The Olympus E-M1 Mark II and back button focusing

Note to readers: I’m keeping this post alive for its useful comment threads, but the post’s content has really been superseded by material in a newer post.

I recently received an Olympus  E-M1 Mark II — the idea being that it’ll shortly replace my trusty original E-M1 I purchased a few years back.  While I’ve still got both, I’ll be shooting and posting some comparison shots between the two models — but first will be writing a few posts on upgrades and changes in the new model.

First up — setting up back button focusing.

What is back button focusing?

For those unfamiliar with the term, back button focusing refers to separating the focus and expose functions that normally occur sequentially when you depress the camera’s shutter button (focus on half-press, exposure on full-press).  If you “move” the focus function off the shutter button, and assign it elsewhere, life is easier when photographing a fast-moving subject (like wildlife) — you can focus once, then concentrate on your timing / composition / exposure.  Assuming, of course, that your subject doesn’t change its distance from you significantly as it flits about.

By itself, this is pretty easy to set up on all of Olympus’ OM-D camera bodies.  But maybe you don’t want to *always* be set up for back button focusing — for instance, so you can quickly hand the camera over to a less-experienced friend for a few shots.  Or, so you can take photos of something that’s moving quickly toward or away from you.  Setting up your OM-D so you can quickly switch in and out of back button focusing isn’t always so simple.

Original E-M1 (Firmware V. 4)

  1. Move the lever on the back of the camera to the position you want to use for back-button focus.
  2. Under the Custom Menu (gear), tab A (AF/MF), item AEL/AFL, set S-AF, C-AF, and/or M to mode3.  This turns off focusing on half-press of the shutter button, and assigns focusing to the AEL/AFL button.
  3. Under the Custom Menu (gear), tab B (Button/Dial/Lever), item Lever Function, set to mode5.  If you’re happy using the AEL/AFL button for focusing, you’re done at this step.
  4. If you want to use another button for focusing (here, I use Fn1), you’ve got one last step.  Under the Custom Menu (gear), tab B (Button/Dial/Lever), item Button Function, item Fn1 Function, set to AEL/AFL.

Now, on to life with the new beast:

E-M1II (Firmware 1.0)

  1. Under the Custom Menu (gear), tab A1 (AEL/AFL), set S-AF, C-AF, and/or M to mode3.  This turns off focusing on half-press of the shutter button, and assigns focusing to the AEL/AFL button (just like step 2 for the original E-M1).
  2. If you want to use another button for focusing (here, I use Fn1), under the Custom Menu (gear), tab B (Button/Dial/Lever), item Button Function, item Fn1 Function, set to AEL/AFL (much like step 4 for the original).
  3. Now you need to save this arrangement to a custom mode.  Under Shooting Menu 1 (little camera icon with a numeral 1), tab Reset / Custom Modes, select Assign to Custom Mode, pick the mode number (C1C3), and press the OK button.Now you’ve got the back button focusing set as both the default, and as a custom mode.  So you’ll want to change the default settings back to the normal way of doing things.
  4. If you picked Fn1 for back-button focus, under the Custom Menu (gear), tab B (Button/Dial/Lever), item Button Function, item Fn1 Function, set to AF Area Select.
  5. Under the Custom Menu (gear), tab A1 (AEL/AFL), set S-AF, C-AF, and/or M to their original settings (or whatever you prefer) — I normally use mode1 / mode 2 / mode 3 respectively (S1/C2/M3).

Now, if you want to use back button focusing, you’ll switch the mode dial on top of your camera to whatever Custom Mode you picked for the function.  Note, though, that using custom modes for this brings a lot of other settings “along for the ride” (since custom modes capture a significant number of settings, not just the focusing mode)

The problem comes down to one big difference in approach.  With the original E-M1, the lever could be used to change only the focusing mode (mode5 here):

While with the E-M1II, the lever seems to be less useful (at least, it’s got no equivalent of the original E-M1’s mode5):

If any readers have friends or contacts working at Olympus, please tell them that something like mode5 for the camera’s lever switch would be a wonderful thing to have (again).

7 thoughts on “The Olympus E-M1 Mark II and back button focusing

  1. Thanks for this post. I never thought to use the Fn1 button for back button focussing. I tried the AEL/AFL button but found it awkward to use on my EM1. I shall give Fn1 a try! I also noticed that the AEL/AFL button location has been moved on the Mark II and it looks like it should be easier to use.

  2. Thanks for the information. I was looking up and down the web for this information specific to EM1 mkII. I got the back focus assigned to AEL/AEF and assign it to C1. I normally use Aperture Priority mode, but when I turn the mode dial to C1, I got the back focus button working, but now I’m not in Aperture Priority mode. I think I’m in either Program or Manual mode because I now have to change both the Aperture and Shuttle. Is this a normal behavior or somehow I didn’t set this up correctly. Let me know what you think.

  3. The phrasing “Sets functions to be switched by the Fn lever from AF mode, (AF target setting), and (AF area)” is almost complete nonsense (machine translated from Japanese?) – but it does mention “AF mode”, which could indicate that it is still possible to get the same functionality as the old “mode 5” in another way. I hope so, because that’s the best use of the lever in my opinion.

  4. Hi Eric, and nice post. So far I’ve found that mode 2 for the Fn Lever allows me to change from AF (position 1) to MF with back button focus. However, what the Lever is “really” doing (Mk I and Mk II) is switching between whatever focus mode you set in each position, so you could use position 1 for S-AF and position 2 for C-AF. But like you, I prefer pos. 2 for MF and BBF.

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