Size and affordability remain the bane of the interchangeable-lens camera (at least here in the U.S.), but Olympus' PEN E-PM1 hits the closest to the target that I've seen thus far. It's not perfect, and in fact it's kind of hard to get excited about. But there's a lot to like if you want to upgrade to the speed and photo quality of an ILC but don't have a lot of cash to spend. Plus it comes in a handful of pretty colors.
The camera's photo quality rates as good-to-very good, but I think most of my issues with it stem from the kit lens. It's the same lens that ships with all Olympus' PEN models, but for some reason it irked me more this time around.
Of course, that helped drive home the attraction of using an ILC instead of a point-and-shoot; when I couldn't get any landscape shots out of the 14-42mm lens that didn't look muddy, I switched to a Lensbaby.
Close-ups look pretty sharp and snappy, but detail at a distance generally looks oddly oversharpened or overcompressed when viewed at actual size. It seems independent of ISO sensitivity, and the camera can handle up to ISO 800 pretty well, depending upon image content. Shooting raw helps, but not as dramatically as it does in other cameras. I have no complaints about the color or exposure, though; it handles those very well.
Video quality is adequate. Unfortunately, you have to turn off image stabilization in order to prevent serious rolling shutter (wobble) artifacts, which seems to be a fact of life for video on all sensor-shift-based IS systems.
Plus it's interlaced, which exacerbates the normal video-compression artifacts; in busy scenes you can see a lot of blockiness when viewed at full size. Still, for the occasional vacation video clips it'll do.
Unsurprisingly given the similarity of their innards, the E-PM1 performs about the same as the E-PL3, solid but not stellar. While the camera is pretty fast overall and keeps up with the competition, it's slow on startup, with a big (and unusual) ka-thunk of the shutter: it takes 1.5 seconds to power on and shoot. It matches the rest of the crowd--except the significantly more expensive Nikon 1 J1--with 0.3 second shot lag in good light and 0.6 second in dim.
When CNET Labs compared the E-PM1 with similar cameras, none could keep up with the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3 on shot-to-shot speeds, though the E-PM1's 0.8 second time is quite respectable.