Olympus OMD EM5 and Ultra Long Exposures!

And now for something different!

Pawleys Pier, Twilight. 847 Second Exposure, Olympus OMD with the 12-60mm lens.  Iso 200, f/22

Pawleys Pier, Twilight. 847 Second Exposure, Olympus OMD with the 12-60mm lens. Iso 200, f/22

I know, most of my recent posts have been about the new Fuji X-E1, but tonight I decided to take out the OMD and test it out for ultra long exposures.  I have the OMD as a high speed replacement for my Canon DSLR (currently a 7D) in order to reduce weight and ease of use.  Overall the camera performs very well and generates impressive, sharp images up into very high ISO’s! But a friend recently purchased one to use and wanted to do some long exposures.  So I got mine out, looked over the in camera options and was VERY surprised to learn of several very nice long exposure benefits built into this camera!

  • Live View Bulb Mode: This is an amazing feature (are you listening Fuji?)!  With this mode, you must first set the max shutter speed length, then the update times.  What this means is that you can set an exact exposure or some ultra long one.  Then you can let the camera time the shutter or you can use a remote shutter release to start and stop the exposure as one would normally see in a BULB mode.  What the added value here is that the camera turns on the live view screen and updates the LCD panel with the  image displayed with the CURRENT exposure during the BULB exposure!  The timing of the update is the value you set when you set the update times!  You can have up to 24 updates.  In simple terms, this allows you to SEE the image developing on the LCD panel during the exposure!  Way cool and very valuable.  The only change I could wish for is for the histogram to also be displayed for each updated image.  A remote shutter release with a lock is required for this mode.
  • Live View Timer Mode:  This works just the same as the BULB mode except that you press the shutter release once to start and once to end!  If you forget your remote shutter release you can still get the picture!
  • Onscreen Level:  This allows you to get the horizon straight!  Simple thing but important for any image and critical for long exposures.
  • Programmable Function Keys:  Makes long exposures in the dark easier but setting Function Button 1 to Manual Focus.  This means that you can switch back and forth from manual to auto focus modes without having to go through the menu system.
  • On Screen Focus Point Touch Select: With the camera in auto focus mode you can touch the area of the image that you wish to focus on and then do a focus.  By using this in conjunction with the function key as described above you can easily change your focus. In the dark, this makes it very easy to select a point of light on a long pier and have the camera focus, then hit the function key to select the manual focus mode to lock it in! If there is not a point of light, having an ULTRA BRIGHT flashlight and lighting something in the scene to focus on works well also!

The OMD worked tonight flawlessly for these long exposures!  The longest was over 14 minutes and generated a clean low noise image!  But most importantly, I was able to take this image with NO metering at all. I simply chose the Live View Bulb mode and watched the image develop on the LCD screen during the exposure and when it was where I liked it I simply stopped the exposure!  Understand, this is not exact as the LCD does not give an exact true image display, but it was always within 1 stop!

Here is a B&W version as well but I think you will agree that this entire outing was easy and fun and gave superb results!

The B&W version processed in Nik's Silver EFX.

The B&W version processed in Nik’s Silver EFX.

89 comments on “Olympus OMD EM5 and Ultra Long Exposures!

    • Bill, yes it is very cool! I shot for about 2 hours last night on 1 battery before I changed. This was a bunch of ultra long exposures then noise reduction cycles. So a 14 min exposure becomes a 28 min one!

  1. Thanks Mark. As you know, I have the OMD, but I guess I still have to learn how to use it. Great post. How so you think this would work with star trails?

  2. What is the lowest ISO the OMd has to offer? Is it possible to set the camera for ISO 100?

    Hanks for another wonderful article!

  3. Great suggestions and nice photo, Mark! I have to try this some day. I’ve seen reviews that show the E-M5 meeting or surpassing the 7D in image quality, so there’s really no need to lug those humongous DSLRs around anymore.

  4. Thanks for the nice article Mark!
    I have a question though: you state that using the EM-5 for long exposures is no problem, however in this article: http://robknightphotography.com/blueridge-photo-fest-2012/ the author states he got noise quite fast using long exposures, so I’m a bit confused now.
    I had an E-5 and I’m thinking of buying the EM-5 for my long exposure photography, but I would really like to know if the noise is okay in the 30-60 seconds zone. My E-5 struggled with ISO 200, but was okay with ISO 100 for long exposures, however the EM-5 only starts at ISO 200.

    • I found the OMD to be quite noise free! I shoot in raw and most importantly, have the “long exposure noise reduction” turned on in the menu system. This means that if you take a 2 min exposure you have another 2 min to wait while the camera cleans up the image. Look here for images taken this way: The OMD is NOT the E-5, it is newer with better noise control. You need to shoot at the base ISO (200) to keep the exposure time up. I do not know who you read this from, but I have 3 students plus mine that generate world class images with. I like the Fuji X-E1 better, but the OMD is right there….

    • I took some star-trail photos with the EM-5 and found that using the live view during exposure feature made the noise significantly worse than a normal bulb exposure.

      It’s not a bad camera for regular star exposure, but I would say no better than my Canon 30D.
      I think the live-view feature is best used in for daytime long exposures.

  5. Hi Mark,
    I’ve been experimenting with the om-d and the lee big stopper filter (10stops) ,…but always have problems wih ‘noise’ ,…even at long exposure times of 3 minutes in sof light conditions. What’s your advise?

      • Remember that there are 2 noise reduction menu items. What you want is the long exposure noise reduction. If you take a 3 min exposure then noise reduction will then take 3 min for a total of 6!

      • Mark, in the menu ‘G’ I set noise reduction ‘on’ and noise filter ‘high’.
        Is this the correct way?



      • No, that is for jpg noise reduction. there is another menu item for the long exposure reduction. I am at my gallery working now and do not have the camera here or I could look at it to tell you!

      • Hello Mark,

        I checked again,…in the menu G there are 2 noise controlling setting options, the upper one for long exposures , I’venset now on ‘auto’ and the second one ‘noise filter’ is for jpegbI’ve set ‘off’.
        I think this is the correct setting now.



  6. Pingback: Olympus OMD EM5 and Ultra Long Exposures! | Oly...

  7. Thank you so much for the informative and concise review, Mark! I’m a newly realized photographer with a fascination with light painting, long exposure, etc and am having trouble deciding between the sony nex-6 and the new omd-em5. I was curious which you’d prefer for primarily that type of photography, as the reviews seem close, but favor the nex-6 more for general photography. Thank you for your time and a very enjoyable blog!

  8. Nice long exposure! I recently bought an omd and did some long exposures but always got significant noise. What were your settings for the shot and did you use any filters? Thanks!

  9. Hello Mark, I have a WCO but even if the active noise reduction setting, with the use of filters and Light exposure times of 2 or 3 minutes (with active noise reduction 4 or 6 minutes) the raw file still appears with dot pix or noise. I’d be curious to see your original raw and know what kind of reduction applied and what software and in general what kind of post to treat this type of images. Your are very Interesting
    After these tests, I was quite disappointed, you know, coming from a D700 ….
    .. your blog is fantastic and very very interesting your own opinion or suggerineto would be greatly appreciated.

  10. Hello Mark,

    I thought I would have received your comments on my previous post?
    I am curious in your opinion.



    • Alex, I did comment! Perhaps it was an email failure! You need to switch over to the live view BULB mode rather than the LV Timer. Bulb will go up to 60 min. You have to make sure that you have the exposure dead on because for LE underexposures will be very noisy.

      • I understand,..it is more or less the ETTR principle (expose to the right principle) or histogram to the right,…isn’t it?
        Imagine that I have a noise free picture at ISO 200 f 16 Exposure time 1minute, does that mean that at f 18 I have to double the exposure time to 2 minutes?

      • Well yes and no. With long exposures you generate dark area noise so you need to use a nd on the bright area to equalize the scene then shoot.

        One stop would be f16 to f22. So 18 is about 1/2 stop so the shutter would move from 1 min to 1.5 min

  11. Mark, I so hope that you can help my 71 yr. brain with this problem. I have been taking a light painting photo class. My settings are “bulb, iso 1600, aperture 14” I use a remote to fire the shutter & then after the painting is done, I close the shutter. NO picture of what I thought I was taking. I think that maybe, I don’t have the correct settings set. I use my OMD-5 & love it, but am frustrated as all the other students got the appropriate picture with the light painting showing. Can you tell me what settings that I need to be in to take a successful light painting? Thanks

    • Lorri, are you sure that the shutter is staying open? It sounds to me like it is opening then immediately closing. Do the same thing and shine the light into the lens and see if you get a white picture. I would be willing to bet that you are NOT locking the shutter open….

      • Mark, I think that might be the problem as I got a white picture. I will try again tonight when it is dark & I can wave the flashlight around. Thanks, this blog is just what I need………:>)

    • I think that that might have been the problem. I will try it again tonight after dark & see what happens. Thanks so much…………:>)

  12. I just tried it with Bulb F14 iso 200 and the light painting stood out; when I did it with iso 1600, it worked as well,but the painting was NOT dominate with the extra light in the space where I was doing the painting. I will continue to try some different iso settings. do you have any suggestions that you have found to work best with the OMD-5???

      • today I bought some colorful flash lights to try out. I went with your suggestion this evening, but wasn’t happy with the results, so I went to 200iso, F14, 5.6 aperture & bulb. Came out great with black background & a swirl of bright colors. Thanks for all your help. I look forward to reading more of your blogs & learning more about the use of my camera………..:>)

      • Well, I have a new challenge today. I am trying to set the bracketing & the guide book that I have does not show the accurate way to reach the bracketing. Can you give me the steps to follow to reach the bracing menu? Thanks

    • Lorri, I found it. Here is what you do:

    • Press the MENU button on the back of the camera.
    • Scroll down to the Camera 2 Menu then hit the RIGHT ARROW on the back of the camera.
    • Using the DOWN ARROW go down to the BRACKETING selection then hit the RIGHT ARROW to select
    • Using the DOWN ARROW select the AE BRACKET and hit the RIGHT ARROW
    • Using the DOWN ARROW select the bracketing mode you wish. 2,3, 5 or 7 shots and how far apart you desire the shots to be!
    • SHOOT!
    • I would say simple, but it is buried in the menu system. It is a VERY POWERFUL bracing option but a pain due to the way you have to turn it on and off.

      Let me know how it goes!

  13. I have been gnashing my teeth trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong, and have had no luck finding a solution online–I reeeeaaaalllly hope you can set me straight!
    I recently bought an OMD EM5, and I want to take a 30-60 minute exposure without using my timer cable. I have the camera mode set at Manual and the shutter speed set at Time. But the camera is automatically ending the exposure after a few minutes–apparently at the setting of the Bulb/Time Timer in the E Menu settings. I don’t know how to disable the Timer so that I can end the exposure when I choose, rather than at some pre-set time.
    My settings:
    film speed: ISO 200
    aperture: f4
    shutter speed: Time

    Much appreciate your help!

  14. Mark, I can’t seem to get the “Press the shutter once to start the exposure and once to stop it” to work for exposures longer than 30 minutes. I’m just taking (or trying to take) star trails–corny, I know–so I don’t need live view. Basically, I know I’m going to get a bunch of lines, and the only function that affects that is how long the earth has been turning.
    Is it possible to take ultra-long exposures (over 60 minutes) with the OMD EM5?
    Thanks again!

  15. Hi, I am amazed by your image. I was wondering if you could help me out. I am just getting started into Long Exposures, but having a problem, when watching the Exposure is just blowing out right before my eyes. I need to know exactly what settings you have programmed under the Live Time/Bulb menu! – I’ve tried a few ways of getting help, via Olympus Worldwide Users on Facebook, but everyone is giving me different answers. Can you help~!

    • Nikki, first off, you need to have some basic idea of what your exposure should be. You can do this by taking an exposure reading of the scene by using your camera without the nd filter attached. Once done then you can calculate the new exposure by the nd power. So if you have the initial exposure value of say 1/100 at f/11 and you plan on using a 6 stop nd filter you get:

      1/50 1 stop
      1/25 1 stop
      1/12 1 stop
      1/6 1 stop
      1/3 1 stop
      1/1.5 1 stop

      this then is 6 stops. Then you need to set the live view timer to update every 1/2 second.
      Attatch the nd filter and shoot. Every 1/2 second the lcd screen will update and when you get somewhere near 1 second you are there. Now the stop values that I gave you are simplistic but will give you the idea. You could have also changed your aperture by 1 stop each to the maximum that it will go to do the same thing.

      Good luck and let me know how it works out for you.

  16. I just bought this camera with Olympus M.Zuiko 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 Micro 4/3
    Olympus OM Zuiko 1:1.8 Manual Lens
    Super Albinar 80-205mm 1:4.5 Manual
    Vivitar 28mm Super Wide Angle 1:2.5 Manual
    Adapter Fotasy OM-M/43 to allow use of manual lenses
    Toyo Macro Filter Set +1/+2/+4, 49mm threads
    Vivitar VMC Skylight 1A 49mm Filter,

    How can I set up my camera with long exposure/shutter to get that light waves from cars or get the smooth shots of waterfalls. Also besides these lenses would you recommend any others. Thank you and very nice work.

      • Justin, I have no experience with any of the lenses you listed. I tend to use native Olympus and Panasonic Micro 4/3 lenses plus Leica and Voigtlander manual focus lenses with adapters. I rarely even get out the Olympus camera any more as I shoot the Leica body 90% of the time and the rest I use my Fuji body with Fuji lenses and Leica lenses now. My current Fuji body is the XT-1 and it is an amazing body.

        As far as conversion to macro with your +1,2,3 set search out the Canon 500d Closeup lens on Ebay and get it in the size you mostly use. It is way above anything else out there as it is dual element and fully coated. It is a +2. You can also not buy (Ebay and Amazon) extension tubes for your system now as well!

      • The Fuji has a much better and more advanced sensor at 6×6 random placement sensor well whereas ALL of the micro 4/3’s have a non random 3×3 cell pattern. Micro 4/3 is much smaller than APS C so the Fuji gives much better bokah control as well. The Fuji Bodies are much more advanced. But the biggest plus for me is that I just plane like them better! 🙂

      • that is definitely something most people would say about the M4/3 and ASPC sensor. I do certainly agree about everything they said on the sensor fact sheet. It is bigger and that is that. Sadly, I don’t see differences in the dynamic range and bokeh. For the ergonomic perspective, that is a personal opinion. I do like the lay out on the EM5. It looks good enough for me. :-)) For the Fuji camera, it has no IBS, Auto focus is OK, and the colours are somewhat problematic for the post processing . Fuji also has good variety lenses but there is nothing comparing to the M4/3 system. Use the zoom kit lens on Fuji comparing the quality of the pro kit lens with the IBS. That is like bring the knife in the gun fight. I do stop thinking or caring about the sensor size for a year now. Afterall it is you who making the photo not the camera. I certainly learn about disadvantages and advantages about my camera and I embrace it. :-)) . No one really complaint about bokeh though. Afterall it is all about the technique pre processing and post processing.

  17. Ambient temperature is an important factor. Semiconductors have thermal noise, random movement of the “carriers” (electrons or holes depending on the exact nature of your sensor). For long exposures, a cold day will work much better, or even cooling the back of your camera with a frozen gel-pack, but watch out for internal condensation so don’t go below the dew point. Also, I think that the sensor actually “sees itself”, its own infrared glow!

    “This camera represents the pinnacle of modified DSLR cameras. Deep cooled to 80°C below the the sensor’s normal operating temperature. This camera is 4x more sensitive than a regular DSLR and is capable of exposures of one hour in length without breaking a sweat.”


    Some theory:


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