Morning Light at the Badlands - 5f, .7EV Handheld
Landscapes,  Olympus / OM System,  Photo Gear

Olympus / OM System Handheld Exposure Bracketing – A Useful Tool for your Landscape Photography

One of the biggest benefits of photographing with Olympus / OM System cameras is the 7.5 stops of image stabilization you get when you pair the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III or E-M1X, or the OM System OM-1 camera with certain lenses with Sync IS like the Olympus m.zuiko 12-100mm f/4 lens.

This excellent image stabilization allows you to execute Olympus’ computational photography features like Exposure Bracketing, HDR, Focus Stacking ,and Hi Res Shot while handholding the camera.

See below for information the image stabilization comparison of Olympus / OM System cameras and information on Olympus’ Sync IS feature.

Olympus / OM System Camera Image Stabilization Comparison     

CameraImage Stabilization Stops
OM System OM-17 Stops in body.  Up to 8 stops with Sync IS
OM-D E-M1X7 Stops in body.  Up to 7.5 stops with Sync IS
OM-D E-M1 Mark III7 Stops in body.  Up to 7.5 stops with Sync IS
OM-D E-M1 Mark II5.5 Stops in body.  Up to 6.5 stops with Sync IS
OM-D E-M5 Mark III5.5 Stops in body.  Up to 6.5 stops with Sync IS
OM-D E-M10 Mark IV4.5 Stops in body

Sync IS improves image stabilization by combining the in-lens IS on compatible M.Zuiko PRO lenses with the in-body IS on compatible Olympus interchangeable lens cameras.  As of this writing, the following Olympus m.zuiko lenses have Sync IS: 12-100 f/4, 300mm f/4, and 150-400mm f/4.5.

Handheld Exposure Bracketing

Exposure Bracketing has gotten a bad rap do to the highly saturated HDRs created with Exposure Bracketing in the past.  But, Exposure Bracketing can be a useful tool for landscape photographers in high dynamic range situations where a camera cannot capture the entire dynamic range.  Dynamic range is the difference between the lightest and darkest areas of an image.

Late Afternoon Sun at the Yellow Mounds, 5f, .7EV Handheld
Late Afternoon Sun at the Yellow Mounds, 5f, .7EV Handheld

Useful Landscape Photography Situations for Using Exposure Bracketing 

  • Exposure Bracketing helps to bring out the shadows in late morning / afternoon landscape photographs. 
  • It is also useful when photographing an outdoor scene shooting while shooting from within a building or other structure.  Exposure bracketing can help capture the dark areas within the building and the bright scene outside the door/window. 
  • Exposure Bracketing is essential for sunrise / sunset photographs.  You can merge the exposures to get the detail in the landscape / foreground without blowing out the bright sky.  For very low light situations like sunrise and sunset, I prefer to use a tripod and remote shutter release for Exposure Bracketing as the brighter exposures can have a longer shutter speed that can be difficult to handhold even with Olympus’ Image Stabilization.

The advantage of handheld Exposure Bracketing is that you can use this technique even if you don’t bring a tripod.  Now that I shoot with Olympus / OM System cameras, I only bring a tripod with me when I know that I’ll be shooting in low light conditions (sunrise, sunset, blue hour, night photography).  The majority of my landscape photography is now taken handheld.  This can be extremely beneficial for long photography hikes where you don’t have to bring along a tripod.

Sunrise at Badlands National Park - 5f, 1EV Tripod
Sunrise at Badlands National Park – 5f, 1EV Tripod

Exposure Bracketing vs. HDR Mode in Olympus / OM Systems Cameras

I prefer to use Exposure Bracketing over HDR mode with my Olympus / OM System cameras.  I prefer the merging that I get from Adobe lightroom over the in camera HDR processing.  Also, with HDR mode, the camera will output a JPEG file for further processing where you get a DNG file output by Adobe Lightroom.  You can also use the HDR mode in camera and process the RAW files and delete the processed JPG HDR file.

AE BKT Exposure Combinations on the OM-D E-M1 Mark III
AE BKT Exposure Combinations on the OM-D E-M1 Mark III

Exposure Bracketing Set Up

Olympus OM-D

In Olympus OM-D cameras, bracketing can be set up under Shooting Menu 2 – Bracketing – AE BKT.  There are 11 different combinations of number of exposures and exposure difference between exposures.  The ones I use the most are 3f 1.0EV, and 5f .7EV, 5f 1.0EV.

OM System OM-1

On the OM-1, Bracketing can be set up in Shooting Menu 2 – sub-menu 3 Bracketing – AE BKT.  The OM-1 only has 8 different exposure combinations, but it still has the ones that I most frequently use.  A nice change with the OM-1 is that all the Bracketing Options are separate selections under the bracketing sub-menu making them easier to access.

Setting AE BKT to a Button on the OM-1
Setting AE BKT to a Button on the OM-1

Set Up Bracketing on a Button

Bracketing can also be set up on a button on both OM-D cameras and the OM-1 for quicker access. 

On OM-D cameras, you can only configure the button to Bracketing.  A quick press on the button toggles Bracketing on/off and a long press the button or holding the button and turning the Front or Rear Dial brings up a menu to select the type of bracketing and the exposure combination.

On the OM-1, you can configure the button to the type of bracketing (i.e. AE BKT).  A quick press on the button toggles Bracketing on/off and pressing and holding the button while turning the Front or Rear Dial allows you to change the exposure combinations.

Use the Gear icon on the Super Control Panel to assign Bracketing to a button.

Exposure Bracketing Settings Tip

In the OM-D series of camera, in HDR mode, if you press the shutter once, it will take all 3 images and merge them in camera.  However, for Exposure Bracketing you need to press the shutter once for each exposure.  One way to get around this limitation is to put the camera in Sequential Low shooting mode and keep the shutter pressed until all exposures are completed.

OM System has changed how this functionality works in the OM-1.  In the OM-1, when Exposure Bracketing is set the camera will take all exposures as long as the shutter remains pressed regardless of the shooting mode selected.  This is a welcome change to how Exposure Bracketing works on Olympus / OM System cameras.

Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park, 3f, .7EV Handheld
Yellow Mounds, Badlands National Park, 3f, .7EV Handheld

Set up Bracketing as a Custom Mode

You can also set up Exposure Bracketing on one of the Custom Modes (C1 – C4) on the Mode Dial.  This is useful for OM-D cameras because you can also set the camera to Sequential Low Shooting mode or even set a Custom Timer to shoot the sequence.  So when you turn the Dial to your custom mode setting, everything will be set up for Exposure Bracketing.

Exposure Bracketing is a useful tool in your landscape photography toolbox and the image stabilization in Olympus cameras makes it very convenient to use Exposure Bracketing while handholding the camera.  The customization of the OM-D cameras and OM-1 also makes it easy to turn on Exposure Bracketing.

Written by Martin Belan

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