Setup and about halfway down you’ll find the Function Settings. These are the settings that are accessible using the Function Button (next to the shutter button) and adjustable with the two top Control Dials and the Control Wheel (Tri-Navi Controls).
  • Function Settings 1 > Focus Settings
  • Function Settings 2 > White Balance Settings
  • Function Settings 3 > Creative Style Settings
  • Function Settings 4 > Custom Settings
  • Custom Settings 1  > DRO/Auto HDR (Having Auto HDR and Quality in Custom Settings means they are both accessible at the same place. And since I often shoot in RAW, this makes it easy to quick change to JPEG when I want to use Auto HDR.)
  • Custom Settings 2  > Quality
  • Custom Settings 3  > Picture Effect
  • Function Settings Start > Previous (this just takes me back to whatever I had last changed)
Next, with Soft Key A, go back into the Setup Menu, and select Custom Key Settings. These will change the function of several of the buttons on the back of the camera.
  • AF/MF Button > AF/MF control
  • Right Key Setting > Flash Mode
  • Soft Key B Setting > Focus Settings
  • Soft Key C Setting > Shoot Mode
  • Custom Settings > N/A unless you set Soft Key C to Custom Settings, then you will have several choice to add, here.
With this configuration, I almost never need to go into the camera’s extensive menu system to make a change while I’m shooting, which is a big deal for me since I do tend to change settings quite often.  The possibilities are so varied, that you’ll probably need to do some experimenting with different combinations to find what works best for you, but maybe this guide can give you a place to start.

Please comment and share with us how you have your NEX-7 setup – and why – so we all have the chance to learn another way of doing things.

In a recent blog post, I mentioned that I worked with Gary Friedman ( to produce a comprehensive manual about the new Sony NEX-5R and NEX-6.  You can find that eBook about the Nex-6 / 5R at , plus other books about all of the Nex models including the Nex-7, the RX100/M2 and most of the Sony Alpha models.

Customizing the Olympus OM-D E-M5 – Update – Using the Power Battery Holder

NOTE:  If you’ve upgraded to the E-M1, my post about its setup is here:

This is the 2nd update to this post, so I hope it doesn’t become too confusing.

Olympus OM-D E-M5 w/Power Battery Holder (HLD-6)

I love the OM-D … it’s an awesome little camera.  Now, with the Power Battery Holder (PBH) on it, it’s even awesomer!  Bigger, but better.  In a nutshell, the PBH gives a better way to grip the camera with both normal and portrait (vertical) handgrips.  Plus, it allows you to add an extra battery, thereby doubling your shooting time, and it gives you two more customizable Fn (Function) Buttons.

The PBH comes in two pieces, the hand grip and a separate battery compartment which also has the vertical grip and Fn buttons.  Above, you can see the OM-D with both of them mounted.  Below, I’ve shown the camera and the two parts separated.

First you add the hand grip to the camera and that is actually my favorite way to use the PBH.  Personally, with the battery holder added it just makes the camera a bit too big and heavy for normal use.  But, when you need the extra power, it’s great.  Below, is the camera with just the hand grip and you can see that it really doesn’t add much height to the camera – only about 7/16″.  But what it does do for you is give you a terrific hand grip wrapped around the right front that has it’s own shutter button and front control dial.  It’s a feel much like the Nex-6 or Nex-7 if you’ve ever held one of those cameras, and it makes the camera very easy to carry.

Now, when you need that extra battery, you just add the battery holder to the bottom of the hand grip (unfortunately, it can’t be added to the camera without the hand grip).  Then, in addition to the extra battery, you’ve just added the vertical grip (with shutter button and front/rear control dials) for doing portrait work, and  two more Fn buttons, B-Fn1 and B-Fn2.  These buttons can be programmed to do totally different things from the other buttons on the camera.  I have mine set so that B-Fn1 moves my AF point to the home position, and B-Fn2 turns on the Digital Tele-converter.

Below, you can see the various controls on the battery holder.

The one switch we haven’t discussed yet is the “Lock” switch.  When in the Lock position, it locks out the Shutter and Fn Buttons on the battery holder to prevent accidental actuation.  And I might add that the shutter button rests directly against the meaty part of my palm so I accidentally actuate it fairly often.  I really, really wish though that Olympus would make it so that it ONLY locked out the shutter button so we could still have access to the two Fn Buttons down here.

Just a couple of more things to know about this:

  1. When it is attached, you must remove it to change the battery that is in the camera.
  2. However, you do have the ability to tell the camera which battery to use first.  So I set it to use the PBH battery first and then I can just change that battery when it gets low, keeping the internal battery in reserve.
This thing is fairly expensive at USD $299, so you have to either really want it or need it.  Plus, it does make the camera considerably larger in bulk and heavier as well.  So while it adds a lot of functionality, it does come with  some costs … monetary and carry-ability.

Previously posted information is below.


I recently had breakfast with a friend who also has the Olympus OM-D E-M5. We had a good time talking about our experiences using this great camera and sharing some of our own personal settings. As I was talking about the way I had customized the various buttons, it occurred to me that I rarely used the “Video” button which I had set to engage AEL. Instead of pointing the camera in a different direction, engaging AEL, and then reframing to take the shot, I find it so much easier to just look through the EVF and adjust the exposure to where I want it using the “Sub Dial” (the front dial that surrounds the shutter button).

So, I “re-purposed” the video button to engage Manual Focus, a setting that comes in very handy at times. I had previously set my autofocus to the S-AF+MF setting which allowed Single Autofocus with a Manual Focus override if I turned the focus ring on the lens. The problem with this for me was that it is just too sensitive. If I just brushed the Focus Ring, then the display would instantly zoom in (another setting I like for manual focus), requiring me to wait a few seconds for it to return to normal so I could compose the shot.
So now, my normal Focus mode is S-AF (Single Autofocus). However, if I feel the need to use Manual Focus (macro for instance), I merely push the video button to engage MF and then as soon as I turn the focus ring, the camera digitally zooms in for me (I usually use the 5x setting) so I can fine tune the focus before shooting. Then, one more push of the Video button puts me back in my normal Autofocus mode of S-Af.
I rarely shoot video, so this works well for me. If you frequently shoot video, then it may not be the best setting for you. That’s a part of the beauty of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 … there is so much flexibility in the way it’s various buttons can be customized so that it “works your way”.
The menus of the Olympus OM-D E-M5 present a deep, but well organized hierarchy of all the functions and settings that can be changed on this camera, and there are many. Some have written that it is too complicated, but my feeling is that this complexity is what allows us the ability and freedom to customize this camera to our own personal taste. So while it may take a bit of study to figure out exactly how to set it up to your liking, the end result is well worth it.
I’m not going to delve into all of the available settings, just the ones that affect the various, customizable buttons and make our lives as photographers easier.  So, let’s start on top:

I’ve set the Fn2 button as the “Home” button and it moves the AF point back to center which is where I use it about 90% of the time. This way, on those rare occasions when I move the AF point around the screen, it only takes one quick push of Fn2 to get it back to center.
I almost never take movies, so I’ve rededicated the “Record” button as my AEL button, and further customized it to use Spot Metering when AEL is invoked this way. Plus, I’ve set it so that it takes one push to set AEL and another push to deactivate it.

On the back of the camera, I’ve set the “Arrow Function” keys to Direct Function. The default setting for these arrow keys is to move the AF point around, but they are “hot” all the time and I kept inadvertently moving them with my thumb. The Direct Function setting allows me to use the Right Arrow to bring up the ISO menu for quick changes, and the Down Arrow to change the Drive Settings, which I frequently use. Also in Direct Function, the Left Arrow will activate the AF point selector so you can move the point around to any of the 35 points or select All Points which allows the camera to automatically select a point based on what it perceives in the photo. Lastly, the Up Arrow activates the ability to set Exposure Compensation using the arrow keys … but this is a waste for me since I always use the Front Dial for this.

The other change I’ve made back here is to the Fn1 Key which I set to activate “Myset1”. The E-M5 allows us to memorize 4 different sets of camera settings for different situations. So far, I’ve only set Myset1 to be used for AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing).
Here are the other major settings that are called up when I press Fn1, activating Myset1:
  • Aperture Mode
  • ISO 200
  • Sequential High Speed (9 fps)
  • AEB set to bracket 5 images with 1 EV spacing between each one
This way, any time I get the opportunity to shoot an HDR (high dynamic range) image, I can push (and hold) Fn1, and fire off 5 quick bracketed shots. Then, as soon as I release Fn1, I’m back to my original settings.
Of course, all of these settings are easy to change so don’t feel like you have to get it set exactly right the first time. Go ahead, make some changes and experiment a little. Soon, you’ll figure out what works best for you.
Note to Olympus: I sure wish you would make the Fn1 Button cycle through the 4 Myset settings so we could easily jump from one to another instead of having to use the menus to choose the one we want. I think it would be much more useful this way.

Full Review of Olympus OM-D E-M5 Posted at DPReview! has finally posted its full review of the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

They have lots of good things to say including, “…the E_M5 is one of the best looking cameras we’ve encountered in some time.” (I agree.)

They go on to give the camera an 80% rating and their prestigious Gold Award: “The E-M5 is without question, the most accomplished Micro Four Thirds camera we’ve yet seen, and given how well established the system has become, it vies for the title of most capable mirrorless option yet.” Here, I think they are talking about it as a “system” and the established large number of lenses and other accessories that are available.

As usual, DPReview presents a great, unbiased, and thorough look at every nuance of the E-M5, pointing out its many strengths, a few weaknesses, and an in depth look at the possibilities.

So, go take a look. If you’re already committed, then you’ll feel even better about your decision. If you’re still on the fence, it just might knock you off – in favor of the E-M5. And if you’re not interested … well, then it still makes for good comparative reading.

Now, the BIG question ……… is Amazon going to come through with tomorrow’s delivery (to me), or continue to keep me frustrated? I’ll let you know.

Learning the Olympus System

Ever since ordering the Olympus OM-D E-M5 over a month ago, I’ve been waiting rather impatiently for it to ship. Unfortunately, that probably won’t be for another couple of weeks.

So in the meantime, I decided to get an Olympus PEN E-PL1 ($289 on Amazon w/lens) and begin to get familiar with Olympus’ menu system and general camera functions. In reading about both cameras, it appeared that they had similar menu setups and would make for an easy transition to the E-M5.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the E-PL1 and have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of images that can be coaxed from this little “PEN”. These images reflect a few of my favorites, so far, and have various amounts of post processing applied, from just a crop to some fairly aggressive black and white work.

All images are from the Olympus PEN E-PL1 with the 14-42mm kit lens.

ISO 1000, f/5.3, 1/40s, 37mm

ISO 200, f/8, 10 seconds, 42mm (light painting)

ISO 200, f/8, 1/1250s, 39mm, B&W processing in Nik Silver Efex Pro

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1500s, 42mm, cropped only

ISO 200, f/8, 10 seconds, 42mm, (light painting)

Light Painting with an Olympus PEN

Light Painting – Beretta Px4 Storm Pistol

This was another “light painting” session, this time with the Olympus E-PL1.

This is really very easy to do. I set up in a darkened room with the camera on a tripod, set manually at f/8 and 10 seconds, with the drive mode in 2 second timer. Focus was achieved with the flashlight full on and then switched to manual focus. After shutter release and the 2 second timer expired, I illuminated the subject with the flashlight, moving it around and also pointing from different directions to reduce harsh shadows.

I’m thoroughly enjoying the Olympus PEN E-PL1. With care, the image quality is very good, and sharpness is excellent even with the 14-42mm kit lens.

This image was taken in RAW, then processed and tweaked in Lightroom 4 and Nik Viveza

Latest Addition to My Bag – Olympus E-PL1

Olympus PEN E-PL1 w/M.Zuiko 14-42mm lens

While waiting for the Olympus OM-D E-M5 to ship (mid-April, hopefully), I decided to get an early start at learning the Olympus system. After doing some reading, I decided on the Olympus PEN E-PL1.

While I haven’t studied every camera available, the E-PL1 has to be one of the best values available, today. On Amazon, it’s only $289 (w/14-42mm lens), and I’ve seen refurbished models at less than $200 … amazing for a camera of this quality and with these features!

The camera is about the same size as the E-M5 and as far as I can tell the menu system is very similar. It has a 12.3 Megapixel sensor, plus it uses the same lenses as the E-M5. Other features include:

  • IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), so every lens can be stabilized
  • HD Movie mode
  • Built-in (popup) flash with Wireless Control capability
  • Dust Reduction System that vibrates the sensor every time the camera is turned on
  • Many built-in effects and scene modes
  • And much, much more
The extensive menu system allows you to customize the camera so it works the way you do, and the Super Control Panel makes it so easy to change most of the common settings, like ISO, White Balance, Picture Effects, Auto-Focus Mode, Metering, Image Quality, and others.
After just two days, I don’t feel qualified to do a complete review of this wonderful little camera, but I’m sure you can tell I really like what I’m seeing, so far. I think the E-PL1 is going to be a perfect complement to the E-M5 once it arrives.

Now, after getting my hands on this little beauty, I’m even more excited about the E-M5!