Olympus E-PL1 - My Own Preferred Settings

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Instead of labelling this page as a "preferred settings" list, I would like to stress that it is my preferred settings, with explanations so you can pick and choose which parts you might use.

My usual aim is to use jpegs for most of the time, makes storage needs less and loses very little over RAW shooting if the lighting and subject conditions are normal. In a situation where I judge that the jpeg may have difficulties then I will shoot RAW plus jpeg.

My aim with jpeg is always to produce an image that can easily be fine tuned in post process to the look that I want, it most likely will be an image that might not directly produce a good print or display, I might choose to boost saturation a bit and alter the sharpening. In extreme cases I may also work on noise reduction, but that is rarer now.

This is based on what my E-PL1 does but the general settings are much the same on all Pens and OM-D so the list can be used for decisions on them as well.

First up it is necessary to get the SCP working (the Super Control Panel). To me it is verging on insane that Olympus defaults to no SCP display out of the box, see how to turn it on here in my Comments page.

Olympus has some confusing terminology for noise control.....

Noise Reduction is their name for dark frame subtraction, where another image of equal exposure time is taken just after the real image but taken with the shutter closed. Hopefully that generates the same or similar set of hot pixels that can be subtracted from the first image to help make it cleaner. Makes more sense for longer exposures.  I set it to Auto and that lets the dark frame subtraction cut in at 4 seconds and longer shutter speeds. Be aware that taking say a 30 second shot the noise reduction will add another 30 seconds for the dark frame, making 60 seconds in total.

Noise Filter is the usual processing effort made to try and reduce noise in the image but it can cause smearing of detail and give faces and details a painted look, particularly at higher ISO where the effect may be automatically stronger. So I set it Off, to help stop that smearing of detail.

ISO - Tied in with noise control is the use of which ISO to use, the lower the ISO the less the noise. The E-PL1 lowest ISO is 100, but the base is truly 200. The manual warns that for lowest noise use 100 but 200 has better dynamic range. The trick is to do your own tests and see which ISO is the maximum to use for general shooting. In my case I find that the E-PL1 is good up to 1600 ISO, above that the noise is too blotchy for me. It maybe would be OK at 3200 but only for B&W where some noise adds character to some images. Later models will be better at higher ISO settings.

So for my ISO setting I use Auto ISO most of the time and have the upper limit at 1000 or 1250 for everyday use, then if in dim and difficult conditions I may set the limit to 1600. In truth noise only matters to pixel peepers, in printing it is not an issue, in fact very large prints need noise to hide the fact that they may be starting to lose detail.

Sharpness - Default or high sharpness increases noise and adds edge halos that are objectionable for very large prints or savage crops. With most cameras I have Sharpness at minimum or very low (-1 for me at present) and then in post process use unsharp mask sharpening to taste to suit the display or print size.

Image Stabilisation  I leave off most of the time as it does add a tiny amount of blur to safe shutter speed shots, best to only turn it on when it is really needed for slow shutter speeds only. The old film days rule does still hold true for normal folks, that is the lowest likely safe shutter speed for hand-holding is 1/(35mm equivalent focal length). Meaning that  at (for M4/3 cameras) 150mm it should be safe to use hand-holding and no stabilisation at or above 1/300 second, for 14 mm at or above 1/28 second.

The E-PL1 stabilisation I find to add about 10x shutter time improvement so then at 150mm 1/30 second is possible and at 14mm about 1/3 second works.

If a Panasonic lens with an OIS switch is used then that will give about the same improvement, but way better with video as the Pen line for video turns off the usual sensor shift stabilisation and uses pixel shifting  "stabilisation" which often gives very bad results.

Focus for me it's always S-AF or maybe S-AF + MF for fine tuning or if in doubt. I use the centre focus box only and always half press to focus and hold then  re-frame the image and complete the press to take the photograph. Setting up the camera in the Custom Menus allow me to have the camera focus at half press and then meter at full press. The Fn button is set to Exposure Lock that is sometimes used.

LCD I use way way more than the VF-2 viewfinder. The VF-2 is kept safe and only used for really tricky situations like where I need to shoot the underside of a mushroom and need a viewfinder angled up, Also the VF-2 is used when I (rarely) play with my Nikon lenses, the VF-2 higher resolution is needed for careful manual focus. The LCD works better for me with the Brightness boosted to +7, the auto dim set to 8 seconds and camera sleep set at 1 minute. The auto review after taking a shot is 2 seconds, that's enough to get a quick idea of if the shot worked. Plus the auto review can be over-ridden by the shutter press anyway, so does not get in the way.

Face Recognition = Off as for me it finds too many stray "faces" in scenery, I only may turn it on when handing the camera to someone else to take my photo.

Highlight & Shadow  = On (the blinkies) so then can see what highlights might be sacrificed if any at all. Tend to keep to 0 EV exposure compensation for most shots and only a few insignificant highlights may then be sacrificed. The setting for this is buried in the Custom Menu, it does pay to thoroughly read the appropriate pages of the User Manual about Customising the camera. I prefer to use the blinkies over using the histogram, as the blinkies tell you exactly which areas of the image will be affected.

Live View Boost = Off, so then the preview blinkies do actually respond to exposure compensation adjustments. The LCD/EVF is boosted briefly anyway at  half press while the camera is auto focusing. If you have Live View Boost on then the preview image always looks the same no matter what you do to Exposure Compensation, but when the shot is taken the Exposure Compensation is obeyed so the resulting review may look nothing like the boosted preview.

White Balance Auto for me, as it makes life easy and also is easy to fine tune the jpeg in post process if needed. Lately as I start using a better IPS type of monitor and properly calibrated, I do see the need to trim the white balance offset and from experiments on my copy of the E-PL1 I find that in the SCP I make G = +3 to get rid of the often hyper-active Red that Olympus likes in its jpegs. More fiddles needed with that to see if it suits all conditions, sunny vs overcast usually makes a difference.

Picture Mode = Natural with Contrast and Saturation often lower (-1 and -1 for me) to get a more realistic slightly flat looking jpeg that responds well to post process fiddling to get the exact look I want. In difficult or extremely important situations I will use RAW+jpeg and sort out later which to use.  This area is very much a personal taste issue and some like bold colours and some like more realistic colours.

Gradation = Normal, otherwise it seems from others' comments that shadow noise gets bad in some conditions, particularly if using Auto.

Colour Space = sRGB as a bad Adobe RGB setup is worse than a properly set up sRGB colour space to work in. Most of the world's computers and displays understand and can display a fair amount of the sRGB  colour gamut but very few can display the Adobe RGB gamut.

Of course many of these items can be sorted out at leisure in post process if shooting RAW. The camera itself allows RAW to jpeg conversions in review mode obeying whatever settings you have on the camera, so you can take one RAW shot and then vary the camera settings and keep making more jpegs with each one different and compare them later to see what works best. The same of course can be done using Olympus Viewer 2 software from here. The Olympus Viewer 2 allows the use of Art Filters that may not be in your camera if  you feed it a RAW file, see the list here.

One caution is that a good setup for sunlit photos may not suit low light or overcast conditions, definitely experiment with all types of light that happen.

With RAW all you need to do is to get the exposure correct, all the rest can happen afterwards.

Some of these items change a bit from session to session but basically it's a good starting point for me. More will be added or expanded as I think of more things of importance.

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