Those Damn menus. And what's with all the people who say, "Once you have them set up you never have to use your brain again....."

This is a small rant engendered by a series of comments on one of Michael Johnston's posts today. He was querying his readers about the virtues and detractions of various small sensor cameras with great image stabilization. The Olympus cameras came up repeatedly. The first verse from everyone was: (paraphrasing here): "Oh, they are great cameras except for the horrible, horrible, painful, brain searing menus..." Which would be reflexively followed by: "but once you take the hours, days, weeks, to get the cameras set up exactly the way you will always use them you rarely need to even enter the menu (hell) again!" As though that was a good and proper way of tackling a photographic tool.

What the hell?  I am sure there may be some who can dip into their camera menu and set all the dozens (hundreds?) of variable items, methodically, and then never have to touch the menu button again but I'm absolutely baffled about who those shooters might be and why they feel that it's rationale, sane, practical, etc. to use exactly the same camera settings over and over again.

I've owned several Olympus EM-5s and several EM-5II cameras and I readily admit that they are capable of taking great photographs, stabilize lenses better than anyone in the universe, and, in the case of the EM-5ii, make really, really good video. But I have to ask what professional or advanced amateur shoots exactly the same thing over and over again? And at exactly the same settings? If you shoot different kinds of images, or go back and forth between video and stills, you'll need to be diving into that swamp creature of a menu every day. Deep dives.

Going from theatrical work to video work to portraiture requires changing imaging profiles, metering modes, shadow and highlight distribution, focusing modes and so much more. Even after owning both sets of cameras and using them for months at time a few days off and the need to find a very specific menu driven control could be downright paralytic. Not to mention that some of the symbols Olympus uses for their menu items are not standard camera icons or abbreviations. And NO! I can't load everything I need onto a Super Control Panel.

I hate hearing that nonsense about setting the camera up once and never touching the "hidden" controls again. It's entirely disingenuous. The people who make this statement might be a rare breed of single subject shooters but the rest of us depend on the same system being able to handle all kinds of jobs and projects.

The ability to justify the Olympus menu system is becoming almost cultish. But the reality is that Olympus has some sort of misguided corporate death wish. Why else make using the product so damn hard? So frustrating.

I thought I might have been over reacting until I started shooting with the Panasonic cameras. The GH5 in particular. Its menus are well laid out. Logical. Easy to navigate.

When I picked up a Nikon D800e it took me about ten minutes to get back up to speed with their menus and they are not nearly as coherent as the Panasonic menus. And I had not handled a Nikon for two or three years before picking it back up.

If you like horsing around with complex spreadsheets, sudoku and the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle then I can respect your ..... affectations, but trying to normalize such a faulty disfunction in camera making is over the top.

Just imagine how great those cameras could be. Great color. Great I.S. Lovely finder. Good, multishot high res modes, better and better video....now imagine the camera was also easy to set up, change menu items, re-set parameters and understand. It would be amazing.

Just don't tell me I can preset a tiny handful of parameters and use them for everything I'll ever do with a camera ever again. That's nonsense.


  1. Honestly, I found the Sony a850 menu and nex5 menu a nightmare.

    You asked who sets a camera up just one way... That would be me :) and I set all my Olympus bodies the same way because they are that flexible.

    The SCP has many/ most of the settings I ever routinely want to change from focus points, type, colour, sharpenin, pictures modes etc.

    My only gripe is I have to go back to a picture mode from video to set a custom white balance.

    Aside from that, suduku is good for you :)

  2. I finally learned portraits need a different set up than what I always used for nature and landscapes. And shooting a lot of live music for my wife requires a whole new realm of settings which I never used before. And learning to deal with the new situations also proved out the false security of “fixing it in PhotoShop.” For me the result is much better portraits and live music photos, several levels better than previous works.

  3. I am another in the stack of those who consider the Olympus menus to be in the category of @#$%&%! My first m4/3s was a Pany G1, then a G3, GF3, GX1, and GX7. With those, I could always quickly find what I wanted in the menu system to get the cameras set for their most common use. But then I picked up a used EM5.1 to give it a try. It took me a major part of two weekends trying to figure out the code Oly uses to identify menu terms and then get the camera set the way I like. Later I sold the 5.1. Still later, I got the bug to try an EM5.2, thinking at the time, how much worst can the menu be? While looking on Fred Miranda for a good used one, I spotted instead an incredible deal on a just posted EM1.1 and quickly cut a deal with the seller. When it arrived, I soon found I no longer had wasted completely those two weekends years ago. I had the OM1.1 set up rather quickly, as its menu systems closely followed that of the EM5.1. I particular like that the first menu choice on both is to reformat the card. Recently, I looked at the menu on an EM1.2 in a store ...damn, they moved the cheese. No sale.

  4. Most of the settings I change often are in the SCP and I have memorized where the others I sometimes change are. But, I don't shoot video. I might not be using my camera to it's full potential but I keep the majority of the options set at their defaults. Just because you can change something does not mean you need to in most situations.

  5. Thank you. I had begun to think it was just me.

  6. Well, it depends. I use Olympus cameras since 2012 and indeed I rarely need to enter the menu system. If I have to do it, it is usually a quite small set of parameters, I use more often. So in general the notion set it up once and forget about it, is not completely wrong.

    I use Panasonic cameras at the same time and can’t say that they have a better organized menu system. However, there are critical differences. Panasonic has introduced a „my menu“ section, which you can populate with as many frequently used menu items as you need. I have things like card format, bluetooth and WiFi setting etc. placed in there. Additionally, Panasonic has put quite a lot of shortcuts to adjustment parameters, which show up context sensitive and which can be reached via the DISP button. So diving into the menu hierarchy is avoided.

    So, it is the same game. The menus are always as complex as the cameras. But some manufacturers are better in putting context sensitive shortcuts into the menu hierarchy than others. The most important thing is to make access easier, it is mostly not the menu system itself.

    With the third wheel on the back side, Panasonic also makes it easier to scroll through the menu system.

    Olympus problem is, that it doesn’t listen to customer requests regarding its menu system. No my menu, which has been demanded since a long time, and by far not enough context sensitive access to adjustment parameters, like the ones for focus bracketing.


  7. Yes even shooting the same thing over again, I find I may need to set different shutter delay and need to dive in to change IS setting for different lenses on the Olympus EM1. There is a three button short cut to change len info for IS, but wish it was as simple as Panasonic method.
    Then moving outside to inside there Will be changes.
    I think the set it and forget it people are the same that complain there camera can't do x. Or y is really bad on their camera. No you just have the wrong settings.

    My advantage was learning on an Olympus E3. So the horrible menu is okish. But I also use Panasonic, Sigma, Nikon and an old Slr/n. It can take asecond to remember what something is. Why standard terms are not used is confusing, unless it has something to do with patent rights.

  8. So when did you change your mind?


  9. I can't believe you're complaining about the Olympus menu structure and icons, surely diamonds and hearts are self explanatory icons :-J

    I think Olympus are doing the most of all photographic equipment companies to help us use our brains and rapidly declining memory in a world where we are ever more reliant on AI and voice assistants for everything.

    Next you'll be wanting to talk to your camera in order to set it up a shot. I've tried swearing at my OMDs to no avail, I still need to use the menu.

  10. I have sold my Olympus EM5II and lenses and moved to Fuji XT2.

    Menus were a factor. So was form size - the Oly's are just a bit cramped for me.

    Fuji has it worked out - Trinity of aperture/ISO/Shutter speed all on dials on the top, Quick menu system on the back.

    I could not be happier with the Fuji set up and lenses. It is easy peasy to move around the camera and they never leave me thinking about what to do and where to go.

  11. I do agree with you – but I'm curious as to what settings you do need to change in the menus rather than the SCP, not because I don't believe you, I just think I might be missing a trick or two in setting up my camera.

  12. I am one of those who loved so many things about the Olympus OMd em1, mark 2, but grew tired of the menu and dial setup. I found it problematic to switch from Leica M246 (Monochorme), to the Olympus system on a routine basis. It took me a few days of shooting the Oly to get back up to speed. On top of this, I was also using the Fuji GFX 50S, which has a much more intuitive menu and set of dials -- closer to the Leicas, Just a few weeks ago, I gave up, and ordered two Fuji XT-2s and i am getting rid of the Oly system (it does not hold its value like the Leica system I am discovering). The Fuji system is more old school and so much simpler to use!

  13. A menu is a menu is a menu we get use to it. .... Changing that menu system gives the user base a place where they can consider changing systems – I left MS Office when they went to that graphics menu … I agree with Mike that most changes I need can be made using the SCP but then the first thing I do with either Olympus or Panasonic is turn off that red button. If I need something like off camera flash then I set up a custom button. If I did video I'd buy Panasonic, as you did. … so what's your complaint?

  14. Dearest Anonymous, my complaint is that the menus suck. And they don't need to. And it hampers the use of the cameras for me and many others. Love that the SCP works for you. Sorry MS Office didn't please you. Maybe you just enjoy the challenge of working with shitty interfaces...

  15. Thanks for saying this. When folks say "you just have to set it once" it also drives me crazy. If nothing else, I find that the settings do not alway "stick" and I have to dive into the menu to fix it. I have 3 OM-D cameras. So I agree with you, the menus suck, and I think Olympus is as a business negligent in not doing something about it. It must affect sales. Otherwise I love the OM-D cameras.
    I love your blog, thanks for keeping it going. You have an amazing amount of energy.

  16. I have to say that I hate the Sony menu's far more than Olympus. Yes, Panasonic menus have always been very good and I like them best of all! I just came back to Oly with an OM-D E-M1 Mark II and the menus have improved a bit compared to the past. At least with the E-M1 II, I don't have to go into the menu's often as there are plenty to physical buttons and dials that I have config'd to my preference and it does allow you to map them differently for stills vs. photo and remembers it....which is great!

    Sure, I'd love Oly to learn a bit from Panny, but they did get better with the E-M1 MII IMO, at least it's laid out more logically than what I remember from the past. Ohhhh....the Cine 4k is really nice too. 1080p ok, but the Cine 4k is where its at with the E-M1 MII.

  17. I agree that the Oly menus are a pain, but frankly, I find most system's menus are a pain(except maybe Fuji with all its external knob settings). I also agree that adding a My Menu would simplify things a LOT for Oly users, and I can't understand why Oly hasn't done it. Having said that, however, I find that the EM-1.2's long-overdue C1-C2-C3 settings have finally made the Oly system totally functional for me (along with customizing a couple of unused buttons). I don't seem to have the problems Kirk's running into using the system.

    Switching from sports-shooting to portraits to theater work seems to cause me no extra problems now. Canon's cameras and Nikon's prosumer cameras have had those preset buttons for years, and I have no idea why Oly didn't copy that until the EM-1.2. Oly seems fixated on its own (admittedly great) technology to the exclusion of copying the good things in other systems. But in spite of that blind spot, I now find the Olys as easy to use as my Nikons used to be. And with the advantage of being mirrorless.

  18. I agree with you completely, nevertheless I hang on to my latest iteration, a EM-5.2. My current plan is setting some parameters then wait for the invariable screwup on the menu I can't figure out (thru excessive adjustments on my part I suspect). My solution, factory reset, originally was basic option and now, full. Harmony returns with fine shooting machine until usually the evf-lcd-eye sensor interplay stymies stupid me, so I hit reset again and then grab my Nikon or Fuji for therapy.

  19. I've used Canon 5D series since they first came out.
    Needed something smaller and lighter for work travel.

    I had an OMD-EM5.
    Menus drove me mad. Sold it.
    (I've used Olympus microscopes through choice for 30 years).

    Tried Sony. Not much better. Getting rid of all of it.

    Bought a used Canon 100D (SL-1 in the US), as new, 400 exposures taken.
    Tiny, light, cheap. Stuck a 50mm/1.8 STM lens on.
    Love it. So nice to get the Canon lens look again.

    I can set everything I need while I'm shooting without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. I've configured everything to suit me. Haven't yet looked at the manual.

    Same when I went from the 5D3 to the 5D4. Only thing I had to look up was how to set the WIFI for shooting tethered.

  20. I own Canon cameras, two Fujis (X100s & XE2) and an Olympus OMD EM5 II. The first time I used the OMD (as a rental), it was a pain. After several days I got the logic of it and eventually bought a OMDII.

    As a shooter, my tastes are mixed. I shoot landscapes/cityscapes and people. The SCP does almost everything I need. The silent shutter is not hard to find and formatting is easy on submenus.

    The pain in the a** stuff is getting away from the general stuff. I set the face recognition and can't remember how I did it. The same is true for other rarely used AF settings. My Canon stuff is more intuitive. The OMD sometimes require YouTube for help. The OMD user manual can sometimes be .... challenging as well.

  21. Long time Canon user. Switched to Fuji for travel/hiking use. Love everything about it with the exception of the X-trans/Lightroom issues. Tried an EM 1.2 and quickly discovered the menus were horrible and overly complicated. Taking a photograph shouldn’t be this difficult. So, I’ll keep working with Fuji for now.

  22. Ok, so, a counterpoint. With caveats.

    I have a Nikon D3100, and I make these adjustments:

    ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed
    Move focus point around
    Switch between "monochrome with a red filter" and "standard"

    and I think that is literally it. I don't even know what metering mode it's in, probably some kind of center weighted average thing? My favorite lens is too old to even meter with, so I mostly just guess exposure anyways.

    Now the caveats. I am a) a barbarian b) not doing critical work, like, AT ALL, and c) I work really slowly and fairly clumsily. I don't do video. I don't work for pay. I have fairly narrow tastes, and technical excellence does not much interest me.

    I get that I am not the only use case ;)

  23. The E-M5II is my main camera and has been since early 2015. I don't like the menus. I do feel like I get by. It doesn't feel like a reason to change cameras.

    Before that the GX7 was my main camera for 1-2 years. I DIDN'T LIKE THE MENUS! They didn't make sense.

    Before that it was a 7D. I never really thought much about the menus. They made sense. But OTOH the E-M5II has about 20 features that the 7D didn't.

    I wish for two things. One: that with the touch screens these days, when I change a setting, the screen should pop up any associated settings with that same feature and ask if I want to adjust any, touch-to-open. Two: the smart apps for cameras should be able to adjust all camera settings on a PC/smart-device screen, create unlimited custom profiles, save them to camera with an identifiable name, and appear top-of-menu (and Quick Menu) on the camera.


  24. Thanks as ever for an interesting read.
    A belated comment which I guess mirrors some others in some ways: a while ago, I tried out an Olympus EM10 at a photo show not long after it came out (& also tried Panasonic cameras at the same show). Loved the form factor (small and light is vital for me and my back!), but then I looked at the menus. I shan't forget that moment when I thought "I don't get this at all!" I hurriedly put it back and escaped before an Olympus rep could talk to me!! On the other hand, I use Panasonic and Fuji cameras and have used Nikon in the past: even if the camera is new to me, there is a degree of rationality about the menus that I can pick up fairly quickly.
    I'm an amateur: I want to enjoy my photography and not have to study for a doctorate to understand the menus or set the camera up. The enjoyment is two-fold, having a fun time taking the photos and then looking at the results. My cameras are a means to an end, not an end in themselves.


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