Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Underwater Settings

Setting recommendations for the E-M1 Mark II Camera when shooting underwater.
By Kelli Dickinson

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Olympus has long been a forerunner in high quality mirrorless cameras, with models that not only work well topside, but also work wonderfully underwater. The OM-D E-M1 further pushed the quality of these cameras with more professional body style and functionality. Now, with the release of the E-M1 Mark II camera, Olympus continues to improve on these great mirrorless cameras.

Learn about the E-M1 Mark II in our full Review.

The OM-D E-M1 Mark II offers 4K video recording, improved autofocus, a megapixel increase from 16 to 20 MP with improved image processing, improved battery life, and faster sequential shooting, among many other upgrades. The only downside is that the high shutter sync speed of 1/320th on the E-M1 was reduced back down to 1/250th with the Mark II.

Below I've compiled several good starting camera settings for different shooting situations. Folling that is a list of the most important, or required settings that are crucial to change on your E-M1 Mark II when shooting underwater. Last, we'll take an indepth look at the menu system of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II so you can fine tune your camera for the best underwater shooting experience.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Shooting Settings

Settings for Macro with the 45mm or 60mm Lens:

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/2500th, ISO 200

  • Auto white balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • TIP: Shoot at lower F stops like F5.6 or F2.8 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background

  • TIP: You'll need to open up your aperture to around F8 when shooting fish; at F22, your strobes won't "reach" very far and the photo will look black.

  • ** These settings are also useful with the 12-50mm lens in Macro Mode **

Settings for Macro using a standard zoom lens (14-42mm / 12-50mm) with a wet diopter:

  • Manual mode, F16-22, 1/250th, ISO 200

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the on camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Zoom all the way in

  • Shoot at lower F stops like F8-F11 to try to get some better bokeh and a blurred background, you can open up to F2.8, but will have a very small depth of field

  • Remember working distance is limited when using a wet diopter, move carefully to avoid spooking your subject and get very close.

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Settings for Wide Angle with 8mm Fisheye or 9-18mm lens:

  • Manual mode, F8, 1/125th, ISO 200 

  • Auto White Balance, camera flash on "fill in flash", Strobe on TTL

    • Or set the strobe to manual power and adjust power as needed

    • For manual power set the camera flash to manual to save battery life (see below for instructions)

  • Important: use the shutter speed to control your ambient light (background exposure). A slower shutter speed (e.g. - 1/60th will let in light when shooting in darker waters, a faster shutter speed will allow less light in when shooting in bright conditions).

  • TIP - when the sun is in the photo, set the shutter as fast as possible (1/250th), and you'll need to stop down your aperture to F16 or F22 to avoid blowing out the highlights

  • TIP - for ambient light photography, you may need to open your aperture to F5.6 or F4 and increase the ISO to ISO 400, 800 or 1600 to let in more light.

Note: These settings also are great for starting points for shooting with a kit lens (14-42mm), and for fish portraits with the 60mm macro lens.

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II Set Up for Underwater Use

The E-M1 Mark II works well straight out of the box, and some of the features that needed to be changed in previous models are now set default, making it an even easier transition to underwater.

1) Live View Boost - this is very important due to the way we shoot underwater. Many shots, macro specifically, are taken with very little ambient light coming into the camera. If left off the LCD on the camera would appear black, making it impossible to compose your image. The E-M1 Mark II offers the ability to set the Live View Boost depending on your shooting mode. Here are our recommendations:

  • Manual Mode - ON1 - this is the default and means your LCD will not display the exposure settings, but rather will show a bright screen for the best viewing. Note - this is actually the camera default.
  • Bulb Time / Live Composite - you can skip for underwater
  • Others - ON1 - this is for any other setting (P / A / S and Art Modes). Since these are auto settings, which should adjust other settings automatically you should always be able to compose based on the LCD, but to be safe turn ON the Live View Boost to always have a bright easy to see screen image.

2) EVF Auto Switch - the E-M1 Mark II offers an electronic viewfinder and the camera is set up to automatically switch between the LCD and the EVF when you put your eye up to it. This is problematic underwater, as the rear housing door will trip the sensor and the view will always be on the EVF. Follow these steps to disable the Auto Switch.

Custom Menu -> I: EVF -> EVF Auto Switch -> OFF.

3) The Flash - if you are shooting with an underwater strobe, do not forget to attach the accessory flash to the camera. All uw strobes fire via fiber optic and require the flash to fire from the camera.

4) Flash Modes - if you are using a strobe with TTL you will use the single lightning bolt "Fill in Flash" mode on the camera however, if you are planning to use the strobe in manual mode* you can save battery life by changing the flash mode to "Manual Value" through the quick menu. This is also beneficial because using the internal camera flash at a lower power means less recycle time and helps eliminate any delay on being able to take a picture.

OK -> scroll to flash icon -> scroll over to select "Manual Value Flash" -> Press Info to change flash power -> scroll to 1/64th power -> OK to confirm

*Remember - if you change the flash mode on the camera, you are also changing the pre-flash. When shooting manual flash on the camera, make sure you are using a no pre-flash mode on your strobe.

5) Rear Control Buttons - the default setting on the E-M1 rear arrow key buttons controls only the focus point, limiting the functionality of those buttons. You can customize two of the buttons instead to gain quick, one-touch access to important features.

Custom Menu -> B: Button/ Dial/Lever -> Button Function -> Key Function (option with the four arrow key icon) -> Direct Function -> OK

Now you have access to change the right and down arrow key controls on the back of the camera. (Up gives control of Aperture / Shutter Speed without the dials and Left gives control over the focus point, these are NOT customizable). You have the same options for both customizable buttons, I suggest reviewing each and picking the ones that best suit your needs. For example, I left my camera at the default to have direct access to the flash mode via the right arrow key and direct access to the sequential shot/ timer mode for the down key. (The sequential shot is not something used much underwater but I find i use it alot topside, so it was important to have direct access for me.)

6) Rec View - this sets the length of time an image review is displayed after taking the picture. Default is 0.5 seconds. For underwater use, 2 seconds is usually recommended so you have a chance to quickly gauge that exposure and focus look good before taking another picture. If 2 seconds is too long, set it to what you desire, or simply press the shutter halfway down to cancel the review after taking a photo.

 Set Up Menu (wrench icon) -> Rec View

7) Picture Mode - the default is natural, but jpeg shooters may prefer Vivid

NOTE: this does not affect RAW files

Accessible through the SCP / Quick Menu or Shooting Menu 1

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OM-D E-M1 Mark II Button & Auto Focus Set Up:

The auto focus set up on the E-M1 Mark II is very similar to the E-M1. The camera will work smoothly right out of the box, for for more control, you can set up an advanced autofocus system to aid in your underwater photography.

Set Up for Nauticam Housings

The Nauticam Housing is designed much like their DSLR housings with built in handles and a leverl style shutter release. They reposition buttons to make a more streamlined user experience and help you have the right controls within easy reach. Here are our recommendations to take full use of the AEL / AFL button and advanced focus options.

Button Functions (Custom Menu -> B: Button / Dial / Lever -> Button Function)

Previously you had to assign, or reassign some buttons to create an advanced autofocus system, now that is no longer needed. Scroll through the options in the setting to choose special functions you'd like control over. For example Fn1 is well placed on the Nauticam housing to act as your "One Touch White Balance" control... Here are the options I selected:

  • Fn1 - One Touch White Balance (useful for video and ambient light shooting)
  • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
  • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
  • AEL / AFL - I leave this as is so you can have access to the focus lock function
  • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.

Focus Settings for the Nauticam Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the AEL/AFL button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the AEL/AFL for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the AEL/AFL button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Set Up for Olympus Housings (PT-EP14)

Improvements have been made on the Olympus housing, making it a nice option for those on a budget. However, unlike Nauticam, Olympus does not move controls around much on the housing, so some compromises have to be made regarding set up.

You can set up an advanced auto focus system by splitting out the focus function from the shutter, but as the AEL / AFL button is not repositioned, it is somewhat harder to reach and not recommended for use in this scenario. Instead, reassign the Fn1 button to control AEL / AFL, then follow the mode set up below.

In addition, with the change of the accessory flash, you no longer have to use Olympus' dedicated underwater mode to get the flash to fire. This means you do not have to assign that function to a button, and gives you more custom control over how your system is set up.

Preparing the Camera for the UW Housing - follow these steps to ensure the camera is ready to be installed in the housing.

  • Remove the camera strap and any filters from the lens.
  • Remove the Eye Cup from the Electronic Viewfinder

If you leave those items attached you may not be able to install the camera (strap for example). Others, like a filter or the eye cup, can put pressure on the housing and lead to a flood.

Focus Settings for the Olympus Housing - use this advanced set up to allow you to split out the focus from the shutter release using the Fn1 button for focus. This can be extremely useful for macro shooting.

  • Button Function -
    • Fn1 - AEL / AFL - because the Fn1 button is better positioned to use for focusing.
    • Fn2 - MF - this allows you to quickly switch between Manual Focus and your current focus mode (S-AF or C-AF). This comes into play when using the AEL / AFL focus lock feature.
    • REC - I leave this as record, for quick movie capture.
    • AEL / AFL - you can ignore or assign for one touch White Balance.
    • All other customizable buttons - I have not changed any of those, you can view the options and decide what works best for your shooting style.
  • AEL / AFL - set the Auto Focus Lock settings to separate focus from the shutter based on the focus mode on the camera.
    • S-AF - Mode 1 - this is the default, standard focus on a camera. Press the shutter half way to focus, all the way to take a photo. I leave S-AF as default for topside and underwater wide angle shooting, when I don't want to miss a focus, and am often needing to refocus between shots.
    • C-AF - Mode 3 - this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can refocus the camera from the Fn1 button and not risk taking a photo. I use C-AF primarily for video, so it is helpful to be able to refocus mid clip and not risk having the clip split by taking a photo.
    • MF - Mode 3 - same as C-AF, this separates the shutter release from the auto focus so you can lock focus and then take as many exposures as you like without refocusing the camera. When using this mode on Manual Focus you get the ability to both manually focus the camera with a focus gear in the housing, or use the Fn1 for auto focus. It is a perfect set up for shooting macro.

Now that you have set up these modes, you can shoot a picture "normally" (half shutter to focus) when in S-AF mode. Simply press Fn2 to swith from S-AF to MF focus mode and now when you press the shutter release halfway nothing happens. Focusing is done through the Fn1 button, or manually with a focus gear on the lens. This is perfect for macro shooting when a macro lens, like the 60mm, may hunt some and not lock focus exactly where you want. A minor adjustment towards or away from the subject brings your focus in line much easier than trying to refocus the lens. In addition, by using Fn2 to switch between focus modes, you have both a wide set up (or topside) and a macro set up ready to go at the touch of a button. You will not have to dig through the menu to fix focus options again.

Using the 1:2 Lever on the Camera - the 1:2 lever is a nice addition to the Olympus Cameras, allowing quick change of controls without many button presses. You can ignore this feature or assign it however you like, here are the functions to set this up.

  • Custom Menu -> Fn Lever Settings -> Fn Lever Function
    • I chose to leave this on Mode1 which means when you flip the lever it changes the function of the two primary control dials on the camera. Mode 3 may also be useful if you switch between video and photo shooting and want more than the quick record option or clicking the mode dial around to the dedicate movie mode.
    • Switch Function - OFF - I do not use the HDR / AF button on the left of the camera when underwater, so I don't have the 1:2 affect the modes of that button.
  • Fn Lever / Power Lever - If you want to be able to have single hand control, you can move the ON/OFF function from the dedicate power lever to the 1:2 lever switch. I don't need this, so just leave that option at Fn for function control.
  • Dial Function - here is where you can select which specific function each dial controls based on the position of the 1:2 lever. This is broken down all the way to specific shooting mode, giving you a lot of control on the set up of the camera. My primary shooting mode underwater is Manual, so scroll down to the M option and click OK. I don't change the 1 position function (Shutter and Aperture.. but you can flip them if you prefer aperture on your rear dial). Then press INFO to get to the function options when the lever is in the 2 position. I choose WB (white balance) and ISO. Click OK to save.
    • Now that this is set up, you can test it. In manual mode, with the lever in position 1 the shutter speed and aperture number will be green, or active. If you rotate the dials you'll see those change. Now flip the lever to position 2 and you'll notice that the ISO and WB icons are now green. If you rotate the front dial ISO changes. Click OK to save. If you rotate the rear dial, you can select a White Balance mode. OK to save. To get back to shutter and aperture, just flip the lever to position 1.
    • You can set it up as you like for all other shooting modes (P / A / S / Menu / Playback)

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Olympus OM-D E-M1 Specific Menu Settings

The Olympus E-M1 Mark II has an extensive menu system, with the ability to control, customize or select many options to create the perfect camera for your shooting style. The menu layout is essentially the same as the E-M1, though the color / style has changed, and there are now more options available. We will get a detailed list of these options up shortly, but for now just refer to the settings above for specifcs, or the E-M1 article for a review of what each menu option controls and if it is important for underwater photography.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelli Dickinson is an avid diver and underwater photographer who shoots primarily on mirrorless cameras. Familiar with a variety of cameras and housings she tries to shoot on as many different options as possible to improve her overall knowledge of underwater camera systems. In addition she is Manager of Bluewater Photo. In her spare time she can be found running, hiking or underwater. 

Connect with her on instagram @kelnkelp or at www.kelnkelp.com

She can be reached via email at kelli@bluewaterphotostore.com.

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