I’ve just finished a book on the menu system of the Olympus E-M5II. It’s the first one I’ve done on an Olympus camera after 5 Panasonic ones, from the GH3 through to the GM5 and it has given me some small insights into the philosophies behind the svelte exteriors of the camera bodies.
The fact is there’s nothing about either maker’s technology or engineering that makes one inherently better than the others. Panasonic has its more flexible video options, Olympus its in body stabilization. The E-M5II has upped the ante for Olympus video-wise but Panasonic still has the 4k with its stills from movie options and remains the camera of choice for movie people. The products are different, yes, but as an experienced user of both marques, I can’t find any inherent advantage in either.
But the menus! I will lay it on the line. If the photographer is the brain behind a camera, The menu of a modern (meaning, essentially, mirrorless) digital camera is its central nervous system. Mae West’s remark, “I’ve been rich and I’ve been poor. Rich is better” would work for menus if you substituted Panasonic for rich and Olympus for poor. “I’ve had Panasonic and I’ve had Olympus. Panasonic is better”.
It’s not that Panasonic is perfect and Olympus poor. Both will do the job. But with 50 or so main menu headings, many of those 50 themselves having myriad sub-headings and those sub-headings often having a glut of sub-sub headings, terminology and layout does matter. For example, one of the best features of digital cameras is the ability store often used settings for instant recall. Both camera work this the same way. Go to the shooting mode you want to use, aperture priority, manual, whatever. Go through the menus setting everything as you want it. Brilliant! You now have a digital camera that works for you. Ok, lets save that so that it can be instantly recalled.
Panasonic, go to the Custom Menu and choose Cust. Set Mem. There, select C1 for example and OK to confirm it. Now, when you set C1 on the mode dial, you summon up – surprise, surprise! – the settings you just set.
Olympus. Set everything as you want it, same as the Panasonic. So far, so good. Now, go to Shooting Menu 1. Select Reset/Myset. Now MySet1, Set and Yes. Now go to Custom Menu section B, Button/Dial/Lever, then Mode Dial Function where you can set MySet1 to any mode dial function except a custom one, since there isn’t any such thing. So find a mode like Art that you won’t use and put it there. In future, to recall your custom setting 1, set the mode dial to Art. Now I don’t know who thought of that but I can tell you that I won’t be hiring him to design my new house. He can argue as long as he likes that labelling the back door ‘front’ because you can walk through the house to the front door is perfectly logical, I’m not buying it.
And another thing! Setting the file quality. On the Panasonic, Rec Menu, Quality.
Olympus, Shooting Menu 1 and then this!
Now I can’t tell what that symbol means. It looks a bit like one of those little guys that the Space Invaders used to kill. Or was it one of the Space Invaders themselves? Or a radio telescope? Maybe an Anglo-Saxon warrior’s helmet that came off his head after he was slain? Maybe it sets the camera to Shotgun Mode where pressing the button peppers an uncooperative subject with buckshot? I’d have liked that for sessions with one or two of the footballers I’ve had the misfortune to have to photograph. Whatever it is, how does it mean ‘record mode to take pictures or movies’ as the Info button informs you? Couldn’t you just print ‘Quality’ there in place of the icon? Why wouldn’t you? There’s more but I think I’ve made my point.
If this sounds like a rant against Olympus, it isn’t. To justify it, I’ll go back to my books on menu systems. I do these by sitting with the camera for days at a time just trying out very menu setting for myself until I understand it and what it does. My first one, on the Panasonic GH3, took a couple of weeks of solid effort and I really felt I’d mastered it. My first and only Olympus one, on the E-M5II has taken a month and I still feel less than 100% certain of myself with it.
But, even if I appear anti-Olympus, I’m not. To prove it, I have four MFT camera bodies. Two from Panasonic and two from Olympus. Menus? Like I said, I’ve got Panasonic and I’ve got Olympus. Panasonic is better.