Guest Post by Gordon Lewis
Prompted by Mike’s “Simple Is the Next Revolution” post and with a rented Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II in hand, I decided to list the minimum settings I felt necessary to set it up for my style of shooting. These are the settings I would want regardless of the brand or model of camera. Here are my most important, in no particular order of priority:
- Recording mode: Raw
- Color space: Adobe RGB
- Back-button focus (to separate autofocus from the shutter button and assign it to another button.)
- Front dial (the one closest to the lens) for aperture settings
- Rear dial for exposure compensation in auto modes and shutter speed in manual exposure mode
- Single-shot autofocus (as opposed to continuous autofocus)
- Single, manually-adjustable focus point or area
- AF confirmation sound off
- Focus priority off (so that I can still shoot even if the camera thinks the image is not in focus)
- Touchscreen off (to prevent unpredictable changes caused by accidental touches)
Auto ISO, Auto White Balance, Matrix metering pattern, and single-frame shooting (as opposed to continuous) are usually the defaults, in which case I leave them as-is. For a mirrorless camera such as the E-M10 Mark II I also add features that are unavailable on DSLRs. The most important to me are:
- Manual focus assist: ON
- Manual focus triggered by turning the lens’ focusing ring: ON
- Viewfinder brightness reflects exposure setting: ON
Keep in mind that I’m mainly a street and travel photographer. I want fast and accurate focus and exposure for one shot at a time. If I shot sports my settings would be completely different; but then, so would the camera.
It’s great that digital cameras allow you to do all this, and it’s true that once you’ve done it you seldom have to do it again. On the other hand, depending on how well the menu system is set up, figuring out how to do it can test even the most patient soul.
For example, to set up back-button focus with the E-M10 you first have to decouple autofocus from the shutter button. You then have to assign AF to some other button, presumably one located near where your right thumb comes into contact with the back of the camera—hence the term "back-button focus."
The problem is, it’s not at all obvious how to do this. The instruction manual makes no explicit reference to back-button focus at all. Instead, you somehow have figure out that to decouple AF from the shutter button you need to go to the Utility menu, select AEL/AFL, then change S-AF from Mode 1, the default, to Mode 3. I kid you not. It takes a similarly arcane procedure and multiple navigation button clicks to assign autofocus to the Fn1 button on the back of the camera.
Bear in mind that I’m a Harvard graduate with over 40 years of photographic experience. I do instructional design and technical training for a living. It’s therefore reasonable to suspect that if I find it a challenge to figure these things out, others will too. More to the point, just because someone can perform an unnecessarily difficult task doesn’t mean they like to.
Some of you Olympus owners may infer from all this that I’m smearing the fine reputation of Olympus cameras. To the contrary: You can take considerable pride and solace in the fact that camera setup is no easier nor more intuitive with Sony or Fuji cameras either. I do find setup slightly easier with Panasonic mirrorless cameras and Canon, Nikon and Pentax DSLRs, but that’s still not saying much.
If you’re looking at the list above and wondering why you should have to do all this just to take a simple picture, the answer is, you don’t. Practically all enthusiast cameras these days have a “full auto” setting that lets you just point and shoot to your heart’s content. The drawback is you then give up practically all control over what the camera is doing and how, in which case, why buy such a complicated camera at all? The fact is that fewer and fewer people are willing to and I, for one, understand why.
UPDATE Wednesday (from Gordon): In answer to some of the questions and comments I’ve received so far:
- My list of settings is for example only. It is not a recommendation to anyone else. If I wanted to or had to I could make do with far fewer and without much complaint. That said, several photographers commented that their list would be a lot like mine, so my list wasn’t entirely fanciful either.
- The Adobe RGB setting just happened to pop into my head while I was typing. Sometimes I use this setting, sometimes I don’t, and in either case I don’t find it has any effect on my raw files or exposures. Thom Hogan’s suggestion to use RawDigger to analyze my raw files, though well-informed and helpful, would be moving more in the direction of more complexity for me rather than less. Thanks, but no thanks.
- The reason I prefer to set my cameras for back-button focus if possible is because I don’t want the camera to re-focus every time I press the shutter button. This is important because I generally use the center AF point only. BBF avoids the need to keep the shutter button half-pressed to lock-in focus before I re-compose and shoot. I can focus once, re-frame, then shoot to my heart’s content without worrying that the camera will re-focus between shots. This only applies to still subjects, of course. With moving subjects I use continuous focus, a larger off-center AF area, and keep the focus button depressed while shooting.
- I agree with those who pointed out that the Fn1 button on Olympus OM-D cameras is too small for optimum use as a BBF button. That’s a separate rant for a different time.
- Finally, I also agree with shooters who prefer pre-automation film cameras. In general, the more I can get my digital cameras to behave like my Nikon FM3A, the better I like them. The main point of my post is that it can be surprisingly difficult to simplify how some cameras operate.
Old friend Gordon Lewis, originally a colleague from Camera & Darkroom magazine, is the author of Street Photography: The Art of Capturing the Candid Moment, published by Rocky Nook. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and three kids.
©2016 by Gordon Lewis, all rights reserved
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Michael Matthews: "That 40 years of photographic experience does give you an advantage: you know exactly what you want. The challenge lies in finding it. Those of us who are occasional photographers (but would like to do better) have to come to grips repeatedly with the near-infinite complexity of settings and the brain-breakingly obscure way their functions are named and hidden in sub-sub-menus. I'm not buying another camera until it comes equipped with Kirk Tuck's Auto-Pro Mode."
Ricardo Silva Cordeiro (partial comment): "Almost all brands have seemed stuck on the same kind of 'engineery' interface for years. They don't have basic notions of design like the fundamental 'bauhauesque' elegance of simplicity. I think it's time for companies to actually hire outside interface design teams, preferably non-photographic-driven ones.
"From what I've seen online, the new Hasselblad X1D takes a bold step in the right direction in termos of interface/ergonomics design."
D. Hufford (partial comment): "After I have everything set up, sooner or later something will be accidentally changed. There was the time I somehow turned on the touch screen of the GX7 and got the focus point stuck down in the lower left hand corner. Couldn't fix that til I got home and Googled. Then there was the dark, snowy night with the Fuji X100 when I my gloved hands somehow set it to video and I searched the menu system for 10 minutes to figure out how to shut it off."
Mike adds: This is what I hate most about modern cameras. It would be intolerable, except that every camera is afflicted with it to some degree so we have to put up with it.
Gabe (partial comment): "Aw come on folks—I thought this was about simplification! FWIW, pity there's no manual available for abbreviated slangology, so OTOH, not to feel left out, there are a few clarifications I've added to my photographic vocabulary:
- RTB: reboot the bugger (goes hand in hand with...)
- TOBCTT: take out battery, count to twenty
- TAWARM: take a week and read the manual
- TTDSWH: turn that dial and see what happens
- AM: Ask Moose (applicable to Olympus)
"Submitted for your approval—my entry for clarifying the 'Micro Four Thirds' naming kerfuffle: 'Short Flange Distance Mirror Deprived Four Thirds Sensor Imaging Mechanism.' Now applying the GM (Groucho Marx) rules of clarification that would abbreviate as: 'Shoflad Mirdefot Sim.'"
Henning Wulff: "I use(d) Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Sony and Leica M digital cameras. Olympus and Sony are the worst to set up and understand; Canon and Panasonic somewhat better, but Leica M is by far the easiest, most intuitive and simplest. No autofocus, but good manul focus :-).
"A comment was made that computers and phones are getting simpler and more intuitive to use. We can thank one person for that: Steve Jobs. His at times tyrannical insistence on an intuitive interface has permeated both types of products. We're still in Windows 3 days with camera UI's."
John Doty: "What I don't understand is why we cannot pull up a menu on our computer, select the options, assign the buttons to do what we would like them to do and then download all this information to the camera. It is (should be) relatively simple, after all, someone set the functions the same way when the camera was designed and programmed. Why can't we do the same with our cameras now? Of course there should always be the 'Reset to Factory Defaults' button included."