Setting a Custom White Balance in the Olympus OM-D E-M5

This is a short discussion/tutorial on how to go about setting the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5. The scanned image above shows my handwritten notes on the page in the owner’s manual that explains how to do this.

I have been wrestling with myself as to whether I really wanted to create a post such as this one. In the end I convinced myself that it wouldn’t hurt anyone, but might be helpful to a fellow photographer. So here goes…

Everyone who knows me and/or reads my blog posting, knows that I purchased an Olympus OM-D E-M5 in late May, and that only two days after I received it we left town to spend a week in Ruidoso, New Mexico. We had rented a house, and didn’t fill up all of our time doing all sorts of touristy things. That gave us plenty of time to relax, and more importantly, it gave me lots of time to read the owner’s manual and to practice with this new camera.

It’s a good thing, as there are a LOT of settings that you can change, to allow you to customize the camera to the way that you prefer it to operate.  I am certain that I spent at least 20 hours that week with the owner’s manual in my lap, marking it up with yellow and red highlighters. The manual seems to have all of the information that you need, but it is not organized very well. You spend way too much time flipping back and forth making sure that everything is understood correctly.

At the end of the week, I felt like I understood all but three features. I sort of understood how to set a Custom White Balance and also how to focus using the Zoom Frame AF. I never did figure out how to wirelessly trigger an off camera flash unit from a flash unit mounted in the camera’s hot shoe.

As I said at the opening of this post, this is a short discussion/tutorial on how to go about setting the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

But before I get into the details, I need to show you which of the menu items that I changed from the default settings.

First, you need to know that this camera has only 5 main categories of menus, as shown here.

Helpful Hint:  You can always view any photo at a larger size by just clicking on it. You will then need to use your browser’s “Back Button” to return to Gregg’s story.

Looking down the left side, you see them listed as Shooting Menu 1, Shooting Menu 2, Playback Menu, Custom Menus (which is selected), and lastly the Setup Menu. There are 11 subcategories of Custom Menus, labeled A through K.

Here are the scanned pages from my owner’s manual that show the default settings for each of the menu items. In the right side margin you will see my handwritten notes showing what changes I made, if any.

I have no intention of explaining why I made each and every one of these changes. If you have this camera, you have the full manual (which you can download from here), and you can read the descriptions yourself.

It is worth mentioning that the changes to the Dial Functions at the bottom of Custom Menu B were done to move the Exposure Compensation to the rear wheel (operated by my thumb). This makes this camera behave like my Canon 5D Mark II, and it is what I am used to.

In Custom Menu D, in Control Settings, for P/A/S/M, you will see that I have both Live Control and Live SCP (Super Control Panel) turned on. Later on, you will see that this causes trouble when trying to perform a Custom White Balance. (It gets much simpler if you only have the Live SCP set to On.)

Further down in Custom Menu D, for the item named LV Close Up Mode, I changed it to Mode 2, which was recommended in the excellent user guide put together by R. Butler and Timur Born of That mode helps a lot when trying to get the Zoom Frame AF to work (page 45).

Note that in Custom Menu J, the Built-in EVF Style mode was changed to Style 3. This has the Electronic View Finder (EVF) display the same items that you’ve chosen to display on the rear monitor (but not simultaneously). Once again, thanks to the two at for that one!

And there you have it. Yes, I changed several of the menu items, but ony 5 or 6 of them really made a real difference to how the camera behaves.

Now, down to the real purpose of this post: how to set the Custom White Balance on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera.

First, you need to know that this is not what the owner’s manual calls it! Look closely at page 50.

In the manual, Olympus named the feature Custom White Balance the one where you simply set the color temperature (Kelvin) as a numerical value by using the left and right navigation arrows.

No, Olympus chose to name the feature that I want to use “One-Touch White Balance”. That’s really bizarre, since I haven’t figured out how to do this in less than 6 button pushes!  So, forget the name One-Touch White Balance – everyone else refers to it as Custom White Balance.

OK, so here is how you do it:

If you really want to read this, click on the image to show it full size and then right-click on it to save it to your computer. You can then print it out and put it behind page 51 in your manual.

I realize that this is a rather unorthodox approach. If you really cannot read it, leave a comment to this post stating that, and if you want, you can contact me and I might be persuaded to actually type it up.

Just to help in understanding my handwritten instruction, this is what the Super Control Panel looks like:

And this is what the Live Control looks like:

15 thoughts on “Setting a Custom White Balance in the Olympus OM-D E-M5”

  1. Wow you have done your homework here for sure 😉 For custom, couldn’t you just throw it over to Manual Focus? That’s what I do with my other cameras – the manual focus is pretty accessible on all.

    The camera menus here make me want to run and hide LOL. Another setup to learn.

    And just a small tip on something white – I always keep a plain old white T shirt in the car. A variety of reasons – ketchup all over myself at the hot dog place, used as an emergency wipe if there is a liquid spill, can be tied onto door handle if you have a vehicle breakdown. And of course a couple of pieces of copy paper in the camera bag will do the trick for white balance too.

    A friend of mine got tired of buying 18% grey cards at every turn, so he took his grey card over to the local frame shop and they matched up a grey mat board. The framing guy cut it into a whole bunch of 5×7 pieces for him, and now he has a lifetime supply. Have you looked at the price of grey cards these days? Crazy! I still have my old Kodak stuff 😉 but I may do the matboard trick and share with friends.

    1. Libby, yes, I could change to Manual Focus, but I find it easier to simply let the camera focus on anything it wants to, and while keeping the shutter button halfway pressed it keeps the focus locked at whatever that distance is. While continuing to hold the shutter button halfway pressed, I simply move my gray card in front of the lens, and then pushe the shutter button the rest of the way down. The resulting photo of the gray card is not in focus, but it does not need to be for this purpose.

      I will use an 18% gray card, when that is my only option left. 18% gray cards are great for setting the proper exposure, but many are not true gray, so they can add a slight color cast to your white balance. I find that the WhiBal cards and the gray patch in the ColorChecker Passport do work very well, as they “guarantee” them to be free of any color cast. Also, Scott Kelby used to add a tear-out card at the back of several of his books that had 4 patches on it: White, Black, Dark Gray, and Light Grey. The Dark Gray served the same purpose as the 18% gray card – for setting exposure. The Light Gray was to be used for setting proper white balance (his intent was for you to photograph the card, and then use the White Balance Eye Dropper in Camera Raw or Lightroom to click on the Light Gray patch). I keep both the Scott Kelby card and a Kodak 18% gray card in a large Zip-Lock bag in the outer pocket of my larger camera bags.

      When I don’t have any of those cards with me, I’ll use any “white” object to get into at least one of my photos for that shoot – a styrofoam cup, a printed page in a book (the black ink doesn’t matter), a table napkin, or even a white T-shirt like you recommend. I usually only “worry” about my white balance when I’m in a mixes lighting situation, like a combination of fluorescent, tungsten, and window light all at the same time.

  2. Hi Gregg…I also really suffer from a.d.d. and had a hard time honing in your message. I’m curious. I use an expo disk for custom white balancing with my 5dmarkIII. Is there a simple way to take an image using the disk, and apply it as a reference image for custom white balance? can’t figure it out!

    1. Paul, I realize that that blog post about how to set the custom white balance in the OM-D E-M5 camera wasn’t my best work, but it does get the job done – if you download and study that last sheet. Now to try and answer your question about using the Expo Disk to set the custom white balance…

      There are two different times that you can use the Expo Disk in your workflow to make sure that your white balance settings are accurate: 1. in the camera, and 2. during your post-processing of your photos on your computer.

      To set the custom white balance in the camera, you simply need to point your camera at the subject (that is in the light that you want in the final exposure), put the Expo Disk over the front of the lens and take a photo. Now the 5D Mark II might not let you release the shutter – and that is because it hasn’t focused on anything in the frame. The way around that is to put the lens into manual focus mode before you try to take the photo. After you have that photo, you go into the menus of the 5D Mark II, when “Custom WB” is selected, press the Set button, use the large wheel on the back of the camera to select the gray photo that you just took, and then press the Set button again. WHen it asks you to “Use WB data from this image for Custom WB”, you choose OK. You will then see a message telling you set WB to the Custom White Balance setting. To do that, go up one menu item and press OK. Use the large scroll wheel to choose the next to the bottom icon on the right side. (It looks like a ball sitting in a groove made by two triangles. That’s it! Every photo that you take from now on will have the proper white balance setting FOR THAT LIGHTING SETUP.

      The second method is to take a photo, just like before, with the Expo Disk over the lens. Instead of setting the Custom White Balance in the camera, you can just leave the camera in Auto WB mode. Later, when you get the photos on your computer and you are processing them in Lightroom, Camera Raw, or even Photoshop, you can use that gray photo to correctly set the white balance by using an eyedropper type of a tool. Most modern programs allow you to copy that white balance setting to all of the other photos that you took during that same situation. Hopefully you are shooting RAW, as this will work great, but if you shoot JPGs, it is supposed to work jsut fine with them, too. I don’t know what software program you are using, so I can’t get more specific about how to copy the white balance setting from one photo to another, but now that you know what you want to do, you should be able to quickly find iot by searching through the software’s Help files.

      I hope this helps!

  3. I wish I had this for the P3. I’ll have to see how closely this matches the P3 menus. I should be able to track one to the other. Thanks!

  4. I just got to PM2 and now I am as baffled by the new menu setup on it as I have previously been on the P3. I’ve found most of the settings, though why they bury the metering method three layers of menu deep I cannot fathom. But it’s a nifty little camera if somewhat incomprehensible from the software point of view!

  5. Thanks Gregg for this! I’ve found that the OMD can’t set custom white balance in low light as my E-620 does. Is that right? Alvaro Gorbato from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

    1. Alvaro, I have no idea how low of a light level the Custom White Balance on the OM-D E-M5 can be set, as compared to the E-620. On the OM-D E-M5, I have set the Custom White Balance in indoor lighting, and in some very shady areas, but I can’t ever remember even trying to do it in a really low light environment before, except when using flash. I have set the Custom White Balance using flash, though.

      Thank you for leaving your comment!

    1. Well, thank you, jdpphoto. I realize that the post wasn’t written very well, but it does tell you how I customized all of my menus and if you print out the heavily marked-up page from the owner’s manual, that you really can set a custom shite balance on the OM-D E-M5. Thanks again for leaving your comment!

  6. Thanks so much for this post!! I’m a Canon shooter who just got a Oly OMD EM 5 and had it converted to a Supercolor IR filter and needed to do a custom white balance and trying to figure out all the menus and different buttons in addition to shooting IR has been a whole new ball of wax! I would have NEVER figured this one out without you! Even the Adorama concierge for my camera sent me to your post!!

    1. Well, thank you, Catherin. I realize that the post wasn’t written very well, and I commend you for hanging in there long enough to figure out how it is done. I am rather shocked that Adorama was even aware of that old post, and very much humbled that they thought it worthy enough to point one of their customers to. Thank you for leaving your comment!

  7. Thank you so much Greg for your wonderful information. I have only just started taking half decent underwater shots with my new OMD. The biggest frustration I have had is working out the WB. You have simplified it for me. A question though, I have put the WB on fn2 key for underwater housing purposes, when I am at depth say, 25metres do I then have to keep adjusting the WB at each significant depth? The underwater housing is big, and juggling something white at that depth is awkward, I do have a white wetsuit so I can do the WB on that or if someone has white fins. Any suggestions to make it any easier?

    Again thank you for all your hard work!

    1. Tracey,
      Thank you for visiting my rather dormant web site, and for leaving your comment. I am pleased that you were able to find some information valuable to you there. I must admit that I do not know the answer to your question about the need to set the White Balance for the differing depths of the water. I could offer a suggestion though: go ahead and do the custom white balance at “the average depth”, but also bring along a WhiBal card and place it into the scene (and then remove it for the *real* shot) when you are at a different depth. That way you can simply accurately correct the white balance during post-processing of your images on your computer.

      1. Thanks Gregg, it seems that the Olympus doesn’t like adjusting WB at greater depth I took a CWB with a white wet suit, grey fins as I don’t have a board and error messages accrued. When I was at depth of 8 – 10 mtrs the CWB worked fine. It’s a learning curve I supposed so will keep on plugging away at it. The Olympus has great potential though, as I did get some nice shots. 🙂

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