Because the 14-42mm standard zoom supplied with our review sample is of the manually retractable variety - so as to minimise overall bulk when inactive - this slows down the activation to first shot time, as you've got to first unfurl the lens fully to avoid a text message prompting you to do so before anything will happen. With the lens pre-extended, power up is otherwise near instantaneous and certainly a match for any DSLR in that respect.
A half press of the shutter release button and the E-PL2 lives up to its E-system predecessors by being lightning quick in determining focus and exposure. By contrast though, in single shot mode writing times are a little slower than we'd have liked, with a top resolution JPEG taking around four seconds to finish being committed to memory. That said, the impatient can fire off subsequent JPEGs whilst the previous one/s write to card. For those who prefer staying hands on, there's the option to shoot unprocessed Raw too, or Raw plus one of the several levels of compressed JPEG. Opt for this and it's now a five second wait. Otherwise continuous shooting is a modest three frames per second - comparable to a beginner's DSLR.
In terms of low light shooting, the E-PL2 acquits itself well, with noise not being particularly ruinous in terms of its gritty appearance even at the top whack, ISO6400, option. Otherwise stick at, a surprisingly high, ISO1600 if you largely want to bypass any grittiness in appearance entirely.
A dedicated video recording button can be found on the back. However, unlike on most compacts these days, on the latest 'Pen' a single press won't automatically kick start filming if an alternative stills mode has been left selected on the top plate shooting dial. You have to physically turn it to the video setting on the dial and then press the red button, which feels like a short cut has been deliberately missed. This line of thought prevents accidental activation perhaps, but at the same time it's at the expense of further streamlining user friendliness.
Incidentally the 14-42mm lens supplied with the camera is a second generation unit that improves operation by being near silent - the first let out an unpleasant mechanical grinding noise when it attempted to automatically alter focus during movie clips.
In terms of colours, the default Natural Picture Mode setting delivers tones that are indeed naturalistic, if slightly veering towards the warm, which is what you want from a minimum fuss consumer unit. The other option is Vivid of course, or simply opt for one of the Art Filters to provide some added punch if realism isn't your thing anyway. The combination of lens and sensor here delivers sufficient detail to reassure that we're not just looking at an image from a humble pocket snapper, but there's still an overall softness that, for us, lacks the 'bite' delivered by a DSLR proper with both physically larger sensor and lens. The trade-off of course is that you're probably more likely to take the E-PL2 out with you than a hulking great DSLR. And if you opt for the Pen and the slimmest pancake lens on offer, it might just fit where a DSLR won't.
In essence, the E-PL2 is a tarted up E-PL1, a subtle evolution of both camera and kit lens, rather than revolution, so existing owners shouldn't feel aggrieved that Olympus isn't offering a body only option for them to upgrade to. Nor should they in truth need to, as the E-PL1, despite the smaller screen, remains a perfectly commendable camera in its own right. We're big fans of the Pen series and they possess more of a retro charm than the modernist utilitarian Panasonic Micro Four Thirds models. That said, the E-PL2 is less of an obvious 1960s throwback than the original E-P1 or E-P2 were.
Taking everything into account, we'd still be hard pressed to choose between this and the GF2, which only falls down in comparison because unlike the E-PL2 it doesn't feature body integral anti shake, but is otherwise we feel more streamlined and slightly easier to use. The Olympus counters with its impressive and fun Art Filters, so ultimately a personal hands on is going to be the best way for you to make this particular purchase decision.