One shouldn't expect world-beating performance in a camera costing under £120, but while the mju 1040 is quite slow it does have its good points. It starts up in comfortably under two seconds, and shuts down again almost instantly when the front cover is closed. In single-shot mode, at the highest quality setting and using a H-type xD card, the shot-to-shot cycle time is approximately 3.5 seconds, which is pretty slow even for a budget camera, but the high-speed burst mode is pretty impressive. It's limited to only 3MP, but it fires off a 12-shot burst in a little under a second, which could come in handy for capturing fast-paced action.
The autofocus system is fast and accurate in good light, and even in a dimly lit room it will still focus accurately, although a little slower. However the camera has no AF lamp, so it can't focus once light falls below a certain level. Generally, if there was enough light to read a menu then the 1040 would be able to focus on it. However the maximum exposure time of ¼ of a second means that you have to use the flash for all low-light shots.
Some previous Olympus compacts have had major image quality issues, and the mju 1040 does have some problems in this department too, although some previous problems have been addressed. Exposure metering has always been an Olympus strongpoint, and the 1040 produces nice accurate exposures in most lighting conditions. Colour rendition is also very good, and the auto white balance is a lot better than some other compacts I've looked at recently.
I think Olympus must be using a new noise reduction system, because the 1040 actually has pretty good noise control. Yes, there is noise visible in shots at 200 ISO, and at 400 ISO the noise reduction is already blurring out fine details, but colour rendition remains reasonably accurate right up to 1600 ISO. It's not perfect, but the results at 800 ISO are perfectly adequate for small snapshot prints, which to be fair are all that this camera is intended for.
The 1040's major problem is its lens, which is of disappointingly low quality, producing major barrel distortion at the wide-angle end, and simply isn't sharp anywhere on the frame, with especially bad corner blurring. This is a real shame, because in most other respects the mju 1040 is actually a nice fun little camera to use, and would otherwise be pretty good value for money. With such poor optical performance however it's hard to recommend it.
The Olympus mju 1040 is a very basic camera, but it does have a certain charm to it. Design and build quality are good for the price, and despite its unusual control panel and needlessly complicated menu system it is simple and fun to use. Exposure metering and autofocus are both good, but unfortunately it is let down badly by a very inferior lens and slow overall performance.