Almost all of the Olympus cameras and lenses make it very easy to switch from autofocus to manual focus mode. Why would you want manual focus? Any time you need precise control over focus, manual focus is your best bet.
For me, a working example would be when I am using Pro Capture Mode to photograph birds landing on and taking off from a perch. I set a focus target on the perch where I think the bird will land. I switch to manual focus and then aim at the target, lock in my focus and then I forget about it. I am going to be pressing the shutter button when birds enter the plane of focus. Since birds move quickly and change direction quickly, and since there is always a potential for the background to confuse the autofocus in those fast-moving situations, I prefer manual focus.
There are many ways to switch to manual focus (including using the AF dial or the Super Control panel,) but my favorite method is to use the Manual Focus (MF) Clutch which is a feature on many Olympus lenses. For bird photography, I usually use the M.Zuiko 40-150mm F2.8 PRO or the M.Zuiko 300mm F4.0 IS PRO. Both of these lenses support MF clutch, manual focus activation.
The clutch mechanism makes it possible to switch between AF and MF by simply re-positioning the focus ring.
Pull the clutch towards you to activate manual focus and push it away from you to activate autofocus. Note that this works regardless of the focus mode you have selected in the camera menu. The MF clutch overrides the camera setting.
You can disable the MF clutch. Press the Menu button, select the gear icon (⚙) for Custom Menu A4 – then highlight MF Clutch using the arrows on the keypad to select operative or inoperative.
If you ever plan to use manual focus on your camera, you must have this switch set to operative.
While you are in this menu, I also suggest you select MF Assist and use the arrows on the keypad to MF Assist MAGNIFY. This way, whenever you use the MF Clutch to start acquiring manual focus, the image will zoom in for you to help you to see whether or not you have achieved critical focus.
My next piece of advice is to make sure you enable Focus Peaking. Focus peaking highlights objects using color outlines. This makes objects that are in focus easier to see during manual focus operation.
You will find this by pressing the Menu button on the back of the camera. Then select the gear icon (⚙). Then select D3 and go to Peaking Settings. This allows you to adjust the peaking color (I generally prefer red) and the highlight setting (I generally prefer high). Lastly, this allows you to adjust background brightness to make focus peaking easier to see (I generally prefer this to be set to on).
Once you have your camera properly setup to take advantage of manual focus, you can always count on having everything ready to go when you get that once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a great shot that requires critical focus.
NOTE: Please read your camera and lens manual to make sure your products have these features. These instructions are for the menu setup of the OM-D E-M1 Mark II and E-M1X. Check the camera manual to find the exact settings for your camera.
Olympus Visionary Scott Bourne is a professional wildlife photographer, author and lecturer who specializes in birds. He was one of the founders of “This Week In Photo”, founder of “photofocus.com”, and is co-founder of the new “PictureMethods” podcast and blog (picturemethods.com). He’s been involved with photography for more than four decades and his work has appeared in more than 200 publications.