Micro Menu Matters

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.

 

36 thoughts on “Micro Menu Matters

  1. Gerald Siegel

    I do find the GX 7 menu a bit simpler than the Olympus EM-1. Although perhaps there ought to be a way to know that setting certain function like HDR will gray out the flash settings without scratching one’s head wondering where you got lost in the forest.

    Now a question, and may be useful in comparing menus. As we navigate the menus on the GX 7 and go to test a setting out by shooting, when we go back we are at the place in menu where we left off. At least this is my default and I like it. Question: Is there a setting on the EM-1 where one can return to the same place in the menu structure. It is tiresome to navigate all way back to the cogs and subcogs. If not, this is a real lapse in Olympus thinking. I love the feel of the EM-1 with the battery grip. Almost as nice as my early E-1 feeling. The GX 7 is a nice size and fits a small bag with a 20mm. I tend to keep it on program mode. As to the layout, I often miss the playback arrow location on the GX 7 whereas the playback arrow on the EM-1 comes to hand more easily. A challenge as cameras get so small. Or my hands get so big at times…aloha nui.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      It’s the effect of one setting on another that makes a comprehensive manual impossible to write. Flash greys out when you engage the electronic shutter. How the heck would a novice sort that fairly obvious one out let alone some of the deeper dependencies concerned with viewfinder refresh rates?

      The E-M5II has a Menu Recall entry which, set to on, takes you back to the last menu entry accessed. The E-M1 – unbelievably – doesn’t so you do have to re-navigate each time. Panasonic have always had it, which underlines to me that they probably do some user evaluation of their menus and controls where Olympus do not. It’s the consumer electronics versus dedicated imaging device approach in action, I think. But at least Olympus have have give in with Menu Recall!

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      1. Gerald Siegel

        Today’s announcement by Olympus says firmware 4.0 will allow cursor memory positioning in the EM-1. Hallelujah and praise to the deities of Mount Olympus. A wonderful camera gets a wonderful facelift as far as I am concerned. Attaboy Olympus. Menu-itis not solved but the pain will be eased, David…aloha, gerry

        Reply
        1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

          Thanks for the heads up on that Gerald. I can’t see anything bout cursor positioning but they’ve added a silent shutter and focus stacking, which look interesting.

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          1. Gerald Siegel

            Yes, David it is included and glad of it. If this cut and paste works it is from the DPR web site.
            “Menu Cursor Position Memory further enhances customization by automatically returning to the last menu setting used , meaning less time navigating menus and more time is spent capturing moments….” For me it is a matter of getting rid of the annoyances so I can spend more time learning the goodies. Aloha and be well, Gerry

          2. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

            Yes, the E-M5ll does that, as do all Panasonic cameras. It’s about time! All the best, Gerry!

  2. Kalea Chapman

    I’ve had had an Epl1 since 2012, and upgraded to an Em10 Christmas of 2014. So I’m well acquainted with the madness of Olympus menus, but set up the super control panel and tweaked a few settings and felt I was in good shape. Then I was quite shocked to read something on Robin Wong’s site. I had not set up the SuperFine JPEG setting correctly. I had been a little puzzled by it, but assumed it was just weird nomenclature! It’s like they deliberately hid the setting. I love the image stabilization, the olympus color and lenses, retro design. I guess we just have to live with the menus.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      As you say, after a while you can set the Olympus up and it is fine. The menu reminds me of those pairs games, where you have to turn over a card and remember where and what it was before looking for a matching one. I set all my basic settings on a MySet just to give me something stable to work from. In other respects they make lovely cameras, though and you are right, Olympus menus are Olympus menus and we have to live with them.

      Reply
  3. AdrianD

    Thanks David.

    I’ll look out for the EM1 book. Will it be available in any other ebook form than Kindle? I’m asking as I’m partially sighted and Kindle doesn’t offer text-to-speech on Android – which is how I’d like to access it.

    My sight problems are probably the main reason why, despite the menus and a number of other usability niggles, I won’t be going back to Panasonic just yet – once I’d d tried both EVFs I knew there was no contest.

    Your point about Panasonic being a consumer electronics company is one of those things that really should have occurred to me, but many of the Olympus choices are just plainly bizarre. I simply can’t imagine why anyone would think that putting the options to set up and format your SD card anywhere near the top of the first level of the menus would be a good idea.

    Although I too am someone who also found (and still finds) Windows much more intuitive than Mac OS.

    Thanks for the great blog.

    Adrian.

    Reply
  4. AdrianD

    Hi David,

    I too find the Olympus menus very much less intuitive than the Panasonic (having owned a GH1 and still owning an LX7).

    I recently bought an EM1 with the 12-40mm lens as I really wanted the lens and the deal I got as a kit was too tempting. It certainly met my main requirements (big viewfinder and weather-proofing), but at times I’m finding the menus so annoying that I wish I’d gone for a GX7.

    Do you know how similar the EM1 and EM5 II menus are? I’d definitely be interested in your book if they’re at all similar – just to try to get a handle of the logic behind the Olympus approach – if, indeed, there is any.

    Many thanks.

    Adrian.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      For out and about photography I’m entirely happy with the Olympus menu. That’s because I’m a creature of habit and use aperture priority then matrix metering and the other settings the same all the time. So all I’ll alter normally would be aperture and maybe ISO. I set that to MySet1 and that to Art.

      For my videos, where I’m swapping from stills to video, focusing modes and changing everything…..I just pick up the GX7. There is some logic behind the Olympus menu I’m sure but even after going through it all ad nauseam for the book, I still find myself trawling through the whole list until I spot what I want. The GX7, I just find what I want and even if I’ve forgotten where it is, I soon find it because 1/ the menu system unfolds logically and 2/ it won’t be called some obscure name. I do think it is so because Panasonic make domestic items and someone setting up a Panasonic smart TV at home using an Olympus style menu would throw it out of the window at some point, so they’ve learnt that not all users are experts or enjoy fiddling.

      The menus of the E-M1 and E-M5 are substantially similar but I will be doing a book on the E-M1 in the next month or so. I just don’t enjoy doing it!

      Reply
  5. Roy

    Hi David,

    Great article and could not agree more. I have an OMD EM1 and a Panasonic GF1. Even though the GF1 is a little dated, I find myself using the GF1 more than I anticipated because the buttons and menus are simpler for the same functions I compose with.

    Best,

    Roy

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      You illustrate a good point. Sometimes you just use the camera you enjoy using most, the one that fits you. It’s never as simple as just the best image quality. For what I need something like the GF1 would be perfectly adequate. No, pf course, the IQ of pretty much every MFT camera is the same anyway.

      Reply
  6. Malcolm

    Hi David I really enjoy your blog and have been following it for a while now. I’ve had a number of cameras in the days of film and loved my Olympus OM1 because of its compactness for walking in the outdoors. When digital came out I was a bit scepticle but was convinced it would be ok when I purchased a Nikon Coolpix. Really sharp and took it on a trip to Japan. Last year I purchased my OMD EM1 and love it. I confes to not exploring the Myset setting just using the main super panel. I tried to save a setting with Myset this morning and found I could retrieve the saved setting by just selecting Myset1 ang pressing OK and it worked! I love the EM1 and been pondering getting the Panasonic 35-100mm f2.8. The Olympus 40-150 f2.8 looks wonderfull but I want to keep as light as possible. All the very best from New Zealand.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      I’m glad you like the blog malcolm. Funnily enough, I got into digital via the Nikon Coolpix, too. It was the one with the swivelling lens/ body section, 2Mp as I recall. It was a really good camera, the first one to have a usable specification and I really liked the swivel arrangement. The f/2.8 zoom, yes yu need to need it, as it were. Otherwise the Panasonic f/2/8 is a better buy – and I’m very fond of the little 35-100 zoom which gives nothing away in quality in spite of its size.

      I’m in France at the moment so greeting from the Languedoc!

      Reply
  7. Simon

    Agree: I went from GF1 to EM5 Mk1 and always preferred the controls on the GF1. Functions like focus lock just seem illogical and unhelpful on the Olympus. I now have a GX7 and feel that I am now back in control.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      The GX7 has a real classic feel to it, good weight, good size and everything falls to hand. Lovely camera. Panasonic were wise enough with the GH4 not to alter the excellent physical layout of the GH3 so with a bit of luck (if there is) a GX8 would be very similar to the GX7. I better EVF would be the only major upgrade I personally would consider necessary.

      Reply
      1. Keiron

        I cannot help but think the next step change in MFT has to be a better sensor with improved dynamic range and more mega pixels. The former would be amazing while the latter does not worry me too much but with Samsung’s APC sensor pushing 28 mega pixels (NX500 and NX1) and Sony’s sensors just improving heaps and bounds I think a significant sensor upgrade must be in the works for Panasonic and Olympus and that would be a great upgrade for the GX7.

        Although if I nitpick Olympus’s 5 axis stabilisation in the GX7 would be pretty cool…

        Reply
  8. pete

    most reviewers seem to agree the Olympus menus are ….. uhm …… not user friendly 😀

    I went from Nikon dslrs to Panny G and it was very easy.

    Reply
  9. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

    It’ my own book so I’m not in a position to recommend it! My others have pretty good ratings and the Olympus one is much the same in content and style.

    Reply
  10. Nick

    Hi David,
    Would you recommend the book on the menu systems you have just read? I’m similarly trying to get to grips with the menu system and any help would be much appreciated and save me lots of trial and error!
    Nick.

    Reply
  11. Vaafoto

    I fully agree the Olympus menu system was created y an alien, but how do I buy a copy of your book?

    Reply
  12. Keiron

    Hi David

    Great article as always. My first camera was an epl6 but because of a dead pixel on two separate bodies (and some healthy gear lust) I upgraded to the gx7 which has been an absolute dream. After shooting it for a year now using it has become second nature and even though I don’t use all the functions I know how to get to them which is a sign of a good camera menu.

    What I was wondering was what your second Olympus body is because I have to heard you write about it, the last one I recall was your epl5 I think. Leading from this it would be great to see what your current setup looks like (i.e. what is in you bag) because with the inclusion of the pro lens range and your metabones find it must have evolved quite a bit.

    Hope you have a great day.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Thanks Keiron – I’m thinking of an update to my ‘why I use MFT’ video because things have changed quite a bit, so that would be similar to what ytou suggest. I have Olympus E-M5II and E-M1 bodies now. I much prefer the E-M1 body to use but if an updated E-M1 has the better video and swivelling monitor, I’ll get that anbd sell the other two. I do quite a bit of chopping and changing (which I enjoy doing) and the videos and books pay for it just about. The E-M1 and GX7 make a nice pairing in the bag, I find. The Metabones is a bit redundant now and will be sold. Like I say, chopping and changing gives me stuff to review and write about and pays for the gear. I don’;t get any help from Olympus or Panasonic but that’s quit good because it means I can say anything I like about the gear. Trouble(?) is, MFT equip,ment is getting hard to sriticize these days. I don’t recall any stuff I’ve tried from the cheapest to the dearest that wasn’t, at worst, value for money and sometimes an actual bargain.

      Reply
      1. Keiron

        Hi David

        I agree, it is all so great and for me the only challenge is trying to keep my kits small and light as I tend to backpack a lot, and small and light is the raison d’etre of MFT.

        My latest purchase is the conversion kit (Panasonic DMW-GCK1 conversion lens kit) which has a macro, fish eye and wide angle conversion adapter for 46mm and 52mm rings. I own the 14mm 2.8 which I bought second hand for €120 and with the wide conversion you get it down to about 11mm still at 2.8. The kit is hugely discounted at the moment which I think is because of the gimmicky nature of the fish-eye and macro converters but to get an 11mm and 14mm 2.8 combo for less than €250 is a steal, and even though I dream about the Oly 12mm my current setup is working well.

        I also revisit my lightroom stats often to see how my lens choices change overtime and if I use a lens for less than 5% of my total shots I put it in a box and if I do not miss it for 3 months I sell it. We are spoilt for choice in MFT but it is not an awful place to be 🙂

        Hope you have a great day.

        Keiron

        Reply
  13. Eric Lawson

    Always another side to a story. I have had numerous cameras from both camps and the image quality is great in both but I have never been comfortable with the Panasonic menu system. I finally sold my last attempt at Panasonic and swore off any more solely because of the menu system. I’m very OCD and maybe that is part of it but Olympus spoke to me from the very beginning with its complicated system that I just understand intuitively. I think the moral to the story is its a great thing to have the diversity we do with our wonderful Micro 4/3’s system. Something for everyone.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      I couldn’t agree more about diversity – even if I am amazed that you find the Olympus system more intuitive than Panasonic’s. On the other hand I well remember how easy I found Windows compared to Apple’s operating system on personal computers, a point of view which floored most of my friends.

      Reply
  14. Clive Wade

    It’s nice to know that I am not the only one that thinks that the Olympus menu system is unbelievably complex and unintuitive. Not only that it is not logical or sensible. Why is such great hardware rendered almost unusable at times and how much effort would it take to rationalize?
    It all stems from some extremely poor structural decisions which the designers have taken at the start of the project and there is no evidence that the logic has been user tested by real photographers – what a shame. Especially when the fundamental requirement is to set the focus, the aperture and the shutter speed and then take a photo!

    Reply
    1. Sal

      Ditto. The menu system is insanity. But the hardware is so sweet. Why can’t we have it all?

      On Android phones, you can replace the OS with a custom build.
      On some wireless routers, for heaven’s sake, you can install custom firmware.

      I want a custom firmware for my E-M5ii

      Anecdote: a couple days ago, I spent 20min trying to find how to input the focal length for an adapted, MF lens. Eventually I had to google it. It’s actually *reasonably* conveniently accessible, but hell if I was *ever*, *ever* going to find it. Ever.

      Reply
      1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

        That is one of the biggest frustrations, I find. You know what you want to do and you know you can do it. But you can’t find it in the menu.

        Reply
  15. Danny

    Timely post, as I have the OM-D E-M10 (and I love it), and this past weekend I wanted to confirm my video settings. It took me, well, too long. I just jumped in and started poking around assuming I would find it quickly — admittedly, I didn’t consult the manual, or the excellent ebook “Supercharging the Olympus OM-D E-M10,” but it shouldn’t be that hard, and that icon is nonsensical. Thanks for the writeup, now I don’t feel so bad that it took me so long.

    Reply
    1. dt@dthorpe.net Post author

      Finding anything quickly in that menu seems impossible to mebut Eric above wouldn’t agree!

      Reply

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