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The Olympus OM-D E-M1 is a highly customizable camera allowing for many personal preferences and considerations for underwater use. Hopefully this article, with collaboration from customers and staff here at Optical Ocean Sales, will give you a starting point for setting up your E-M1 camera for underwater use.

The settings below can be used with any of the available underwater housings, however, Section 1 is specifically for any housing such as the Olympus PT-EP11, that requires the flash to be placed in the down position (compared to the normal up position) for firing the flash. For divers that have a housing that allows for the strobe to be in the up position, you can skip over this part or just follow along.


If you have the Olympus housing or another housing that requires the flash to be in the down position and you are using a strobe - follow these steps:
(Make sure your camera is not in iAuto when going through these steps.)
Step 1  -> Menu
Step 2  -> Scroll down to the picture of a gears
Step 3  -> Use the right arrow to go into custom menu
Step 4  -> Scroll down to "Button/Dial"
Step 5  -> Use the right arrow to go into "B. Button/Dial"
Step 6  -> Find "Button Function" and press the right arrow
Step 7* -> Chose either "Fn 1" or "Fn 2" (function)
Step 8  -> Use the right arrow to go into Function Button setting
Step 9  -> Scroll through the different presets for functions until find the symbol with 3 fish & 1 fish
Step 10-> Press OK
Step 11-> Press menu button 3 times or press the shutter release button once to exit the menu
At this point the flash will fire when in down position.
Step 12 -> To get out of underwater mode, switch between different modes; example - shutter to aperture back to shutter
You do not need to leave the camera in underwater mode for the flash to continue working in the down position.
You only need to do this when you first set up your camera.
*Step 7 option - you can use the function buttons in the front of the camera instead if you would like. This will allow for the more readily available function buttons to be used for a different action.

For underwater use, you should turn the off the proximity sensor that activates the electronic view finder (EVF). This will just turn off the auto feature for this sensor. You can still switch between the back monitor screen and the viewfinder by pressing the LV button on the left side of the viewfinder. This keeps your camera from automatically switching from the monitor to the viewfinder when the sensor is covered by the camera housing.

Step 1  -> Press and hold the LV button for a few seconds until a menu for the EVF Auto Switch appears.
Step 2  ->
Select the OFF by using the Arrow Pads up and down arrows.
Step 3  -> Step Three- Press the OK button to confirm this selection.

Now you can switch between the viewfinder and the back monitor screen manually, at any time.

The Live Super Control Panel (SCP) allows you to access the E-M1 camera settings much easier. Normally when you press the OK button, you get some setting options along the bottom and one side of the monitor screen. When using the SCP, you can see all the important settings at once in a grid format on the screen by pressing the OK button. This allows for quicker and easier accesses to all of the features you need while underwater, like changing the white balance.

Step 1  -> Press the menu button
Step 2  -> Scroll down using Arrow Pad until you reach the “Custom Menu” or the symbol with the gears
Step 3  -> Use either the Right Arrow Pad to go into this menu or press the “OK” button
Step 4  -> Scroll down to option “D” which is Display/)))/PC Option
Step 5  -> Press “OK”
Step 6  -> Scroll down to the “Control Setting”
Step 7  -> Press “OK” or the Right Arrow Pad
Step 8  -> Scroll down to the P/S/A/M Line
Step 9  -> Press “OK” or Right Arrow Pad
Step 10-> Select the “Live SCP" (on) by scrolling down and pressing “OK”. You want to make sure that you have selected Live Control (Off) also.
You know that this set correctly when there is a Check Mark next to the Live SCP and not Live Control.
Step 11-> Exit the menu by either pressing the Menu button or by half-pressing the shutter release button.

Once you have this set up, press the “OK” button and view the new convenient way your settings are accessible.

In order to conserve battery power on the E-M1, you can use the strobes in Manual mode and change the power levels of the camera flash. In order to do this, you will have  to either do the step 3 above (setup the SCP), or follow the second part of this section to see how to do this without the SCP. We would recommend that you place the camera in the housing and connect the sync cords to the housing and the strobes. This will make it easier to see if the strobes are syncing up with the camera

Step 1  -> Press “OK” to bring up the SCP
Step 2  -> Use the Arrow Pad to move down to the “Flash Symbol”
Step 3  -> Once the “Flash Symbol” is highlighted press the “OK” button to bring up the flash options
Step 4  -> Use the Arrow Pad to select the “Manual Value” Flash (Last option to the right)
Step 5  ->
In order to change the power settings, Press the “INFO” button, this will allow use of the up and down Arrow Pad to select the power of the flash
Step 6  -> Chose the power of the flash, start in the middle and work your way up taking pictures and seeing if the strobes will recognize the flash.

For those underwater photographers who do not want to use the SCP, follow these steps.

Step 1  -> Press “OK” to bring up the controls to the left and bottom of the screen
Step 2  -> Use the Arrow Pad to move down to the “Flash Symbol”
Step 3  -> Once on the “Flash Symbol” use the left and right Arrow Pad to find the “Manual Value” Flash (Last option to the right)
Step 4  -> In order to change the power settings, Press the “INFO” button, this will allow for the use of the up and down Arrow Pad to be used to select the power of the flash
Step 5  -> At this point you can chose your power of the flash, start in the middle and work your way up taking pictures and seeing if the strobes will recognize the flash.

Remember, lighting changes underwater, so in order to be prepared and comfortable adjusting the flash power while underwater, you should review these steps with the camera fully enclosed in the housing – above water first. 


On the E-M1, the shutter button is very sensitive, if you press down on it (half-press), it will auto focus. Then a full press will take the photo. Performing a half-press while underwater might be more difficult due to gloves and/or the fact that the trigger button turns into a lever with the underwater housings. If you do find this process tricky, you can change the focus to the back function button 1 - for easier control. It is also useful for shooting fish or other moving subjects against a busy background. Just follow and lock the AF with one button, while firing the shutter with another.

Step 1  -> Press “Menu”
Step 2  -> Use the Arrow Pad to go down to the Control Settings
Step 3  -> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter Control Settings
Step 4  -> Use the Arrow Pad to go down to the Button/Dial Setting
Step 5  -> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 6  -> Use the Arrow pad to go down to the AEL/AFL setting
Step 7  -> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 8  -> From Here you will see S-AF (Single Auto Focus), C-AF (Continues Auto Focus) or MF (Manual Autofocus), Select S-AF
Step 9  -> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 10-> Use the Down Arrow Pad to select Mode 3
Step 11-> Press “Ok” to set this change
Step 12-> Use the right Arrow Pad or the “MENU” button to go back to the Custom Settings page
Step 13->
Use the Arrow Pad to select the Button/Dial/Lever Setting
Step 14-> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 15->
Select the Button Function Setting
Step 16-> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 17-> Select Fn1/ Function setting
Step 18-> Press “OK” or use the right Arrow Pad to enter this setting
Step 19-> Scroll through the setting using the Up and Down Arrow Pad until AEL/AFL shows up
Step 20-> Press “OK” to set this option
Step 21-> Once you select this option, it will bring you back one page, at this point either press “MENU” to get back to the main page or press the shutter button

The E-M1 is now set up for the Fn1 button to be used as the Auto Focus and pressing the shutter down will take the photo. The one thing about this set up though is that you will have to continue to press the Fn1 button as long as you want you subject in focus. In other words, to take a photo you must press the Fn1 button to focus then press the Shutter button while still holding down Fn1 to take the photo. This is a nice feature for those housings that have a thumb lever in the back. The nice thing about this set up is that as long as you hold down that back button, the focus will stay on your subject. No more waiting as the camera tries to find the subject again after you take the photo.


ISO: Make sure that your ISO is between 200-400 for macro. It can be set faster 800-1200 for wide angle photography, but you may start to see some noise (grain) in the photos. We do not recommend the use of Auto ISO, except for shooting available light or video, as it will over expose while using external strobes.

MODE: We recommend that you use Manual (M), Shutter (S), or Aperture (A) modes for more control. Shutter mode allows selecting the Shutter speed to allow for how quick the light comes in - with the aperture being set automatically by the camera. Aperture allows changing the size of the Aperture to allow for more or less light to come in with the shutter speed being set automatically by the camera. Manual allows the photographer to perform both Shutter and Aperture changes. Manual allows for ultimate control of the camera, especially important for the best results with strobes and the difficult lighting situations found underwater. Both Aperture and Shutter Priority allow for some control and are a good starting place for newer photographers, or in fast changing situations.

WHITE BALANCE: Use auto white balance (AWB), or go with the underwater white balance mode provided by Olympus. Setting manual white balance is important when shooting video, or when you are shooting available light, or can't get enough light from your strobes on animals or wrecks that are further away.

If you are shooting manual white balance, don’t forget to bring along a white slate or something that is neutral in color. This will allow you to get an accurate representation of what the white looks like at different depths. You can also capture different manual WB by using the right arrow and going to the “Capture WB 1”, “Capture WB 2”, “3”, and “4”. When you are there, press the “Info” button to allow you to “Point the camera at a sheet of white paper” to allow for the camera to know what “white” is and set the white balance color temperature.

Basic Starting Settings: There are no perfect settings for underwater, conditions vary too widely but you might try these to start out with. You'll need to adjust shutter speed to show more or less background (and control the ambient sun light) and aperture for depth of field, while adjusting ISO for overall exposure.

Macro: (using the Olympus mz60mm lens is best): 1/180th sec., f/14-16, ISO 100. Turn your strobes up and move them in close.
Wide Angle: (using the Olympus mz9-18mm or Panasonic 8mm FE lens is best): 1/125 sec., f/8, ISO 200-400+. Turn your strobes up and move them out and point them away from subject slightly.

Please refer to our Handbooks for Better Underwater Photography for much more information about use of strobes and lighting, types of shots and many other topics.

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