Customizing the Olympus E-3

Making the Camera Work Your Way

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

Some time ago I wrote an article Customizing your E-500, which turned out to be perhaps the most popular piece in the Photo at that time, generating lots of reader feedback. It was followed with another one, dealing with the E-510 and E-410.

In response to quite a few requests, here is a similar article about the E-3. It is based on my six weeks spent with the camera (thanks are due to my friend Don), enough to develop some preferences regarding most of the settings, and to provide you with some advice and help in tailoring the E-3 to your needs and taste.

Note of February, 2009: This is the final version of the article (as far as anything here is final). Some information was added or revised when I was working on a similar write-up for the E-30; during that time I spent another two weeks with Don's E-3, which gave me a chance to verify some details and update the text considerably.

Table of Contents


If the E-510 was very customizable, the E-3 is even more so, with a few more options to tweak, so that the camera works the way you want it to — well, to a large extent at least.

This flexibility may seem a bit overwhelming at first: there are about 100 parameters you can (and should) preset; this may affect not only the convenience of working with the camera, but also the results it will deliver.

The settings and preferences available can be roughly divided into three groups; to make my job easier and to avoid repetitiveness in the text, I'm going to color-code them as follows:

  • Red: General preferences and some settings which would usually be set just once and then left alone. Changing them afterwards either does not make much sense (unless your preferences develop with time) or is not recommended for other reasons. Think of setting these as of choosing a camera suiting your needs. (Examples: button swap, ISO adjustment step, locked exposure metering mode.)
  • Yellow: Some picture-taking settings which may be adjusted for a given shooting session (or, rarely, a part of it), but not really often. It is essential that you develop a habit of resetting these to defaults as soon as they are no longer needed, and to check them every time you turn the camera on; otherwise you may experience some surprises. (Examples: drive mode, white balance.)
  • Green: Shooting parameters likely to be adjusted every frame or every few frames. It is important to keep their number to a necessary minimum so that it is easy to keep track of them while shooting. They do not really customize your camera, but it is handy to keep some reasonable defaults stored in one of the reset slots, so that your camera is more or less ready when you do a reset. Most of these are accessible by the direct, external controls or from the Control Panel. (Examples: aperture, exposure compensation.)
  • Blue: These are just menu entries unrelated to preferences or camera settings; they are listed here so that you know I haven't missed them by accident. Once they are listed, I'm throwing in any comments I may have. (Examples: firmware version, pixel mapping.)

Unavoidably, there will be some overlap between the first three groups; the borderlines are somewhat fuzzy, so my color coding is just a general guidance, not a rule.

NOTE: Upgrading the firmware will revert all your camera settings to factory defaults. You will have to repeat the customization process every time you perform an upgrade.

In the following walkthrough I will follow, just to focus your attention, the order in which the preferences or settings are listed in the menu system.


Default Shooting Parameters

As mentioned above, most of these parameters do not really customize your camera; they may be more or less frequently changed during a shooting session, sometimes from one frame to another. This section provides just some reasonable defaults; storing them in one of the two available Reset slots (or two My Mode ones will allow you to restore the whole configuration quickly.

There are two menus dedicated to these settings: Camera 1 and Camera 2, accessible via camera icons with digits 1 and 2, but some of the parameters can be changed only via direct buttons or from the Control Panel; we'll start from these.


Settings Not in the Menu

These settings are not available from the menu system (which makes the menu structure simpler; I would like some others to go as well), but you may want to adjust them, so that they are saved as a custom reset or one of My Modes for a quick recall.


Exposure Compensation

This is the setting most likely to be changed from one frame to another. After shooting, however, I like to put it back at -0.3 EV. This is a relatively safe value, at least for sunny weather outdoors situations, and it helps to protect the highlights from washing out.

Even if you get a quick shot with this compensation while it was not really needed, you can stretch the image tonality to get the highlights right (at some expense in noise); if, however, your highlights burn out, you will not be able to restore them.


Flash Mode

I prefer keeping this at (always On). It actually means that the flash will fire every time, but only if I raise it before. (On with red eye reduction is another reasonable default).

Read here about other available flash modes.


Drive Mode

This is where you can choose between single-frame and sequential shooting modes (the latter high- or low-speed); from here you also can set the self-timer or IR remote mode. Obviously, this setting should default to single frame, to be changed as a need arises.

What the "low" sequential speed means is set from another menu.

Read here about other drive modes.


Image Stabilization

This setting has three positions: Off, IS1, IS2, with IS1 being stabilization in two dimensions, and IS2 — in one (vertical only). It is listed here, because its value is being stored in custom reset or My Mode slots.

While the feature may be used quite often, I believe it is better set to Off by default.

This setting screen also allows you to enter a focal length of a legacy, manual lens you may be using with image stabilization. While the setting is irrelevant until you actually mount such a lens, you may enter here your most often used value if you wish.


Live View

Like the one above, this setting should rather default to Off: you do not want the camera to enter Live Mode on a reset. (It is possible that you may want to have it enabled, though, in one of your My Mode presets.)


The Camera 1 Menu

Except for the two first entries (quite out of place here), this menu deals exclusively with the parameters of the imaging engine. Of these, only ISO and Noise Reduction affect raw images; the rest are just stored as values in those, so that they can (but do not have to) be used "as shot" in the raw-to-RGB conversion in postprocessing.

Pre-empting your question: some of the menu item images below are highlighted (yellow background) — it does not mean anything; I just happened to have them shot this way.


Card Setup

This not a setting, but an operation (or rather a choice of two): erasing all images from the currently selected card, or formatting it. While the erase operation is faster, formatting may sometimes be necessary if a card is corrupted or has been formatted in a different device.


Custom Reset

This also seems to be rather misplaced: from this sub-menu you can set, reset, or recall a complete camera setup. This function will be discussed in a separate section.


Picture Mode

This sub-menu allows you to predefine a number of Picture Modes, each being a set of image processing parameters; the final effect is not unlike giving you a choice between a number of "films" to use. (One distinction: Picture Modes are chosen independently of the ISO setting.)

The Picture Modes can be also recalled from here, but it is much easier to do it from the Control Panel.

There are four color Picture Modes, one monochrome, and one — user-defined.

  • Three "traditional" Olympus Picture Modes (named Vivid, Natural, Muted); each stores its own combination of contrast, sharpness, and saturation settings. By default, these decrease gradually in this order, see the table below.
  • The Portrait mode offers and stores the same adjustments; originally they default to those of Muted. It is possible that this mode additionally tweaks the colors to provide more pleasing skin tone rendition, but this I wasn't able to prove. Surprisingly, this mode also moves mid-tones up, in a way somewhat similar to the High Key gradation. Olympus provides no explanation.
  • The monochrome mode (referred to as Monotone) has contrast and sharpness adjustments, plus a Filter setting, roughly equivalent to using a filter of a given color in B&W photography. The choices are Yellow, Orange, Red, Green, or Neutral (i.e., none). The first three darken blue skies and emphasize clouds in it (in an increasing degree), while green brightens greens in the picture.

    Images in this mode can additionally be tinted to Purple, Blue, Sepia or left black-and white (Neutral). This is, however, better left to the postprocessing stage.

  • The Custom mode (user-defined) is somewhat special; to customize it, you first choose a "parent mode" from the above, and then — your adjustment to that mode. These adjustments will depend on whether the parent mode is color or monochrome.

    Additionally, the Custom mode also "remembers" a chosen Gradation setting (see below); the others do not.

The contrast, saturation, and sharpness values you choose for a given mode are not absolute, they are applied on top of base offset assigned by the designers to each mode and, for no good reason, kept secret from the photographer.

While Olympus software applications (be it Master or Studio) do not offer any insight into the actual (i.e. summed-up) image parameter values, Mr. Phil Harvey wrote the most powerful EXIF data reader in existence, EXIF Tool, which allowed me to extract also the absolute values.

EXIF Tool is a command line application, and therefore may be difficult to use. This is why Mr. Bogdan Hrastnik of Slovenia wrote a very helpful front end for it, called EXIF Tool GUI. If you put both programs in the same folder, you need only to run the second one, and it will show you all possible EXIF information in a windowed environment.

Olympus SLR users may also download my own little file, exiftoolgui.ini, and put it in the same directory; then the program's Custom tab will show only the relevant parameters decoded from the Olympus proprietary data, so that you will not have to search for a needle in a haystack, scrolling through screenfuls of all the weird stuff camera manufacturers put into the EXIF data.

The table below shows the base (hidden) values in the first column, and then my recommended adjustments (the Adjust column), followed by the resulting absolute settings (shown as Total).

Picture Mode Parameter Base Adjust Total
Vivid Contrast 0 0 0
Sharpness +1 -2 -1
Saturation +1 0 +1
Natural Contrast 0 -1 -1
Sharpness 0 -1 -1
Saturation 0 0 0
Muted Contrast -1 -1 -2
Sharpness -1 -1 -2
Saturation 0 -1 -1
Portrait Contrast -1 -2 -3
Sharpness -1 -2 -3
Saturation 0 -1 -1
Monochrome Contrast 0 -1 -1
Sharpness 1 -2 -1
Filter - Red
Picture tone (tint) - Neutral (none)

The table may need a few comments:

  • The E-3 base settings are in a number of cases different than those for the E-510. This may be due mostly to the more conservative default (zero) sharpening in the new model.
  • The Custom mode inherits from its parent only the base (offset) values, not any adjustments applied to it. What you put in this slot depends on your needs and shooting habits. At this moment I store there a setup identical to my Natural, but with Auto gradation (see below).
  • My recommended adjustment of -2 to sharpness in the Vivid mode has been chosen to provide the same actual sharpening as that in the Natural mode, as I see no reason to oversharpen my Velvia, with the accompanying artifacts.
  • I really haven't used the Portrait mode much, so I'm not so sure about my recommendations here. I actually made it a bit more muted than the Muted mode.
  • Treat my preferences largely as a matter of taste, possibly a starting point to your own custom setup. I do not expect, however, that you will need to raise any of the parameters above zero from their mode base values.

After customizing all "films" to your liking you will have to choose the one to be used as default when the camera undergoes a custom reset. Natural seems to be an obvious choice here.



You can choose between Normal, Auto, Low Key, and High Key. While Olympus does not explain what these settings really do, it looks like Low Key and High Key move the central part of the tonal curve down or up, respectively, therefore making the mid-tones darker or lighter (with smaller impact on tonality near the ends of scale). This is what I see in histograms when comparing otherwise identical images. (If you are not familiar with tonal curve manipulation: this is not the same as just decreasing or increasing the exposure!).

The Auto setting is new to the E-3; it seems to extract more detail from shadows by lifting the part of the tonal curve to the left of mid-tones. This may be useful when photographing bright scenes with large areas in shadows, which otherwise could become unreadable.

My feeling is that the Auto, Low Key, and High Key settings do not bring into play anything I couldn't do easily in postprocessing, especially if your images are saved raw (although out-of-camera JPEGs also leave enough latitude for these adjustments). This is why I rarely venture outside the Normal setting which is the default and also a part of my custom reset setup.

The Auto gradation became a part of my preset Custom Picture Mode (which is otherwise identical to my Normal, so that I can quickly switch to it. Note that the gradation setting is saved only as a part of that mode, but not of any others, a slightly confusing design.


File Format

This menu option is shown with an icon resembling a shower head turned sideways. From here (or directly from the Control Panel) you choose between the Olympus raw format (ORF) and one of the four JPEG size/compression combinations (the TIFF format is not supported and I'm not missing it). These combinations cannot be adjusted here; they are preset in one of the Settings 1 sub-menus, and you have to do it there between choosing them here.

Two of combinations I use most often are Large/Superfine and Large/Fine; if you are not using the raw format, the real choice will be just between them. Actually, I find the latter sufficient for all I'm doing, so this is my custom reset default. (Only for some samples, intended for intense pixel-peeping, I sometimes switch to Large/Superfine, at the expense of using 50% more storage space.)

Changing this setting "on the run" is a bad idea. I've seen too many cases of using a setting by accident, just by forgetting about it; the most painful one was when somebody spent a few hours shooting product pictures and ending up with 1024×768 JPEGs.


White Balance

Some photographers, even advanced ones, leave the WB at Auto all the time. Manual setting works usually better, as long as you remember to change it when shooting under different conditions. Most of the time (outdoors) I keep it at Sunny (5300°K). This is what I'm using as my custom reset default, but some people may prefer Auto here, if just to be on the safe side.

In addition to a number of WB presets (described here), the camera allows you to define an individual correction for each of the presets; this correction will then be applied every time that preset is used. You can tweak each preset to your liking, but I really never felt a prevailing need to do this, so I leave this alone.

The adjustment is done separately in the red/blue and green/magenta dimensions as described in the Global WB Adjustment section. Note that the compensation applied here will override that defined previously on the global level; see that section again.

If you really care about tweaking the color balance precisely, you will be probably saving images in the raw format anyway, and in such a case all this becomes irrelevant, as the WB compensation happens only at the stage of converting the raw image to RGB.

The E-3 also allows you to define one custom white balance (CWB) setting. I've put 2500°K in that slot, as this is useful when shooting under lower-wattage bulbs, for which the standard incandescent (3000°K) setting is too warm. The color temperature for this setting can be entered directly from this menu, or through the Control Panel (by pressing the Exposure Compensation button when CWB is selected).

While this menu can be used to choose between one of the available four Reference WB slots (which are also stored in the reset data), the only way to fill such a slot is by use of the Function button (if it is assigned to this function, otherwise forget about it). This makes sense. More importantly, you can assign an individual adjustment to each of the Reference WB settings.

Storing Reference WB as a part of a custom reset setup makes more sense than it may seem at the first glance. For example, I'm using one of the slots for the daylight fluorescent panels I'm using in much of my tabletop shooting; the next time I just choose the slot, without having to re-do the measurement.



This sets the image sensor gain, or, roughly speaking, its responsiveness to light. I prefer to do it manually, with the default at ISO 100, moving to higher values only when needed.

If you leave this at Auto, the camera will move the ISO up when it considers the required shutter speed too slow for safe handholding (the upper limit of this adjustment is defined elsewhere). Better depend on your own judgement.   


Noise Reduction

This option turns on the low-light, static noise reduction which is done by subtracting a "dark frame" from a taken picture (again, see my noise article). Even if it is set to On, it will be actually activated only at longest exposure times, generally from two seconds up. This means that you can leave it on all the time.

When you switch to the sequential drive mode, noise reduction will become temporarily disabled (and no longer accessible from the menu), to avoid the extra delay between frames.

Anyway, this setting is applicable only if you are using those long exposures, so for most photographers it is largely irrelevant.


Noise Filter

By this Olympus refers to removing the random (non-static) noise from recorded images during the raw-to-RGB conversion. This always leads to some detail being lost in the process, even if the result may look more pleasing than the original. The process should not be confused with Noise Reduction, addressing the static noise at long exposures, and described in the previous section.

For more on the two kinds of noise, refer to my Noise in Digital Cameras article.

There are four values of this setting: Off, Low, Standard, and High. The first one, most likely, does not disable the filtering entirely, just sets it to some base value. How these presets work also probably depends on the ISO setting.

Noise filtering should be always considered in combination with image sharpening applied. A more detailed analysis of this subject for various ISOs can be found in a separate article, to which you can refer if you want to choose your own settings here.

If you want the short version, here it is: set NF to Low (assuming you're mostly using my Natural Picture Mode described above) and forget about it. The default Standard setting is too fuzzy for my taste.

The E-3 does not allow this setting to be memorized separately for every ISO value (or for individual Picture Modes); this might have been a nice feature.


The Camera 2 Menu

As opposed to the Camera 1 menu, this one sets various picture-taking options which affect both raw and JPEG images.

Remember again, I'm not recommending that you use these Camera settings all the time, but that you set them as your personal defaults to be restored when the custom reset (or My Mode) option is used.


Metering Pattern

You may be a bit surprised that I'm putting this setting into my Red (set and leave alone) category, while Olympus makes it accessible via a (semi-) dedicated button, but read on.

First of all, the choice between (ESP matrix) and (center-weighted) depends on your shooting habits and preferences; once you decide on one, you will not be switching on-the-fly to the other, unless you are after unpredictable results.

Second, using spot metering as a general walk-around metering mode does not make sense: what are the chances that the spot you want to meter on will be exactly at the center of the frame? You would always have to remember to point the center at the desired spot, half-press the shutter release, recompose, and shoot. An alternative to that is using the AEL (autoexposure lock) button, but this one can have its own metering pattern assigned (as discussed later).

The latter completely eliminates the need for an external control for this adjustment. My sincere advice: set the metering pattern default here to either ESP or center-weighted (for most users it will be ESP, unless you are accustomed to the other one), assigning the spot mode to the AEL function.

The ESP setting has two flavors: one "plain" and one denoted as "ASP+AF". The latter puts higher weights on the matrix area over the currently used AF sensor. The choice is made from a sub-menu into which the ESP branches, and the chosen flavor will be then used whenever the ESP metering mode is active. On the other hand, using the AE lock with spot metering will be very effective in protecting the highlights from burning out in high-contrast images. Most people who complain about limited dynamic range of their camera just do not know what spot metering may be used for.

The highlight and shadow variants of the spot mode are just gimmicks: the same effect (and more) can be achieved with the regular spot mode and exposure compensation ("I want this to be at +2 EV").


RC Flash Mode

Unless you are using a remote setup of multiple (compatible) flash units, keep this setting at Off and forget about it. If you are using such a setup, you may activate this just before the multiple-flash shooting session.


Flash Compensation

Start from zero (remember that my preferred way is to apply the flash compensation on top of the "regular" one, not instead). You may want it adjusted if your flash tends to under- or over-expose on a regular basis, i.e., if your default exposure compensation with flash is different than without. Once you do that, keep it there, and adjust exposure the same way as without a flash, i.e., with the plain control.


Focusing Mode

The choice here is between Single AF, Continuous AF, and Manual Focus (two more modes, S-AF+MF and C-AF+MF, use AF in conjunction with MF). Usually the selection will not be done from the menu, as the two other ways to do it (Control Panel, direct button) are more convenient.

Single AF makes a good default, as it works best in most cases, except for rapidly moving subjects, but then you can switch to Continuous AF as needed with an external control.

The S-AF+MF and C-AF+MF modes are included for compatibility with all Four Thirds lenses; the latest ones (at least the 12-60 mm ZD; I'm not sure about others) allow you to "touch up" the focus manually regardless of this setting.

I am not quite sure how useful is the mixed C-AF+MF mode: continuous autofocus with manual adjustment? Frankly, I've never had a need to use it, and I never did. You may have to experiment with this setting on your own to see how much it is worth in the context of your shooting needs and habits.


AF Point Selection

On the first level, this menu entry allows you to choose between the full 11-point array (when the camera decides where to focus), a five-point cross pattern (referred to as Dynamic Point, just to make it harder to guess), and a single spot. Suit your preferences here; I've settled down on the cross, but many users prefer a single point as giving them most control, while some go for all points, a kind of snapshot mode.

On the second level, you can use this menu to choose the AF area for the two latter modes. This may make sense in some situations (like shooting from a tripod), but not as a preset. Leave the spots at center in your default, if applicable.

A well-hidden extra option here is that once you've selected the target position, you can "register" it by pressing simultaneously the Function and exposure compensation buttons. Once "registered", this position can be quickly recalled at any time by pressing [Fn] alone, but only it that button was previously assigned to this function.

From where I stand, this may not be the least useful feature on the E-3, but it certainly belongs to the bottom 10%.

For the single-spot mode you can additionally set the AF point sensitive area to "regular" or "small", but this is, for reasons known only to Olympus, done from one of the Settings sub-menus.


Mirror Lock

Olympus calls this Anti-Shock, but this is really the old mirror lock we've known since the Seventies. It helps to avoid, in critical applications, vibrations caused by the mirror action. Obviously, this is useful only in tripod shooting.

Once you set the delay to a non-zero value, the sequence of drive modes (accessible by pressing the dedicated button) doubles in length, including mirror-locked versions of all; this is denoted by a small diamond shown next to the drive mode icon (or the icon blinking in the top info panel).

Some of these "mixed" modes do not make sense: for example, adding a mirror lock delay before every frame in a "high-speed" sequence. Some others are questionable, like applying a self-timer delay, then raising the mirror up, and applying a delay again. What would be wrong with raising the mirror right away and using just one delay? Messy.

This may seem like a bit strange way of providing this functionality, but at least mirror lock can be, once set here, activated without going into the menu system, and that's most important.

From my past experience, the delay of 2 seconds is long enough for most of the mirror-induced vibrations to die out, and this is my recommended default — if you are planning to use mirror lock at all. Otherwise, set it to Off, to time and confusion when changing drive modes.


AE Bracketing

Out of four kinds of bracketing provided by the E-3 this is the most useful; in critical applications you will possibly use it a lot. Set the default to Off, activating as needed.

Another setup, with this bracketing enabled and the drive mode at Serial High, may be handy when saved in one of My Mode slots.


WB Bracketing

Useless and wasteful, see here (interestingly, Olympus just follows the crowd providing this option). Instead of using WB bracketing, if expecting WB problems, switch to the raw mode. Set this to Off and ignore.


Flash Bracketing

This may be useful in exceptional situations, when you want to experiment with different -to-flash ratios, mixing both kinds of light. For any other purpose normal exposure bracketing should be fine, unless I'm missing something. Anyway, set this to Off, to be activated only as needed.


ISO Bracketing

This is really autoexposure bracketing by means of changing the ISO only. (Yes, at extreme ISO value it works only in one direction, leaving some frames identical.) Again, Off by default.


Settings and Preferences

This group of camera settings is huge: more than seventy items. It contains mostly user preferences, customizing not just the shooting parameters, but the ways in which the camera works, including the way in which shooting parameters are being set.

While my assignment of various settings from the previous chapter to the color-coded groups was, to some extent, arbitrary and reflecting my shooting habits, most of the settings described here will be in the Red group: to be set just once, as soon as you know what your preferences are.

The Settings 1 Menu

This menu underwent a total shake-up, compared to the E-510. Most notably, it now branches into nine sub-menus (denoted with letters from A to I), grouping, mostly at least, functions of similar nature.


Settings 1A: AF/MF

Obviously, this submenu groups preferences related to focusing, except for focus lock, which is in Settings B.


AF Illuminator

This setting allows you to enable or disable the autofocus aid light, used when the available light is not bright enough for reliable autofocus. Depending on the flash you are using, this AF light can be generated in two different ways.

  • Without an external flash unit mounted, the internal flash (if raised) emits a low-intensity, multiple burst of light;
  • An external flash (FL-36 or FL-50 by Olympus) has a separate light source, generating three beams of continuous, deep-red light with a striped pattern (to provide some focusing detail, smart!).

In either case, the setting allows to turn the AF aid off. It is irrelevant if the flash is not raised or if the external flash is turned off.

I prefer to have the AF Assist turned On. You may want to disable it when using the built-in flash to trigger slave units, when it may release them prematurely.


Focus Ring Direction

This allows you to choose in which direction you will have to turn the manual focusing on Olympus Four Thirds lenses in order to change the focus towards infinity. The feature, although far from being essential, allows you to stick to your habits acquired with manual lenses you are (or have been) using.

Unless that is the case, just ignore this choice.


Continuous AF Lock

You are photographing a sports game, using the C-AF mode. From time to time someone a few feet in front of you gets up to bring himself a beer; your AF system is desperately trying to change the focus, then — to change it back. This feature disables such an adjustment when the focus change would be large and sudden. I would keep it On, even if my experience in continuous AF is very limited, as I use it very rarely.


AF Area Pointer

By default, the AF point used in a successful focus estimate briefly lights up in red in the viewfinder. This behavior can be disabled here. Most of us will want to keep it On.


AF Sensitive Area

According to Olympus, this changes the effective area of the AF sensor used in the single-point mode. The choice is between Normal and Small, the latter denoted by [.]s in displayed indicators and covering just the AF point outline shown in the finder. I wasn't actually able to see a difference in how both settings work, so I'm keeping the default Normal.


AF Point Selection Setup

This is used to choose how turning the control dial (while the AF point selection button, [...], is pressed) moves from one such point to another:

  • Off: the point remains stuck after reaching the edge of the pattern;
  • Loop: it jumps to the other end of the same row (after an intermediate step of choosing all points);
  • Spiral: the sequence is like in reading a book, then it returns to top left after reaching the bottom right. (In the latter an extra step with all points will be inserted as well.)

Play with the camera using all three settings decide what you like best; it is personal. I found Spiral most to my liking — but I do not move my AF point around often.


Lens Focus Reset

!!! If this is activated, turning off the camera will reset the lens to infinity. In most cases this saves you a fraction of a second in the first picture taken when you turn the camera on again; the camera is also more transportable in this state. Set this to On.


Bulb Focusing

When the camera is in the bulb exposure mode (manually-timed shutter), and set to manual focusing, you can turn the focus ring, either accidentally or on purpose (to get a special effect: a picture partially de-focused). Here you can disable the focus ring for the time when the shutter stays open to avoid an unintended defocusing.

Very few camera users use bulb timing, and those who will, have an idea what they want here. I keep this option at Off, not that it matters.


Settings B: Buttons and Dials

These may be options most important in customizing (as opposed to using) your camera, as it adjusts the controls to your liking. Changing these preferences too often may lead to confusion and erratic camera behavior, so setting them once and forever (or almost so) may be a good idea.

If you are using two or more different Olympus cameras, you may try to make them respond to controls in a similar way (as much as it is possible due to differences in controls).


Dial Functionality

The two control dials in the E-3 are used not only in conjunction with direct buttons (about that, read here), but also alone, controlling the basic exposure parameters. How do they exactly function in the latter capacity is adjusted from here.

Obviously, the adjustable parameters (and therefore dial functionality) depend on the exposure mode you are in. Here are the options:

  • Program: Each of the dials can be assigned to program shift, exposure compensation, or flash compensation.

    Default: Both dials control the program shift (see here).

    My preference: Both control exposure compensation.

    This is to disable the program shift at all (shutter or aperture priority gives me more control, and resetting the shift to zero is a pain), and also to have an easy access to exposure compensation, without having to press the button.

  • Aperture priority: Each can control the aperture, exposure compensation, or flash compensation.

    Default: both dials adjust the aperture.

    My preference: exposure compensation (front) and aperture (rear).

  • Shutter priority: They can be assigned to shutter speed, exposure or flash compensation again.

    Default: both dials change the shutter speed.

    My preference: exposure compensation (front) and shutter speed (rear).

  • Manual: The controlled variables are shutter speed and aperture.

    Default: shutter (rear) and aperture (front).

    My preference: The opposite.

  • Menu: this defines how the control dials work in menu navigation. I left this alone: the front dial duplicates the Up/Down arrow functionality, and the rear one — that of Left/Right.

Note that in my recommended setup the front dial always (where applicable) controls the exposure compensation. The rear one changes the control variable (where applicable, again) or aperture. Only the shutter speed moves from the rear dial (shutter priority, when it is the control variable) to the front one (manual, where it is the secondary one after aperture). This could not be avoided. I've got used to this arrangement within a few hours after it was set up, and I like it better than the best one I was able to come up with for the E-510 (which only has one dial).

Getting rid of the exposure compensation button made using the camera more natural, as this is the functionality I access most often. This was helped by the fact that the dials are not so easy to turn by accident. (Still, for people who find themselves doing that, an option to disable the stand-alone use of dials might have been a helpful addition.)


AE/AF Lock

This is actually a sub-menu used to define how the camera's AE and AF functions behave when the [AEL/AFL] (or Lock) button, right of the finder eyepiece, and/or the shutter release are pressed.

This choice is made independently for each focusing mode: single, continuous, and manual. In each case you choose one of the pre-packaged combinations.

Switching between SAF, CAF, and MF is not done from here; you can do it either from the Control Panel or with use of a direct button.

The factory-default presets here make good sense. Still, if you know what you want, they may be worth changing to your taste. (Another option is to follow my advice, skip the details and jump straight to my recommendations, which are not much different.)

Here is the complete listing of available options. I just hope it is less confusing than the description in the camera's manual. (If not, suggestions how to improve it will be appreciated.)

  • Single AF: this is the AF mode in which most pictures are taken, therefore it is most important to set this one right. The choice is between:
    • SAF Mode 1: Without the Lock button both exposure and AF are locked when the shutter release is half-pressed.

      Any changes in scene brightness or subject distance after that will not be taken into account. This allows you to lock the exposure and focus on the part of the scene you consider most important.

      Pressing (and holding down) the Lock button freezes the exposure (but not AF) as metered at that moment (usually this is done before half-pressing of the release, though it may also be done after). The normal procedure is

      • Point at where you want to set the exposure and freeze it with the Lock button;
      • While holding that button down, point at the object to focus on and lock it with the release button;
      • Recompose the frame and press the release fully, to take the picture.
    • SAF Mode 2: With the Lock button down, the camera's behavior is the same as in SAF Mode 1. Without that button, however, half-pressing of the shutter release does not freeze the exposure; it is being updated until the shutter fires.

      In other words, the lock button is now the only way to freeze the metered exposure before the picture is taken.

    • SAF Mode 3: The exposure is locked when the shutter release is half-pressed. The only way to lock the AF (or to activate it at all) is to use the lock button.

      This is really a manual focus mode with AF "on demand", except that the focus ring on most lenses is not used, unless you switch the focusing mode to SAF+MF or use. (On the 12-60 mm ZD, and probably other SWD-series lenses, the ring is still coupled so it can be used at any time.)

      This mode may be appealing to those few of us who grew up using non-AF cameras. The downside is that it may be easy to forget about pressing the lock button and take a picture without focusing. I prefer to get the same functionality by switching to the manual focus and using MF Mode 3 there, see below.

    Since the E-510 I'm using the default SAF Mode 1, as it is generally the safest and most intuitive, for me at least. This would be my suggestion, unless you already have developed different working habits.

  • Continuous AF: this is the focusing mode which you may want to use occasionally to photograph fast-moving action. Here you have a choice of four different ways in which the lock button and shutter release will lock the focus and/or exposure.
    • CAF Mode 1: Autofocusing starts when the release button is half pressed and the focus is continuously adjusted until the end. Exposure is locked with the Lock button; if not, the release half-press does the locking.

      This is like SAF Mode 1, except that AF is being adjusted continuously till the very end.

    • CAF Mode 2: AF starts when the release is half-pressed; then both AF and AE are adjusted till the last moment, unless the lock button is used to freeze the exposure. This is the default.

      This mode is like the SAF Mode 2, except for continuous focusing.

    • CAF Mode 3: Half-pressing the release freezes the exposure; continuous AF (or any AF) is active only when the lock button is being held down.

      Once again, this becomes a manual focus mode with continuous AF "on demand", like SAF Mode 3 above.

    • CAF Mode 4: Like CAF Mode 3, except that the exposure is being adjusted up to the last moment. Like in Mode 3, continuous AF is performed only while the lock button is held down.

    Most users will want to choose between CAF Modes 1 and 2 (default), although my preference is for the former, being more consistent with what I'm using with single AF.

  • Manual Focus. The lock functions can be set up in one of three ways:
    • MF Mode 1: The Lock button freezes exposure; if not, release half-press will do it. This is the default.

      An exact MF equivalent of SAF or CAF Mode 1. Consistent.

    • MF Mode 2: Exposure is locked when and while the lock button is depressed; otherwise it is being adjusted until the picture is taken.

      Once again, like Mode 2 in the other focusing regimens.

    • MF Mode 3: Exposure is locked (only) with half-press of the release, and pressing the Lock button performs a single AF measurement.

      Note that this behavior is exactly the same as in SAF Mode 3. Obviously, it works only with AF lenses.

    The default Mode 1 is consistent with SAF Mode 1 and, in a way, CAF Mode 1, so it may make most sense if you are using those. My own preference is, however, MF Mode 3, as it gives me AF "on demand" when the camera is set to focus manually; hard to resist.

I'm sorry if this description was too long; this could not be helped. On the bright side, this is a part of the setup which you will be doing just once. Now, the short version:

My recommendation: Use either the defaults, shown in the menu as [S:1 C:2 M:1], or my preferences, [S:1 C:1 M:3]. You'll be fine with either (although, obviously, I prefer mine).


AE Lock Memo

When this is set to OFF, the Lock button works like described in the previous section: you have to keep it down in order to keep the autoexposure frozen (or, in the CAF Mode 3, see above, autofocus continuously adjusting). When this is ON, that button will act as a toggle: the first press will turn the lock (or CAF) on, the second — off. The reading will stay locked (or CAF active) after the picture has been taken.

The feature is useful when the exposure has to stay identical for a number of frames (like in panorama sequences), but it may also be quite dangerous: it is too easy to forget that the lock is active.

This is why I would recommend keeping this setting at Off, unless working in the toggle mode is already your second nature. Even when shooting panorama sequences, I prefer to set the exposure in metered manual before the first frame.


Function Button

The Function, or [Fn] button at the top-right of the camera's back can be assigned to just one of a number of available functions. This is, obviously, an important choice, as the number of external controls is always limited. The available options are:

  • Depth of Field preview: The aperture will close to the selected (by you or exposure automation) value, so that DoF can be evaluated in the optical viewfinder. This just duplicates the functionality of the dedicated DoF button next to the lens.
  • Live View DoF Preview: The camera will switch, if not there, into the Live View mode (for as long as the button is held down), stepping down the aperture to the working value, so that DoF can be previewed on the monitor.
  • Reference WB (marked as in the menu). Pressing the shutter release when the [Fn] button is held down and camera aimed at a neutral surface will then take a reference WB reading, which can be stored in one of four available slots. I find this function reliable and very useful.
  • Restoring the AF target (shown in the menu as [...] HOME) — the button can be used to bring the AF target to the predefined "registered" position.

    This "registration" can be done when you do the AF pattern and point selection; otherwise it defaults to the center position.

  • Manual focus: While in the AF mode, the [Fn] button will act as a toggle between auto and manual focusing.

    The feature stops working if the camera is powered off while MF is "toggled in": it will wake up in MF mode with the toggle no longer working until you go back to AF using other means. Perhaps a software glitch.

  • Raw : [Fn] will act as a toggle between Raw+JPEG and JPEG (alone) output.

    Holding [Fn] down and turning a control dial, will switch between various types of output. I do not do it from one frame to another, so the Control Panel access is more than good enough for me.

  • Exposure mode: The [Fn] button can be used instead of the predefined, semi-dedicated one to switch between exposure modes: program, aperture priority, etc.
  • Test picture: Pressing the shutter release while [Fn] is held down will get a picture taken and displayed on the monitor, but not saved to the card, saving you about six-tenths of a second. (If you like the result, however, there is no way to save it.)
  • My Mode: Taking a picture while the Function button is kept pressed will use your custom My Mode setup rather than the current camera settings. When you let go, the camera will revert to the settings from before the button was pressed.

    E-3 has two My Mode slots; one of them can be designated to be used like this with the Function button; the other one has to be dialed in as one of the exposure modes.

  • Underwater modes: This assignment enables two underwater exposure modes: UW Wide and UW Macro (it is the only way to enable them). Once this is done, the first pressing of [Fn] in any of other (i.e., dry land) modes will switch to UW Wide, and subsequent presses will toggle between both. These modes will also remain accessible from the regular exposure mode sequence.
  • Off: The Function button is entirely disabled

By providing these eleven (!) options Olympus is trying to make everybody happy (at the same time making everybody confused). There is, however, nothing really wrong with it, as the setting, once done, remains hidden and does not stand in your way when operating the camera.

The choice is, indeed, simpler than it may look. Unless you need to switch rapidly to and from a designated My Mode, or to switch easily between the two underwater modes, assigning the [Fn] button to the Reference White Balance seems to make most sense, as this feature remains totally inaccessible in any other way, period.

If you are not using Reference WB (and you really should, otherwise you're missing a very handy tool), then you can put any secondary-importance function on this button. Frankly, I do not know what I would have chosen in such situation: perhaps just a duplication of the exposure mode button?

If you wish, you can swap the Function button with the Lock one, see below.


My Mode Setup

The functionality of this menu item is described elsewhere. Leave it alone until you have all other settings tweaked to your needs and taste.


Button Timer

You can adjust the length of the "grace period", within which you may use a control dial to adjust the setting assigned to a "direct button". The available options are

  • Timed length of 3, 5, or 8 seconds;
  • Off: the dial has to be turned while the button is being held down;
  • Hold: the period is indefinite; the button has to be pressed again to disable the dial functionality.

While in the beginning, still gaining familiarity with the camera controls, you may want to use a time-out of 5 or 8 seconds, after a few weeks you will probably want to set it to three seconds.


Lock/Function Button Swap

Here you can swap the functionality assigned to the Lock and Function buttons, if you find the role reversal up to your liking. Actually, I did that once, a few months ago, on my E-510, but after a few weeks reverted to the default assignment, marked as Off.


Cursor Key Function

The cursor keys can be set for AF point selection in a short period (30 seconds or so) after the shutter release was half-pressed, without a need for pressing the AF point selection button first.

I keep this option disabled. It was introduced only in Version 1.3 of the firmware (February, 2009).


Settings C: Release and Drive

Only three functions are in this group, although I wouldn't be surprised to see a few more in one of firmware updates; for example, "Use sequential drive mode with bracketing". We'll see.

February, 2009: Nope.


Release Priority S

This option defines the camera's behavior in the S-AF (single-focus) mode, being disabled by default. Activating it will make the camera take a picture whenever you press the shutter release button regardless of whether it was able to focus properly. The default Off setting seems to make more sense, so I would keep it.

This setting also determines if the picture will be taken if the flash is not yet recharged.


Release Priority C

Similar to the above, but for the C-AF (Continuous AF) mode. That mode is recommended for fast-moving objects, and the camera uses the predictive AF then anyway (extrapolating the subject movement and "outguessing" its future position). Because of the predictive AF and because in such situations it is better to risk an out-of-focus frame than no frame at all, the default On setting here makes sense.

See the remark above on flash.



While the drive mode setting allows a choice (among others) between high and low sequential speeds, only here you define what "low speed" actually means: from 1 to 4 frames per second. My preference is 3 FPS, as differing more from the "high" value of 5 FPS.


Settings D: Display

These are really secondary-importance adjustments, and, unless you are up to setting your camera up right now, you may safely skip this section until that time.


Beep On/Off

From here you can enable or disable the beep the camera makes when autofocus is achieved, at least in the single AF mode. I prefer to keep this On, as quite often I am too focused on other things in order to watch the AF confirmation light in the viewfinder. In rare situations when the beep may be found disturbing, I just break my no-menu rule and just disable it.


Sleep Time

This defines the period of inactivity after which the camera will enter the low-power sleep mode, disabling the LCD and all controls; then when any control is pressed, your E-3 will almost instantly (with just the dust-off delay) spring to life.

This time-out can be set to Off (never go to sleep), 1, 3, 5, or 10 minutes. Entirely a matter of taste; I prefer 3 minutes.

The infrared remote receptor is disabled in the sleep state; when you are using the RM-1 or RM-2, you may want to disable the sleep feature.


Backlit LCD Time

Similar to the above, but governs how soon will the monitor backlighting go off (which saves quite a lot of juice). The choice is between 8, 30, and 60 seconds plus Hold. I find 8 s too fast for my taste, actually using 60 seconds here, but this may easily change in the future.

Even with Hold the monitor will go off when the sleep time comes.


Four-Hour Timer

After the camera goes to sleep, its internal clock still keeps ticking, and (by default) the camera will turn itself off for good after four hours. To be activated again, it has to be turned off and on again.

This feature can be disabled (set to Off) from here, but I prefer to keep the default.


USB Mode

This is the mode in which the USB interface is turned on when the camera detects the connection. Here are the options:

  • Auto is not really automatic: it will just ask you to choose one of the other options from the menu.
  • Storage makes the camera's currently used memory card visible as an external disk drive from the host computer, under any current operating system. No drivers, no special programs — just copy the files like any others.

    This is also the mode used to upgrade the firmware via Olympus Master or Studio.

  • Control allows the camera to be operated remotely from a computer program (at this moment: only Olympus Studio, I believe).
  • MTP allows the Windows Vista to access the camera as an "image source". People who do not know how to copy a file from one disk to another may find this useful (but then, these people should have a restraint order to stay at least 20 feet from the nearest computer).
  • Easy Print and Custom Print: trust me, you do not really care about these.

The default Auto option is a safe choice, but if you never operate the camera remotely, Storage will be more convenient.


Live View Boost

With this if set to Off, the Live View display will be accounting for the picture-taking parameters i.e., it will approximate the resulting picture. In the ON position, the display may be brightened for better visibility (at the expense of some jerkiness).

The live histogram does not work right with the boost enables, so it has to be ignored.

By default I prefer to keep the Live View Boost off, except when shooting in infrared; in that case this may be the only way to make the preview visible.


Frame Assist

You may have a framing aid (which is the proper English term) superimposed on the Live View display. There is a choice between:

  • Off, nothing shown;
  • A grid, dividing the display into 6×8 squares;
  • A "golden rule" line set: two vertical and two horizontal lines, with intersections corresponding to composition strong points;
  • A cross-hair with a scale (in unknown units).

Depending on that choice, one of these will be shown in the sequence of live display modes when the [Info] button is repeatedly pressed. Suit yourself, but after some playing around I just reverted to Off.


Settings E: Exposure and ISO

This group of settings changes the limits, steps, and time-outs. Once again: set them once and never come back.

A notable exception is that here you also decide what metering pattern will be used with the AE lock; this may be one of the more important decisions you will have to make in the customization process.


EV Step

This is the step used in exposure compensation, shutter speed, and aperture adjustment. The choice is between 1/3, 1/2, or 1 EV. While 1 EV is OK for shutter or aperture (except in metered manual mode, where the other factor does not adjust automatically), exposure compensation requires more precision: 1/3 or 1/2 EV will do, depending on any habits you might have developed already.

While I keep this at 1/3 EV, some people may be happier with 1/2 EV: with almost the same precision you go through fewer steps when making changes.


ISO Step

This is the step with which the ISO (sensor gain, or effective sensitivity to light) can be adjusted. It can be chosen as 1/3 EV (ISO 100, 120, 160, 200...) or 1 EV (ISO 100, 200, 400...). The finer, 1/3 EV step has no real advantage: I find that the usual 1 EV is good enough for any purpose, and it requires less scrolling through available values. Therefore 1 EV is my recommendation (feel free to disregard it).

EV stands for Exposure Value, or a product of scene brightness and exposure time; it is often used to describe differences in the amount of light or in response to it. The scale is logarithmic: 1 EV more corresponds to twice the amount of light; 1/3 EV — to about 26% more (note: 1.26×1.26×1.26 = 2). The values in the 1/3 EV ISO sequence are approximate, but this accuracy is more than good enough for any purpose.


Auto ISO Range

This is actually not one setting but two independent ones.

  • High Limit defines how high will the camera go adjusting the ISO value automatically, if Auto ISO is selected instead of a given value. The limit can be set to any ISO between 100 and 3200 with the step in use.

    I doubt if any semi-serious photographer will be using Auto ISO, but, just in case Aunt Minnie starts playing with your E-3, set this limit to ISO 400 or 800.

  • Default sets the ISO value the camera will be using in Auto ISO if it can achieve a handholdable shutter speed. The used value may be higher in low light, of course, but under rare conditions (running out of shutter speed and/or aperture values in very bright light), it may be pushed down.

    With the same comment as above, I would keep this at ISO 100, which is the default default (yes, I mean it).


Auto ISO Use

This determines if the Auto ISO will be accessible in the manual exposure mode.

The choice is between P/S/A (autoexposure modes only) and All (which includes manual exposure).

In the original version of this article I was wondering why I would ever want to use auto-ISO in manual exposure. A few months later I know. If you choose All and set ISO to Auto, the manual exposure mode becomes a shutter-and-aperture priority AE: you set these two parameters, and the camera will adjust the third one (ISO) as needed to provide proper exposure, if possible. Manual is no longer manual, but some users may like it this way; besides, all it takes to disable this feature is to move the ISO setting off Auto.

Unlike in P, A, and S autoexposure modes, you will not be able to dial in any exposure compensation (with or without using the compensation button); this makes the design somewhat inconsistent.

Anyway, this is a minor decision. I've set this to All, if just to play with the new feature when it strikes my fancy.


AE Lock Metering

This is a choice which metering pattern will be used when the exposure is locked with the [AEL/AFL] button (not by half-pressing the shutter release!).

  • Auto — the same pattern as the one used without the lock button.

    That pattern can be changed from the Control Panel or with use of its own direct button (or, rather, half of it: front dial only).

  • Center-weighted — always the center-weighted mode, regardless on the "regular" pattern used.
  • Spot — always spot-metering.
  • Spot-Highlight and Spot-Shadow — as above.

Spot metering makes most sense here, because when you use the lock button, this means you're pointing the camera at the point you would like to actually meter at. This is why I'm recommending this, instead of the default Auto setting, by a large margin. Additionally, in this setup you will never have to explicitly change the metering pattern again: using the Lock button is enough.


Bulb Time Limit

Here you set the time limit after which the shutter will close even if you are still holding the shutter release depressed. (No, I do not expect someone to hold down the button down for twenty minutes, but the release can be locked with a wired or infrared remote, to the same effect.)

The default of 8 minutes seems OK: when was the last time you have used an exposure longer than that?


Settings F: Flash

This sub-menu is shown as CUSTOM, with an easy-to-miss noticeable flash symbol in front of it. (Actually, this is why I lost it once!)


Flash Sync Time

This is the fastest shutter speed which the camera will use with flash. While the default is 1/250 s, you may set that limit to any value down to 1/60 s.

Longer speeds increase the input of the ambient light to the final result, softening the harsh flash light a bit, but this may cause WB problems, common with mixed light sources.

These problems will be most visible in the program or aperture priority mode, as then the camera will set the shutter as it pleases, usually close to the 1/2F (one over double focal length) rule, to maximize the ambient light share. They can be, however, easily avoided, see the next setting.

I would recommend here to set the highest value, i.e., 1/250 s, for a number of reasons. If longer shutter speeds are desirable, use shutter priority to get exactly what you want.


Low Flash Shutter Limit

This feature allows you to avoid mixed-light problems mentioned above. It is new in the E-3. The shutter speed used with flash in program and aperture priority AE modes will never get below the value set here (unless you choose the Slow flash mode.

The default of 1/60 s usually provides some softening of the flash with ambient light, but if you want to avoid that (for consistent white balance), you may consider raising it all the way to 1/250 s. I don't mind the slight yellow cast when using flash under ambient light, so I keep it at 1/60 s.


Additive Flash Compensation

You can choose how the + dialed flash exposure compensation is applied:

  • On — the dialed flash exposure compensation is added to the "regular" exposure compensation;
  • Off — only the dialed-in flash compensation is applied to flash pictures.

I find the On option more intuitive; see also my remarks of flash compensation in general for more arguments in favor of this choice.


Settings G: Image, Color and WB

In a way similar to the Camera 1 menu, the preferences in this group control some aspects of the raw-to-RGB conversion, directly affecting generated JPEG images, but not raw ones. Still, they are being remembered in raw files, to be used as the "as shot" settings in postprocessing.


Global WB Adjustment

Here you can define common color corrections (both in Red/Blue and Green/Magenta) which will be shared by all WB settings, including Auto and Reference ().

These corrections will override ones, if any, previously defined for the individual WB presets or reference WB slots (it will also be applied to any reference WB readings made afterwards, but not to the custom °K setting). Therefore if you would like to use a specific correction for some WB choices and a "global" one for all others, define the latter first as described below, and then override it for the specific settings as described here. And, really, do not mess with this setting much, or, at least, do not mix it with individual corrections.

The adjustment is done in "steps" of undocumented size. A positive correction shifts colors towards red or green; negative — towards blue or magenta. (Arrow keys are used to switch between color dimensions and to move the values up or down.)

Unless you think the E-3 colors need to be shifted overall in a given direction (say, all to become warmer), leave this setting alone. That's what I did.


Color Space

A choice between sRGB (used by practically all computer displays and printers) and Adobe RGB, said to provide a wider color gamut. If you are not 100% sure what Adobe RGB really is and how you can benefit from it, just forget about it and use the default sRGB.


Light Fall-Off Compensation

Every lens has a degree of vignetting or light fall-off: images are getting progressively darker towards the corners. This is especially visible in wide-angle lenses, and can be (partially) addressed by using a strongly retrofocus lens design.

A large part of this phenomenon is purely geometric in nature (as opposed to being an optical flaw of the lens itself), and cannot be cured by any means. Actually, this is the part which is smaller for retrofocus lenses.

The E-3 can compensate for light fall-off, doing it at the stage of raw-to-RGB conversion, with use of the lens information passed from it to the camera circuitry. This information tells the camera how much to brighten the image towards the corners to level out the effect.

Here you can turn this function on or off. I see no reason not to have this set to On.


JPEG Presets

Here you define the four JPEG resolution/compression presets which then will be available for a quick recall from the menu (or, better, from Control Panel). Each of these presets gives you the choice of two factors:

  • Image size (pixel resolution): Large, Medium, and Small; while Large is the full (native) sensor resolution, the other sizes are defined as a separate option, see the next section.

    For Medium Olympus uses the term Middle, which does not sound right. Middle resolution? Middle format? Medium class?

  • Quality (inverse of compression ratio): Super Fine (1:2.7), Fine (1:4), Normal (1:8), and Basic (1:12).

Every preset will be named with a concatenation of the two corresponding acronyms; for example, LSF standing for Large+Superfine; those names will then be used everywhere as needed.

I never had a need for more than two such combinations: one for more and one for less critical uses. Certainly, the first two presets have to be LSF and LF; while the other two do not really matter (for me at least), I've set them as LN and MN, just in case of an emergency, running out of card space.

(This happened to me once, during a trip to Japan in 2002, when a 256 MB card used to cost $200).


Small/Medium Pixel Count

Now we came to the place where you define what Medium and Small, used above, mean. The following choices are available:

  • Medium: 3200×2400, 2560×1920, or 1600×1200m pixels (8, 5, and 2 MP);
  • Small: 1280×960, 1024×768, or 640×480 pixels (1 MP, XGA, VGA).

If you are not using non-native resolution files, these choices do not matter; just in case, set the largest sizes available: 3200×2400 and 1280×960.


Settings H: Record and Erase

Some preferences regarding card file system access are set here. Some more of the same kind are scattered over the Settings 2 menu.


Quick Erase

Setting this to On allows you to delete the currently viewed image with a single press on the red trash can button, without any confirmation.

I would suggest keeping this at Off, but setting the Yes/No default to Yes; deleting a file would then require a confirmation with just a single button press.


Raw+JPEG Erase

This is relevant only if you save images in duplicate, as raw ORF and JPEG. When the Delete (trash can) button is pressed while an image is being viewed, the camera may delete just one or both versions, depending how this preference has been set. I've set this to RAW+JPEG (both), to avoid confusion.


File Name

This defines how the numbers in file names (see Edit File Name), are assigned when an empty card is mounted. There are two choices:

  • Reset — the numbering starts anew from 0001;
  • Auto — it continues from the last value.

I prefer Auto, as it provides images with ordinal numbers regardless of the date, folder, and card used.

If the card is not empty and contains, in the currently used folder, a file with a serial number above the current counter, the latter will be moved up.

A good rule to follow is to assure that a card inserted into the camera does not contain any images; this will allow to avoid surprises.


Priority Set

This criptic name refers to an option defining the default (highlighted) answer to a Yes/No query on file delete. If this is set to No, then deleting a file requires pressing a cursorkey in addition to the [OK] button. I found this a bit annoying, therefore my cameras have this set to Yes. (I still have to delete an image by accident.)

This double protection seems too much to me; I prefer the Yes setting, where I need to press just [OK] after the Delete button to confirm the operation.

This choice does not affect other confirmation screens; for example resetting the camera to a the custom preset.


DPI Setting

This setting is completely irrelevant, just leave it alone.

Adobe, I believe, started embedding the DPI (dots per inch) information into bitmapped images. This is, to be frank, moronic: a 2000×3000 pixel image file is that, regardless of what DPI you set there. Unfortunately, many people were made to believe that this is somehow significant, and, perhaps for some compatibility purposes, Olympus now puts this information into its image files.


Settings I: Utility

Here the designers put some (exactly: two) of the things which did not fit anywhere else (the rest is in the Settings 2 menu; decisions on that were probably made by tossing a coin).

The good news is that you will be never coming back to this menu again.


Cleaning Mode

When you select this and press [OK], the camera enters the cleaning mode: the mirror goes up and the shutter opens, so that the dust barrier in front of the image sensor becomes accessible for cleaning — if you remove the lens, of course.

Be careful: if the battery gets low during that time, the shutter will close, with the mirror returning down, and one or both will be likely damaged.


External WB Detector

The E-3 has an external light receptacle, placed between the grip and lens mount, and used to help the Auto WB circuitry to do its job. (This is very much like an ambient light meter, although not as effective as a hand-held one pointed away from the subject, the most accurate method.)

By default this detector is turned on, and I would leave it this way, although it matters only when you use the Auto White Balance.


The Settings 2 Menu

This menu is a relict form the previous Olympus models, being a grab bag of odds and ends.

Be warned: the logic stops here, proceed at your own risk.



This is not really a preference setting, but a maintenance function. A properly set clock allows your pictures to be correctly time-tagged. Set this once to your home time zone and leave it there, adjusting once a year if needed.

The camera does not automatically switch to the daylight savings time (it would have to know its location and the local law). If you want to account for that, the setting has to be changed by hand. I chose not to do it, and keep the "winter" time all the time (this is the "real" time zone time, more closely related to the actual time of the day.

I've also given up on moving the camera's clock every time when arriving to a different time zone. Sooner or later you'll forget to do it, and then things may get messy. It is just not worth the trouble.

Accurate time stamps become more important if you are carrying a GPS recorder and then use a software application to tag your files with the location where the picture was taken.


Card Selection

The choice between Compact Flash and xD-Picture card is not really a preference setting, and it should be rather in one of the Camera menus, not here. Anyway, set it to the card you use more often, and in need you can always change it from the Control Panel, without diving into the menu system. Keep in mind that CF cards usually are faster and less expensive; this is my default.


Edit file name

This allows you to (slightly) change the Olympus file naming convention, which combines the date picture was taken with a serial number. Actually, you will lose nothing by just skipping this section; I'm providing it just for the record.

A file name format is

Pmddnnnn.JPG   or _mddnnnn.JPG

where the name elements mean the following:

  • P or _ is a fixed character (for sRGB or Adobe RGB color space, respectively; see below);
  • m is a character for the month: 1 for January, ... , A for October, ... , and C — December;
  • dd is the two-digit day of the month;
  • nnnn is the picture serial number; after 9999 it will start from 0001 again;
  • .JPG (or .ORF for raw files) is the file name extension, denoting its format.

For example, PB260832.JPG means a picture taken on November ('B') 26, with a serial number of 832, saved in the JPEG format in the sRGB ('P') color space.

This convention can be slightly modified: the first two characters can be set to any of your choice (the defaults are shown in the menu as Off).

For Adobe RGB images (JPEG or raw; in the latter case this means just a flag) the first character is hardwired to '_', and only the second one can be redefined. You will be able to change it only if the camera is actually set to use the Adobe RGB color space.

There is nothing wrong with the default settings here, but some users, with more than one Olympus camera, may want to set the first letter different for each. Why not?

I rename my files as soon as get them off the camera anyway, to include full date, with the leading year. If you do something like that, then this section becomes irrelevant.


Monitor Brightness

In addition to setting the display brightness manually, there is also an Auto option here, using a small light receptor near the monitor to measure the ambient light and to adjust the display accordingly. This sounds like a good solution, but I found it a bit distracting: the display reacts to slight changes in camera orientation.

Adjust it to your liking; I'm fine with the default (zero) manual setting.



Depending on the market, the choice of selectable UI languages may vary. You can also install one additional language using the Olympus Master to access Olympus Web server.


Video Standard

This is the signal standard used when the camera's monitor output is sent to a TV set. You may choose between NTSC and PAL, depending on your country.


Rec View

This stands for "Recording View" which is a brief review of the just-taken picture on the monitor.

Here you define for how long the image is displayed. This can be set to any value between 0 and 20 seconds, with 0 disabling the review (this will extend the battery life), and 3..7 seconds being a reasonable choice for a quick check.

There is also an option to set this to Auto — in this mode the camera automatically enters the "regular" image review mode with all its implications: you can browse images, magnify a fragment, switch between viewing modes, delete a file, etc. In other words, the Auto option saves you one (green) button press, compared with doing the same explicitly.


Pixel Mapping

To be used occasionally (every six months or so, or as needed) to map out the few bad pixels which may show on your sensor.


Firmware Version

Displays the installed firmware version for the camera body, lens, and external flash (if mounted and on).


Storing and Recalling Setups

The camera setup, including almost all parameters listed above, can be saved as a package in one of two available custom reset slots or in one of two My Mode ones. While both ways are largely similar, there are some important differences in how they are used and how they work; these will be discussed as needed. In either case, restoring (or switching to) a setup by one of these methods is faster, easier, and less error-prone than doing it one-by-one.


Custom Reset

Two different setups can be saved in, or recalled from, two such slots available. This is done from a menu option named Custom Reset Setting in Camera 1. Using this feature is not quite obvious, so I have no choice but to describe it in its entirety.

  • Highlight Custom Reset Setting and press the right arrow button.You will see a screen reading like this:




    Instead of NO DATA, lines two and three may show SET, which means that a slot has been already customized.

  • Use the down-arrow to highlight the RESET 1 or RESET 2 slot. (Do not press the [OK] button!)
  • Press the right arrow button. Two options will show: SET and RESET. Highlighting SET and pressing [OK] will save the current camera settings in the selected slot. Done.

Selecting RESET in [3] instead will clear the slot. Keep in mind that both setting and resetting a slot are done without the usual confirmation.

Once your chosen settings have been stored, the whole package can be restored at any moment:

  • Highlight Custom Reset Setting and press the right arrow button.
  • Move down to the slot you want to recall and press [OK]. Confirm at the query. Done.

Pressing [OK] when the (top) RESET option is highlighted will reset the camera to factory defaults, after a Yes/No query. This does not destroy the packages stored in the other reset slots (or in My Mode ones.

A few of the preferences or settings I am discussing above are not stored in custom reset slots, for a number of reasons. This means that they will not be restored to your presets when a custom reset is performed. In most of the cases these are settings which rather should survive the reset process (and be the same for both reset slots), but in a few the assignment seems to be arbitrary: why would the Continuous AF Lock be not stored, being clearly a shooting preference?

As we have no choice here but to accept whatever design decisions were made, quoting the full list of excluded settings wouldn't make much sense. It is available as a table in the camera manual: Functions that can be registered... (p. 134 of the English version).

One case, however, has to be mentioned: exposure mode (or shooting mode). This means that after a custom reset you have explicitly to switch the camera to program, aperture priority, or whatever your usual choice is.

Once you have set up the camera according to your needs, preferences, and taste, the whole setup should be stored in one of the reset slots, so that the camera can be easily restored to your preferred state. I am not sure how to use the second slot; maybe it can be useful for your alter ego? Variations of the setup aimed at particular applications or shooting conditions are better served by My Mode slots.


My Mode

Even if you have used one of the previous E-System SLRs, you may have no experience with this feature, as it required assigning the [Fn] button to it, and that button was perhaps more useful for other purposes. In the E-3, My Mode presets become genuinely useful, as they can be accessed as any other exposure modes (say, aperture priority).

There are two My Mode slots available, of which one is "current" (or, as Olympus puts it, "executed"). This distinction is meaningful only if the [Fn] key has been assigned to temporary My Mode activation, otherwise it is completely irrelevant.

Storing a camera setup in one of these slots involves a procedure identical to that in the E-510. It is not quite straightforward, therefore I would recommend reading this while actually handling the camera.

  • Go to the Setup 1 B: Button/Dial submenu and highlight the My Mode Setup option. If no My Mode presets have been defined yet, you will see No Data next to it; otherwise you will see the "current" mode (see above); just ignore it.
  • Press the right arrow key. Without any My Mode presets defined, you will see a screen like this:



    For an already defined My Mode, the right-hand field may also read SET (this mode has been defined) or CURRENT (defined and "current"). Again, the distinction between these two is meaningful only if you have the [Fn] button assigned to My Mode.

  • Use the up/down arrows to highlight one of the modes. (Do not press the OK button!)
  • Press the right-arrow button to see two options: SET and RESET. Choosing SET and pressing [OK] will store the present camera settings in the selected My Mode slot (without any confirmation); RESET will erase the contents of this slot.

Importantly, My Mode also stores the current exposure mode (like aperture priority), unlike a custom reset slot.

If you have set the [Fn] button to temporarily invoke the "current" My Mode, then pressing the [OK] button in point [3] above will make that mode "current". This is irrelevant if you are assigned the [Fn] button to some other purpose (like I did).

The major difference between custom restore and My Mode is that while the former resets the camera to a given state, the latter is rather used for quick switching to a given preset combination and back.

Activating a My Mode preset is done in one of two ways. I already mentioned the first one: pressing and holding the Function button will temporarily recall that preset. This, however, requires giving up any other functionality we could use that button for — and I'm not giving the Reference WB up so easily.

The other way is to access My Mode as one of the exposure modes. Originally, switching among exposure modes takes us from Program to Manual and Bulb; as soon as any My Mode slots are filled, they will be added to that sequence. Thus, a My Mode can be activated by pressing the Mode button (to the left of the prism) and turning the rear control dial.

If that is done, both the top status display will show a My 1 or My 2 icon next to the symbol of the exposure mode. This may mean, for example: "I am My Mode 2, based on aperture priority, with custom settings".

If you change any parameters while in My Mode, these changes will not be remembered: leaving that My Mode and entering it again will bring you the settings as originally saved in that slot. This makes sense: if you've been messing with the settings while in My Mode and want to revert the changes, just exit this My Mode and enter it again.

If you adjust any settings before entering My Mode, all will be remembered when you exit it. This makes sense, too: you do not want leaving My Mode to do a reset.

How to utilize the two My Mode slots? You may have your own ideas on that, but I prefer to use the first one for my default setup (like the custom reset), just to have a "panic button" option, with a way back to what I was doing before; the second one can be used for a particular kind of shooting you do often (say, tabletop or portrait).


The End

Well, this was a long piece of reading, but that could not be avoided. This is the price we are paying for having all these options to choose from; nothing comes free.

One final piece of advice: resist the temptation of changing the camera settings all the time. A setup which may look good when done on your sofa may turn out to be a disaster in the field. Simpler is better, and here you will have lots of opportunities to shoot yourself in the foot. Do a first setup, using my recommendations modified to your liking (but not just for the sake of being different), and live with it for a month or two. After that you will know better what you would really like to have changed. Rinse and repeat. But not just for the heck of it.


Thanks are due to the many Readers whose help was essential in cleaning up and otherwise improving this text. (You know who you are, J-Marc, Geffen, Hans, and others.) Most of all, thanks do Don of Columbia, MD, who was willing to live for the total of two months without his favorite toy, just to give me a chance to get familiar with it, and to share that familiarity with you.

My other articles related to the Olympus E-System cameras.

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Posted 2008/02/28; last updated 2009/03/02 Copyright © 2008-2009 by J. Andrzej Wrotniak