Customizing Your E-500

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

This article describes adjustments which can be applied to your E-500 camera just once, customizing it to your needs and preferences. There are also a few you may want to change for a particular shooting session — but not more often. While some other settings are also mentioned, that is only in the context of setting them to reasonable, or "safe", defaults; they are discussed more deeply in Using your E-500.

The French translation PDF file (by J-Marc Guillemaut) does not incorporate the recent editorial changes, but for all practical purposes, technically it should be identical to the English version you are reading now.


The E-500 is a very customizable camera; it can be in many ways adapted to user's preferences, liking, and shooting habits. There are about fifty (!) various preference settings which you may tweak to your heart's desire — and I'm not counting the actual shooting parameters and modes (exposure, WB, drive, etc.)

This degree of control comes at a price: customizing your camera may seem, at the first glance at least, a little overwhelming; especially, but not only, for a film photographer who decided to take a plunge into digital. To make things worse, the manual is not always helpful enough in explaining what exactly this or that setting means.

What I'm talking about are, mostly at least, not the settings you are likely to change often, from one frame to another. Most of these are the "user preferences", customizing the camera to your liking only to be forgotten about, and rarely, if ever, changed in the field. Even if your preferences will turn out to be different than mine, at least I hope to help you to make an educated decision.

I'm also describing in detail how your setup can be stored for a quick recall later, so that if any parameters are modified, they do not have to be restored one by one.

NOTE: Upgrading the firmware will revert all your camera settings to factory defaults. You will have to repeat the customization process every time you perform an upgrade.

Table of Contents

Setting Your Preferences

Almost every user has his/her own idea what make a camera easier and more pleasurable in use. De gustibus non est disputandum; while I'm showing my choices, I am also discussing other options, which you may find more to your liking.

In either case, once you customize the camera to your taste and working habits, you will most probably leave these settings alone. All of them are accessible from the two Settings menus (denoted with wrench icons: and ).

I'll be going through these settings in the order in which they are listed in the menu system. In a few cases this order could not be preserved, as it might have changed, or a setting has been moved from one menu to another; this will be noted for a camera which does not follow the rule. The same is true for a few settings which are no longer accessible from the menu system in the E-510, but which still deserve to be pre-set to be stored in a custom reset slot.

One thing to remember: in order to have all these settings available, the camera must be set to one of the non-all-auto modes, i.e., the mode dial should be in P, A, S, or M position.

Index

The Settings 1 Menu

The assignment of items to both Settings menus seems to follow no clear logic, although related ones are sometimes grouped together. Here are the settings available via the first monkey wrench in the menu system.

Index

ISO Step

This is the step with which you will be able to adjust the ISO (sensor sensitivity to light) setting. It can be chosen as 1/3 EV (ISO 100, 120, 160, 200...) or 1 EV (ISO 100, 200, 400...). The finer, 1/3 EV step has no real advantage: I find that the usual 1 EV is good enough for any purpose, and it requires fewer steps when actually changing the ISO. Therefore 1 EV is my recommendation. (Feel free to disregard it.)

EV stands for Exposure Value, or a product of scene brightness and exposure time; it is often used to describe differences in the amount of light or in response to it. The scale is logarithmic: 1 EV more corresponds to twice the amount of light; 1/3 EV — to about 26% more (note: 1.26×1.26×1.26 = 2). The values in the 1/3 EV ISO sequence are approximate, but this accuracy is more than good enough for any purpose. 

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ISO Boost

When set to On, this makes the ISO settings above 400 accessible, and On+NF activates dynamic noise filtering at these values.

The only advantage of keeping this at Off is that ISO selection process, with fewer options to choose from, becomes slightly faster. But if you change your mind and still want to use higher ISO, then your would have first to change the ISO Boost preference, and only then the actual ISO setting — a bit too cumbersome for my taste.

The bottom line: set this to On+NF, especially if you are not using a noise reduction application in postprocessing.

Frankly speaking, a few comparison frames I shot with and without noise filtering do not show a significant difference. 

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ISO Limit

This is similar to the above, but it imposes an upper limit on the ISO adjustment which is automatically done by the camera in the Auto ISO shooting setting.

The Auto ISO setting affects only pictures taken with a flash. The limit can be set to ISO 100, 200, 400, 800 or Off.

For me this setting is largely irrelevant, as I prefer to set ISO manually, but even then I would rather set this limit to ISO 400.

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EV Step

This is the step with which you will be able to adjust the exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture values. You can choose 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV here, with 1 EV being equivalent to doubling (or halving) the exposure; somewhat too coarse, as the sensor has a narrow tolerance similar to that of a slide film. There is no real difference between 1/3 and 1/2 EV; I keep this at 1/3 EV, as this is the step I'm used to from my film times, but you may prefer 1/2 EV.

I would prefer to have two separate settings here: one for the step of exposure compensation, and another for the shutter/aperture adjustment. While the accuracy of 1/3 EV is, I believe, most useful for the compensation, for shutter or aperture 1 EV is sufficient, while being faster in use (less scrolling).

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All WB Adjustment

Here you can define common color corrections (both in Red/Blue and Green/Magenta plane) which will be shared by all WB settings, including Auto and Reference ().

Note that these corrections will override those, if any, previously defined for the individual WB settings. Therefore if you would like to use a specific correction for some WB choices and a "global" one for all others, define the later first as described below, and then override it for the specific settings from the Camera 1 menu.

The adjustment is done in "steps" of some arbitrary (and undocumented) size, separately for two color dimensions: red/blue and green/magenta. Use a positive correction to get your colors shifter towards red or green; negative — towards blue or magenta, respectively. (Switching between dimensions is done with left- and right-arrow keys; changing the correction — with the up- or down-arrow.)

I find this function redundant: to check the correction currently applied, I have to go to the individual setting anyway; once I'm there, I can as well change it. This is why I leave this function alone.

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Storage Preset: HQ

This option allows you to set the compression which will be used if and when you choose to save your images in the HQ (High Quality) mode. Mind it: it does not switch you into that mode (that choice is done from the Camera 1 menu or, better, from the Control Panel); it only defines the compression used when you actually switch.

There are three compression ratios to choose from: 1:4, 1:8, and 1:12 (the 1:2.7 ratio is hardwired to SHQ). My choice is 1:4, and with that I save 95% of my images as HQ, switching to SHQ only when I'm getting paranoid about compression quality losses (usually Tuesday afternoons).

Another reasonable solution here is to set HQ to 1:8, good enough for most purposes, and switch to SHQ (1:2.7) in more critical applications. 1:12 seems a bit excessive.

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Storage Preset: SQ

Again, this is the setup only, not activation of the SQ (Standard Quality) preset. Here the camera gives you an option to preset both the compression ratio and the pixel dimensions of the saved image:

  • Compression ratio: 1:2.7, 1:4, 1:8, 1:12
  • Pixel dimensions: 3200×2400, 2560×1920 (5 MP), 1600×1200 (2 MP), 1280×960 (1 MP), 1024×768 (XGA), 640×480 (VGA).

Note that the full, native format is, for reasons unknown, missing from the latter list.

If you chose 1:4 as the HQ compression (see the previous item), then I would recommend to set the SQ size to 3200×2400 pixels and compression to 1:8 — next logical step, allowing to double the number of images you can store on your memory card. If you chose 1:8, then setting SQ to 2560×1920 at 1:8 (or 1:12, although I'm a bit squeamish here) might provide you with an "economy" SQ setting to which you may switch when running out of card space.

In any case, I would think twice before deciding to use a smaller size for SQ. A friend of mine, who happens to make the best high-end, reference audio speakers in the world, spent a whole day taking pictures of his studio, only to discover that all were saved as 1024×768 JPEGs; this was the setting he had been using a day before. If you need smaller images for the Internet, reduce the size in postprocessing; this also gives you more freedom if you decide to use just a part of the frame.

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Manual Flash

If this option is activated, then the choice of flash settings will, in addition to the normal choices (on, off, red-eye, etc.) contain manual setting at full power, 1/4, 1/16, and 1/64 of the full power.

If you are an experienced flash user, especially if you like to use the built-in flash as a fill-in outdoors, then you may want to activate this option. Otherwise set it to Off (default), so that switching between settings you actually use will be faster and less error-prone. 

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Flash+Exposure Compensation

This option allows you to choose how the + dialed flash exposure compensation is applied.

  • On: the dialed flash exposure compensation is applied on top of (i.e., added to) the "regular" exposure compensation.
  • Off: only the dialed flash compensation is applied to flash pictures; the dialed "regular" value is then ignored.

Some previous Olympus cameras used the first (On) scheme; on the other hand, some users may find the second one (Off) more intuitive. Your pick. Personally, I find the On option more to my liking. Whichever you choose, stick to it.

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X-Synchronization

In this option you set the fastest shutter speed which will be used when the camera is taking pictures with flash. While the default is 1/180 s, you may set the that limit to any value down to 1/60 s.

Slower speeds increase the input of the ambient light to the final result, softening the harsh flash light a bit, but this may cause problems with the white balance indoors, as usual with mixed light sources, e.g., a flash used in a brightly-lit room.

The manual is wrong on this option, with the whole (!) description being "You can set the shutter speed that will be used when the built-in flash fires [...] in 1/3 EV increments.". Not true: the setting only defines the maximum speed.

In the program mode, the camera (with built-in or external flash) will be setting the shutter as it pleases, close to the 1/2F (one over double focal length) rule, to maximize the ambient light input. It will do the same in the aperture priority mode. In the shutter priority mode it will limit the speeds you can select manually to the value entered in this option.

I would recommend to leave this setting at the highest value, i.e., 1/180 s, for a number of reasons, including those mentioned in my remark above. If longer shutter speeds are needed, use shutter priority.

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Auto Pop-Up

This setting affects the behavior of the built-in flash — but only when the main dial is set to the Auto exposure mode, or one of the dedicated scene modes.

If set to On, when the camera's autoexposure system determines a need for flash, it will pop the built-in unit up. This feature benefits mostly three categories of people, not necessarily mutually exclusive: legally blind, photography illiterates, and some camera reviewers.

A semi-intelligent and/or semi-aspiring photographer should be able to decide if the flash is needed and then raise it manually. The camera also displays the shutter speed it is going to use; if this speed is too slow for safe handholding, it should be up to the photographer to decide whether to secure some additional support or to use flash. If you cannot make this decision, you should not be buying an SLR: take it back to the store and get an all-auto point-and-shoot. You really will be better off.

Pictures taken without flash usually look much better than with one (especially the built-in unit). Also, if the camera raises the flash head when you are already pressing the shutter release, it will take some time to recharge the flash capacitor: it would be not economical, battery-wise, to keep it constantly charged; this delay may cost you a picture opportunity.

I often read camera reviews (sometimes, but not only, in Popular Photography), with non-popping flash listed as one of the major complaints about the camera in question. I consider this a major misunderstanding or worse.

Anyway, the setting remains largely irrelevant, as it does not apply the Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual exposure modes. Still, as you may use the Auto mode for a quick return to some reasonable defaults ("panic button"), I would recommend disabling the auto pop-up, unless you count yourself in one of the categories listed above.

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Dial

This setting allows you to re-assign the function of the camera's control dial, the one fitting right under your thumb at the far right. Actually, there are two choices to make here, as the dial function can be re-assigned separately for the Program and Manual mode. Here are all options:

  • Program Exposure Mode: you can choose between
    • Program Shift (shown as [Ps], default): the dial shifts the program towards higher or lower apertures, without modifying the overall exposure. Exposure compensation is done by turning the dial with the compensation button (next to the shutter release) pressed.
    • Exposure Compensation: the dial by itself is used for exposure compensation, while its functionality when the button is depressed undergoes a change, becoming quite erratic:
      • After the camera is turned on, the dial used with the compensation button works the same way as when used alone by itself (exposure compensation);
      • After the Lock button has been used once, the functionality is swapped, until the camera is powered off — switching to another exposure mode does not restore the original behavior.

    As this behavior makes no sense, I have to assume that it is an obscure bug in the firmware. Therefore I would recommend against changing the program mode dial functionality in the E-500.

  • Manual Exposure Mode: the choices are
    • Shutter: the dial alone changes the shutter; with the button on top — aperture. This is the default setting.
    • Aperture (shown in the menu as FNo.): the dial alone changes the aperture; with the button — shutter speed.
    As infrequently as I'm using the manual exposure, I prefer the second option, as it is consistent with the aperture priority mode.

A remainder: in the shutter and aperture priority exposure modes the dial, when used alone, changes the controlled variable (shutter or aperture, respectively), while with the button it adjusts the exposure compensation. This assignment cannot be changed; just fine with me.

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Lock: AEL/AFL

This stands for Auto Exposure Lock and Auto Focus Lock, and adjusting this option, or a family of options, may look like opening a Pandora's box of confusion. From this sub-menu you can define how the camera's AE and AF functions will behave when the [AEL/AFL] button (just right of the finder eyepiece) and the shutter release are pressed.

The choice is made independently for each of the focusing modes (single, continuous, and manual), and in each case you select a pre-packaged preset for that mode.

Switching between SAF, CAF, and MF is not done from here; you can do it either from the Control Panel or with use of the focusing mode button (right arrow).

The good news is that the presets chosen as defaults by Olympus make good sense; only if you are really unhappy with those, and you really know what you want, they may be worth changing. Or, if you really trust my taste, you may skip the details and jump straight to recommendations.

Just to let you get an idea of what options are available in your camera (keeping in mind the remark above), here is the complete listing. I hope it may be at least a bit less confusing than the description and the table in the Advanced Manual, but I cannot guarantee this.

  • Single AF: this is the AF mode in which I take 95% of my pictures; therefore it is most important to set this one properly.
    • SAF Mode 1. If you do not use the Lock button, then both exposure and AF are locked at the moment when the shutter release is half-pressed. Any changes in scene brightness or subject distance which may happen between that moment and the actual shutter release (full press) will not be taken into account. This allows you to lock the exposure and focus on the part of the scene you consider most important.

      Pressing and holding the Lock button freezes the exposure (but not AF) as metered at that moment (usually before half-pressing of the release, though it may also be done after). Therefore you may (a) point at where you want to set the exposure and lock it with the button; (b) while holding the button down, point at the object to focus on and half-press the release to lock focus; (c) recompose the frame and shoot.

    • SAF Mode 2. With the lock button down, the camera's behavior will be identical to that in SAF Mode 1. Without the use of that button, however, half-pressing of the shutter release does not freeze the exposure; it is being updated until the moment the shutter fires.

      In other words, the lock button is now the only way to freeze the metered exposure.

    • SAF Mode 3 The exposure is locked when the shutter release is half-pressed. The only way to lock the AF (or to activate it at all) is to use the lock button.

      This really becomes a manual focus mode with AF "on demand", except that the focus ring on the lens is not active, unless you switch the focusing mode to SAF+MF in the shooting controls (or use one of the new SWD-series lenses, where the ring is active all time.)

      This mode may appeal to the more old-fashioned photographers, who grew up using non-AF cameras. Still, it may be too easy to forget about pressing the lock button and take a picture without focusing.

    Out of these three choices the first, default, one is generally the safest and makes most sense, for me at least, therefore I'm using it. Keep it there, unless you already have developed different working habits.

    While using the last mode can be tempting, I prefer to get the same functionality in the manual focus mode, as described below.

  • Continuous AF: this is the focusing mode to which you may want to switch occasionally to photograph fast-moving action. In this mode the E-500 allows you to define four different ways in which the lock button and shutter release will lock the focus and exposure.
    • CAF Mode 1: Autofocusing starts when the release button is half pressed and the focus is continuously adjusted until the end. Exposure is also locked with the release half-press, unless the lock button is pressed (and held down), in which case that event does the locking.

      Note that this is very similar to the SAF Mode 1, except that AF is being adjusted continuously till the very end.

    • CAF Mode 2: AF starts at release half-press, then both AF and AE are adjusted till the last moment, unless the lock button is used to freeze the exposure. This is the default.
    • CAF Mode 3: Half-pressing the release freezes the exposure; continuous AF is active only when the lock button is being held down.

      This means that if the Lock button is not used, no autofocusing is done at all! (I had this wrong in the write-up until a March, 2008 update. The manual also has it wrong.)

    • CAF Mode 4: Like CAF Mode 3, except that exposure is not frozen when the release is half-pressed; it is being adjusted up to the last moment. Like in Mode 3, continuous AF is performed all the time while the lock button is held down.

    The real choice, for most users at least, will be between Modes 1 and 2. If you are not sure what you want, keep the default Mode 2, although I (slightly) prefer Mode 1. Still, I may change my mind when I get more experience in action photography.

  • Manual Focus. When the camera is in manual focus mode, the lock functions can be set up in one of three ways.
    • MF Mode 1: Exposure is locked when the release is half-pressed, but can be also metered when the lock button is used and kept frozen while it is being held down. An exact MF equivalent of Modes 1 in two AF regimens. This is the default preset.
    • MF Mode 2: Exposure is locked when and while the lock button is depressed; otherwise it is being adjusted until the picture is taken.
    • MF Mode 3: Exposure is locked with half-press of the release, and pressing the lock button is used to activate single AF (one measurement).

      Note that this behavior is exactly the same as in the last SAF Mode. Obviously, it works only with AF lenses.

    The default Mode 1 makes sense, being consistent with SAF Mode 1. For my setup, however, I have chosen the last option, as it is very nice to have AF on demand in MF mode.

Ok, lots of confusing detail, but making these choices is something you will be doing just once.

My recommendation: You will be just fine keeping the defaults, shown in the menu at as [S:1 C:2 M:1]. My personal preference is [S:1 C:1 M:3]. If you have strong feelings about these settings, then you probably don't need my recommendations anyway.

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AEL/AFL Memo

When set to Off, the lock button works like described in the previous section: you have to keep it down in order to keep the setting frozen (or, for continuous AF, being updated). When you set this to On, the button will act as a toggle: the first press will turn the lock on, the second — off. The lock remains on even after the picture has been taken.

While this may be useful when we want to keep the exposure identical for a number of frames (like when shooting panoramas), it may also be quite dangerous: it is too easy to forget that the AE or AF lock is active.

This is why I would recommend keeping this at Off, unless working in the toggle mode is already your second nature.

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AEL Metering Pattern

This setting allows you to choose what metering pattern will be used when the exposure is locked with use of the lock button (not by half-pressing the shutter release!).

  • Auto — whatever pattern the camera is using by default, i.e., without the lock button.

    (That pattern can be changed from the Control Panel or with use of the metering pattern button, i.e., the left arrow).

  • Center-weighted — always the center-weighted mode, regardless on the "regular" pattern used (see above).
  • Spot — always spot-metering, ditto.
  • Spot-Highlight and Spot-Shadow — as above, but assuming you are pointing at the highlights or shadows of the scene.

The spot setting is a natural choice here: very much like pointing at something with a handheld light meter (some of the Readers may even remember what this is) and saying "I want this to be at the standard gray level".

While the factory default is Auto, my choice allows a spot reading at just a press of the Lock button, without changing the pattern setting permanently (i.e., until it is changed back to whatever I'm using as a point-and-shoot default).

You may keep this on Auto only if you feel uneasy about spot-metering, but then, most probably, you will be not using exposure lock often, either.

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Quick Erase

Activating this option allows you to delete the currently viewed image with a single press on the red trash can button, without any confirmation.

I would suggest keeping this at Off, and setting Priority Set (the Yes/No option in Settings 2, see below) to Yes; deleting a file would then require a confirmation with just a single button press.

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Raw+JPEG Erase

This is relevant only if you save images, at least from time to time, in two versions: raw ORF and JPEG. If you are viewing such an image and press the Delete (trash can) button, the camera may delete just one or both versions, depending how this preference has been set. Because I never save dual files of the same image, I have no preference here.

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Function Button Assignment

While we will refer to this button as [Fn] or Function Button, it is marked with the Reference WB symbol, . It actually gained the re-definable functionality only in firmware Version 1.2; before that it was dedicated solely to Reference WB.

The Function Button can be pre-assigned from the Settings 1 menu to perform one specific operation. The available choices are:

  • Reference WB (default), marked as in the menu.

    This is setting the white balance by pointing the camera to a white or gray surface and pressing the shutter release while the Function button is held down. The Reference WB function works very well, and I find it quite useful.

  • Test Picture: if you press the shutter release holding down the Function button, a picture will be taken and displayed on the monitor, but not saved to the card. I don't find this functionality too useful: what if this one turned out just right?
  • My Mode — taking a picture when the Function button is kept pressed will use your custom My Mode setup rather than the current camera settings.
  • Depth Of Field (DoF) Preview (Olympus refers to this as just Preview.) Pressing the Function button will close down the aperture to the value set by you (aperture priority, manual) or the AE system (shutter priority, program). This allows, in theory at least, to evaluate the depth of field in your picture. In reality, previewing the DOF in the tiny finder of most digital SLRs (including this one) is a wishful thinking.
  • Off — the Function button is entirely disabled, perhaps to protect those who may press it by accident and then be confused. (Hey, why not to go all the way and add an option to disable all buttons, so that the user will not to do anything by accident or otherwise?)

This may look like a tough choice, but it really isn't. Unless you really need the capability of quick switch to a custom My Mode, Reference WB remains my clear choice. DoF preview in the optical finder is of rather problematic value, and live DoF preview is not really faster than just taking a picture and checking it out; the same is true about the test picture option. Still, your taste may differ.

The same menu contains another, related option, allowing to swap the functionality of the Function button (as defined above) with that of the AEL/AFL Lock.

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My Mode Setup

This sub-menu allows you (in a somewhat confusing manner, similar to Custom Reset, described later) to choose between two different My Mode presets or to define (or undefine) them. I would recommend reading this while actually handling the camera.

Note: If you have assigned the Function button (see above) to anything but My Mode, then My Mode Setup becomes irrelevant and you may save yourself the effort of reading the rest of this item: you will not need it.

Reminder: To access this setup option, the main dial must be moved away from the AUTO mode!

  • Go to the Setup 1 menu and highlight the My Mode Setup option, way down in the fourth page. If you haven't defined any My Mode presets before, you will see No Data next to it; otherwise you will see My Mode 1 or My Mode 2.
  • Press the right arrow key. Without any My Mode presets, you will find yourself in a screen like this:

    MY MODE 1 > NO DATA

    MY MODE 2 > NO DATA

    For an already defined My Mode, the right-hand field may also read SET (this mode has been defined) or CURRENT (defined and active).

  • Use the up/down arrows to highlight one of the modes. If it shows SET, pressing [OK] now will make it active (after a Yes/No screen): this will now be the mode used when you take a picture with the customized button (see the previous item) pressed.

    Remember: this does not switch the camera to that mode; only pressing that button while a picture is being taken will do it!

  • Regardless of that, you may press the right-arrow when one of the My Mode items is highlighted; then you will see two options: SET and RESET. Choosing SET (and pressing [OK]) will store the current camera settings in the chosen My Mode (without any confirmation); RESET will erase the contents of this mode.

As a My Mode slot stores all shooting parameters including the current exposure mode, that mode will be used when the My Mode is applied by pressing the [Fn] button (this means that you may temporarily switch, say, from program to aperture priority without using the mode dial!).

This may sound convoluted, but really is not — after you realize that the same menu items are used for both choosing the modes and defining them. Anyway, as I said, if you have not assigned the Function button to My Mode, you do not have to bother with these settings.

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Focus Ring

This allows you to choose in which direction you will have to turn the manual focusing ring in order to change the focus towards infinity.

Once again, I find this feature to be of tertiary importance, as it works, obviously, only with the Four Thirds lenses, which have electronic coupling between the ring and lens cams. I resort to manual focusing only with legacy lenses, which have mechanical coupling, making this choice not applicable.

Unless you insist on manual focusing with dedicated Olympus lenses and also have a direction preference inherited from your film SLR system, just ignore this choice .

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AF Illuminator

This setting allows you to enable or disable the autofocus aid light, used when the available light is not bright enough for reliable autofocus. Depending on the flash you are using, this AF light can be generated in two different ways.

  • Without an external flash unit mounted, the internal flash (if raised) emits a low-intensity, multiple burst of light;
  • An external flash (FL-36 or FL-50 by Olympus) has a separate light source, generating three beams of continuous, deep-red light with a striped pattern (to provide some focusing detail, smart!).

In either case, the setting allows to turn the AF aid off. It is irrelevant if the flash is not raised or if the external flash is turned off.

I prefer to have the AF assist turned On. You may want to disable it when using the built-in flash to trigger slave units, when it may release them prematurely.

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Reset Lens

If this is set to On, turning off the camera will reset the lens to infinity. At a negligible expense of battery use, this usually saves you a fraction of a second in the first picture taken when you turn the camera on again. Why not? — set this to On.

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Release Priority S

This option defines the camera's behavior in the S (single-focus) mode. Activating it will make the camera take a picture whenever you press the shutter release button regardless of whether it was able to focus properly. The default setting here is Off, and this is, indeed, preferred in most shooting situations for which the single-focus regimen is preferred (see also the next item); that's why I would leave it at Off.

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Release Priority C

Similar to the above, but for the C (continuous AF) mode. That mode is recommended for fast-moving objects, and the camera uses the predictive AF then anyway (extrapolating the subject movement and "outguessing" its future position). Because of the predictive AF and because in such situations it is better to risk an out-of-focus frame than no frame at all, the default On setting here makes perfect sense.

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Function button swap

This allows you to swap the functionality of the AF/AE Lock with that of the Function button, marked as (E-500) or [Fn] (E-510), which, as you remember, be additionally customized. If you choose to do that, pressing one of these buttons will perform the function assigned to the other one, and vice versa.

After some initial reluctance (actually, only after I've got the E-510), I decided to activate the swap in both cameras: this makes locking the exposure and/or autofocus more convenient, without your right thumb having to reach all the way towards the eyepiece — a difference when you are doing it with your eye at the viewfinder. Then, after another month I restored the original setting.

I wouldn't recommend doing the swap if you have the AEL/AFL Memo option enabled: the button can be pressed by accident when carrying the camera, and then the exposure will remain locked until you notice that your images are way off.

This option is available only if you have the firmware Version 1.2 installed.

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The Settings 2 Menu

If you think this was quite a many options, wait; the Settings 2 menu adds more. Do not feel confused or intimidated; remember, you have to set these just once, unless you want something to play with during long winter nights.

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Clock

This is not actually a preference setting; a properly set clock allows your pictures to be correctly time-tagged. Set this once to your home time zone and leave it there, adjusting once a year if ever.

Note that the camera's computer does not know anything about switching to the daylight savings time (the "summer time"), therefore if you want to account for that, you will have to move the clock twice a year by one hour. My preference is not to do it, and keep the "winter" time, as this is more closely related to how high the Sun is over the horizon.

I would also advise against moving the camera's clock every time you travel to a different time zone (unless you are permanently relocating). Sooner or later you'll forget to do it, and then things may get quite messy. It is not really worth the trouble.

Index

CF/xD Card Selection

This choice between Compact Flash and xD-Picture card is not really a preference setting, and it should be rather in one of the Camera menus, not here. Anyway, set it to the card you use more often, and in need you can always change it from the Control Panel, without diving into the menu system. Keep in mind that CF cards usually are faster, and this is my default. (The new "H" xD cards still do not match the speed of current CF ones; see my memory card article.)

Index

File Name

The Olympus file naming system uses a simple convention, combining the date picture was taken with a serial number. A file name format is

Pmddnnnn.JPG   or _mddnnnn.JPG

where the name elements mean the following:

  • P or _ is a fixed character (for sRGB or Adobe RGB color space, respectively); see also the Edit File Name item below. (The character will be applied even for raw images, where the color space is not applied yet.)
  • m is a single character (hexadecimal digit) denoting the month: 1 stands for January, 9 for September, A for October, B November, and C — December.
  • dd is the two-digit day of the month;
  • nnnn is the picture serial number, incremented every time a new image is saved; after 9999 it will start from 0001 again.
  • .JPG (with the preceding decimal point) is the file name extension by which most graphics programs recognize the format in which the image was saved. This may be .JPG (compressed JPEG), .TIF (uncompressed TIFF), or .ORF (Olympus Raw Format).

For example, PB260832.ORF means a picture taken on November 26, with a serial number of 832, saved in the Olympus Raw Format; with color space set to sRGB.

The File Name option defines how serial numbers are assigned when an empty memory card is detected. There are two choices here:

  • Reset — the numbering starts anew from 0001;
  • Auto — it continues from the last value.

It seems difficult to come up with any advantages of the Reset scheme. It can be potentially dangerous, allowing you to have two different pictures from the same day identically named; Auto also gives me a quick count how many pictures I took with the camera from day one. Keep this at Auto and forget about the issue.

Index

Edit File Name

"Edit" is too big a word here ("File Naming" would be more proper); this option allows you to define the first two characters in file names generated by the camera. While the default (shown in the examples above) are 'P' for the first character and the '1'..'C' month code for the second, either can be hardwired to any letter or digit (or the second can still denote the month, which the default). Confusingly, defaults are shown in the menu as Off, as if P or MONTH were more difficult to understand).

Note: For Adobe RGB you can change only the second character; the first one will be always an underscore. To change the setting you must actually set the camera to the given color space.

You can just leave the default settings here, with one possible exception. When using two or more cameras applying the same naming scheme (read: made by Olympus) it may be nice to have the first character different for each camera; this is handy in avoiding name clashes between pictures taken on the same day, and in seeing at a glance which camera was used.

Still, the first thing I do after downloading my images to a computer is renaming them; Total Commander, my favorite Windows file manager software for the last 14 years, has a nice and flexible batch renaming capability. I use it to change names like P8292040.JPG into 070829-2040.jpg.

Olympus has one of the better file naming systems among camera brands not because it is so good, but because others are worse. Why do they stick to the 8.3 naming convention, which became obsolete in 1995, and which does not allow for file names longer than eight characters (before the dot, that is)?

Index

Monitor Brightness

Adjust it to your heart's desire; I'm fine with what came in the box.

Index

Language

Once again, your choice.

Languages available may depend on where you bought the camera. For example, my E-510 (North American market) came with English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. You can install another language from the Olympus Master, using the same Web-based mechanism as for regular firmware upgrades. The installed language is then added to the language menu.

Index

Video Out

This defines the standard used when the camera's monitor signal is sent to a TV set, usually for viewing pictures (not a good idea anyway; almost any computer screen gives you a better viewing experience). You may choose between NTSC and PAL, depending on where you are.

Index

Beep

From here you can enable or disable the beep the camera makes when autofocus is achieved, at least in the single AF mode. I prefer to keep this On, as quite often I am too focused on other things in order to watch the AF confirmation light in the viewfinder. At rare occasions, when the beep may be found disturbing, I just break my rules and go to the Settings 2 menu to disable it.

Index

Rec View

You can define if (and for how long) the camera will display the picture which just has been taken, even while it is being saved to the memory card. This can be set to any value between 0 and 20 seconds, with 3..7 seconds being, I would think, reasonable for a quick check.

If you expect to do lots of shooting in situations when battery life is critical, you may also set the value to zero (i.e., turn the preview off). You can always press the Play (green arrow) button to see the last picture taken.

Index

Sleep

This defines the period of inactivity after which the camera will enter the low-power sleep mode, disabling the LCD monitor and all controls but the shutter release: when that is half-pressed, your E-500 will almost instantly (with about one second of dust-cleanup delay) spring to life. This can be set to Off (never go to sleep), 1, 3, 5, and 10 minutes. Entirely a matter of taste; I prefer 3 minutes.

Note: the infrared remote receptor is disabled in the sleep state; for occasions when you are using the RM-1 or RM-2 remote control (for example: table-top photography), you may want to disable the sleep feature at all.

Index

4-Hour Timer

With this option activated, when the camera is not used for four hours after entering the sleep mode, it will turn itself entirely off, requiring you to flip the main power switch to start it up again. This is a battery-saving feature, and I would keep it at On.

Index

Button Timer

The E-500 and E-510 follow the "push a button and turn the wheel" metaphor for adjustment of the most frequently used parameters. Some previous Olympus models required you to hold the button down while turning the wheel, not too convenient for all buttons. This is why now Olympus offers a short "grace period" within which the setting's screen is shown and the wheel can be turned without the button being depressed. A small difference, but it makes the camera easier to use.

The Button Timer setting allows you to set the length of this time to 3, 5, and 8 seconds, or to Hold, which means that you have to press [OK] again to exit the process. My preference is three seconds; yours may differ.

Index

Opening Screen

Setting this to Off will disable the Olympus logo and a short animation which usually show on the monitor when the camera is turned on (even if the monitor is off, it will be activated to show you that; how very special!). This is the first setting I change in every camera I buy.  

Index

Control Panel Color

There are two color schemes which can be used for the Control Panel display. Both are quite readable and good-looking, but I find the first one, denoted as Color 1, more to my liking. Suit yourself.

A minor firmware modification could make this choice more than a matter of just looks and readability: if the CP color setting were stored in each of the custom resets (as things are, it is not), you could see at a glance to which of these was the camera last reset. A small, but nice, touch. Oh, well.  

Index

Yes/No Priority Set

This, confusingly named, option defines which answer (Yes or No) will be highlighted as default in file deleting operations. The default is No: pressing the trash can button while viewing an image shows a query with No highlighted; you have to use an arrow key to move to Yes, and then press [OK].

This double protection seems too much to me; I prefer the Yes setting, where I need to press just [OK] after the Delete button to confirm the operation.

This choice does not affect other confirmation screens; for example resetting the camera to one of the custom presets.

Index

USB Mode

This sets the mode in which the USB interface turn itself on when the camera detects the proper cable plugged in: Auto, Storage or Control, and also two printer-specific setting: Easy Print and Custom Print.

Storage makes the camera's currently used memory card visible as an external disk drive from the host computer; Control allows the camera to be operated remotely from a computer program (Like Olympus Studio or Cam2Com, and in the Auto setting you will be asked to make a choice every time.

The default Auto option is safe choice, although if you never operate the camera remotely, Storage will be OK. (I never print my pictures directly from the camera, therefore I will not comment on the Print settings.)

Index

Color Space

A choice between sRGB (used on practically all computer displays) and Adobe RGB, supposedly providing a wider color gamut. Only if you are an imaging professional, you may think of the second option; otherwise stick to sRGB which does not require any special steps or special software to be displayed on a computer monitor.

Index

Shading Compensation

Many lenses, especially wide-angle ones, produce images with some light fall-off towards the corners. The E-500 can compensate for this, using the information passed from the "smart" lens to the camera circuits. Here you can turn this function on or off (except for images stored in the Olympus Raw Format, ORF, as for these the compensation is applied during the conversion to RGB on a computer). I see no reason not to have this set to On.

Index

The last three positions in the Settings 2 menu are not really settings; they rather serve to invoke rarely used camera functions:

Pixel Mapping

To be used occasionally (every six months or so, or as needed) to map out the few bad pixels which may show on your sensor.

Index

Cleaning Mode

When you select this and press [OK], the camera enters the cleaning mode: the mirror goes up and the shutter opens, so that the dust barrier in front of the image sensor becomes accessible for cleaning — if you remove the lens, of course.

Index

Firmware

Display the installed firmware version for the camera body, lens, and external flash (if an Olympus dedicated flash is mounted and turned on).

Index

Default shooting settings

Settings in this class do not customize the camera to your liking; they are rather working parameters, and may end up being more or less frequently changed before (or even during) a shooting session. More on this subject can be found in my article un using the E-500; here is just a list of reasonable default settings.

Assigning these parameters some reasonable defaults and storing the whole set (together with preferences discussed above) in one of the two available Reset slots will allow you to restore the whole package quickly, without a need to change each one individually. This is why I'm discussing them in this article.

Some shooting settings are accessible via their dedicated external buttons; most can be accessed from the Control Panel, and all — in the least convenient manner, from the menu system. In this description I'll be following the order in the menus, as this is the best way not to miss anything.

There are two menus dedicated to these settings: Camera 1 and Camera 2, accessible via small camera icons with numerals 1 and 2. Mercifully, these are rather short menus, containing only eight or nine items each, and even these are not all needed in daily operation, as most are duplicated in direct button or Control Panel functionality.

Index

The Camera 1 menu

The division of available adjustments between Camera 1 and Camera 2 does not follow some clear pattern. Don't blame me if you find the ordering of options not too logical.

Index

Card Setup

This not a setting, but an operation (or rather a choice of two): erasing all images from the currently selected card, or formatting it. While the erase operation is faster, formatting may sometimes be necessary if a card is corrupted or has been formatted in a different device.

Index

Custom Reset Setting

This also seems to be rather misplaced: from this sub-menu you can set, reset, or recall a complete camera setup. This function will be discussed in a separate section.

Index

Picture Mode

From here you can not only choose from three color and two monochrome modes, but also to set the profiles of all those.

  • Each of the Picture Modes (named Vivid, Natural, and Muted) may have its own combination of contrast, sharpness, and saturation settings. These settings are remembered for the given mode when you switch to another, so that in effect you get a functional equivalent of defining and recalling of three different color films.
  • The monochrome mode (referred to as Monotone) has its own contrast and sharpness adjustments, plus a Filter setting, equivalent, more or less, to using a filter of a given color (Green, Red, Orange, Yellow, or Neutral, i.e., none) in front of the lens when shooting on a B&W film. Pictures in the Monotone mode can additionally be tinted to Purple, Blue, Sepia or Neutral (no tint); the Sepia tint seems to make the separate Sepia mode redundant.

    The E-500 also has an additional (and redundant) Sepia mode, which is monochrome tinted to sepia. That mode was removed in the newer models.  

It may be a good idea to set all color and monochrome Picture Modes to your liking before the whole camera setup is saved to one of the Reset Settings slots. My settings are shown in the table below.

To complicate things, the values you set are not absolute settings, all in the same reference frame. They are applied on top of whatever the camera designers decided to use as defaults for the given Picture Mode, which means that even with all three settings at zero (which is the factory default), various modes will differ in contrast, sharpness, and/or saturation.

The table below shows the base values (hidden from the photographer) in the first column, and then my recommended adjustments (the Adjust column), followed by the resulting absolute settings (shown as Total).

Olympus software (Master and Studio) do a poor job extracting the metadata from Olympus' own image files. If you want to see the information I'm talking about, you have to use a good application; the best one I know (by far!) is the EXIF Tool by Phil Harvey. To use it in a more convenient way, you will additionally need a GUI front-end application, like Exif Tool GUI by Bogdan Hrastnik; perhaps also my inifile to show only the relevant data in the Custom tab of the program. Just put all three into the same folder and run the GUI application.

Picture Mode Parameter Base Adjust Total
Vivid Contrast 0 0 0
Sharpness 0 -1 -1
Saturation +1 0 +1
Natural Contrast 0 -1 -1
Sharpness -1 -2 -3
Saturation 0 0 0
Muted Contrast -1 -2 -3
Sharpness -2 -2 -4
Saturation 0 -1 -1
Monochrome Contrast 0 -1 -1
Sharpness -1 -2 -3
Filter - Red
Tint - None

The Sepia mode is actually a tinted monochrome and I never bothered with it. Its offset values for sharpness and contrast are zero.

The exact choice of your adjustments here is largely a matter of taste; treat my personal preferences as such. Most probably, however, you will never need to raise any of the parameters above zero from their mode-imposed defaults.

Now, after setting all "films" to your liking (or mine) you may want to choose the one to be used as default. Naturally, Natural would be my choice here.

Index

Gradation

You can choose between Normal, Low Key, and High Key. For a general use Normal is, no doubt, the choice as a default, which can be changed for individual pictures, if needed, from the Control Panel when shooting.

The manuals do not specify what these settings actually do. I suspect that they just move the central part of the tonal curve up or down, therefore affecting the midtones with smaller impact on the ends of the tonal scale. Frankly, I never bothered to check, as I usually do the same in postprocessing, where I can adjust the degree to my liking.

Index

File Format and Compression

Shown as a sideways shower head icon: the choice is between ORF (Olympus Raw Format, the original, unprocessed information from the sensor), TIFF (uncompressed 8-bit, E-500 only!), and compressed JPEG in three combinations of compression and pixel size: SHQ (Super High Quality), HQ (High Quality), and SQ (Standard Quality).

While SHQ is hardwired to a full-size, 1:2.7 compression, in the HQ format you can set the compression level (inversely proportional to image quality), and in SQ — both compression and pixel size. This is done from the Settings 1 menu. In the option I'm discussing here (i.e., the one in Camera 1) you can only switch between the five named formats listed above.

For general, although not just casual, use I stay with my HQ preset (as defined in Settings 1, with a 1:4 compression), occasionally switching to SHQ.

Index

Exposure Compensation

This, obviously, is the setting most likely to be changed, if not for every frame. After shooting, however, I like to put it back at -0.3 EV. This is a relatively safe value, at least for sunny weather outdoors situations, and it helps to protect the highlights from washing out.

Even if you get a grab shot with this compensation while it was not really needed, you can stretch the image tonality to get the highs right (at some expense in noise); if, however, your highlights burn out, you will not be able to restore them.

Index

Noise Reduction

This option turns on the low-light, static noise reduction which is done by subtracting a "dark frame" from a taken picture.

The method is effective only for exposures longer than two seconds or so, therefore it will be actually activated only in such cases. Still, I prefer to have it disabled as a default, as it makes sequential shooting inaccessible. After all, how often do you take two-second exposures?

Index

White Balance

Many photographers, even advanced ones, leave the WB at Auto all the time. Manual setting works usually better, as long as you remember to change it when shooting under different conditions. Most of the time (outdoors) I keep it at Sunny (5300°K).

The E-500 also allows you to define one custom white balance (CWB) setting. I've put 2500°K in that slot, as this is useful when shooting under lower-wattage bulbs, for which the incandescent (3000°K) setting is too warm.

You can define your own CWB setting, in two ways:

  • Using the WB option in the Settings 1 menu;
  • Through the Control Panel: with the WB highlighted, use the control wheel to get to the custom WB, then use the wheel together with the Exposure Compensation button to change the value.

In either case the adjustment step is 100°K steps above 2700°K and in 50°K steps below, all the way down to 2000°K. Remember that lower values will result in images being less red; you may want to do some experimentation to choose one setting you will be using most often.

Index

White Balance Compensation

In the same menu item as above you will find a way to enter an individual correction for each of the presets; this correction will then be applied every time that preset is used. You are free to tweak each preset to your liking, but I really never felt a prevailing need to do this, so I leave this alone.

If you want to tweak one or more of the presets to your liking, you may, again, use the menu system: Camera 1 > WB > ..., or the Control Panel — a faster and easier way. The adjustment is done independently in the red/blue and green/magenta dimensions as described in the All WB Adjustment section. Note that the compensation applied here will override that defined previously on the global level; see that section again.

If you really care about tweaking the color balance precisely, you will be probably saving images in the raw format anyway, and in such a case all this becomes irrelevant, as the WB compensation happens only at the stage of converting the raw image to RGB.

Index

ISO

This sets the image sensor gain (sensitivity to light). I prefer to set ISO manually, with the default at ISO 100, moving to higher values as needed in lower light, when shutter speeds become too long for safe handholding.

The Auto setting is really a misnomer: without a flash, the camera will be applying ISO 100 regardless of scene illumination and other exposure parameters (even in total darkness). Only when the flash is activated, the used ISO value will be raised, if needed (at larger subject distances).

Index

Metering Pattern

The choice is between (ESP matrix) and (center-weighted); (spot metering) is not really good as the mode used when the release is half-pressed: you have to remember always to point the spot at the right object, half-press, recompose, and shoot. It is better to have spot metering assigned to the AEL function (see AEL Metering Pattern); when you do that, it still remains easily accessible, and in a more intuitive, safer way.

The ESP setting has two flavors: one "plain" and one denoted as "ASP+AF". The latter assigns higher weights to the matrix area over the currently used AF sensor. The choice is made from a sub-menu into which the ESP branches, and the chosen flavor will be then used always when you switch to the ESP metering mode using the control panel (or the direct button, i.e., left arrow) .

The highlight and shadow variants of the spot mode are just gimmicks: the same effect (and more) can be achieved with the regular spot mode and exposure compensation ("I want this to be at +2 EV", not unlike in the Zone System).

With all that said, the matrix pattern, with its 49 metering zones, should provide better protection from burned-out highlights. I set the metering mode to ESP+AF, and never change it (having spot mode easily accessible through AEL button).

Index

The Camera 2 menu

Remember again, I'm not recommending that you use these Camera settings all the time, but that you set them as your personal defaults to be restored when the custom reset option is used.

Index

Flash Mode

I prefer keeping this at (always On). It actually means that the flash will fire every time, but only if I raise it before, as I have the Auto Pop Up option disabled. (On with red eye reduction is another reasonable default).  

Index

Flash Compensation

Start from zero (remember that my preferred way is to apply the flash compensation on top of the "regular" one, not instead). You may want it adjusted if your flash tends to under- or over-expose on a regular basis, i.e., if your default exposure compensation with flash is different than without.

Index

Drive Mode

Obviously, this should default to single frame, to be changed as a need arises.

Index

AF Mode

Again, single AF makes a good default.

Index

AF Point Selection

Most users will set this to Auto, although a single (center) point is a viable option if you like to lock the focus by half-pressing the shutter release. (That's how I finally settled down; no, I don't need 47 AF points, not now.)

Index

Bracketing

There are actually four menu items here, to set bracketing in white balance, autoexposure, flash exposure, and focus.

Of these, AE bracketing is most commonly used, and focus bracketing (described in detail here) remains a function, I believe, unique to the E-500 (it is certainly not available in the E-510 or E-3). WB bracketing is, from where I stand, quite useless (multiple conversions of the same raw frame, something you can easily do in postprocessing from a raw file).

As far as presets go, set all these to Off, activating only when needed.

Index

Mirror Lock

This is listed as Anti-Shock (creative English again!) — keep it at Off, activating when needed only in critical tripod work.

Index

Store/restore your setup

The E-500 has two "reset slots", which can be used to store almost all your settings, or to reset your camera to those stored before. It may be somewhat confusing that these are not accessed from one of the Settings menus. To confuse things a bit more, at least in the beginning, the same menu option is used to store and to recall the setup.

This is the option named Custom Reset Setting in Camera 1, and using it is not quite obvious, so here is the whole procedure.

Reminder again: This option is accessible only if the camera is not in the AUTO mode!

  • Highlight the Custom Reset Setting option and press the right arrow button.You will see a screen reading like this:

    RESET

    RESET 1 > NO DATA

    RESET 2 > NO DATA

    Instead of NO DATA, lines two and three may show SET, which means that a slot has been already customized.

  • Originally the RESET option is highlighted. Pressing [OK] when it is, will reset the camera to factory settings, after a Yes/No query. A handy option, but you do not want to use it now; not before you safely store your custom setup!

    Note that this does not destroy the contents of the custom reset slots (or of My Mode ones).

  • Use the down-arrow to select the RESET 1 or RESET 2 slot. If that slot has been already customized, you may press the [OK] button now, and the camera will be reset to that slot's contents (after a confirmation screen). If it is empty, [OK] brings no effect. You do not want to use [OK] here anyway, not yet.
  • Press the right arrow button. Two options will show: SET and RESET. Highlighting SET and pressing [OK] will save the current camera settings in the selected slot. Done.

    Using RESET will clear the selected slot. Keep in mind that both setting and resetting a slot are done without the usual confirmation.

As with the My Mode setting, the procedure can be less than obvious until you get used to it. This is due to two circumstances. First, the same screen is used to set up (store, cancel) the settings and to recall them. Second, in English two forms of the word "set" are identical: the past participle (something has been set), and the imperative (please set something). Maybe the UI designers should have chosen another word here, with both forms different; like defined and define or stored and store?

Once your chosen settings have been stored, at any moment later you can quickly restore the whole package as described in point (3) above. A very useful feature; I only wish Olympus allowed us a choice what settings does the camera use when it is powered up: last used, factory reset, custom reset 1, or 2. Some previous Olympus models allowed for this, and it was very handy.

Index

Settings not stored

A few of the preferences or settings I am discussing above are not stored in custom reset slots, for a number of reasons. These are: (1) Choice of storage card, (2) file numbering and naming, (3) the Yes/No default, (4) USB mode, (5) color space (Adobe vs. sRGB), (6) Control Panel color scheme, and (7) startup screen. 

I think these exclusions either make sense or remain irrelevant, so why not.

Index

What next?

I have set up my Reset 1 as described above, finding this quite useful. Whenever I modify the settings extensively, it is easier to do a custom reset, even through the menu system, than to undo all changes one by one.

I'm not quite sure, though, what to do with the second reset slot. Maybe some setup for a more specialized use, like available light, infrared, or table-top photography? I haven't made my mind yet, but you certainly may have some ideas here. (Maybe using separate reset slots for different users of the camera?)

In any case, the recommended reading, if you are still interested, is my companion article on using the E-500, in which I'm discussing the camera settings which you are adjusting on the fly, i.e., when actually taking pictures.


My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

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Posted 2006/02/25; last updated 2009/02/14 Copyright © 2006-2009 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak