Back-Button focus on the Olympus OM-D E-M5

You never know when you might learn something new. I was browsing the Olympus OM-D Fan Page on Google+ today when I came across a post by Will Webster. Santa […]

Written By Rob Knight

On December 26, 2012

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Hummingbird and Heliconia. San Ramon, Costa Rica.
A shot like this is the perfect time to use back-button focus.

You never know when you might learn something new. I was browsing the Olympus OM-D Fan Page on Google+ today when I came across a post by Will Webster. Santa brought him an OM-D E-M5, and he was explaining how he had customized some of the button functions on his new camera. He mentioned that he had assigned auto focus to a Fn button so he can back-button focus like he is used to on his Canon camera.

At first I thought he must be mistaken. I’ve tried to assign AF activation to a Fn button on the E-M5 before with no luck. “AF activation” is not an option you can assign to the function buttons. Will’s post made me look a bit closer into the menus, and I figured out how he did it.

What is back-button focussing? It assigns the Auto Focus to a button other than the shutter release; usually to a button under your right thumb. Hence the term “back-button focus”. You press the back button to focus, then the shutter release only sets the exposure and takes the picture.

A lot of photographers I know use back-button focussing for shooting wildlife. Ever try shooting a small bird against a busy background? It can be very frustrating when the camera tries to refocus every time you press the shutter release. With back-button focus, you lock focus on the subject and don’t refocus unless you want to. You can make as many frames as you want to and the focus will not change because the shutter button is not activating the AF.

Here is how to set up the OM-D E-M5 for back-button focussing, and how to use MySet to recall this function when you need it:

  1. Press the MENU button, scroll down to the Custom Menu (the Cogs) and select Custom Menu A “AF/MF”
  2. Scroll down to ‘AEL/AFL’, press ►, select ‘S-AF’ and press ► again
  3. Select ‘mode 3’. You will see that this assigns the AEL (auto exposure lock) and Exposure to the shutter release, and assigns S-AF (single auto focus) to the AEL/AFL button. (this is the step I missed before)
  4. You can also change the C-AF to ‘mode 3’ to activate C-AF and C-AF Tr via the back button.
  5. By default the Fn1 button is set to AEL/AFL, and that works fine for me. This puts the focus right under my right thumb for a traditional back-button focus setup.
  6.  If you would like to change the AF activation button, simply assign AEL/AFL to any Fn button you like.


The next step is to save these settings. I will use Myset 4 for my “wildlife” settings:

  1. Use the process above to assign back-button focus to the Fn button of your choice.
  2. Set the release mode to High speed continuous. On the E-M5 that’s 9fps 🙂
  3. Press MENU, scroll down to Setup Menu (the wrench), scroll down to Rec View and choose ‘OFF’. Now the camera won’t try to show you each image in a 9fps string. this makes continuous shooting MUCH easier.
  4. To save your settings, press MENU, in Shooting Menu 1 (the top one) select Reset/Myset
  5. Scroll down to Myset 4 and press ►
  6. Choose SET and press OK


Now you can choose Reset in the Reset/Myset menu to return to the default focus settings. When you want to use back-button focussing you press MENU, choose Reset/Myset, scroll down to Myset 4 and press OK.

One more thing to love about the E-M5! Thanks again to Will Webster for the inspiration to figure this out!


  1. Melu

    Thanks, Rob, This was an interesting and useful article (Got here from your comment on a user’s lens report on Steve Huff’s site). Will have to try this out soon!

  2. Bill Ryde

    Hello Rob , i find the back button is a perfect tool for wildlife especially in a breeze,
    however can you please help with a servo or lock on focus setting and the best
    meetering mode for bird pictures with the OMD MK5, i am a beginner in this hobby
    and i don’t understand the language of photographers. I also can’t understand when
    using A priority,auto iso,and auto WB how to use a faster shutter speed when the
    camera decides this, as when the subject moves i get a blurred image.

    Thank you Regards Bill.

    • Rob Knight

      Hi Bill,
      I haven’t owned an Olympus camera in almost three years, so I’m afraid I would’t be much help with your focus questions.
      If you’re in the Aperture priority mode (A) and not getting fast enough shutter speeds, you should switch off the auto ISO and push the ISO higher.

  3. aubruchet

    Hi Bill.

    I’ve an Olympus E5.
    What can I do?


  4. Heiko Bertram

    This is a real game changer You really made my day, or actually my year. I was about to give up on Olympus. Thank you sir!

  5. Ivan Petrov

    Thank you so much! This works perfectly on my omd em10 ii. I was frustrated not being able to set up back focus button myself and not finding any sources on how to do it. Great article!!!!

    • Ivan Petrov

      Just found out, that back focus button does not lock the AE. Is there any chance to lock focus and exposure with back button?

      • Rob Knight

        The back button AF setup takes away the AE lock functionality. shooting in Manual exposure mode would be the easiest solution

        • Wes

          On the EM5 II latest update (2.4) there is a new option – AF Target Spot Metering
          Quote from Oly website
          “The best of both worlds is now possible. AF Target Spot Metering combines AF Target and the Metering mode to give you even more flexibility and freedom of capturing the actual subject of your scene in clarity.”

          Also at long last it has the option to back up your MySet settings to computer although sadly it deletes any settings you may have saved during installation of the update !!! It does offer to save the settings but am not sure if it works prior to the install

  6. debbie

    I love using this, but sometimes want to undo it. How does one return settings to Shutter focus?

    • Rob Knight

      reversing the steps with reset the AF settings

  7. Susan Gutterman

    I have been hearing about back button focusing forever and never understood it. I just followed your directions and I really like it. I think it’s going to help with my macro shots because it’s so important to get sharp focus on a very small area. I have an Om-D E-M5. Thank you.


    Wow Bob! I just discovered your article on Back button practice, and I think it will help a great deal with my focusing issues. Thanks a lot!


    this is making me love my OMD5 even more!!! Yoohooooo!

  10. Cecily Drucker

    What is the difference (in outcome) between: (i) setting Custom Menu; AF/MF; AF Mode; S-AF, changing Shutter to Mode 3, and using one of the “back” buttons to activate AFL, AND (ii) setting custom menu to S-AF+MF, leaving Shutter at Mode 3, and using Manual Clutch and “Peaking” to fine tune focus (not engaging the “back” button)? Is there a difference? Yes, one is the camera doing the focus adjustments and the other is my eyesight, but assuming that my eyesight is 20/20 (or adjusted thereto via contacts), I “should” get results which are very close to each other, I would think. Am I incorrect?

    • Rob Knight

      Sounds right to me! if you are more comfortable with manual focus, there is no inherent downside

  11. Barbara

    Thank you Rob, I have just taken receipt of my Olympus om-d m5 mark iii and really wanted to have BBF set up. You have made my day, as I always used BBF on my Canon 6d which I am parting with. I am so pleased many many thanks.

  12. barbara towers

    Hello Rob, I have another query regarding BBF please.
    When I switch to Continuous AF for taking birds, the BBF stops working, is there a way round this please? I was able to use both on my Canon.
    Many thanks

    • Rob Knight

      hmmm, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to use BBF and C-AF. The continuous AF should work just fine when you press the back button.


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